Friday, February 27, 2015

Actuarial Fiction 2015

Wouldn't you know it?  Actuaries are at it again -- predicting the future -- with fiction.

The Society of Actuaries puts on this event every odd year for actuaries to put forth their best effort in writing speculative fiction.  This year, I am one of 16 participants, and you can read all the stories here.

If you're interested in what actuaries think of this world, check it out and read these entertaining stories.  My own story looks to the past, way back, venturing to guess how the first actuary came into being.

Once you read all 16 stories, you can vote for your favorite three entries up until March 31 (look for the VOTE link at the linked website).

In another week or so, I'll present my mini-reviews of the other 15 stories.

Happy reading!

Friday, February 13, 2015

New Shows - Spring 2015

Here are three recent shows I've tried to watch around the first part of 2015.

The Librarians on TNT (Sundays @9PM) - This show has already finished its first season, but I was late catching up, as it began when I was deep in my exam studying.  I've tried to catch up after the exam with mixed success.  I caught seven of the ten episodes, and now I'm stuck on the eighth.

Before I continue with the review, let me stop to express my frustration with trying to catch shows on TNT.  I get the impression that TNT doesn't get along with my cable provider, Time Warner.  The cable On Demand feature only provided SD when it showed episodes.  TNT's own online replay service requires a TV Provider login, and Time Warner is not on their list.  So, if you missed this show, there's a good chance you're out of luck unless you pay $2 an episode somewhere.  The same thing happened to me with "The Last Ship."

So, if someone from TNT happens to read this review, just know that I'm a customer who is actually trying to watch your shows, but since you're not providing enough opportunities like other channels do, chances are ... I'm going to lose interest.  The best I can hope for is a marathon to catch the last three episodes of "Librarians" and the whole first season of "The Last Ship."

As for the show itself, I find it to be the perfect replacement for Warehouse 13.  It's practically the same show.  Instead of a warehouse full of "artifacts," it's a library full of "artifacts."  Only these artifacts are magic, which is somewhat scientifically explained.

The show is funny, and keeps my interest while I watch, but on the most part there's nothing really exciting about it.  It's just low-brain fun.  Plus you get to see Noah Wylie play a funny crazy guy.

12 Monkeys on Syfy (Fridays @9PM) - I loved the movie.  It's on my top ten list of favorite sci-fi shows.

The TV series is good, but different.

In both the movie and the TV series, James Cole is sent back in time in an attempt to stop a world-wide plague event from happening.  Along the way, he picks up clues and meets several different baddies.

As I watched the first three episodes, I mistakenly tried to compare them to the movie, and I found myself disappointed.  In the very first episode, Cole demonstrates a paradox by scratching the face of a watch, showing how the scratch on the younger watch shows up on the older watch, while at the same time destroying the rules of time travel set in the movie.

Then in the second episode, a new enemy is introduced who just didn't exist in the movie.  He's a cool enemy, but seems to put a different meaning to "the Army of the 12 Monkeys."  Also, the TV show spends a lot more time exploring the future world, in a way destroying some of the magic of Gilliam's original creation.

But then starting with the fourth episode, I decided to divorce the show from the movie, and all of a sudden, I found myself enjoying it a lot more.  I then realized the show's strength.  It's not trying to redo the movie.  It's creating something new with the same material.  If you decide to watch, I highly recommend throwing out everything you know about the movie, and just sit back and relax while this new show takes you back into time.

Better Call Saul on AMC (Mondays @10PM) - If you're a "Breaking Bad" fan, there's a high probability you'll love this show.  I caught the first two episodes this past week, and found it to be some of the funniest junk I've ever seen.

Jimmy McGill is just your everyday low experience lawyer trying to start his own practice, but along the way he hits up against the most annoying roadblocks.  He lives in a very small room in the back of a nail salon, where we see him moving furniture around just to get his squeaky bed out.  Even Mike from "Breaking Bad" makes an appearance as the parking lot attendant who repeatedly tells Jimmy he doesn't have enough validation stickers.

Getting desperate for cash, Jimmy decides to set up a situation where potential clients would choose him to represent them.  However, the situation goes terribly wrong with hilarious and frightening outcomes.  As of the end of the second episode, the situation has yet to come to a close.

I highly recommend this show, even if you haven't seen "Breaking Bad."  Unlike a TNT show, you can go online at and catch these episodes for free for the next four weeks, and no login is required.

That's all I have for now.  Looking ahead, I may check out the following shows:

Last Man on Earth (FOX - March 1)
Childhood's End (Syfy - coming soon)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (BBC-America - closer to summer)
Heroes Reboot (NBC - coming soon)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: Jupiter Ascending

Have you ever wanted to see Flash Gordon enter the Matrix?  Now may be your chance.

"Jupiter Ascending" is a fun ride with amazing visuals, awesome fight scenes, big music, and epic action.  However, this all comes at a price.  The plot is both confusing and amazingly thin.  So much so, that I would expect many to walk away from the theater unsatisfied.  If, on the other hand, you're looking for a no-brainer movie with action and eye candy, then you'll most likely love this movie.

The movie starts out very well as we witness the birth of Jupiter.  But then as soon as the title splash screen appears, everything goes to plaid.  We witness three alien immortals discussing ... something.  Then for the next thirty minutes, I struggled to figure out what the heck was going on.  At many times, it felt like I was watching the 1980 version of "Flash Gordon," only with up-to-date special effects and much less male chauvinism.  At other times, it felt like "Matrix Revolutions" with its epic scenes and very similar CGI.

When the movie was over, I sat there pondering, "What exactly got accomplished?" while listening to Michael Giacchino's epic operatic score full of big instrumentation that screamed, "You just watched a big movie.  You just watched a big movie."  Unfortunately, I had to fight the urge to laugh out loud.

It could have been the biggest movie to hit the screen in a long time, but the writing basically killed it.  Let me give an example.  Near the beginning of the movie, Jupiter wants to buy this expensive telescope.  Her cousin (?) comes up with this idea for her to sell some of her eggs for $15K.  She goes in for an operation, using a pseudonym, and the story progresses.  Seems like such a simple concept to understand, but believe it not, it wasn't until an hour into the movie before I fully understood what she was doing.

There was a lot of "let's make the audience figure out what's going on."  Sure, this technique worked in "The Matrix," but that's only because we saw it all through Neo's eyes.  Neo was the one in the dark.

But with "Jupiter," the technique fails miserably, mainly because the audience knows that Jupiter knows what's going on, and it's the audience alone that's in the dark.  Had the writers simply explained at the very beginning why she was going in for an operation, there would have been less confusion, and a lot more emotional connection with the characters.

Yes, with just a few simple tweaks of the plot and dialogue, this movie would have been outstanding. And to think at how much attention they paid to other details!

With that said, I think the visuals, action, and lack of boring parts make it worthy enough to catch in the theater.  I saw it in 2-D, but I wish I had gone with 3-D IMAX.  That would have been awesome.