Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: Green Lantern Earth One Volume One by C. Bechko

Green Lantern Earth One Volume One co-written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman, and colors by Jordan Boyd

Hal Jordan is an ex-NASA astronaut working with a small company surveying asteroids, hoping to find a valuable and sizable chunk of metal. He and partner Volkov stumble upon something even more valuable than raw metal--a space ship that crashed seemingly hundreds of years ago. A large, broken robot is inside along with a desiccated alien corpse who has a ring on his finger and a glowing lantern nearby. Jordan and Volkov take the lantern and the ring as proof of their find. As their small ship goes to dock with their larger mothership, Volkov slips on the ring and accidentally destroys their ship. Jordan winds up with the ring just as the robot comes blasting off the asteroid. The ring keeps him from dying in space and gives him some powers that he doesn't know how to use. He barely survives a fight with the robot. He wakes up on another planet where an alien with a ring becomes his first ally in discovering what the ring and robots are all about.

I'm usually not a fan of reboots of characters but this one works really well. Instead of just transplanting a hero's story to modern day, this volume moves the story into a credible future. Jordan's character is more disgruntled than hot shot, a nice twist from the standard version of Hal Jordan. A lot of the usual Green Lantern history is woven into the story (the planet Oa, the Guardians, the Manhunters, other individual Green Lanterns, etc.) with enough twists and wrinkles to make the story fresh and interesting. I didn't think anything could top Geoff Johns's run on the Green Lantern comics but this is a very promising start.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) directed by Taika Waititi

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is desparate enough to prevent Ragnarok (the Asgardian apocalypse) that he'll do just about anything. He fights fire demons, threatens to behead his brother, and tries to save his father Odin from shuffling off his apparently mortal coil. His evil, imprisoned sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), goddess of death, is released and causes pandemonium on the planet Asgard. Thor gets tossed off the Bifrost (the bridge between Earth and Asgard) and falls to a dump of a planet where unloved things go to be exploited. He's reunited with more than the Hulk as he schemes his return to Asgard and save the day. Because that's what heroes do.

This movie is a classic case of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. The story ranges all over Asgard and a bit of the universe. The movie is dripping with CGI spectacle. Jokes are ubiquitous and aimed at practically everyone. Visual references and gags aren't limited to the Marvel Cinematic Universe--everything from Willy Wonka to Lord of the Rings gets a nod, homage, or rip-off. The frivolity is only occasionally tempered by dramatic moments, though many of those can't keep a straight face for very long. The tone is very frivolous, almost to a fault. The actors do a great job and keep the movie from becoming too cartoonish. This is not great storytelling but entertainment for entertainment's sake.

Recommended, though it is very light-weight and visually overblown. This movie is possibly the exact opposite of the dreary and self-important DC superhero movies coming out in the past few years.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: A History of the Church in 100 Objects by Mike and Grace Aquilina

A History of the Church in 100 Objects by Mike and Grace Aquilina

The Catholic Church has existed for nearly two thousand years. Its history is rich and varied. Mike and Grace (his daughter) Aquilina provide an interesting overview of that history. They look at one hundred different objects spanning the time from the first century AD (a Jerusalem paving stone, item #2) to 2006 (a Polish bank note featuring John Paul II (#98)). Each item relates to a significant event or person in the Church's history.

The objects run a wide range. Some are famous, like Gutenberg's printing press (#52) or the American Declaration of Independence (#70). Some are obscure, like flasks and holy water bottles (#22, 24, 32, 44, 77). Some are great works of art, like Michelangelo's Pieta #57) or the Rose Window of Notre Dame (#43). Some are mundane tools, like pins (#97, 89), pens (#83), and parking passes (#92--the ones used at Vatican II since Roman parking was at a premium). They all provide a rich way into the story of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is the oldest and most physical of the Christian Churches. It has survived persecutions (see Peter's Chains (#9) or a guillotine from the French Revolution(#71)) and heresies (#18--a Ravenna mosaic that shows Christ as merely a man according to the Arian heresy). It clings to the Faith that Christ is still physically present with us in the Eucharist, a trust that has only been more refined and more certain through the ages (witness the earliest First Communion cards from the 1910s (#82) after Pope Pius X encouraged parents and pastors to allow young children to receive communion; he also encouraged frequent communion by all the faithful as spiritual nourishment and medicine). This book mirrors the historic and physical reality of the Church in a beautiful way.

The book is also an easy read. Each object gets a full-page picture and two or three pages of text, detailing the object's history and significance. It reads well as individual bits or as larger representations of an age. I learned lots of little bits and made some larger connections between things. Each item also has two books as recommended reading for further study of an item, issue, or age.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Daughter's Art on Display (Again!)

See my daughter's previous art display here.

My daughter's school art made the grade and is (or was, depending on when you read this) on display at The Mall in Columbia. The mall hosts a Spring Student Art Exhibition from the county schools, so there is a lot of art on display from all the elementary, middle, and high schools. Oddly, the high school displays had few people wandering around them. The middle and elementary school displays were mobbed on the night we went (which was the reception night, featuring free juice and cookies for the kids).

Middle school display with middle-sized crowd

The cookie and refreshment sign

My daughter and her work

Little brother picks a drink at the reception

The local community college also made a pitch for student to come to their summer camps and programs. The school's mascot, a red dragon, was there to draw the children closer. He was happy to give high-fives and hugs to visitors. And then hand them a brochure.

Waving to our young one

Slap me five!

The display is up through April 23, so go quickly if you want to see the fabulous art. The cookies were a one-day-only deal, so don't expect them.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Maryland Science Center April 2018

We took advantage of our annual membership to the Maryland Science Center to visit over the Easter holiday. Some sections were still unexplored by us and the center has plenty of roving/spontaneous exhibits for our enjoyment and education.

The first thing we saw was one of the spontaneous exhibits--a collection of skulls. My prescholar was interested. The guy showed us a human skull and a chimpanzee skull among others.

A skull exhibit

Another nearby skull

On our way upstairs to the Science & Main exhibit, we discovered another spontaneous bit of science. This one was a number location guessing game. The green cups hid numbers in ascending order. The kids had to guess where a specific number was. After picking one cup, it's easier to make an educated guess where the number might be (higher or lower, unless the right number is picked first).

I was worried there was a pea under one cup

My daughter zeroes in on eighty-two

Three-cup problem for the under-five customers

Three-cup solution

Nearby in the Science & Main exhibit, we tried having a balanced meal using trays on pivots! Our youngest son's idea of a balanced meal is to have a bit of everything.

Learning to balance

The music and sound exhibits showed us how an organ works as well as what sound waves look like.

Trying out a small organ

Longest keys ever?

Making sound waves

The foam block construction area had all sorts of challenges posted on the wall. My oldest son thought this was some sort of area control game. He made a long, short fence.

Great Wall of China II?

Other projects started

My daughter started building a house for herself.

Precision craftsmanship

Nearby was a display on making paper airplanes along with a machine to throw them into the air. Sadly, we didn't get good pictures or video of the planes flying, though they were quite impressive. You'll just have to go try it out for yourself.

How to fold a paper airplane (at least, one model)

Another exhibit demonstrated how balls bounce on different surfaces (carpet, foam, and hard plastic) with different angles to get different trajectories. The boys loved this and probably would have spent the whole day at this one station.

The joy of bouncing

The cups guy came over and announced another spontaneous science demonstration downstairs. I took a look from up above.

More science going on

The kids finished up their building projects, including chairs.

An easy chair made by my son

House with furniture

Working on a roof

Cosy inside

No visit is complete without experiencing Newton's Alley. My daughter tried out the can crusher, which slowly depresses a trash can with every crank of a small wheel.

Adding a couple of turns

The can getting crushed

Upstairs, our toddler was fascinated by this display that made sounds of digestion, which includes everything from chewing to elimination. It was a bit gross but he is a boy, after all.

At least it doesn't provide smells

The other children were busy trying out a display with mirrors. I never got a close enough look to see what it was all about.

Mirrors make science fun

We tried out the "put a skeleton together" as a nice ending to a trip that started with a bunch of skulls.

From skull to skeleton

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Review: Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet by T. Coates et al.

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, art by Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse

Black Panther (T'Challa) governs Wakanda at a terrible time. A terrorist group called The People is raising an army to overthrow the government. Some of the Dora Milaje (the elite all-female military force) are in rebellion and raising their own army, also to overthrow the government. The two factions have an uneasy alliance. The country has already been weakened by attacks from Prince Namor's Atlanteans and mad Titan Thanos's Black Order. One of the top political professors in Wakanda has also been agitating against the monarchy in his own scholarly way. If that wasn't enough on T'Challa's mind, he also feels guilty about his sister Shuri who had been reigning as queen and died in a fight where he could have saved her. She's not quite dead, though, she is under the living death devised to take down Thanos,. He has a chance to bring her back. The Black Panther has plenty of civil unrest and personal unrest to deal with.

The book suffers from the multitude of plot threads introduced. In addition to the two main factions and the political philosopher and the king plot lines, Shuri is in the Wakandan astral plane called the Djalia (which was depicted quite well in the movie) and has her own storyline apart from T'Challa's attempts to revive her. If I had been reading this in individual issues month by month, I probably would have quit due to the scattershot storytelling that's hard to pull together until well into the story. The references to previous events (e.g. Namor and Thanos attacking Wakanda and the fallout from those) are slim and a bit frustrating having not read those earlier stories. This volume contains twelve issues and lots of storytelling. After the first third I was pretty unsatisfied; by the end I was very satisfied.

The political philosophy mostly focused on revolutions as the tool for political change and how they always require death, even of non-combatants, and how that's bad but necessary. The book just assumes monarchy is bad and democracy is good without any attempt to look at the good and bad aspects of each. It ends with the promise of establishing a constitutional, freely-elected government. Happily, Black Panther has other things to do, so the book won't bog down in future constitutional conventions.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Movie Review: The Lazarus Effect (2015)

The Lazarus Effect (2015) directed by David Gelb

A team of university scientists (two researchers (Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass) and two students (Donald Glover and Evan Peters)) started a grant-funded project to help coma patients live longer so that they can be cured. The experiments have evolved into bringing recently deceased animals back to life. After some marginal success with a pig and a dog, the university administration finds out causing problems. A company buys the grant and tries to take possession of all the research as their own property. Naturally this situation doesn't sit well with the researchers, who want credit and a credible success. They break into the lab to try and revive one more animal. Being a horror film, things don't work out according to plan.

The premise is fairly interesting and the characters acknowledge that deeper issues could and ought to be explored. If the dog died, did it come back from doggie heaven and that's why it's acting so weird? Shouldn't these issues be figured out before more experiments are attempted? What about a human afterlife? What are the consequences of bring people back from death? All these issues are nodded at and then ignored. The movie quickly turns into a monster hunting down the humans one by one. That's executed competently, but after the promise of delving into deeper issues, I found it disappointing.

The movie provides a lot of jump scares, some of which feel cheap. The overall horror starts slow and builds up to a frantic pace. I just wish the ideas kept up with thrills rather than being jettisoned for the thrills. The movie becomes totally and uninterestingly conventional in the last third.

If you hate disappointing or pessimistic endings, stay away. Otherwise, this is a low-end B-movie that can be enjoyable with the right expectations.

Not recommended.