TV Reviews: Black Mirror – USS Callister


Note: Some slight huge plot reveals below….

What would a show about an entertainment simulation be without Jimmi Simpson?

Or a show without our little Breaking Bad henchman, Jesse Plemons.

Or the mother of all mothers, Cristin Milioti.

In a spoof, of one of my favorite sci-fi shows of all time.

Beam me right up. I’m there with a big bucket of popcorn.

Black Mirror, already a bleak, technology-warning twilight zone, opens season 4 with the USS Callister. Jesse Plemons plays a programmer that is picked on in his personal life. We watch his daily routine and genuinely feel a little bad for him. But then, the show twists and turns, and in truly Black Mirror style, he is the villain. A laughable villain, really. Maybe a step up from the red haired kid in The Incredibles.

Shut up. This isn’t a Westworld-esque type reveal. It’s difficult to really talk about the show without going past the first ten minutes. The plot of the show is what happens when you get caught in another world. Do you live by the new set of rules? Do you rebel? Do you find other way?

Our hero, Cristin Milioti, is as sweet as can be. Even with the pictures and swim time, nothing changes. There is nothing really dark about her. There is no huge choice. She is simply making the obvious decision throughout.

The more nuanced performance comes from Jesse Plemons, playing a half nerd/half mirror-mirror Captain Kirk, where men can be men, and women are disposable. We like him, then hate him, then despise him, then feel sorry for him. No other character in the show goes through such an arc.

Professional reviews discuss male echo chambers, which, if you read from my Mindhunters review, I don’t really believe. People are all a reflection of their experiences, genetic predisposition, in a disorderly world full of chaos. Wannabe academics, aka present day tv critics, might have the pulse on culture, but sometimes go to far in trying to draw parallels to everyday society. Sometimes show are messed up because its meant to be.

This show is called Black Mirror for a reason.

Everyone has secrets. Everyone has dreams. They always have, and always will.

TV Show Rating: 9.5/10 Pizza Deliveries

TV Reviews: Mindhunter


What separates a killer from a serial killer?

This the fundamental question in the pilot of Mindhunter. People commit crimes. Horrible crimes. Despicable crimes. Sometimes over and over again. How do we catch them? It’s surprising, at least the way the show portrays the FBI, were stuck in 1950s style investigations even as Charles Manson was orchestrating a mass murder.

Based on a non-fiction book, it is hard to tell how much the show will deviate from the source material. One thing is clear … I’ll never read the book.

David Fincher directed the opening two episodes, setting up the sequence of events that launches the build-out of a psychology unit of the FBI. Fincher goes back to his usual cinematic style that directors after him mimic the best they can, sort of like with House of Cards (the 2 seasons back when it was good) There are a lot of creative subtleties in the first two episodes that are sorely missed later on, especially a few episodes in the middle.

The show works, not because they cast a great leading actor. In fact, Jonathan Groff plays it as square and boring as it gets. It’s not really his fault, per se. He is written to have zero edge. I assume in later seasons he’ll develop a personality. I guess only straight edge people can really hunker down and understand the psychosis of a psychotic.

Anna Torv is rather good, convincing playing a elitist academic with a profound curiosity for the criminal mind. Holt McCallany plays the partner that is opposite of Groff’s character. It is sort of a buddy cop trope where the seasoned cop doesn’t give a shit anymore. (One fun link: Holt McCallany played a minor role in Fight Club, a cult classic also directed by David Fincher)

The key to the series, in my view, is getting convincing actors to play a serial killer. And boy, do they get one. Cameron Britton, at six foot-infinity, is a towering human with a crazy look that is sort of the look of the red stapler guy in office space, except on steroids. The crazy words that come out of his mouth completes the picture of a lunatic.

I added the show to my list of binge-all-weekend views that Netflix once in a while gets right.

First Season Rating: 9/10 Decapitated Heads

Travel Blog – Qatar Dune Surfing & Beach “Party”

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Qatar might not sound like a travel and leisure destination to you, but for me, back in 2007 there was no better place to be. I needed a week off of work. I needed to get away. You might say, to me, Qatar was the top destination on travel list.

You also might say Qatar was the only option.

And, the trip there was free.

Upon seeing my accommodations, I inquired about the available day trips I could take. There were a number that I signed up for and took that week.

Only one, for the cost of $60, took me on an excursion to a destination unknown. The description at the front desk was vague. It described a dune surfing adventure along with a beach stop and delicious meal to conclude the trip. I was skeptical, but needed to see for myself. This is not exactly the excursion desk on a Carnival Cruise.

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Our chariots awaited us in Nissan Pathfinders. The drivers instructed us to pick a car, any car, as we boarded not exactly knowing where we were going. I wish I could remember the exact conversation with the driver. I’m pretty sure he was not even Qatari. Like many workers in Qatar, the U.A.E. or Kuwait, they brought over from much poorer countries to work for a period of time at much higher wages than their local economy. Pakistan and India notably provide a larger base of English speaking workers. Countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and Indonesia provided low cost labor for large construction projects. From the few videos I did take, much of the attention of the driver seems to be paid to the music selection. It seemed to be the singular most important thing to him. In one video, Beyonce is playing. In the other, it’s Linkin Park. One hand is on the wheel, and the other is trying to impress us with his taste in music. Don’t let the media fool you on what people around the world think of Americans. You’ll be surprised how many people love American culture, movies/fashion/music, while disliking only politics. Even in America, most people dislike politics.

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Once we hit the actual dunes though, it didn’t take long for me to realize how good my driver was. He wasn’t exactly a stunt driver, but I could tell by the time we began going up and down large dune slopes, some almost the slope of a roller coaster drop, he knew exactly what would impress us. There was a certain joy I think in getting a reaction from us. Before the last drop, we parked for some pictures before going to the Meesaid Sealine Beach Resort. R&R Dune Trip #6.jpg

It might not look like it, but you could have rolled me off that sand dune. If you look closely, you can see tire treads of the cars that drive up and down the dunes.

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So there we were. What better way to celebrate surviving a sand dune roller coaster? How about jellyfish. Lots of them. So much, there was a jellyfish bottle spray to use if we got stung by one. Never in my beach travels had the jellyfish been the actual attraction. I ventured in the ocean, only in part to say I stepped foot and “swam” in the Persian Gulf. I basically sat most of the time reading the paranoid Michael Crichton novel, State of Fear. R&R Inland Excursion #3.jpg

Then came time for the meal. It was much better than what I expected. It was kebabs, pilaf, and some sort of chopped salad. The kebabs came in three different flavors: chicken, lamb, and a “mystery mix.” Whenever presented with the “mystery mix” you have to sort of go with the “destination unknown” theme and just try it. It was good and I ate all of it, to include the grilled jalapeno. R&R Inland Excursion Meal #3.jpg

After a couple hours we departed back to our accommodations. There were many other “adventures” that week, but nothing gave me the same moment of solitude that eating kebabs on a beach in the Persian Gulf did.

I still remember it over a decade later.

Surprise surprise.

Movie Reviews: Night Owls


When you are a night owl searching for a flick to watch in bed, what’s more fitting than a movie called Night Owls?

It is yet another story of boy meets girl.

Boy sleeps with girl.

Boy finds out she is crazy.

Whether or not art is imitating life, or life is imitating art is a tricky question in this case. One thing is known though, is this movie probably won’t be remembered as art. Madeline and Kevin are foes throughout. Adam Pally seems like he was told to do his best impression of Seth Rogan. Rosa Salazar seems like she was told to do her best impression of Aubrey Plaza.

The problem is, neither are funny.

Neither are believable playing it serious. For something as serious as the event that happens ten minutes in, I would expect to see more panic on both sides.

I’m not saying the acting is terrible. It’s okay. The best they can do is work with the material given to them. For most of the film, they are the only two characters struggling against each other on a single set.

In movies, opposites attract. Throughout the film, I didn’t really think Kevin or Madeline felt anything towards each other. Here, it seems they keep a disdain for each other up until the end. Madeline doesn’t show any real closure with her previous flame. Kevin doesn’t truly conquer his obstacle, not unless you count pouting off away from the conflict.

The movie sort of ends where it begins.

A more interesting movie would have been what happens next. At least then, we could have watched a change in the characters.

Movie Rating: 5/10 mace sprays in the face



Coincidental Circumstances (Part 6)

I redrafted the entire opening. I needed to sprinkle in the ingredients of an explosive beginning. Plus, I needed something to ground Miranda and establish the stakes. My fingertips danced off the keyboard.

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I nodded my head confidently. Now I was getting somewhere. I reached to take a last sip of my macchiato again. I had been nursing it like a cheapskate for over an hour. All writers do it. Some will go an entire day sucking the free Wi-Fi without blinking an eye. I actually thrived on the caffeine. It was time for another cup of inspiration to propel me to finish my James Bond-esque opening.


Coincidental Circumstances (Part 5)

I needed to brainstorm this. Bad prologues were often saddled with too much exposition and background. If Miranda was getting a prologue, it was going to be kick ass. In the world of espionage, there is one bar to surpass.

Sometimes a high bar.

Sometimes a low bar.

It has been the standard for 50 years.

I had to beat a James Bond pre-credit sequence.

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I rubbed my hands together. Even on paper, the story had no punch. Any good writer knows there has to be a kick ass hook at the beginning. Miranda needed a motive. I glanced at the barista, an overweight girl with short hair with a frosty top. A back tattoo expanded onto her neck. She had added extra pumps of flavor in my macchiato so she was good in my book.

I swear, the bullseye never fails. I pointed at the barista and clapped in glee.

Miranda obviously needed a partner.






Game of Thrones: Season 8 Tin-Foil-athon


There is one season to go.

Six episodes.

If you thought season 7 took liberties with time jumps, get ready for season 8. There are too many loose ends to wrap up. There is the famed “bittersweet ending” on the line. HBO has sequels and prequels and spinoffs at stake. Any any fan blowback would likely impact their Star Wars spinoff of the show runners, D & D.

They have to avoid a LOST.

They can’t pull a Dexter.

There can’t flash forward too far like in Battlestar Gallactica.

They. Must. Stick. The. Landing.

Fans across the world are crossing their fingers. Youtubers like Alt Shift X are searching reddit forums for one last season of fan theory speculation.

So how can they do this? They have Queen Cersei and the Golden Company to deal with. There is the Night King with his ice dragon. Dany and Jon are about to have a West Virginia reveal. The Night’s Watch are a tattered shell of what they were. Jaimie has defected. Melisandre has to return.

Already, there are a ton of clickbait youtube videos with shocked looks on thumbnails with a ton of rehashing, very little answers given, a ton of “tell me what you think” pleas to help their search algorithms. As a book reader, I’d say over 90% of these youtubers have not even read a chapter of the books, yet, they are fully on the clickbait bandwagon.

I guess people don’t want to be wrong.

It’s easy to give instant reactions.

You look crazy donning the tin foil cap.

It takes some creativity to put yourself in D & D’s shoes.

I’m not afraid.

*just breath*

Episode 1 begins on the boat. The quick romance between Jon and Dany will produce a miracle baby I assume. News of this will happen shortly after Dany is told the truth about Jon. With the boat rocking between seasons 7 and 8, we can assume Jon stuck the landing.

Meanwhile, near King’s Landing, the Golden Company moves north with remnants of the Lannister army to cut off the North. Jaime quick-jumps to Winterfell where he meets Tyrion again, as well as Breanne. Somehow, someway, Tormund also quick-jumps to Winterfell because episode 1 can’t leave us without a nice love triangle. Jaime tells them Cersei isn’t supporting the cause anymore.

The King of the North is no more as the truth is spread. Lyanna Mormont stands behind her man. Factions split, despite Jon saying it doesn’t matter as the world is coming to an end. They prepare for battle, as remnants of the Nights Watch join Winterfell forces, since their watch has ended. The dead are coming.

Episode 3, oh what a sight. The show can’t be wrapped up in time if the great battle happens in episode 5. So Episode 3 it is. The army of Winterfell, Knights of the Vale, remnants of the Nights Watch, the army of unsullied, army of Dothraki, 2 dragons, and all our heroes stand united against the army of the dead. They fight in the greatest battle ever seen on screen. Ice and fire clashing. Jaimie dies on the battlefield in Breanne’s arms, per his season 3 bathhouse wish. The hound kills kill and kills. Sir Bronn of the blackwater fires a spear at the ice dragon, and hits it, but it doesn’t die. Oh shit. The episode ends with Dany going air-to-air with the ice dragon and night king, to fulfill the prophecy of Azor Ahai. Flame and ice-fire clash, and ultimately, she is wounded and barely retreats due to the sacrifice of Rhaegal and Jon Snow to the rescue. She hits the ground, and Jorah rides to her rescue, before getting speared by the Night King as he closes in on her. They share one final moment together. Jon ultimately is the one to pick up Dany. The heroes lose and retreat back to Winterfell, thinking it is the end. Varys fleas.

Episode 4 begins with the Golden Company arriving as a foe. Euron Greyjoy returns to Kings landing, and marries Cersei. Winterfell is surrounded. Dany is with child but her skin is wounded from ice fire. Grief is in the air. Aya dons the face, and sneaks into the Golden Company. She doesn’t need 20 good men. She sets the camp aflame, but not to the desired results. The Golden Company attacks Winterfell. Tormund dies. Ed dies. Edmure Tully comes with the remnants of the Tully Army, and nails a shot against the leader of the Golden Company. The tide is turned. The episode ends with the Night King rising them from the dead.

Episode 5 is the Hail Mary episode. Something is preventing the army of the dead from breaching Winterfell’s walls. Is there some magic powers from the children of the forest? Is it Bran? The plan is a one in a million shot. Bran is going to attempt to warg the ice dragon and put the night king on the ground long enough for Jon Snow to fly Rhaegal down and kill him once and for all. The plan is executed. Jon Snow fights the night king and wins. The army of the dead break apart into ashes just like in the prologue of The Lord of the Rings.

Episode 6 is a flash forward of 7 months. The North has regrouped. Jon has been declared the one true king. The Iron Bank of Braavos has backed him. All of the great houses are behind him and Dany. He marries Dany under a weirwood tree. They declare Winterfell the new capital and send message for Cersei to surrender. Tyrion says Cersei won’t give in, ever. They ask where the Hound and Arya went. We get to see Arya and the Hound on the road again, bantering and bickering. They spot Varys and kill him. The scene flashes to Euron Greyjoy as he sails back to Essos for new mercenaries to hire. They are intercepted by a emboldened Theon and his new Iron Island crew. Euron is killed at the hands of Theon who dies in sacrifice. Yara is freed. She sails back to King’s Landing to free Ellaria Sand. Cersei is assassinated at the hands of Arya before the discovery that her child has been born. The Hound fights the Mountain, and wins. Dany gives birth, and dies. She names their son Rheagar Stark. Bran rolls his eyes back one final time as he goes back in time trying to prevent it all, and winds up as the Night King. This is why the Night King didn’t attack Winterfell. There was no spell. It was a time travel paradox. The Night King can’t kill himself. This is why Bran is always protected. The story flashes forward 10 years. Jon is now wed to Sansa. Arya sails west to the unknown. Sam writes about the new age of heroes as the Grand Maester at the beginning of a new dynasty. Breanne serves as the head of the Kingsguard, along with the Hound. There is a city around Winterfell. Tyrion leads Casterly Rock. Bronn runs the Twins, for double payment for his services. The Iron Throne is destroyed, and the Red Keep is converted as a replacement for the Sept of Balor. King’s Landing is renamed Old Landing. The last scene is Jon taking Rheagar out, along with his two half siblings through his marriage with Sansa, along with Cersei’s son, to witness an execution. They have caught a red priestess, looking old and haggard, trying to sneak her way in to the North. “He who passes the sentence shall wield the sword.”

Bittersweet but hopeful. Share with your friends and tell me what you think.