Bates Motel S1E2: Nice Town You Picked, Norma… (2013)


Summary: Norma’s other son Dylan shows up at the motel to mooch off a living with her and Norman, doing so by subtly blackmailing Norma, implying he knows that Norma killed her husband.  Meanwhile, Norma tries to avoid suspicion for the disappearance of the man she murdered in the last episode by striking up a manipulative relationship with a deputy.  Meanwhile, Norman investigates a creepy journal he found in a motel room.

Thoughts: Whew; a lot of plots developing in this episode.  I’m worried it will be too many; I always hate the modern practice of shows that begin one subplot after another and then don’t finish them, hoping they’ll just fade away by being taken over by some other subplot or twist down the road.  It’s a lazy way to plot, and it makes things feel incomplete.

I also do not much care for the plotline of “character uncovers mysterious interesting things!” because it means the character is just exploring things with no real goal, making his decisions arbitrary and boring, making the story itself boring.  So I wasn’t all that captivated by Norman’s plotline in this episode.

Norma, on the other hand, had a much more interesting plot as she both tried to manipulate the deputy, while unsuccessfully trying to avoid being manipulated by Dylan.  She has clear goals which, though they are obviously wicked goals, make her decisions interesting.

Lastly, I enjoyed that the town itself is developing as having its own creepy secrets.  But, again, I hope the writers are (or were) careful with this, because secrets and mysteries are not interesting for their own sake, at least not for long.  The longer you tease a mystery, the less surprising you make the revelations.  Better to keep the focus on specific character goals, only subtly implying mysteries here and there.  That’s my opinion, at least.

This continues to be a fun show, and I enjoyed this episode better than the last; I’ll definitely look out for the next one.

New trailer for Turbo

Earlier this month, DreamWorks released a new trailer for their upcoming film, Turbo.  I can’t say it looks very impressive.  Looks like a standard “I wanna be somebody!”, “genie out of the bottle” story.  But, of course, trailers misrepresent films all the time, so we’ll see.

The Ladykillers (1955)


Link: The Ladykillers

Summary: After an otherwise successful robbery, a group of thieves must face one last problem: a kindly old lady who has discovered their secret and wants to inform the police.  The criminals decide they’ll have to kill her.  A dark but lighthearted classic bumbling British comedy.

Thoughts: I found this film to be hilarious.  Alec Guinness is particularly great as the sleazy crime boss, looking almost as creepy as a younger Christopher Lee, but with ridiculous teeth and nasty hair.  The story is a bit slow to get going, and then it’s all-over-the-place, but it’s easy to forgive with its dry unsubtle wit.  Great stuff.  They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Argo (2012)


Link: Argo

Summary: The true (but obviously exaggerated) story of a CIA operative who pretends to be a Hollywood producer creating a film to rescue American hostages stuck in Iran.

Thoughts: This was a fun film.  I’m not sure how it’s Academy Award Best Picture material, but that probably had more to do with Academy politics.  But as far as political thrillers go, this was very good.  They kept the story tight and easy to understand; a lesser writer or director may have tried to over-develop the characters or the plot.  But they kept it lean, so that the focus was on the suspense, the close calls, a few of them literal.  It would be almost Hitchcockian if it wasn’t for the greater emphasis on action.  Of course, the close calls are exaggerations of the true story, but they make for an exciting film.  Definitely a good film to study for its pacing, for creating suspense without having to over-develop backstories.

Anna Karenina (2012)


Link: Anna Karenina

Summary: An insane selfish woman cannot figure out her love life and cries a lot.

Thoughts: The main character, Anna, is no way portrayed to be a character we are meant to empathize with.  Throughout the entire movie, her motives are hard to understand; she seems to be ruled by her lustful desires more than anything else, and cries whenever she can’t have exactly what she wants, evoking the sort of empathy one might have for a child who fights with everyone and then cries when no one will play with her.  Maybe there was more to the character in Tolstoy’s original story (which I will probably never read), but if so, I didn’t pick up on it here.  Anna just seems to be a selfish crybaby.  The subplots involving the side characters are far more interesting.  In honesty, though, I have yet to be impressed by anything written by Tom Stoppard.  His writing itself isn’t so bad, it’s just shallow; either he enjoys being far too blunt, or his subtlety is too subtle to work, so that the overall story feels as empty as this simile.  (I’m so meta.)

Filmmaking-wise, the film was very creative.  The film is staged as an elaborate play in a theater, so scene transitions sometimes consist of sets forming around characters, and some sets still contain elements of the theater, such as that row of lights along the bottom edge.  While it was creative, however, it didn’t really add anything to the story.  Perhaps one could argue that the hints that the story is taking place in a theater reminds the audience of the false pretenses or notions or actions of the characters or their situations, a consideration that “we are all just actors in our own plays” or something.  If so, it seems more coincidental than anything else; the same could be said of any story presented in such a way.  Still, it was fun to watch.  The cinematography was also beautiful, every scene like a painting, and the music fit the drama very well.  I particularly enjoyed its Tchaikovskian influences.  (I’m so cultured.)

Imaginaerum Blu-ray release date


It looks like the low-budget 2012 foreign fantasy film Imaginaerum, based on the 2011 album of the same by Nightwish, will be available on DVD and Blu-ray next month, on April 24, 2013, and is now available for pre-order from Nightwish’s website.  Paying $30 some to have it imported from Finland is bit much for me, so I’ll resist ordering for now and hope to see it cheaper through some other online vendor in the future.  But I love the album and the film score so I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this film at some point!

Bates Motel S1E1: First You Dream, Then You Die (2013)


Summary: After his father dies rather mysteriously, a young man and his creepy mother move into an old motel with hopes of getting it running again.  A “prequel” series to the popular Hitchcock film Psycho.  Things don’t start out so well when the mother murders an intruder, then insists on covering it up.

Thoughts:  Been waiting for this series for a while, though I must confess that I have yet to see Psycho.  This premier episode didn’t blow me away, but it was sufficiently creepy to hold my interest throughout.  Vera Ann Farmiga does an especially good job as Norma Bates, holding a good balance between seeming normal enough and creepy and crazy enough to foreshadow her psychopathic murderous ways.  Freddie Highmore, though he still can’t quite do an American accent, does a sufficient job at being an awkward teenager slowly morphing into a creepy person himself.  While the gore was tame, I didn’t much care for the intensity or depiction of the violence.  But of course the shower scene of the original Psycho was perhaps “scandalous!” in its day, so I suppose it’s not surprising.  And American culture is just that degraded anyway.  Still, I hope the series will try to stay interesting through compelling stories more than anything else.

Some nitpicks: The motivations for the intruder and his murder seemed a bit forced.  It would’ve been interesting if he was more than just some bumbling neighbor intent on hurting them because he thinks the motel should be his.  It was a bit contrived.  Also, that cop did some of the loudest peeing I’ve ever heard on TV.  You’re not supposed to aim for the center of the bowl, you moron, you’ll get splash everywhere.  And how is it socially appropriate to even think it would be OK for you to be that loud when there are three people, including the female owner, standing right outside the door?

Overall, though, interesting show.  I’ll be interested to see the next one.

Neverwas (2005)


Link: Neverwas

Summary: The son of a famous children’s fantasy author returns to his hometown to work at a mental institution where he discovers a crazy old man whose delusions, as it turns out, provided the inspiration for his father’s fantasy book.

Thoughts: You know you’re in for a cheesy movie when something like the above picture is the movie poster.  And when you learn the film came straight to DVD with no theatrical release.  And it was cheesy.  There were a lot of things that didn’t quite work.  But, overall, I found it to be a surprisingly touching story, and I very much enjoyed it.

I stumbled on this movie in a strange way.  I was planning out middle-grade fantasy novel (still plotting it out; won’t be the next book I write, but it’s simmering) involving a child who’s fantasy-author father dies.  I was trying to think of a name for the kingdom for the father’s fantasy novels, which would, of course, be the name of the middle-grade book itself.  And, of course, compound words make the best sort of names, as they conjure up certain feelings.  “Neverwas” was one of the names I thought about.  I Googled it to see if it was taken by something else, and indeed it was.  Not only that, but it seemed this strange film had many similarities to my own story: a dead father who was a fantasy author.  Actually, that’s the only similarity, but at the time it seemed like a lot.  You know how writers are, always afraid their ideas have been taken.  Anyway, that’s how I stumbled on the movie, which probably pre-biased me in favor of it.

That said, Neverwas is a strange movie.  It’s not a fantasy, it’s a drama.  It’s about an adult dealing with adult issues.  His father became a famous author, giving interviews and winning the hearts of readers, but his son knew how depressed and messed up he actually was.  His father committed suicide.  So while the world sees his father’s fantasy book as a brilliant work of literature, his son sees it as the mad writings of a man who’d rather retreat into a nonsense world than deal with his real-world problems.  And then to learn that his father’s novel was actually based on the ramblings of another still-living delusional old man, he loses even more respect for his father, and for himself.

But all this is very inward and personal, making it a very hard story to capture on film, and usually the only way it manages is through cheesy dialog and mood swings that barely make sense.  Overall, the story muddles itself with too many character conflicts that are all too internal.  I think it would’ve worked better if the main character had focused on one external goal that represented what he needed internally.  That way, it would have been much easier to empathize with him.  Without it, some viewers really have to put some effort into understanding the main characters’ struggles, and it’s just not going to work for a lot viewers.  It’s going to come across as shallow or convoluted.

But if you can get past the cheesy dialog, some of the more forced plot points, and the hard-to-understand scenes of the main character sitting there crying, I think there is something touching under it all.  It’s about how we use stories to deal with the hard problems of the real world, and how those stories can be both real and unreal at the same time.  There are some wonderfully deep themes here if you can catch sight of them.  Of course, as a fantasy writer, I’m biased towards any film that can portray fantasy stories as something important and meaningful.  They give me ideas for more stories and inspire me to keep writing.

Finally, the film features a beautiful score by Philip Glass.  I know a lot of his work sounds like mostly a bunch of shifting arpeggios, but I love it, and it fits the spirit of the film wonderfully.

The film was only $6 on Amazon, so I couldn’t resist purchasing it.

Skyfall (2012)


Link: Skyfall

Summary: A mysterious villain begins attacking the secret service of which James Bond is an agent.  The target seems to be agent M herself.  James Bond must save the day.

Thoughts: Overall, I enjoyed the film.  I think it’s certainly the best Bond film starring Daniel Craig.  The opening action was fun, the opening titles and song were great, and the overall story was believable and made sense.  It wasn’t too over-the-top or so convoluted that you lose track of why people are fighting.  They kept the story tight and focused on the characters and their inner-conflicts, and that made the action sequences resonate much more strongly.

The portrayal of technology was a bit silly.  The decryption of computer code is represented by messed up visuals on a computer screen sorting themselves out, as if decrypting is something like solving a slide puzzle.  And then Q says dramatically, “The code is obfuscated!  Security through obfuscation!”  OMG!  Obfuscation!  Oh no!  But James Bond “solves” the obfuscation with a password?  Uh.  Um.  OK.  Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention well enough, because I was laughing too hard at Q’s reaction to the obfuscation.  The technology in the film relies too much on techno-babble.  (“Most audiences won’t know what obfuscation is!  So let’s pretend it’s something really clever!”)

I did a report on komodo dragons when I was in sixth grade.  Though I obviously didn’t become an expert, I did not find the CGI dragon’s portrayal in the film to be very realistic.  It moved too gracefully and was too sinister and quick to attack humans, as if like a mini-dinosaur from Jurassic Park.  The scene made me laugh.  The scorpion and the teeth removal were also too obviously CGI.

And the fight under icy water?  Well, I guess it’s better than invisible cars.

BioShock Infinite trailer


This too-short commercial for the upcoming video game BioShock Infinite was recently released.  It doesn’t feature any gameplay, but certainly looks intriguing enough.  The game will be out later this month, though I’m sure I won’t be getting until perhaps next year or the year after; I don’t play video games nearly often enough to justify putting $60 or more for a game.  Anyway, I’d be interested to get my hands on this at some point.  I very much enjoyed the first BioShock.

Skyrim – Forbidden Legend completed


Link: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I completed the “Forbidden Legend” side quest.  I actually finished about one-third of the quest a long while ago, so the first part isn’t recorded.  Still, it was a pretty long quest.  It took me a while to solve some of the puzzles, and I hate all these stupid claws these quests use to open passages; it takes me forever to look through my bloated inventory for the right claw.  So the gameplay on this is pretty boring.  Plus, I went off an a tangent chasing a fox down a waterfall about halfway through.  (God mode is great for jumping from deadly heights.)

The Logic of Scientific Discovery: Chapter 1, part 2

Link: The Logic of Scientific Discovery

Before continuing where I left off after Chapter 1, part 1, I wanted to quote another book.  The following quote is from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s fantastic book, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets.  Taleb’s book deals with the “problem of induction” a great deal, so it’s only natural that the subject of Karl Popper comes up in the book.  Strangely, even though Popper is mentioned throughout Fooled by Randomness (and in Taleb’s other fantastic book, The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable), I simply glossed over the name and did not become interested in Popper’s work until late last year.  Anyway, Taleb sums up Popper’s thoughts on the problem of induction more concisely than I can, so I thought he’d be worth quoting.  The following is from Fooled by Randomness, page 126:

Popper came up with a major answer to the problem of induction (to me he came up with the answer). … There are only two types of theories:

1. Theories that are known to be wrong, as they were tested and adequately rejected (he calls them falsified).

2. Theories that have not yet been known to be wrong, not falsified yet, but are exposed to be proved wrong.

Why is a theory never right?  Because we will never know if all the swans are white (Popper borrowed the Kantian idea of the flaws in our mechanisms of perception).  The testing mechanism may be faulty.  However, the statement that there is a black swan is possible to make.  A theory cannot be verified. … It can only be provisionally accepted.  A theory that falls outside of these two categories is not a theory.  A theory that does not present a set of conditions under which it would be considered wrong would be termed charlatanism—it would be impossible to reject otherwise.

On page 127, Taleb continues:

[Popper] refused to blindly accept the notion that knowledge can always increase with incremental information—which is the foundation of statistical inference.  It may in some instances, but we do not know which ones.

I think these are very important things to note, and it’s interesting that even today perhaps most people would not understand or accept these notions.  Anyway, this sums up the basic understanding with which I am approaching my reading of Popper.

And now, to finish Chapter 1.

Section 6: Falsifiability as a criterion for demarcation

In this section, I think Popper is establishing that the ability for a theory to be falsified is what distinguishes empirical statements from non-empirical statements.  In this sense, verification is impossible, as Taleb states in the quote above.

Section 7: The problem of ‘empirical basis’

Here, I think Popper is asking: How do our experiences relate to the statements we develop?  He is trying to deny the intuitive notion that experiencing something verifies anything but a useless tautological statement (such as “I experienced this!”).  Popper writes on page 21:

Perceptual experiences have often been regarded as providing a kind of justification for basic statements.  It was held that these statements are ‘based upon’ these experiences; that their truth becomes ‘manifest by inspection’ through these experiences; or that it is made ‘evident’ by these experiences, etc. … Yet it was also rightly felt that statements can be logically justified only be statements.

Popper continues on page 22:

Here too a solution can be found, I believe, if we clearly separate the psychological from the logical and methodological aspects of the problem.  We must distinguish between, on the one hand, our subjective experiences of our feelings of conviction, which can never justify any statement … and, on the other hand, the objective logical relations subsisting among the various systems of scientific statements, and within each of them.

That is, statements, and the logic behind their falsification and correction or abandonment, are separate from our experiences.  Related, sure, but not directly derived from them.  We experience something, create a statement, then “detach” ourselves from it, pushing it into the realm of “objective logical relations.”

Section 8: Scientific objectivity and subjective conviction

The main thing I get out of this section is that the idea of “conviction” counts for nothing scientifically.  It may still matter a great deal in a person’s decision making, but it doesn’t justify anything.  Hence the distinction between scientific objectivity and subjective conviction.


And that’s Chapter 1 of this book!  I’m not sure whether or not I will continue on to Chapter 2 just yet.  I may start reading a different nonfiction book instead.  This is for two reasons:

1. This book is still a bit heavy for me; it still takes quite a bit of time and focus for me to understand what Popper saying, and even when I think I do, I can’t be certain my understanding is correct.  (I can’t verify my understanding!)

2. I have completed, on paper, an algorithm that would, in theory, teach itself to play chess, which is why I was exploring Popper’s work in the first place.  I have yet to try my ideas; the algorithm is complicated and it will take some time to program.  And, of course, it probably won’t work, because something this ambitious could never work on a first try.  Anyway, trying to translate my messy notes into a programming language will be confusing enough without having to try to ponder what Karl Popper is saying.

The Gate Thief coming soon


Link: The Gate Thief (Mither Mages)

I didn’t realize this book would be coming out next week!  It’s the sequel to The Lost Gate (Mither Mages) which I read back in 2011 and very much enjoyed.  It mixes our modern world with a bit of fantasy, including the creation of portals to another world influenced by Norse mythology.  (A bit like the film Thor… but much better.)  I’ll probably wait until this sequel comes out in paperback before getting my hands on it, as my to-read list is long enough (I still haven’t even read Speaker for the Dead), but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how this story continues.