Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

All that is Mad Max Captured for Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road goes something like this.  Max, who is tortured by those who died in his past, must run "from the living and the dead." Max runs afoul of one of the local tribes and is captured.  Max is, through a series of both unfortunate and lucky events, escapes, helps a group of people who are also fleeing the bad tribe.  During the pursuit, Max, aided by a female counterpart and one of the local crazies, finally must turn and fight said tribe, killing most of them, including the truly insane tribal leader.  Having saved all can, he quietly disappears to continue running "from the living and the dead."

Yes, I know that is basically the plot of every Mad Max movie ever made.  I have given nothing away.  The plot is not the reason we go to see the dystopic, post-apocalyptic Road Warrior series. It is also incredibly violent and there are awesome and silly costumes and really cool over-the-top cars.  Mad Max: Fury Road has all that we expect in these movies  in spades.

The iconic role of Max, originally played by Mel Gibson, has been given over to Tom Hardy. Max's group that he must save is led by Furiosa who is a super action hero in her own right and played by Charlize Theron. Aided by the crazy Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult, Max and Furiosa must save a group of supermodels...I mean women from the evil leader of the tribe, Immortan Joe played by Hugh Keays-Byrne. Byrne has the distinction of having played Toecutter the bad guy in the original Mad Max.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a curious kind of movie.  It is disturbing, exciting and the cinematography is stunning.  It must be both a stunt coordinator's dream and nightmare. It is an intense and involving chase. There was none of that cumbersome stuff, like dialog, to get in the way.  Mad Max: Fury Road is, after all, a Road Warrior movie. It is well worth the  time.

I liked it more than I anticipated.  Over-the-top though it is, it is a true action movie.  It is not for kids.  Mad Max: Fury Road is rated "R" for graphic violence and brief nudity.  I liked the 3-D, but I don't think it added that much if you would rather go without the glasses.  So if you are looking for something that is both stunning in its staging and a pretty good action flick, go see Mad Max: Fury Road.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What is Valid

A friend told me that if I could tell people how to tell if the information they are getting was accurate, she would share my post again and again.  Sadly, there is no simple solution to the problem.  No magic set of words to look for or site addresses or for that matter any guarantee that even reliable sites won't occasionally get it wrong.  Reliable sites will, however, admit their wrong and correct. The unreliable will most likely double down or attack the challenge to the information they spread.

There is no simple solution to becoming well-informed.  It takes actual work and time.  The well-informed check carefully what they are told.  The well-informed will go back occasionally to make sure that what they have learned is still relevant and accurate.  It is like a great athlete.  No amount of natural talent will get them to the pros if they never hone that talent.  They could be the Michael Jordan of their sport, but if they never actually practice, they will still be only slightly more effective than the guy coaching from his recliner.  A prodigy must be trained. A writer must write.  To make sure what you post is as good and true as you can make it - to become well-informed- you must look weigh, consider, judge, verify, and labor.  There is no magic.

There is a tremendous difference between academic research and what is typically posted on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites. These sites frequently post almost anything that someone's bias might hold.  Believe in Big Foot? there's a Facebook page for that. Alien Bases on Mars? There's a Facebook page for that.  Some of these stories are largely harmless.  There are, however, a host of sites that proclaim themselves as health, expert political analysis, etc. that do nothing but spread lies, hate, and fear.  So here is my feeble attempt to help you know if the news stories you are posting are even close to accurate. Chances are pretty good that if you are posting links to your favorite political Facebook page, they aren't.

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way.  An academic paper using the internet as a source must meet much stricter standards to be considered valid. There are several good sites that list for what you should be looking. It includes simple stuff like the author, his expertise, the validity of links, footnotes and host of things.  If you're getting ready to do this kind of research try one of these great sites for what is considered documentable information.  This list on Georgetown University is a pretty good one.

Memes too are pretty easy because, for the most part, those that are not humorous are probably carefully selected propaganda.  What If they offer statistics, check them for accuracy.  Take, for example, the recent use of the three cops holding signs after Ferguson and the New York attacks.  What makes these viral memes interesting is that you can find different words on the signs depending on what was Photoshopped on them.  What is more, the signs didn't originally had anything to do with attacks on police.  They were part of an advertising campaign in Tennesse to be sure to "move over" in cone zones because all lives matter.

All polls are not equal. Information from major news organizations or places like Pew tends to be more carefully constructed whereas political organizations like MSNBC and FoxNews stilt their poll questions to get the answers they want.  I've been on the receiving end of several of these so-called polls.

The easiest ones to dismiss is basically all of Facebook.  If you're cutting and pasting some lovely little article or clip, then you are not being well-informed.  If the page you are following only links one source, it is propaganda.  Conservative Daily uses only  while Progressive America uses only  You've heard the saying "because science" well how about a new one, "bias much"? I have friends that post from these sites almost weekly if not daily.  I like these folks, but I would not consider them well-informed. There is not an article on IJReview or BlueNation that I would not vet carefully for accuracy.  Sadly, there are even a few friends whose feed on my Facebook page I've had to unfollow.  The vitriol they spewed and links they post were just too filled with hate and fear. I quit following them.  No, I didn't respond. First rule: Never argue with a crazy person.

So that brings us to the best way to check for accuracy. It will always involve work.  You will become faster.  Start here:

Reliability or Authority means the author or information is an actual expert.  An article should always have an identifiable author.  I know it is hard to believe, but movie stars and politicians are not reliable or authoritative sources. Lobbyists of political organizations or ads placed by super PACs are not reliable either.  Next time you hear the head of the NRA or that leader of one of the political parties giving a speech they have no real authority.  They are in fact using or misusing the same information you can look up.

Objectivity means the person writing or speaking uses factual language, avoids loaded words, and seems to be fair and balanced.  The article is not driven by personal bias.

Accuracy is the one that takes time.  There are a few tips though that the article is attempting to be accurate.  They include links to other relevant sources.  The article is detailed.  The sources are recent and also have sources.  The link should lead you to more information, not just the original article.  Too frequently, articles are just a re-posting of the exact same article.  The article's title indicates information.  It should not be sensational or what has become known as "click bait."

Finally comes Relevance or Currency.  No dates are offered.  Many of the links are broken.  There are no dates on the page. Information is stale or undated. All this means that chances are pretty good the article fails the reliability smell test.

The more of these ROAR items that an article meets the more accurate the article.  You can't just dismiss and article because it is biased, but you will approach its information more carefully.  After all, if we all didn't rant once in a while, the web would be a boring place.

My last recommendations: Don't get all your information from the same source. Change up your sources and your news. Organizations like MSNBC and FoxNews are going to influence you in ways you won't realize.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Is Avengers: The Age of Ultron the Ultimate Marvel?


I liked Avengers: The Age of Ultron but not because it is the best of the Marvel Universe, it isn't.  Guardians of the Galaxy and Winter Soldier will both be tough to beat.  What I liked about the Avengers and many of the Marvel movies is they get the idea that even special effects movies must have strong characters, a cohesive theme, and that superheroes need to be heroes.

There is character in Age of Ultron, and while we get a few origin stories for new characters like Quicksilver, Vision, and the Scarlet Witch, we also see characters who interact with each other.  Bruce Banner (the Hulk) loves Natalia "Natasha" Romanov (Black Widow) in a doomed to fail romance...maybe.  We learn that Clint Barton (Hawkeye) has a very secret life that was protected by Nick Fury.  We see friction between great egos. Captain America believes the Avengers need to lead through the transparency that Fury and Shield failed to do. Captain America tells Tony Stark that he has never seen his dark side. This conflicts with Stark who wants to save all through technology at any cost.  It is Stark's drive that causes the release of Ultron. We view the conflict between Thor and Tony and Captain America. Thor feels the human heroes too often meddle in affairs that humans don't understand, but Thor also tends to make sudden decisions without consulting the rest of the team.  In short, the heroes who unlike other comic book heroes have no alter-egos, are very human.

The actors who play these roles all have gravitas as they play in what should be considered a very over-the-top genre. Chris Evans as Captain America plays the "boy scout" like super soldier delivers his reminder to his team to watch their language with ease and without seeming like he should be standing with his hands balled in fists at his waist with a flag waving in the background.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has managed to take the most egotistical superhero ever created and make him likable. Mark Ruffalo has even overcome the stand-alone movie versions of the Hulk that have come before.  Finally, Robert Downey Jr. owns the Ironman role. We accept these characters not as the silly stereotypes movies and television of the past but as real within the confines of the world created.  I mean who came up with the idea of wiping out life on Earth by dropping a city on the planet?  It is a ludicrous idea and yet we are as watchers easily are drawn in.  Marvel has found a blend of actors and humor that truly works.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron has, as other Marvel movies before them, a unifying idea.  Comic books are, after all, morality tales.  The driving idea in this one starts a little with the one started in Winter Soldier about the dangers of hidden power, but it quickly develops the idea that all are capable of behaving like monsters.  The obvious monsters are Ultron and the Hulk, but there are also the inner demons like that of the trained assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) or Thor's vision of having so many die because of his failed leadership. The twins, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Wanda Maximoff) learn that just because Stark built bombs he is not a monster and that an artificial intelligence claiming to want peace, Ultron (James Spader) is.  Not all monsters are visible.

Finally, there is a simple idea that the DC movies have forgotten of late.  Superheroes need to be heroic.  They should do all they can to save lives.  Each of the heroes in one way or another value the lives of those they fight for. The under-utilized until now Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gives a strong performance as what a human hero should be.  Each Avenger demonstrates the willingness to lay down his or her life to save the innocent.  The movie is not about the destruction but about what the heroes do.  Superheroes can die, but they die protecting others.

The usual issues with these movies apply.  There are points where the CGI overpower the performance.  I love James Spader. I am less enamored of a completely CGI villain.  As was the case with many of the newer comic book movies, too much is made of the CGI scenes and particularly with the larger digital projection and IMAX screens the effects become blurry.  The new slow motion effect is, to put it bluntly, trite.  The first time the Avengers power out in slow motion is fun and very comic book oriented.  The number of times that this effect is used detracts from the pacing.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron works because it is for comic book nerds like watching a live action comic book.  I don't grow tired talking about the easter eggs or explaining to my wife who Thanos is.  I will probably get tired of the debate of "Is Quicksilver really dead?" or "Which of the original Avengers will return now that we have the first rotation of new Avengers?" or "Will Mark Ruffalo ever get his stand-alone Hulk?" or "Why is Quicksilver different in Avengers than the one in X-Men?"  Ahh well, let the speculation begin.  Go see Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I will buy the Blu-Ray.