Stormtrooper Terry

Stormtrooper Terry

Friday, February 28, 2014

Goodreads Book Review - Under the Dome

Under the DomeUnder the Dome by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unless it's your first Stephen King book, you know a bit of what you're going to get before you even open the cover: small New England town, ordinary people, something weird happens, there's a struggle between good and evil... the King usual. You definitely get the usual in spades here and, as usual, King makes it work. The story starts with the appearance of the dome and keeps right on going, a slow boil that builds and builds to the end with a few little simmering flare-ups along the way. What gets me most about the book is the realism of the characters; even the bad ones have moments of goodness. Conversely, my only complaints about the book also involve characters. One complaint is that King seems to have absolutely no idea how to write young people convincingly, to the point that it's a little distracting and off-putting just how bad he is at getting how they talk to feel natural. My other character-related complaint is that there are just so many characters that it's hard to keep track of them, and a number of them are so unimportant that keeping track of them is a pointless mental exercise. Some of them go so long without appearing that I had to stop reading to remember who they were, and I'm of the opinion that anything that takes you out of the story is, y'know, bad. But even with those complaints, King is so good that the book still merits four stars. The page count is a little intimidating but again, unless it's your first King book, you know you'll be pulled right along and the numbers won't matter at all.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

2014 Oscars Predictions

The 2014 Academy Awards are this Sunday night, just three days away, which means it's time for one of my favorite posts of the year: my predictions! I spoke a little about this year's show back when the nominees were first announced, but at that point I had only seen three of the nominated movies so I was really just talking out my ass. Now, however, I've seen all of them. Which means, by the way, that I'll still be talking out my ass, except my ass is slightly more informed. I'm covering ten categories this year: the big six (picture, director, and the acting categories), plus animated, song, and the two screenplay categories. As I usually do, I'll tell you who I want to win and how I think will win.

But first, I'm going to do something I haven't done in these posts in years past, and that's show you how I've personally ranked this year's Best Picture nominees, from last to first.

9. Her
8. Nebraska
7. Gravity
6. Captain Phillips
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Philomena
3. 12 Years a Slave
2. Dallas Buyers Club
1. American Hustle

Now, with that out of the way, let's get to the categories, starting at the bottom and working our way up.

Best Animated Feature
Nominated: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernst & Celestine, Frozen, The Wind Rises
Want to win: Frozen
Will win: Frozen
This one is sort of a no-brainer, isn't it? Frozen was one of the best animated films I've seen in a long time; the story was cute, the songs were fun, the animation was top-notch, and it turned the conventions of the genre on their head a bit. This is easily the biggest lay-up of all the categories right here. 

Best Original Song
Nominated: Happy (Despicable Me 2), Let It Go (Frozen), The Moon Song (Her), Ordinary Love (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom(
Want to win: Ordinary Love
Will win: Let It Go
Ordinary love is a great, great song (by my all-time favorite band, no less, so there might be just a smidgen of bias here) and I think it's a much better song than Let It Go, a song I feel isn't all that great except when sung by the amazing Idina Menzel. However, I thing the Academy might bow to the masses on this one, and Let It Go is a juggernaut of popularity.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated: Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street
Want to win: The Wolf of Wall Street
Will win: The Wolf of Wall Street
I think it was easily the best screenplay of the bunch, and I think the Academy will think so too... and if not, I think they'll give it the award anyway because I have my doubts about it winning anything else that night.

Best Original Screenplay
Nominated: American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska
Want to win: American Hustle
Will win: Her
I absolutely loved American Hustle's screenplay, but I'm pretty sure the Academy loved Hers more. And again, consolation prize is a factor here. We'll see.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Nominated: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Want to win: Jared Leto
Will win: Jared Leto
Originally I really liked Fassbender for this one, but that was before seeing Leto's performance, which was fantastic. I don't think there's any way he doesn't win this one.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominated: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska)
Want to win: Jennifer Lawrence
Will win: Lupita Nyong'o
Yes, I'm biased. I'd love to see Jennifer Lawrence come out of this with her second Oscar, but I don't think it'll happen. I also think Julia Roberts has an outside shot, but I'm only allowed one prediction, so there we go.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Want to win: Matthew McConaughey
Will win: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Sorry, Leo, not this year... again.

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Want to win: Judi Dench
Will win: Meryl Streep
This has to be the hardest category to call. I mean, look at that list of names. I don't think Adams was all that great, and I think Blanchett is hurt by the whole Woody Allen mess, so I'm ruling them out, but the other three... come on. Three performances of a lifetime. Judi Dench was the only one of them all to elicit an emotional response from me, so she's who I want, but in the end, I'm going with Meryl, because you don't bet against Meryl.

Best Directing
Nominated: American Hustle (David O. Russell), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron), Nebraska (Alexander Payne), 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
Want to win: David O. Russell
Will win: Alfonso Cuaron
I don't think there's any way what Cuaron did in Gravity doesn't net this one for him, but if it doesn't I'm pretty sure it'll be because of McQueen.

Best Picture
Nominated: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street
Want to win: American Hustle
Will win: 12 Years a Slave
American Hustle was easily my favorite of all the films listed, but Id be amazed if 12 Years a Slave doesn't come out on top, which is why I think McQueen might edge out Cuaron if the Academy decides to pair Picture and Director, as they often do.

Of course, I've been amazed before. Amazed, astounded, and absolutely ass-backwards, but so we'll just have to see what happens. I'll be back after the show Monday or Tuesday to see how I did. Until then, gentle readers, I turn the floor over to you. Let's here what you think about who will be winners and losers!   

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Crossing Off Star-Crossed

I haven't done the math or anything but I feel pretty safe in the assumption that Romeo and Juliet is probably the single most-adapted story ever written. It seems like every few years there's a new version out in one medium or another (or in the case of 2013, two new versions in two mediums: a movie and a Broadway show). I've seen the argument made that they should just stop adapting the story, that it doesn't need to be retold and that the original story/play/movie versions stand the test of time. And I think this is 100% true, but I still think new versions should be made because the youth of today aren't interested in yesterday's versions and might not get the story without new versions being made for them, as in the case of the teenage girls in the theater when I went to see the new movie version who were shocked Juliet didn't wake up in time to stop Romeo from killing himself.

Seriously, what the fuck are they teaching kids in school these days?

That being said, new versions only have merit if they're any good, and while the new movie was passable, I was hoping for a little more from Star-Crossed, the new CW show about seven alien kids being integrated into a human school in order to learn each others' ways and hopefully make relations better between humans and the aliens, called Atrians, who came to Earth after being forced to leave their own planet and now live in areas now better than prison slums overseen by humans. It's clearly a Romeo-Juliet set-up, with the lead characters having met as children and being reunited in the school, pulled in different ways by their factions; the alien boy's father is one of the leading aliens and the human girl's father is one of the high-ranking humans in charge of controlling the alien slums or whatever. The aliens, by the way, seem to have weird tattoo-shaped birthmarks and two hearts, an add-on that annoyed the hell out of me because they sure as hell aren't Time Lords...

I partly had hopes for the show because I tend to be a fan of the CW (Supernatural, Arrow, The Vampire Diaries, and The Originals are all part of my rotation, so I know what to expect from the CW) and because three alumni from Friday Night Lights, one of my favorite shows full of talented young actors, star in it (having watched the show last night made it a real FNL day for me, having also watched the hysterical FNL reunion of Crucifictorious on the Parenthood webisode you can see here).

Imagine my disappointment then when the show wasn't very good at all. It's generic and full of all the tropes TV loves these days: flashbacks, voice-over narration, over-filtered lighting, an awful emo soundtrack, bad CGI, and worse acting. Most of the cast is lifeless and there isn't much chemistry to speak off. With one exception, you can see the plot twists coming, but even the one you can't ends up being an over-used trait of, of all things, the recent crop of vampire shows. The show was a mess, and by the time a really hideous emo cover of Age of Aquarius started playing over the show's final montage that included the "momentous" death of a character (I say "momentous" because despite the import that event will have on the show's conflict, the character had about two minutes of screen time and very little characterization so why would anyone give a crap?), the whole affair was laughable.

My only hope for anything good coming out of this show is that maybe parents and teachers might see kids getting into it and use that as a way to get them to read the source material. A lofty hope, I know, but as the Bard himself wrote, "the miserable have no other medicine but only hope."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Shootin' Straighter Than a Stormtrooper's New Look!

Here it is folks, the moment you've all been waiting for: the unveiling of my blog's new look, crowned by the announcement of the winner of the mascot poll. I'd like to thank everyone that voted; I think there were nine of you, which is about five more than the last time I did this! As you can see above, the Keyboard Stormtrooper, my personal favorite, won after some Florida-style voting chicanery took place on behalf of Target Practice Stormtrooper, seen below.

Shame on you, Target Practice Stormtrooper. Back to the shooting range with you!

As winner, Keyboard Stormtrooper gets a name, and that name is Terry, in honor of two of my favorite authors, Terry Brooks and Terry Goodkind.

As you can see though, that isn't all that's changed. The blog itself has a new, slightly streamlined look: smaller pictures, blog previews on the main page instead of the entire entry, different features on the side column that is now on a different side, more colors, etc... Feedback is welcomed, but I don't plan on deviating much!

Also, I don't plan on appearances being the only changes around here. I'm hoping to come up with a few new features to challenge me a little and maybe drive readership up. I'm also totally open to the idea of guest bloggers, something I've toyed with in the past but have never pulled the trigger on. So if anyone has any thoughts they'd like to put out in the world, let me know!

I'm hoping to do some things with this blog, so keep an eye out; you never know what me and Stormtrooper Terry might do next!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Goodreads Book Review - Last Words

Last WordsLast Words by George Carlin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out of all the autobiographies or biographies I've read, this one is probably my favorite. Carlin led a very interesting life, much more interesting than I ever knew, and he writes about it all in great depth with personal honesty and a little brilliance. Of course, it doesn't hurt that his legendary humor is everywhere too, not just in the bits of his famous routines he threw in but in the personal stories he tells and the observations and comments he makes. One of Carlin's greatest strengths as a comedian was always language and the things he could do with it, and that doesn't fail him here. And yes, I know he had a co-writer to help him put it all together but, having just read Carlin's other books back-to-back-to-back, I'm comfortable in saying that most of what made this much more fun than the usual autobiography to read came from the man himself.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Choose the New Stormtrooper II

The feeling came upon me suddenly that I want to change the look of SSTS a bit. I might even go so far as to change the layout around, or I might not (always a tricky proposition for me as HTML and me don't exactly mix harmoniously). One thing I do know is that it's definitely time to change the Stormtrooper mascot featured above, and as I've done before, I'm going to open it to a vote. When I first opened the blog, my mascot was Stormtrooper Fred.

The first time around, Fred was textless. He's moved up in the world since then.

So options were displayed, votes were cast, the results were tallied, and Fred was replaced with Stormtrooper Bart, as seen at the top of the page (so named for reasons I assume are obvious). Once again, I'm going to provide you, my loyal and questionably-existent readers with seven options, three of which are the losers from the last competition back again, and four of which are new. But first, here's one that isn't in the running but is just amusing, just to wet your whistles:

Hobo Stormtrooper!

His employment status hits a little too close to home to be in the running...

Now, last year's also-rans:

Singing in the Rain Stormtrooper!

William Tell Stormtroopers!

Just Chillin' Stormtrooper!

And new, the fresh blood:

Eye Exam Stormtroopers!

Hannibal Lector Stormtroopers!

Target Practice Stormtrooper!

And finally, the one I think might be my personal favorite:

Keyboard Stormtrooper!

 So there are the choices. Voting opens now and closes in a little over 48 hours, at 5:30pm EST on Thursday, February 13th. Start voting now!

What should be the next Stormtrooper mascot?
Singing in the Rain Stormtrooper
William Tell Stormtroopers
Just Chillin' Stormtrooper
Eye Exam Stormtroopers
Hannibal Lector Stormtroopers
Target Practice Stormtrooper
Keyboard Stormtrooper
Poll Maker

Please be aware that while you are free comment however you like as always, the only way I'm counting votes is the poll above. Comment votes won't count, but you can definitely share your favorites with the rest of us if you'd like. So help me redesign my blog, vote for your favorite stormtrooper, and come back soon to see who wins!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The "Joys" of the Online Job Hunt

Like a large percentage of the world, I've been on the hunt for a job off and on (mostly on, sadly) over the last few years. Like a large percentage of the world, I've predominantly been doing my hunt online. While searching for a job online is definitely more convenient than the pavement-pounding approach of yesteryear, like any hunt it is not without its own particular pratfalls and traps. I've decided to take a break from the frustration of experiencing those little traps firsthand while I stretch my writerly muscles and share a few of them that I find the most annoying with you. And while I'm sure there are far more than the ones I'm about to present, here for your reading pleasure I give you six "joys" of the online job hunt.

And for the record, every single example or situation mentioned here is something I was lucky enough to experience firsthand...

1.) Nesting Doll Syndrome
Inevitably, your job hunt starts on one of those delightful websites dedicated to helping people find a job online. For the sake of the innocent, I won't name any names.  The first thing they have you do is enter your name and e-mail address and pick and password and all that good stuff, and then they ask you to upload the resume you'd like to use. Fine and dandy. Then, once that uploads, they take you through pages and pages of of forms where they ask you to enter your work experience and education... all the stuff you just uploaded on your resume. Okay, fine, roll with it, right? Now you're ready to start your job search. After you go through a few more of the joys I'll mention in a minute, you've found a job you want to apply for. Ideally, you can just click "apply" and the job site your on will send the resume you uploaded. Often, however, companies don't want that and you have to go to their website to apply. Once there, you have to enter your name and e-mail address and a password to join their site, and then you have to upload a resume that they give you the option to parse to fill out the forms they'll have you fill out; sadly though, because resumes are all different, it invariably parses incorrectly and you have to go through all those forms yourself anyway. Sound familiar? Now sometimes, a job posting isn't actually posted by the company hiring, it's posted by a third party company, so when you click "apply" and the job site your on doesn't automatically apply you, you're taken to that third party's site where you have to enter your name and e-mail and create a password and upload a resume just so you can be taken to the actual hiring company's website so you can wash, rinse, repeat, etc... There's nothing like spending over half an hour on just one job because you're trapped in a never-ending Russian nesting doll of resumes and forms.

Yes, I had to use a Star Wars example.

2.) Fun with Search Filters
Let's backtrack a little bit. After you've opened the first nesting doll and have entered all your info on the job site you're using, it's time to actually find jobs! So you click "search" and find yourself presented with all these helpful search filters. You can search for specific keywords, enter a specific city to search in, refine your results to within a certain distance from that city. It's all very helpful... in theory. Less so in practice when, for example, you search for customer service positions with a five-mile radius of New York City and are presented with a result like "Airport Vehicle Technician, Buffalo."

I mean, I don't want to be picky or anything, but that's a hell of a commute, not to mention a stretch of the idea of "customer service." So be aware, not everything in this job hunt is as it seems.

3.) Sleight of Hand Scam
Speaking of things not being what they seem, not every job listing you see is actually a job. Some of them are applications not for a job but for a job placement service or a temp agency. And that's fine, I don't at all mean to badmouth those entities. Temping has been very good to me over the last few years, especially Adecco, and I'm very grateful to them. But that's not the only type of post that isn't necessarily a job. You'll find some that say they want to hire you for a security guard job, for example, but what they really want is to help you get licensed to become a security guard by charging you more money than the licenses actually cost, followed up by the vague promise of helping you get placed once your licensed. They might also offer to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn, too.  Another little trick of misdirection that runs rampant are the job posts that promise "flexible hours, minimal supervision, competitive salary for employees willing to train for leadership and excel." You know what most of those are? Door-to-door office supplies sales scams that require ten hour days, five days a week with no overtime because there's no salary at all because it's all commission-based. Let me let that sink a minute. And yes, I know this to be true because I trained for a job like that for two days before they explained all the fine print details about pay, like how it takes at least a month after a sale for you to be paid for it and if the customer returns anything you lose that money so you never have any solid idea of when you're getting paid or how much. Thank you, no. Now obviously, not every post that uses the phrases I mentioned above is a scam. But be on the lookout. And if something sounds fishy, Google it; odds are someone else has experienced it and posted about it. Like me!

4.) The Entry-Level/Experience Equation
I had come up with a whole mathematical equation to illustrate what has become my biggest pet peeves about job posts lately, but as I suck at math and can't figure out how to make a "not-equal" sign appear, I'm going to let this handy picture take care of my next point for me:

Seems kind of self-explanatory, doesn't it? But if you go through enough posts on a job site, you'll see a disturbing number of them claim to be for entry-level positions while requiring two to three to as many as ten years of experience. I've actually seen that, ten years of experience for an entry-level position.

Clearly it's going to take someone smarter than me to explain that one.

5.) Waiting for Godot: The Career Edition!
So here you are; you've successfully navigated all the prior traps and pratfalls of online job-hunting and you've applied to dozens of jobs. Here's a cold fact you need to be prepared for:

You will never hear from 99% of those companies again.

I'm not just saying they aren't going to hire you. I'm saying you'll never get any other kind of correspondence from them again. Period. Because of the sheer number of applicants most posts receive, the majority of companies only contact the people they want to interview and don't bother with rejection notices or anything. So unless they're interested, you're just in limbo. Occasionally you'll get a rejection notice, where they patronizingly tell you they're keeping your resume on file in case a position opens up that you're a match for... the rejection letter equivalent of "it's not you, it's me." Which brings us to...

6.) Haven't I Seen You Here Before? which you find out out it really wasn't them, it was you all along, because a week or two later that same company has posted about that same position again. Hurts, doesn't it? Don't worry, this is where you have to remember that online job-hunting is like online dating: they're both hard and full of scams, false advertisers,and things that are too good to be true, but with persistence and dedication, there's somebody... or in this case, something... for everybody!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Goodreads Book Review - When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?

When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? by George Carlin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't enjoy this book as much as Carlin's first two but I'm giving it the same number of stars because Goodreads doesn't do half-stars. The problems with this book, in my opinion, are two-fold: the first one is that it came at a point in Carlin's career when he was much more of an angry old man, which is still funny but less in a side-splitting way and more in the way grumpy old men are funny; and secondly, a fair amount of jokes are repeated not just from the first two books but also from other parts of this book, and the repetition lets the mind wander a bit, and that never bodes well for a book. Still, even a less funny Carlin is still funnier than most people who ever lived, right?

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