Monday, December 12, 2016

Discovered "House of Lies" - Showtime

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I must begin reading blogs of CURRENT programs, I seem to be drawn to blogs identifying programs that are cancelled.

Thus, I found "House of Lies" which has been cancelled after five seasons.

Don Cheadle plays Marty Kaan, a successful management consultant, supported by Jeannie (Kristen Bell), Doug (Josh Lawson) and Clyed (Ben Schwartz).  Though a typical lighthearted drama, Cheadle, through occassional asides to the audience, illustrates the cut-throat and often vacuous world the characters inhabit.
Definitely an adult series, with strong language and occassional nudity, the series is compelling to watch and the characters, both co-workers and clients are interesting.

Marty's private life has a son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.) who is a mid-teen dealing with a modern, complex gender identity, an ex-wife, Monica (Dawn Oliveri) who is also a cut-throat management consultant at a rival firm and a live-in retired analyst father, Jeremian (Glynn Turman).  Marty's homelife provides a nice foil to his work and adds complexity to his character that might be missed if only the office-life was portrayed.

Finished (E-Reader): "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" - Yuval Noah Harari

I quite liked "Sapiens".  Like most folks, I always assume (wrongly) that evolution runs forward in a positive direction.  "Sapiens" shows that the actuality is really more mixed than that.
Harari points out some other details that I hadn't considered.  Hunter-gatherers did not spend all of their time hunting and gathering - they likely spent fewer hours per week in those activities than current homo sapiens spend in their worklife.  Thus, our ancestors probably had very active social lives, and the social aspects prove to be the most important parts of our dominance.  Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind.jpg

Homo Sapiens may prove to be a larger "extinctionator" that even the largest asteroid, particularly with respect to large land mammals, which we seem to hunt to extinction on every continent soon after we arrive on the scent.

I kind of knew theories of the origins of myth and religion, but hadn't realized their power to unite larger groups of people than more direct social interactions allow.  Harari explains that social groups begin to fall apart when you get to the 100's.  I tend to think about a primary school, where there may be a few hundred students, and the K-3 or 6-8 grade levels form a sort of community and know each other, but when you get to a large high school, the groups are broken down more, as the grades are too large for all students to know each other.  Harari attributes the power of myths and legends to allow strangers to align even without personal connections (e.g. cultures, tribes, religious factions) all of which allow Sapiens to combine in large enough groups to overcome hurdles that would knock down the largest of pre-existing species, who would operate as smaller family groups or extended herds (elephants, for example).

I had not considered the pros and cons of moving from hunter-gatherer to farming in any particular detail.  Planting caused some learning to be rewarded (e.g. tracking seasons, learning how to plant effectively) but along with the loss of mobility came the need to create permanent shelter, which, in turn, lead to defense of land and possessions, which could now be kept and stored.  This also led to organization of people to defend land from wondering troops of hunter/gatherers or other species of man or animal that would threaten the now "owned" land.  Further, I had assumed that the trade-off was universally positive - farming was inevitable growth of the species (and in terms of # of bodies, it was), but didn't recognize that the reliance on singular crops cost a lot in terms of physical health and was susceptible to drought or plague in ways that hunting and gathering was less susceptible to.  However, staying in place allowed for large families, which were needed to farm, an allowed enough bodies to be born to handle very excessive mortality (e.g 1/3 or 1/2 of children dying young).  These large families also proved to swing the balance toward continued farming as farmers with extended family groups would always outnumber roving hunter-gatherers, which reduced the land for gathering, and the #'s favoured farmers in any battles that might occur.

Each of the four revolutions of humankind (Cognitive, Agricultural, Unificaiton, Scientific) is explained simply, clearly and with insight to make the transitions' importance visible and clear.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Finished (E-Reader) - "Superman vs Hollywood" - Jake Rossen

I was pulled into the "Superman vs Hollywood" book mainly through the introduction by Mark Miller, where he stated the book had many new stories.

I did find some of the stories compelling, but overall, I'd heard lots of them over time, so the book wasn't quite what I had hoped for.

It is nice to get a longer term perspective on DC Comics and the history of their most influential character.  Some of the behind-the-scenes information is good - like Bud Collyer, the voice of the radio series choosing to remain anonymous to avoid being tied to the Superman character, and this feeding into DC's marketing of Superman as "real" and not voiced by an actor.

The history of Siegel and Shuster (the creators; writer and artist respectively of Action Comics #1) and their shabby treatment by DC over time is always a fresh horror.  To be fair, DC did "settle" numerous times, each relatively reasonable (except for the need to go to, or threaten legal action), but they never really provided a sum commensurate with the $$$ the character brought into the comic, radio, TV, animation, Broadway and movie franchise.  Having Siegel and Shuster die relatively poor (particularly Shuster) and relatively unrecognized as the Superman "fathers" is just sad.
The background stories around the Superman movies (Christopher Reeve series) are educational as well.  The playoff between directors and producers, and the entire new realm of creating a modern blockbuster on a comic hero was not as obvious as it now seems.  Late changes to the project planning moved the ending of the second movie (the "back in time" solution to Lois' death in Superman 1) to the first movie left a hole in the second movie that was "filled' oddly - Superman throwing cellophane crests at his fellow Kryptonians, and seemingly killing them all when they were depowered (Lois helped kill Ursula too) - all in good fun.

The cessation of the franchise after the Superman 3 (with Richard Pryor) and Superman 4 (nuclear disarmament) was a good one, as the series seemed to be running downhill pretty fast.  The various scripts and plans between Superman 4 in 1987 and "The Man of Steel" in 2013 has some fascinating aspects (Superman vs a giant spider???  Nic Cage as Superman??? ).

If the stories are new to you, the book is a good read.  I did find myself running through the book fairly quickly, but I didn't find as much "new stuff" as I'd hoped.  All in all, a pretty good read.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Superhero TV Update

There are lots of TV Universe series out right now:

Daredevil (2 seasons)
Jessica Jones (1 season)
Luke Cage (1 season)
Iron Fist and Defenders coming, Punisher maybe

Very nice work by Netflix - Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have been excellent, all treated independently but with enough linkages to set a common Hell's Kitchen NY environment (Luke Cage and Jessica Jones overlapped significantly in the Jessica Jones series).  The universe is being built with the full recognition of a more complex world where the major characters can, and will, come into contact with one another, likely as allies and as antagonists, depending on the circumstances.  Netflix was wise to concentrate on relative "down to earth" powered heroes - makes the intrigue and situations more like a police drama than science fiction - the characters have to solve things and plan, not just run into situations and save the day.  Jessica Jones is a damaged person, abused and treated horribly by the Purple Man, Luke Cage comes from a rough background and has been wrongly imprisoned and subject to experimentation, Daredevil has enhanced senses, but is blind an with normal-level strength - he's often seriously injured dealing with matters.

Arrow (5th seasons)
Flash (3rd season)
Supergirl (2nd season - 1st on CW)
DC Legends of Tomorrow (2nd Season)

CW has created an interactive universe, most reminiscent of the actual printed comic book universe.  Arrow was the flagship, with Barry Allen becoming the Flash in an episode, since spinning off to his own series.  DC Legends of Tomorrow has characters who first appeared on Arrow (White Canary, Captain Cold, Firestorm, Atom) who along with Rip Hunter police the timelines.  Supergirl had a first season on CBS, though she did "cross over" with The Flash.  In season 2 she is integrated onto the CW network,  CW's "universe" is much more positive in tone than Fox or Netflix, with Supergirl and Flash being very positive, Legends next, and Arrow carrying the harder task of dealing with character deaths in much more directly violent environments, though even Arrow pales in comparison to the Netflix world or that inhabited by the folks in Gotham.

Gotham (3rd Season)

Gotham, the early history of Batman is still my favourite of the TV Comic adaptations.  The acting (and choice of actors) is excellent, and early versions of Commissioner Gordon, Bruce Wayne, Catwoman, Ivy, Penguin and Riddler are all nicely interwoven, with understandable personalities and histories.  Seems that the "gore" factor seems to be rising with each season, moving the series more and more into the adult or at least, not-youth market.  The series seems to be taking it's time, with 75 years of Batman to draw upon, to set up the series to be "deep" and character driven.  Similar to Netflix, the characters in Gotham are not super-powered, so the stories carry on with investigations of odd criminals and some powered individuals (e.g. strong, ESP-type powers) along with those that extend themselves in "normal" ways  (e.g. Ivy with chemical poisons, Selina with street smarts).

Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agent Carter (cancelled)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has the most promise of all the series, as it has the potential to integrate the TV universe with the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the Phil Coulson character transferring over to centre the TV series from the Avenger, Thor and Iron Man movies.  However, I think this is also the most difficult series to be "attached" to - the ongoing characters have all changed dramatically since the first season, some becoming evil, some moving off to run parallel courses.  S.H.I.E.L.D. has also died and been resurrected in relatively short order.  I think they need a period of doing the basic, cool thing, of being a very high-tech spy agency that works in a superhero universe - not necessarily having a super-powered local team running around hitting folks.

Agent' Carter, the solo series "suffered" from being set in the post-WWII era - this was a problem in the first Captain America movie and the old Lynda Carter Wonder Woman tv series - the older timeframe doesn't seem to resonate as well with viewers.  The "Agent Carter" character, however, was well designed and well acted.Agent Carter will live on as a historic figure in S.H.I.E.L.D. and will likely appear in flashback sequences.


Overall, the series that resonate most with me are Arrow and Gotham, as both have created larger cast universes, so the storyline does not require that Olvier or Bruce carry the entire weight of the series - they can be "missing" or a minor role in the day-to-day events and still tell compelling stories.  Bruce is really a relatively small character in Gordon's Gotham.  Supergirl is great, very positive, and very nice to see the "S" Shield and classic costume in action.

As a universe, the Netflix universe has the potential to be the deepest, with several equal and separate characters staking claims.  Gotham would be a nice cross-over (though they are with different companies, both for TV and from source material) as the worlds and power levels are similar.

Finished (E-Reader) "The Whistler" - John Grisham

Haven't read any Grisham for a while, so "The Whistler" was a nice change of pace.  Basic story is a casino being run by baddies, who are paying off a judge - the good guys are investigating the judge.
All in all, was an OK read - seemed formulaic and the resolution seemed to fall together a little too easily.  Not a bad quickie.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Finished (E-Reader): "All the Light We Cannot See" - Anthony Doerr

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I was very happy to find "All the Light We Cannot See" - my daughter read it as a self-selected book for Grade 12 English, and my wife and I read it subsequently.

The book is based around WWII, and follows two main characters - a young, blind girl from France, and a young German boy.  As you can guess, the German boy gets drafted, and is identified as very handy with radios, so he ends up scanning for spies across occupied Europe.  The young girl and her father are forced to leave Paris and live elsewhere through the German occupation.

The story is told well - very short chapters keep the storylines moving by sequencing each chapter to a particular story arc.  There are also some jumps in time, where the story is not told entirely sequentially.
Doerr's book does a great job of describing the same events from the different perspectives, and manages to tell a wartime story without very much referencing of the war itself - you hear rumours from the townsfolk about how the war is going, you see the gradual loss of lifestyle even if direct warfare does not run through your living room.  Both main characters are portrayed realistically and both are treated respectfully - you can respect the hardships the German inductee goes through and the hardships living under occupation experienced by the young woman and her family with no need to play the situations off against each other - both were taken from "normal" life and subjected to incredible situations at a very young age.

A great read and a highly recommended page turner.  I'm going to look for more titles from this author.

Finished (E-Reader) - "End of Watch" - Stephen King

I used to read Stephen King, as fast as I got the cash together to buy second-hand copies of his books while I was in high school.  Lately, I've read some of his newer books (e.g. "22/11/63").

His newer books, compared to my "king memory" are less horror books and more novels that have an odd twist to them - no killer dogs or evil clowns.
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#3 - Bill Hodges Trilogy
"End of Watch" is the third (and final) book of the Bill Hodges trilogy.  The basic storyline is of a young man who is fascinated with pushing other people into suicide - he runs a car through a crowd of people, killing several, and then plays a sadistic game of taunting the owner of the car used in the killing until she commits suicide ("Mr. Mercedes").  He also plans to commit suicide at a concert and take as many with him as he can ("Finders Keepers").  The end of that story results in him becoming brain damaged and comatose for a number of years.

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#1 - Bill Hodges Trilogy
End of Watch has him discovering that he can inhabit people, even though his own body is damaged.  He uses this "power" to, again, coerce suicides, and plans to complete, or continue his mass murder plan from book 2.

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#2 Bill Hodges Trilogy
All in all, each story stands alone, and enough reflection is provided to allow non-sequential reading of the stories.  All three books were fast and interesting reads, though maybe not as haunting as I recall his older works (though I was also much younger at that time).