The Amazon/Ubik Conundrum

I was aghast to discover that I had missed a Philip K. Dick novel the other day. I had shared an image on Facebook that discussed the dangers of pissing off a redhead (or ginger. This image.) something I do every day with the Wife, especially when I point out that her temper proves she is a ginger. That woman can punch hard when she thinks she’s being insulted. However, I’ve seen the carpet a few times in our thirty years of marriage. She’s a ginger. The sun lightens the hair on her head, as it does for most strawberry blondes. But the long-running argument between Red and I wasn’t the subject I wanted to discuss here. Missing from the image was one of my favorite examples of redheads that you really don’t want to piss off, and that is the potentially causality destroying character from the movie Prince of Darkness.

You Are Receiving This Broadcast As A Dream | Prince of Darkness (1987)

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve

…and she was pretty pissed at the end of that film. With good reason. So anyway, another friend and fan of the ginger set said that the clip reminded him of the novel Ubik by Philip K. Dick. Having never read the book I felt I had to remedy my lack of knowledge and went directly to Amazon.com to see if the book was available on Audible. Then I could read the book and find out what it was that he thought was similar between the book and the movie.

Ever since I started getting vertigo I’ve had a problem with the repetitive back and forth motion of the eyes while reading making me tired and dizzy and potentially bringing on vertigo, So I get books on audio now. I listen to so many books that it pays off to have an Audible account. Aside from having a regular supply of books to have read to me, if I feel like I want to access the text of the book I can get whispersync from Amazon to synchronize between the audiobook and the Kindle book, and that makes the experience a win-win for me no matter how I want to learn something new.

This was one of those instances where I was tempted to get both the Kindle book and the audiobook, especially since the page on Amazon offered me the Kindle book for $3.62 as shown in the header image for this article. Less than four bucks more and I could have the book to read for myself if I felt like reading it! So I bought the book and downloaded both versions to my phone. Then I noticed something odd. The Kindle book was not in English, it was in Romansh. I don’t even know what region of the world Romansh is spoken in, much less speak it myself.

Well, that’s weird. The intro page is in English and doesn’t say anything about the other versions of the book that are listed being in other languages. Feel free to click the link under the image and see for yourself. There is no way to find the English Kindle book short of looking specifically for the book as a Kindle book and that book is not $3.62 it’s $9.99 (free with kindleunlimited! Another fucking subscription service. Just what I need.) more than twice the price of the Kindle book I was first offered. I know what this is, even though I’ve not seen it too many times before. This is false advertising, and I’ve been taken in by it.

So I started the refund on the Kindle book in a language I can’t read and opened a chat dialog with someone at Amazon so that I could resolve the problem of being sold something that I didn’t want. What I wanted was the book in English, the language the book was originally written in, and I wanted it at the advertised price on the Ubik page on Amazon. I mean, it takes less work to port over the exact type script of the original work than it does to pay someone to translate the book into another language, edit, copyedit, format, etc. the new manuscript into another language. Why was the Kindle book twice the price?

Well, I know why the Kindle book was twice the price, as does every person who deals with the frustration of getting any book in this day and age. Amazon and Apple and just about every other digital book publisher rigs the prices of books through contractual obligations at artificially high prices where they can get away with them, and then offers bargain prices where they cannot gouge the unsuspecting customer. And after an hour or so of arguing with the representative in the Amazon chat service, they conceded I had a legitimate complaint but that they were not contractually able to offer the digital books at the same prices that they offer them at in other countries and for other languages. However, I could get a credit for the difference in price between the two books, and that was the best that they could do for me. So I took the only route available to me and accepted the credit offer. Not that it really made me happy.


Today on Facebook I was offered a memory I may have missed from June 11th, 2018. Hey, it’s been a year and four days since the Amazon/Ubik conundrum. I’ve listened to/read the book now. More than once. I know why the dream sequence reminded my friend of that book. The one unresolved conundrum here is that the webpage for Ubik on Amazon still takes you to the Romansh Kindle version even when you type “Ubik” in a fresh instance on the Amazon store. Even though I returned that book and bought the English version for a final price of $3.62 when the store credit was applied. Even though I helpfully reiterated the potential legal liability that Amazon was opening itself up to by putting a price and no stated language waiver on the combined Ubik page that you land on when you type in Ubik on their home screen.

One whole year later, still not fixed. I saved the chat session logs. I saved the page images. It’s a simple thing to reassemble the entire conundrum, so I figured I’d do that. I mean, I’ve given them a year to fix their programming and they still haven’t done it. I wonder how many Kindle books there are out there that are offered at a lower price in a language other than English, versions that are offered on landing pages when you go looking for a book by its title? Books that are not the books that the shopper is looking for, even though they are tempted to buy the books for the lower price stated, later to have to go through the exact same process I have had to go through? There’s a class action lawsuit in there somewhere for the savvy lawyer to take advantage of. Just send my children the finders fee twenty years from now when the lawsuit settles, would you?

Amazon is IOI

RBR on FacebookSeattle Times

As mega-corporations grow increasingly powerful, they are exerting more control over their employees. Consider a new patent secured by Amazon for a cage-like contraption to enclose warehouse workers during their shifts. These metal cages mounted atop robotic trolleys are designed to shuttle workers around fulfillment centers, blurring the line between human and machine. Amazon has also considered using electronic wristbands to track their employees’ every move. – Robert Reich on Facebook

So we’ve discovered the genesis of IOI then?

Well, that’s good news?

What’s IOI? Innovative Online Industries. You know, the corporation from Ready Player One. If you haven’t read it, get the Audible version read by Wil Wheaton. It’s excellent. Don’t watch the movie of the same name; or more exactly, don’t watch the movie of the same name and expect to see the story from the book. The movie contains an entirely different narrative, with different characters and different FX sequences. The plot for the book would have been far less exciting on screen, and would have made for a much longer film. As far as video stimulation goes, the movie has excellent FX sequences, they just aren’t plot points that occur in the book. At all.

How do I know that Amazon is the corporation from Ready Player One? Well, for one thing, that cage looks like something that IOI would think was OK for workers to spend the majority of their lives in. For another, the links to the book and the movie both go to Amazon. I could point other places, but they’ll all be owned by Amazon eventually.

The Wife and I watched the film a few weeks back. I had never read the book at the time, she had read the book. We set the viewing up on purpose as a test to see who enjoyed the film more. I’m pretty sure I won that contest. I had nothing to compare the film to and so had no expectations for it to fulfill. She spent the first thirty minutes of the film just trying to figure out where in the book the scriptwriter started the narrative at, because it certainly wasn’t anywhere in the first half of the book in spite of the fact that the first scenes have him living in the stacks.

Having watched the movie I then fell asleep to Wil Wheaton’s voice in my ear for the next week or so, describing the world of Ready Player One. A world that is either a post-apocalyptic hellscape or a capitalist paradise depending on your point of view going into the book. In any case, as usual, the Hollywood version has cardboard cutouts for villains and the novel has pretty well-fleshed characters that you can believe exist somewhere. Neither tale is free of flaws, but both have their own moments of entertainment value.

Just understand that, when I envision the giant robot battle for capitalist dominance of the globe, I will now picture Jeff Bezos inside the Mechagodzilla.

Based on a Facebook status from last week

#MAGA: Space Force. The Stupid Dreams of Stupid People

#MAGA=Misguided Appallingly Gullible Americans. This is a truism I’ve demonstrated more than once on this blog. The latest whiz-bang idea from the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) is this idiocy he calls the Space Force. Even his Vice President, a strangely quiet man lost in the shadow of the OHM’s vast vanity, has gotten in on the deal. Yesterday he was promoting the idea publicly. Today on the Texas Standard I hear that Maddog Mattis is gungho to get right on this stupid idea and make it a reality. That’s weird, because I thought even Maddog was against it. When a guy nicknamed Maddog doesn’t want to do your idea, you should know it’s probably even crazier and dumber than you might have thought.

Let me spell out just how dumb this idea is, from the perspective of decades of Science Fiction reading. The Earth sits at the bottom of a pretty deep gravity well. It’s face would be more visibly pockmarked than it is were it not for the wind and water action on the surface, not to mention the verdant tree growth, masquing the damage inflicted on the Earth from simple rocks that it has encountered in it’s annual journey around the sun. There are tons of rocks out there in space. Tons of them. Asteroids that could extinguish all life on this planet, in an instant. If we want to destroy any spot on the globe, that potential is out there right now. It is just waiting for anyone, anyone, to go out there, strap a rocket motor to the thing, push it this way or that and hey, presto! you’ve vaporized the target of your choice on the surface of the earth, and probably several hundred square kilometers around it.

The stupidity of believing we could continue our warlike ways into space was spelled out quite well in Robert A. Heinlein’s libertarian exploration novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In that book we accompany the main character as he plots revolution against the Earth that sent him to a penal colony on the Moon. In order to avoid any major spoilers, I will simply observe that lobbing rocks at the Earth figures heavily in the plot of that novel. A Space Force is akin to the stupidity of placing the exiles from the Earth at the top of the Earth’s gravity well and daring them to get back at us. I expect a lunar penal colony will be the next great idea that the OHM will come up with, that’s how dumb the idea of a Space Force is. The world of Starship Troopers is waiting for us down that route through time, and I don’t recommend that future, either.

What life on this planet needs to understand is that we are at war with the rest of the universe, because the universe wants to kill us. Everywhere outside of the blanket of atmosphere that covers the Earth, death awaits. Gasping, freezing, boiling, death. We don’t need a Space Force because we don’t need to militarize space. Everything about going to space is a weapon. The rocket engines are weapons, the ships are weapons, that lug nut you forgot to tighten properly is a weapon after it comes loose, hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour just waiting to intersect some habitat somewhere and destroy it. We cannot be at war with other people in space, because killing each other is far, far too easy to do out there. A moment of carelessness and everyone dies. Not exactly the place for the murderous or the stupid. Our only hope for the future is demilitarization, and it’s a pretty faint hope at that.

The demilitarization of space is the opposite of a Space Force. This is all aside from the fact that a Space Force is probably just another boondoggle like Reagan’s Star Wars. A boondoggle that will go nowhere and cost billions. It’s a stupid idea endorsed by stupid people. Or as Stonekettle Station put it, the money goes in the black hole and never comes out.

Splitting this so-called space force off from the Air Force (and presumably pulling the space-related components out of the other services as well), what does that give us that we don’t have now — and not just give us, but give us to such a degree that it justifies the cost and significantly increased complexity? What are the distinct requirements, the technology, skillsets, logistics, communications, training, facilities, targets, strategies, tactics, objectives, and missions that will define this space force? And how are those distinctly different from the current Air Force, distinct enough to warrant an entirely separate service with its enormous associated cost?

Why both an Air Force and a Space Force, instead of a single Aerospace Force?


Like everything else with Trump: what are the details?

Stonekettle Station on Facebook

Apparently I was being too subtle in the article above. Let me be more blunt. If you think that militarizing space is a good idea, if you think that the OHM isn’t proposing this project just to the line the pockets of his donors, then you are a member of group I refer to as stupid people. You are the kind of person that watches Iron Sky and masturbates to the images of swastikas on the screen.

Just FYI, if you watch Iron Sky and find you can’t laugh at it, then you have no sense of humor. You take yourself too seriously. You take your country too seriously (if you are an American) It is a European film made specifically to poke fun at Americans. Watch it again and again until you find the humor in it. That is my suggestion to anyone who finds they cannot laugh at themselves. If you undertake this effort maybe, just maybe, you will cease to be a member of the group I labeled stupid people.

We cannot realistically militarize space. Believing otherwise is to fall for storytelling tropes. If we don’t get past this self-hatred, we are done for as a species.

In Defense of the Supporting Actor, An Ode to Bill Paxton

We lost Bill Paxton last Saturday and it was quite a blow to me as a film buff. I remember pretty much every movie he’s been in, and his characters in each film. What I found surprising going through my traditional (morbid?) ritual of watching something that featured the recently deceased, I couldn’t find anything that I wanted to watch that he starred in as a leading man.

Everyone remembers Twister, obviously. I probably remember it a little differently than most people. I grew up in tornado country. As good as the rest of the film is, I can never get past the final sequence of the two lead actors running uphill to lash themselves to a pipe in a wooden shed, with horses calmly ignoring the digital storm they couldn’t see around them. This poorly thought out and executed sequence pulls me right out of the film and worst of all, ruins the whole thing for me. The rest of Twister deserves the kind of tribute that the storm chasers gave him upon learning of his death. I hadn’t known it was such an inspiration to young kids of the time, motivating them to go into the field of meteorology and storm chasing in particular. Any film that inspires young people to do something good with their lives has to get a passing grade no matter what its other failings might be.

Similarly I wanted to like the film A Simple Plan but was put off by the fact that it was sold to us as a comedy in the trailers and promotional material, but was so definately not a comedy in viewing. It is a tragedy and a drama and worth watching. No matter how good it is it’s not going to be remembered in a kind light when The Wife wants a comedy and she’s mad and crying. That doesn’t bode well for the film ever being rewatched in this household.

We settled on Apollo 13 and Tombstone for our tribute to him, two excellent films in which he plays positive if lightly comedic supporting characters, which was actually what Bill Paxton was the best at.

This shouldn’t be seen as a slam or a put-down. The leading actor or actress in a film or play is only as good as their supporting actors allow them to be, and he was a consummate artist at playing the comedic foil or the well-intentioned loudmouth. My favorite film features him in a role he was essentially made for as an actor, the role of PFC. William L. Hudson in Aliens. It was just one more in a series of great supporting roles that enabled the top billed names to shine through his artistry off-screen as well as on it, but the stars were right in that film.

My favorite director combined with my favorite actor and actress of the time, with hands down one of the best supporting casts ever assembled. Case in point. I stumbled across this interview in my teary-eyed path down memory lane, and marveled at how these two work the interview together.

My favorite actress and one of my favorite supporting men, just naturally continuing the leading lady, supporting actor relationship established in the film; him laying up subjects for her to embroider as a leading lady should. Just a gentleman and the support that he should be, happy to be part of the interview.

I’ll have to sit down and watch his directorial efforts Frailty and The Greatest Game Ever Played just to confirm for myself that they are as good as my friends have said they are, but he will always be Hudson to me. I hope he doesn’t mind if I remember him that way.

It’s shocking and sad that American film and television creators won’t be able to rely on Paxton’s rough-hewn decency, his game sense of humor, and his canny ability to steal a scene. Paxton was dependably watchable in projects that weren’t as good as he was, and great in roles that gave his characters the scope and depth to display their irreverent and essential humanity.  

Variety –Remembering Bill Paxton, Hollywood’s Scene-Stealing Everyman

No Hollywood Ending for Special Effects Companies

Freakonomics

The Wife & I always sit through the credits. The reason for this is not only professional interest (CGI is a hair’s breadth away from CAD and The Wife has worked on dozens of films) but also stress relief. Read the credits, miss the mad rush to go elsewhere.

It is mind blowing that all those thousands of names listed under “special effects” are people who aren’t making that much off of the films we’ve just enjoyed. That most of the firms only make a few films before going bankrupt.


Freakonomics, No Hollywood Ending for the Visual-Effects Industry

In their chase for a global audience, American movie studios spend billions to make their films look amazing. But almost none of those dollars stay in America. What would it take to bring those jobs back — and would it be worth it?

Facebook Status Update backdated to the blog.

Can’t Do a Western Top Ten Either

David Gerrold requested a quick list of Westerns the other day. I immediately fired off a quick list of ten films that fit the bill in random order;

Silverado, Two Mules for Sister Sarah, The Outlaw Josey Wales, True Grit, The Sons of Katie Elder, Unforgiven, McClintock, Dances With Wolves, Tombstone (with Kurt Russell), The Cowboys, Young Guns, 3:10 to Yuma which was the last western I watched.

But as you can see, I can’t count.

Not only can I not count, but I left off at least a dozen films that I know are better than the ones I put on it. I know that, because I read back through the hundreds of posts and kicked myself for not putting them on the list.

For starters, I’ve been doing a Netflix Clint Eastwood retrospective. Not exhaustive, just felt like I wanted to see some of his films I enjoyed back in the 70’s and 80’s and hadn’t seen since. The son wanted to watch Dirty Harry, so we’ve made our way through all five of them and now we’re about to start the spaghetti westerns. His middle work, the westerns that followed Sergio Leone’s films, those I’m just going to add to the home library, which is why I kicked myself for not including Pale Rider or High Plains Drifter, just to name the next two films I’m planning on buying.

But that’s just to name what is going on in my head right now.

I completely forgot I watched The Hateful Eight quite recently, and that is damn annoying because it was such an excellent tribute to the vanishing art of super 70 wide screen films. It was good too. Not as good as 3:10 to Yuma which I own and did remember. Not even as good as Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s previous film.  I’ve seen all of Quentin Tarantino’s work, it is all worth watching if just for the experience. There is a reverence for the art of filmmaking in his films that you can’t find anywhere else.

I also forgot The Revenant along with the 60’s original Man in the Wilderness (h/t to Jim Wright) both based on the true story of Hugh Glass, and if you don’t know that name, you have some really interesting reading to do over the next few hours.

But again, that is just scratching the surface. Reading back through the other comments reminded me of Little Big Man which I haven’t see recently but remember fondly. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a mainstay of my childhood that held up well the last time I watched it. Many mentions of Shane. I hate to admit to the cardinal sin of never having watched Shane, but I guess I can always atone for it by watching it soon. So I will.

I just barely scratched the surface of the impact that John Wayne had on my young life. I literally didn’t even have to think to name three films of his that I rated top ten. I could have done all ten as John Wayne films and still had some left over. I remembered True Grit because I saw the remake recently. Really can’t watch the John Wayne version without watching the unofficial sequel Rooster Cogburn. Really can’t watch McClintock without watching its unofficial sequel Big JakeThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance had the most mentions, but I think The Shootist is the most memorable of all his films because he was already dying of cancer when he made it.

High Noon had the most mentions of any film (rough count) but truthfully I didn’t find it that memorable. I mean, I’ve seen it. I don’t recall anything about it. I don’t think I’m a Gary Cooper fan, to tell you the truth. I remember more about the movie tribute to the TV series Maverick than I do about that film. Both the series and the film are worth watching just for the experience, but then I grew up watching The Rockford Files so go figure.

For the many people who recommended Magnificent Seven (or the more recent remake that is on my list to see) I suggest you watch the original. No, not the 60’s American film which was so popular they made a sequel and a series. No, I’m talking about Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa.  I’ve seen three or four of his films and I have not been disappointed by any of them. Fair warning, be prepared to read subtitles.

Finally I suggest Cowboys & Aliens because, why not? You have cowboys and they are fighting aliens. What could you possibly hate about this film? Just joking, save your criticism, I’m well aware of its failings having seen it four or five times. It is one of the Wife’s favorite films, and it really is quite good once you’ve seen it a few times.  This from the guy whose favorite episode of recent Doctor who featured Cowboys & Aliens, just different ones. Episode title A Town Called Mercy. Give it a try.

Weirdest film I’ve run across in reply to David Gerrold’s hive mind query? Well, weirdest film that could be called a western anyway? Zachariah. Just watch the trailer. If you can that is. I couldn’t, but I’m going to try to watch the film.

So as you can see, I can’t do just ten, and I’ll be kicking myself for forgetting something that just has to be part of this list the minute I hit the publish button.  Such is my life. 

Madness Takes the Reigns

As a people, we don’t believe in America. We stopped believing in America sometime after WWII. Maybe it was some time during the McCarthy hearings. Maybe it was the assassination of JFK. Maybe it was the sixties and the Vietnam war. Maybe it was Nixon and Watergate. And maybe it’s been the sea change in our culture. Maybe the democrats failed to understand the smoldering resentment of the red-state voters. But probably it was all of these things.

David Gerrold

America became someplace else after WWII. Before WWI, before the crash in ’29; before all of that, the US was mostly farms and industrial manufacturing focused on delivering products to Americans who needed them. After WWII we became aware of our power. More importantly, our leaders became aware of it and used it to throw our weight around the globe, influencing other nations to enter our circle of friends, the people who would get rich off of our prosperity with us.

Today we consume most of the production that the world generates, while paying little to nothing for it aside from letters of credit to foreign powers who then use that wealth to buy up parts of the US.

Demanding what we want at the point of a gun, as we have done since the 80’s, is getting old now. The rest of the world is beginning not to care what we whiney Americans want, and they aren’t going to keep buying our debt in exchange for their blood and treasure if we don’t let them own us in return.

The system which worked following WWII has come to it’s functional end. It is time for a new system to be born, and I don’t think the world is ready to take on that herculean task. I don’t think we can afford to wait, either.

This change since WWII, this focus on the Military Industrial Complex and it’s servants in Washington D.C. are why Philip K. Dick’s stories have played so well in the last few decades. There is a madness there in his stories, a madness that the man himself suffered from profoundly. That madness is echoed in the world around us, the disconnection between what is real and what we want to be real.

It is almost as if we didn’t win WWII. It is almost as if we… lost?

The Man in the High Castle, Season One Trailer
The Man in the High Castle, Season Two Trailer


Facebook Status backdated to the blog.


Third season trailer,

The Man In The High Castle Season 3 – Official Trailer

There will be a fourth season as well, if rumors are to be believed.

Abramanations Multiply

It doesn’t matter if it premieres the resurrected Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, I won’t be going to see this film in a theater. This will be the first film in Star Trek history that I’m actually hostile about before I’ve even seen it, and one of three that I loathe ever having been created (FYI, it’s the last three) I cannot express the level of revulsion that I feel when I contemplate what kind of depraved acts will be enacted on the corpse of one my most cherished memories from another time. Better to just pretend it isn’t happening, I guess.

I did catch a “edited for television” version recently. It was every bit as bad as I imagined it would be, and then some. Somehow the internet haters really failed to communicate just how ridiculous this farce of a film was. I’m not sure how this is possible, but it is. Magic blood. A Khan that isn’t South Asian. Starfleet officers engaging in conspiracies, taking the lives of their own people when they fail to submit to aggression.

That Khan failed to pervert the crew of the Enterprise in the TOS episode “Space Seed” because future man is no longer susceptible to terroristic threats of this kind is a philosophical achievement lost on the creators of nutrek and the Abramanator himself. 

The number of violations of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future are almost uncountable. They will remain uncounted by me. It was enough for me simply to confirm that the film was bad and not just bad Trek.

My apologies to the ghost of Gene Roddenberry for having witnessed this narrative of depravity.

My review for Star Trek: Into Darkness on Rotten Tomatoes

I give the film half a star on the Rotten Tomatoes 5 star rating system. I can’t rate it lower than that or I would. Having failed to keep up my end of the bargain and actually never watch the film as the first paragraph of the review goes into, I felt I had to come clean and admit to my transgression after having watched Abramation II. However, this article isn’t just about Star Trek: Into Darkness.  I haven’t been a Trek fan for quite a few years.  I quit following the show or hanging around with fans of Nutrek ages ago, not long after declaring Star Trek dead in 2009. I have no interest in being an internet hater.  I have even less interest in spending time in the presence of people who like things that I think are unforgivable violations of the intellectual property of a long-dead inspiration.

I am quite happy sitting here alone in my office. I am forced to revisit this subject because the abramanations continue, and the general movie-going population remains vacuously enamored of J.J. Abrams’ tripe. I sat down and watched Star Wars VII a few weeks ago with the Wife. We had planned on watching that film on the big screen and we missed it because it left theaters within a month of coming out, it left screens and moved to video release quicker than any other Star Wars film in history. I distinctly remember saying, when it was announced that J.J. Abrams would write and direct, that Given what George Lucas has done to Star Wars, I can hardly imagine how J.J. Abrams could fuck it up more than he has. Having now watched Star Wars VII I can honestly say I owe George Lucas an apology.

I owe George Lucas an apology because Star Wars VII is just Star Wars IV told even more poorly as a story, while millions upon millions more are spent on meaningless effects sequences.  It is a marvel to watch from an effects standpoint (much like Mad Max 4) while being almost incomprehensible from a plot and story perspective (also like Mad Max 4) And since George Lucas filmed Star Wars IV with less money and with no example to script by, I have to conclude that his is the superior intellect when contrasted with the abramanator.

It is nice to be proven wrong on occasion, even when the proof takes a few hours out of my life and a few yards out of my intestines due to the indigestion caused by stress.  Stress caused by having to watch bad filmmaking being rewarded so lavishly.

I blame LOST.

I never did do a post series write-up on that show, even though (as the link illustrates) I was quite the fan, following all the crumbs and clues and waiting for the next episode and the next season with breathless anticipation.  Until the story stopped making any sense at all, sometime during season four. I doggedly continued to catch every episode even then, and bought the DVD collections for each season, trusting that somehow it would all make sense in the end.

Except it really never did.  LOST is singularly the worst written story arc ever to be completed in a television show. It is the only show that, having gotten to the end, I really wanted all my invested time back. Not only does the story not make any sense, but the finale attempts to make every possible fan prediction about what the island was, and how the characters survived, be true simultaneously.  It is the series that best manifests the truism trying to make everyone happy is the surest way to piss everyone off.

Every season following the third season became harder and harder to watch.  Far from being the finale that ruined the show for me, it was the reliance on tropes and heuristics to ‘sort of’ move the show along to the conclusion that most of us saw coming years before the confirmatory finale; the finale which so deflated everyone’s expectations about the meaning of it all.

Why season three?  Remember the season three cliff-hanger ending? (I despise cliff-hanger season endings. Loathe them. What happens if the stars die or back out of their contracts? Just pretend the viewers weren’t left hanging?) Charlie’s big sacrifice? Didn’t mean anything.  It might have meant something if the Oceanic 6 hadn’t then gone on to… What? Go home, become helpless invalids? Fail to raise children and then return to the island? Return to the island in the past (a past that the smart guy in their midst says can’t be changed) Return to the island and be blown up by a nuclear explosion (an event that historically didn’t happen) which traps them in a time bubble. For all eternity. With people they hate as well as the friends they love.

I hate to break it to this guy, but if you have to explain what the ending meant in order for people to get it, then it really wasn’t closure of any kind, much less a good ending for a series.  The only reason people still talk about LOST is because J.J. Abrams is Hollywood gold for some inexplicable reason, and so people feel obliged to say nice things about the series that launched him to success.

I watched in disbelieving horror when Damon Lindelof was paraded out a few years back on The Nerdist, which was airing on BBC America at the time.  Damon Lindelof paraded out and held up as some kind of authority on time travel stories, horrified as I watched him taking apart what were, in my estimation, more interesting stories that used the story-telling vehicle in question.

Damon Lindelof? An authority? An authority on time travel? An authority on time travel as a storytelling vehicle? An authority on stories about things which most scientists will tell you are theoretically implausible, which is about as close to impossible as you can get a scientist to go. The mind boggles.

Let me put it this way. My reading of time travel stories and watching time travel movies, my being obsessed with the concept of time travel for as long as I can remember. My discovery of Doctor Who in 1972 on a hotel television screen in Denver, Colorado (on a channel called PBS that I’d never heard of) makes my left testicle more of an authority on time travel than Damon Lindelof or J.J. Abrams himself.  They so screwed up time travel as a story vehicle in every episode of LOST and in the Abramanation, making the story vehicle a distraction from rather than the method of telling the story that I can’t even begin to explain how they might fix it other than to tell them to go talk to actual speculative fiction writers about what they did wrong.

Which brings me to the real reason I started this post. I ran across a clip on Youtube (see, I said it was bad news) advertising an HBO series that riffs off of another movie and story that I grew up on. That would be Westworld.

This is one of those rare films I was allowed to go see as a child. What is most interesting to me looking back at it is this; Westworld and Andromeda Strain mark the beginnings of my exposure to Michael Crichton, a lifelong dance which ended with his death in 2008 and the novel State of Fear, a novel which many people mistake for non-fiction. In the middle was Jurassic Park as a high note and the poorly adapted Congo as a low note (the novel was much better than the film) it seems that his imagination has served as punctuation marks along my journey through science and speculative fiction.

I liked the original film. It is quite campy now and probably barely watchable. I don’t know for sure. I haven’t rewatched it in at least thirty years.  What I do know is that J.J. Abrams is highly touted as having a hand in the HBO series.

Westworld promo trailer courtesy of Youtube and HBO

J.J. Abrams having a hand in the series creation spells doom for the series from the outset, in my less than humble opinion.  I doubt that most people will agree with me since most people think that Star Wars VII is a good film. However, I’ll stand by this equation,

The watchability of any media offering will be in direct inverse correlation to how much actual control J.J. Abrams has over it.

Westworld could be a good series, but I won’t be holding my breath.  I won’t be able to watch it anyway until it hits Netflix or some other third party site since I don’t pay for HBO any longer.  That is one fine trailer though. Gunshots and partial nudity. Deep bass vibrations in the music to amp up the fear. Lots of famous actor cameos. It hits all the marks that advertising executives require. Just like the trailer for Star Trek: Beyond. Haven’t seen that Star Trek either, but I might watch it. I might even pay to watch it. Someone else wrote and directed it, so it might be OK as an experience. Remember, an inverse relationship to Abramanator control. The Star Trek trailer sports the Bad Robot logo, though. Not a good sign.

HBO is riding the crest of a wave that they hadn’t expected to be on.  Who would have thought that George R.R. Martin would hit it big on television, with HBO as a backer, creating the adaptation of his long running A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series which only people who live in caves without the internet won’t recognize as Game of Thrones. I am now obliged to offer an apology to George R.R. Martin as well as George Lucas. Not just because I’ve first mentioned him in this article about the dreaded Abramanations; but also because, unlike the rest of the family and probably the rest of Austin if not the entire US, I haven’t seen, read or listened to his stories. I can’t name one title of his I’ve read even though I distinctly remember sharing a table with him at an Armadillocon somewhere in the murky past.  For that, and for mentioning you here, I truly am sorry George.

But HBO is the channel riding the wave now, as AMC was riding the wave of popularity following Breaking Bad and the first few season of The Walking Dead. We’ll just have to see if AMC continues to ride the wave with the next seasons of The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul (which I like more than Breaking Bad, but my liking things is usually bad for their continued existence. Just a word of caution) After the lackluster reception for the cliffhanger ending season 6 of The Walking Dead, they’ll just have to keep their fingers crossed.

Since Westworld isn’t likely to include nuclear weapons or time travel, it is probably a safe bet to watch it. A safe bet for HBO to back it. I’d be on the lookout for the Abramanator to find some way to include those devices in the show, if I had money on the line. If he does, take your money, run and don’t look back.  You’ll thank me for it later.

Primer Movie Review

Primer, 2004

I’m a time travel story junkie. I have been into time travel stories for as long as I can remember. The problem with this film isn’t that it concerns time travel. The problem is that the story is not well-fleshed. The audio is hard to follow, and the story points are clearly added in later as an afterthought.

Even on rewatching it really doesn’t make sense. Not because it is time travel, but because the story is not fleshed out enough to leave breadcrumbs for the uninitiated (people who have not read the script) to be able to follow it. In the end you have to take the narrator’s word for it that the film makes sense.

There is a story here. I personally hope someone else takes the time to tell it well.

Rotten Tomatoes movie review backdated to the blog.

Top Ten Science Fiction Movies. Can’t Do It.

This is going to be a bit like stream of consciousness to the reader. My apologies in advance for this if you find it impossible to follow.

I clicked a Youtube video link not realizing I was going on a journey that would take all day.


Archangel Films Unbelievable!!!!! The Movie – Official Trailer 2016

This kind of slapstick comes across as too funny. Too funny as in 90 minutes of this would kill me with stupid. I might watch it. I might not. I can’t say. It is billed as featuring 40 previous iconic “Star Trek” actors so I might have to see it. But then that is what the filmmakers are counting on when they make these kinds of movies.

While I’m sitting there contemplating whether to hazard my diminishing quantities of brain cells watching so much stupid at one time (like a Marx Brothers film) the dreaded Youtube autoplay kicked in. First it was this short.


Looper, 6 Movies That Audiences Walked Out Of

Camera motion, blood effects. Chopping one’s own arm off. Yeah, I can see walking out of all of these (I haven’t watched any American Horror Story. It’s just not my style. I am surprised the wife hasn’t wanted to watch it) which is why I haven’t seen some of them. Infrasound would explain a lot of things about certain horror films and my reactions to them.

Crap. Autoplay kicked in again while contemplating Tree of Life (Should I, shouldn’t I? Have I already? Is this me thinking?) What the hell will be next is anybody’s guess.


WatchMojo, Top 10 Underrated Science Fiction Movies

I’ve seen all but three of these (those three are now in my Netflix queue)  Two or three of them are on my “must see” list when someone asks me what to watch next (hint; I have a soft spot for Bruce DernRoy Scheider and Sam Rockwell) For the inquiring minds, Heavy Metal was a movie about an adult comic book which apparently nobody ever admits to reading, not about the rock music which may or may not have been either inspired by or the inspiration for the magazine.  The artwork in the movie is drawn directly from the various illustration styles in the magazine. Yes, I will admit to reading a few copies in my youth. Regrettably I don’t own any of them anymore.

Had Pitch Black made it on their list, it would have been four movies. I am once again victimized by autoplay.


WatchMojo, Top 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen

Not sure all of these films are worth watching, much less being best films you should watch but haven’t. Foreign language films are not for everyone, so I don’t generally recommend them to people I know who won’t be up for reading subtitles, even if I might watch them myself.

I would personally recommend A Boy and His DogThis is where the list starts to go sideways for me. This and the list that follows this one. It starts with the still image that introduces the list.

Don’t get me wrong, I think 2001 is a fine film. I think you should watch that and 2010 back to back. But 2001 is a snooze-fest. It is glacially slow as a movie.  I don’t think a lot of people watch that movie over and over. They remember watching it as a child, but haven’t tried to watch it recently. I have, several times.  Like the 60’s it was created in, it takes the right kinds of drugs to appreciate this film properly.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Stanley Kubrick.  He has three films at least that I would put in the category of Best Science Fiction Films. Not just 2001 but also A Clockwork Orange and Doctor Strangelove.  Most film critics will speak highly of Stanley Kubrick and his films. He is an auteur, his films bear the indelible mark of his authorship.  But few of his films are light or fun to watch.  You don’t just pop in A Clockwork Orange for a bit of light afternoon entertainment.

If they can recommend Strange Days without a caution (and I wouldn’t do that. Be prepared for murder and rape scenes conducted in the first person) then A Clockwork Orange is a walk in the park to watch.


WatchMojo, Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

No top ten list of Science Fiction is complete without Metropolis and Forbidden Planet.  You cannot be a science fiction film fanatic without having seen those two films and recommending those two films. They can’t be on a list of films you haven’t seen; and if they are, your fan credentials will be subject to revocation.

Metropolis is arguably the mother of all modern Science Fiction, a film that has been revisited and reimagined in nearly every tale of dystopia, every film that questions who we really are, any film that posits the difference between man and machine.  In the same vein Forbidden Planet is the forebear of Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.  Those two films have to be on the top ten list or the list is invalid, in my opinion.

Especially any list that credits The Empire Strikes Back as the best science fiction film of all time. I doubt very much that anyone who wasn’t raised on Star Wars will think that Empire Strikes Back (much less any other Star Wars film aside from the original) should be on the list, much less topping it.  Well, perhaps the original Star Wars; not the now-titled Episode 4, but the film which aired back in 1977, the film that may single-handedly require my maintenance of a functioning laserdisc player in my home.  You remember, the movie where Han is the only person to fire a blaster in the famous bar scene? That film goes on a top ten list, if I could ever settle for ten.

I’m lying by the way. I won’t maintain the laserdisc player just for Star Wars. I will do it for the making of disc for The Abyss, for Tron, for the pressing of Highlander 2 Renegade cut and the copy of 1776 with the bits Jack Warner personally cut out of the film spliced back in and the splice marks still visible. I can link the version of 1776 that says “director’s cut” but there isn’t any way to watch the version I like other than on laserdisc. Same for the making of the Abyss which goes into the ordeal of constructing a set inside of and then flooding an abandoned nuclear reactor vessel so that real underwater shots could be pulled off with that deep water feel. The Abyss (special edition only) is one of the many, many films I would have to include in any list of Science Fiction films worth compiling.

There are a lot of good films included in their list, but I disagree with most of the films in the top five. I like them but they are all modern films. Derivative works of derivative works, unless you are talking about the Matrix or the Terminator (Not Terminator II. It’s good and a decent rewatch, just not as good as the first movie which it is derived from) both of which should be way up the list, higher than the Matrix actually appears.

Ten through six are all good solid films. I need to rewatch the War of The Worlds. I haven’t seen it since the 70’s on broadcast TV.  I have the box set of all the original Planet of the Apes films. They all rewatch well aside from the last one.

Children of Men was a heart-wrenching film to watch, but I have little doubt it will survive as a cautionary tale of meddling with mother nature. The original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still was almost unique in its time period with the portrayal of aliens as not being hellbent on destroying us (a fact that the equally good but not as memorable remake decided to change) which lends it the credibility to withstand time. Children of Men is actually one among many films which portray humans as our own worst enemy.

Jurassic Park is showing signs of age, despite their insistence that it isn’t. Maybe it is the weight of the miserable sequels that colors my impression of it. Can’t tell yet. But Aliens? Really, Aliens but not Alien? I agree the sequels that follow are best forgotten, but how do you watch Aliens without first watching Alien? Can’t be done.

Which is the problem with derivative works and especially sequels.  Without context the film is divorced from most of its meaning and has to survive on its own merit alone.  This is why The Empire Strikes Back will not be remembered as the best science fiction film ever. Because without the first film (1977 Star Wars) you don’t know who the Empire is. Why the villain being Luke’s dad is a problem. Who the hell Luke is in the first place.

If we’re just going to recommend sequels, movies that you have to have watched the previous versions to be able to appreciate, I’d like to put in a shameless plug for Terminator Genisys (deja vu if you’ve read my last post carefully) As I’ve noted when recommending previously, the first 10 to 20 minutes of the film (after the first time jump) is a shot for shot tribute to the original film. It is the most beautifully made and scripted film that I’ve seen for awhile now, and it builds on established previous entries into the film canon, builds on them then knocks them all down, in ways that the viewer will not see coming. If you want to watch a good sequel, this is one for you to enjoy.

If I was going to make a list of ten films you probably haven’t seen recently (if ever) but speak highly of, 2001 is going to be top of that list. In fact, most of the Top 10 list that WatchMojo put together are films that I guarantee the compilers have not rewatched recently.

If you surf over to the WatchMojo website you will notice that they do an awful lot of top ten lists. Way, way more of them than is healthy, quite frankly. In fact, I can’t even find the films-by-decade lists that are mentioned in the Top Ten list just to see if the films I think are relevant are on those lists. I think that creating these endless list films that they produce keeps them from taking the time to enjoy the life that they rate in top ten increments several times a day.

I appear to have stumbled upon the kind of site that internet surfers loathe.  The dreaded clickbait. The site that sucks up all your life and time, without giving you much in return. This explains why their films list is mostly modern films, or films recently remade with modern versions, like War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Not an in depth analysis of any real kind at all. And I’ve written how much on this subject now? Several pages, at least.

So what about a real Top Ten List? The ten best SF (Science Fiction) films ever made? I don’t think I can create a list of only 10 of them. I tried to create one of those kinds of lists ages ago on Flixster. I soon found out that limiting the list to ten films requires that I eliminate films that are essential to understanding the artform.  Films like Metropolis and Forbidden Planet.

The profile link for my list says I have 15 films on it. I can’t see them because their website enters an error when I go to click on my own created content.  The web 2.0, more broken than the web 1.0 and now featuring more advertising. Luckily I copied a version of it off and posted it to this blog. I have no idea if it is the last one or not, but here is at least one of my lists.

Avatar should be in the top five. We can start with that. A lot of people love to hate on Avatar, but it is the film that inspired the resurgence of 3D and it wasn’t the 3D in the film that was remarkable. It is the fact that you cannot tell the animation from the real images in the film that makes it so remarkable. That you can have such a realistically animated film and not cross the uncanny valley in the process.  It is an amazing film, soon to be a series of 4 films.

Top Ten worthy films produced since Avatar? I can offer a few.

Ex Machina. Highly rated and very watchable, it explores the boundaries of what is or isn’t human better than any film I’ve seen on the subject.  A film worth mentioning that is also in the vein of Ex Machina is Transcendence, one of those poorly received for no good reason films, consequently not a film that would make a top ten list.

Because commercial success figures into the calculation of what is or isn’t good, what is or isn’t preserved, what is or isn’t watchable by people who pick up the material to watch later.  It was highly rated and it made a lot of money, it is also still a valuable experience to have, even though I don’t know who Luke is (figuratively, from the future) if you want to make lists that don’t make you sound like an idiot, you have to take all of those metrics into account. And since future prediction is something we humans suck at, most of our lists will be utterly worthless.

Take, for instance, Gravity. This is a fine film. Highly rated. Made lots of money. Probably won’t be remembered (my apologies to Sandra Bullock) because it deals with current technology and doesn’t do that really well, even though the cinematography is excellent an the acting is nearly faultless.

In the same vein the mainstays of current cinema, the sequel, the franchise, none of those films survive without the other films in the series, like the Saturday morning serials of old.  Consequently no Star Wars, no Star Trek, no Mad Max, no Alien will go down in history as worthy of mention, unless the first in the series merits it, or there is established a place for serial media (like television) to be consumed in the order it was produced.  This gives it context, gives it meaning it doesn’t contain by itself.

That is why Alien appears at number five in my old list, and Aliens at number 10, and those are the only sequelized films on the list. Because films that are part of another genre, that can’t hold their own alone, will not be remembered. This means most of the comic book movies will also not be on any lists, if we can call those Science Fiction and not Fantasy. That is an open question, so don’t dismiss it.  If we’re talking fantasy films, that is a whole other ball of wax.

Blade Runner would also have to be on the list. It is iconic. Worth mentioning is Dark City a twisted little film with the same feel and a completely different storyline. Both of those border on fantasy, so I could see how they would be excluded from a hard SF list.  That is, if anyone actually knew what hard SF was, could meet others who thought they knew and that group could then agree on what the term meant.  I consider that likely to be a fantasy in and of itself.

As I go down that old list, I can discard several films as being temporarily relevant. Films like Serenity. I still love it, but I am reconciled with the show never returning now. I keep hoping the Firefly online game will release, but I’m beginning to suspect that is also not going to happen.

Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind really are hard to rewatch. The Truman Show is still watchable, but really not surprising in the current age of reality TV. You can easily see someone pretending not to be on camera, deluding themselves into thinking the illusion is real. Sadly, it is all too believable now. Truman not knowing he was on camera? That is hard to believe.

I think A.I. should still be on the list, but it may fall off soon. We are just now getting to the point where robots are real things, much less making them capable of passing for human. The singularity that futurists are still fascinated with is portrayed loosely in that film, making it still relevant. Once the robots are among us, there is no telling what will happen next.

The last film that I’ve seen that should probably be included in any top 10 list is The Martian. Worlds better than Red Planet or Mission to Mars (Hollywood is so incestuous) both of which I paid money to see (Red Planet is good fun, just not good science fiction) The Martian holds up to the most intense scrutiny of scientists (other than the storm at the beginning) making it the most solidly science based fiction film since 2001.

Worthy of mention is Interstellar. Almost a time travel story (almost!) it mixes science and fantasy and comes up with a decent little film exploring the near future and what we might be facing soon if we aren’t careful.

Which brings me to the last great film that Robin Williams was in before he died, the movie The Final Cut; the story of a man afraid to live his own life, so instead spends his time authoring the stories of other people’s lives.

The actual current list? I’m still working on that.