The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

ANT-MAN - My Review Of What I Think Is An Excellent Superhero Film - Entertaining and Fun

ANT-MAN - 2015

A while back, I heard that Marvel Studios was considering making a film that I wanted to see. It was supposed to be about the Avenger member Black Panther.  I was very excited about that because he was one of my favorite characters when I read comic books. Then the announcement came that they were actually going to make Ant-Man.  “Lame” I thought.  I had read a few Ant-Man comics, but didn’t care too much for them, and wondered who would want to see a movie about that?  Then I saw the trailer for the film and thought that it didn’t look too bad and decided to give it a look.

So, this afternoon, Diane, Chrissy and I headed to the theater to see what it was all about and I am here to say that I very much liked this film.

The film opens in 1989 with Dr. Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man) resigning from S.H.I.E.L.D. because they were apparently attempting to replicate his shrinking technology Pym tells the S.H.I.E.L.D. leaders that he will hide what he knows until the day he dies and walks out.

In the present day, Pym’s former protégé, Darren Cross,along with Pym’s estranged daughter, Hope, have forced Pym out of control of his company. Working on what he has learned from Pym, Cross is getting very close to perfecting the shrinking technology. Cross has built a shrinking suit that he calls the Yellowjacket, and continues to test methods to make it work.

Meanwhile, a former thief, Scott Lang, is being released from prison. He moves in with his former cell mate Luis and tries to secure gainful employment (no easy task for an ex convict) so he can begin to help support his daughter and be a part of her life. When Scott goes to his daughter’s birthday party, he is told that he may not have visitation rights until he has an apartment, a job, and begins providing support. Dejected at not finding work and not begin able to see his daughter decides to perform a burglary that is suggested by Luis.

Scott, Luis, along with two others go to a house, disable the alarms, and crack a safe.  There isn’t much in the safe except what Scott thinks is an old motorcycle suit, which he takes back to Luis’ apartment. Later, he tries on the suit and to his surprise, when he presses one of the buttons, he is reduced to the size of an insect which takes him on a journey that terrifies him. All the while, Scott hears Pym’s voice as he goes on his adventure. Scott decides to break into the house again to return the suit. Upon exiting the house, Scott is arrested.

Posing as his lawyer, Pym smuggles the suit into Scott’s cell, with the help of some ants, and helps Scott escape from Jail.

Scott and Pym meet face to face where Scott learns that he has been manipulated into becoming Ant-Man to help Pym stop Cross from completing development of the Yellowjacket suit by stealing it. Scott reluctantly agrees and is trained how to fight and control ants by Hope.

Scott’s first task is to go to Avengers’ headquarters and steal a small device. But what should have been an easy task gets a little harder when Sam Wilson (Falcon) enters the picture. Scott and Sam fight, but Scott finally gets the upper hand when he shrinks down and gets into the workings of the Falcon’s wings.

We learn next that the reason for Hope’s estrangement is that Pym has never told her the complete truth about her mother’s, Janet’s death. Finally, Pym tells him how her mother and he were on a mission to stop a nuclear missile from striking the United States. Janet (Wasp) shrunk herself to get inside the workings of the missile, but to do this she had to enter the Subatomic Quantum Realm, so after she managed to stop the weapon, she continued to shrink and was lost to this world. Pym also warns Scott that the same could happen to him if he improperly makes adjustments to the Ant-Man suit.

So, Cross finally perfects the Yellowjacket suit, and invites Pym to it’s unveiling.  At the same time, Scott, Luis, and their crew break into the building with the intention of stealing the Yellowjacket suit, but Cross is one step ahead and traps Scott and tells everyone present that he intends to sell HYDRA both the Ant-Man and Yellowjacket suits.  Scott manages to break free though, and dispatches most of the HYDRA agents, but one gets away with a vial of material used in the shrinking suit technology. Meanwhile, Cross escapes, explosives planted in the building detonate and is vaporized.

Cross puts on the Yellowjacket suit, he and Scott fight but it is cut short when Scott is once again arrested. When a call comes over the radio that there is trouble at the home where Scott’s daughter lives.  When he arrives, he finds that Cross has taken his daughter hostage.  Scott and Cross fight again, but this time, Scott enters the Quantum Realm, get’s inside of the Yellowjacket suit, and destroys it and cross.  As Scott continues to shrink, he realizes that he can manipulate the workings of the suit and manages to return to the normal realm

Later, Scott is told that Sam Wilson is looking for him.

In the first of two Easter Eggs, Pym shows Hope a Wasp suit that will be hers when completed.  In the second scene, Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers are holding Bucky Barnes in custody.

At the end of the credits, it is announced that “Ant-Man Will Return.”

I thought the main characters for the most part were well written. Hank Pym was awesome as played by Michael Douglas who looks to be in great shape and ready for a return in the sequel. His performance alone was worth the price of admission. The same can also be said for Paul Rudd as Scott/Ant-Man.  He was someone that I found myself caring about and felt invested in seeing him be successful.  I didn’t like the Cross character, but we aren’t supposed to, because he is the bad guy.  His part was understated somewhat, and also underdeveloped and I didn’t get the feeling that I knew exactly why i didn’t like him, beyond the fact that he was the bad guy.  One area that Marvel has been catching a lot of heat on is the handling of their female characters, or lack of handling, as in the case of this film. I didn’t feel any sympathy at all for Hope or her plight.  She was a very one dimensional character and the highpoint of her part in the plot was in teaching Scott how to fight. I think that Marvel has to do a better job with their female roles, or they are going to lose the market to comic book fans.

One of the best aspects of Ant-Man was the incorporation of humor throughout the movie.  It was always appropriate to the plot and worked well, adding to the story.  And what a story.  While we get an origin/reboot of the Ant-Man character, we also get a comedic heist kind of film where everything goes wrong, despite the best efforts of the crooks, who are really nice guys who are just a little bad. The plot was very engaging for the most part, but I did get the feeling at times that the exposition of the film was just a bit draggy, which turned around as soon as Scott donned the Ant-Man suit.

Also impressive were the action sequences in the film. In some of the Marvel films, I have thought that the action was too fast, and often filmed too close to get the full effect of the fight scenes.  That was not the case here.  I don’t feel like I have to go and see the movie again to get a better look at the action, which I appreciate.

One of my favorite parts of the film was the scenery that was used from San Francisco! Those were some great shots and I wish they had put more of those to use in the film.

Overall, I would have to say that Ant-Man isn’t a great film when comparing to the scope of other Marvel films such as Avengers, but it is a solid piece of entertainment that was fun to watch.  It was mostly well acted, well directed, beautifully filmed and edited.  Well worth the price of a matinee admission.  It’s just a good popcorn movie.

 Well, there it is…


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rise Like Lions - David Mack's Star Trek: Mirror Universe Masterpiece

Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions by David Mack

One day, while thinking out loud on Facebook, I expressed my intention to read Star Trek: Section 31: Disavowed by David Mack.  It wasn’t long before David came on with a reply to my post with a recommendation that before I read Disavowed, that I should read the books of Star Trek: The Fall series, which I had already done (and have reviewed on this blog) as well as Rise Like Lions. He said that the background from those previous novels would be helpful in understand some of the elements in Disavowed. So, without further question, I ordered and downloaded Rise immediately and began reading; after all, if an author makes a recommendation like that, who am I to dispute him?

So the events in Rise take place in the Mirror Universe.  I am usually very apprehensive when reading stories that take place in that medium, mostly because I didn’t care for the Mirror Universe in the shows.  For those who are not familiar with that alternate reality, pretty much everyone there is an opposite of what they are in our universe.  So if you are a good guy here, you are a bad guy over there. The very first appearance of this alternate universe was in the original series episode “Mirror, Mirror” in which Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura wind up on an Enterprise that is far different than the one they are used to. It is a good episode and I would recommend seeing it.  The Mirror Universe did not appear again until Deep Space Nine.  I have never been all that big a fan of those episodes, mostly because they often seemed silly and a little over-the-top for me.

Anyway, back to the point of this post.

Rise Like lions takes place completely in the Mirror Universe. I am not sure from where the story picks up, but I have watched all of the Deep Space Nine episodes to know that Humans are considered to be the trash of the Alpha Quadrant. The Klingons and Cardassians, along with the Bajorans, who form the Alliance, have become the dominant power who go about conquering and subjecting Humans and Vulcans to slavery. While the Terran Rebellion is working hard to take their fight for freedom to their oppressors, the fight does not go well, and the Alliance looks about to crush what is left of the rebellion.

Just as it looks like the situation is hopeless, things change, as they tend to do in political situation when major powers vie for domination.  First, the Bajorans decide that they need to leave the Alliance, then forces cause the Cardassians to begin fighting amongst themselves and with the Klingons. Then we are introduced to a new faction called Memory Omega that has the ability to travel vast distances and build very powerful ships, but what is needed to bring everything together is a leader. While Miles O’Brien has done a good job of holding the rebels together, he is not the leader that can really take the fight to the Alliance and bring freedom to the Terrans.

Memory Omega chooses a man that they believe can lead the rebels to a final victory, even if their man, Jean-Luc Picard doesn’t believe it. Add to that, Mac Calhoun of the Excalibur who has allied himself with the Romulans, and in the background, the forces of the Taurus Pact, which includes the Breen, Gorn, Tholians, and the Ferengi and you get the formula for one hell of a great story.

I enjoyed this story and there was not a single page of waste in it. David manages to take a massive number of factions, characters, and situations and brings them into sharp focus so clearly, that there is no doubt about what is taking place and at what time.  As I read, i was thinking how neat it was that each chapter was a snapshot of the action, every chapter was a small story in itself that, when put together, became a large puzzle with each of the pieces falling into place by themselves.

As each character is introduced, or reintroduced, they are different from their counterparts in the Primary Universe, but they are also the same.  So while the story is full of discovery, it also has a nice comfort zone because we can recognize the characters as people we have come to know.

One of the best parts of reading Rise for me was seeing people from so many different incarnations of Trek.  I was grabbed from the first line where David brings in Calhoun from Peter David’s New Frontier series of books!  But that is only the beginning. The Vulcans play a pivotal role in the plot, as do many, many characters from all of the television series, along with some new characters. David also does an awesome job taking some of the most maligned characters in Star Trek and making them characters that the reader can admire and respect.

Rise is also an emotional roller coaster ride that goes through the full spectrum. We get people that we love turning out to be horrible, and some that are hated are elevated. Some rise above themselves, while others fall, and some die. But it all adds up to one of the most interesting stories I have read. It is about endings, but it is also about beginnings; the seeds have been planted at the end of the novel for another Mirror Universe story that should prove to be just as amazing as this, perhaps even more so.

My highest recommendations for Rise Like Lions. Get a copy and prepare to be astounded!

Well, there it is…


Friday, July 24, 2015

A Look At ST: TNG: Armageddon's Arrow By Dayton Ward - The Point Is That It Is A Good Story!

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Armageddon’s Arrow by Dayton Ward (2015)

Imagine that there is a war that has been raging on for years. You suddenly find yourself with the means to go back in time and stop this war before it starts, and you have one of the most powerful weapons ever invented.  But there is one catch; you have to completely annihilate your enemy to accomplish your mission. What are your going to do?  Would you be willing to commit genocide of another world?

[In the 5th novel of the Star Trek: The Fall series entitled Peaceable Kingdoms, Captain Picard of the USS Enterprise requests and is granted permission to return to the ongoing mission that he and his ship was intended for; exploration.

While investigating the Odyssian Pass, a region of space that is believed to contain a number of inhabited worlds, the crew of the Enterprise finds a giant ship that is apparent adrift.  Further investigation finds that while most of the crew has perished, two crew members of the crew are being held in suspended animation and that she ship the Armageddon’s Arrow has traveled more than 100 years from the future.  In a nearby star system, there are two inhabited planets that have been at war for centuries.  The Arrow itself was launched by a race called the Raqilan, and their descendants have launched the ship to obliterate the race that they are, and have been at war with, the Henlona.

As members of the Enterprise crew are aboard the Arrow to offer aid to the surviving members of the crew, representatives of the Henlona arrive on the scene and claim the Arrow captured and her remaining crew prisoners of war. Picard has no say in the matter because his hands are tied by the non-interference directive, however he does offer his services as mediator to help quell the conflict.

On the surface, all of the involved parties seem to want to conflict to end, but there are some with more sinister ideas.

It is also discovered that the Arrow, which was completed in the future, is actually being constructed in the present, and along with that, it is being built based on a design from the past!


One might think that this situation would lead to a very tangled web of time paradoxes involving the past, present, and future, there is no need to worry about that because, as usual, Dayton Ward clearly knows his stuff and there is no confusion as the plot winds and twists around until, as one might suspect, Picard comes up with the more or less perfect solution after pointing out the futility of war, with the help of the two remaining crew of the Arrow.

When I see Dayton’s name on the cover of a Trek novel, I usually expect to read something from The Original Series, but he once again shows that he is quite comfortable in any of the series. That being said, there is however, an element in this story that comes from one of the best episodes (in my humble opinion) of Star Trek: The Original Series.  It seems that the Raquilans have designed their weapon on the second season TOS episode “The Doomsday Machine.”
For those that may not remember, that episode featured a machine that was designed by beings from another galaxy to destroy and consume entire solar systems for fuel. At any rate, leave it to Dayton to call up one of the most destructive weapons from TOS and place in the middle of the 24th Century, and it is brilliantly done.

Anyone who reads Trek novels regularly by now knows that the makeup of the Enterprise crew is very different from the days of Next Generation.  While Picard continues to command, Riker has been promoted to admiral and Worf now serves as the first officer, and it is great to see how Dayton has continued to make the character grow as he has gained experience and wisdom.  The newer members of the crew in this story are also interesting and have many dimensions, and that goes especially for Lieutenant Commander Taurik, who first appeared in the TNG seventh season episode “Lower Decks.”

Armageddon’s Arrow is well paced with nothing rushed or glossed over.  There are many references to events in the Star Trek universe that are relevant to the story.  For me, these are quite fun to find and always give me pause to think about what happened and see how well those events are tied into the story I am currently reading.  Dayton is especially good at this aspect of writing his novels

I heard on a podcast that I listen to regularly that it is the intention of the publishers for Star Trek novels to return to a more exploration stance and less focus on the intrigue and military aspects of Starfleet.  I am very glad that Dayton was tapped to be one of the first to kick off the renewed efforts of Trek to get back to seek out new life and civilizations.

Take a look at Armageddon’s Arrow and enjoy a really good, solid story in the TNG vein.

Well, there it is…


Sunday, July 12, 2015

My Day At BritishFest - Had A Great Time!

 BritishFest 2015
 Currently on social media, the buzz is about one of the biggest fandom events in the world is taking place in San Diego.  The SDCC is taking up terabytes of space on the net, and rightfully so.  In the meantime, there are also smaller cons also happening.  While it might be fun for some to go to the really huge cons, I prefer the smaller, more relaxed ones.  This past Saturday, I took a drive up to Council Bluffs, Iowa to attend this years BritishFest, and I had a great time and a very relaxed day.

While I cannot say that I know a great deal about British popular culture, I can also say that I am not without exposure to it.  I am an avid Monty Python fan, and always will be.  I have also enjoyed The Avengers, Space 1999, some of the Bond films, The Hitchhiker’s Guide, and of course, the music from “across the pond.” I was made aware of BritishFest thanks to a friend, Andew Schmidt who operates a small business called Andrew’s Clay Creations. I planned to go to check it out and when it was announced that Adrian Paul of Highlander fame would be in attendance, there was absolutely no question that I would.

One of the best parts of attending conventions is seeing friends that I have made in the past, and hopefully making new ones. As I arrived to the venue early, almost an hour before any of the programming got started, I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat at a table.  I was soon joined by a young woman whom I visited with for a little while.  It is always nice to enjoy the company of a like-minded intelligent person, and I was not disappointed.  I did give her one of my cards that point to this blog, but I unfortunately didn’t get her name (if you are reading this, please friend me on Facebook if you do that sort of thing).

When things got rolling, I immediately headed over to Adrian Paul’s table, but was told that he would not be in attendance for some time.  Which was okay because the first panel I attended was a Monty Python discussion. Apparently the scheduled panelist was not able to attend, two guys stepped in (with 15 minutes notice) and did a great job filling in.  One was a good friend, John Shoberg, whom I barely recognized because he was not in Klingon regalia as I usually see him, led the packed audience in a singalong as well as a discussion with a lot of audience participation. It was a great way to start the day!

Adrian Paul did arrive as I was told, so I got in line and awaited my turn to visit with the man who portrayed one of my idols, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.  I didn’t have to wait long and I was face with someone I have admired for many years. I didn’t take up too much of his time, but did get to explain what his portrayal as the Highlander meant to me. He thanked me for the sentiments and signed my pictures, one of him holding his katana and another shirtless beefcake shot for my wife, and then I was able to have a photo standing with him behind his table. He was a very pleasant guest, always smiling and visiting with the fans.

Next, I attended a reading by Melissa Ann Conroy, an author who has written two books in what she explains will be a seven book series centering on a character she created who commands an airship.  Her approach to writing in the Steampunk genre appeals to me because she centers her stories around actual historical events. I listened to her read passages from her two books and enjoyed her Q&A after. I have plans to interview her for the Scifi Diner Podcast soon.

I then wandered into the dealer room as Andrew was leaving and he asked me if I wanted to accompany him to a puppet show that was about to begin. I was not sure what to expect, but since I hadn’t had a chance to hang out with him, I decided to go. When I entered the room, I was a little apprehensive because I am not a Dr. Who fan. I am not against it, I just never got into it despite trying on a couple of occasions. I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the show even though I am not very knowledgeable. I was also surprised at how much about the Who universe I actually know from exposure to those that do know.

I spent the next hour just visiting with friends that were around talking about the upcoming OSFest convention at the end of the month.

The final event of the day was a Q&A session with Adrian Paul who was both entertaining and funny.  He talked about Highlander as well as some of his other work and then took questions from the audience. I asked him to discuss how he got the part in Highlander and he told a very amusing story that started with walking into the first audition and telling the producers and casting people that their search for a star was over because he was the one they were looking for.

I had a great day at BritishFest and am hoping that I am able to attend again next year for at least the day. There was certainly no times that were boring and they have a jam packed program with panels that that cover a wide variety of subjects that would appeal to anyone with even the slightest interest in British popular culture.

I would like to extend my appreciation to the organizers for having things well organized and easy to find, as well as how friendly everyone was.

Here are some other pictures that I snapped while wandering around…

Jabba the Hut dominated the hallway.

"Tim" the Enchanter from Holy Grail. Fortunately I answered the question correctly!

Model of the Moonraker from the Bond film of the same name.

An eagle from Space 1999.

John Shoberg posing at the Tardis control panel.

Daleks of all sizes!  I didn't get exterminated.

Detail of the Highlander katana.

Tom Ulrick and his daughter snapping excellent pictures.

Kevin Carroll's Highlanders

Kevin Carroll, modeler exrorodinaire.

Star Wars helmet collection.

Kevin in battle gear.

Adrian Paul Q&A panel.

Monty Python Panel

There's always a Jedi around of you need one!

Well, there it is…