Pacific Rim: Uprising

This is a review I really don’t want to write. I’ve seen a lot of movies recently and I guess I’ve been spoiled by their quality. I can’t say enough good things about Black Panther — for the record, I was seriously worried about it touching off a lot of racist bullshit before I saw it the first time — and I’ve seen it 4.5 times (I was falling asleep the last time, after an entirely too long day, and left before I felt I was disrespecting the film) which I’ve never done before. I thought A Wrinkle in Time was great, especially for a film targeting preteens and children, and felt it had a lot of positive messages that kids really need today, especially girls. And hands down the most intriguing intellectual film I’ve seen in years was Annihilation.

So perhaps I was spoiled.

I went to Pacific Rim: Uprising with a lot of high hopes and little or no concern that it wouldn’t measure up. Let’s face it, as much as I love the original, it made no apologies for basically just being a monster movie meant to be fun. It didn’t try to force a romance in. The plot, while good and well considered, was there more or less as window dressing for the special effects showcase that was giant robots fighting giant monsters. There were tons of little details that were random and fun, and let us not forget cinematically amazing, but the whole fucking thing was done for fun.

I didn’t have fun in Uprising. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of attempts at bringing the fun, but many of them were entirely too reminiscent of the original. That’s not bad per se, but the movie came off as a copy or tribute to the original instead of a sequel. As elegy nevermore put it when I was talking to her about it, it was the kind of thing a fanboy or fangirl would do. They made an attempt to make Pacific Rim rather than the follow-up to it. I didn’t realize that Guillermo del Toro wasn’t involved (directly at least) in this sequel when I went in or while watching it, but I came away absolutely sure it wasn’t his film. It might be a world he created or at least first explored on the big screen but this was not his work and it showed.

Again, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad film, and there were some good things about it, but I came away disappointed. And angry.

I’m angry for one reason more than any other. Since I never give spoiler warnings or avoid them, I’m not going to start now. They under utilized and killed off Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi. Her only purpose in this film was to bridge the original cast to the new one, something that was done by the presences of Newton and Herman, but Mako should’ve had a larger role and her death was completely needless.

And where the fuck did Raleigh fuck off to? There was one mention of him in the film with no word on whether he was alive or dead, with the possible exception of a photo of him in the hall of dead heroes. (I’m not sure I saw him there but he may have been.) I’m guessing he was another casualty to bring about the new generation.

Pacific Rim: Uprising was a valiant attempt at capturing the magic of its predecessor, but it comes up short. It was missing the humorous characters like Hannibal Chau and Tendo Choi, the larger than life badass that was Stacker Pentecost, the determination of Raleigh Becket, and the heart of Mako Mori and Herc Hansen. What was left was a bunch of, frankly, kids trying to fill the void and share the screen with John Boyega playing a reluctant hero. John’s Jake Pentecost was good, but he reminded me all too much of Finn… Yeah, I know, same actor but the characters should be different, instead they felt almost like one and the same. I don’t know if John is to blame or the screenwriters, but that’s what it felt like to me.

If you’re a fan of the original, it might be worth seeing, but for me, I definitely will not be seeing this another 3.5 times in theater.

Hollywood: 2020 Challenge!

Ok Hollywood, I sometimes really don’t like you and you don’t know who the fuck I am, but since this has come up a lot in the last few weeks, I’m going to challenge you to make a change for just one year.

That’s right, a year.

What I challenge you to do, Hollywood, is to give up prequels, sequels, reboots, remakes and any other derivative work of any exposing film, television show, short film, etc for one full year. I know it’s too late for 2019 already, to say nothing of 2018, but 2020 is feasible. Go one year, one single fucking calendar year, without releasing any of the above to theaters for us.

Just give original works a single solitary year to inspire us! Just one! I’ll even allow you to hedge your bet and continue to work on those projects before and during 2020, just don’t release them until January 1st 2021.

Please! We’re tired of all of this and are ready for some interesting, weird, funny, serious, WTF IS THIS SHIT? work from little known or just starting out filmmakers and screenwriters. Let’s see what they can do if you give them a chance! Please! Please take the 2020 challenge!

The Gospel of Luke’s Plan

Yesterday, I read Mike Ryan’s article, We Date You to Explain Luke’s Plan to Rescue Han in ‘Return Of the Jedi’, and immediately thought: challenge accepted! So here we are. For the tiniest bit of background on me before I get started, just so no one has to go digging through the rest of this site: I’m a reader, writer, programmer, gamer, and rabid Star Wars and Star Trek fan and have read in excess of 80 books of the former before they were disavowed by Disney.


Luke’s plan didn’t anticipate much of what happened within Jabba’s palace, but was a multi-tiered, fault tolerant plan with contingencies and unmentioned assistance. But read on for the full explanation.

The Simplest Explanation

The simplest and most dull explanation is that Luke, using the Force, saw much or all of the rescue in a vision, particularly the outcome. This would mean that Luke only had to know how it all ended and then work out how to get all of his Team Skywalker players into position. This is also most likely the path that Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, and Rick Kerb took to resolving the Solo subplot; start at the resolution and work backwards in time placing characters’ entrances in a staggered pattern with various purposes as their roles in the “master plan.”

So in all likelihood, even with the Force vision explanation, the plan really didn’t have to be sound or even really make a lot of sense as Luke and the filmmakers knew it would work.

That said…

My Thoughts on the Plan

Without bringing a Force vision (deus ex machina) into play, according to lore I’ve acquired over the last 35 years, there’s a lot more going on in the Jedi opening than what’s been presented on-screen. Some of this knowledge is from the various novels I’ve read, some from comics and various Star Wars games over the decades, some from discussions with friends who acquired it from God knows where. Some of this will undoubtedly have been considered canon prior to the New Disney Order, some may have only been rumor. At this point, with all the things I’ve been exposed to related to Star Wars, the only way to back up some of this stuff would be to go digging through my books and write a full on research paper which I’m not interested in doing at this time. Given my bachelor’s degree is in film analysis, I probably will end up writing that paper, but for the moment…

Things that you need to know that aren’t expressly stated in the opening of Return of the Jedi:

  1. Jedi takes place roughly 1 year after the events at Bespin.
  2. The Rebel Alliance infiltrated Jabba’s palace.
  3. Luke spent more time training and developing his Jedi skills with Yoda.

Some of this is just common sense inferral… We know, for instance, that Luke had to have gone back to Yoda to complete his training prior to the grand master’s death because Luke constructed a new lightsaber. I believe the original novelization of Jedi —originally entitled “Revenge of the Jedi” in paperback, magazine style format — noted that the film too place after a year of chasing Boba Fett around the galaxy trying to rescue Han prior to his arrival at Jabba’s palace. I’ll concede again that I’m not 100% sure that I got the source right, but I’m more than 99% sure that this was canon.

The fact that Jedi took place so long after Han’s entombment gave our heroes plenty of time to prepare. Before you get started with it, it was common knowledge among them that Fett was going to take him to Jabba. After all, Han had been complaining about owing the Hutt a large debt since Tatooine. So the destination was never in question.

Now, how do we know a significant amount of time has passed? The biggest two clues are that the gang suddenly knew Lando well enough to trust him and, more importantly, Luke had constructed a new lightsaber. Let’s start with Lando…

Empire introduced Lando out of no where as an old friend and rival of Han’s. Some of the lore makes them out as having been childhood friends, theoretically growing up on Corellia together. Other lore seems to indicate they met gambling or smuggling or during other shady activities, some of which seem to be indicated in the upcoming spin-off film. What’s certain, however, it’s from the moment the Falcon touched down in Bespin, the gang was nervous about Lando, Han going as far as saying, “Of course I don’t trust him, he is my friend!” So after Lando sold them out to Vader and the Empire, how could Jedi possibly pick up immediately after Empire with Luke and the others trusting Lando enough for him to be in a crucial position during their final rescue attempt? The answer is they wouldn’t, unless they knew him better. Ergo, some significant amount of time has passed.

The second clue is something you never really think about until you consider the film very closely. If Jedi picks up right after Empire, when did Luke build his new lightsaber? You could say that he learned while he trained with Yoda during Empire, but he had no need: he had his father’s lightsaber. Vader later comments to Luke that he’s “constructed a new lightsaber” and that his “skills are complete.” This implies additional training had taken place off screen, because Luke surely didn’t have time onscreen to learn these things. Mastering the subtle control over the Force to construct a lightsaber is time consuming and is considered one of the final steps in achieving the rank of Jedi Knight. (Just because the Sith are passionate and generally blunt in much of what they do doesn’t make them incapable of subtlety.) This all points to Luke returning to Dagobah to continue his training under Yoda. What the remaining lessons besides constructing a new weapon were remains a mystery, though some books have indicated that Ben and Yoda only trained Luke in what he needed to defeat Vader and the Emperor. He was occasionally referred to as a weapon that they used to defeat the two Sith lords, and that he was taught what he needed to become a complete Jedi afterwards. But that’s all besides the point: Luke spent some time during the Fett Chase to get fully into the Jedi game.

My other point listed above was that the Rebel Alliance infiltrated Jabba’s palace. As much as I love Lando, by the time we meet him, he’s no longer fit to be the scoundrel that Han had once hung out with and made him out to be. He was a rich businessman by the time we meet him, though I’ll admit that he’s still very much a shady character. (By the way, his initial harsh greeting to Han was an attempt to warn him away, but when it failed, he committed to Vader’s plan.) That said, there’s no way that he would’ve had the contacts to quietly become a member of Jabba’s staff without help, and the lore I’ve heard indicated that there were Rebel spies throughout Jabba’s palace. In fact, I’ve heard that the Twi’lek dancer that Jabba drops into the rancor pit was one of them. I admit that my claim that Lando wouldn’t have had the contacts is a bit tenuous; Bespin mined tibana gas, which is used in the blasters and turbo-lasers of pretty much everyone in the Star Wars galaxy, and Lando was selling to both legal and illegal purveyors of the gas. So he might have had some contacts, but I would think that anyone that he had contact with would’ve been known to Jabba, and Jabba certainly would’ve heard of Lando. So Lando had to go in with a false identity, without using his own influence, and I would say that would’ve taken a great deal of time to get into a position where he had access to prisoners, Jabba’s throne room, and sail barge. He had to have help. Perhaps it started with a couple of Rebel spies bribing some low ranking members of Jabba’s gang to get themselves into the gang. Perhaps there were a few members of the Rebellion that were already members of the gang. (Another fact: the Rebel Alliance and New Republic — in the Expanded Universe/Legends books at least — had long had an association with the criminal element of the galaxy as they were frequently common allies against the Empire. When the Rebels went legit after Jedi, they kind of toned down relationship and didn’t look the other way quite as much, but they never fully cut ties to the pirates and smugglers that made up a significant portion of their ranks at one point.) Regardless of how many spies there were in Jabba’s organization, they succeeded in getting Lando into position, and I think they would’ve played more roles had Luke’s plans gone differently.

Now, on to the nitty gritty…

The Droids

Luke absolutely would’ve sacrificed the droids to Jabba if the Hutt had agreed to free Han for them. There’s no doubt in my mind. Artoo and Threepio were dear friends to him and the gang, but they were property first and foremost. Some of the EU books had a strong undercurrent of just how droids were treated in the Star Wars universe, and while these two in particular were well treated and cared for, they were still just machines and Han clearly meant much more to Luke and the others than the droids did. I don’t really think that would’ve been the end of the pair, mind you… It’s my belief that if Jabba had taken the deal, the Rebel spies within his organization, including Lando, would’ve stolen the pair on the way out… Much like lifting office supplies from an employer when you quit. Not that I’ve ever done such a thing… I have no evidence to back this up, but that seems logical to me. Jabba had plenty of droids, and plenty of staff; I think he would’ve missed the staff that suddenly departed after a hypothetical bargain than he would’ve the pair of droids that he got in the deal. And if he did miss the droids, then all he’d probably do is set a bounty on Luke’s head just like he had with Han. I have serious doubts that Luke would’ve felt bad about receiving stolen property (his own droids) liberated from a major criminal; just because Luke is on the light side of the Force, and our story’s hero, doesn’t mean he isn’t practical or a law abiding citizen.

From Luke’s own words in his projected speech to Jabba, he offered the droids as a gift regardless of whether the bargain was accepted, meaning that he really didn’t expect a pair of droids to be worth Han’s life and so this part of the plan was just getting Artoo into position.

Chewie and Leia

This part of the plan is a bit more interesting. It’s my assessment that this was purely about putting Chewie, Leia, and Han into position for the grand finale of the rescue, however, there are things that really stand out that I want to draw attention to that were not taken into account in Mike Ryan’s post.

  • Why wasn’t Chewie cuffed?
  • Where was Leia/Boushh when Jabba and crew supposedly called it a day?
  • Why did Leia/Boushh make so much noise while entering and freeing Han?
  • Why didn’t Leia/Boushh see Jabba and the others behind the thin curtain?
  • Why did Jabba and gang happen to be awake and waiting on Leia/Boushh?
  • Why did Jabba allow Leia/Boushh free Han from the carbonite?

The big Boushh-Chewbacca entrance is somewhat epic: a few blaster hits just off screen and a body flying into scene. But if you look closely, you can see Chewie’s arm coming down after the body starts flying. Why, if Chewie is a prisoner, is he not cuffed? There’s reason to believe that he may have made some pledge to never be cuffed again; he’s almost willing to hurt Luke in A New Hope when the farmboy went to put them on for his plan. Lore has it that Chewie and other Wookiees were slaves when Han found and freed them, at which point the life-debt was established; I guess we’ll see if that becomes canon (a second time) in a few months. So, from that perspective I can understand Leia/Boushh not forcing the issue. Instead, she led him in with a leash and collar that didn’t stop him from doing what he wanted. I don’t care what your reputation as a bounty hunter may be, that collar isn’t enough for a Wookiee, even a runt like Chewbacca. Jabba and crew should’ve been highly suspicious. And perhaps they were.

Another interesting point is that while Boushh negotiated for a bounty for Chewie, this is the first time we hear about such a bounty for the Wookiee. Han freely and repeatedly mentions the bounty on his head, but nothing is ever said about Chewie until now. Think about it: do you really think that Boba Fett would’ve left Bespin with Han alone when he could have received two bounties by bringing in Chewie too? There literally wouldn’t have been any extra work since Chewie had been captured too. What would Vader want with the Wookiee? Yes, he tells Lando to “take the Wookiee and the princess to my ship” but for what purpose? Leia makes sense, she was a traitor and a valuable Rebel leader that had thwarted him in the past, but he had no reason to believe that Chewie was worth keeping. So, why wouldn’t he let Boba Fett take him as well if there was a bounty on his head?

Simple. The bounty was a MacGuffin made up for Jedi, though you could canonize it by simply saying that Chewie was a bonus bounty on Han’s larger bounty. Still, though, I can’t imagine Fett just walking away from easy money. So this brings me back to Rebel infiltrators: perhaps they convinced Jabba to put a bounty on Chewie’s head to give Leia/Boushh and Chewbacca an “in” for the plan. I also admit that it’s possible that in that time between films, Chewie may have made such trouble for Jabba that a bounty was indeed placed on his head, though I think the Wookiee is much more of a team player than that.

So getting past the bounty, at some point Leia/Boushh leaves the general party and good time in Jabba’s throne room, and effectively disappears for uncounted and unknowable time only to return noisily to rescue Han. This particular scene has always been a bit troublesome for me. First she bangs until some wind chimes in the doorway. Then she makes her way across the room, wearing a helmet probably equipped with as much data collection sensory as Boba Fett’s own while still missing Jabba and the gang behind a thin curtain. Lowers Han’s entombed body to the floor with a loud bang, and the releases him, only to be surprised when Jabba starts laughing.

Assuming that the goal was to free Han and escape at that point, then Leia is doing a terrible job, and is making every rookie mistake in the book. Leia is only human, but she’s not that incompetent. I’ll give her a pass on the chimes — it was dark, they would’ve been room temperature so would have been difficult to see on a thermal imaging scan, maybe infrared as well, and they were hanging so that just a few of them were at head height. In reality, that may have been a completely goofed up entrance that they thought added character and left in as a result; visibility in that helmet had to have been terrible. I’ll also give a slight pass on the initial landing of Han’s carbonite slab; there’s no way Leia would or could have known how much noise it would make when it hit, still it seemed to drop to the floor way too fast. Then, of course, it hit the wall behind it as it settled. If Leia were trying to make a stealthy exit with Han, she failed completely at this point because she could easily have used the controls while he was still hanging on the wall to free him. There’s no excuse for missing Jabba & Pals; she should have seen them.

And maybe she did. Like I said, if she was trying to make a stealthy exit, she utterly failed, but if the plan was to make Han significantly more mobile, then the plan was a clear success. Even blind, a thawed and conscious Han is far more mobile than Side-of-Beef-Han with or without the hover-sled he’d been on in Bespin. My guess is that Luke’s plan was for Leia to merely free Han, and to take any opportunity to escape that presented itself, otherwise hang out and wait for the third tier of the plan, Luke’s entrance.

This explains why Chewie was “sacrificed”: he was moved into position, the dungeons where Han almost certainly would be moved after being released from the carbonite. How could they guarantee they’d end up in the same cell? The Rebel infiltrators, including Lando, would be in charge of moving prisoners around and could easily arrange for the partners to share a cell. Chewie and Han would hang out waiting for Luke’s part of the plan to succeed or fail.

I think the only part of Leia’s part that wasn’t anticipated was her being chained to Jabba’s dais; I think they probably expected her to be moved to the dungeons as well, but the earlier execution of the Twi’lek opened up the spot for the princess to be degraded and put on display for Jabba’s pleasure.

This all leads me to believe that Jabba was tipped off, most likely per Luke’s plan. Again, mainly for positioning the players. I think Team Skywalker would’ve been fine if it worked as it seemed to be planned, but I think this failure was all part of the real plan. The fact that Jabba and a dozen of his goons were still present and awake when Leia made her entrance and freed Han, and remained utterly silent while that happened seems way too coincidental. The only answer is that Jabba was tipped off by someone that this was a rescue attempt. It could be that Jabba was intelligent enough to put the pieces together but I don’t think he was that smart personally. It makes much more sense that one of the Rebel spies tipped off the rescue attempt and urged a public execution rather than a hail of blaster bolts to ensure a more orderly and less elaborate escape plan or to enable Luke’s phase of the plan. Otherwise, Leia and Han would’ve been dead before the latter fell free of the carbonite: Jabba was not known for his patience or mercy.

About Luke

Luke’s part of the plan was probably the most critical, though it had the most risk. Luke’s part had three goals:

  1. Negotiate the release of everyone, using the Force if necessary.
  2. Assassinate Jabba.
  3. Get captured for the last ditch escape effort.

Having received additional training from Yoda and feeling cocky despite himself, Luke’s part in the plan was undoubtedly — in his mind — the part with the highest chance of success. This is evident in his solitary entrance, the Force choking of the guards, the domination of Bib Fortuna, and his attempted domination of Jabba himself. Being the newest Jedi with a host of new skills he was eager to test out, Luke’s arrogance didn’t quite anticipate Jabba’s resistance. Luke had only been told by Obiwan that “the Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded”, not that some species are immune to the power. So Luke had to try it, because if it worked, he and friends could just walk right out of the palace without firing a shot.

But it didn’t work, so Luke moved on to plan B: assassinate Jabba right there in the throne room. Using the Force, he summoned a blaster to his hand and went for a shot on the Hutt before dropping into the rancor pit. I hadn’t thought about it until recently, but why didn’t Luke use a lightsaber instead? I mean, yeah, we know that he’d hidden a newly built lightsaber in Artoo, but why didn’t he construct two lightsabers in advance, one to have on him in Jabba’s throne room and one for the last ditch effort? Perhaps he could only come up with one Khyber crystal, or maybe he didn’t think that far in advance. Maybe it was so Jabba and the gang wouldn’t expect to fight against a lightsaber wielding Jedi later. I’m not sure, and I have never seen an explanation of this apparent oversight. Luke would’ve been hard-pressed to deflect blaster bolts from so many sources, but he would’ve been much more likely to have killed Jabba in this throne room than with the blaster. Nonetheless, you make every plan with contingencies, and while he probably didn’t anticipate a fight with the rancor — where a lightsaber would’ve been supremely useful — he probably did anticipate being captured and publicly executed.

Why the public execution? Luke lived on Tatooine most of his life by this point, and Jabba wasn’t exactly hiding from the authorities, so it’s probably a fact that the Hutt’s favorite type of punishment was public execution in a sarlacc pit, and kids growing up on that works were probably told tales of being fed to it deliberately to scare them into behaving. Again, Rebel spies might have influenced this outcome, and though we don’t see them in the ensuing battle that ended this part of the film, it’s my belief that they were there and doing their part. I think this because the sail barge was easily large enough to carry several hundred people, no matter how good our small cadre of heroes is, they’re no match for several hundred of Jabba’s thugs, or even several dozen, and Jabba would’ve wanted as many people to witness his gruesome punishment as possible. Yes, Leia smashed the controls to the window seats but that didn’t prevent anyone from opening them individually and firing out. There was no rush of troops to the top deck to blow the heros on the skiff away; something had to be delaying them. What would prevent them from doing so? A fire fight inside the barge with even a small small opposition force located at key locations. More indirect evidence: who tried to stop or kill Leia when she was busy choking the Hutt to death? She was alone, unarmed, and out in the open for an easy kill shot but not one came her way from any of the thugs aboard. Can you imagine the reward Jabba would’ve paid to someone that saved his life in that moment?

So all this is to say there was a lot more going on in these scenes than we were shown. The simple things we were shown we’re good enough to get the point across, Luke had a plan, it didn’t go exactly as expected but it worked. But as with the absence of sound, it’s sometimes there absence of something in a scene that gives us a bigger idea of what’s going on.

Finally, just for giggles, a bonus for those that haven’t read the books, Luke had nightmares about the sail barge part of the plan going wrong some years after the fall of Jabba and the death of the Emperor. In Tomorrow Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, Luke kept dreaming that his lightsaber flew not to his hand, but to the hand of a red headed woman standing on the deck of Jabba’s barge as she started down at him. This woman was Mara Jade (later Mara Jade Skywalker), the Emperor’s Hand.

In The End

So, while I think I have answered the question thoroughly with my explanation here, and I honestly do believe that most of this is how it went down behind the scenes given all that I’ve heard and read over the years, the simplest explanation really is that Luke saw the vast majority of it in a Force vision, and just had to tell the individuals how to get into position. That means he didn’t have to have an answer to everything, just had to have certain goals met to end up in the position that the team did.

Preconceptions Annihilated

(This post was delayed by several hours due to web server issues.)

My roommate and friend, elegy nevermore, and I literally just finished watching the film Annihilation and I’m going to simply sum up the experience as saying I’m beautifully confused.

You see, this is a very sci-fi film but it’s not your usual shoot ’em up. Following in the scientific genes of Contact, from twenty years ago, Annihilation is more an exploratory film than one that answers questions. As such, there are no clear answers in its ending, which both impresses and perplexes me. From a writer’s perspective, it’s very easy to slap an ending on a film (or book) and let people argue over whether the whole thing was good or bad as a result. Gift wrapping an ending, one with a clear ending, is almost all Hollywood knows how to do these days. The avant garde pose questions for which even they struggle to answer, which beg for discussion to truly understand, and it is in this category that Annihilation falls.

To be clear, in my spoiler dominant tradition, this film doesn’t have an ending that will resolve anything. You will leave the theater asking yourself if Natalie Portman’s character is the original that started the film, the alien copy, both, or something completely fucking new. If you leave the theater with a clear decisive answer, you weren’t paying attention.

The most horrible realization about this movie for me isn’t the slow pace, the acting (which is great), the vague choose your own ending conclusion, the way it was edited, or anything else with regards to Annihilation itself. It’s the fact that it’s being murdered in cold blood by the juggernaut that is Black Panther, and will not get the kind of attention I feel it deserves. When word gets out about the ending, this film is just plain done. Which is a damned shame.

Hollywood doesn’t like to take chances on films, especially the ones that are more daring to do something different. The studios would rather invest in sequels to known moneymakers, remakes, and reboots than take a chance on something new. Every now and then, something manages to sneak through their filter, something original that captures the intellect as well as the eye, something that challenges the preconceived notions the viewer has of the film… Art instead of the cookie cutter, mass produced film whose plot really doesn’t matter in the end. Annihilation is every inch that piece of art, and it’s a fucking shame the studios chose to schedule it against another great film — and Black Panther really is a great film — during the last weeks of winter to release. This should have been a late spring or early fall release, when it could’ve been the spectacle that would draw crowds to the theater.

But I get it. Black Panther was probably expected to die a quick and quiet death since it features a mostly black cast and is about a black superhero. So the studio targeted it with Annihilation and is getting its ass kicked for its trouble. Or at least, this is my suspicion.

Whatever the truth may be in this matter, Annihilation is a film that deserves to be seen. It’s intelligent, well acted, lead by a strong cast that happens to be mostly female, the characters are flawed and well rounded, and fundamentally, there’s no villain to be defeated, just an event that needs to be understood. Annihilation is this year’s The Arrival, and a spiritual successor to Contact. It deserves so much more than it will likely get in the theater.

Destiny’s Dynasty

After years of leaks, months of rumors, weeks of waiting after the beta tests, Destiny 2 becomes real in less than two hours. This is the moment that either elevates the franchise above the original’s successes and failures, or dooms it to r repeat them.

Oh sure, you could say “what you saw in the beta is what you’re getting” but that’s not true is it? The beta is a tiny portion of the final game, revealed before the final polish has been put into place. It’s a vague pirate treasure map without any landmarks: a general inkling without the details that playing the final product fills in.

What will we find tonight? Treasure or fool’s gold? Only 1 hour 25 minutes until we find out…

For the record, all the things that made me angry about Destiny over the years… They angered me not because I saw the game as a failure or a piece of shit, but because I saw the beauty it could be. I’m hoping, honest to God, that that beauty is revealed tonight.

Stream of Change

Since I got my PS4 about 3 years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time streaming the games I play to the internet. For the most part, I do it to entertain my friends more so than as a career choice or a side gig. That hasn’t stopped me from wanting ad revenue or donations; who couldn’t use a little extra money, right? Well, Maxx — my troublemaking, artist best friend — has started pushing me towards being more professional.

So, there’s changes coming. The first of which is that I joined which lets me stream not to just one service, but to as many as I setup and choose. In my case, I stream to Twitch and YouTube, but from the PlayStation, I can only choose one or the other. While Restream isn’t [yet] available as a target to stream to from the PlayStation, it is from PC. So, likely in a few weeks when/if my job situation changes, I will be getting a game capture device, to stream through PC. As I’ve been testing the waters with streaming from PC from time to time, I’ve already found a favorite broadcasting software (XSplit Broadcaster) and have found that I like and appreciate Restream.

To that end, and because this is in effect a sales pitch for something that is free, if you stream, go use and use my referral link to get there:


They’re having an affiliate contest right now and I would appreciate your help in getting some loot. One of the prizes, in fact, is an Elgato game capture device that would allow me to start doing the enhanced broadcasting sooner. In theory at least. Any help would be appreciated, though if you would rather just make a donation, you can do that as well by clicking here.

My broadcasts can be watched at Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and, soon, Ustream.

Donald Trump’s Cult of Personality

Cult of Personality (Wikipedia):

cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods to create an idealized, heroic, and at times worshipful image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.

With less than 30 days to go in the United States’ 2016 presidential elections, it finally occurred to me what’s really going on. While one candidate is a legitimate but flawed politician, the other has seriously and continuously appeared to be a lunatic that needs mental help and yet has some how managed to make it to the final round of the greatest and most grave stage.
For months, I’ve attributed Trump’s successes to the fringe of society that blindly support their favorite celebrities. These are the people that made Paris Hilton and the entire Kardashian family famous and keep them stuck in the headlines. Most people, I’d wager, don’t give a damn about these celebrities that are famous for nothing, yet none of us can fully escape hearing about them on a regular basis without seeming like lunatics ourselves.

But then along comes Donald Trump, who was given a platform to reinvigorate his celebrity status with The Apprentice. Because he’s been a businessman — successful or not depends on the eye of the beholder — this same fringe celebrity worshipping group takes him seriously and ignores what a terrible human being he is.

That is the textbook definition of a cult of personality. This is why so many Republican politicians got eliminated from the 2016 campaign for president. It had absolutely nothing to do with their qualifications, their platform, or outlook but had everything to do with essentially mass hysteria and the strengthening of the Trump Reality Distortion Field as the numbers in the cult swelled.

And you know what? That’s not even the worst part. In some tiny, unloved dark part of my soul, I actually kind of feel bad for Trump. He doesn’t see that he’s surrounded himself with Yes Men that tell him everything and only that he wants to hear. A Yes Man, as you might guess, only gives positive answers to their employers, they’re enablers in the worst sense of the word. A Yes Man would willingly lie to their boss or champion despite overwhelming facts because it’s their job on the line. As an example, Trump’s senior campaign staff refused to tell him that he lost the first debate for days afterwards, kept feeding him unscientific poll results that told him he won overwhelmingly, and then slowly started informing him otherwise as the week went on. Similarly, one of Trump’s own sons tweeted an electoral count map from Five Thirty Eight today showing him leading Clinton nation wide, when the truth of the map was that it was with a specific set of male only voters. (The map with all voters represented showed that Trump was losing by more than 100 electoral votes.)

The bottom line is that because Trump has been the rich boss literally for decades, he doesn’t have a soul around him to tell him the truth. That’s how he can go out and make bold statements that are completely false, or outright lie… He has no one to set him straight and make it mean something to him. If he doesn’t like what he hears, he fires the person and moves on. There’s no one that can hold him accountable so he has lost the ability to distinguish between fact and fiction. He has lost the ability to be ethical and to make moral decisions.

That’s why that tiny bit of my soul feels sorry for Donald Trump.

While I am a Democrat, I’m not voting for Hilary because I think she’s the perfect candidate. (My candidate was Bernie.) I’m voting for her because I don’t want to see what a country lead by a delusional, detached madman would look like. Hilary was not the best candidate for president, in my opinion, but she’s the best of what’s left. She and her husband have actively helped the black community of which I’m a part, and appreciatively the city of Detroit, which gave birth to me. I respect her ability and determination to do what’s right, and more importantly, she knows what it’s like to work hard for something and to watch as it falls apart due to no fault of her own. Donald Trump, on the other hand, only looks for advantages for himself, and when he fails, his Yes Men make everything alright for him so he doesn’t have to deal with the outcome of his failure.

I wonder how he’ll deal with his failure to become president. How will those Yes Men clean this up?

Destiny: Rise of Iron and Me

Hi guys, it’s been a while since I’ve posted and longer still since I said “fuck Destiny.” That doesn’t mean that I’ve moved on from Destiny as my go to game to relax, nor does it mean that Bungie has solved all my complaints. In fact, in some ways, Bungie seems to be trolling me… Any way, the newest, and probably last, expansion to the original game was released a few weeks ago, and I thought about “reviewing” — I guess that’s what I technically do here with my rants— it on release day, but I was busy playing and stressing about a the latest in a series of job interviews for a big company. (Incidentally, I’m still stressing out over it as I wait to find out whether they’re going to hire me or not.) So I’m only now getting around to talking about the latest changes.

First of all, the most cursed thing about Destiny is still there: the random number based loot tables. As always, no matter how well you do in the Crucible, strikes, daily missions and [probably] raids*, you have no idea what the hell your reward, if you even get any, will be. (*I added an asterisk because I’ve been in the unfortunate position of having never done a raid, so I don’t know the loot outcome. I just suspect it’s the same as everywhere else in Destiny. If you want to carry me in a raid, let me know!) This means you might have to grind away at an activity that you’re pretty sure will drop your desired loot until you actually get it. That’s just wrong if you ask me. I’m not going to bitch about it today, I’ve bitched enough about it here already. (1 2 3 4 5)

As I mentioned in parenthesis above, I’ve never done a raid. Why? No one to do them with. My best friend stopped playing Destiny for several reasons, not the least of which is the random loot issue. I have a few other friends that play Destiny occasionally, but honestly I’m probably the best player of my actual acquaintances. So that leaves me with three options: matchmaking in game, which Destiny does not support for raids; use the PlayStation 4’s Community feature to find a group; or cobble together a group through Bungie’s forums or somewhere else. Since the first of these is apparently a non-issue and will not be resolved by Bungie, I’ll address the latter two. For the moment at least.

The problem I have with both of these two options is pretty much the same: sure I could get in touch with hundreds of people, but these are all players that value their time enough that they want a perfect or near perfect run. I’m good, but when it comes to a raid or strike I’m not good enough to feel that I’m carrying my weight in the game. I would much rather play with people I know personally and/or have played with regularly and are playing casually— despite the time a raid may take — rather than demanding perfection from me or them. After that, I’d rather play with completely random strangers that have just as much — or little — faith in my abilities and once the raid is over, we never have to see, hear, or play with each other again. Matchmaking makes that possible, but Bungie is extraordinarily confused on the issue despite their stance that they will not add matchmaking to raids. Why, then, do they have a matchmaking system for strikes? Why not just do the same thing there? The Nightfall strikes once used the matchmaking system, but has since stopped. So why not either implement it for raids or kill it for all PvE? (PvP is different since you have to have enemies after all.) I don’t get it, Bungie. You have it both ways but it shows you’re seriously confused about what your vision is.

Ultimately, Rise of Iron really adds very little that’s truly new, not counting story. Gameplay mechanics haven’t changed really, though you get a few new patrol types in the Plaguelands. Yes you can use a flaming axe at various points and places, but it behaves almost exactly like the Sword of Crota with the exception that it has an ammo counter that counts down even when you’re not swinging it and you can extend the allotted time by finding a fire pit from which to pull flames to recharge it. Beyond that, there’s the Archon’s Forge which I’m sure you’ve heard all about, and it operates very similarly to the Court of Oryx, though even the initiator can get locked of the event. Don’t ask me how I know. Any way, Archon’s Forge is fun enough if you can find players to join you AND one or more of you have offerings to allow you to actually trigger it. There have been a number of times that my fun in the Forge has come to a halt when all of us collectively just ran out of offerings. So, needless to say, the drop rate for the offerings is low enough that you can easily run out of things to do and you can only carry one at a time. To be perfectly honest, I wish they made that change to the Court of Oryx — or better yet, put it somewhere in-between — because I’m running around with more than a hundred Stolen Runes, Reciprocal Runes, and Antiquated Runes right now.

As for everything else in Rise of Iron… Well, the new Fallen are interesting, but they’re still basically the same. The new social area is nice looking, though it may have a few bugs that still need to be worked out. What I mean by that is that one of the bounties/missions requires you to climb up on the mountain in which the Temple of Iron  is built, and apparently there’s nothing to stop you from going beyond what you’re supposed to do. Similarly, the Iron Banner opened this week and opened a section you couldn’t go into before (though you technically came from there in the mission to liberate the area), and you can just keep on going very far away from the Temple. I don’t know if these “bugs” are to enable some future event(s) that might take place there, or just left open for the sake of leaving them open, but it definitely reminds me of the alpha and early release days of Destiny when you could go into the upper court at the back of the Tower and poke around the edges.

I think the biggest single change in Destiny actually launched just before Rise of Iron: private Crucible matches. I think they’re probably a great way to train as part of a clan or fireteam for the public Crucible, but I haven’t actually had anyone to train with… Oddly, you can still launch a private match solo, and run around doing… whatever… At the very least, it’s a good way to get yourself familiarized with the various maps.

So, in the end, I can’t say that Destiny has really improved or captured my imagination and attention this time around, but it’s sufficient to keep me going for now. Destiny 2 is rumored for release next year, and while I may buy into it, I’m probably not going to pine away for it the way I initially did with Destiny. Bungie kinda killed that level of interest for me with the random number loot and the lack of universal matchmaking. If raiding requires more than one person (or you to be a superstar with the game), then you need to have matchmaking. Even World of Warcraft has matchmaking for their raids and instances. Unless Bungie changes their stance on the issue and the random loot, Destiny 2 will have to wait for me to get around to buying it. Sadly, I don’t think that Bungie will miss me.

Water Issues at Detroit Central High School

In the name of improving my health, I’ve spent a fair number of mornings walking to the nearby track at Central High School, here in Detroit. Last week, I noticed that the school had been closed a number of days and only discovered over the weekend that it was due to water pressure issues at the school, as documented in this WDIV news story. The story also documents the disagreements between the high school/Michigan Education Achievement Authority, Great Lakes Water Authority, and the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage over where the problem lies, though it doesn’t seem to take into account a major part of the history of the site. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over 30 of my 44 years, so I’m very familiar with the history, I hope that I can properly enlighten you about what I suspect is going on.

Central High School opened at its current location in 1926, along with Durfee Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School (which was torn down a few decades ago and integrated into Durfee). At the time of the construction, and until sometime around 2004, the school complex had a steam plant that provided steam (and I believe electricity) to the three schools on the campus. The steam plant (and its long shadow) can be seen on the left side of this satellite photo from December 30, 2002 (courtesy of Google Earth):Central-Durfee Complex 30Dec2002

For documentation’s sake, Central High School is the large building at the top of the image, Durfee Elementary and Middle School is the large building at the bottom. During the improvements to the complex approximately 11-13 years ago, the plant was torn down and replaced with a plant integrated into Central High School. (Among other changes, the track and football field were relocated slightly, and one of the drive ways at the rear of the complex was removed.) The current complex can be seen in this satellite photo from April 11, 2015 (again courtesy of Google Earth):

Central-Durfee Complex 11April2015

What you can also see in this second photo, is evidence supporting my suspicion that the problem with water pressure at the schools has nothing to do with the water supplied to the complex by the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage, but water leaking into the old steam pipes from the steam plant.

Although I have only been walking at the track for a short time, I noticed on my very first visit and every visit since these standing pools of water:

In addition to these, there’s another pool I didn’t photograph next to the stands at the track. The photo below is the merged satellite photos with the locations marked in red.


If you look at the April 2015 satellite photo, you can actually make out two of the pools in the access road from Linwood, which is an indicator that these pools of water have been present for at least a year. Given they haven’t changed much in size during the month or so that I’ve been walking at the complex, these pools must be getting fed by an underground water source that has saturated the land. I’m not an engineer, but I think it’s a short jump in logic to connect the water pressure issues at Central High School with these pools of water.

What I suspect is that the old steam pipes from the steam plant are still present underground, and are still connected to both Central and Durfee, and may even still run to the old location of Roosevelt which sat between the two schools. Durfee, on November 12-13, 2014, had heating issues as documented by another local television station, WXYZ in their news story. At that time, there was a small pit emitting steam near the northwest corner of the school; while that was probably a connecting pipe from the new steam/heating plant at Central, it still could be a sign that the old pipes are still in place and water might be leaking into them.

My final bit of supporting evidence is personal testimony; on several occasions while walking on the track, I saw the new steam plant venting large amounts of steam. I believe the date was Saturday April 30, 2016 when I witnessed it belching steam every 1-2 minutes while I walked around the track. Again, I’m no engineer or expert on steam boilers, but from experience with the boiler in my home,  they tend to build up a lot of pressure when the water level in the boiler is low. Releasing/venting steam might have been done automatically to prevent catastrophic failure of the system. (In other words, an explosion.)

Given the large amounts of water at and next to the track, I don’t believe that the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage is responsible for the low water pressure that Central experienced; I believe that the construction to build the new heating plant failed to secure the old pipes and is currently leaking water into the surrounding land. Given that Central is run by the Michigan Education Achievement Authority, which took it over from the Detroit Public Schools, I don’t believe there’s anyone employed at Central that would even be aware of the old steam plant, let alone suspect that there might be leaks to the old pipes.

Finally, given the sinkhole that opened up down the street at Linwood and Monterey on March 29, 2014, I would be surprised that there isn’t a very large sinkhole developing beneath this complex, and would recommend that the immediate area be given a thorough stability study in the near future.