Book Review: The Eisenberg Constant By Eugen Egner

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

This is more of a short story or maybe novelette than a book so I’m not entirely sure why it came as a stand alone story, but that’s what you get sometimes when you buy e-books in bundles, I guess.

The premise of this story is pretty cool.  A technology exists which can create a time loop which allows super rich lonely people to relive the same week over and over again.  You have full autonomy and can basically do whatever you want but your actions have no consequence and at the end of the week, everything kind of gets reset.  Since reliving the same thing over and over a la “Groundhog Day” would get pretty tiresome pretty quickly, the technology has some randomness added to it using a device called the Eisenberg Constant.  People aren’t necessarily going to be in the same place at the same time, individuals won’t react the same way in the same situation, etc.  Things are going swimmingly for Henry Selinger until things seem to start going awry with the Eisenberg Constant.  A locomotive-like vehicle has crashed into a nearby field.  Strange voices can be heard in his bathroom.  The news on the radio is getting weirder and weirder.  An exceedingly frightening creature is haunting his dreams.  And the Eisenberg Constant repairman won’t be here until Monday!  What’s a man to do?

I should probably give this story 4 stars because it really is a fun and interesting read, but man is the ending unfulfilling.  The curse of the short story.  Egner has a very interesting writing style and he clearly describes some pretty absurdist stuff in this story.  It would be interesting to read some of his other works.  Unfortunately, it looks like this is his only story that has been translated from his native German into English.  Oh well.

Movie Review: War Dogs

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A true story about two schmucks who look at a website to make money from the government.  It’s a lot better than that sounds.  Boy, the Department of Defense is messed up.

Imagine if there were a website where anybody could bid on landing government contracts where you could supply weapons to our armed forces.  Well, there is!  And that’s the basic premise for “War Dogs”.  Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) has a small time company that takes small bids from said website which the big companies won’t bother with and fulfills the arms orders.  As he grows and makes a name for himself, he convinces his friend, David Packouz (Miles Teller) to join him.  Things do not progress smoothly.

The timing of the release of “War Dogs” couldn’t have been better what with the announcement that the U.S. Army can’t account for $6.5 trillion dollars.  The procurement process for the Department of Defense is broken beyond repair.  While the problems between the audit and the events in “War Dogs” are unrelated, together they show the amount of dysfunction in the department that spends over half of our government’s discretionary spending.  And before you get worried, no there is not $6.5 trillion dollars missing.  That would mean every dollar since 1993 the Department of Defense spend is missing.  This is more of an issue with bad paperwork and multiple accounting systems across disciplines causing items to be accounted for multiple times.  Still, it’s no way to run a department.  But I digress.

“War Dogs” is a well put together movie.  It takes an incredibly complicated real-life story and streamlines it so that it is easy to follow while still telling a solid story.  It also helps that Jonah Hill plays a really convincing asshole.  The second act of the movie slows down some near the end which kind of messes with the wonderfully established flow of the movie, but it picks up again in the final act.

As with all “based on a true story” movies, it would be nice to know what was real and what was manufactured and there are a few moments in this movie where things set up a little too perfectly and you wonder if it was done that perfectly for the film’s sake or if, of all the crazy things these two knuckleheads did, these select scenes happened that perfectly in real life.  Regardless, what we have here is a movie that is well worth your time and money, if only to get a glimpse into the shadier side of what is done in our name during war time.

Book Review: The Bestiary edited by Ann VanderMeer

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Reading “The Bestiary” is like reading a more mundane version of a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual.  It is a collection of short stories from various authors each of which describes a not-quite-of-this-world animal.   I am not sure how the authors or the stories were selected for this compilation or if the stories were written specifically for this compilation, but it is interesting how similar in scope much of the bestiary ended up being.  I would say fully half of the stories describe either parasitic or mimetic animals.  I found this very strange until I thought about it for more than a few seconds.  Bestiaries of the past were fantastical because so much was unknown.  A modern bestiary needs to be somewhat more grounded into the reality we now know and the obvious choice for animals are those that can blend and those that live off others.

Overall, this is an ok collection of stories even if some are a bit of a slog to get through.  They range from the mundane to the fantastical to the downright weird.  There are 28 beasts in total, one for each letter of the alphabet plus two non-alphabetic animals.  I will say that I had more of an affinity for the parasitic type stories just because they seem more believable.  There were also a few mind controlling ones that were fun reads as well.  Favorites include “The Counsellor Crow” by Karen Lord, “Daydreamer by Proxy” by Dexter Palmer, “Pyret” by Karin Tidbeck, and “Zee” by Richard Howard.

Can I recommend the book?  Eh, yes?  I would say that if you love reading Monster Manuals, this book has a lot to offer even if it is missing the “claw, claw, bite, rake” portions of Monster Manuals.  For others, I’d give the same warning that I give every collection of short stories:  There’s good stuff to be found here, but as with every collection, your mileage may vary.  Personally, I think that as long as there are a few gems, it’s worth reading.  This collection doesn’t quite hit that mark but it comes close.

Movie Review: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A fair to middling children’s movie.  Cute in all the ways it needs to be.  Karl Urban will always be Dr. McCoy.

I don’t remember much from the original “Pete’s Dragon” cartoon from the 60s, but I know this remake has almost nothing in common with it except there is a kid named Pete (Oakes Fegley) and that there is also a Dragon named Elliot.  This 2016 version is decent enough in an “everyone learns their lesson way too easily” sort of way, but it’s not a good sign when the height of drama happens in the first five minutes of the movie where Pete is left orphaned in the middle of the woods after a car crash that takes both of his parents.  Pretty grim stuff by Disney standards, but it’s handled admirably.

Bryce Dallas Howard is Grace, a motherly type forest ranger who, along with her daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence), finds Pete in the forest and helps to reacclimate him to civilization.  I remember thinking when seeing she was in the movie, “Oh, Bryce Dallas Howard is in this film I like her.  What do I like her in?” Turns out that the answer to that is nothing.  I like her in nothing.  Well, no, I like her in stuff, but “Pete’s Dragon” may be the best movie she’s ever been in, which isn’t saying much.  I liked her in this too and I am happy to report that she did not run through the forest in high heels. *cough* “Jurassic World” *cough*

I feel bad for Karl Urban.  He’s a decent actor.  He’s also indelibly imprinted into my brain as Dr. McCoy from the new Star Trek franchise.  In “Pete’s Dragon”, he plays Galvin, a self-absorbed lumberjack who is constantly pushing boundaries for no reason whatsoever and who is as close to an antagonist as the film comes to.  The problem is every time there is a close-up of him, I expect a Bones witticism to escape his mouth.  Maybe he lacks facial depth which is why he was so good in the “Dredd” movie where he was kept in a helmet the entire time.

Robert Redford plays Meecham, Grace’s dad and the only adult to believe that dragons are real.  Hint: they are.  He belts out his lines in a very Robert Redford-y way.  It’s hard not to like him even if this wasn’t exactly the most challenging of roles for him to play.

Then there’s Elliot the Dragon, played by about a million animators and artists who obviously spent most of their time watching puppy videos on YouTube.  Elliot behaves in almost every way like a dog would except in those moments when they needed her/him to behave elsewise.  This makes him an enjoyable, if hollow character.  I guess there are also humans who only seldom (seldomly is a useless variant word even though it would sound much better here) show intelligence, but we don’t make movies about them, now do we?  Also, would a dragon who breathes fire really be covered in fur?  Intelligent design, my ass.

“Pete’s Dragon” is a cute movie for the kiddies and a good movie for adults to share with their kids.  Beyond that, it’s decent enough of a film if you’re into those feel good movies without much of a point.  Despite it also being released in 3D (which I didn’t see it in), there’s not much need to see it on the big screen, though some of the forest scenes are pretty majestic.

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Fun and funny.  A little short on plot.  A better villain would have been nice.

My childhood has been ruined by the remaking of a beloved classic only with an all female cast.  Oh, the horrors!  Ok, not really, but that was actually a thing that happened to Trump supporters, er, I mean misogynists around the world.  Holy crap, what is wrong with people?

First off, this movie is legit funny.  There are all sorts of different kinds of comedy to be found throughout.  Slapstick, black, deadpan, juvenile, you name it.  Besides a large comedic lull filled with a boring ghostbusting action sequence, I found myself both laughing and smiling throughout.  I’ve never seen a movie where various parts of the audience laughed at different things like they did in this one.  It’s a strange experience, but hearing someone guffawing at something I only cracked a smile at actually made for a better movie viewing experience.

When you’re rebooting a sequel, you have to walk a fine line between keeping yourself the same as the source material and making the material your own.  This reboot does a great job of walking that line.  First off, the cast is terrific.  They all mesh well and have believable relationships.  Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) are estranged friends thrown back together by the appearance of the ghosts.  Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) is Abby’s science nerd sidekick.  Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) is the street smart know it all.  The show stealers are Kate McKinnon  and Chris Hemsworth as Kevin the extra stupid secretary.  I could spend all day watching Holtzman outtakes.  The movie is also full of wonderful secondary characters played by Zach Wood and Ed Beagley Jr. and Karan Soni, just to name a few.  The reboot movie also pays homage to the original movie like crazy.  Almost everyone from the original cast has a bit part walk on.  They tribute most of the iconic symbols throughout.

My biggest complaint by far is the completely one dimensional villain.  Rowan North’s (Neil Casey) only defining characteristic is picked on dork out for revenge.  Kind of lame.  It would have been comedy gold if they had made him a Men’s Rights Activist (MRA).  Make his whole raison d’etre trying to get back at women for the perceived slights done to him over the years.  Read an MRA site if you dare.  The material is endless.  Then a band of all female Ghostbusters shows up to defeat him.  In fact, someone should dub over Neil Casey’s voice with a litany of MRA complaints.  Maybe for the sequel.

Because of the various types of humor and the diverse audience reactions to said humor, I’d definitely recommend seeing “Ghostbusters” in the theater if you can.  If not, it’s still a very fun comedy worth your time to watch.  I’m a little worried that the humor might not hold up very well upon a second showing, but I’m looking forward to when it shows up on whatever streaming service hooks its tendrils into it.

Movie Review: Jason Bourne

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Horrible plot.  Lazy story.  Some good action.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is retired from retiring from retiring from retiring from trying to find out the truth about Operation Treadstone.  He spends his days looking disgruntled and knocking out menacing looking brutes in one punch in back-desert prize fighting matches.  Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) is working for a brilliant hacker who wants to use information he finds to bring down The Man.  She spends her days breaking into hacking collectives and using their resources to hack into CIA databases gaining access to more than enough information to bring down The Man and inexplicably relocating Jason Bourne because she found an extra tidbit on Treadstone that he might be interested.  We’ll ignore the fast that she could just have gotten this information to Bourne by releasing it into the wild and accomplishing what she set out to do in the first place because otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie.

Maybe we shouldn’t have a movie, though.  I mean, if you’re going to make a spy thriller, can you at least make your super spies act even remotely competent at their job?  In a world where you know facial recognition is everywhere, can you at least make an attempt to blend in, Nicky?  Maybe a baseball cap?  Or at least dress like you didn’t just come off of a runway in Paris?  I know this is all Hollywood objectification of women BS.  If you’re going to be a woman, you have to look good and stand out even if you should be going for the exact opposite.

Then there’s The Asset (Vincent Cassel), a man who has such an axe to grind with Bourne that he should never be put on the mission to eliminate Bourne to begin with.  You see, Bourne released sensitive data that compromised CIA programs and led to The Asset’s capture.  He cannot forgive Bourne for putting CIA personnel at risk.  So of course he starts racking up a CIA body count larger than anything Bourne ever did just so that he could get to Bourne and kill him.  Makes perfect sense.  And don’t even get me started on CIA Director Robert Dewey (played skeletally by Tommy Lee Jones).

The only redeeming thing about this movie is some of the action sequences are pretty cool.  That is not nearly enough to recommend spending time nor treasure on this movie.  Hopefully, Jason Bourne forgets about Treadstone for good from this point on.

Hillary Clinton – Neutral Good

I thought it would be fun to pigeon hole the presidential candidates into their respective Dungeons & Dragons alignment.  I recognize that these aren’t going to be perfect, but it’s one of those things that are fun to game out.  All references to alignments can be found on Wikipedia.

Hillary Clinton is by far the most difficult of those running for president to pin an alignment unto.  Mostly, this is because the body of works around her spans decades, some of it true, most of it rumors and innuendo spread by the same machine that gave us Donald Trump.  It’s kind of fitting that Hillary is literally facing the human embodiment of the smear machine that has been revved up against her ever since she first tried to bring some form of universal healthcare to the United States back when Bill was president.  So, with a whole bunch of caveats and qualms, I declare Hillary Clinton to be Neutral Good:

A neutral good character typically acts altruistically, without regard for or against lawful precepts such as rules or tradition. A neutral good character has no problems with cooperating with lawful officials, but does not feel beholden to them. In the event that doing the right thing requires the bending or breaking of rules, they do not suffer the same inner conflict that a lawful good character would.

Calling her Neutral is a fairly easy call.  Mostly because she is definitely not Chaotic or Lawful.  She is way too organized and resourceful to be Chaotic as proven by her running very effectively and successfully for public office.  And she certainly has, shall we say, malleable relationship with the law as evidenced by the email scandal.  And before you go all “We don’t want no lawbreaker in the Oval Office!”, remember, you also have a malleable relationship with the law.  All of you, on a daily basis, break laws that would result in fines and possible court dates.  A majority of you, on a weekly basis, break laws that would get you thrown in jail.  The only difference between you and Hillary is she faces a litany of laws as a person in power that you will never even know exist.  Argue all you want that the laws she breaks are “more important”, but she is much more qualified to determine which laws are important and which are not.  And if James Comey, the Republican Director of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence is not willing to recommend charges against Hillary for breaking laws as a result of trying to make her life a little easier, you should trust that he knows what he’s talking about as well.  If you think that the Clintons “got to him”, you may be suffering from CDS, Clinton Derangement Syndrome, a condition that leads to belief in wild conspiracy theories and watching of Fox News.

Unless you’re Jimmy Carter, calling anyone Good is a stretch and Hillary Clinton is no exception.  I think her body of work leans more towards Good than not, though.  She left the Republican Party because of the veiled racism she saw back when Nixon was running for president ( And so much has changed.  *sarcasm*).  She did volunteer work for the Children’s Defense Fund and continued to do work for children throughout her law and political career, culminating with the passing of the State Children’s Health Insurance bill after the failure of an all inclusive health insurance plan.  She’s served on multiple charitable boards and a few corporate boards as well, including Wal-Mart, where she successfully fought to make Wal-Mart more environmentally friendly.  She has fought relentlessly for women’s rights both in the United States where she’s helped formed rape hotlines, helped establish the Office of Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice, and helped enact all sorts of laws regarding foster care and adoption, as well as abroad where she has spoken many times about the plight of women around the world.  And these are just a few of her many accomplishments.

All of the above is why I think Neutral Good is a fair enough assessment.  Out of all the assessments, I would certainly consider this my weakest argument.  But like I said, when you’re dealing with someone who has been in the public eye as long and accomplished as much as Hillary Clinton, the whole Alignment system kind of falls apart.  One thing I can say for certain, if you can read about her and hear from the people who have worked for her and come to the conclusion that she does not have what it takes to be President of the United States, you live in an alternate reality.  Disagree with her politics.  Disagree with her way of getting things done.  Fine.  But she is as ready for this job as any human being can be.  Fact.

Book Review: Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

The protagonist’s name in “Not Dark Yet” is Brandon Minamoto.  If you’re going to read this book, remember that because it is only mentioned in the very first sentence of the very first chapter.  In fact, I thought the main character was nameless throughout until I read someone else’s review and they said his name was Brandon.  I had to actually do a search of the ebook to see if the author actually did name him.  I can’t recall how far into the book I had read before I realized that I didn’t know this man’s name, but I do recall finally getting the style of the prose after I realized he was repeatedly not named.  It’s an interesting style and it reflects nicely the nothingness feeling of the character.  Until that point, I was quite confused and it was an ah ha moment that made me enjoy the novel much more than I otherwise would have.

The setting is somewhere in the near future and the planet is beginning to reap the whirlwind of global warming.  States and countries are mostly a thing of the past, though governments still exist.  Food and water shortages are rampant.  Riots are a daily occurrence.  The weather grows more unpredictable and more violent.  This is the world that Brandon is floating through.

The novel starts with a jumble of stories from random moments in Brandon’s life.  Only with some thought can you later piece together those snippets into some sort of chronological order.  By the end, the pieces are all there to figure out, but it’s quite the jumble.  The problem is there’s not much reason for you to want to care about reassembling the jumble since nothing really exciting happens throughout the book to make you want to care.  If you bother, you will see that despite the book’s bleak ending, the real ending is possibly hopeful.

Despite the zero-sum nature of the novel, I found it enjoyable to read, if slightly disappointing given the abundant attention to detail without the corresponding fleshing out of any real connection of the main character to anyone or anything.  For that reason, it’s difficult to recommend the book to those who are looking for a more novelistic read.  If upon reading my review, it still sounds worth it, I don’t think you will be disappointed reading it.

Jill Stein – Chaotic Good

I thought it would be fun to pigeon hole the presidential candidates into their respective Dungeons & Dragons alignment.  I recognize that these aren’t going to be perfect, but it’s one of those things that are fun to game out.  All references to alignments can be found on Wikipedia.

It can incontrovertibly be said that Jill Stein is Chaotic Good:

A chaotic good character does what is necessary to bring about change for the better, disdains bureaucratic organizations that get in the way of social improvement, and places a high value on personal freedom, not only for oneself, but for others as well.[8] Chaotic good characters usually intend to do the right thing, but their methods are generally disorganized and often out of sync with the rest of society.

It is tempting to cast the Green Party candidate as True Neutral because the Green Party are like druids and druids must be Neutral.  Get it?  No?  Good, because if you did you’d be a level 36 Dork.  First edition rules.

Jill Stein has had a pretty solid career as an environmental activist.  Her story arch shows someone who has gone from Lawful Good earlier in her activism to her present Chaotic Good as the 2016 Green Party candidate.  In her early activism, she worked within the system to help make Massachusetts more environmentally sustainable.  She fought against coal plants and trash incinerators and helped push the state towards renewables and green energy job growth.

Stein’s path towards Chaotic Good can probably be traced to a single event.  In 1998, she campaigned for a Clean Elections Law that was repealed by a Democratic legislature.  This caused her to leave the Democratic party permanently and join the Green party.  Since, she has run for elected office multiple times, mostly in Massachusetts.  Those offices include Governor, U.S. House, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Town Meeting Representative, and President of the United States.  Of those, she has only won Town Meeting Representative of the city of Lexington, MA.

Stein is currently trying to poach voters unhappy with the DNC and who don’t understand that Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primaries a long time ago despite not dropping out.  She even crashed the DNC hoping to lure disaffected Sanders delegates to her.  Thus her move to Chaotic Good was complete.

Stein also has some pretty strange positions further enshrining her Chaotic cred.  She wants to “quantitatively ease” student loans into non-existence, whatever that means.  She wants to “nationalize” the Federal Reserve, which fine, but even Fed know-nothings like Rand Paul aren’t calling for that.  She wants to close all of our foreign bases claiming they are bankrupting us.  She was for Brexit before she was against it.  She wants to pardon and put Edward Snowden in her Cabinet.  The Green Party supports homeopathy and her stance on it is wishy-washy at best.  And last but hardly least, she has no chance of winning the Presidency and is knowingly acting as the Democratic spoiler in a close election where Donald Trump might actually become President of the United States.

Gary Johnson – Chaotic Neutral

I thought it would be fun to pigeon hole the presidential candidates into their respective Dungeons & Dragons alignment.  I recognize that these aren’t going to be perfect, but it’s one of those things that are fun to game out.  All references to alignments can be found on Wikipedia.

I hereby deem Libertarian candidate for president, Gary Johnson, to be Chaotic Neutral:

A chaotic neutral character is an individualist who follows their own heart and generally shirks rules and traditions.  Although chaotic neutral characters promote the ideals of freedom, it is their own freedom that comes first; good and evil come second to their need to be free.

There really isn’t much information about Gary Johnson to hang any individual alignment on, but his record is certainly Libertarian and no alignment screams Libertarian like Chaotic Neutral.  He is huge on personal freedom (he was big on ending the war on drugs before it was cool, which kudos).  He believes in a minimalist government with zero interest in the consequences of what his policies (or lack thereof, really) will do to his constituents.  He was big on privatization of prisons and school vouchers.  As two-time governor of New Mexico, he holds  the record for number of vetoes (47% of all bills in his first term).  His governorship is generally considered a success and he was well liked, but I’ve not been able to find much evidence for or against Johnson’s term.  It looks to me like New Mexico grew at about the same pace as the rest of the country during his term in office.  I can concede that Libertarianism may be able to work in states whose population density is 17 people per square mile.

One thing I can say about him is Gary Johnson is the one person running for president that I would love to get a beer with.  He really does seem like a fun guy and you just know it wouldn’t end with just one beer.  Suddenly, you’re six beers in and Gary’s all like “Shots!” and you’re all like “I don’t really do shots” but suddenly you’re draining one down and there’s already another one in front of you and you’re like “What the hell!” and you pop that one down your gullet as well and then you regain consciousness at Gary’s house and everyone’s dropping LSD and Gary is offering you some and you take it and suddenly there’s this psychedelic music playing and all these colored lights and you have this absolutely mind blowing experience and as you come down,Gary’s there with some weed to help you mellow and you realize that it’s already 6 AM and you have all these chores to do before visiting your family so you say good bye to Gary and thanks for a fun evening and as you’re leaving Gary says to you, “We’re still on for next weekend, right?”