Monday, June 21, 2021

Book Review: Resident Alien Vol. 1 by P. Hogan et al.

Resident Alien Volume 1: Welcome to Earth written by Peter Hogan, artwork, colors, and letters by Steve Parkhouse

An alien crash landed on Earth three years ago and has been lying low in a small northwest town passing himself off as a retired doctor. The alien has a mental power that makes humans see him as just another human. Well, one in a million humans wouldn't be fooled, but it's a small town so odds are in his favor. The town might be too small, though, because the local doctor is killed, forcing the cops to ask him to examine the body so they can get a lead on the killer. The county coroner is a long way off. The alien (who goes by the name Harry Vanderspeigle) realizes it will only look suspicious if he refuses to help. The local mayor, being a politician, hornswoggles Harry into filling in as the town doctor until they get someone new. You can imagine how quickly that happens. Harry is interested in solving the crime and becomes more interested when another murder happens.

The story has a creative premise that is executed well. Harry is likable and it's easy to sympathize with his desire to lay low, hoping his message back home sends some help. That's hardly the focus of the story. The murder mystery is, though there's no way for the reader to guess the culprit. Still, the investigation is entertaining enough along. The little bits of backstory generate interest in the bigger story. Of course, the book ends with someone figuring out Harry is not from around here, creating a natural (if predictable) cliffhanger.

Recommended. I'll be reading more of this series.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Movie Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) co-written and directed by Steven DeKnight

It's ten years after the events of the first movie and Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is living a wheeler-dealer lifestyle. His dad was the big hero the first time around, giving great speeches and sacrificing himself for the world. Jake is not so great a man. He winds up with a young idealistic girl named Amara (Calliee Sapeny) who's built her own small Jaeger (that's the name for the giant robots) to get ready if the Kaiju (that's the name for the giant monsters) ever return. Personal Jaegers are illegal and they both get tossed in jail. Jake's sister bails them out, only if they join up with a new Jaeger program. That offer seems better than serving time. They head off to a Jaeger base to get trained for any coming problems. And problems definitely come when a Chinese company gets permission to build remotely-piloted Jaegers, putting Jake and his crew in career jeopardy. When the Jaegers go rogue, they also face physical jeopardy.

The movie lopes along at a good pace, not worrying too much about the details. Even though they try to go bigger than the first movie, this one is not as compelling or as exciting. The mythology is developed a little bit and the fun scientists characters from the first film are back and play major roles. The main focus is on telling a fun story, which they deliver on. The actors are good and the fight scenes are entertaining if not as imaginative as the first film.

Mildly recommended--this is really for Pacific Rim fans.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

TV Review: Sisyphus: The Myth (2021)

Sisyphus: The Myth (2021) created by Jin Hyuk, Lee Jane, and Jeon Chan-ho

Han Tae-sul (Cho Seung-woo) is a brilliant polymath who saves the crashing airplane he is on. He runs a tech business and is about to make his most famous and fascinating invention--the uploader, a machine that enables time travel. Viewers know he will be successful because Seo-hae (Park Shin-Hye) has come from the future to keep him from being killed. And somehow to prevent the nuclear holocaust that is coming in a couple of months! A lot of other people are involved in the plot machinations, including Tae-sul's crazy brother (who isn't really crazy though he seems so because he knows about the time travel), two other groups who have come from the future with their own agendas, and the mysterious Sigma who is the mastermind behind all the bad stuff that happens. 

The action stays mostly in the present with visits to the future and the past. The story does a good job blending the action and the science fiction. Some romance is shoe-horned in and become more significant as the story goes on. The middle of the 16-episode arc felt baggy, adding backstories of the minor characters to fill out the running time (each episode is around 65-80 minutes long). By the end, the show turns into a bit of a soap opera (which is bad in my opinion) and it has an extended "this is all the time travel tricks I pulled" exposition that goes on longer than I would have liked. As with a lot of time travel stories, the logic and continuity does not hold up under scrutiny. Even with the flaws, I still got emotional in a good way and was satisfied with most of the ending.

Mildly recommended.

Currently (June 2021), this is only streaming on Netflix.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Book Review: Ghost Stories of California by Barbara Smith

Ghost Stories of California by Barbara Smith

This book covers a wide range of stories of ghostly experiences in California. Tales from the entertainment industry, the ghost towns abandoned after the California Gold Rush, and everyday life are brought together. A lot of the stories are fairly short (just a page or two) and they are told more from a reporter's perspective than from a folklorist. The author takes the subject of ghosts scientifically, enumerating various types of apparitions and phenomena and referencing the sort of ghost hunters who use special cameras and other scientific equipment. While the attitude fits her writing style, I find it less interesting. I'm more interested in the drama and the history that comes with ghost stories, so I found this book only mildly interesting and less satisfying than other collections of ghost tales.

Mildly recommended--this isn't bad, it's just not my style.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Philly Ghost Tour

My eldest and I went on the Philadelphia Walking Ghost Tour, which did not feature any actual walking ghosts. We did the walking and the tour guide told the stories, all from the colonial period.

The tour started in Washington Park which was first called Southeast Park back when William Penn laid out the city plan in the early 1700s. 

Washington Park

The park was originally used as a potter's field, meaning that those who could not afford a proper burial were buried here. Many of the combatants, both British and colonial, from the American War for Independence were buried here. The park was renamed after George Washington and a memorial to the unknown soldier was set up, along with flags from the thirteen colonies.

Maryland flag

Memorial for those buried here

The guide told us about two ghosts frequenting this area. One is a soldier who marches about. Mostly his footsteps are heard, though on foggy nights a shadowy figure can be seen. The other is a lady with a pistol. She used to patrol the area at night keeping away grave robbers. The guide advised us not to come back to the park with a shovel unless we wanted trouble!

The tour moved over to Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation and the U. S. Constitution were all crafted. The ghost of Benjamin Franklin sometimes wanders around and Park Rangers either see or smell him. He was a bit gouty and didn't smell too well in real life.

Independence Hall at night

The other ghost that has been spotted is Benedict Arnold. He was a patriot at the beginning of the war but circumstances (like his own pride) drove him to betray the colonies. He died in England though his ghost has come back, maybe to make amends for his wrongdoing.

Franklin's ghost is also a bit of a traveler, because he's been seen across the street at the Library of the American Philosophical Society. He founded the society and donated many books. In the afterlife, he would take books off shelves, sometimes leaving them open on desks or tables. The cleaning lady often had to reshelve them. She put up with the bother for a while because it was the 1930s and other jobs were scarce. Eventually she got frustrated with Franklin and yelled at his ghost to stop the pranks. Her tactic worked!

The Library of the American Philosophical Society

Franklin does some other traveling. His statue above the door supposedly comes to life and walks down the street to City Tavern, where it takes a chair up on the second floor. We did not see him wander off during our tour.

A block or so away is Carpenter's Hall which was used as a bank in the early days of the country. The bank was robbed one night. The authorities arrested the guy who installed the safe, figuring he had the keys and the combination so he had the most opportunity. While he was in jail, one of the bank employees started depositing large sums of money into the bank. The bank officials wondered where he got the cash. They discovered that he and an accomplice had stolen the money. The thief gave back the money and lost his job; the innocent man was freed. 

Carpenter's Hall

Long afterward, when the building had some renters upstairs, they would hear people moving around on the first floor. The first time, they called the cops who could find no evidence of intruders. The second time it happened, the renters just listened. Eventually, they assumed it was the ghosts of the thieves re-enacting their crime.

A block away is the First Bank of the United States. The bank was very controversial because the U. S. Constitution did not authorize the Federal Government to start a bank. Alexander Hamilton was in favor of the bank and of repaying many of the debts incurred by the war. George Washington was a bit of a father-figure to Hamilton and often went along with his proposals. Thomas Jefferson was opposed to the idea. The situation was divisive enough that a political party called the Federalists grew up around Hamilton, while Jefferson's side formed the Democratic-Republicans. Thus another non-constitutional institution was created--the two-party system!

First Bank of the United States

Hamilton haunted the bank, often walking past the doors of workers. If any worker was not busy, the ghost would make a mess of the paperwork in the office! The building is currently closed for renovations.

Around the corner is the Bishop White House. Bishop White was a colonial clergyman who had a very tragic family life. His wife died in the house, along with many of the children. Even a few of the servants died there. He moved to the third floor and eventually died there. Sometimes a tall, thin figure is seen in the top-floor windows.

Bishop White House (it was a narrow street)

Down the street is the Todd House. John Todd was a lawyer who married Dolley Payne Todd. He died of yellow fever in 1793. Dolley stayed in the house and was eventually courted by James Madison. When he visited, he often had an uneasy feeling sitting in the parlor, like the late husband was keeping an eye on things. Dolley married Madison and became the first lady. She started the tradition of entertaining at the White House as a way for the introverted Madison to talk with and influence other officials.

Todd House and our guide

Just a block away is Saint Joseph's Church, one of the original Catholic Churches in Philadelphia. William Penn had set up the colony as a place of religious freedom (a very forward-thinking attitude at the time). As long as you worshipped one God and paid your taxes, he was okay with you living in Pennsylvania. Commodore John Barry, father of the U. S. Navy, was married here. His first wife, Mary Clary, died and was buried at Saint Joseph's. Barry eventually remarried, to a non-Catholic named Sarah Austin. They still attended services at Saint Joseph's, but the new wife often felt pinches and hair pulls. At first, she accused her husband. He denied it, as did others in nearby pews. They moved to the back where no one was near them. Sarah still felt the harassment, so John concluded it was his former wife causing the trouble. They went to a different parish where the pestering stopped!

Statue of Barry by Independence Hall

The tour was really great. It was mostly historical with some colorful anecdotes thrown in. We highly recommend it.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Book Review: The Way of the Househusband Vol. 3 by Kousuke Oono

The Way of the Househusband Volume 3 by Kousuke Oono

Tatsu, the former Yakuza hitman, faces off against a wicked opponent, the Black Bullet (aka the common cockroach), in the first of this set of lighthearted tales that apply gangster attitudes to everyday household tasks. The best story is when Tatsu visits a friend and they make bread together (using a lot of flour/white powder and kneading/roughing up the dough), though the bonus stories at the end where Tatsu is a substitute home economics teacher are also hilarious.

This is more of the enjoyable, if fluffy, comedy like the previous volumes. How long can they keep this going?


Friday, June 11, 2021

Movie Review: Fatima (2019)

Fatima (2019) directed by Marco Pontecorvo

Three young children in Fatima, Portugal, are visited in the pastures by the Virgin Mary, who asks them to pray for peace. World War I is raging and their small town has plenty of young men out of the country fighting and dying. Portugal itself has recently become a secular democracy and the government at all levels has an anti-religious bias. The local clergy and the children's parents are skeptical about the visions (some more than others). At first, the parents try to keep the children quiet but word gets around and pilgrims start coming from out of town in hopes of witnessing the Virgin or getting a miracle. The kids muster through as best they can but they experience a lot of awkward and painful moments coming into conflict with the government, the clergy, their parents, the townsfolk, and the out-of-towners. The story is framed by a 1989 visit to the only surviving child Lucia, now an old nun, by a skeptic who is writing a book and wants to learn more about what happened, especially the famous "Miracle of the Sun" witnessed by 70,000 people on the final day of the apparitions.

The framing device does the typical job of providing focus and commentary on what happens as well as making the story more compelling for modern viewers. The skeptic asks questions that a typical modern person might ask, though he is much more like a rational person than an internet troll (it's set in 1989, after all). The drama is well executed and the large cast does a good job, especially the young Lucia (Stephanie Gil). The movie is faithful without being preachy and sincere without being cloying. I enjoyed it quite a bit as a drama and as a work of faith.