Thursday, January 26, 2012

SyFy's "Face Off" sink or swim

The second episode of SyFy's special effects show Face Off got a small face lift from its awkward, blundering pilot episode with "Underwater Amalgations." Not only did the artists have to create an underwater sea creature, but their makeup job had to withstand being submerged in an underwater tank.

Internal team bickering intensified with Beki and Miranda spending more time yelling at each other than working on their sea dragon. Nix and Jerry agreed to not collaborate on their sea turtle, with Jerry working strictly the prosthetics while Nix focussed on the paint job with disastrous results.

The tank challenge proved the sink-or-swim moment. The sea dragon creations seemed to fare the best with Tara and Matt's sexy sea dragon lady looking both gorgeous and dangerous with her long swaying headpiece, pronounced scales and shimmering iridescent fabric. Despite Beki and Miranda's infighting, their sea dragon creation was beautiful with a clean paint job and fabric that swayed gracefully in the water.

Athena and Heather's lionfish benefited from Athena's awesome paint job skills featuring hundreds of swirling brown and beige stripes and Heather's fish face mask with moveable mouth. Nix and Jerry's creation proved the worst with the prosthetic turtle shell flying off the model's back in the water, the paint bleeding into the tank and the model panicking while submerged.

Perhaps the most hilarious creation was Ian and RJ's "shark lawyer," a zebra-shark creation wearing a three-piece suit. Sadly the suit flopped and flailed in the water and the shark was lost in a sea of pin-striped suit.
The winning team was Matt and Tara for the cool iridescent sexy sea dragon lady with Matt given special kudos for prosthetics.

The Jerry "curse" (that anyone paired up with Jerry loses) remained in effect as Nix was voted off the island for his substandard makeup on the sea turtle.

Face Off airs at 9 p.m. CST Wednesday on SyFy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Supernatural" Dean Winchester time travels ... again

Dean Winchester has time traveled a lot in his life. He's traveled to the past to meet his parents in "The Song Remains the Same" and transported to 2014 in "The End."

In the latest Supernatural episode, "Time After Time After Time," Dean Winchester hitches a ride inadvertently with Chronos, the god of time, back to 1944. There Dean finds Eliot Ness who (surprise, surprise) happens to be a hunter. Ness also is hunting Chronos because of the god's nasty little habit of draining the life from people in order to time travel.

The episode harkens back to the old pre-apocalyptic Supernatural days when the Winchester boys were focused on killing the monster of the week rather than saving the world. Dean teams up with Ness in a monster hunt as they track down Chronos and discover the murderous god has settled down with a "dame" and kills people to return to 1944 to be with her.

It would be romantic if Chronos didn't leave a trail of mummified bodies behind him.

Perhaps the strongest point of this time-travel episode is that Sam Winchester isn't excluded from the story. Most time travel episodes relied heavily on Dean while Sam, stuck in the present, would disappear for the bulk of the episode. "Time after time" manages to cleverly work Sam into the story with Dean relaying a message from the past via a letter tucked inside a wall of an old house. Because of the letter, Sam is able to bring Chronos back to the present at just the right moment when Chronos is trying to strangle Dean.

"Time after time" remains one of the stronger episodes of Season 7 with solid acting, a good story and of course plenty of eye candy. Who can resist watching the always gorgeous Dean in a sharp dress coat sporting a tommy gun?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Banning Books Helps No One

When I was finishing my Master's Degree at Elmhurst College, I had to read Toni Morrison's Beloved as part of a literature course.

Many classmates waxed poetic about how great Beloved was, what a masterpiece of fiction, how deep and insightful it was. I remained silent as I didn't care much for the book. Perhaps it was the issue of slavery that made me uncomfortable or the stream-of-consciousness writing that made me feel ill at ease. Regardless, Beloved is not meant to make you feel comfortable. This is not a book meant for you to recline in your easy chair with your hot cocoa and slippers.

Beloved is meant to be controversial.

As much as I didn't like the book, I wouldn't have it struck from a course curriculum like a group of parents are trying to do at Salem High School in Plymouth, MI.

The parents' objection to Beloved is not slavery but sex, references to bestiality and taking "God's name in vain." Seriously? This is the reason they want their teens in AP Literature to not read Beloved? Do the parents really believe their teenagers will go out and have sex with cows because they read about it in Beloved? Or perhaps they think their teens will turn into crazed sex maniacs?

Such closed-mindedness makes me feel for the teachers trying to teach their students in such an ignorant environment. Parents who insist on banning books from a curriculum based on such "content" have no faith in their own children and do not give teachers the means to educate.

No wonder America is falling behind the rest of the world when parents spend all their energy banning books and not promoting them.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Quit Worrying and Just Write

Sometimes the words and ideas flow effortlessly. More often than not you need an inspirational kick in the ass.

When I joined Nanowrimo for the first time in 2009 I had less of a lackluster experience. I diligently went to my keyboard every night tapping away until I got to my 1700 words.

The writing was crap. My plot flailed wildly and my characters didn't stay consistent. By mid-November I had little motivation to finish.

I continued to write.

I'd like to say that exercise had a happy ending and what I wrote in November 2009 became an excellent book with engaging characters. Truth is after Nanowrimo (which I didn't win) I left the book unread on my computer for months.

Then in October I revisited the idea and thought of an even better book than what I originally struggled with. Now I'm rewriting the book that once seemed to have so little promise. The story and characters (after months of letting my imagination subconsciously tinker with them) are much better. There still is a lot of work that needs to be done, but if I hadn't taken that crazy leap into writing in Nanowrimo I still would not have a book to work on.

The hardest thing is to delve into the unknown, sit your ass in front of the keyboard and write something, anything even if it seems useless at the time because you never know where that idea might lead.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Too Much Reality in Fantasy Game

Most people play games to escape from reality. I play games that make me feel as though my decisions are important even for a little while. Perhaps my favorite are the "god-games" like Civilization where you command a civilization, lead and watch it grow from the Stone Age to the Modern Era. You screw up, spend too much time in warfare or not enough developing science and culture and you could find your civilization third-rate or (worse) vanquished by a more advanced civilization.

Recently I bought Children of the Nile from Steam. It's not a new game, but I'm fascinated in Ancient Egypt and the idea I could rule Egypt and build great monuments was tempting. Over the course of the game you can build great temples and wonders like the Pyramids, the Great Lighthouse or the Library of Alexandria. The attention to detail is impressive down to watching your people work in shops, tend the fields or construct buildings. You can even "follow" an individual as they walk around the city and chat with fellow inhabitants. What mires Children of the Nile is not enough fun and too much economics. You need farmers to feed your city, you need nobles to manage the farmers, you need laborers to build the pyramids which in turn need to be governed by overseers.

Prestige (the amount of monuments and wonders you build) severely limits and hampers how many elite you can have in a city (priests, overseers, scribes, commanders). Also you might have the workers but not the materials needed to build like bricks, limestone or basalt statues and steles. Sometimes you can have a ton of small statues carved but you are unable to order larger statues to be quarried. You might have to get this from another site through trade, but if you don't have a barge landing the ship will sail by without delivering its shipment. In other instances, the supplies are dropped off but the laborers never come by to pick them up and be used by the city.

The most frustrating part of the game might be that although you have the materials, it seems to take forever for the overseers to command the laborers to build something. The harvest might come and go, years in game terms might pass, and you still have an empty brick platform waiting for the statue to be hauled over and carved.

There also seem to be several "bugs" in the game play of Children of the Nile or perhaps outright labor issues. Sometimes you command your overseer to have something done, like have basalt be harvested at a local quarry. The overseer goes to visit the quarry but with no laborers to cut and haul the stone back to the city. Some overseers stand uselessly and point to the air, supposedly ordering laborers who are not there. Where the hell are the laborers? Back at home, getting pottery, dallying in the fields, going to temple - anywhere but working.

Happiness in the city also is a big issue. If there are not enough of the basics to go around (bread, pottery, worship sites) the city dwellers, especially the elite and nobles might grow unhappy and in some cases leave your service, leaving a vacancy you can't fill until quality of life increases.

As a beginner to this game, I found the controls not very intuitive and confusing. There were only a few pop up boxes you could use as tutorials. Learning to control your inhabitants and their actions mostly was learned either by trial and error or by consulting with online forums.

Children of the Nile gets mired down in endless monument building (to maintain prestige) while an ineffectual work force slows down production and increases discontent. Most games don't deal with the real life issues of lazy workers or labor management that doesn't get the job done. Children of the Nile seems to add a bit too much reality into a fantasy game, amounting to more frustration than enjoyment as you wait hours for one pyramid or monument to be built. If I wanted to get involved in book keeping I'd become an accountant, not play a slow, aggravating game.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

SyFy's Face Off Fails to Impress

I normally don't tune into shows like American Idol, Biggest Loser or Dancing with the Stars. I find them pointless and a waste of time. SyFy has spun off its own geeky version of such shows with Face Off. On the show makeup artists strive to design the best creature under a time limit with the hopes of winning prize money and a position as makeup artist on the next big blockbuster movie. I admit I found the process of creating prosthetics, masks and the makeup interesting. What I didn't like was the game show quality SyFy has built into the show from the last season. During the course of Face Off, some poor makeup artist is voted off the island at the end of the episode. They even go so far as to copy Survivor in the granting of "immunity" to one of the artists if they win the first creature-design challenge.

Face Off also is weighed down by a lot of contrived in-fighting among various artists, catty behavior among the girls and ego machismo antics among the men. No wonder many of them run out of time and are in a hectic flurry to finish their creations when they waste so much time fighting amongst themselves. This lends a rushed craziness to a lot of scenes which might make the show more exciting, but also a bit frustrating to watch if you want to see exactly how they created the creatures. You see a sculpted mask here, a paint job there but no indication of how they went from rubber latex mask to full paint job complete with wardrobe.

I also like to think talent is encouraged and fostered in this country rather than put in a game show style format to be ridiculed by a panel of stern-faced hard-assed judges. The popularity of such shows like American Idol, where talented performers are berated and mocked makes me feel that although audiences like watching talent they like the insults and humiliation more. Watching is easy, trying to go out and accomplish your dream with the possibility you could fall publicly on your face takes a lot of guts. Talent and courage should be applauded not mocked. But maybe the high ratings for such shows speak for themselves.