Sunday, February 16, 2020

Chris finally watches THE THING (2011)

There is a tradition I never fail to keep: whenever I get snowed in and can't go anywhere, I turn down the lights and crank up the sound and watch the 1982 movie The Thing.  Maybe that says something about my baseline state of mind.

John Carpenter's now-classic film of horror and paranoia at an Antarctica research base might not be appropriate viewing for when one is tempting real-life cabin fever.  But if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then The Thing is the perfect wintertime follow-up.  And it's a darn nearly perfect movie in every other possible way: the story.  The casting.  The pacing.  The practical effects (which still hold their own against any CGI today).  The cinematography.  That score by Ennio Morricone.  And that building-up of tension as the men of Outpost 31 grow increasingly mistrustful of each other...

So yeah, I'm a huge fan of The Thing.  And I've read the original novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.  As well as watched 1951's The Thing from Another World.

And then there is the 2002 video game The Thing, which followed the events of the John Carpenter film and received both commercial and critical acclaim.  Partly because of the innovative "trust" element.  I'm going to always have fond memories of playing that game, and unfortunately it seems the physical release is the only one out there.  Maybe GOG.com will have it for sale sooner than later.  Anyway...

I've seen and read and played just about everything Thing-ish.  But one item had been out of my zone of interest: 2011's The Thing.  Meant to be a prequel to the 1982 film, the 2011 entry was intended to reveal the story of the Norwegians who first discovered the alien vessel and its malevolent cargo.

Helmed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.and with a cast led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Thing '11 was an idea that I just didn't care about once the initial details started coming out.  And it wasn't just the notion of depicting the events of the Norwegian camp: something that was perhaps better left to the imagination (the "less is more" school of thought).  When MacReady and Copper begin exploring the burning ruins of the base, and then they come upon the radio operator who had slit his wrists, well... it's just like Copper said: "My God, what the hell happened here??"

"What?", indeed.  I first saw 1982's The Thing when I was ten years old, and every time I've watched it since my imagination gets sent reeling in wonder about how it went down among those poor scientists before they unleashed extraterrestrial death upon the most desolate wilderness on the planet.  What led up to the final survivors shooting at that dog from a helicopter laden with kerosene and grenades?

Did I really want or need to see that portrayed?

And then there was the casting.  It screamed "modern American film gore" with an emphasis on "American".  Look, we've had a Thing movie from an American perspective: it was The Thing of 1982.  A prequel about the Norwegian camp should have a cast of entirely Norwegians.  Having it headlined by an American actress with fellow English speakers: it just didn't seem right.

Then there were the effects.  Doubtless it was going to be largely accomplished by some CGI rendering engine pushing pixels.  I didn't doubt that the transition from the brilliant work in the 1982 film would be a jarring one.

Maybe it's the weather lately.  At this time of winter in this location, it should be at least one major snowstorm already this season.  Here in mid-February that's looking less likely.  So without a proper occasion upon which to watch 1982's The Thing, I thought that maybe... just maybe... I could give the 2011 film a fighting chance.  So that's what I did last night.

What did I think?



The Thing (2011) is a gruesome waste of a premise that had strong potential. There is so much that went wrong with this film.  In some ways it is admirably accurate to the 1982 film (the coda where we see the Norwegian helicopter flying off to track down the dog is especially good).  But other details are unforgivably ignored (didn't the boffins from Norway already use their explosive charges to blast away the ice from the alien ship?).  That's a bigger lingering plot problem than anything from The Rise of Skywalker... and that's sayin' something.

As I'd feared, The Thing 2011 edition tried too much to be a modern "American" horror.  Maybe the boys in marketing thought that a pretty young American female among all those Scandinavians would increase the commercial appeal.  Instead it distracts from the spirit of the 1982 "original".  There would have been nothing wrong with a cast completely comprised of Norwegians, Swedes, and Danish.  In fact, I would have preferred it that way.  And have the dialogue composed entirely of Norwegian (maybe with English subtitles... or not).  As it is the cast of Norwegian characters is woefully under-employed in this movie.  A tragedy because they seemed to be taking this project especially to heart.  One of the Norwegians is well played by Kristofer Hivju, who went on to portray Tormund Giantsbane in HBO's Game of Thrones.  Had I been the one in charge of the project, that's the approach I would have taken.



And it must be said: no modern CGI can outdo Rob Bottin's practical effects work in scaring the hell out of the viewer.  Even when the staff of Outpost 31 was looking at the remains of the creature, with it just laying there on the table, not moving at all: that static horror said it all.  That kind of slow appreciation of the monstrous isn't there in The Thing 2011.  There isn't a single creature in this movie that is as memorable as the Norris-thing.  It's all moving too fast and furious.  It all looks too shiny.  And going back to "if it was me making this movie" I would have tried to replicate the lighting and film grain of the 1982 film.  Yeah, film grain is important.  It needs to be consistent across a series.  It's one of my major complaints about the Star Wars prequel trilogy and it's a major complaint here.

 But most of all, I found myself incredibly disappointed with the failure to adequately arouse the kind of paranoia that made John Carpenter's 1982 movie such an enduring classic.  The sense of growing mistrust among the Norwegian base staff is so lacking that it seems almost tacked on.  There isn't a single scene that comes anywhere close to Blair (Wilford Brimley) going berzerk with that fire axe:



There is so much else that could be said.  This is definitely a prequel that became something we never needed.  Which I hate to say, because in other hands The Thing (2011) really could have been a very terrific movie.  Instead the film ended and I was just very, very disappointed.  It's going into the pile of other movies that were made but I'm going to pretend were never produced (Alien 3, anything past the final scene of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the inevitable sequel to Joker).

And so it is that whatever happened at that Norwegian camp will remain open to speculation.  Which is probably just as it should always be.  Besides, it's more fun that way.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Today's Google Doodle is one I can respect

Some of Google’s ”doodles” either fly over my head or make me cringe in disbelief.  A lot of them are about historical events and people that at best are extremely obscure or else make me wonder "What the hell are they smoking over there?"

But the one they have for today is as good as it gets and I recognized it immediately.  Give credit where credit is due: Google was really thoughtful about this one and how to convey it:

A depiction of the four North Carolina A&T students who sat down at the segregated lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro (the big city near where I’m from). That was sixty years ago today.

 This is how to SERIOUSLY protest a wrong. Peacefully and respectfully. Nobody was hurt, nobody was insulted, nobody was arrested because of violent behavior. These young men simply went in, sat at a whites-only lunch counter, and politely asked for service. They were denied.  So they just went back the next day and asked for lunch again.  And again.  And again.

The word spread, there were other such protests and it wasn't long before Woolworth’s ended its segregation policies. Other businesses soon followed.

We could learn a lot from the Greensboro Four, even still today.  Come to think of it, especially today.

\Well done Google, well done.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Various thoughts about the Trump impeachment

As I write this it's 1:35 a.m. and it's all over but the cryin'.  Sometime in the next eighteen hours will likely come the final vote on Impeachment 2020 and the end of this mess.  Donald John Trump will remain President of the United States for another year and quite possibly more than that.

I've never doubted the outcome.  Trump had this in the bag on a party-line vote alone.  But I never thought that the final days of this fiasco would be such a bewildering demonstration of both brilliance and ignorance.  This impeachment will be studied for generations to come about how not to impeach, as well as how to effectively counter one.

So, admitting that I only took time to watch the trial proceedings itself during the past few days, here are some sundry musings...

1.  "Abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" are not impeachable offenses.  I don't even know what the hell "obstruction of Congress" is supposed to mean in this context.

2.  There will be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth in coming days and weeks about the issue of witnesses during the Senate trial phase.  Namely, about the House impeachment managers wanting John Bolton to testify.  They are forgetting that witnesses had already testified during the impeachment hearings.

3.  The trial is based on testimony and evidence already presented and entered into record during the House impeachment proceedings.  The Senate trial is absolutely not the place to introduce new witnesses and evidence.

4.  The House managers betrayed a lack of faith in their own case by demanding new witnesses this late in the game.

5.  The table at which the Trump counsel sat looked neat, dignified, corporate, razor-focused and serious.  Meanwhile the table of the House managers resembled a cram session of some college frat house, all that's missing are the boxes of cold pizza.

6.  Speaking of Trump's legal representation, any reputable law professor should make required viewing of the performance of Sekulow, Dershowitz, Philbin et al.  They have 10000% been the model of what competent attorneys should be in regard to the interest of the client.

7.  In stark contrast, the House managers' case has been very little apart from retread of the past three months, excruciatingly drawn out, absent any fresh or sound legal argument, and loaded with weary political rhetoric.

8.  Okay, this one sticks out like a sore thumb to me.  During this final day of Senate questioning I heard Adam Schiff and the other House managers insist that they want a "fair trial", hence more witnesses.  They were completely ignoring the basic underpinnings of how the trial process under United States law works and has always been intended to work.  The American courtroom is an adversarial arena, prosecutor versus defendant, and the onus is on the prosecutor to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the defendant.  Schiff, Pelosi, Nadler and the rest of the managers have instead all along played this as if it's up to Trump himself to provide evidence and testimony that he's guilty.  Trump has not done this.  Neither is any other defendant under American law obligated to so testify against himself or herself.  I think during the second half of the impeachment trial when it became glaringly obvious that theirs was a lost cause, the managers dropped even a semblance of pretending they wanted a "fair trial" and began attempting to rig the game.  Hence, trying to bring John Bolton into the mix.  That alone screamed how much of a sham this impeachment has been from the beginning.

9.  The House managers should be really thankful that they didn't get witnesses during the Senate trial.  Not I, or any criminal law expert, or sane American for that matter, would not think for an iota of a moment that the Trump team would NOT pounce and begin calling witnesses of their own.  And it would be an unprecedented fiasco.  Indeed, potentially calling Hunter Biden to take the stand, and maybe even Adam Schiff himself, the "whistleblower", former Vice President of the United States Joseph Biden... the Trump counsel would find any and every reason to have them sworn and testify on the stand.  And the result would be a crippling blow to the Democrat Party from which it might never recover.

10.  I am chuckling at the ignorance many are radiating tonight, that in the event of a 50-50 tie on the witnesses issue, how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will cast the deciding vote.  Roberts is not a member of the Senate.  He represents an entirely separate branch of government.  If fair is truly fair, then Vice President Pence will break the tie and some will say that Trump himself would be entitled to the vote.

11.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will go down as the conductor of the sloppiest, most mismanaged prosecution effort in the history of anything.  Had this been a criminal proceeding, the jury would have spent five minutes before returning a "not guilty" verdict.  She had her eyes on the prize but had no vision whatsoever of how to achieve it.

12.  I expect that this coming Tuesday night's State of the Union address is gonna be a LOT of fun to behold.

So much else that could come to mind, but it's late already.  Maybe better legal minds than mine can remark on whatever I've missed here.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Just came out of seeing 1917

George MacKay in 1917
This won't be so much a detailed review as it is a gut reaction to something barely prepared for.  1917 isn't a movie you'll want to read too much of warm.  Just go into the theater and for the next two hours be assaulted by the horrors of hell as few things have done in recent cinema history.

But it hit me on the drive back from the theater tonight: that the two most technically innovative films that I've seen over the course of the past year or so, have each been about World War I.  Maybe They Shall Not Grow Old will prove to have sparked a renaissance of interest in the Great War: an event that resonated harder than many might appreciate and indeed still resonates with us today (the ongoing morass in Iraq being but one example).  World War I has long been overshadowed at the cinema by its bloodier sequel, and that is unfortunate.

Sam Mendes and his team have done their part in rectifying that (if such a thing can be said) with 1917.  Shot and edited to be essentially one long continuous take, the film follows two young British soldiers (played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) on the front lines in northern France, at the war's height in 1917.  They have been tasked with crossing the strife-torn landscape with a message that could mean life or death for more than sixteen hundred of their fellow soldiers.

This is a brutal, brootal motion picture.  1917 is an almost merciless meandering through the fog of war.  There are no clear edges or "episodic" flow in this movie.  There is rarely time to recover from one horror only to be assaulted by another.  And another.  And another.  This is war in all its horror, heartlessness and during at least one unforgettable moment, lack of honor.  It is a magnificent traipse through the fallen world's garden of malevolence.  It'll be a few days before I'm really "over" this one.  No doubt the many who saw it during the same screening will be the same.

Will definitely recommend catching 1917 during its theatrical run.  This is one of those movies that really does deserve getting beheld on the screen writ large and encompassing.  Expect loads of awards for this one as the season plays out.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

This is the way: "New Beskar Steel" wrapping for your iPhone!

Disclaimer: Adam Smith is a friend of mine.  He's not paying to advertise his product on The Knight Shift and I didn't ask for any compensation whatsoever either.  I'm only sharing this because... well, because it's kewl!  And sharing cool stuff is just how I roll on this blog.


Inspired by the hit Disney+ series Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Adam has forged the "New Beskar Steel" iPhone Case and Cover.  Imitating the much-coveted metal sought by the tribe and just about everybody else, the New Beskar Steel case looks like a real ingot of Mandalorian alloy.  And it will probably do just as well in protecting your iPhone from anything shy of an E-Web blaster cannon.  Complete with rich lustrous sheen and stamp indicating its previous imperialish possessor.  Admittedly it won't make for much of a full-metal pauldron but if you need a real pauldron anyway, you've got bigger problems.

The case is available for every model from the iPhone 4S on up through the latest iPhone 11.  Click here to visit the product page.  I have spoken.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Looking back on 2019, and ahead to the new year

Inspired by a dear friend and compatriot in fighting the good fight, here is my year in review and my goals for 2020.

This year was one of ups and downs, but I like to think that there were more ups than downs.

1. Found a job that I really enjoy and am thankful for the amazing people I get to work alongside.
 

2. Was able to get back into regular blogging.
 

3. Lived long enough to see Star Wars Episode IX, knowing that there were many who didn't get to be so fortunate.
 

4. Got to see my best friend and brother Ed become a father to a beautiful baby girl (only three nights ago!)
 

5. Was able to get past maybe 80% of the demons from my past.
 

6. Learned to cook a lot more, as in REAL food.

7. Got bitten by a small dog and lost approximately $27,000 worth of productivity at work (I should have just risked the tetanus, and I hope my supervisor is happy!!)


8. Began outlining a novel, and finally writing that childrens' book.


9. Have maintained a real place of my own for the first time in my life.


10. Haven't stopped having fun with my mini dachshund Tammy, we look after each other.


My goals for 2020:

1. Travel to Florida to see my cousin get married.

2. Write even more articles for publication.

3. Fall in love with just one woman who I can spend the rest of my life cherishing and serving (am beginning to think it's a vain desire but something deep down won't stop hoping).

4. Get back to being fully involved in community theatre.

5. Continue to take care of myself, having come so far with that.

6. Keep striving to be in control of my manic-depression and not let it be in control of me.

7. Finally finish watching all of Breaking Bad, not just the first season.

8. Eat a Carolina Reaper hot pepper and video it for readers of my blog to enjoy watching and laughing.

9. Finally find a church to belong to and become part of a real faith community.

10. Draw closer to God... if He would even want me despite my brokenness and mistakes.

11. Keep trying to be the man who Dad would have been proud to have for a son.

Happy New Year!!!

Star Wars Story Group, you got some 'splainin' to do... (more about Snoke)

A few days ago I became an uncle.  Yaaaay me!  Okay, she was born to my best friend from college but the two of us are "brothers from other mothers" if there ever is such a thing.  I'm still going to be "Uncle Chris" and I plan on playing the eccentric relative bit to the hilt where the little lady is concerned.  What more could a kid possibly want?

Anyway, while Weird Ed and his lovely wife and their freshly-decanted spawn were basking in the first hours of being a beautiful family together, Yours Truly felt that  some measure of celebration was in order.  And what better way to mark the occasion than by seeing Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker for the fourth time?

The dovetailing of all that has come before, the symmetry, the complementing... it's a beautiful thing to behold.  Despite initial impressions that the first half of the film is exceedingly dense and loaded with exposition, subsequent viewings have mellowed that somewhat.  And in my mind there is a dire lack of exposition about things that could have been far more blatant.  It's the "less is more" approach.

Want an example?  It's just my personal theory but, I think The Rise of Skywalker did address midichlorians: that microscopic albatross of the prequel trilogy.  Without even invoking the word itself, Episode IX brought up midichlorians and lo and behold it makes sense.  Rey and then Ben using the Force to heal others: sounds a bit like the power Darth Plagueis is said to have wielded by influencing midichlorians, aye?  Except that  being a Sith, Plagueis wouldn't be imparting his own life energy, probably.  That's how Rey and Ben were doing it though: using the Force to influence the midichlorians to impart healing from their own being and onto another.  Try to NOT see midichlorians in The Rise of Skywalker now that you've read those words.

(I could also remark on how Ben giving Rey the full measure of his life force could be perceived as bestowing the Skywalker name on her in all proper sense.  Especially if somehow that life force made midichlorians conceive a child with Rey... but that's too wacky to suggest here.)

Yes, a lot to digest and muse upon about this movie.  We'll probably be doing it until the end of time.  I'm cool with that.  But even so, there is one matter about The Rise of Skywalker that sticks out like a gangrenous pus-seeping thumb, and there is no allocating some peace from it...

Snoke.

Yeah, I know: "Chris you've already written about Snoke on this blog!"  Maybe I don't like it that he was set up to be darker and more malevolent than Palpatine himself.  And he still could have been despite getting slain in The Last Jedi.  Instead we got a cheap trick of Snoke being a clone or an "artificial being" or some other bullcrap.

And it doesn't jibe at all with what the associated canon... emphasis on canon... literature was heavily indicating about the former Supreme Leader of the First Order.  Especially from the novelization of The Last Jedi.

Let's be fair: novelizations aren't necessarily a perfect reflection of their respective films (the novel for Independence Day still has the city destroyer taken out by Russell's crop-dusting biplane: a remnant of the original script prior to changes following test screenings).  And then there is the novelization of Return of the Jedi, which included dialogue between Obi-Wan and Luke revealing that Uncle Owen had been Obi-Wan's brother.  Oh, how much we speculated from that between 1983 and the prequels...

Still, the Star Wars novelizations are - or once had been - considered part of the official lore.  And to a lesser extent, so too could quotes by J.J. Abrams, Andy Serkis and others about Snoke be taken as veritable gospel.  But above all of those in large part it's the Star Wars Story Group guiding the mythology since it came under the Disney umbrella.  Nothing gets canonized without their blessing upon it.

Snoke, however, is Cathar-league heresy from the established doctrine of the saga.

The following is excerpted from chapter 25 of the novelization Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Expanded Edition) by Jason Fry:
Interpreting visions of the future was a dangerous game. Whether Jedi, Sith, or some other sect less celebrated by history, all those who used the Force to explore possible time lines kept that uppermost in their minds. Those who didn’t died regretting that they hadn’t.
Snoke had learned that lesson many years ago, when he was young and the galaxy was very different. These days, what struck him was how much visions of the future left out.
For example, who would have guessed that the girl Rey would be so slim and fragile-looking? She looked lost in the throne room, dwarfed by both her surroundings and the galaxy-shaking events for which she was the unlikely and unwitting fulcrum.
But Snoke knew appearances were often deceiving—sometimes fatally so. Underestimating Rey had nearly cost Kylo Ren his life, after all. Snoke knew better. For he had his own legions of uncounted dead, their ranks filled by those who had underestimated him.
Snoke knew he himself was an unlikely fulcrum, just about the furthest thing from what the tattered remnants of Palpatine’s Empire had imagined as a leader. The admirals and generals who’d survived the fury of the Empire’s implosion and the New Republic’s wrath had envisioned being led by someone else, anyone else: pitiless, devious Gallius Rax; dutiful, cautious Rae Sloane; the slippery political fanatic Ormes Apolin; or even an unhinged but ambitious military architect such as Brendol Hux.
All of those would-be leaders had been co-opted, sidelined, or destroyed, leaving only Armitage Hux, the mad son of a mad father. And that one was but a mouthpiece, a miscast tinkerer whose rantings could only persuade the sort of rabble who blindly worshipped rage and lunatic certainty.
Though galactic history would record it differently—Snoke would see to that—the evolution of the First Order had been more improvisation than master plan. That was another element visions tended to miss.
Palpatine had engineered the Contingency to simultaneously destroy his Empire and ensure its rebirth, ruthlessly winnowing its ranks and rebuilding them with who and what survived. The rebuilding was to take place in the Unknown Regions, secretly explored by Imperial scouts and seeded with shipyards, laboratories, and storehouses—an “enormously expensive effort that had taken decades, and been kept hidden from all but the elect.
But the Imperial refugees’ military preparations had been insufficient bulwarks against the terrors of the Unknown Regions. Grasping in the dark among strange stars, they had come perilously close to destruction, and it had not been military might that saved them.
It had been knowledge—Snoke’s knowledge.
Which, ironically, led back to Palpatine and his secrets.
Palpatine’s true identity as Darth Sidious, heir to the Sith, had been an even greater secret than the Contingency. And the Empire’s explorations into the Unknown Regions had served both aspects of its ruler. For Sidious knew that the galaxy’s knowledge of the Force had come from those long-abandoned, half-legendary star systems, and that great truths awaited rediscovery among them.
Truths that Snoke had learned and made to serve his own ends.
One obstacle had stood in his way—Skywalker. Who had been wise enough not to rebuild the Jedi Order, dismissing it as the sclerotic, self-perpetuating debating society it had become in its death throes. Instead, the last Jedi had sought to understand the origins of the faith, and the larger truths behind it.
Like his father, Skywalker had been a favored instrument of the will of the Cosmic Force. That made it essential to watch him. And once Skywalker endangered Snoke's design, it had become essential to act.
And so Snoke had drawn upon his vast store of knowledge, parceling it out to confuse Skywalker's path, ensnare his family, and harness Ben Solo's powers to ensure both Skywalker's destruction and Snoke's triumph.

So here we have it described in no uncertain terms that Snoke was already firmly established as a character who existed long before the Empire ever came about.  He observed the Jedi and made note of their decline and fall.  It was Snoke, and Snoke alone, who found the First Order and saved it from oblivion in the Unknown Regions.

This is nothing whatsoever like the face value of what was told to us about Snoke in The Rise of Skywalker.  We went from enticing hints about Snoke and his backstory, to his being a cheap and disposable gimmick and nothing more.

I'm not buying it.  Neither, apparently, are a lot of other fans who are just as honked-off that Snoke was treated so shabbily.

Or maybe there really is more to Snoke's history as a character that hasn't been revealed yet.  Yeah, Palpatine said "I made Snoke!"  But it could also be pointed out that Palpatine also "made" Darth Vader, figuratively and literally.  Or like with the Mafia: you aren't a "made man" until you've "made your bones" by killing someone for the benefit of the family.  There are all kinds of ways that "I made Snoke" could be interpreted.

That's what I'm hoping for.  That much is still left for Snoke and that it may reconcile the gaping disparity between the published smattering of detail and those floating Snoke clones on Exegol.

I'm leaning toward Snoke being a Paul von Hindenburg-type figure.  Yes, Hindenburg was the titular President during the Weimar Republic era.  But everyone in Germany knew that Hindenburg was merely a prop for the true ruler of the country: the Nazi party's Adolf Hitler.  Hindenburg became a puppet with Hitler pulling the strings.  And in time, when Hitler had no further use for Hindenburg, he crushed the revered general and tossed him aside.  Hindenburg died not long after.

Now THAT would be an effective and satisfying use for Snoke.  It would make Palpatine even more powerful: that he could co-opt the Unknown Regions' biggest threat into working for him.  Likely without Snoke even knowing he was being manipulated.

So to anyone sitting among the Star Wars Story Group: c'mon guys, fix Snoke.  Make him the villain he deserves to be.  Let him be his own man.  Not a meatbag created by Darth Sidious.  You've tantalized us about there being much bigger and better to Snoke's fictional history.  Time to bring him beyond the shallowness of mere clone-hood.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Return of the Deep-Fried Turkey!

Hey gang, hope the holidays have been going well for y'all!  Christmas was rather good on this end.  I wound up with some Star Wars, some LEGO sets (Christmas is NEVER complete for me without Star Wars and LEGO no matter how old I get), some clothing, my mini dachshund Tammy received a bunch of toys.  And one way or another a lot of new cooking stuff came into my possession.

And speaking of cooking, steer your peepers onto this bad boy:



That's the first turkey I've been able to deep-fry since Christmas 2013!  Between my father passing away just before the following Thanksgiving, journeying across America and to a new hometown, getting situated in a house etc. it just wasn't practical all this time.

But Christmas Eve 2019 was a glorious return to feeding my irrational addiction to fried turkey.  I got a shiny new rig and it was screaming to be inaugurated.  A baptism of fire, so to speak...

Sixteen-pounds of turkey, mega-marinaded with garlic butter and slathered in Cajun rub.  45 minutes in the hot oil and out came a juicy, tender, succulent Christmas Eve feast for friends and family.

My friends, I truly have a home of my own now.  A house is not a home without a turkey fryer :-)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

About Snoke and THE RISE OF SKYWALKER...

WARNING:  This post deals with matters pertaining to Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, which hit theaters less than 48 hours ago.  There WILL be spoilers openly discussed so if you aren't one to have the experience of seeing the movie for yourself ruined for you (take the hint: go see it, now now now!) don't read what I'm about to write.  It is ONLY for those who have already seen The Rise of Skywalker and want to discuss a fairly major element of that movie and the entire "sequel" trilogy as a whole.

No, seriously.  I mean it.  Stop reading if you don't want The Rise of Skywalker spoiled for you.

Still here?

Okay, let it be on your own head.  Here we go...

Let's talk about Snoke.  The late Supreme Leader of the First Order who was infamously bisected by his main boy Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.  And if your reaction was anything like mine during that opening night screening, you probably saw Snoke's upper torso crumple onto the floor and right as the lightsaber lands in Rey's hand you were thinking "NOW what?!  Where is this going?!"

Snoke's death was the last thing we were expecting.  I think in our collective mind we knew Snoke was going to be the ultimate baddie of the sequel trilogy and maybe, somehow, the master nemesis of the entire Star Wars saga from The Phantom Menace on through (that was my expectation anyway).  Instead we had those expectations subverted by Rian Johnson.  Maybe that's why there's so much disdain for The Last Jedi: many wanted it to go the way they demanded it go.  But I digress...

Very early in The Rise of Skywalker Kylo Ren uses a Sith artifact to locate Exegol, a lost planet of the Sith.  Seems that Palpatine's voice broadcasting from a pirate radio station has spooked the galaxy.  Kylo wants to shut it down so he goes looking for the source.  He finds Palpatine: more than a mere clone, less than the man he had been when we last saw him in Return of the Jedi.  And Palpatine greets Kylo with "Snoke has taught you well."

Kylo declares that he killed Snoke and took his place.  Palpatine responds by revealing some canned Snokes floating in big jars, driving the point that Snoke had been a created being all along that had been used by Palpatine.

Heh.  Okay.  Not what many of us were expecting.  I could accept that.  Maybe.

The thing is, Snoke being created by Palpatine doesn't make any sense.

It doesn't jibe whatsoever with established canon. Not one bit.

The precise details of Snoke's life have not been divulged but we are aware of some things.  That he watched the fall of the Republic from afar is one of them (The Force Awakens novelization).  That Snoke was apparently sensed by Palpatine shortly before the Battle of Endor (a number of sources).  That Snoke had at least one other apprentice before Kylo Ren.  That Snoke was fascinated by the Light Side of the Force just as he was about the Dark Side (does that sound like any Sith to you?).  That Snoke apparently had encountered Luke Skywalker before.  That Snoke had long been a collector of arcane lore and artifacts (The Last Jedi novelization).  That the Imperials who became the First Order would have perished without Snoke finding them and guiding them into the Unknown Regions where he "unexpectedly" became their Supreme Leader.  That Snoke's twisted and deformed body came about because of "injuries from battle" as revealed by Snoke portrayer Andy Serkis..

None of these and more allow for any margin other than Snoke already existing before the events of The Phantom Menace and possibly much further back than that.  Snoke is already ancient and not even in the at-times ridiculous nature of Star Wars lore can someone get retro-actively cloned.

Chronologically, the numbers just don't add up.  The history doesn't work out.

And yet, Palpatine more than just knows about Snoke.  He also has clones of Snoke in his possession.

So here's my own take, no doubt one of a jillion and a half floating around already.  It's how it's worked out in my head based on what we've come to know:

I believe that Snoke was indeed his own person.  For most of his existence anyway.  He must have been.  It's the only way to reconcile his history (what little we know of it) with the officially established canon lore.  Snoke really was out there all along, watching the Republic wane and fall and seeing the Empire rise in its place.

It is a classic trope of evil: that it can never truly create.  It can only corrupt.  Consider the works of Tolkien for a moment.  The orcs weren't created out of whole cloth.  They had originally been Elves, captured by Morgoth then tortured and twisted and bred into an obscenity of life in service to shadow.  And corruption is the number-one weapon of Palpatine's arsenal.  He corrupted and manipulate the Republic.  He corrupted the creation of the clone army.  He corrupted Anakin.  He tried to corrupt Luke.  As now seen in The Rise of Skywalker he tried and failed to corrupt his own granddaughter.

For Palpatine to create Snoke as a meat puppet doesn't fit his modus operandi.  It kinda violates it, to be honest.

Palpatine never created anything under his own power.  But he often did take something that already existed, and then polluted it with his own dark schemes.

For that reason alone, I can't buy the notion that Palpatine just created Snoke from scratch.  As the clones of the Army of the Republic derived from the template of one man, so too was Snoke (if that really was a clone all along) generated from someone who lived and breathed of his own accord.  And that's the best that Palpatine could have done with Snoke.  So if Palpatine did clone Snoke, it happened sometime between the end of the Empire during that thirty-years interval between the Battle of Endor and the events of The Force Awakens.

There is another possibility: that Palpatine had clones of Snoke made but for whatever reason didn't use them.  And so that was "Snoke Prime" that Kylo Ren cut to pieces.

Which lends itself to an interesting theory: that Snoke - if he was a force of evil unto himself - was corrupted by Palpatine.  Maybe without even knowing it.  The most powerful wielder of the Dark Side at the time of The Force Awakens, himself being a puppet on a string with no idea whatsoever that he was being manipulated.  And suddenly Palpatine really does become the ultimate "man behind the curtain", plotting wheels within wheels of schemes that none but he can grasp.

Which, in my mind, makes Palpatine a far more dangerous and formidable enemy than anything we had suspected he could have been capable of.

So yeah: Snoke already existed long before Palpatine.  He found and warped Ben Solo into becoming Kylo Ren.  Snoke however was being played with by Palpatine during the era of the First Order.  And when Snoke was no longer needed, Palpatine maniuplated Kylo into killing Snoke.  Snoke was crushed by his true secret master, just as Han Solo warned Ben that he would be crushed by Snoke.

What's with the Snoke clones then?  Who knows.  Backup puppets?  Something further to play Kylo's mind with?  Darth Sidious/Palpatine has lied before in order to get what he wants.  Who's to say he's not lying when he spoke of Snoke to Kylo Ren?

Or maybe it's none of these at all.  Maybe it's not supposed to be.

Perhaps it is merely nothing more or less than one more mystery from the Star Wars saga, that we will eternally be debating and dissecting and having heated arguments over, before shaking hands as fans and acknowledging that we'll never get a straight answer that satisfies us completely.

In that case, then The Rise of Skywalker indeed failed to tie up all the knots.  It gave us a whole new one to unravel.  We aren't going to solve this one.  But that's fine.  It's okay.  Because what is life without mysteries that we will never understand?

If so, then The Rise of Skywalker truly is a perfect capstone of what has come before in epic tale of the Skywalker family.

It is, in every way, a film worthy of Star Wars.

Friday, December 20, 2019

A brief, non-spoilerish review of STAR WARS EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Now look, I waited decades... decades... to be able to say that I have seen "Episode Nine".  It became like a lifelong hope that someday, as the Plaid One promised in that Reader's Digest article in 1982, there would be nine of the Star Wars movies and I wanted to see all of them.  'Course, Lucas was referring to the core "Skywalker Saga" at the heartmeat of the saga, and had no idea about the other works that would come (like Rogue One, or The Mandalorian which gets better and better with each new episode).

So yeah.  I haven't been saying "The Rise of Skywalker" these last several months.  Almost every time I've mentioned seeing "Episode Nine".  And wanna know a cold hard truth?  There are a lot of Star Wars fans, better than I'll ever be, who didn't make it this far.  Life in this world can be a cruel, cruel thing.  Fate can take any of us at any moment.  So many were hoping to see Episode Nine, but for one reason or another... they were taken from us.  And often long before there was even a glimmer of hope that there would be any new Star Wars at all past Revenge of the Sith.  I owe it to them to honor the dream, that they too longed to see come to pass.  It's the least that I can do.

Let's get into it.  Last night I caught the first showing of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (let's just call it The Rise of Skywalker for the rest of the post) along with some friends.  After something like 23 trailers the movie began.  And so did the end of my quest.

To be as brutally honest as I can be (and there will be no spoilers here), The Rise of Skywalker is a dense hot mess of a motion picture that is heavy - maybe too heavy - on exposition.  Perhaps also some derivatives of other works... like, say, The Goonies (that's the closest I'll come to spoilers, promise).  And there were two elements of the story that had it been me in the director's chair, would have been drastically changed.  One of them makes NO sense whatsoever in line with established canon.  The other, well... maybe you will figure it out during the course of the film.

The Rise of Skywalker can be a slog to work through.  At least for the first half or maybe even two-thirds.  But that last good stretch of it?

Holy smokes!!!

The back half of The Rise of Skywalker almost completely redeems whatever faults came before.  Give J.J. Abrams and his crew their due: they did accomplish the seemingly impossible.  They tied up eight previous films across the past forty-two years, and put a beautiful bow on the entire saga.  Put simply: the thing works!  And as I heard some speak while the credits were rolling, this movie even makes The Last Jedi a much better film.  Which, I have to agree.  The Last Jedi has given me more fits than any other Star Wars movie about whether I like it or don't.  I won't be seeing The Rise of Skywalker again this weekend, but I will watch The Last Jedi with refreshed eyes.

Is The Rise of Skywalker perfect?  Far from it.  But it is what it is: a Star Wars movie.  With all the action and outrageousness and humor and nonsense that you've come to expect from the franchise.  It may not be the best "entry level" film of the saga.  This is a film especially for those who have been along for the ride.  But if you have been following the saga all along, I believe you may agree: that The Rise of Skywalker is a magnificent capstone atop this grand monument of modern mythology.

That's pretty much all I'm going to say.  It's all you need to have, if you haven't seen The Rise of Skywalker yet.  Best to go in cold, knowing as little as possible.

Oh yeah, one more thing: this saga is called "Star Wars".  If you thought we haven't seen a REAL "star war", ooh-boy... are YOU in for a treat!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Look! Second article at American Thinker in 48 hours! Not kidding!

Just think: a few years later chunks of that wall were being sold at K-Mart. 
Friends, I have a secret to tell.  I've waited decades... decades... for the chance to use the word "perestroika" in a written piece.  Not even during college and my senior history thesis - about the Russian space program and how it had tracked with that country's politics since Nicholas II's reign - did "perestroika" get to be employed.

I guess "perestroika" on some weird level is for me, what "smock" was to Hobbes:

Credit: the peculiar genius of Bill Watterson

Anyway, the considerate curators of conservative-ish contemplation at American Thinker have published a second article from me in as many days, and I am extremely thankful for that.  "The Fall of the Deep State and 1989's Fall of Communism" relates some parallels between the events that transpired across Eastern Europe thirty years ago to our own "revolution".  Mainly, that the United States already had a political revolution in 2016, with the election of Trump sending a message to the entrenched system of Washington politics.  That's how it mostly went down in the fall of 1989 also: peacefully shaking off corrupt government throughout the Soviet Union's satellite states (the USSR itself would follow the same course two years later).  The so-called "resistance" symbolized by the "impeachment" however is almost like a slow-motion version of the counter-revolution in Romania that year.  And in case the kiddies need a history lesson...

That's the visage of Nicolae Ceausecu, a few minutes after he and his wife Elena were taken out back and shot.  On Christmas Day of 1989, no less.  He had tried to placate the people of Romania with goodies like higher wages and money to the college students.  Except the people of Bucharest had woken up feeling extra-pokey that morning, and they were justifiably angry at Ceausecu's lethal crackdown on the protests in Timiasora.

As you can see, having control of the media and throwing money at people didn't work quite as Ceausecu intended.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

New article at American Thinker: My six months at Amazon

The days after Thanksgiving once signaled training season for Christmas caroling. Recent years have instead heralded the shrieks of entire choruses of Maynard G. Krebs: “Work?!?”

The past few weeks have been no different and once again the squalls of disdain have almost invariably diffused from those tan arcologies of Internet commerce: the Amazon Fulfillment Centers.

Well, for a good chunk of the past year I was an associate in one of those very centers.  I am not employed or affiliated with Amazon at present and don't foresee that changing anytime soon.  Nobody from the company is paying me or giving me some kind of perk (and I'd refuse free Amazon Prime on general principles if Mr. Bezos himself extended the offer).  I’m not trying to curry favor and I don’t cotton to anyone.

But I would have done this anyway: provide a perspective that may differ wildly from what a lot of people have remarked about working in one of Amazon's distribution warehouses.

So all that being said, my first published article in over a year is up at American Thinker today"Six Months at an Amazon Fulfillment Center" says what it means and means what it says.  Half of a year on the floor, and I ended up being involved in everything from stowing merchandise to loading outbound trucks.  It also meant being there throughout the entire "Peak Season": Black Friday through Christmas Eve.

A snippet from the article:
My primary mission was stowing. It means pushing a cart of merchandise around the warehouse, finding bin space that a product can fit in, using a laser scanner on the bar codes and then physically moving the item into the bin. The facility’s inventory system was at all times tracking the associate’s rate of work as well as accuracy. Several times during the night the rates were posted so that each employee could see how he or she was faring. And as many who have written about working at Amazon have already noted, the managers are looking hard at those rates… 
My stowing during those first few weeks? Abysmal. In fact, I was the very worst of the lot from our orientation group. Getting fired would be a decision born within the circuitry of the Amazon master computer somewhere in Seattle, not any human judgment. My career came a few steps too close to ending during that first month or so.
What happened next? Did the rates rise? Or did your friend and humble narrator get a pink slip from the Amazon cluster-processoring mainframe thingy?!  Mash down here and find out!

The perfect commentary

Whenever I look at the news lately this image keeps springing into mind:


That's from Mel Brooks' woefully under-rated Silent Movie.

Then again, real life is looking more and more like a Mel Brooks production.  Isn't it?

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving 2019 Gratitude Post

It's Thanksgiving Day so you know what that means: today we appreciate what we already have, so that tomorrow on Black Friday we will fight for things we don't really need.

I have had a love-hate relationship with Thanksgiving, for a complexity of reasons.  It's the materialism that comes afterward that especially disgusts me.  Once upon a time, the day after Thanksgiving could be a time of wonder and good cheer.  It was perfect people-watching season, and in general those people were nicer and more considerate to one another.  But those days are gone and in its place are hordes of zombies out of The Walking Dead hungry for brains bargains and banging on store windows hours ahead of opening time and... why are stores even opening on midnight after Thanksgiving anyway?!?

(That's a run-on sentence.  Miss Jones, forgive me.)

There.  That's my rant about Black Friday for the year.  No clever posts about "Seasons Beatings", I promise.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving is a great triumph for me.  And I'll tell you why.  It's because when I was growing up, Thanksgiving really did become something to dread.  Some people in my family turned it into a vicious occasion for insults and put-downs and somehow I always seemed to be the one most on the receiving end of it.  Who was most responsible for that, I'll leave as an exercise for the reader.  Suffice to say however, the stereotypical "ruined Thanksgiving"...

...yeah, that was mine.  That was the hell I had to endure year after year after year, because of some who I recognize now were genuine psychopaths and generally mean individuals who didn't care for the real meaning of Thanksgiving.

So finally came the day when I took it back.  Made it my turn.  When I took Thanksgiving and had it never be a cause for fear again.  I did something that inadvertently made them grateful that I was really there, and not just the proverbial "kid at the card table".

Because I came to be the one who could deep-fry the turkey that they suddenly became very glad they were enjoying in all its juicy succulent glory.  Nobody in the family had ever done anything like that before.  The years of dry meat were vanquished.  Chris and his crazy dangerous stunt provided a meal that one family member quietly told me was the best Thanksgiving dinner that he/she had ever enjoyed.  And suddenly Chris was the one the family was always looking to for providing the turkey on Thanksgiving and then at Christmas too.

I had taken back Thanksgiving.  It's my holiday now.  And maybe I appreciate it better than some, who will remain anonymous for their own sake.  Thanksgiving is not a time for airing of grievances among loved ones or political disputes or making game plans for when the big boxes' doors swing wide open (and that is the last I'll say for this year)...

I've seen all of those and more and they disgust me.

But I'm not going to harbor on those anymore.  I've said my piece, for anyone who might glean some wisdom from those words.

No, I want to get back to something that too many have forgotten and that I will confess that I have neglected in recent years: the real reason for Thanksgiving.

America is unique among all nations, perhaps.  Although there have been some, like our friends in Canada and Liberia (where I am told the Southern accent is spoken most beautifully) who have adopted the custom.  We created a holiday to render thanks for blessings we have accumulated but far from deserve.  I like to believe that those blessings come about from the grace of God, or divine Providence, or whatever else you want to call some higher source of righteousness.

Minor theology aside, it was George Washington who signed a declaration of thanksgiving in 1789 (you can read the original text by clicking the image).  It was variously and sundrily renewed and re-invigorated throughout the the next century and a half until Franklin Roosevelt more or less "codified" it in 1939.  And so it has been a day to render gratitude ever since.

It is a day that, I must lament, I have been lax in my own duty toward.

The past number of years did take a toll on my thankfulness.  But it's a funny thing about this past week.  I found myself looking around and, for all that could still be better, I've more reason to be thankful than I have in a very, very long while.  And maybe it's time to render honor to God for that.  Because in my better moments (which might be coming more and more) I can indeed thank God for those blessings.

So I'm going to try to start a tradition on The Knight Shift: one that has been too long overdue.  I'm going to compose a list of things I'm thankful for, and try to follow through on it for as long as this blog stays on the air (almost sixteen years already!).

Without further ado, here is my Thanksgiving 2019 Gratitude Post...

I am thankful to have, for the first time in my life, a home to truly call my very own.  Y'all should see the giant Fallout poster that I hung in my living room last night.  Just what this place needed: Vault Boy giving his iconic "thumbs-up" to meet the day with.

I am thankful for my (still fairly new) job, and for team members and supervisor, who are more gracious than I merit and can roll with me when I'm having an "off" day.  They also, it bears mentioning, totally rock!

Part and parcel with that, I am thankful for my training and certification as a peer support specialist.  Maybe I'll stop being cheap and finally get that sheepskin hung on my office wall soon.

I am thankful for my miniature dachshund Tammy, who guards the place while I'm gone and persists in being my F.L.A.W. (fuzzy little attention whore).  She has also, it goes without saying, been a most faithful and trusty companion through many adventures and I'm looking to many more with her.

I am thankful for my new turkey fryer - it just arrived yesterday - that will at least be making Christmas dinner this year:

We're back in business bay-beeeeee!!!
I am thankful for my car, which needs to be cleaned of all the Chick-Fil-A milkshake cups that have somehow made their way into the floorboard.

I am thankful for my writing ability which seems to be coming back.  Writing has always been a gift I have tried to cultivate and further, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.  Maybe a book or two (or three)?

I am thankful that God has brought a wonderful woman into my... no wait, that hasn't happened yet.  I will be more thankful than I've ever been in the history of anything if He might still could do that.  And if you are a potential lass who I could court, write me at theknightshift@gmail.com!

I am thankful for my iPad Pro, and all the myriad of uses that have been found for it.  Speaking of which: hey guys, Eve Echoes starts open beta next week!  Let's get our corporation going so we can get the jump on those Russian mobsters!

I am thankful that I am overcoming my fear of the kitchen and have begun cooking real food lately.  The memories of those creamed potatoes during that Boy Scout camping trip no longer haunt me.

I am thankful for good health.  Including my mental health... which, I am coming to realize, could have been much worse than bipolar disorder and PTSD.  I am not nearly enough thankful that, compared to some, I have it fairly easy.  And I hope that God never lets me forget that.

I am thankful that Star Wars seems to be back on the right track, and am hoping that in 21 days a lifetime of waiting for all nine episodes will be gloriously satisfied with The Rise of Skywalker.

I am thankful for my friends, who truly are as dear family to me.  They have been with me in the good times and have somehow endured me in the bad.  Again, a  blessing that I don't deserve but how I ended up with such amazing people in my life, I will never ever know on this side of eternity.

I am thankful for the family I am still close to.  May we have many more years of good times and great memories.

I am thankful that in the past few months, I have been able to confront and overcome some issues of my past, and stop them from hanging over me.  The first part of this post?  That's part of that process.  It was a hard thing to accomplish, but it needed it more than most will ever know.

I am thankful for one best friend's little girl, who is like a niece to me.  And I am thankful for another best friend who is soon to become a father to his own little girl.  "Uncle Chris" is gonna be playing Santa like a madman next Christmas.

I am thankful for another best friend still, who I could not have gotten to where I am today without her prayers and encouragement and, when needed, kicking my tail to help me get back on the path again.

I am thankful for new beginnings.

I am thankful that there may be be many more things to be thankful for, that are slipping my mind at this late hour.

I am thankful that God has let me get this far and I pray that He will continue to let me keep going just a little further.

I am thankful.

And I thank you for getting to the end of this post, all two of my faithful readers!