Speculative Fiction Friday: The Man of Steel

man-of-steel-poster-henry-cavillI think we all are painfully aware that movies lack a lot of originality. It seems that studios are less inclined to invest in projects that don’t have some franchise associated with them. The sad part is that most of my film investments this summer are not with original films, but with Star Trek: Into Darkness and now, The Man of Steel.

The Man of Steel is Warner Brothers attempt to get a good Superman movie. Yes, Superman I and Superman II are films that I believe would pass the test of time if not for the bad special effects and stupid science like turning the world backwards. Superman III and especially Superman IV are considered horrific follow-ups, more cartoons than films. Personally, I liked Superman Returns, and the director felt that he wanted to follow the universe established in the first two films. Sadly, the film did not do so well, and there are parts of it that are completely awesome (Superman catching a jet-liner) and dismal (Superman apparently having a son, lifting a Kryptonite island, and dying in the process). The Man of Steel is a complete reboot.

Superman is a story that is like A Christmas Carol, as it has been done way too many times. Unlike A Christmas Carol, which meticulously follows story elements of the original Charles Dickens tale, Superman has changed a lot over the years. In 1986, DC Comics took a risk and decided to re-write the entire story of Superman. They trusted John Byrne, one of comic’s most successful artists and writers to do this, and I still have the first 6 issues of The Man of Steel series, and I may never sell them on eBay like I have my other comics. I don’t read comics any more, but Superman’s origin story has been rewritten time and time again, and I don’t think that any version is considered definitive. In addition to the numerous comic rewrites, there have been TV adaptations like Lois and Clark, several Superman animated series, as well as Smallville. All of these are just redone versions of the same story that we all know, and watching any of them is like composing a checklist of what to expect.

The words I have to say about The Man of Steel are big, big, big. Most stories of Superman spend little time on Krypton, showing Jor-El trying to convince the ruling powers that the world will come to an end. Then he sends his son via rocketship away as the planet explodes. In this version, Krypton is seen in all of its waning glory. Not only do you see a Russell Crowe Jor-El fail to convince the council that the world is about to blow up, but General Zod has a failed coup as well.

I would have to say that there are way too many things going on with this version of Krypton. I enjoy how this film’s Krypton is very similar to the Krypton in John Byrne’s version, with no natural childbirth and a sterile society. However, there is just way too many things happening at that point in the film, as if it could be another film in an of itself. Perhaps this could have been told in a flashback later in the film, which happens anyway.

Oddly enough, we don’t really get much as far as Clark Kent’s childhood with Jonathan and Martha Kent. They don’t show a scene where the rocket lands and they adopt young Kal-El. Instead, they cut from Krypton to Clark as an adult, saving people in an oil rig from a fire. This scene is also bigger than it needs to be, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t spectacular. The problem is that it feels like more money was invested in it that needed to be. Superman could have easily done something equally heroic with less of a budget.

Now, we do see Clark’s childhood, mostly told through flashback, and I think this is probably the best way to show it if you aren’t going to go in chronological order. The flashbacks are the best way to show what is going on with Clark as a character, but I don’t like what happens to his adopted Kevin Costner father. The scene feels forced and strained, and its ending done only for the sake of drama.

Clark soon discovers a Kryptonian ship in the Arctic that reveals all of his origins, and even a costume. Yeah, the appearance of the other spaceship seems unnecessary to me, and I don’t see why the same story elements could not be done with Clark’s baby rocketship. Apparently, people of Krypton have actually gone into space before, which begs the question as to why Jor-El couldn’t have built a spaceship to take his entire family away from the exploding planet. Yeah, apparently, all the Krypton colonies died as Krypton did, for some reason. Before I get into more plot-holes and other awesome things about this film, I will let you know that there are spoilers after the jump.

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Review of DawnSinger by Janalyn Voigt

janalyn voigtThis is not Speculative Fiction Friday as yet, but I honestly believe that there needs to be more Christian speculative fiction and fantasy. I discovered DawnSinger, and I believe that what we have here is something that can compete with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

One of the reasons that I don’t read many fantasy books is that they tend to fall into conventions. I don’t know whether or not Tolkien started these, but many fantasy books have a map that you have to constantly flip back to in order to follow the quest action. Yes, most fantasy books are usually about a group of adventurers trying to get to some place to stop a big force of evil, and it can get a little tedious at times.

I will say that Janalyn Voigt’s Dawnsinger does follow some of these conventions, but it shows that they have not been done to death. Granted, its plot structure is similar to The Fellowship of the Ring. That is, a seemingly ordinary character is told that they are destined to destroy a force of evil, and by part two, they are on a journey to a new place to do so.

In the case of this book, the main character is Shae, and she is summoned by a dying queen. She is escorted to the throne by Kai, a character that I don’t want to give too much information about at this time. Needless to say, Kai and Shae are essentially the main characters here. When the big quest happens, there are other characters introduced, but I felt they were rushed and need more development. Fortunately, there are two more books in this trilogy to flush them out.

Remember how I stated that fantasy books have a lot of conventions? One of them are long songs that interrupt the action of the storyline. When I first read Lord of the Rings, I would just skip those. In the case of Dawnsinger, one of these songs reveals very important plot-points. I actually realized what the queen was saying to Shae during this song, and it was worth re-reading.

There is a lot worth re-reading in this book. The author has created a world that has its own ecosystem complete with flying horses and welkes. If you don’t know what a welke is, don’t worry, because this is one of those books with an appendix for all the terms on the world of Fairhaven. This is another reason that I avoid deeper works of fantasy like Robert Jordan, because I hate appendices that I have to keep my finger in and constantly look up terms that the characters utter without thinking. I read the book and consulted the appendix only a few times, and I was able to follow the action quite well. This is a good sign of an author that can create an entirely new world with completely new terms, and yet I as a reader was able to follow it well.

In short, Janalyn Voigt has managed to combine the Christian symbolism of Tolkien and Lewis and worked in the complexity of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. The end result is an epic fantasy that feels very character driven. The only thing that I don’t like is a romance, and I don’t want to give that away. Needless to say, it is this kind of “forbidden love” that I, as a guy, could just skip over. Yeah, I am probably not the target audience of this book with a female lead character, but there needs to be more stories like this.

Anyway, I recommend Dawnsinger especially if you are fan of Christian fantasy and want to see more. You can get it on Amazon in e-book and paperback form here.

LeapFrog unveils the LeapPad Ultra

LeapFrog UltraI’m sure that most of you have heard of Leap Frog before, and if you haven’t, you should note an entire aisle of your local Wal-Mart toy department devoted to it. LeapFrog makes electronic, educational toys that are usually green, which would is befitting their Leap Frog name. They are also kid-tough, which means it can handle little hands and what they can dish out.

The LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra is another version of their LeapPad, and it works with “a library of more than 800 life-changing content experiences designed or approved by LeapFrog’s learning experts”. One of the main features of the Ultra is the LeapSearch by Zui, which is a kid-safe web browser which parents will apparently like.

That’s right, it has Wi-Fi. There is also front and rear facing cameras, and the 7-inch touchscreen has 1,024 x 600 resolution. You should be able to receive it on July 17th, for a price of $150. You can find out more about them on the LeapPad Ultra site here.

Adidas Springblade could change the running game

adidas-springblade-xl-740x493Adidas has recently created the Springblade, which is a shoe that has angled “blades” that put kinetic energy forward, so you will have a “more efficient stride”.

Apparently, these blades instantaneously react to any environment, to compress and release energy for a push-off. I can’t help but wonder if it will be awkward for first time users, but hey, I think it is just wish fulfillment to believe that a shoe can give us extra speed. I have heard that the construction is designed to “hug the top of a runner’s foot, locking it in to harness the energy returned from the springs on the outsole”.

Now, I don’t know if these Springblades really can improve your speed, but if they did, wouldn’t this change the whole Olympic games? I mean, the world records are all about hundreths of a second, and if someone uses these shoes to beat it, can they do it without the shoes?

Well, that’s stuff to think about. Until then, you will be able to purchase the Adidas Springblades for about $180 on August 1st.

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iFetch throws the ball for your dog

Well, I figured that since I have covered the cool Kickstarter project Poppy, a 3D video/photo viewer for the iPhone, I should cover the iFetch. Now, the iFetch is not an iPhone or iPad accessory, but it is made to make life easier, for dog owners.

The iFetch is designed for dogs to play fetch with itself, and yes, that does sound really bad now that I have written it out. Seriously, this is what it does. You can see the video to see how a dog puts the ball in a funnel, and then a machine flings the ball. Then repeat.

Okay, there are a few things that I want to bring up about this device. First, it requires that the dog learns how to put the ball in the iFetch funnel. I suppose that will be a rough transition, as my dog often fails to bring back the Frisbee or ball. I do like how the dog gets excited after it has learned to put the ball in. That is totally worth it.

Second, you should really play fetch with your dog yourself. I guarantee, even though you might be tired after a day of work, there is something very fun about making your dog happy.

If you want to, you can get the iFetch for about $75, and enjoy as the iFetch throws the ball 10, 20, and 30 feet.

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Poppy allows shooting of 3D videos on the iPhone, Viewmaster style!

poppy-640x449I am not certain if we really want 3D, as this come-and-go fad might have peaked shortly after Avatar was released. Still, if you want to take 3D videos and photos on your iPhone, you might want to look into a Kickstarter project called Poppy.

Poppy is a non-electronic way of making 3D, which works a lot like a Viewmaster. You know, that toy from the seventies that gave you 3D images of your favorite cartoon characters? This Poppy, about the size of a pair of binoculars, uses lenses and mirrors to turn an iPhone into a 3D display by side-by-side 3D content.

I believe that it can allow taking and viewing of 3D content, and you can even view YouTube content in 3D. That should be pretty fun.

Now, as I mentioned before, the Poppy is a Kickstarter project, but this one has already received its funding that it wants, and so I suppose the next logical step will be having the Poppy available at your favorite store. Now all I need is a solid MSRP.

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Cambridge Audio Minx M5 Multimedia Speakers

Minx-M5-on-blue-background-MediumI covered the Cambridge Soundworks Oontz, but I don’t know if Cambridge Audio is a similar or the same company. The Minx M5 is a “powerful 2.1 audio system that reproduces computer audio with clarity, emotion, and passion”.

As you can see, it has a huge subwoofer for some punchy bass as well as some satellite speakers. they can be used for multimedia usage, like a laptop or something. All of it includes USB audio input and high-quality DAC to process digital audio better than your laptop soundcards.

You should be able to get this from the Cambridge Audio site for about $229.00.

CM4’s Q Card case for the Samsung Galaxy S4

Q CardIs it possible that we are looking at an age where the wallet and the smartphone are becoming one? Well, I have reviewed several products for the iPhone or other smartphones that allow the user to place credit cards or even cash on the case of the phone.

CM4 has created the Q Card case, specifically designed for the Galaxy S4. It can fit about three cards and cash, and it is made from soft-touch rubber and a premium fabric sleeve. It will protect from bumps and scratches, and will give you access to all the ports on the smartphone.

So this won’t be available until July, but it comes in Black Onyx, Pacific Green, Red Rouge, and Mahogany Brown for about $39.99 here.

Pixuru can frame your smartphone pics

PixuruWe are obviously living in an era where most of our pictures are on our smartphones, but let’s say you want to take it off your phone’s memory card and put it on your wall. I would highly suggest using an application known as Pixuru.

Pixuru allows Android and iOS users to send photos from their phones to Pixuru’s printing facility. All that is required is taking a picture, or even taking an existing pic from Facebook and Instagram. From there, you can pic a size or a style, which includes canvas, metal, wood, and framed. You can even create take one image, like a panoramic shot, and split it up to create an interesting effect.

You can get the application for free. You will have to pay for the prints. The smallest is 6″ x 6″ for $20 and others range for 16″ x 20″ for $55. I don’t know how you feel about the prices, but the shipping is free.

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Put a bird on it with Toast smartphone cases

BOBinNestIn case you don’t get that headline, you need to start watching Portlandia, and IFC sketch comedy show that I, who lives in the Northwest, can utterly relate to. On the show, the main characters of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein talk about how they “put birds on things”. The sketch has a terrific payoff, and Toast, a company based in Portland, has put a bird on this particular iPhone case.

The “Bird on a Branch” is essentially that, and it has an odd hole on the case to reveal a very silver bird. The cases are wooden, a lot like the Tribeca cases on an earlier review. This one is also available in four kinds of wood including Bamboo, Walnut, Ebony, and Ash.

Most wooden cases usually stop their wood on the back of the smartphone case. Toast takes this a step forward as it puts wood on the sides. In fact, the case comes in a very flat case, unlike other cases of their kind.

If you like this, you can get it on the Toast site for about $30.00. If you want it with an engraving, you’ll have to pay $5.00 more.