Monthly Archives: April 2012

Adventures in Netflix! Episode 19: Sphere

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Hello and welcome to episode 19 of Adventures in Netflix! Today I’ll be reviewing the 1998 movie Sphere.

Sphere is an interesting movie. It is, perhaps, not the most original science fiction out there, but it is a solid, well made movie with a great cast and an engaging story.

Said story centers around a civilian team of scientists: marine biologist Dr. Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone); mathematician Dr. Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson); astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber); and¬†psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), who are assembled by the government to investigate a massive spaceship discovered a thousand feet below the ocean. After reaching the military’s “habitat” set up on the ocean floor, the team begin investigating the ship and soon discover a giant, golden sphere. Low on air, the team returns to the habitat, only to be cut off from the surface when the ships above are forced away by a storm. Alone beneath the ocean, the team and their three military companions begin experiencing strange manifestations as the story begins to shift from straight sci fi to psychological thriller.

“Yeah, I just got out of the shower. What of it?”

This premise might sound a bit familiar–perhaps a little Alien/The Abyss–but it’s generally well executed and tells its story with enough unpredictability to be quite engrossing. There were several points throughout the movie in which I had absolutely no idea what was going on, an essential quality in a thriller I think.

The cast of Sphere play their characters well, and make up one of my favorite parts of the movie; namely the casual professionalism with which the majority of the characters conduct themselves. Even Captain Barnes, the military commander in charge of the whole operation never succumbs to the all to familiar sci fi cliche of the big bad shoot first homicidal army general. Instead he comes across as an intelligent, reasonable man who is simply trying to do his job as best he can.

There’s something about those sunglasses that just screams no-nonsense.

Out of everyone, Dustin Hoffman’s character is probably the most levelheaded, taking everything (no matter how strange or implausible) pretty much in stride, though even he isn’t immune to freaking out every now and then when things get really hairy.

Norman isn’t exactly a bundle of laughs himself.

The special effects are fairly good, being a mix of excellent sets and practical effects and some computer effects for the alien ship and the titular sphere. The CGI, most of which is fairly unassuming, holds up well considering the movie is now fourteen years old–a lifetime in computer years.

I don’t know what it is, but its pretty. And maybe a bit creepy, too…

There’s something deeply appealing about the science fiction scenarios that depict humans as flawed, primitive beings that nevertheless manage to rise above their bestial instincts long enough to save themselves and recognize their shortcomings. Sphere might not be the best version of that story out there, but it’s by no means the worst, and does a good enough job with the concept to be both interesting and entertaining.

Finally, someone who looks like they might have a sense of humor.

Sphere might not be a revolutionary movie, but if you’re you’re in the mood for a good, atmospheric science fiction thriller you could do a lot worse than Sphere.

~NekoShogun

Maximum Ride: School’s Out–Forever Spork Part 7

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Chapter 66

Max is telling off Iggy and Gazzy for bringing bombs to school (and the flock is grounded, by the way), and when she heads to her room she notices the TV on in Anne’s room, set to the news. And gasp! It turns out Iggy’s parents are on TV, talking about how they lost a child fourteen years ago (brought up now since there are new disappearances).

Chapter 67

Max is now relaying the information to Fang and

“Fang! This is a huge break! Of course we should go check it out!”

He looked at me. “But we’re grounded,” he said with a straight face.

I stared at him for a second, and then we both burst out laughing. (pg 191)

Yeah, I really like these kids with their complete disregard for any kind of authority.

Chapter 68

Max and Fang are heading off to find Iggy’s parents’ house, and Fang is feeling hot (similar to how Max did before she did her mega-awesome flying), and he says that since he got Max’s blood and blood has DNA in it, it might have something to do with it.

I’m just throwing that out there, ’cause I don’t know enough about biology (that would be biology, right? See, I don’t even know the category!) to determine whether or not that’s stupid. What is stupid is that Fang would know this random information.

Anyway, they don’t find anything and head back, at which point I think Anne sees them, but the book is very vague about it.

Chapter 69

Another couple weeks pass “normally,” with Angel not getting up to any mind-control antics, Nudge getting invited to a birthday party, and oh yeah the guy from the library, Sam, asked Max out on a date and she said yes. Though for some reason Max just tells us in retrospect as opposed to actually having it be a scene, which should have been a good character moment: Max grew up in a cage, blah blah blah, so how would she react when asked on a date?

But nope, we just get told, because telling instead of showing is Maximum Ride’s shtick.

Chapter 70

So Max is going on her date with Sam to the movies…

The film we saw was an incredibly violent military-espionage-action thing that looked like home movies from my childhood. (pg 197)

So, here we have Max, who grew up in a cage and in seclusion up in the mountains.

Mostly I sat in the dark, analyzing fight scenes and praying that Sam wouldn’t try to hold my hand. What if my palms were sweaty? (pg 197)

And here we have Max, worrying about sweaty palms.

They just don’t add up.

(Also, whatcha doin’, “Mostly?” If Max only mostly sat in the dark, what was she doing the rest of the time?)

So then the movie’s over and Sam holds Max’s hand and she’s fine with it, and then they go for ice cream and she thinks about how far she could throw the table.

Least. Consistent. Character. Ever.

Oh and then Ari is outside the shop.

Chapter 71

And then nothing happens.

Chapter 72

And then Sam kisses Max.

(I’m bored.)

Chapter 73

Max is talking with Fang when realization!

Then it hit me. I’d thought I’d seen my reflection in the window. But I hadn’t.

I turned slowly and looked at Fang. “Ari had me with me. There was a me outside the window.” (pg 205)

Then Max tells Fang about how she saw herself as an Eraser.

Chapter 74

This is also part 4, “There’s No Place Like Home.”

Why there was a part break here, when there is no thematic change, no previous plotlines have been resolved, or really is there any difference between the last part and this one…

*Sigh*

This is an Ari chapter, by the way, but nothing actually happens–it’s just angst on his part because people love Max and nobody loves him!

Which I don’t think is all that bad characterization, honestly. It’s kinda trite, but I don’t feel it’s too poorly handled. It’s still Maximum Ride, of course, so I don’t really care about Ari or his plight, but at the very least it’s not egregiously bad.

Chapter 75

Fang gave me a long-suffering and not very worshipful glance, then looked past me at the modest suburban brick house. It was dinky, old-fashioned, but, given how close it was to DC, probably worth almost half a million dollars. Note to self: Invest in DC real estate. Save up your allowance. (pg 212)

I feel like a broken record, but it must be said: Where is this information coming from, Max?

Anyway, Max and Fang are at Iggy’s parents’ house (and though Max says she doesn’t know for sure, come on, we all know) and they meet Iggy’s mother under the lie of selling a newspaper.

Chapter 76

We’re now with Iggy and Gazzy, who are looking for some hidden files they heard about previously in the school’s basement. There’s actually a bit of “agh I can’t see I hate this” type narration from Iggy which, while still telling instead of showing, is at least something.

Then they find the files and it’s information on how the school used to be an insane asylum until two years ago (!), and then they’re heading back up when they find a doorway that leads to a tunnel.

Chapter 77

I was kind of dreading seeing Sam again at school. Would he blow me off? Had he told anyone about us kissing? Would I get teased and therefore have to kick serious butt? (pg 217)

Because these are the concerns of a bird kid who grew up without proper human contact.

So Iggy and Gazzy tell Max about their file-hunting, and it turns out that while the school’s website says it’s been in the same building since 1985, the internet only has records going back two years. How an assumedly public school can suddenly just appear, claiming to have been in existence for twenty years, and have nobody bat an eyelash, I don’t know.

Also Angel mind controlled the president into diverting funding (nearly a billion dollars, no less) from the military to public education and shelters for homeless women and children.

I–

I–

ANGEL IS A SIX-YEAR-OLD. She has no place to be messing with the government!

Am I acutally supposed to like this character?!

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment Review

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(Starting with this review, I’ll be dropping the star system and replacing it with a “verdict,” in which I give a quick line or two about my overall thoughts on a book.)

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (which I’ve been and will from now on refer to as just Maximum Ride), written by James Patterson, is not a very good book. It’s not a very good book at all.

Continue reading.

Maximum Ride: School’s Out–Forever Spork Part 6

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Chapter 51

Max is now doing research on a couple of words Fang found in the files, “ter Borcht,” which turns out to be a crazy scientist. After noticing the headmaster being the cartoonish villain he is, she slips out of the library.

Chapter 52

Max goes to find Fang, finds him kissing a girl, and goes crazy and hides in the girls’ bathroom.

Chapter 53

We’re back with Ari, who is in a van with a bunch of Erasers. He drives the van up to the flock, who are walking home from school, and the Erasers pour out to attack.

Because turning into wolfmen and clawing at bird kids is so much smarter than shooting them from afar.

Chapter 54

Blah blah blah fight scene. The flock win, of course, because a bunch of kids with hollow bones are capable of taking on adults designed to kill them. Then again, these are the Erasers we’re talking about… I still blame JPatterson, though, for making these idiotic villains in the first place.

Chapter 55

Anne doesn’t know what Erasers are when the flock get back, so Max tells her using latin terms she conveniently knows.

(There’s another word that describes these books: convenient. Everything always works out so conveniently and easily.)

Chapter 56

It’s bedtime, and Total is complaining about it being cold. Given that this is the second time he’s mentioned being cold, I’m assuming this is foreshadowing. What idiocy is coming up, I don’t know, but there will be something.

Also Angel read Ari’s mind and found that he loves Max a lot.

Chapter 57

Max is conversing with Fang and then shoves him because kissing!

I was mortified–not only because I was attacking my best friend, but because I’d sounded like a jealous idiot. Which I wasn’t. At all. (pg 162)

You say that, and yet your actions and thoughts tell me the opposite.

Oh and Fang has started a blog. Don’t ask me, because it’s brought up just as randomly in the book as it is here.

Chapter 58

Woo, one-page chapter time! We’re with the Max clone, who’s speaking some random stuff to herself.

Chapter 59

Field trip time! (To Washington D.C., no less.) And Iggy is being talked to by a girl and it seems to be romantic foreshadowing because this is school and everyone gets a love interest!

I mean, at least the first book had the guise of excitement, but this one’s just school and random research and romantic drama. *Yawn*

And then there’s this:

“Sounds cool,” said Angel. Maybe she would ask Anne to bring them there [a museum]. Maybe she should just get her teacher to think of detouring there today. No, maybe not. If Max found out, she would be mad. Angel patted Celeste [her stuffed bear, in case you don’t remember], tucked into the waistband of her plaid school skirt, and decided to just go with the program. For now. (pg 167)

Creepiness level: off the charts.

Chapter 60

If you’re ever feeling a lack of middle-aged white men, just pop into the Capitol. Not so much the House of Representatives, which has a bit more color and texture, but the Senate–jeez. Yes, let’s have more testosterone running the country. (pg 168)

I…

God, Max, can you stop talking about random things you should have no knowledge of?!

The Vietnman Wall was awful. A huge, smooth black granite monolith covered with names of people who died in a war. Very depressing. I saw Nudge make the mistake of touching the Wall. She almost doubled over–her ability to sense people and emotions through leftover vibrations must have been mind-blowing here. A couple of her new friends put their arms around her, and I saw one pull out a tissue. I would talk to her about it later. (pg 168-169)

Oh look, nearly a hundred and seventy pages later and Nudge’s power finally gets its second mention!

And you know, maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t stuff like this be affecting Nudge a whole lot? I’d think we’d get some mention of how hard it is for her to not be able to touch anything without knowing its history… but nope, this is Maximum Ride! Don’t bother with interesting repercussions, because idiotic villains and boring “action” scenes!

Well. It [the White House] is one big, fancy hacienda, let me tell you. Not a castle. Not as froufrou as the Taj Mahal or Graceland. But still mucho impressive. (pg 169)

Where did Max get the word hacienda from? How about froufrou? Where did she learn about the Taj Mahal or Graceland? When did she incorporate “mucho” into her vocabulary?

I swear, Max can’t let a page go by without making me question her word choice.

“Wasn’t this great?” Nudge asked excitedly. “I can’t believe we’re in the White House! I want to be president someday.” (pg 170)

It’s like JPatterson is running through a checklist kids’ book cliches or something.

Then Angel is not there but it’s okay because she comes back with the president.

GAH. I MEAN.

WHYYYYYYY.

Chapter 61

“Zoom in.” Jeb leaned closer to the black-and-white monitor. (pg 174)

Enhance! Zoom! Enhance more! Awesome, we got our killer!

…Sorry, what?

Anyway, Ari wants to kill Max because he is jealous of the attention she gets from Jeb; nothing new, really, just JPatterson reinforcing Ari’s motivation for the umpteenth time.

Chapter 62

Nudge gives a theory about the files’ code (that it corresponds to specific words in the Bible), but nope. Max has also checked out Fang’s blog off screen, and apparently he has good poetry.

*Sigh*

Chapter 63

Gazzy and Iggy are down in the school’s basement when the headmaster comes down, telling a teacher to hide some files. And then oh noes Gazzy and Iggy are leaving but are somehow trapped! (Apparently with people on both sides, even though there’s only one direction I can figure out there being people from.)

Chapter 64

Max is researching with Nudge when the headmaster comes over and starts questioning them because lurking around in the library is the best use of his time, when there’s an explosion.

Chapter 65

The headmaster is yelling at the kids because according to him Gazzy and Iggy caused the explosion, but then Anne comes in and calms down the headmaster, though we aren’t told how (just a sentence saying she did, I’m assuming because JPatterson couldn’t be bothered to write something mildly difficult) and takes the kids away.

The Civilization V One City Challenge Part 3: Wonderlust

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Due in small part to continuing technical difficulties, and in large part to the headache they induced, this post is coming a full week later than I’d intended. I’m beginning to wonder if my computer might not have some kind of vendetta against this feature.

Well, enough of of that, let’s get going.

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