Monthly Archives: May 2014

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

“Redshirts” is one of those novels that is constantly winking at the reader.  And, given the premise, how could it not?  For those of you that don’t know, a Redshirt is a reference to the hapless extras in the Star Trek series who invariably wear red shirts and whose sole purpose is to die horribly in the presence of one or more of the main cast to give some semblance of danger without having to kill off the main cast.  In “Redshirts”, those hapless extras take center stage.

The premise of the story is brilliant in its simplicity.  A small group of Redshirts discover that they are actually Redshirts and that some mysterious and all too predictable force seems to be guiding the fates of those aboard the Universal Union ship, Intrepid.  At key moments in critical situations, they find themselves doing and saying things that they don’t seem to have complete control over.  They start to call this strange force The Narrative.  And then there’s The Box, a device that can solve any problem, but only in critical situations and only in the nick of time.  What does all of this mean?  The Redshirts band together to find out before they become the next victim of an explosion on deck 6 or a Longranian Ice Shark or Bogrovian Land Worms.

With such a wacky premise and a whole mess of base material to draw from, you can probably guess that “Redshirts” is both a comedy and contains a plethora of Easter Eggs for sci-fi geeks.  The humor in the book is pretty good, but it kind of wore thin for me after a while which is much of the reason why I gave the book three instead of four stars.  John Scalzi’s writing always contains a bit of humor and it always works in smaller quantities.  In “Redshirts” it was just a bit too much.

Following the main story, there are three Codas which follow individuals who are trying to come to terms with being affected by the people they unknowingly affected after they learned that they were affecting them.  If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, read the book and all will be revealed.  None of the three really add much to the main storyline, but they are interesting experiments in empathy.  I’m a sucker for stuff like this.  Here’s a story.  Now look how this story felt from this point of view.  And now this point of view.  And now this point of view.  This is probably like Creative Writing 101 stuff and I don’t know it, but it seldom is found in novels these days and I appreciate it.

“Redshirts” is worth reading, especially if you are a sci-fi geek.  There is some good stuff in it for non-sci-fi geeks too and I don’t think you’ll miss out on much in the book if you aren’t a sci-fi geek.  I found it to be an enjoyable light read and would recommend it to anyone with a caveat for the humor.

Movie Review: X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: This is a movie with a fairly decent plot, a lot of imagination, and great use of special effects.

This movie has more X-Men than you can shake a stick at.  Luckily, only a few of them are actually relevant to the plot line and the ones that aren’t have way cool powers like creating portals and shooting fire and ice and absorbing mutant powers in order to charge a gun?  I don’t know about that last one, but the dude looked awesome doing it.  Their names are irrelevant and I know none of them, but I’m sure every X-Men geek was in full geek fervor at the giant lineup of mutants involved in this movie.

Surprisingly, this is a movie about time travel and the plot is not bad.  It might not be wholly internally consistent, but it does a journeyman job of making the time travel aspects work.  The basic premise is the future sucks because the Sentinels, mutant hunting robots, are doing a pretty bang up job and the mutants are quickly becoming extinct.  This leads to them using Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back into the 1970s to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the inventor of the Sentinels, Trask (Peter Dinklage) because it starts the whole Sentinel War instead of preventing it.

The interactions of the characters are interesting and the conclusions they come to are believable.  That’s always been the strength of the X-Men movies, even when the movies themselves haven’t always been good.  You get what Professor X is doing and why he’s doing it, but at the same time you get what Magneto is doing and why he’s doing it.  They are one of the better silver screen frenemies out there.

This movie also contains one of the best special effects driven scenes ever made.  I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it is incredibly inventive, satisfyingly snarky, and magnificently mischievous.  The audience absolutely loved it.

There is some second act slowness, but it is not entirely wasted as there is some interesting character development to be had in it.  Other than that, “Days of Future Past” was a very enjoyable experience and I can seem myself wanting to see it again some day.

If This Isn’t A Portent Of Good Things To Come, I Don’t Know What Is

I open my box of macaroni and cheese (macaroni and cheese, lazy lunchtime meal of champions!) and, lo and behold, what do I see but the holy grail of macaroni and cheese consumption!  Two packets of cheese!  Now, granted, one of them looks like an assembly line aborted fetus and contains about a third of what you’d normally expect from a packet of cheese, but still.  ONE THIRD MORE CHEESE!

Om nom nom nom.

Movie Review: Godzilla

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line:  Look, it’s a monster!  Look, we’re ineffectively doing things!  Look, we’re making extremely stupid decisions just so there is some sort of story line!

What a mess this movie is.  It has only two things going for it.  One, Bryan Cranston is in it.  Two, a lot of the effects are pretty cool.  Number one doesn’t last very long.

I get that the theme of Godzilla movies is basically man’s hubris in thinking he can stand up to nature without nature bringing down the hammer of justice, but something interesting should really be happening when making that point.  Instead, this movie provides stupid rational after stupid rational for stupid action after stupid action.  Case in point, the Yucca Mountain scene.  Yucca Mountain, if you are not aware is where the U.S. stores all its nuclear waste.  There is more radioactivity happening there than anywhere else in the world.  One of the monsters is at Yucca Mountain and is pregnant for whatever reason and needs radioactivity to feed.  Instead of staying there, she rampages across Las Vegas and heads to San Francisco because the Army is carting a single nuclear missile by train to San Francisco.  This is all to be with her mate, who she doesn’t really need because she’s already pregnant.  Now, maybe they decided to skip the funky monster love making scene for the sake of time, but come on!

Then there are other stupid decisions like running busses full of evacuees across the Golden Gate Bridge even though it is clear to everyone that the other monster is heading straight for said bridge.  Oh, and there’s also the main character (who I will just call Not Bryan Cranston) who tells his wife and child who are in San Francisco to wait there and he’ll come and get them even though he has full knowledge that there are three monsters converging there.  Come to think of it, that would have made the story somewhat interesting if he was actually trying to get them killed because his marriage really sucked.

The only thing this movie has going for it are its cool special effects.  Even that is kind of spoiled by the fact that the entirety of the monster fighting scenes are done in darkness and are most often only glimpsed at in the background while our heroes are vainly attempting to be hero-y.

“Godzilla” would certainly be in my skip it category.  The special effects are not enough to save it.  Though, it may be one of those movies that, once you recognize the ridiculousness of it, turns it into a good movie.

You Are Still Just A Rat In A Cage

You ever wonder why pet mice and gerbils and such seem to enjoy those little exercise wheels so much?  Probably because they are in this little cage and there’s not much else to do, right?


Scientists decided to take exercise wheels out of the cages and put them in places outside and see what would happen.  One they put in a green urban center and another they put in a remote dune area.  Much to their chagrin, they found that wild mice and rats and even some snails, slugs, and frogs enjoyed using the exercise wheel.  Over three years, they recorded over 1,200 uses of the exercise wheel.  They originally used food to lure the animals to the exercise wheel site, but on the chance that they were using the wheel because of the food, they removed it and still were recording wheel usage.

This is the kind of experiment that gets mocked by people who don’t have a basic understanding of how science works.  I have no idea if there are any useful scientific conclusions to draw from this experimeint or not.  The authors suggest that there may be something to gleen about the habits of sedentary versus more active humans, but who know.  They did an experiment that was never attempted before and reached a conclusion that is at least somewhat unexpected.  Basic science like this is how big discoveries are made.  There is a quote that I remember, but can’t find the source and it goes something like this: Great discoveries are often thought to come from someone burning the midnight oil and coming across some new discovery and shouting “Eureka!”, but more often than not it comes from someone looking at a bit of gathered data and thinking to herself, “That’s odd”.

I Tell Jokes!

What do you call a man laughing obnoxiously in a high class restaurant?

An amused douche!

Get it?  Amused douche/amuse-bouche?  Oh, come on, it’s funny!  You obviously have no taste in humor.  Unless you liked it.  Then you are a connoisseur of comedy.

Book Review: The Sirens Of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Jean-Paul’s Review: 3/5 stars

“The Sirens of Titan” is Kurt Vonnegut’s second novel and you can really feel him just starting to get his unique voice in it.  It is kind of a hybrid standard novel/typical Vonnegut prose mix.  There are none of the one word paragraphs yet, but the paragraphs sizes are noticeably smaller than your standard novel.

Many of the standard Vonnegut subjects are already present in this novel.  You have Tralfamadore and allusions to “Harrison Bergeron”.  Much of the book deals with finding your place in the world and fate’s part in it.  The humor is dark, even more so than his usual fare.  I suspect that my three star rating has more to do with the fact that almost everything contained in the book has been done better by him later in his career and I read all of those first.

The book starts with the chrono-synclastical infundibulated (think unstuck in time-ish) Winston Niles Rumfoord paying one of his cyclical visits to his wife, Beatrice, and special guest, playboy billionalre Malachai Constant.  Rumfoord tells them both their future and how they will go to Mars and get married and have a kid together before heading to the Saturnian moon of Titan, with Constant making a side trip to Mercury beforehand.  Finding each other mostly repulsive, they attempt to avoid that fate by any means necessary only to have it all come true.

It all comes true in horrible Vonnegutesque fashion.  When I said this novel was dark, I meant it.  No one in this novel is a good person, except for maybe Salo the Tralfamadorian and he’s a machine.  So it goes.  I had no idea where anything in this novel was going until it went there.  None of it was out of left field either.  It was all, “Oh, that makes beautifully horrible sense.”, which is quite an accomplishment.

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors and it’s really interesting to read his second novel and see his growth as an author.  If you’ve read most of his later stuff, you should totally pick up this book, but if you’re a Vonnegut virgin, there’s better to be had in “Slaughterhouse-Five”, “Cat’s Cradle” and, well, most of his other works.  That doesn’t make this book bad, it just makes it not as good.

Happy Limerick Day!

Today is Limerick Day

For it is the 12th of May

So I’ll write you this ditty

Though I’ll admit it’s quite shitty

And now it is over.  Hurray!

Sex Positivity Rocks!

This is possibly NSFW just because of what it is more than what is contained in the video.  The Dutch electronic music band ADAM produced a video for their song “Go to Go” with a bit of a twist. They attempted to sing the song as straight-faced and emotionless as possible while using a vibrator.  The result is a brilliant concept perfectly executed with highly amusing results:


It’s a fun little pop song that starts with all three hitting their marks flawlessly but soon they start with the smiles as their bodies take over.  Soon they start missing their marks and then they start completely missing entire sentences.  Now someone needs to make a male equivalent.  That would probably be even funnier.

Movie Review: Neighbors

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A fun raunchy comedy with some unexpectedly excellent chemistry between the actors.

Now, this may have been one of those movies where you go in with low expectations and it surprises you so much that you give it a better review than you normally would.  And who wouldn’t have low expectations when the plot revolves around a fraternity moving next door to a couple of new parents?  And who wouldn’t be surprised when that flimsy premise actually turns into a very enjoyable movie?

Obviously, with a plot like this, the movie is a bit unbelievable, but it does a really good job of making it as close to believable as possible.  The pranks that are pulled and the schemes that are concocted are all things that you might imagine doing if you were in a similar situation.  In fact, with the exception of the air bags stunt, which was both over the top and hilarious, it only takes a bit of a stretch of the imagination to see this movie happening in real life.

A lot of what makes this movie work is the acting.  What makes good material great material is the chemistry between the actors and there is chemistry aplenty in this film.  Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play off of each other so well as the new parents next door.  One set of comedic talent is enough to carry any movie, but this movie has two, for Zak Efron and Dave Franco also work off of each other well as the fraternity president and vice president.

Only time will tell if “Neighbors” has any staying power as a classic raunchy comedy.  I can see myself breaking out this movie every few years and laughing all over again.

This movie also contains, perhaps, the cutest baby that was ever created on this planet, played by twins Elsie and Zoey Vargas.  Disgustingly cute applies here.  Be sure to stay for the credits where Elsie and Zoey are dressed up to look like all of the actors as their names scroll by.