Jurassic World: Recreate Dinosaurs, Invite Public–What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

My wife and I saw Jurassic World last night, and I’m pleased to report that it is an entertaining popcorn action flick. I think that by now most moviegoers know what to expect from from the Jurassic Park film series, and they should be content overall with this installment.

I think it is fair to say that both the film’s storytelling and viewing experience is heavily CGI-centric. This is a film in which the dinosaurs (and then the movie magic that animates them on the silver screen) is the true star. And not surprisingly the creatures are well realized.

One thing that however did surprise just me a little, though, is by comparison recognizing just how good a job the 1993 film Jurassic Park did at rendering its dinosaurs. Maybe I’m just remembering the original film through the lens of expectations for the technology available at that time. But for both films (at least for me) the willing suspension of disbelief in the dinosaurs is, to roughly the same degree, a seamless experience due to the well crafted special effects. So it wasn’t as if two decades of CGI technology improvements made Jurassic World‘s dinosaurs appear significantly more “believable” to me. I think current CGI technology did however give the filmmakers more freedom to render whatever they wish, including this guy:

I won’t spoil as to the entire plot–you can read about that here if you wish.

I’ll just make a few more observations about the film:

I had a vague expectation going into the theater that I might be niggled a bit by the basic premise that such a theme park would or could ever be rebuilt after the disastrous events of the original film. (I never saw the two sequels to Jurassic Park, and best I can see it seems that this film ignores them–i.e., Jurassic World acknowledges the events of the just first film of the series.) As I snark in the title of this blog post: “Recreate Dinosaurs, Invite Public–What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” Sometimes the very premise of a film is just too implausible for me to buy into, and it interferes with my potential enjoyment of the film. Happily, that did not really happen here. It’s a little like watching a haunted house horror movie, in which you tacitly accept the conventions of the genre in order to enjoy the film:

A relatively minor gripe: as is now a standard trope for almost any sort of fantasy based action film, once again the military industrial complex is the the bad guy. This is also typically represented by a billionaire industrial mogul either contracted by the military or with ties to the military. It isn’t that we should be wary about the military industrial complex as Eisenhower (of all people) warned: I’m sure we should. It’s just that this device is so commonly recycled now in adventure films that it reflects an absence of creative thought and invention in storytelling. It’s probably the most credible villain that writers (meaning the producers that okay what actually gets made) can often come up with. It just lacks originality at this point–at least give us some twists with it. Give us something fresh please! (Here the billionaire industrialist is Asian Indian. I guess his ethnicity is supposed to be the “twist.” But that’s it.)

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard both do a fine job in the lead roles, and the supporting characters are all well acted as well. There’s a noticeable lack of romantic sparks between Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). But my wife observed that that actually worked out in an odd sort of way, given that there is evidently residual strain from a first date for which the couple failed to make a love connection (lol, remember the show of that name from the 80s and 90s?). They are thrown together by circumstances despite that, and make the best of it in order to survive.

Well anyway, Jurassic World was a fun date night movie. We had a good time chomping on popcorn and watching it in iMax 3D. If your expectations are at least moderate and you enjoyed the original film, you should have a good time with this picture.

Jurassic World: Recreate Dinosaurs, Invite Public–What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Loss of Yahoo Pipes Is a Major Blow For Those of Us Who Enjoy Combining RSS Feeds

In my opinion, one the best things that the Internet has to offer is the use of RSS feeds to bring us articles and news items that are matched to our personal interests. (Well, that after the Internet providing a repository of instantly accessible knowledge and information for almost anything under the sun to begin with.) A Google News search was once fairly easy to make an RSS feed for, but for some reason Google stopped making it easy. Fortunately, Bing lets the user easily create RSS feeds for news search terms. The news searches are integral to the feeds that I design for my interests.

Bing news search RSSYahoo Pipes has provided an excellent way for the casual Internet user to combine multiple feeds into a single feed.  It is a free service that uses a graphical user interface (GUI), and as such requires no coding skills. Yahoo Pipes provides an easy-to-use means to filter out duplicate items from different feeds, and to fetch items according to specified parameters. It can look more complicated and intimidating than it has to be for the most basic functions that most people need of it. Just by combining a few simple elements it was possible to combine feeds with it, and it is very stable. It works really well.

sample yahoo pipeWhat I would typically do is use the Yahoo Pipes RSS output as the source for a FeedBurner feed that provides a sleeker appearance.

sample feedburner feedHowever, most unfortunately, with Yahoo’s recent layoffs Pipes is being shut down and will come to an end September 30th. There is currently nothing comparable to the service that is a) free, and b) as easy to use.

There are currently some paid alternatives, but until a worthy successor comes along I will elect to make do with free alternatives. (There are IFTTT recipes that, best I can see, require a paid subscription to Feedly. The subscription rules out that option for me…)

The free version of Feedly allows you to combine various feeds into one, and probably has the most engaging GUI that I have seen in search of replacements for Yahoo Pipes. However one feature I find annoying about Feedly is that it continues to feature many of the same articles at the top of the feed order (which as far as I can see is based on most recent publication). These same articles are being republished on a daily basis then? Anyway, with the free version I don’t see a way to tweak this.

The Old Reader (TOR) lets you track up to 100 feeds for free. TOR’s GUI isn’t nearly as nice looking as Feedly’s but it does at least seem to fetch and display items in the order that they are published and avoids item duplications.

In comparing Yahoo Pipes (which, as mentioned, is ending in a couple months), the free version of Feedly, and the free version of TOR, what I’m seeing for some of the busier feeds I have created (e.g., one has 16 feed sources) is the following:

  • Yahoo Pipes (via Feedburner) brings me the most recently published items, basically instantly
  • TOR has some significant lag in how quickly it fetches results, but seems to do a respectable job
  • Feedly is the sleekest looking but least consistent of the three (as mentioned, it keeps putting the same apparently ‘republished daily’ (?) items towards the top of the order).

There are some other simple free services, including  FeedCombine, FeedRinse, and RSSMix. In some cases I have had success with these for very simple needs. But it seems that for the larger feed combinations they fail, likely due to parsing errors. They all seem to not accept Bing News searches, which rules them out for most of my needs.

Kimomo Labs provides a free service that works similar to Yahoo Pipes–and it is actually even more impressive in terms of fine-tuning search parameters and results. It is however over the head of most causal users. Intuitive and instantly user-friendly it is not, in my humble opinion. And for the most complicated feeds that I currently combine it actually failed. Kimono Labs does provide tech support, but that is more trouble than I want to go to for something like this. Especially when I can use something like Feedly or TOR to basically get the job done without the bother.

The other current options require coding skills. Huggin allows you to set up your own local server to do what Yahoo Pipes does. That’s great if you have the coding skills, or have the time, patience, and energy to learn it. Otherwise I should imagine that it’s not something most casual users will feel is worth the trouble.

None of this addresses how to share the feeds with others. Using Feedly and TOR you can only view them via a personal log in. The combined feed is exportable via .opml file, but thus far I’ve been encountering problems in getting them to display properly via various readers. I’m going to continue to work on finding a good way to accomplish that.

Incidentally, this is the sort of post I would normally make in my Whizbang! blog, but I figured I’d change things up and originate the post here first. I haven’t really been able to attend to the Whizbang! project since returning to graduate school, but there I explore ways of finding, organizing, and curating web content of interest to the individual user. Hopefully after I finish school I’ll be able to returned to that hobby and give it more attention.

Loss of Yahoo Pipes Is a Major Blow For Those of Us Who Enjoy Combining RSS Feeds

Aeon Flux (2005)

I was always struck by the visually arresting artistic style of the Æon Flux animated series when I came across it when channel surfing during the 90’s, and I would occasionally stop and watch it for a while, although I could never make heads nor tails of the storyline. So I recently decided to give the 2005 film a go, especially given that it stars Charlize Theron. I watched it basically because I wanted to know what the hell was happening with the very strange animated series.

aeon fluxYou can read the Wikipedia on the movie’s plot here. It is a profoundly dystopian setting taking place 400 years in the future. Humankind has undergone an apocalyptic event of a pathogenic virus that almost eradicated the human species. The survivors live in a walled city in highly regimented society that is controlled by scientists. Æon is a highly skilled rebel agent of the resistance, known as the Monicans.

The picture has the same mixture of “flat affect” and unstated angst that the odd television series did… but that does not translate as well at all to a live action film. The film also fails to capture the surrealism of the animated series. Although the architecture that was selected for the shoot is actually not bad for real life. The same film made today would now probably be filmed almost entirely via green screen with the surrounding physical world CGI created.

However, despite the fact that the film falls short in many ways, I was still glad I that watched if for no other reason than to once and for all finally understand what was going on in the animated series. The picture did hold my interest for that reason. The actors all do a pretty good job in this film, even if the overall film experience leaves a lot to be desired. Charlize Theron is always good and here she does a respectable job at realizing what is likely a surprisingly difficult character to portray. In any event, ultimately I did care what happened to the characters. The story succeeded to the extent that I wanted to see how it all turned out. This may well have only been the case had it not been for my curiosity about the animated TV series, though.

I will spoil a bit here about a key plot element that is revealed at the film’s end:

The pathogen that destroyed most of humanity left people infertile. The survivors are being cloned, although they don’t even realize it. Because the people of this society are clones, they have deja vu-like memories and troubling dreams related to ‘past life’ experiences. The realization is made at film’s end by Æon that human life should not strive for immortality though cloning, but rather remain finite in order to be experienced as truly meaningful.

Another epiphany at the very end is that the society can finally see it’s way through the delusions imposed by the power elite in the name of protecting it. A way is made clear to free itself from its ruthless mechanization and to reconnect with Nature again. It is discovered that Nature was beginning to find its own way for the clones to become fertile again, despite humankind’s miraculous scientific endeavors and inventions. The world outside of the city is discovered to in fact be a lush, burgeoning wilderness, rather than the desolate wasteland everyone had been told it was. In a nutshell: it can now become apparent to the city’s inhabitants that they are living sterile and mechanized lives, built on lies, driven by an illusion of power and control held by the society’s ruling authority structure.

This did get me thinking a bit about the notion that we ultimately decide what is meaningful about our lives. So much of that is externally (socially-culturally) imposed. It is however up to each of us to identify what we value the most. We choose what is most important to us. So if this not-so-great film got me thinking about  that, it’s fair to say that it succeeded for me, individually. I’ve said before that in my humble opinion the only fair way to judge a film is ultimately how well it connects with the viewer personally for his or her own reasons.

Anyway, the ending was actually somewhat satisfying to me in terms of those big themes. In sum, the film was worth the trouble to see through to the end, I felt.

This is an aside but, interestingly, on the very same evening that I watched this movie I happened to view also an episode of the series Hacking the Universe, in which the host, Brian Cox, closed by observing that species extinction is a virtual certainty–it is essentially the natural order. The niche left by an extinct species is filled by a new one that comes along to fill the gap (e.g., we’re here because the dinosaurs became extinct). Brian noted that however due to human intelligence, we seem to have the ability to possibly prevent our own extinction.

That resonated for me with the central plot themes of Æon Flux. It was a coincidence, of course, but a fun and interesting one.

Aeon Flux (2005)

Remaining 2015 Through 2016 Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Superhero Films – Release Dates

I may have missed a few, but below are the release dates for science fiction, fantasy, and superhero movies for the remainder of 2015 and through 2016. The release dates (as of this writing) are subject to change, obviously. Also, here are some good resource websites for keeping track of release dates: MovieInsider.com, MovieWeb.com, SciFanWorld.com, DenofGeek.com. I’ve added them to the Blogroll Links.

2015

Terminator: Genisys – July 1st, 2015
Aurora – July 7th, 2015
Self/less – July 10th, 2015
Ant-Man – July 17th, 2015
Fantastic Four – August 7th, 2015
Z for Zachariah – August 21st, 2015
Pan – August 27th, 2015
Crouching Dragon Hidden Tiger: The Green Legend – August 28th, 2015
The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials – September 18th, 2015
The Martian – October 2nd, 2015
Dark Ascension – October, 2015
The Last Witch Hunter – October 23rd, 2015
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 – November 20th, 2015
Victor Frankenstein – November 25th, 2015
Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens – December 18th, 2015

2016

Deadpool – February 12th, 2016
Ben Hur reboot  – February 26th, 2016
Prometheus 2 – March 4th, 2016
The Divergent Series: Allegiant – Part 1 – March 18th, 2016
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – March 25th, 2016
Gods of Egypt – April 8th, 2016
The Huntsman – April 22nd, 2016
Captain America: Civil War – May 6th, 2016
X-Men: Apocalypse – May 27th, 2016
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 – June 3rd, 2016
Transformer 5 – June 24th, 2016
Independence Day 2 – June 24th, 2016
Tarzan reboot – July 1st, 2016
Star Trek 3 – July 8th, 2016
Ghostbusters reboot – July 22nd, 2016
Knights of the Round Table – July 22nd, 2016
Suicide Squad – August 5th, 2016
Spectral – August 12th, 2016
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – September 2nd, 2016
Gambit – October 7th, 2016
A Monster Calls – October 14th, 2016
Doctor Strange – November 4th, 2016
The Sinister Six – November 11th, 2016
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – November 18th, 2016
Moana – November  23rd, 2016
Star Wars: Rogue One – December 16th, 2016
The Legend of Conan – December 17th, 2016
Assassin’s Creed – December 21st, 2016

Remaining 2015 Through 2016 Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Superhero Films – Release Dates