Brand New Machine: Chase and Status Album Review

cs2308290-02a-bigBrand New Machine is a tasteful and innovative album by English drum & bass duo Chase and Status released in 2013 featuring collaborations from Major Lazer, Nile Rodgers, and Pusha T. It’s sound ranges from pure drum & bass, rap, pop, and jazz, in bits and pieces. “Gun Metal Grey” opens the album on a dark mysterious note, only to be blown open by the weirdly catchy but fierce “International” (with a superb remix from Skrillex on the deluxe edition). Brand New Machine is a bittersweet but aggressive album, with both toned down drum and bass over beautifully produced vocals and the synth sounds fans will known and love. It has enough range to be a good whole-album listen to but also has some singles that are well suited to a work out mix. Other standout tracks include “Machine Gun” and “Gangsta Boogie”.

Bo Burnham: Make Happy movie review

I’ve enjoyed every one of Bo Burnham’s specials, and Make Happy is no exception. His unique musical take on the monologue is smart, entertaining, and not always funny – and this is a good thing. There are plenty of time in Make Happy that I didn’t laugh but I enjoyed, and don’t get me wrong, there are gut splitting laughs to be had. But occasionally, and the last 30 minutes in particular, are only incidentally funny to make his performance palatable, like he’s pushing what’s possible for the comedy special. He constantly maintains the element of surprise, faking the audience out only to reveal it was a double fake out, etc. At times, it’s relatable, and you feel as though the Burnham is talking directly to you, and others, it’s incredibly self-indulgent: he constantly walks the line of being “one of the audience” and being a performer on some other plane of existence. Make Happy contains enough of his previous work in that some of the songs in the special are reminiscent of his earlier work, but not strenuously so, and the jokes have that same rapid-fire wit and irony that they’ve always had. But the comedy special goes deeper, and I recommend that you check out his specials chronologically to really get it, and that’ll it’ll be worth your while. Burnham is a master of medium, he adopts and sheds genres and comedic styles and media as his comedy requires. Make Happy is evocative enough of his previous work to please his fans and yet evolutionary enough to not be stale or boring, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

South Park: “Member Berries” review

Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s absurd comedy with purposely poor animation is back! The episode starts off strong with a volleyball game modeled after the Olympics where the principle interest to the audience is whether or not people stand for the national anthem, and they quickly leave after discovering this. In order to make people like the national anthem again, the American government ask J.J. Abrams to  reboot it, and they take aim at his Star Wars reboot (reviewed here) when the new anthem is the same as the old anthem.

The season also picks up where the last one left off, with Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner running as a Donald Trump stand in, with an absolutely perfect narrative gag of Mr. Garrison doing too well in the polls despite actually trying to lose (this also resurrects the old school “giant douche vs. turd sandwich” joke). Mr. Garrison and Caitlin sit through the national anthem in hope of derailing the campaign and giving it to the turd sandwich (who is Hillary Clinton) This complements a trippy, out-of-nowhere plot element of “member berries”, which ask “member Reagan?” and “member when we were safe?” in a stupid high-pitched voice, as if it’s taking aim at Seth Rogen’s latest movie (which I review here).

Also, Cartman’s latest activity of being a social justice warrior in his own way – holding a school assembly to insist that “women are funny” and speak out against the harassment that women experience on the Internet. It’s heavily implied that he’s the aggressor (known as skankhunt42) as well as purposely botching his job, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Cartman. But then he asks Kyle what if he isn’t skankhunt42 and he’s genuinely scared of having a gender war. When you learn that skankhunt42 is Kyle’s dad the absurdity just flows over you in a wave of hilarity.

Overall, the South Park season premier was excellent, chock full of absurdity, crudeness, and satire that made me laugh throughout and left me wanting more. There was a lot in there, as you can tell from how difficult it was to describe, but it’s good that Matt and Trey are staying ambitious. I think it’s going to be a great season!

Death & Magic: MUST DIE! Album Review

DM_YourEDM1Death & Magic from OWSLA artist MUSTDIE! is an succinct and exciting “dance” album. Although truth be told, I think only Transformers or robots more generally have got the moves for the searing synths and driving bass that MUST DIE! delivers. The album isn’t tremendously original, but it makes up for this is superb execution. If you’re like me, you need heavy bass music if you’re ever going to write a line of code, and Death & Magic delivers there.

Deliverance: Culprate Album Review

maxresdefault-2 Culprate’s 2014 Deliverance is a sophisticated, somber, and confusing electronic album. It’s constantly on the verge of throwing you into a classic dubstep “wubby” drop, but Culprate practices restraint while finding other ways to surprise the listener. It’s like dubstep crossed with the elevator music played in a very well-to-do apartment building. The album is at times completely carefree, flouting the need for structure, familiar instruments, or tropes of the electronic genre, but these moments are almost always matched by little snippets of something recognizable. Culprate jumps freely to and from the listener’s comfort zone, soothing them into a comfortable trance only to throw something unexpected at them, but not without tastefully reminding them of the song’s melody soon thereafter. Highly recommended.

Sausage Party Movie Review

timthumb.phpSeth Rogen’s latest star-studded comedy is as silly as it is sublime, but it’s a little too ambitious for its own good. The slapstick and and off-color jokes are pretty well-delivered and funny, but a couple times these narratives tried to be critical and edgy, and this fell flat. Specifically, the way the food objects deal with race and religion should have stuck to just getting (admittedly cheap) laughs instead of trying to make a point about the Israel/Palestine conflict. It was also too ambitious with the number of storylines and themes it tried to address: the food-item protagonists explored skepticism, atheism, racism, the forth wall, love, and more, when one of these topics would have done. The consequence of this is there is never a dull moment, but that’s at least in part that you’re trying to make sure you remember which big topic the sausages are now addressing. All-in-all, this was a high-quality stupid movie, and I highly recommend you go see it in a dirty moving theater with stale popcorn for the full cinematic immersion.

James Bond: Spectre Movie Review

Spectre_posterSpectre is as absurd as it is enjoyable, even given the high standard that everyone holds James Bond movies to. The cinematography goes to new heights, featuring bigger explosions and wilder stunts than ever before. The native marketing does too, where every scene plugs some alcohol, watch, car, exotic destination, or clothing. Further, there’s the more subliminal message that it’s plausible to do any of the things Bond does while intoxicated, motion-limited by tight (and expensive) clothes, in extreme weather, in old and unreliable cars, et cetera. The storyline also tries its hand at one-upmanship, attempting to weave together the disparate prior plots of Daniel Craig’s James Bond. In doing so, Spectre positions itself as the magnum opus of the era and maximally silly: that in the whole life of a psychopathic spy, in the background has been a would-be brother plotting to both make Bond suffer as much as possible and run a supranational surveillance program (all without thinking maybe you could just kill James Bond). Having said that, the plot is virtuous in that it makes a villain out of the globalist surveillance state. Spectre has all the right elements in all the right doses, but the genre needs to go deeper than the whole “James Bond is an outdated view on the world” self-referential plot. Rather than espionage and villains being outdated, it’s the campy and sexist antics of the 60s that are outdated. The James Bond franchise blew the potential of a dark, gritty reboot, analyzing the ethics of espionage and depicting a plausible version of Ian Flemings character. Maybe I’m being too harsh, because I enjoyed almost every minute of Spectre.

The Avalanches: Wildflower Album Review

Wildflower_Avalanches_cover_art The Avalanches finally released a new album, Wildflower, and it is flagrantly weird while ceaselessly captivating. Every track is a melodic hodgepodge of samples, beats, raps, singing, odd instrumentation, and sonic experimentation. Sometimes it makes you bob your head, other times it makes you dance, and much of the time you’re not exactly sure what you’re listening to: but it’s always a lot of fun. Wildflower is evocative of Daft Punk, The Beatles’ deeper cuts on The White Album, and even Jay Z/Kanye style soul beats, all while retaining that goofy charm from The Avalanches’ first album, “Since I Left You.” The album’s tone is silly and serious, pointless yet hints at a meaning, often familiar but still so foreign: it’s a celebratory, self-aware musical enigma.

“Because I’m Me” is the first full song on the album, and it’s a strut-worthy hip-hop track with catchy horns and am excitingly trippy chorus. But the straightforwardness doesn’t last long, as the ensuing song, “Frankie Sinatra”, immediately throws you right into the deep end, indicative of their track “Frontier Psychologist”, with stream-of-consciousness vocals over a Sgt. Peppers horn beat. It only gets weirder from there, and by the time you reach “The Noisy Eater”, you realize the bizarre genius of the album. It’s has an overall childish atmosphere, yet it’s occasionally performed on Baroque instruments, like sonic graffiti. In the end, while you’re listening to “Saturday Night Inside Out”, you’ll have enjoyed yourself, but have some elusive discomfort. The Avalanches took their successes from the first album and distilled them into extremely listenable and equally alien sophomore success: go listen to Wildflower.

The Walking Dead S06E13: "The Same Boat" Review

Spoilers ahead. “The Same Boat” was a strong follow up to last week’s “No Tomorrow Yet”, and answers the question of “Can this show get any darker?” with an resounding “Yes it can!” Immediately, the show takes us to the other side of the mysterious voice on the radio at the end, and humanizes that group. Honestly, I thought Rick and the old gang were surrounded and that Carol had escaped (I think the voice on the radio said she had Carol but it just didn’t register), but as it turns out it’s just half a dozen people and they have captured Carol. With her recent lack on conscience and ruthless effectiveness, I bet Rick was tempted to respond, “Oh you have Carol? Cool, good luck, enjoy your remaining hours, tell Carol we’ll have dinner ready.”

Maggie and Carol get captured

The capture scenes in “The Same Boat” were great – it was engaging to immediately see the other side of the interrogation, from the perspective of the capturers. This, along with the line “You realize you aren’t the good guys right?”, solidified the anti-hero status and moral grayness of Rick and the group’s actions.

We also see the capturers call for reinforcements via radio, foreboding a borderline militaristic adversary that Alexandria will have to face. If the Alexandrian assault was on a mere satellite and it killed dozens of people, I have to imagine that Negan’s base proper contains hundreds of people. The capture scenes and the infrastructure set up by the Saviors forebodes to me that Rick may be in for more than he bargained for with Hilltop, and that all the facts about the Saviors are yet to come to light. Here’s Zack Handlen of A.V. Club on this point:

… “The Same Boat” doubles down on the idea that our heroes are, in their way, just as fucked up and villainous as the people they’re fighting against. Rick and the others did murder a bunch of strangers in their beds without warning, and by the end of the hour, Carol and Maggie have shown themselves of being capable of acts nearly as vicious. Admittedly they’re fighting in self-defense, but there’s still a fundamental brutality to their choices, and the assumption that this brutality is ultimately the only appropriate response, that robs them of the right to see themselves as heroes.

I predict that the way this is going to get resolved is by Negan being so Dickensianly evil and unrelentingly cruel that it exonerates Rick and co. for their possibly unjustified actions. This was foreshadowed by Negan’s men keeping polaroids of smashed-in heads: that’s not necessary evil, that’s sadistic evil.

Getting to know the Saviors

It was a very nice touch in the capture scenes when Paula said, “They think we’re weak. That’s good.”, in reference to Rick’s underestimating them. Later on, when she’s “interrogating” Carol, she asks how Carol got this far being so weak, when she should have assumed that her getting this far means she isn’t weak. I could not believe that any of them sympathized with Carol’s schtick, despite the fact that as a viewer I couldn’t tell if it was real or not, because she shot one of their own.

It seems that every lie Carol has told has contained a little of the truth: she reverts back to her days of being an abused wife, instead of the abuser being her husband it’s now Carol herself and what she does to survive. The lying by telling some truth goes deeper, as Matt Fowler of IGN describes:

Of course, Carol, in her half truth/half lie mode, didn’t give Paula the full story. The stuff about Daryl being attacked on the road was the truth, but she wasn’t giving up Hilltop or the deal they’d all made to assassinate Negan and his people. So while Negan did make the first move, Carol’s crew is not as innocent and scared as she made them out to be. And Paula saw right through that. Which was cool. Though Paula didn’t see far enough to know how serious a threat Carol truly was. Which was cooler.

Relatedly, I was shocked at how bad the interrogators were in “The Same Boat”. They display military efficiency in protocol and backup and supplies, but when it comes to getting information out of Carol and Maggie, they instead let it be known that: one of them is dying from smoking, one of them used to be pregnant but something happened, and one of them killed their boss to make it in the new world. I hope their ineffectiveness is explained in later episodes, but it was striking how bad they were despite how cruel they seemed.

Escaping, but at what cost?

It took everything that Maggie and Carol could muster to escape. Perhaps the reason that Alexandria are still the good guys is that the evil they do takes a toll on them. I was shocked at how quickly Maggie went from swapping tales of motherhood to ruthlessly beating people’s heads in, and I think the juxtaposition was intentional. Here’s Bryan Bishop of The Verge on this point:

It was animalistic, sure, but that’s the point we’re getting to now in the show: as much as these characters are trying to hold on to their humanity, they’re being stripped of it moment by moment, until only their most basic survival instincts are left.

For Carol, I think this is a great place for her character to go. She used to be almost cartoonishly effective, destroying an entire base with a mere arrow. Now, she can still do all of those things, but it comes at a cost that’s relatable. I look forward to finding out how this relates to Carol’s debate with Morgan, and whether this vindicates Morgan’s pacifist arguments.

This was a great episode, and the rising action makes me fear the inevitable introduction of Negan.

The Walking Dead S06E12: "No Tomorrow Yet" Review

Spoilers ahead. This episode was one of the darkest ever. In a way, the undead are to The Walking Dead what stormtroopers are to Star Wars: they’re dangerous, but also cannon-fodder. I found the last few episodes at times deeply unsettling because of how scary they were and the violence, but it was obvious who the bad guys were: the zombies and the Wolves. Even when Rick and the gang murdered the Termites, I felt they kind of deserved it because they ate people. But this episode turns that upside down, and gives Rick, his plan, and the Alexandrians an anti-hero edge: where first Daryl kills “Negan’s” people with a rocket launcher (though admittedly they were threatning his friends) and next Rick kills more of “Negan’s” people for food.

The argument over striking first

One of the best parts of The Walking Dead is the moral conflict: Shane and Herschel and Dale, all with their own morality, all in conflict with Rick. This plot device re-surfaces this season, where the perfectly pacifist Morgan is the only detractor at striking first at the Saviors. While the storytelling has set Morgan up to be on the opposite side of the viewer’s feelings, it remains to be seen whether he’s right. In fact, a point that was not addressed in Rick’s town hall was: how do we know Negan and his Saviors are bad? In fact, quite to the contrary, it’s Jesus and the Hilltop that’s supplied all information regarding Negan and the Saviors, and how do we know they’re not framing the situation in their own favor?

Sure, there are some fairly damning signs: Negan seems to have evidently killed a teenager to prove a point, the Saviors seem to pit Hilltop against itself and kidnap people, and finally his name is Negan, as if it couldn’t be any more Dickensianly evil. But I hope that The Walking Dead plays on (to bring back the Star Wars analogy) the notion of  “the Empire did nothing wrong”, where sure, Negan’s henchman threatened Daryl, and extorted Hilltop, but perhaps they never intended to harm Daryl and co. And in the end, it was Daryl that struck first, and with a rocket launcher.  Even given this, Morgan’s plea for non-violence was ineffective, and at least in part because it was so weak. Morgan should have appealed to practical reasons that the gang shouldn’t murder an entire compound of people. Here’s Nick Statt from the Verge on this point:

There should be a counter-argument to Rick’s belligerent and hawkish approach to diplomacy, but Morgan is more often than not making nonsensical appeals to non-violence. He doesn’t articulate why characters shouldn’t kill, so viewers are tempted to show him the same disdain as Carol does. At least he’s building a jail — Warden Morgan would at least have a purpose.

In any case, there are plenty of reasons that Rick and the gang might be in the wrong here. If I were Rick, I’d have wanted more information before needing to commit to his plan, but I’d probably also have been eaten in season 1. I look forward to seeing this moral debate continue, I imagine Negan will be sure to bring it up when we meet him.

The pre-emptive strike

The invasion on Negan’s compound was all-around well-executed: on a meta-level, the direction and acting were exciting and believable, with regards to the story, the plan was ambitious and ruthless. Here’s Brian Bishop of the Verge on this point:

… [I]t’s all brilliantly executed both in front of and behind the camera, and as the second guard is taken out and the team pours into the compound it’s clear that director Greg Nicotero has been doing his action movie homework.

But this comes at a terrible cost, because as entertaining and wild as this scene was, Rick, Glenn, and the gang that are so known to have a moral compass in an evil world, murder people in their sleep. It was unsettling to watch Glenn slide a knife through (even a henchman’s) eye. Here’s Zack Handlen of A.V. Club on this point:

Some sort of line is being crossed here, albeit one that will inevitably become less important once we get first hand proof of just how vile Negan actually is. (I’m guessing.) But it’s chilling to watch Rick and Glenn murder dudes in their sleep, even as we’re offered ample proof that those dudes weren’t very nice at all.

Clearly the emotion we were meant to feel when we saw those Polaroids was that what Rick was doing was right, but for me, it did little to help. Again, it’s a very bad sign, but it’s no evidence that can’t be reasonably doubted. Clearly, at least Glenn feels this. Matt Fowler of IGN:

The fight, though, was really intense. First a walker head (complete with busted nose) to stand in for Gregory’s melon. Then some stealth kills. Then the rescue. Then…the sweep inside to collect guns and kill everyone on site. And sure, you’re not going to mourn much a guy who keeps polaroids of bashed in faces taped above his bed, but offing a stranger in their slumber is stilla heavy deal. So much so that Heath couldn’t do it. Glenn had to take over. And even he had severe qualms.

I think we’re going to see this plan horribly backfire: I don’t yet fully trust Hilltop to be telling the truth, it’s clear that this wasn’t Negan’s only lair (nice try, “I wonder which one was Negan?”), and Rick and co. are so clearly in the wrong.

And now they have Maggie

Matters have already taken a turn for the worse, where the unarguably unneeded Maggie was captured becaused Carol didn’t want the future mother to get her hands dirty. The gang already seem outgunned, and I look forward to finding out how they get out of this one.

The Walking Dead S06E11: "Knots Untie" Review

Spoilers ahead. I wholeheartedly enjoyed “Knots Untie” because, despite the show’s modus operandi, everyone was mostly okay this episode. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t actually like watching it, as it’s the story of the end of the world where people get eaten or worse, but I do find it fascinating. The reason I liked this episode so much was it focused less on getting “eaten or worse” and more on the fascination of relationships, and more importantly, politics. Let’s go over a few plot points:

Abraham and Sasha and Rosita

Admittedly, I totally forgot that Abraham and Rosita were still an item, I assumed that it fizzled out when he started patrolling with Sasha (or something). I thought Abraham was going to die when he was getting all philosophical with Sasha before discovering the rocket launcher, yet he remains and continues to find out more about himself. I haven’t figured out the meaning of his necklace, in part because I don’t care too much. I worry that TWD is going to suffer in the later season for the same reason FRIENDS did: babies.

Jesus and Hilltop

On the whole ride to Hilltop, I couldn’t help but not trust Jesus. He seems too idealistic and care-free for what the world has become. This trepidation reached a climax when they encountered the wrecked car on the way there, and when he was handcuffed and left with Maggie, I was sure he was going to pull some stunt. But eventually trusting him paid off, at least in the sense that the gang made it to Hilltop. Here’s Nick Statt from the Verge describing this sequence:

“Your world is about to get a whole lot bigger,” says Jesus before this episode’s opening credits roll. I have to admit, the scene gave me goosebumps. This was a moment when the show finally acknowledged its own potential — there are more communities of survivors, and there may be a huge conflict threatening the rebuilding of a real and lasting society.

This is absolutely right: where TWD needs to go is beyond man-vs-himself (Rick in the first seasons), beyond man-vs-nature (the zombie after the first seasons), and beyond man-vs-man (the various villains we’ve encountered since the prison): it’s time for group-vs-group and the inevitable politics that ensues. I love the idea that trade and cooperation (or not) could occur between multiple groups, and I look forward to an expanded universe in TWD.

Maggie’s negotiation

The group from Alexandra and the Saviors aren’t so different: they’re both ruthless murderers and take whatever they want from Hilltop. In fact, Maggie used the promise of future violence from Negan to negotiate half of their stuff from them. Matt Fowler makes this point at IGN:

And let’s hear it for Maggie this week too. Her mostly offscreen job as leader/planner/stay-behinder wound up paying off this week during her back-and-forths with Gregory. He batted her around like a ball of yarn for most of the episode, but then she came back strong after he realized just how powerless he was against Negan’s ever-increasing greed. So good on her. And good on the show for giving her a powerful scene outside of worrying about Glenn.

The hunger of those 50 or so hungry people at Alexandria and the knowledge of Hilltop is going to make for some tense negotiation.

Negan and the future

I thought that the leader of Hilltop may actually have been Negan because I know nothing about the comics, but it looks like the truth is far more interesting. Here’s Zack Holden from A.V. Club:

This is going to be a disaster, if not now than by the end of the season at least. This a story, and stories where characters say, “Yeah, we totally have this under control,” and then they do, don’t tend to be all that interesting. But at least no one’s behaving stupidly so far—or if they’re being stupid, their stupidity makes sense.

Certainly, a bloodbath is on the horizon. The hungry and desperate group from Alexandria is set to face off with well-equipped and savage Saviors, and it seems that they think it’s totally going to be easy. Whoever Negan is, he’s going to be livid that six-or-so of his men were taken out by Daryl, and if Negan is willing to take out a 16 year-old to “prove a point”, there’s no doubt that what he does to exact revenge will be far worse. The food from Hilltop is going to come at a great cost. (Which could have been avoided if Jesus and Daryl and Rick hadn’t been so childish with the truck, but never mind.)

The Walking Dead S06E10: "The Next World" Review

Spoilers ahead. After the madness and gore of the mid-season premier, The Walking Dead picks it up a couple weeks later when things have quieted down a little bit: it’s safe to rebuild walls, take care of the baby, and begin thinking of getting some more food. I have a hard time watching The Walking Dead, admittedly, because when things are going badly for our ragtag team of zombie killers, I feel sad about it. And when things are going well for our protagonists, I don’t get comfortable because I know it’s coming.

Such was the case with the first major plot point: Rick and Daryl leave together to go scavenging. It was an entertaining vignette, full of snappy dialogue and interesting developments, but before we get to that why the hell did they leave as a pair. Seems to me with the impending threat of “Negan”, which Daryl knows about and has presumably told Rick about, deserve a little more precaution. Certainly a level of precaution above and beyond blasting music while revving the engine, as Daryl rightly objected to. Further, when your hauling what is perhaps the single greatest find left around due to the “law of averages”, you do not use it to tow a soda machine, especially when you’re being hunted.

This brings us to the next plot point: Jesus. Rick and Daryl have seen some terrible things, they’ve done some terrible things, and well, it’s gotten to them. I’d have to imagine that if The Walking Dead were real, which I seem intent on treating it like it is, that they’d have killed Jesus on the spot, no questions asked. Perhaps it shocked them, perhaps they’re still hesitant to kill strangers, and perhaps either of these possibilities will turn out for the best, but the fact remains that Rick and Daryl colossally messed up in letting Jesus do what he did. Having said that, he’s a terrifically interesting character and I look forward to the content of his talk with Rick in the nude.

Much of the other vignettes of the show were built around the theme of family: where Maggie tried to convince Enid to be a part of the gang, where Carl and Enid try have fun in the wilderness like the good old days, Spencer having to confront his undead family to join a new living one, and Michonne becomes closer to the Grimes than she’s ever been. While I found the pacing of these parts a little prolonged, I enjoyed just hanging out with the bunch without too much fear that all was going to go awry.

“The Next World” was a balanced episode which leaves me excited for the future: Jesus the scoundrel fascinates me in much the same way the lead of “Negan’s people” in last episode did, #Richonne feels totally right and I caution them against getting too happy because I want neither of them to die, and the worry of Negan hangs over all of this.

The Walking Dead S06E09 "No Way Out" Review

Spoilers ahead. In the mid-season premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead, the writers killed off characters with story left to tell, protected characters who have met their narrative end episodes ago, and wrote in at least one absurdity. Let me explain.

But before I get started, I must admit I’m never sure what to expect from The Walking Dead. Sometimes it appears to be a critique of our culture, sometimes it feels  like a soap opera, and sometimes it’s clearly a unrelenting gore-fest. Zack Handlen of The Onion’s A.V. Club has a similar conundrum:

My problem, I think, is I keep expecting The Walking Dead to have a consistent narrative philosophy. I don’t mean in some kind of high-minded, “what does this all really have to say about America?” kind of way. I just want there to be a point behind the misery and death and seemingly endless stream of gore.

Perhaps it’s a strength of the show that it can take on different tones. In any case, here’s what I mean by the wrong characters died.

Negan’s people

Whoever played the character which accosts Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham was awesome. The delivery of his lines was menacing and comedic. The voiceless goons around him I won’t miss, but I do think it’s a shame he met such a quick end. However, if the show is willing to kill of a character this good early in the Negan storyline (I haven’t read any comics), I’m excited for what’s in store. Especially considering that whoever this Negan is is unlikely to take too kindly to having his people blown to bits: that was a declaration of war.

It’s still a shame he died however, and for a reason I think many fans may disagree: it was Daryl who should have died. For a crew of on-guard and in-control goons to not realize Daryl disarmed their buddy and then have him grab a rocket launcher is very unlikely. The reason it happened is not so much that Daryl has narrative potential left or because it’s a likely occurrence (not that this matters much in a zombie apocalypse TV show), but because Daryl is a fan favorite and it makes a great opening. It was stupid, but man was it a surprise and wholly entertaining (a theme which is repeated later in the episode by Daryl again).

Jessie and her family

The Walking Dead is mainly the story of the Grimes family, and so when Pete (i.e. “Porchdick”) began fighting with Rick and Rick began flirting with Jessie, the ensuing death was inevitable. The decision to stop Pete was a morally tough one for Rick because while it was the right thing to do, it would strain his political capital with Alexandria. It was made even more morally murky because of his feelings for Jessie, which themselves were hard because of what happened with Lori. One of the ways that Rick could grow as a character was to learn to love again, and this is what was interesting about the Jessie storyline, especially considering the relationship Rick had with her children with Pete.

Unfortunately, I feel, this all came to a screeching halt within the first five minutes of the mid-season premiere, where the rest of Jessie’s family meet their end. Her youngest son, Sam, absolutely was going to bite the dust, Carol assured that very early in the season. Ron, however, had a tense but interesting relationship with both Rick and Carl, and I’m sorry to see that end. I’m surprised to see Michonne so unrelenting in ending the life of a teenager, just like Carl, as well. I would be shocked if this doesn’t have an effect on her later.

Ultimately, I at least don’t think Jessie should have died: it cuts short would could have been an amazing way to develop Rick’s character, and she had a lot of potential in her own right. Her brutal coming-of-age in the bloody murder of a Wolf to defend her family showed that she had strength and resilience. I find it much more likely that other Alexandrians would have died than Jessie’s dying, and I think it would serve the plot better to get rid of some of the less tough characters that clearly haven’t grown like Jessie has.


The younger Grimes is the natural successor to being the narrative center of The Walking Dead. In this episode, we see this fact cemented as a plot armor which keeps him alive despite being shot (albeit accidentally) in the face. I don’t follow the comics, but I understand that he received a similar injury there. However, despite my being a bit cynical about his plot armor, I appreciate how this happening to Carl grew other characters: first, Michonne really shows her love for Carl by first murdering someone his age to defend him and then giving him a kiss of the forehead before leaving his side to kill some zombie; secondly, Rick’s soliloquy to Carl on his son’s almost deathbed was incredibly moving.

Denise and the Wolf

I don’t know how this fits in with the rest of the story. Both Denise and that Wolf has interesting character development left, especially considering that the Wolf validated Morgan in the end by saving Denise despite it resulting in his being bitten. Here’s Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff on Denise and the Wolf:

The Wolf’s eventual death is particularly notable for the way that the spirit of trying to save others filters out first to the Wolf (who turns back to help Denise when she’s almost certainly dead) and then to Denise (who offers to save his life). Ultimately, Carol shoots the Wolf, and he falls prey to the horde.

I think really who should have died here was Carol. Sure, she has some conflict left to settle with Morgan with regards to the KILL KILL KILL philosophy vs. the “all life is precious” point of view, but I don’t think there’s as much there as there was in seeing how the Wolf could turn out to actually be good like Morgan said or to ultimately validate Carol’s attitude. Carol went from being an abused wife to a distraught mother to a vicious survivor, but I’m just not sure there’s anything left for her. Her takedown of Terminus was almost comical in its ruthlessness, and I don’t think there’s much left for her to do.


Bryan Bishop at The Verge has some spot-on analysis of what’s wrong with Glenn’s story in this episode:

But then, for some inexplicable reason, Glenn started going a little nuts, and (apparently) decided to sacrifice himself even though he could have easily kept running. After all the nonsense last year, it looked like Glenn was going to die after all — just a huge, flaming middle finger to the audience. But THEN! In came Sacha and Abraham, miraculously saving Glenn with a hail of automatic weapons fire and a goofy one-liner. TWD managed to take an already cheap, eye-rolling moment and make it even cheaper.

With this in mind, I don’t think that unlikeliness of cheesiness of this sequence is the biggest writing crime here, but rather it’s putting Glenn in such a silly situation so soon after the dumpster fiasco at all. In my opinion, it would have been better to have this part of the story be mostly about the reuniting of Glenn with Maggie, which we don’t really get to see because of all the silliness. The look that Maggie gives Glenn, with the audience knowing that she’s pregnant, was absolutely heart wrenching, and this was cheapened by an unnecessary action sequence in an already action-packed episode. So while I’m glad they didn’t kill Glenn, if they’re going to keep putting him in these situations, they should just do it.


I said at the beginning of this piece that Daryl should have died in lieu of Negan’s snarky associate, and I think that Daryl’s actions later in the episode only validate this further. Sure, it’s damn awesome to pour gasoline out of a big tank, fire a rocket into that gasoline, and sit back while all of your zombie problems are burned away. Cinematograph-ily and narratively, this was a welcome and exciting surprise. But practically, what a joke: Daryl pours valuable gasoline onto a lake and then proceeds to fire rocket into the lake when literally a match would have sufficed.

The reason this happened is obvious: Daryl is played out as a character. He started as the wild and unfriendly but good-hearted survivor, and we really saw that good-heartedness grow and develop over the seasons. Throughout, he always had little to say but did let his actions speak for him. But because his character has nowhere to go from being good and “cool”, the writers have had him become more brooding and more “cool”. While he’s a fan favorite, I think that his “awesomeness” in the latest episode only goes to show he has no more story left to be told.

Perhaps I’m wrong, though, and all in all, I wholeheartedly enjoyed the latest episode.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

There has been a great disturbance in the nerd Universe, coming from a a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away; Star Wars: The Force Awakens has come out and it has shattered all previous records and been met with great acclaim. The run up to the release was one of the most relentless marketing campaigns I have ever experienced: it seemed like Star Wars, now owned by Disney, found a way to insert itself into every conceivable market, from make-up to fast-food to toys. Anecdotally, there hasn’t been such hype around the franchise since the first release in the prequel trilogy, and considering that film was panned by critics and fans alike, the obvious question is, how does the 7th episode fare?

This weekend I had the tremendous pleasure of experiencing the film in IMAX 3D, and I’m happy to report that like his Star Trek adaptation before this film, J.J. Abrams and co. did excellent work with the latest episode. The film is very aware of its history, and sufficiently forward looking. In this compliment is a thinly veiled criticism however: part of the magic of Star Wars originally was that it offered a vision of the future (well, the past, but you know, spaceships) which was unprecendently exciting. It’s no longer 1977, however, and the future of today is very different from the future of yesterday, to put it obscurantly. For instance, we are today conducting automated warfare, and yet a future society which has seemingly sentient robots still places ace pilots physically in space craft to conduct war. Seems unlikely.

But we could likely bracket this concern in the same way that we suspend our disbelief in the Force, the magical power which permeates through all like of the Star Wars universe. And while we’re being as charitable as we can, it’s worth noting that the action and swash-buckling and the snappy comebacks, all cornerstones of the Star Wars tone, are present and stronger than ever. The CGI in The Force Awakens is masterful and tasteful, BB-8 has the personality and presence of Wall-E, the Millenium Falcon has never looked as believable or exciting (even if it struggled to be as nimble after all these years), and I could feel the savage, uncontrolled power of Kylo Ren’s red light saber. The mechanics of what makes a Star Wars film were present in as full a force as ever: the spaceships and lightsabers, the blowing up of spherical super-weapons, and the unlikely tales of supreme heroism against all odds are bigger and better than they’ve ever been.

Yet again in complimenting the film I’ve stumbled across a thinly veiled criticism: if this film didn’t carry the Star Wars moniker, it would be a copy that was better funded than the original, taking what was good about its predecessors and increasing the size 100 times, quite literally in the case of Starkiller Base. Not only that, but its demise of Starkiller is quickly met by the standard old way of sending your ace pilot to shoot it in its soft spot. I emphasize quickly because the terrible destructive nature of Starkiller Base is difficult to take seriously when it’s destroyed in a dozen scenes after it was introduced: it would have been much more imposing and compelling had it been looming in the collective fandom’s psyche for destruction in an upcoming film. Han Solo himself seems to recognize in a moment of prescient self-awareness, asking where Stakiller’s soft spot is and that “they always have one.” And while we’re at it, it seems Jakku is rather like Tattooine, Starkiller rather like Hoth, and Takodana rather like Endor (I recognize that I maybe just be pointing out that it’s desert, snow, and forest biomes but this is an entire Universe we’re talking about).

These are the ways in which the film draws on the previous installments, but the film does have a lot of new ideas that excite me. For instance, Star Wars has always been about the father-son dynamic, being principally about the struggle between Luke and Vader née Anakin. The Force Awakens brings something that no Star Wars film has seen before: a strong female lead, with the brilliantly casted and written Rey. I only presume that Rey is the daughter of Luke, the principal evidence being that Star Wars is the story of the Skywalkers, and I’m excited to learn how Rey will grow to defeat her clear adversary: Kylo Ren née Ben Solo. Similarly, I’m excited to learn what the killing of his father does to Kylo Ren, because while he desperately tries to emulate his grandfather, little does he know of Vader’s struggle with the Light, setting him up to strive for version of the Dark Side which never really existed.

I don’t know why Kylo does what he does: it seems he is a Good Guy who desperately wants to be the Bad Guy, and this uncertainty makes me like his story. With the mask on, he plays the Bad Buy perfectly, executing entire villages, successfully torturing and extracting information, and capturing important rebels. But when his mask is off, so does his evil falter: Rey manages to push back his Force mind-reading, he need’s his father’s help in his father’s execution, and Rey manages to keep him at bay in a lightsaber duel even as a total amateur. I look forward to learning what about Luke’s training caused Kylo to fall to the Dark Side, how Kylo’s failure will be internalized, and why Snoke has such control over the clearly powerful Kylo. In this film, Kylo seems to be a childish poseur, exercising his evil in futile ways like destroying things and relying on physical pain for Dark Side strength. For these reasons, Kylo Ren is my favorite new character, because even though he’s cowardly and undisciplined, he’s also the most complicated and has the most potential for growth, even if it is into the series worst villain.

A reason that I find Kylo more exciting than Rey or Finn could also be that Kylo’s story is more singular, while Rey and Finn tell a disjointed, stop-and-go story. Finn is much more important to the narrative early in the story, delivering Po from the certain continued torture and interrogation of Kylo back to Jakku and safely delivering Rey and BB-8 to the rebel base. When he’s knocked unconscious however, Rey takes the Light Side’s narrative flag, and continues the struggle against Kylo. I hope that in the next film, Rey and Finn get their own distinct stories as opposed to sharing one. The Light Side’s story is made even more confusing by the myriad throwback appearances, which while I throughly enjoyed, I only enjoyed them because of how good previous movies were, not necessarily because of their performance in this film.

Finally, Snoke has really captured my attention. He’s not complex like Ren because we simply do not know enough about him, but I desperately want to know his backstory and what motivates him.

The Force Awakens is an excellent entry into the Star Wars franchise, and it makes the sequel trilogies proud with its tasteful effects and operatic conflict. While it may seem I’m being very harsh on the film, it’s only because I hold the franchise to such a high standard, and J.J. Abrams and co. have done a better job than anyone else could have today.

'The Productive Programmer' Review

It’s a natural obsession for programmers: the more effective code you can write in a fixed amount of time, the better. This obsession, which is perhaps better labeled a professional narcissism, is well-indulged by Neal Ford’s The Productive Programmer. The book’s central theme is that many of what makes computers highly usable also slows a user down, and that by taking inspiration from the way that the Super Clever People That Made Computers, we can make our use more effective.

Ford’s splits the goal of becoming more productive into two parts: the “mechanics” and the “practice.” Mechanics are about actual tools and code-snippets: using a launcher, a more advanced clipboard, terminal add-ons for your filesystem navigator, and even code snippets for scripts. While some of the software suggestions are a little dated even only a few years after publication, the take-away message is still intact: he describes the sorts of interactions you want to seek to have with a computer programmer.

You should avoid using the mouse when possible, you should minimize the amount of clicks needed when absolutely necessary, you should use searching to find applications, programs, and you should find a way to allow your computer to parse commands from your intent. More generally, The Productive Programmer advises you not to repeat yourself: if you tell your computer to do something, chances are you’ll want to do that again later, so automate it, speed it up, minimize the effort.

The “practice” that Ford describes is oriented towards software development advice, the sorts of methodologies and development styles that decrease wasted time. For instance, many if not all development shops use a version control tool, which allows a developer to revert to a version with an important code-snippet or a working build or whatever it may be. But there are many more tools and processes which can help equally as much.

My favorite of these was the advice to use a canonical build machine. I have squandered many hours setting up a new machine with old code, finding libraries and versions of programming languages and getting the right configuration. Instead, Ford advises you use a machine with has all the tools and libraries and version required to run your piece of software. With this sort of machine, it’s unambiguous how to run your app, and you can even image new machines from the canonical machine.

The Productive Programmer is an accessible introduction for the ambitious user/soon-to-be power-user. As should be expected, some of the tools Ford recommends are a bit dated (though most of them are still around). But the method and principles Ford exemplifies are simultaneously from a Golden Era of computing and a good vision for the future.