Friday, July 21, 2017

The Five People I Don't Want to Meet in Heaven - Part 2

  In continuing my series on the five people I don’t want to meet in heaven I want to stress that I don’t think any of the people I’m going to profile don’t deserve to be in heaven or won’t be in heaven – I just don’t want to meet them if we both happen to end up in heaven. My last profile was about the dumpster diver that called me heartless when I didn’t even let him ask me for a handout. Here is a sample of another group of people I meet enough to know I don’t want them to meet them in heaven either.

  I’m five months into my new occupation as a self-employed contractor hiring myself out as a programmer. At present I’m working at a company in Ames and am supposed to be there to the end of the year. I say ‘supposed to’ because all it takes for any job to disappear is one person with the authority to draw a line through your name. Then you aren’t there anymore. In the last ten years I’ve had the company I worked for sold and my job change from writing software to documenting the software I wrote so the new programmers in Indianapolis could rewrite it, played Survivor with the company I was working for laying people off and cutting the pay of those not being laid off, and had my company eliminate my entire department this year. I’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as job security – only the illusion of job security. I wish I could tell my younger self to never take less money for job security because you are only paying for the illusion of job security. The idea of job security is something I believed that isn’t true and like most things you believe that aren’t true this disbelief comes with a heavy price tag.

To Tell The Truth (NOT)

  I am enjoying my time at the company in Ames. I am treated like a valued member of the team, I get along with everyone, and most importantly my invoices get processed right away which to me is a sign of competence and respect which I value very highly. Since I was working at this same company through my old job the only thing that changed in my work situation was that I didn’t have to be the backup for the program I had worked on from 2010 to 2015 that interfaces with a government entity. That lasted until April when the government entity’s program had a series of major malfunctions which brought the interface program to a halt. The person in charge of the program couldn’t get it working and I was offered a part-time contracting assignment to get it running again.

  I got the program running and within a few days the government entity had solved their meltdown. The person in charge of the program was still having problems getting it to run smoothly. Two weeks later I was asked if I would be available in the early mornings to monitoring the program in order to head off any small problems before they became big problems. At the ripe old age of 56 I’m a little old for having two jobs but I agreed because my current assignment is only ‘guaranteed’ (don’t forget what I said about the illusion of security) until the end of the year and the extra money would come in handy when my current assignment ends. Also this particular piece of software is something I put a lot of time and effort into and it won a prestigious software award a few years back. Not only do have a sentimental attachment it makes me feel good to know a program I spent so much time on is still running like a top which it does until the government agency it interfaces to has one of its all too frequent problems. When a problem arises I adjust what I can on my end and let the agency and my clients know what went wrong and what needs to be done on the government side.

  Monitoring the software was easy enough until the beginning of June when the government agency started having problems with their nightly data refresh that makes the available information that is needed to balance accounts and make data available for the program's end users. The refresh finished by 4:30 am for years most of the time but now was finig=hing between 5:30 am and 7:00 am every morning. This was causing delays in my program getting the government data to the end users. I wrote to the government’s support email every day the data was late but got no results except to thank me for my patience until June 28th when I received an email saying that “We have escalated the issue and it has become our lead developer's highest priority.”

  That sounded good to me but after two more weeks of no results and late data I wrote to the government support email and mentioned that this situation had now been going on for 41 days. I received an email from the author of the June 28th email which said “Because of limited resources, it is unlikely that this issue will be addressed prior to a potential fall release.”

  So much for having the issue escalated and becoming the lead developer’s highest priority! I wrote back asking what had happened in the intervening two weeks and was given this reply “Unfortunately, the development team is now down to 1/4 its size from last year. I apologize for overcommitting in my June 28th message.”

  Now at this point I didn’t see any reason in having a correspondence with this government entity. I don’t know what overcommitting means since either it was or was not the lead developer’s highest priority. If it wasn’t then I wasn’t being overcommitted to – I was being lied to. It is clear that this was just something said to me in the hopes that I would stop asking about the issue which I did for two weeks. If the development team had been cut to a quarter of its size in the past two weeks I could understand the shift in priorities but a development team having been cut over a year shouldn’t be a reason to tell me the delays had become the highest priority of the lead developer.

  I understand why people don’t tell the truth sometimes. I was working on a program change for a company and when it was done I sent an email out to all the interested parties detailing what the changes were. Ten days later (the day before the changes were to go live) I got an email from the president of the company saying my changes weren’t what they wanted. I sent an email back referring to my prior email mentioning there was ample time to let me know that my changes weren’t what they wanted. Then I got an email from the project manager saying they didn’t get my earlier email BUT I had an email from this same project manager thanking me for the update so I know they got the original email. This was a lie but I can understand someone dropping the ball and not wanting to admit it. I don’t agree with it but I understand it. A few years ago I wrote about this person from the chess world whose advice was to "never tell anyone the truth" and showed an example of how he lied to me in an email the very next week. I didn't agree with this liar either but I understand why someone whose stated philosophy is to never tell the truth would lie all the time. One thing I don't understand is why telling the truth is so often the last resort instead of the first option.

  I don’t understand why I wasn’t just told that there was no hope of having this issue resolved weeks ago. I could have changed my interface to run later or let the end users know the delays are now a part of their daily process or adopted any other number of strategies or just done nothing. Maybe the government support person I talked to was instructed to tell me something that wasn’t true or maybe they thought it up on their own. In either case I don’t see how I can believe anything that comes from this particular support group. I could look on the bright side and be glad this group isn’t in charge of kidney transplants (“Your kidney is on its way! It’s our driver’s highest priority!”) but I’ll settle for hoping I don’t meet any of these lying types if we both make it to heaven.

If Benny from the 1990 film classic 'Total Recall' ever needs to find a job to feed his '5 kids' I know a certain goverment agency where he would fit right in although he might need to clean up the language a bit...

Friday, July 14, 2017

Congratulations Are In Order, I Suppose

  I have no doubt that NBA basketball is taking over as America’s number one sport. The 2016-2017 season ended over a month ago yet the NBA has been front and center of the sports pages ever since with pre-draft trades, the actual draft, and the free agency period. Twenty years ago baseball and the upcoming football season would have been at the front of the sports sections and talk radio – now it is the NBA off season. Most of the experts I listen to and read expected very few teams to pick up high salaried players because there is seemingly no possibility of competing with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers teams that have won their conferences the past three years.

  It didn’t quite work out that way since good teams are not easily dissuaded from trying to take the step to greatness and as good as the Warriors and Cavaliers have been they are always just one major injury from falling back to the pack. The Houston Rockets have not had a losing season since 2006 and have won 50 games in three of the past five years since acquiring all-star James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, making it to the conference finals in 2015. After a promising regular season ended in a disappointing second round playoff loss to the Spurs, Rocket General Manager Daryl Morey managed to get Los Angeles Clipper All-Star Chris Paul to come to Houston as a free agent. Normally the team that currently employs a player can offer them the most money in free agency but Paul won’t have to sacrifice any money because the Clippers arranged a sign-and–trade deal with the Rockets in which the Clippers signed Paul to the contract he had agreed to with Houston and then traded him to the Rockets for starting guard Patrick Beverly, former sixth man of the year Lou Williams, and a pair of rotation players (Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell).

  This looks like a great fit. Morey is known for his pioneering use of basketball analytics and the Rockets were one of the first teams embrace the philosophy of taking either three points shots or close range shots like lobs and layups that would either lead to a high percentage of baskets or foul shots. Paul just had his career high in three point attempts and percentage. He also gives the Rockets a second all-star which will allow Morey to try to convince another top 20 player to head to Houston for a realistic chance to compete for a title.

  I don’t like this deal for Houston. In getting Paul, they sacrificed a lot of depth (even if the trade to Clippers wasn’t made, signing Paul would have led to the release of most of the same players to create salary cap space). Paul is 32 years old which seems pretty old to me (Harden is 27) and his performance and durability could tail off drastically at any time. And if Paul’s effectiveness doesn’t drop off he will be eligible for a max extension at the end of next season. The Rockets just gave Harden a $228 million dollar extension and if Paul gets something even close that will be their team for the foreseeable future. Another thing I don’t like about this deal is that both Paul and Harden seem to have the ball in their hands a lot on offense so either or both players will have to change their game to accommodate the other superstar which could make either or both players far less effective.

  I can’t see the Rockets being able to beat the Spurs or Warriors even with Paul. The only way I see this deal working for the Rockets is if Morey is able to obtain another superstar and make a title run. I can’t rule it out and it seems LeBron James is looking to leave Cleveland next year. If he does Houston may be a promising destination for him. I look at the Rockets acquiring Chris Paul as a home run swing that has a small chance of paying off.

  The Boston Celtics were another big player in free agency. The Celtics had the best record in the eastern conference this year and made the conference finals but were blown out by the Cavaliers in 5 games, two of which were 30+ point losses. The Celtics had the top pick in the draft by virtue of their trade with the Nets in 2014 which gave them the Nets #1 pick by swap or outright for five years. The Celtics traded the top pick to the 76ers for a future #1 pick and the #3 pick which they used to select small forward Jayson Tatum of Duke. Then the Celtics were able to sign free agent Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz to a $128 million dollar 4 year deal. In order to sign Hayward, the Celtics had to renounce the rights to center Kelly Olynk and trade guard Avery Bradley to the Pistons for power forward Marcus Morris for a salary cap savings of three million dollars.

  I like the Celtics getting Hayward more than the Rockets signing of Paul but not much more. Hayward is young at 27 and has been in the league six years. He made his first All-Star team this past season leaving open the question of whether his all-star status is proof of his hitting a new level or a fluke. While Paul’s best years are not ahead of him it is possible that Hayward is ready to ascend to a new level.

  Even if Hayward is an all-star and the Celtics other all-star Isiah Thomas successfully recovers from the hip injury he suffered in the playoffs last year I can’t see this team challenging the Cavaliers for the eastern conference championship. I’m not even sure if Hayward is better than Avery Bradley who was dumped in order free up the salary cap space to pay Hayward.

  Is this move going to lead the Celtics to a championship of a Finals appearance? I don’t think so but James decides to leave the Cavaliers after next season this is probably the best team in the East by a small margin over the Wizards and Raptors. The Warriors are on another level but if they should get upset it is not impossible to see this group of Celtics become champions.

  While no teams vaulted themselves into championship contention in my eyes during free agency the Thunder and Timberwolves have improved themselves the most. The Thunder picked up perennial all-star Paul George from the Indiana Pacers for an overpaid Victor Oladipo and 2016 first round pick Domantas Sabonis. It was a steal except for the small detail of George becoming a free agent next season and already telling the Pacers that he wants to play for the Lakers. Even so, this is a great gamble by the Thunder. George is an immediate upgrade and shows MVP Russell Westbrook a season before he can opt out of his contract that the team is willing to take risks to add talent. The Thunder aren’t championship contenders because of this move but are markedly better and if all the pieces fit just right could beat anyone in the playoffs.

  The other big move I like is the Timberwolves acquisition of Jimmy Butler from the Bulls for 2016 first round pick Kris Dunn, slam dunk champion Zach Lavine (coming off a knee injury), and a swap of the 7th and 16th picks in the NBA draft. Butler is under contract for two more years at $20 million and while not the high flyer that Lavine is has proved to be a durable hard-working player. Butler will either infuse the Wolves young stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins with his work ethic and defensive intensity or be ostracized and tuned out by the young talented core. I expect the Wolves to return to the playoffs for the first time since they traded Kevin Garnett.

  It seems like the entire NBA press is congratulating the Rockets, Celtics, Thunder, and Timberwolves for signing or trading for their All-Star player. I'll hold off on my congratulations until I see how these new acquisitions mesh with their teams. For now, all that has been won is the right to pay each of these players 20 million dollars of more. Everything else is the hope that future performance will outweigh the risk of under-performing players with large contracts or fractured team chemistry.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The 2017 Fried Chicken Dinner Winner

It is time once again to turn over the Broken Pawn to America's favorite beagle bloggers – Daisy and Baxter,
who for a change have matters of vital public interest to discuss!

Hi Everybody! Daisy here along with… …Baxter and it’s time for another blog post for our many fans! It’s about time we got to write another post. I mean how often can Hank keep writing about movies and television shows? That’s right, Daisy! Especially when there are so many more important topics in the world to discuss. Like what, Baxter? Like how last week Hank ran out of bologna for his sandwich that he takes to work. It could have been a disaster! Luckily Hank realized he wasn’t going to have enough bologna for the next sandwich and made an emergency meat run! It was so exciting. We were wondering what kind of emergency meat Hank was going to bring home. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be one of those tiny Carl Buddig cold cut packs that hardly have any meat in them to share with us. Luckily there was a happy ending because Hank brought home a whole pound of Oscar Mayer turkey. There was plenty to share and it was very tasty. It was the best emergency ever! YUM!! Turkey is one of my favorite meats! Is there any meat that’s not one of your favorites, Baxter? If think of one I’ll let you know.

We did get some bad news this weekend, Daisy. That’s true Baxter. Hank cancelled our annual beef stick taste test awards. I was so sad. Except for the Jiffy and Casey’s all the other convenience stores don’t sell beef sticks out of a container. They all sell tiny, greasy Slim Jims at 2 or 3 for a dollar. And most of these stores get upset with Hank for taking pictures because of all the drug paraphernalia they sell. I’m sure they sell more than drug parapan…parphanal…drug stuff, Daisy. That’s why they don’t want any pictures.

Luckily Hank decided to put our taste testing skills to another task, Baxter! YES! Hank decided we should judge who has the best fried chicken in town. YUM!! I love fried chicken. I love fried chicken too. The rules were Hank would get a three piece dinner from each fried chicken place in town. And he would give us a drumstick to share! YUM!! I love drumsticks! Then Hank would eat the rest of the chicken meal but he always shares with us. We got to grade the chicken and the winner would be the… ‘Daisy and Baxter 2017 Fried Chicken Dinner Winner’!

Hy-Vee's chicken was so large it needed it's own tray!
Which thankfully kept it far away from the disgusting sides.

We had our taste test last month when Kathy went to Idaho to bring Ben and his stuff back from college. Hank was alone in the house except for us pets and we had the entire weekend to concentrate on our fried chicken taste test. Our first tasting was on Thursday night. Hank went to the Hy-Vee and brought home a three piece chicken dinner! There was a leg, a breast, and a thigh. Hank got cole slaw and potato egg salad for his sides. Hy-Vee has really big chicken pieces, Daisy. They were big, Baxter. Last time we had their chicken it was dry and tasteless but not this year! I found our chicken leg moist and tender! I thought it was delicious. Juicy without being greasy. And the breast and thigh was so big there was plenty for Hank to share. We shared a lot and it was all delicious. There was only one problem. What was that, Daisy? Hank thought the cole slaw and potato salad were disgusting. The cole slaw had more of that runny cole slaw juice than the cole slaw. And the potato salad didn’t have any chunks of potatoes! Hank took a bite that had some egg and said the egg was rotten. He threw out his sides after a few bites. He said it was so bad he wouldn't even feed it to us. Hank never throws away food, Baxter. The sides must have been really gross. Hank paid $10.47 for the dinner and it’s a shame he couldn’t enjoy the sides. I’m giving the Hy-Vee chicken 4 paws, Daisy. They had big, tasty pieces of chicken and we are supposed to judge the chicken not the sides. I think the owner experience is important as well as the chicken, Baxter. I’m only giving Hy-Vee two paws for making sides so disgusting that Hank couldn’t eat it or feed it to a dog! Sigh…What’s next? Grading the ambiance?

Hy-vee – 3 paws 


KFC gave Hank a soda with his $9 Big Box.
I wish the chicken was bigger and the box smaller...

On Friday, Hank went to work but came home early with a $9 Big Box from KFC! The KFC had a leg, breast, and thigh just like Hy-Vee. The chicken leg was the best tasting chicken I ever had. I agree the KFC leg tasted great but it was very tiny and the breast and thigh were very small also. There was hardly any chicken for Hank to share with us. On the bright side Hank did get a soda and a biscuit and he must have liked his sides of cole slaw and mashed potatoes with gravy. What makes you say that, Daisy? Because of how fast he gobbled them down. I think they were gone in 10 seconds! That’s even faster than I could eat my piece of the tiny chicken leg. Even though the KFC chicken was small it did taste great. Hank liked the sides and the meal cost a dollar less than the Hy-Vee. I’m going to give the KFC 3 paws. None of the chicken cost me anything and I didn’t get any of the sides of even a sip of Hank’s soda. I’m giving the KFC 2 paws. If they want more paws they need bigger chicken in the $9 Big Box! If Hank reads this that may be the last chicken either of us gets…

KFC– 2 1/2 paws 

Steven Seagal's 2016 classic "Contract To Kill" has everything I want in a Steven Seagal movie. Namely, Steven Seagal and his steely glare...sigh

We had a great Saturday. Hank was home all day and we took a lot of long walks! Yes we did! When Hank is alone with us walks us through the alleyways instead of the streets. Lots of people put their garbage in the alleys and we get lots of new smells. It’s not all garbage, Baxter. Some people have nice backyards with pretty flowers. I like to smell garbage! When we got back from our noon time walk Hank left us alone but he came back with two special treats. Hank brought home a three piece broasted chicken dinner from Haley’s! YUM! I love broasted chicken. I liked the chicken but had a hard time concentrating on it when I found out Hank brought home a DVD of my favorite movie star, Steven Seagal! Was it the movie where Steven beats a lot of people up? Of course! We watched the 2016 classic "Contract To Kill". Steven plays a former CIA agent who has to assemble a team to take out drug cartels and terrorists. In one scene Steven Seagal beats up three terrorists without even getting up from his chair! And he looks at villains and his girlfriend that's 40 years younger than him with his steely glare…Sigh….It must be wonderful to have Steven look at you with his steely glare… I liked the movie because the good guys won and Steven Seagal barely had to touch anyone. I wish Hank was more like him. I’ll bet Steven Seagal’s KFC Big Box is full of chicken! The Hy-Vee wouldn’t dare give Steven disgusting sides with his chicken dinner… Not unless they wanted Steven Seagal to break their arms and legs without even getting up from his chair!

Haley's had a golden brown chicken leg for each of us! It's a winning combination!

Well, we can talk about Steven later, Baxter. Let’s get to the Haley’s chicken. Hank got the Haley’s 3 piece dark meat box for $10. It had two legs and a thigh. There was no soda but Hank got potato salad and green beans for his sides along with a biscuit. I think Hank was chickened out because he gave us both legs. We each got one! The chicken leg was excellent. Crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. Broasted chicken just tastes better, It’s a combination of fried and roasted chicken. And there was a lot of meat too. The legs were just as big as Hy-Vee’s but the thigh was a little smaller. It may have been a mutant chicken. If being delicious is a mutant power I agree! I’m going to give the Haley’s four paws. Having a whole leg is way better than half a leg and a piece of a chicken breast! I agree, Baxter. And Hank wolfed down the sides so fast they must have been excellent! I’m giving Haley’s four paws, too! I'm sure Steven Seagal will eat Haley's chicken if he ever comes to Marshalltown!

Haley's – 4 paws 

So Haley’s is the runaway 2017 Daisy and Baxter Chicken Dinner Winner, Daisy. Yes indeed Baxter. They provided the perfect combination of taste, portion, and non-disgusting side dishes! Congratulations to Haley’s! I can’t help but be sad, though. Why’s that? Because we won’t have another fried chicken taste test for a whole year. Don’t worry, Baxter. There’s plenty of other things to taste test. And Kathy is going away with Ben next week so we’ll be alone with Hank again. Maybe Hank will rent another Steven Seagal movie and we can taste test hamburgers… …Or ribs!.. …Or pizza… …Or Hamburgers! OH BOY! I can’t wait! YUM!

Friday, June 30, 2017

TV Review - Fear The Walking Dead Season 3 (Episodes 1-5)

   WARNING : FEAR THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 3 EPISODES 1 through 5 SPOILERS BELOW!!!

What has season three of 'Fear The Walking Dead' been like? Let's find out...

  I did not have high hopes for season three of AMC’s 'Fear The Walking Dead' zombie apocalypse summer companion show to the long-running classic ‘The Walking Dead’. Season two ended with our band of survivors split up as the apocalypse power couple Travis and Madison beat a hasty escape from their refuge at a Mexican resort along with daughter Alicia due to Travis going on a murderous rampage after learning of the death of his son Christopher, not only murdering Christopher’s killers but the resort’s lone doctor. The trio left real estate con-man Victor Strand behind as they headed north to find Madison’s son Nick. Meanwhile Nick had led the residents of the Colony he was staying at to the US-Mexican border where they were assaulted by an unknown paramilitary group. The lack of action at the end of season 2 along with the reality-suspending coincidences that made the disparate groups aware of each other made this season more of an afterthought to me instead of a summer event to look forward to.

  I was pleasantly surprised when season three opened with the reunion of Travis & Co. and Nick already having taken place instead of using two or more episodes of the season to build up to it. While the family being reunited was good news, the bad news was that they found themselves as prisoners of the paramilitary group run by Jeremiah Otto Sr., whose son Troy has used a fuel expedition as a chance to take prisoners and then kill them in order to time how long it takes them to reanimate as zombies. While Travis, Nick, and Nick’s girlfriend Luciana await their turn in the timing test, Madison and Alicia have found favor with Troy who attempts to talk the pair into leaving the rest of the family to their fate and accompanying him to the Broke Jaw ranch that serves as the group’s headquarters.

I was willing to suspend my belief that Madison could outfight soldier wannabe Troy for this epic 'spoon' scene!

  Madison declines the offer in grisly fashion by sticking a spoon in Troy’s eye and demanding he take her to the rest of her family. In the meantime Travis and Nick have escaped their imprisonment. Nick and Luciana are trying to navigate their way through the conveniently located underground sewer pipes while Travis is recaptured and forced to battle multiple zombies in a huge pit.

Travis is a seriously BAD ACTOR when so motivated!

  Travis defeats all the zombies with the aid of his berserker rage, some rebar, and a cement block while Troy’s brother Jake arrives to calm Madison enough into taking the spoon out of Troy’s eye. The camp is then overrun by zombies and everyone beats a hasty retreat with Nick and Madison in a truck convoy while Travis, Alicia, and Luciana exit via the group’s helicopter.

RIP Travis. He was one of the main characters on FTWD. Emphasis on WAS...

  It was a great season premiere with everything I want in a zombie apocalypse show: people killing people, people killing zombies, and zombies killing people, and as a special bonus someone getting their eye gouged out with a spoon! Episode two immediately followed the premiere and was a game changer for the series as the militia’s helicopter came under attack and Travis got shot in the neck. In prior two seasons I’m sure this situation would have been milked for weeks but in this season Travis sees how much blood he is losing and jumps to his death rather than become a helicopter zombie. The loss of Travis changes everything. The rest of the episode shows Alicia and the other survivors of the helicopter attack get back to the ranch where Madison becomes acquainted with Jerimiah Otto Sr. himself and decides the family will stay at the ranch for the time being instead of striking out on their own as originally planned.

  Now that our group has a place to stay for the season episode 3 showed us more about the Otto family via pre-apocalypse videotapes that show Otto as a survivalist that predicts the end of the world while selling his survivalist videos (including a survival bucket complete with a shovel and iodine pills). We also learn that Otto’s wife (since deceased) bears a striking resemblance to Madison which likely explains how Madison and family weren't killed after she tried to gouge the younger Otto’s eye out with a spoon. A great moment occurs when Alicia is invited to the youth bible study which turns out to be an excuse for the teens of the ranch to get drunk and high while playing 20 questions with a chomping zombie head.

  There is plenty of drama at the ranch as the survivalist-minded residents (except for the youth who are getting drunk and high) are setting out for expeditions to hunt for wild boars and find out who shot down their helicopter. That situation took a spot on the back burner as we catch up with con-man Strand at the resort hotel. Strand quells a mob outside the resort gates by pretending to be a doctor that will give needed medical attention and even delivers a baby successfully. His heroism backfires as he is kicked out of the resort by the leaders who are fearful of a riot when his lack of medical knowledge is exposed. Strand typically lands on his feet by obtaining the keys to a brand new Ferrari and drives away from the resort in style. Strand heads north until he runs into old friend Dante who has taken over a reservoir with his armed goons and now controls the local populace with his control of the only water supply. The only problem is that Dante knows Strand as the supreme con-man he is. Strand is taken to the top of the reservoir where he witnesses someone who crossed Mr. Dante thrown over 100 feet into a pile of zombies where is eaten alive after surviving the fall. Strand is almost thrown over but is instead led to a jail cell.

Daniel Salazar to the rescue!

  While in his jail cell at the end of episode three, Strand receives a surprise visit from an old friend from season two: Daniel Salazar, the CIA-trained Costa Rican Black Ops torturer turned Los Angeles barber. We last saw Salazar at the season two mid-season finale when he burned the Thomas Abigail farm to the ground and hasn’t been seen from again. His daughter Ofelia has been missing since the end of season two. Daniel asks Strand about his daughter but Stand can’t just say that Ofelia made it to the resort and disappeared and instead spins one lie on top of another until Salazar catches him in one of his many lies and leaves him in the cell to rot. From there we get to catch up with Salazar who was left for dead but rescued by the clownish Efrain and Dante reservoir water expert Lola. Lola has been siphoning water to a group of people Efrain belongs to via a fountain in a shopping mall that activates for a few minutes every Tuesday at 5pm. Aside from being a plumbing expert, Lola is a skilled medical practitioner who cures Daniel of an infected and burnt leg by slicing the infected flesh off with a large knife.

  Daniel leaves Efrain’s group but soon find himself washed through the sewer system into Dante’s reservoir where Lola rescues him yet again by getting him a job on her janitor crew that clears the dead bodies from the water inlets. Shortly Daniel is recognized by Dante as the black ops killer he is and gets promoted to the goon squad where Daniel immediately helps capture Efrain. Daniel is then charged with torturing Efrain into giving up Lola but Lola confesses while Daniel is savagely beating Efrain. Efrain, Lola, and even Strand are then brought to the top of the reservoir to be thrown into the zombie pit below but Daniel saves the day but taking out the goons and killing Mr. Dante for good measure.

The 'quiet' Episode 5 featured this extremely creepy scene...

  ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ has turned from Sunday night post-apocalyptic television filler into appointment television. Even the slow-moving fifth episode with lots of dialogue and the meeting of a group of Native American survivors that claim the Broke Jaw ranch as their territory kept my attention with the opening of an elderly man waking up to discover his wife had died and turned to a zombie overnight. I was expecting the man (who we had seen dancing with his wife in the previous episode) to kill his wife but instead he hugs her and puts a bullet through both their skulls at once. There was also a classical horror scene showing an old man sitting in a chair on a rock continually reciting a poem about a man who wasn’t there as the reveal shows his exposed skull with crows pecking away at his brain. The viewership of the show has been steadily declining although it is still leading cable television for Sunday nights among 18-49 year old viewers. I’m hopeful that as news of the improved quality of the show and the newfound unpredictability of the characters’ fates (as evidenced by Travis’s early demise) spreads this ratings will improve. Since this show isn’t beholden to the story lines of a comic book like the parent ‘The Walking Dead’ show I wouldn’t mind seeing all the main characters get killed off with the show following the zombie apocalypse around the world instead of viewing it through the eyes of a small group of survivors.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Movie Review - Wonder Woman

After the obligatory slow-moving yet brief origin, Wonder Woman was a well-made faced-paced, action-packed movie.

  I went with Kathy to see the latest DC super hero movie ‘Wonder Woman’ at the local movie theater last weekend. Wonder Woman is the one of the three DC characters (along with Superman and Batman) to make it from the Golden Age of Comics in the 1940’s to the present day relatively unchanged. The character lost her superpowers and costume briefly in DC’s ‘flower child’ period of the early 70’s but was quickly restored back to her skimpy American flag based costume and was vaulted to iconic status with Lynda Carter bringing the character to life in the television show in the late 1970’s before heading back to obscurity for the next 40 or so years before being chosen as a pillar of the new DC movie universe.

  The character was revived with Carter look-alike Gal Gadot playing the character in last year’s Batman vs. Superman movie. Gadot’s part was more action oriented but there was some byplay with Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne that showed her posing as a socialite while trying to obtain information from Lex Luthor’s super computers. This was a welcome change from her previous alter-ego’s persona as the meek subservient librarian type that was very Clark Kent like without the authority that Kent garnered from being a journalist. Wonder Woman’s action skills were shown battling the super-monster Doomsday alongside Batman and Superman but the true nature of her powers weren’t evident since her part in the fight was to occupy screen time before the movie’s climactic ‘Death of Superman’ moment. The Wonder Woman involvement was a necessary introduction to this year’s solo movie and the Justice League film scheduled for later this year.

  The theater had about 50 people to see the film which was pretty impressive for a movie in its third weekend in Marshalltown. The movie won its first two weekends and is well on its way to an impressive box office number which will fall slightly short of last month’s Guardians of the Galaxy #2 but more than enough to ensure another movie in the DC rotation.

  Since the character had already been established last year I was disappointed that this film insisted on starting with an origin showing Wonder Woman as a young girl and then a teenager who wants to be a warrior but is forbidden by her mother the Queen. We spend 20 minutes learning all about how Wonder Woman was created from a piece of clay blessed by Zeus and her name is Diana and she lives in an Amazon civilization and their island is mystically hidden and all kinds of stuff that probably could have been explained in a few minutes showing Princess Diana learning to become the most fearsome Amazon Warrior of all which we end up seeing anyway.

  Finally the action gets underway when Steve Trevor (played by none other than Chris Pine aka Captain Kirk of the new Star Trek movie series) crashes a World War I German fighter plane into the hidden Amazon kingdom and is followed by a fleet of German ships. The Amazons get to show off their fighting skills which aside from hand to hand combat with swords include horseback riding with swords and spears and the ability to fire three or more arrows at once with deadly precision while doing double and triple somersaults off horses and cliffs. None of these skills prove especially effective against the few Germans that are able to get off rifle shots to wound and kill some of the Amazons.

  After finding out from Trevor using the iconic ‘lasso of truth’, the Amazons find out that the world is at war (as if there hadn’t been wars from the beginning of time) and Diana decides to accompany Trevor off the Amazon island in order to bring peace to the planet by killing Aries the God of War who she has been told is the Amazon’s sworn enemy.

  From this point on this is an excellent movie. There is the comedy of trying to dress the baddest warrior on the planet to fit into early 20th century Britain, a bit of social consciousness with Diana’s frustration at the politicians and generals who don’t take her seriously because they don’t take any women seriously, and mostly great action. After the politicians and generals decide the upcoming peace armistice is more important than Trevor’s discovery that the German super evil scientist Dr. Maru (aka Miss Poison) and General Ludendorff have concocted a lethal gas that can eat through gas masks and kill thousands instantaneously, he rounds up some flawed but adventure loving friends to go on road trip to stop General Ludendorff and Dr. Maru themselves. Along with Wonder Woman, of course.

  Our brave group of heroes makes their way to the Maginot line at the front where Wonder Woman frees a small village from German oppression by breaking through the enemy line of fortified tunnels, tanks, and machine guns with a small amount of help from her non super-powered friends. The actions scenes are great with Wonder Woman using her shield to stop mortar fire as well as destroy tanks and machine guns. Her hand-to-hand combat scenes are also excellently shot with my only quibble is the continual freezing of the action to show some dramatic action pose before resuming the action at an accelerated speed. This is fine to do once or twice but when done too often as here it makes the action hard to follow. The villagers take a picture of their liberators which is a nice tie in to Wonder Woman’s introduction to Bruce Wayne in Batman vs. Superman when she attempts to get the picture form Lex Luthor’s computer system at the same time Bruce Wayne is trying to also pilfer the computer system.

  After liberating the village, the group head to the castle where General Ludendorff and Dr. Maru are having a party to celebrate the mass production and test of their new batch of poison by destroying the very town that Wonder Woman and co. just liberated and prepares to wipe out all of London with a futuristic super plane. I don’t want to give away too much of the climactic battle but I will say that for the most part the good guys win and Aries makes a guest appearance for an epic and explosive ending.

  This was the best made superhero movie I have ever seen, The origin was dispensed with quickly and the film had a well-defined plot with none of the meandering soul-searching angst most of the other superhero movies are full of. Even though Wonder Woman leaves her Amazon community to fight we are not subjected to doubts ad recriminations – there is just a well scripted mission and action galore mixed in with a little of the ‘buddy movie’ type of character development. Gadot was a great Wonder Woman, tough without being overbearing and compassionate without being mushy. Pine as also a fine Steve Trevor. The scene where he tries to seduce the hideously disfigured Miss Poison was a classic. Elena Anaya as Miss Poison and Danny Huston as General Ludendorff were sufficiently psychopathic to make belivably menacing villains. I hope Wonder Woman remains the warrior character of the new Justice League and doesn’t settle into a background role or be some sort of den mother. Having this movie set in a period piece gives no evidence how well Wonder Woman will fit into a modern setting. The Justice League will likely showcase Batman at the expense of all the other heroes which means it might be at least three years before Wonder Woman gets into the modern age in her own movie although she may be trapped in the past like Indiana Jones for her solo adventures. This movie was a tremendous step forward for a classic character. Hopefully Warner Bros. and DC can build on it.

Up next for Wonder Woman is a role in Justice League. Here's hoping for another solo adventure soon.