Thunderbirds Are Go Review

  • Series Title: Thunderbirds Are Go
  • Season: 1 (DVD set is Vol. 1)
  • Episodes:  13
  • Discs:  2
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Rasmus Hardiker, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, David Menkin, Kayvan Novak, Rosamund Pike, David Graham, Sandra Dickinson, Angel Coulby, Andres Williams
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R2, PAL)

ITV has created an updated children’s series based on the original Gerry Anderson Supermarionation TV series. This version includes half-hour (22-minute) CGI animated episodes. But there is plenty of action in those 22 minutes! The episodes seem so very short because they are jam-packed with action and story. Often either a rescue begins to go wrong, or the first planned rescue attempt doesn’t work then Tracy boys need to come up with a new plan on the fly. Fortunately, coming up with ways to rescue people in impossible situations is exactly what the Tracys do best. The series keeps the five boys, their five Thunderbird machines, and the extra characters of Grandma Tracy, London agent Lady Penelope and her chauffeur Parker (she is also now given a small dog, named Sherbet as well), and Kayo (and updating of Tin Tin – now IR’s “covert ops” agent, pilot of Thunderbird S (Shadow), and sometimes co-pilot of Thunderbird 3), and even the villainous Hood. Another regular is the GDF (Global Defense Force), basically global cops and military. Mention is also made of local rescue efforts handling smaller disasters. At the beginning of this new series we’re told Jeff (Tracy the boys’ father) is missing.

ITV’s new Thunderbirds series is bright and colorful. It’s clearly aimed at kids. However, it doesn’t talk down to its audience, and I found the show to be fun, amusing, well-written, and action-packed. The stories are inventive, and well-realised. The use of CGI animation means they can do things in the plots the original series never could do. I loved seeing how Thunderbird 4 got back into the pod of Thunderbird 2, for example. I also liked seeing the industrial robots assembling needed rescue equipment on the fly with a single pod base (OK, yes, that does sound like “giant Japanese Robot assemble!” but trust me – it makes sense when you see it.)  The direction is much better than you’d expect in a children’s series. There’s a pan-up and over Tracy Island that’s not only beautiful, but clearly shows the film-makers love for Thunderbirds – original and new. And in “Runaway”, the demolishing of a geranium’s flower will make you feel sorry for a plant. Fortunately she returns as Gladys, a “pet” plant belonging to a poor guy who needs rescuing not only in “Slingshot” but also in “Under Pressure”.

The CGI at times is very good, as is the updated model work. But at other times, at least to me, characters look incredibly plastic – and clothing (and hair) looks like it’s made from thinly-rolled sheets or sculpted pieces of modeling clay (or even the fondant used to decorate cakes). As the series progressed, though, I became more accustomed to it. The light and coloring on the eyes was particularly good.

OK, now to the changes and the – definitely not bad, but the, let’s call it, for some areas “needs improvement”.  The Thunderbirds themselves have been slightly updated (especially Thunderbird 2 which is much more boxy in shape; and Thunderbird 3’s been given grappling arms which make sense given her space-bound duty.)  The changes do end-up looking like improvements, and modernization (the entire show has a futuristic look).  The Tracy sashes have been completely changed – now instead of matching the contrast or piping color of the corresponding Thunderbird – they match the main color of the Thunderbird (except John) and the sashes are really bright. The new color scheme is:

  • Scott – Grey sash (silver)
  • John – Gold Sash
  • Virgil – Green Sash (bright toxic green)
  • Gordon – Yellow Sash
  • Alan – Bright red sash

And the hats are gone! Though, in truth the Tracys only seemed to wear them on formal occasions and not during heavy rescues in the original series.

Second, due to the shorter running time – there’s a lot less characterization. There is witty banter, and the banter is actually witty – not something that would set your teeth on edge, or make one squirm with it’s inappropriateness. We see some concern amongst the brothers for each other, but it tends to be downplayed. However, in “Tunnels of Time”, Scott loses his cool completely when a greedy archaeologist seems more concerned with treasure than the safety of Gordon, Lady Penelope, and Parker. Also, the entire family is concerned about Alan in “Slingshot”. However, there’s nothing, so far, like the family concern in some of my favorite episodes of the original Thunderbirds series (click the link for info).

The speaking voices of the Tracys are far more natural and less clipped than the original series – this adds to the modern feel. I also liked the implication than 2060 is a pretty nice place to live. The show is relentlessly optimistic – like it’s original series inspiration. The Tracys are great characters.The rescues are fantastic – and I found myself concerned about the characters and the people they were rescuing more than once.

Overall, highly recommended – I cannot wait to see more in the near future.

Disappointingly, the DVD set has no special features whatsoever.

Trivia:  Thomas Brodie-Sangster also played Jojen Reed in Game of Thrones. Also, Richard Taylor (Lord of the Rings) is in charge of the model work for Thunderbirds Are Go, and the models and some special effects work are done by Weta Workshop.

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Agile Update – Week 29

Last week Monday I returned from a four-day vacation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – four days with no Internet, computer, or cell phone. Things have been slow since I’ve returned. However, I did get some writing done, which is a very good thing. I reviewed three books on GoodReads, two fiction and one non-fiction. Please see the GoodReads widget on the bottom right of this blog to read any of my reviews. I also wrote two blog posts on this blog. Those posts were my regular Agile post and a review of Season 6 of Castle.

I’ve returned to applying for jobs – despite on-going computer problems.

I definitely need to get back into exercising, especially after all the trouble of having shots in my knees to ease my arithritis – I’m getting some pain occasionally. But at least I can walk better and go up and down stairs without too much trouble.

My plan to watch the TV series on my “to be watched” shelf actually is going well – and I’m making good progress. Plus it makes for great source material for blog entries.

Outlander Season 1 Vol. 1 (Spoilers)

  • Series Title: Outlander
  • Season: 1 (DVD set is Vol. 1)
  • Episodes:  8
  • Discs:  2
  • Network:  Starz/BBC
  • Cast:  Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Bill Paterson, Graham McTavish, Gary Lewis, Annette Badland
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

I read the book Outlander in the late 80s/early 90s sometime, and although I liked it – I didn’t love it. So much so, that, though I had gotten the first three or four books as a set from a book club (I don’t remember which one – it was either Book of the Month Club, Ladies Literary Guild, or the SF & Fantasy Bookclub). Anyway, I read the first book but not the rest in the set.  Diana Gabaldon’s book series has now swelled to eight books.

Claire Randall is a World War II combat nurse who returns home after VE Day to her husband, Frank, who had worked for the OSS during the War, and thus stayed home in London. They head for Scotland for their second honeymoon – and Claire disappears. Claire has been transported by the standing stone ring back to Scotland in 1743.  In, Scotland Claire has to use her wits as well as her knowledge of herbal medicine and botany to survive.

When Claire first arrives in 18th-century Scotland she is attacked and nearly raped by an English Redcoat, named Capt. John Randall – known as Black Jack. He looks exactly like her husband, Frank, and Claire knows he’s one of Frank’s ancestors. However, he’s also a sadistic bastard, basically. His attempts to capture and rape Claire become a re-occurring theme in the first eight episodes.

Claire is rescued by a Highlander named, Jaime, who takes her to the MacKenzie castle. Claire uses her skills as a nurse, and knowledge of botany and herbal medicines to become the clan’s new healer. She hopes to escape and return to the standing stones and return to her own time and husband. But in the meantime she becomes involved in the Jacobite (supporters of the Catholic Stuart King of England – the one who lost) intrigue, castle life, and feels a connection to Jaime, though, at first, there is very little romance.

After the first four episodes, which set up the basic plot and setting, Claire is taken by Dougal to help collect the rents on MacKenzie lands. She meets Ned Gowen, a lawyer, who keeps the books and writes receipts for the taxes. She witnesses the Scottish people paying not just in coin but in kind (chickens, grain, goats, pigs, etc – all live). She also witnesses Dougal raising additional “unofficial” cash, using Jaime’s horribly-scarred back to shock the locals into giving. Jaime had been flogged, twice, by Black Jack Randall. Initially, Claire is outraged – thinking Dougal is lining his own pockets. She eventually learns they are raising money in support of the Stuart king and Jacobite rebellion. Once she learns this, Claire tries to convince Dougal his cause is doomed. He takes that to mean she’s a loyal British spy.

Claire is then captured, interrogated, and nearly raped (again) by British Redcoats, and Black Jack. Since she keeps her mouth shut about what she knows, the MacKenzies trust her more. To protect her from the British, Dougal decides to “make her Scottish”and has her marry Jaime – who reveals his last name is Fraser. (We’d known from the beginning that “MacTavish” was a nom de guerre that he was using because he was a wanted man.) Shortly thereafter, Black Jack Randall kidnaps her again (just as she had approached the standing stones) – she manages to do all right in her interrogation, until Jack brings up “the Duchess” – which is a mistake, as the Duke was never married (she’d correctly guessed, from her husband’s Frank Randall’s discussion of his work and research, that a certain Duke protected Black Jack), then he’s attacking her, again, rips her dress off, again, and attempts to rape her. Claire’s situation seems dire – when Jaime appears in the window.

Outlander looks gorgeous! Scotland is beautiful. The costumes are wonderful, yet very realistic. I liked that Claire is not a Hollywood-styled beauty either. She’s somewhat plain-looking. Not unattractive, but very normal. I also really liked that Outlander doesn’t portray history in black-and-white. Both the Scots and the English do horrible things to each other. Claire is suitably appalled at the brutality of the time. She’s also drawn to Jaime, but in volume 1 she also wants to return to her husband in 1945. And Claire is something of a historical artifact herself. One gets the feeling that if she stepped through her standing stones and arrived in 2015 – she’d feel just as confused and out of place as she does in 1743. Even her nursing skills would be out of date.

Outlander is, in many ways, built like a bodice-ripping romance novel. However, rather than having a character from 1743 acting and thinking like a modern woman, Claire Randall (Beauchamp) Fraser is a modern woman who accidentally wanders in to the past. Also, the past isn’t romanticised (that much), and the author treats history as something that is full of grey, not a simple “we’re right/they’re wrong” duality. In Outlander, it’s people who are good, bad, or in between – not the sides of the battlefield they represent.

This series started a bit slow, but, like a good “page-turner” novel, the pacing picks up more and more – and I watched the last four episodes over a weekend. It definitely has the feel of a novel for the screen. I highly recommended it, and I definitely plan on buying Volume 2.

Trivia:  Yes, Diana Gabaldon based her Scottish Highlander, Jaime, on the Second Doctor’s Companion, Jaime, on Doctor Who. She even mentions it in the behind-the-scenes extra feature on disc 1.

Additional Trivia:  Annette Badland and Bill Paterson both appeared in Doctor Who – in Boom Town and Victory of the Daleks, respectively. Bill Paterson also appeared in Law and Order: UK as a Crown Prosecutor (lawyer).

Castle Season 6 Review

  • Series Title: Castle
  • Season: 6
  • Episodes:  23
  • Discs:  5
  • Network:  ABC (US)
  • Cast:  Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Seamus Dever, Jon Huertas, Molly C. Quinn, Susan Sullivan
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD

Castle Season 6 picks up immediately upon where Season 5 left off – with Castle proposing to Beckett and Beckett telling him she’s decided to take the job in DC. Kate accepts his proposal, and Rick Castle accepts her decision to go to DC. In DC, Kate finds herself frustrated by her job. Always striving for justice, especially for nameless victims, Kate hates being in a position where expediency trumps justice. Rather than having Kate quit though – she’s fired, for leaking information to the press (that would insure the justice she seeks rather than something embarrassing being swept under the rug.)

When I started watching Season 6 – I enjoyed the spark and humor, and even original-seeming twisty-turny plots. It felt like the Castle I knew after the extremely disappointing Season 7 I’d just watched (never fear – I’ll buy the season DVD set anyway to keep my collection up to date). Yet, I also felt that a lot of false drama was made from the idea of Kate being in DC and Castle being in New York. First – it’s not like they are a bi-coastal couple (and those exist in the real world). DC and New York are what – two hours apart? That’s not insurmountable – it’s a commute. I mean really! Second, Castle is a writer – he can work from anywhere. Yes, he’s supporting his mother and his daughter, but Alexis has moved out to go to college – and Martha’s returned to a successful acting career. Besides, as is always pointed out, Castle is wealthy – I’m sure he can afford a small apartment in DC as well – or even to stay in hotels when visiting Kate. (And Kate isn’t going to be living on the streets – she’s got to have a place.) And neither of them sell (or even rent out) out their own places in New York – as Kate goes right back to her apartment. So the whole argument about DC and the new job felt very, very false. That Kate didn’t like her new job I was OK with. It’s very seldom in the aggressive, ambitious, American lifestyle to see a movie or TV show where someone says a “better” job isn’t for them and goes back to something that makes them happier. (I’ve seen that idea occasionally on British TV shows – Hamish MacBeth for example.) It would have been nice after the two-part season opener for Kate to turn to her female boss (played by Lisa Edelstein) and said, “You know what? I quit. I thought this was for me, but it’s not. Sorry for the short notice.” But the series instead takes away all of Kate’s agency and has her get fired instead. Now, in part that was Kate’s choice – she released the information knowing it would get her fired. But I would have liked to see, just once, a strong character admit, that just because society says a certain job is better doesn’t mean it’s better for them. I think it would be the same if Kate was offered the job of police captain (which I think she turned down once, very early in the series).

The rest of the season is actually pretty good. I loved the time-traveler episode (including the Doctor Who reference), the fire episode was great, and the 70s episode was hilarious! Actually, I got even more out of the 70s episode this time around than the first time – picking up on more in-jokes, especially in the station (the cop with the lollypop!) and the somewhat subtle but oh so perfect “moral” of the episode of the two gangsters in unrequited love (God, “Gangsters in Love” it sounds like the title of a musical!). Overall, the season felt more like the earlier seasons of Castle. Also, “Like Father, Like Daughter” was a wonderful Castle and Alexis episode – and I really missed her at the end of the season (it’s like – Where’d she go? All of a sudden she’s never there.)

The “B plot” of the season was Castle’s engagement to Beckett. For the entire season – they are teasing us, and teasing us about the wedding. The bits and pieces of “character moments” that would often be about Castle and Alexis, Castle and Martha, or any of the other characters interacting – were taken up with Castle and Beckett looking for a wedding venue, agreeing on “their song”, Kate finding a wedding dress (by luck she gets a haute culture dress after a case!), choosing the guest list, etc. And I was OK with that – it actually felt realistic to watch two very busy people trying to fit wedding planning into very busy lifestyles. But after all that teasing (and watching the planning) I wanted a payoff.

When I saw the last episode of season 6 when it aired – I felt like I was robbed. And, I think that even played into my reluctance to watch it.  I waited a solid week between watching episode 22 and watching episode 23 today. Now granted, for part of that time I was out of town sans computer for a long weekend, but still – I didn’t watch it when I first got back or for several days after. Watching the final episode today, as much as Kate’s sudden “college spree marriage in Vegas” seemed like a very silly plot device – I enjoyed the episode. It was fun, and light – not nearly as dark as I remembered – and Kate’s old boyfriend / husband and his girlfriend were actually kinda’ cute in a way. I liked that they got a happy ending. Logically, I wondered that an unconsummated marriage where the parties hadn’t ever even lived together would be legal. And I also wondered why there was no “no fault” divorce in New York – or any way for Kate to get out of her situation. But then, I’m no divorce attorney – maybe that part of the plot made more sense than it seemed to me.

BIG SPOILER BELOW

Finally, the last bit of the episode. Sigh. OK – as far as season 6 goes, it’s not quite so bad – but it sets up stuff for season 7 that upset me so much it’s hard to separate the two. But I’ll try. And I’ll save my season 7 rants for when I get the DVD set and can watch the whole thing.

Here we go. So – we have a full episode of basically excuses preventing Kate and Rick’s marriage. And running around solving those problems. Even Kate, in character, breaks down, crying, that she feels like the universe is trying to prevent her marriage. Castle gives a wonderful speech – but he does it as if he’s talking to just her (as he should). Castle talks about overcoming obstacles and that all the fairy tales have them. Kate looks at him and says, “That’s why I love you.” In the midst of the craziness of the episode – it’s a great moment. The penultimate scene has Kate in her wedding dress, talking to Martha, when Castle calls – he tells her everything went fine with the judge (dissolving her marriage), he has the wedding license, and he’s on his way – then Castle says, “I love you.” At that moment, my heart sank. And the very last scene is of Kate, in her wedding dress, looking at a wrecked car through flames and smoke. And we cut to end credits – with somber music instead of the typical bouncy Castle end credit theme.

So after an entire season of build-up to what should have been the ultimate fairy-tale wedding, what do we get? Castle in a ditch. And the audience knows he can’t really be dead – because he’s the lead of the series, which has been renewed for the next year. It felt like a cheap trick. Like the series creators were playing with their audience. I remember when I saw that episode originally I was mad – simply angry more than anything else. I was robbed of the wedding I’d wanted to see for six years! For crying out loud, even Luke and Laura actually got married on their wedding day when even as a 12-year-old I expected some intervention to prevent it (that’s a General Hospital reference, which I watched when I was in grade school.) This… this… this was just maddening! A whole season teasing us with wedding plans, a whole series that’s basically a romantic comedy straight out of the 30s or 40s slightly updated for modern times – and the creators deny us, the audience, the happy ending? Yeah, I was angry.

I’m still not happy with the end of the season. But the season as a whole? That was pretty good. I’d still give Castle Season 6 a good recommendation.

Agile Update – Week 28

Last week started pretty good – I wrote two posts on this blog, my regular weekly Agile post and an advice post, inspired by an article where an entertainment reporter asked several female guests what their essentials were for San Diego Comic Con. The answers were very good advice – some I’d come up with myself with nearly 20 years of con attendance experience, some were new and definitely things I’d seriously consider adding to my day bag.

But then I ended-up taking an impromptu vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to my parent’s cottage. I’d been wavering as to whether or not I should even go, after all things have been rough lately, especially financially. but I decided at practically the last minute that I should go. So I packed up myself, and my cat, and my cat’s stuff (food and medicine) and got in the car and went. Fastest packing ever! But I’m glad I went. Four whole days with no internet, practically no cell phone service, and even though I brought Dad’s borrowed laptop – I didn’t use it, so really, no computer. The water levels are back, though there’s still a lot of grass and reeds in front of the cottage (so now it’s very wet grass). I spent most of the time reading, and playing Doctor Who Legacy on my tablet (kudos to the development team that you can play the game off-line!) It was relaxing, and I enjoyed it.

Monday I drove back and besides cat care, and getting dinner, I managed to get two book reviews done. I finished two books while Up North. But I didn’t get this Agile post done – still it was late by the time I sat down at my computer. Now though, I’m planning on regular writing on this blog (3-5 posts this week), regular exercise (I’ve been so lazy, I really need to get back into it.) And I need to get back to professional development too! And more renewing of the job search. But I’m in a happier and better frame of mind, having had a bit of vacation.

Checklist for Packing for a Convention

The following article came out for San Diego Comic Con, and offered some pretty good advice. As someone who’s been going to conventions (though not anything as big as SDCC) for nearly 20 years, here’s my advice.

First the professionals – Must Have at San Diego Comic Con.

For conventions – including professional conferences, what to pack in your “day bag” (a canvas bag you bring with you every day to the convention center or hotel.)

  • Lanyard / badge holder. – Sure, most conventions give you one of these, or use wrist bands, but some of the smaller cons still have the dreaded pin-on badge holders that tend to pop open or fall off entirely. Not to mention the trouble of trying to find a place to pin the badge when you’re in costume. Also, not a bad idea for business conventions – no one likes pinning a badge to your suit or dress.
  • Flash drives/jump drives – In case you meet people at the convention and want to trade computer data like music vids, etc.
  • Fannish business cards – A “call me” card is essential. Giving out and collecting these is a great way to remember the new friends you make by looking up their tumblr, blog, and/or Twitter account – and a great way to get new followers of your own. You can make your own business cards with card stock bought from OfficeMax or Staples and a business card program (Avery makes an easy to use one and it’s a free download) or by using Word, Publisher, or another program. For business conventions, bring your own professional business cards.
  • Empty canvas bag. This is a Must! Pack an extra flattened empty bag in your suitcase, use it to haul your stuff around the convention center or hotel. Also, useful for packing your purchases in the dealer’s room until you can get to your hotel room. Even when traveling for fun or business, I always bring an extra bag or suitcase (in that case, make sure it’s one that seals completely, because you want to be able to check it as luggage.)
  • Highlighter and pens – Highlighter to mark the panels you must see, pens for taking notes.
  • Paper and post-it notes. I like small flag-style notes to flag the current page in the program book, and 3×3 pads for brief notes (as a bonus – post-it’s will stick on hotel doors). I also bring a 5×8 pad or legal pad for notes during presentations and panels – especially at business conferences.
  • Battery style extra charger for your phone.
  • Fast flats / extra shoes. All that walking? It will make your feet hurt, bring at least one, preferably two pairs of extra comfy extra shoes. For big conventions, a pair of foldable flats tossed in your day bag – great idea! When travelling for business or pleasure, also bring extra shoes – nothing says misery like not only have your shoes get soaked from walking in the rain – but having to put them on the next day! It is worth it to bring extra shoes. (Also, those comfy shoes? Might not be so comfy after walking miles.)
  • Chapstick, Purell, Halls vitamin C drops (or your cough drop of choice), hand wipes
  • Extra hair tiebacks, barrettes, etc. Bring a few in your day bag.
  • Water/juice/iced tea – Unless the convention has a hard and fast rule against bringing your own.

The following you should bring on the trip, but you can leave in your hotel room, and not haul with you every day during the convention.

  • Personal medications (if flying keep these on you and in the original containers. Also, keep an emergency 1-2 day supply in your purse or pocket).
  • Swimsuit, flip flops, cover-up – you never know the hotel might have a pool.
  • Robe / pajamas (this is an incredibly easy item to forget.)
  • Kit bag, make-up bag, hair care bag.
  • Books, e-book, tablet – for reading at night.
  • Chargers, USB cables for all personal electronics, including your cell phone and if you carry one, iPod.
  • One or two dressy outfits with appropriate shoes and make-up  (in your make-up bag).
  • Slippers, sweats, sweaters, long sleeve Oxford style shirts (basically convention centers are usually too hot or too cold, dress in layers. Your day bag should be big enough to carry what you’re not wearing).  The slippers and sweats are to keep you cozy in your hotel room.
  • Emergency easy to pack lightweight outfit – at least a t-shirt and pants or shorts – if you spill your lunch or coffee on you it’s something to change into in the ladies room). Consider packing this in your day bag.
  • The easiest way to figure out clothes and not over-pack is to lay out one outfit per day. Make sure your packing includes one or two sweaters and extra T-shirts, especially fannish ones. Be prepared in case the hotel is freezing. On the other hand, if it’s unseasonably hot, a few lightweight shirts aren’t a bad idea. The best strategy is think layers. Also, if travelling in Winter, or even someplace where it rains – bring a coat. Since coats are bulky, wear it on the plane, or throw it on the back seat of your car.

And that’s it, my essential list of what to bring to conventions or even while travelling for business or for fun.

Agile Update – Week 27

Last week was a total washout. Monday my Internet was working, and I should have made my Agile post at least – but I didn’t. So, I made my weekly Agile post on Tuesday, which has gone from a one-time thing to a regular thing. So, now, I need to get back to doing those posts every Monday. Then Wednesday, my Internet wasn’t working at home. I hoped it might be temporary, but Thursday no Internet, so I called HughesNet. As usual, I had to answer the computer voice first (uh, it’s July guys – no it’s not snowing!) once I got through to a person, I had to convince them to send me a new modem,which will take a week.

Thursday, I went to Starbucks with my Dad’s laptop which I borrowed (I still don’t own a laptop, only a desktop) and started applying for jobs again, now that I’ve finished the Adobe classes.

Sunday, I did the same, and wrote two book reviews on GoodReads, and a short blog post here – explaining why I hadn’t been posting.

So,Starbucks has been my office. And since I’m not expecting to get the modem until Wednesday, that is how it will probably go for most of this week too. I will say that I like working at Starbucks. It’s relatively quiet, with lots of people on laptops. But it’s not pin-drop quiet, and you can have a cup of coffee or tea while working, which is always a plus. And it’s nice to get out of the house.