Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Part 6

Today Mormon Geeks will take you far away across the galaxy (before abruptly returning) as we look at Guardians of the Galaxy and more Agents of SHIELD. This was an interesting part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, taking on a completely different tone, compared to the other movies so far. It also greatly expanded the universe that Marvel had set up. But we’ll get more into that later. First, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy
In 1988 shortly after his mother passes, Peter Quill is abducted by aliens. In the present day, Quill steals an artifact, known as the Orb, under the alias “Star Lord”. His old pal Yondu puts out a bounty for him, which Ronan (a Kree warlord) sends Gamora (Thanos’s adopted daughter) after the Orb. While trying to sell the Orb on Xandar, Star Lord, Groot (a humanoid tree), Rocket (a genetically engineered), and Gamora get in a big scuffle, which ends them all up in prison.

Using the help of Drax, the four escape the prison and go to Knowhere to sell the Orb. At Knowhere, the group learns that the Orb is one of six dangerous Infinity Stones, so they opt not to sell it, but to take it to Nova Corps. However, Drax has called Ronan in the meantime for revenge, which results in everyone getting attacked. To save Gamora, Quill lets himself get captured by Yondu’s men, but they convince him to help save Xandar from Ronan’s men.

So Yondu, the Nova Corps, and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” take on Ronan. Groot dies in the process, but the other four Guardians together manage to temporarily tame the Power Stone in the Orb. After defeating Ronan, the Nova Corps lets the Guardians of the Galaxy go with clean records, as Groot begins to grow again.

Random Trivia/Connections:
  • Members of the Kree race previously appeared in Agents of SHIELD episode “TAHITI”.
  • Thanos previously appeared during the credits scene of “The Avengers”.
  • The Collector also reappears after being entrusted with the Aether in the credits scene of “Thor: The Dark World”.
  • Other Inifinity Stones had previously appeared, including the Space Stone (Tesseract) in “The First Avenger”, “Thor”, and “The Avengers”; the Reality Stone (Aether) in “The Dark World”; and the Mind Stone (later revealed to be in Loki’s Staff) in “The Avengers”. Both the Tesseract and the Aether appear in the vision about the stones.

Thoughts:
This was a different story from the ones Marvel had told to this point. It was quite a bit lighter and while there was still plenty of action, it was probably the most humorous and light-hearted Marvel movie to that point. I don’t know if Ant-Man or Deadpool would have done as well if Guardians of the Galaxy hadn’t come first. As I mentioned in my intro, this movie also pushed things open a little more for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, we had seen Asgard in “Thor”, but most of the action took place on Earth. In contrast, only the first scene of this movie happened on Earth. Everything else spanned light-years and lots of space travel. Finally, I’ve also gotta add that this movie is the one that sold me on Chris Pratt as a celebrity man-crush. He’s light-hearted and super fit, with good values, and his character used dancing and friendship to save a planet. Pretty awesome.

Agent Morse and Agent Simmons escape
Hydra in "A Hen in the Wolf House".
Agents of SHIELD: Season 2 (Episodes 1-11)
1. Shadows: In 1945, Peggy Carter retrieves the Obelisk from Hydra, the original 0-8-4. In the present, Skye, May, Trip, and some hired mercenaries get ambushed trying to get Hydra intel. The ambusher is identified as Creel. Skye interrogates Ward. Creel attempts an attack on Talbot, but May intervenes. The team infiltrates an army base to get the Obelisk. Hartley dies after touching the Obelisk. Creel escapes with the Obelisk, while the team steals a Quinjet.
2. Heavy is the Head: May chases Creel, surveying him from afar. Hunter is caught by the army and offered a deal by Talbot, if he will turn in Coulsen. May witnesses the Obelisk kill another. Raina approaches Creel about the Obelisk, but contacts SHIELD when he turns her down. SHIELD tries to ambush Creel, but Hunter betrays them. Raina steals the Obelisk in the commotion and gives it to Skye’s father. Coulsen has an “episode”. Coulsen makes a counter-offer with Talbot, giving him Creel.
3. Making Friends and Influencing People: Hydra gets another former SHIELD agent. Coulsen checks in on Simmons. Donnie Gill hides from Hydra. SHIELD and Hydra track him to Morocco. Fitz attempts to kill Ward. At Bakshi’s request, Simmons attempts to trigger Donnie’s brainwashing, but he runs. Bakshi successfully triggers it to get Donnie to kill everyone on the boat, before Skye kills Donnie. Bakshi and Whitehall discuss brainwashing Simmons. Ward tells Skye that her father is alive.
4. Face My Enemy: A painting is found with Coulsen’s runes on it. May and Coulsen look for clues at a party, but are discovered by Talbot. However, the government buys the painting first. May discovers that it’s Bakshi and not Talbot. Agent 33 takes May’s appearance. After she gets to the Bus, Coulsen discovers she’s not May. Coulsen and May take down Agent 33 and Bakshi. Due to Agent 33, the Bus starts to shut down, but Fitz and Hunter manager to stop a self-destruct. Whitehall ambushes Raina.
5. A Hen in the Wolf House: Hydra attempts a massacre at a wedding. Skye’s father lashes out when she interrupts him. Raina blackmails Coulsen into a meeting with her. Hydra is tipped off about a spy, but Simmons manages to evade them. Bobbi Morse questions Simmons anyway. Raina threatens to turn Simmons in, unless Coulsen agrees to let Skye go with her to her father. With Raina’s evidence, Hydra goes after Simmons, but Bobbi helps Simmons escape to the SHIELD Quinjet. Coulsen sends Raina off with a tracker. Skye discovers that Coulsen’s runes are a map. Skye’s father teams up with Whitehall.
6. A Fractured House: Hydra masquerades as SHIELD agents to attack the UN. Bobbi and Hunter go after a Hydra scientist in Japan. Coulsen visits Senator Ward. Skye interrogates Ward about her father, before handing him over to his brother. Bobbi, Hunter, and May take down Hydra agents at a Belgian safe house. Talbot takes the Hydra agents into custody. Ward escapes his brother’s custody.
7. The Writing on the Wall: While May, Bobbi, Hunter, and Trip look for Ward, a string of murders involving Coulsen’s carvings pop up. Using the memory machine, Coulsen deduces that the killer must be a TAHITI subject as well. Hunter catches Ward meeting with Bakshi. The agents catch Bakshi. Coulsen discovers that the killer is a former SHIELD agent, Derik. Seeing Thompson’s body, Derik and Coulsen realize the carvings are the blueprints of a city. Coulsen starts the race against Hydra to this “city”.
8. The Things We Bury: In flashbacks, Whitehall is interrogated by Agent Carter and later pardoned by Secretary Pierce. In the present, Whitehall teams up with Skye’s father to find the city. The SHIELD agents discover Whitehall is Reinhardt from the past. Ward captures his brother and tortures him. Bobbi interrogates Bakshi. In tracking down the city, Trip and Coulsen are ambushed by Skye’s father. Later, Ward joins Whitehall.
9. …Ye Who Enter Here: May, Skye, Hunter, and Trip protect Raina from Hydra, while Bobbi, Coulsen, Mack, Simmons, and Fitz look for the city in Puerto Rico. Raina tells Skye more about the Obelisk. Fitz dwarfs shut down, heading into the city. Mack becomes infected by climbing in to the city. Ward takes Raina from SHIELD and insists on taking Skye too, who goes on her own.
Skye gets caught in the Terrigen
Mist in "What They Become". 
10. What They Become: May, Trip, Hunter, and the Koenigs escape Hydra and regroup in Puerto Rico. In Ward’s custody, Skye meets her father Cal, who tells her of her impending “transformation”. Coulsen, May, Hunter, and Bobbi attempt to save Skye. Coulsen kills Whitehall and is attacked by Cal. Skye convinces her father to stop and he calls her by her birth name Daisy. Ward leaves with Agent 33. Skye chases Raina into the tunnels. In the temple chamber, the Obelisk opens, killing Trip and transforming Skye and Raina.
11. Aftershocks: The team grieves over Trip’s death. Hydra’s heads agree to a competition to destroy SHIELD. A transformed Raina attacks Simmons’s team in the city. Hunter tricks Bakshi into taking him to their base. Simmons discovers that Raina’s DNA has changed. Bobbi and Hunter take down three Hydra heads. Fitz lies about Skye’s DNA being the same. Raina is rescued from some agents by a teleporting man with no eyes.

Random Trivia/Connections:
  • Peggy Carter and Captain America’s comrades from “The First Avenger” appear in “Shadows”.
  • John Garrett is revealed to be Creel’s supervising agent in “Shadows”.
  • The Chitauri, the Avengers, and the Battle of New York are mentioned in “A Fractured House”.
  • A Captain America propaganda poster appears multiple times in the SHIELD base.
  • Von Strucker, later seen in “Age of Ultron”, is referenced in “The Writing on the Wall” and “Aftershocks”.
  • Coulsen’s comment about “chasing windmills” in his madeness is a reference to Don Quixote.
  • In the flashback of “The Things We Bury”, Red Skull’s demise (which happened in “The First Avenger”) is mentioned to Whitehall.
  • Also in “The Things We Bury” flashback, it is mentioned that Whitehall was pardoned by Secretary Pierce, who was shown to be a Hydra agent in “The Winter Soldier”.
  • The Kree (previously seen in “TAHITI” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”) are referred to as “Blue Angels” in “The Things We Bury”.
  • While infiltrating the Australian base in “The Things We Bury”, Fitz’s codename is “Timelord”, likely a reference to Doctor Who.

Thoughts:
In some ways this part of the story dragged on a bit. At the same time, it flowed a lot better than season one. I got a little tired of Skye’s father at times and the constant running around about the runes/blueprint. However, the episodes culminating toward the end of this segment were great. Bringing in the Inhumans mixes things up for Agents of SHIELD. Instead of being just Hydra vs. SHIELD, we get more powered people. And at least up until the end of season 3, Inhumans are a core part of Agents of SHIELD mythology. In a way, this made Agents of SHIELD more legitimate as a series and part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since it started to include some comic book characters, like Daisy Johnson (aka Skye, aka Quake).

That’s all for today. Next week I’ve got some prodigious coming. Also, keep an eye out for Doctor Strange, which is coming out sooner than it feels (at least to me). Expect a review after I see it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What we can learn from No Man's Sky

Every other gaming and geek website is talking about all the fumbles and missteps taken by No Man's Sky. If you're uninitiated, No Man's Sky is a game that promised the universe to players in the hype leading up to release and didn't deliver.

And somehow the world was surprised...

This isn't the first time consumers have been up disappointed in video game releases. Far from it in fact. It was just a few years ago that the makers of Aliens: Colonial Marines was sued for falsely advertising their game to the point where the trailer didn't even tangentially resemble the finished game. The last game in the Arkham series was met with hostility when the PC version had more glitches than features.

A lot of the conversations about these games focus on what the developers could've done differently, or how the public is responding to the latest developments with the latest gaming disaster, but little is ever said about how the consumer can avoid running into these games in the first place. Let's go through a few ideas so that your Christmas day doesn't turn into a gaming nightmare.

Learn Who to Trust
Most game companies have their occasional misses, but it's good to know who has the most reliable patterns. Nintendo is the king of what you see is what you get, as their releases are reliably ready to go out the door. An occasional patch is needed, but other than that the games are exactly what they advertise. Ubisoft and Bethesda usually come out with fun open world games, though they usually need a couple weeks to fix the massive glitches their games come with. Blizzard is usually reliable, since their only real miss was Diablo 3, but the game was fixed six months later to become one of many gamers favorite games.

Take the Hype With a Grain of Salt
Game trailers these days have the same development budgets as multi-million dollar movies. As impressive as they look, ask yourself how much of the trailer is gameplay and how much is pre-rendered cinematic. When the developers are doing interviews and press announcements, ask yourself what parts of the game they're not talking about, and then ask yourself why. If all of this seems up to par, remember also that the No Man's Sky crew seemed to do everything right but we still got what we got.

Patience is a Virtue
Developers have learned that they make the most money on the first few days a game comes out. Some retailers and developers will even offer deals or in-game content for buying a game day one. The problem is as soon as day two hits the reviews start, and the rest of the people have a chance to make an informed decision on weather they want the game. Wait at least a week after a game comes out, that way you can hear if the game is worth it or not, plus if the game has online components it always takes a week to hammer out the issues with the online issues.

What games have you been burned by?
-JOE



Friday, October 7, 2016

Disneyland Souvenirs

"It was my graduation gift to me. I'm so happy!"

In celebration of graduating from BYU, I spent a week in Southern California at the happiest place on Earth. As happens at Disneyland, I'm certain I spent too much money. That's why it's important to go in smart and be careful what you choose to buy for souvenirs, or else it adds up incredibly fast. So here are some tips about what to get for souvenirs and what not to get, to make the most of your money.


Good souvenirs:

Pins are relatively cheap souvenirs. However, they can get out of hand very quick. Each pin is about $10-$15. I tend to get a couple ranging in that price, but you can also get a smaller price for a random pin, which you can then trade in the parks. Any cast member with pins has to trade with you if you ask, so it's another way you can make the park fun.

Hats/ears: hats and ears are a toss up as whether they're a good or bad choice. I like to get a pair of ears to wear at the park, but they have to really speak to me. The downside of the ears, or character hats (Stitch, Pluto, Goofy), is that they're not exactly practice to wear in the outside world (people might look at you weird). If you're buying it simply to wear in the park, then that's one thing, so I guess it's all about intent. If you intend to wear them outside of Anaheim, be prepared for weird looks (like how people look at Joe). Alternative, there are baseball caps that would be appropriate both in and out of the park.


Pressed pennies: scattered through the the park are the pressed penny machines. Put in 51 cents and you can have a small little trinket from park. If that's something that interests you, come to the park with a bag of quarters and pennies. There's a cheap souvenir for you.

Autograph book: these are nice if you're into meeting characters like me. The characters are pretty good about giving guests attention regardless, but with an autograph book you're guaranteed at least long enough for the character to sign the book and to get a picture.


Photos: best souvenir is getting photographs. With smart phones we can get pictures almost anywhere in the park. Cast members will gladly take your picture with characters or at iconic spots. You can also buy picture from the photo pass if you want, so that's always an option too. For me getting these pictures helps me easily bring back memories later on.


Bad souvenirs:

Hats/ears: see above

Souvenir sippers: I've bought several souvenir sippers. They're alright, but I'd say they're not great. I got 2 during my previous trip to Disneyland, but never used them again. Just not practical. There are plenty of places to get them, but unless you're absolutely certain you'll use them again, just save the $3-$5 and get a regular drink without the sipper. You can just buy a water bottle in Downtown Disney.


Plush: I'm a big fan of Disney plush (my Stitch and Dug collections just keep growing), but be smart about it. I found a plush Pluto in Downtown Disney that looks very much like one I've seen at the Disney Store, but more expensive. So if you have a Disney Store near where you live, be aware of what they have and keep that in mind when you buy your plush souvenirs.


One final tip for Disneyland souvenirs: don't buy it the first day. Assuming you'll be at her park more than one day, leave the souvenir buy it for a bit. There were a few things the first day that I nearly bought, but I was later glad that I'd waited. So be careful. Disneyland is expensive enough. Don't get too carried away with stuff. At the same time, remember that all magic comes with a price. 

Why Batman is Not a Good Character

I'm going to get a bit of hate for this but hear me out.

I'm not saying that I hate Batman. He's not my favorite super hero, but I don't outright hate him. I love the Arkham game series and I grew up on Batman the Animated Series, but for the most part I follow those not for Batman but for everyone around Batman (though it is fun to beat up criminals).

Here's my issue:

We all know the Batman story: rich parents killed in front of him, training in martial arts, sciences and base jumping, discovering the cave under the house, build a giant costume, then fight criminals in a warped version of Chicago. My problem isn't with this part of the story. It's a good starting point for a character with plenty of aspects to explore, from right after his parents are killed (like in Gotham) to when he was training (like in Batman Begins), but my problem is that that's basically where the Batman story ends.

Sure other stuff happens to him, like when he picks up a hoard of impressionable teenagers to do his bidding, to meeting his villains, to stuff he does with the other super heroes, but this stuff rarely effects him as a character. One Robin retires and he picks up another. The next one dies and he gets another but puts pants on him. Batgirl is paralyzed and he makes her his tech support. At the end of the day, like most super heroes, by the end of the story Batman is back at status quo fighting crime with his entourage of Robins and villains.

When I pick up a Batman story, I know Batman is going to win using some sort of gadget or training and then disappear into the night. Sometimes the comic has him go through something emotional, like in Hush, but by the next comic he's fine again. This is not good character writing, which is a massive problem for the entire comic book industry. We don't get characters, we get action figures, and we get to see how they beat up other guys. Some heroes are more interesting than others, I certainly like Batman a lot more than I like Wolverine who is to super heroes as WWE fighters are to Joss Whedon characters, but that actually makes Batman more disappointing because he has so many places to go but he never gets to go there.

The best Batman stories for me are when they end him (SPOILERS), and that's not a sarcastic declaration. In Batman Beyond Bruce has been forced to retire due to his body breaking down after years of being Batman. He's retreated into Wayne Manor, sold his company, and is ready to just quietly die with the regrets of his past. Until the new Batman shows up he has pretty much lost his will to live. It's not a happy ending but it's a logical ending for such a dark and broken character.

The other Batman conclusion I like is from Dark Knight Rises (what is with that name?). In the end we see him with Selina Kyle in France after faking his death. They're just enjoying croissants and mimes and whatever else you do in France. I like to think that after that they never put on their masks again, and lived somewhere quiet happily ever after, both healing from the years of trauma they had. Or maybe they ended up starting a pyramid scheme after missing their wealth and became an amazing European Bonnie and Clyde, either way I doubt he was ever Batman again.

For me for a comic book character to be well written they either have to have enough character flaws to make them interesting to read or have a distinctive arc with a beginning middle and end, neither of which Batman has. He's just an unstoppable force that's been around for decades who only goes anywhere in branching fiction. And I know fully well that there's a list of characters a mile long that have the exact same problems, but none have as strong as a following as the Dark Knight, or one that more perfectly encapsulates the problems in comic book characters altogether.

What comic book character would you like to see a conclusive end to?

-JOE



Monday, October 3, 2016

Post-Conference

General Conference is a great spiritual boost every six months. Weather you attended at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, all dressed up and reverent, or listened while in your underwear on your couch trying to roll Oreos from your stomach into your mouth, you'll probably hear something that inspires you to grow as a person.

But what about the day after? 

It's easy to forget the spiritual feeding when you have to return to the real world. Work, school, getting ready for the holidays, whatever you've got going on is going to bring you off the mountain. By the time the next Sunday rolls around the week has destroyed the high and we're back to the same old habits.

About now is usually when I'd start listing a top ten list on how to keep the spirit of conference alive throughout the week, but honestly the only thing I can say is to go back and find that one thing that stuck out to you, that one message that you remember hit you like Mjolnir right in the chest. Whatever that thing is, focus on that. That is where your work is. That is what the Lord needs you to do.

What talk hit you in the chest?
-JOE