xXx the Return of Xander Cage

If somebody told me that I’d be going to see a “XXX” movie back in the 70s, it would have meant something completely different. Vin Diesel has already appeared as Xander Cage in a  couple of previous films, but in this one he’s “pressed” into service when he hears about his old boss being killed.

xxx-poster The action starts within seconds of the opening credits and never lets up under the direction of D.J. Caruso. In fact, if you look up the definition of “action movie”, it would probably refer you to the film. In a nutshell: a device called “Pandora’s Box”, which can be used to direct orbiting satellites into becoming weapons crashing down from space is stolen by agents from a government headquarters. When the “brass” decides that this will require equally skilled men to bring them in, a female official says she knows of such a man.

xxx-1 She goes to Santo Domingo to “reactivate” Xander Cage and team him up with some military muscle, but Cage has these men “drop out” and assembles his own crew, which begins a series of deceptions, double crosses, and triple crosses that keeps the audience guessing. Cage and crew travel to the Phillippines to track down the thieves, who turn out to be xXx agents themselves, including UFC Welterweight Champion Michael Bisping in a cool role. Much of this cast were virtual unknowns to me, but they all gelled quite well together.

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, from left: Tony Jaa, Michael Bisping, Donnie Yen, 2017. ph: Michael The device is recovered, but as Xander points out when another satellite is highjacked, this was a “single unit” device, and the real one capable of accessing any satellite, is still out there. The real device is tracked down to Detroit, in a high-rise building, and the two groups of xXx agents work separately to get it, setting up a violent fight along Detroit streets until both teams decide to work together. It turns out the evil mastermind is himself a rogue CIA man with delusions of grandeur (old plot twist here).

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, Ruby Rose, 2017. ph: George Kraychyk / ©Paramount /Courtesy Everett

Just as the villain is “taken out” by sharpshooter Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), yet another development pops up involving equally crooked government agents (surprise) and even more shootouts and a harrowing plane ride that resolves it all in a neatly wrapped package that brings Xander and Serena (Deepika Padukone) together before the final scene in a church for the funeral of dead chief Augustus Gibbons(Samuel L. Jackson) who was killed all the way back at the film’s beginning.

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, from left: Vin Diesel, Deepika Padukone, 2017. ph: George Kraychyk / Diesel and Padukone, we deduce by the end, will definitely be an item. Diesel himself is listed as one of the producers in this movie, so he definitely has a vested interest in keeping the story going, and the end definitely points that way. “xXx” runs for just under two hours, and there isn’t time to get bored or even catch your breath, so if you crave action, you’ll get a full plate of it here.

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Passengers Is Believable Sci-fi

passengers-poster   Passengers takes a fresh new look at an old problem which is currently on a lot of lips as we prepare to colonise Mars—how will people get there? This film concentrates on the “Homestead Corporation” which is sending thousands of people (in this case 5,000 passengers and 258 crew members) to a new world on a 120-year long trip under suspended animation on the Starship Avalon. At the beginning, we see the huge, essentially robotic ship and how it handles meteorites in space. It encounters a huge piece of space debris which figures heavily in the plot later.

passengers-2Jim Preston(Chris Pratt)is one of the passengers who awakens from the induced slumber and finds no one else has. He interacts with the ship’s systems and discovers that a malfunction has awakened him early and the ship still has 90 years to travel before it reaches its destination. Jim ambles around and encounters an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) who helps him keep a grip on loneliness until he finds another sleeping passenger named Aurora Lane(Jennifer Lawrence).

Jim agonizes over her, we eventually find out, for a whole year before waking her up for his own selfish needs, knowing that by doing so he basically ends her life prematurely. Jim and Aurora develop a friendship, then a romance, before she finds out Jim awakened her and grows to dislike him for it. Jim tries all sorts of tricks to win her back. About this time, several of the Avalon’s systems malfunction, and a crew member,Gus Mancuso(Laurence Fishbourne) also awakens.

Together, they figure out that something is causing the ship to malfunction, but it turns out Gus is ill and dying. In fact, he dies before the problem is found, which turns out to be a piece of the huge space rock that crashed in the Avalon at the film’s beginning.  Jim and Aurora have to fix it themselves,  which involves a highly dangerous extravehicular trip that costs Jim his life, although Aurora uses the ship’s robotic doctor to revive him.

passengers-3

Jim figures out a way to get Aurora back into suspended animation to finish the trip, but as the film ends we discover that she opted not to do that and made a life for themselves on the ship as the crew awakens when the Avalon nears the Homestead Planet 88 years later. Passengers,uses a sharp, credible script to work in the heavy, gee-whiz special effects in what turns out to be a formulaic romantic story on steroids that is highly enjoyable.

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Welcoming the Alcatel Idol 4SWindows 10 VR

Just when T-mobile had us convinced they had joined the world and given up on Windows Phone, they pull a switch on us and become the exclusive distributor for the new upscale-looking Windows 10 phone from Alcatel–the Idol 4S VR. Several things set this unit apart from the competition.

First off is the price. At $469, it isn’t exactly cheap, yet it’s priced quite a bit below the other “premium” phones. T-mobile’s top-tier customers can order one with no money down and repay it in two years with payments of under $20 a month. No money down isn’t exactly right either, since you have to pay tax and shipping up front—under $47. Also of note is the large capacity battery (3000 mAh) and the whopping factory supplied 64GB of storage, upgradable to 128 GB with an SD card This is all guided by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor—largest and fastest in use in today’s phones, and found only in a competitive model selling for over twice the price. This makes the Idol 4S lightning fast with a 5.5-inch AMOLED Dragontrail  screen  at 1080X 1920 pixels with a 441 ppi density.

It doesn’t stop there, though. The main camera is a 21 MP marvel with a Sony processor, and the front-facing “selfie” camera is 8 MP, with both lenses having their own flash. The cameras have autofocus, digital zoom, geo tagging, exposure compensation, ISO controls, white balance presets, High Dynamic Range mode, and panoramic capabilities. High resolution video is standard. But perhaps the most interesting thing is that the Idol 4S comes with a virtual reality (VR) headset and is prepackaged with several VR apps and access to a VR store for more. This will appeal to gamers but the average phone fan will just occasionally use that feature, although they will find the 4 GB of RAM memory useful.

I read up on this device for over a week and found several discrepancies with the product. First, all the reviewers claimed there was no charger or SIM card with the phone. The charger, as a space-saving measure, is packed inside the VR unit’s goggles, and while the Android version of this phone may not have a SIM card, the T-mobile version comes with a “nano-SIM” card, a size unlike any I’ve used before. A factory-supplied “key” opens a small tray housing the SIM and SD card (SD card sold separately, of course, and I would recommend a 64 GB card). Reviewers report (and T-mobile states) that a shock-absorbing case comes with the phone, but it doesn’t. The 4S has a body made of tough glass, but glass nonetheless. This will make it a fingerprint magnet and a breakage liability. There are already several companies (including Incipio) who make cases for this beauty for about $25.

Speaking of fingerprints, there is a fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone, but its not explained in the user manual that comes with the phone how it works. I am going to contact Alcatel about this omission. Because my previous phone was also Windows OS, the 4S, as part of its setup, automatically tagged my Lumia 635 and transferred everything in its memory to the 4S via Bluetooth. T-mobile did a computer-derived jumpstart of the SIM card and I was ready to go. The “fast charger” will do a “zombie revival” dead to full charge in less than 2 hours with the new-style  USB-C cable that can be plugged in to a receptacle with no “up” or “down” connector alignment.alcatel-idol-4s-6Also interesting is that this phone has no “up” position. If you pick it up “upside down”, the screen realigns itself to look “right-side up” to you. This stunning mobile unit is the new standard bearer for the market. Web pages look just like they do on my laptop, which none of my previous phones could do.  The Idol 4S may be the phone that will revive the Windows platform, and it’s already shaken things up as over the last few months there have been more WP units making their way to the market. Ask any Microsoft Store employee.

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Arrival Slick New Invasion Film

arrival-poster-2    Never have I been so completely confused by such an excellent piece of film making. There is an old Eastern provern that says time is a constant, renewing circle, yet those that don’t understand it are doomed to “fall out of time and perish from their own lack of knowledge”. Time is a weapon in and of itself, and that’s the premise of “Arrival”, a movie told from the thoughts and voice-over of Amy Adams, who plays Louise, a linguistics expert who gets brought in by  Forrest Whitaker, who has worked with her before and wishes to have her around as part of his team, also composed of scientist Ian (a post-Avengers Jeremy Renner) who are assigned to investigate a giant UFO that’s stationed itself over the western U.S. Plains—assigned to decipher the aliens’ language so we can tell what they want. Turns out that 11 more such ships have stationed themselves over various parts of the world and other governments are engaged in similar operations.

The beginning of this film is originally confusing, but it quickly clarifies itself as Louise’s life as she gets married, has a girl, and eventually loses that girl to what appears to be cancer and her husband walks out on her as a result. Louise, it turns out, has some sort of sixth sense that allows her to empathise with others, which turns out to be a great help in understanding the aliens.

The team enters the alien ship by a door which opens at regular intervals each day. The aliens are large globs with six octopus-like tentacles that open up into similarly octopoidal hands. Officially, they are called “Heptapods”, but when Louise asks what they should call the two aliens in the craft, Ian suggests “Abbott and Costello”, and it sticks. The aliens have deep, sonorus vocals, but they communicate by creating circles of a cloudy inklike substance from their “hands”. They appear to float in a heavy, foglike atmosphere on the other side of a glassy wall.

Arrival 1.jpg After a while, communication appears to become possible as the team mathematically analises the pictures of the “idea blobs” the aliens make, but several of the worldwide teams have apparently lost something in the translation and disconnect themselves from the info net that was set up. Even our own team is tricked into carrying explosives into the ship, but as it explodes, the aliens isolate Ian and. Louise from the explosion. That’s when Louise really realises that these are not evil entities, but the world prepares a violent conflict anyway, led by China, Sudan, and Pakistan. Louise re-enters the craft and sees only one alien. Her query reveals that the other was fatally hurt by the explosion. She apologises for the attack and fathoms out the whole story. The aliens have come to help us figure out how to make use of time as a commodity, a tool, a “weapon” (this “weapon” reference is what others mistook for aggression.

Arrival 3.jpg From that point, we go through a “fast-forward” segment where Louise manages to reach the Chinese warlord and convinces him of the aliens’ true purpose, leading into the various world powers agreeing to defuse tensions and work together again. The crisis is averted and the alien ships leave.

This is definitely not your run-of-the-mill invasion film, more in the vein of the original “Day the Earth Stood Still”rather  than “Independence Day”, and in the end you tend to remember Louise rather than the aliens. This is a highly intellectual tour-de-force that plays out a bit slowly in the beginning but always stays on track. It gets 5 Tomahawks all the way.

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The Long 2016 Fight For The White House

debate-1  This year of 2016 will be long remembered by people across the world. We had a woman accused of just about every depraved trick in the book going up against a “neophyte” who had never tried his hand at politics running for President. People picked a side and became impervious to the negative press. No matter what crimes Hillary was accused of or proven to have committed, hordes of voters rebuffed it and stuck with their choice because Hillary was a woman. Clinton claimed to be the women and children’s champion yet was touted by her detractors as being secretly “against” her feminine supporters and tied to a pedophile sex trafficking ring and laughed at officials who asked for an explanation about Benghazi.

Trump didn’t escape unscathed either. Supporters claimed he was a “business genius” while it was shown that a university he founded scammed people out of their education and  The Donald had filed for bankruptcy several times. He made comments that led to several women saying he sexually assaulted them, but he was able to prove that most, if not all of the stories were made up and in some cases were financed by the Hillary camp, further hurting her chances.

In a series of debates, Clinton kept trying to erode his support, but that too backfired when she said that she was glad Trump wasn’t in charge and he countered “You’d be in jail” (if I was) She never fully recovered.

hillary-meal-kfc  The Internet became a mine field for her detractors, who created and posted memes ranging from the comical to the downright mean, and posted songs gleefully pointing out all her faults, right up to Election night on November 8.

On that night, both candidates were in seclusion as the night went on. Hillary supporters inundated the Internet with maps showing how she would win. The mass media was clearly in Clinton’s pocket as CNN became known as the Clinton News Network and none of the press gave Trump a chance, yet from the first announced results that showed Trump ahead 19 to 3, the two seesawed all night until early Wednesday morning when Trump took a lead he wouldn’t relinquish. Clinton’s camp deep-sixed its “watch party” crowd with the message that they should go home as she wouldn’t make any comments because the race was “too close to decide at this time”, yet less than an hour later, Hillary called Trump to concede the race and the “newby” businessman was declared the 45th President with an electoral vote count of 289 against her 218.

crowds-revolt-against-trump-win  The battle wasn’t over yet. Throughout the campaign, Clinton had hired people to disrupt Trumps rallies and meetings, going as far as paying homeless people and drug addicts to  do so. When Clinton was announced as the loser, mobs of people—mostly Hispanics, which Hillary had heavily canvassed during her run—rioted in several West coast cities, causing damage and setting fires to American flags while asserting “F*ck Trump” and “He’s not my President”—the only English words rising from the mainly Spanish speaking mobs. Additionally, today arose the story of Clinton supporters vowing to assassinate Trump.

trump-takes-indiana  Now comes the sober truth. We are all Americans and must work together to heal these mixed feelings. Both Hillary and Trump have made great speeches to congratulate each other and are preparing to settle in their respective positions. Donald Trump is our new leader, and it’s our job to help him make America great again. And I say this in spite of the fact that he stole my campaign and used it, right down to that slogan, which makes him a thief if he knowingly did this, but I suspect his campaign managers secretly did this and I’m ready to move on and look to the future. It should be interesting if he goes for reelection against me in 2020.

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Filed under elections, Hillary and Trump

The 2016 Wrestling Wars

We are in the midst of the greatest wrestling war scenario of the last few decades. WWE mogul Vince McMahon is looking to repeat his last “big steal”, when he bought out WCW then turned around and dismantled it after he absorbed their best talent and spat out the rest, leaving them with no job or source for work.

It was different back then since WWF (as it was known before losing another costly fight for the acronym to the World Wildlife Fund) and WCW were the only game in town. Today, there are several options for wrestling talent. Back in the 1990s, Vince buying out ECW and WCW  allowed small boutique promotions to expand, and Vince overplayed his hand by booking his expanded roster everywhere, fueling grappling fans’ hunger for the sport and its popularity.

Because of that, a small regional promotion, Ring of Honor, blossomed so much that it gained a major investor (Sinclair Broadcasting) and nationwide TV contract. In Mexico, a perennial hotbed of wrestling, Vince’s influence led to another rebirth as Mexican promotions like AAA and CMLL got major TV deals with Galavision and Azteca TV, which allowed Mexican expatriates in America to again see their old Lucha Libre favorites. Today, this has spawned a new lucha promotion called Lucha Underground which airs its rapid-fire, high-flying style on cable’s El Rey Network, and this has forced Vince’s hand as he introduced the Lucha Dragons team and revived his Cruiserweight division for talent 205 pounds and under to limited success.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, a similar scenario developed. WWE’s popularity spawned a new interest in local talent, and New Japan Pro Wrestling”phoenixed” itself back to life and is now the Orient’s premiere wrestling promotion. New Japan officials shrewdly aligned themselves with Ring of Honor to bill American talent and give their fans something to add to their existing coupling with Mexico’s CMLL. They also struck a deal with the American AXS TV to air their shows here on Friday evenings.

Additionally, a few independent promotions have gained strength, and names like Evolve Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Guerilla have lured former WWE talent to their ranks as the talent Vince keeps abusing discover there are other avenues open to them and they don’t have to take the Zookeeper’s BS.

What Vince is hoping for ultimately is to become the Walmart of wrestling and be the only source of employment in wrestling. He is a near-billionaire who pays his top talent insane amounts of money. Several of his athletes draw seven-figures-a-year salaries, but an increasing amount of these stars are realising that selling your soul for money doesn’t villify the money they make for wrestling, especially when these guys (and ladies) have to be away from their families, sometimes for weeks to meet the three-to-five night a week schedule. Also, while pro wrestling IS scripted and the outcomes of matches have been figured out weeks in advance, the moves involved can be extremely dangerous, and the contestants involved often “rehearse” together to perfect the moves they do during the matches. Even then, accidents occur which can send wrestlers to the hospital or end their in-ring careers.

One possible new threat to Vince’s megalomaniac dreams is former WWE, WCW, and TNA star Jeff Jarrett. For the last couple of years, Jarrett has been forming a new wrestling promotion called Global Force Wrestling. Last year he briefly flexed his muscles by making appearances in TNA, where one of his company’s championship titles was integrated in the storyline. That eventually went nowhere because TNA didn’t have the resources to sustain it, but Jarrett moved on. He gained a home arena in Las Vegas at the Orleans Casino and cemented a TV deal with an international corporation that today is poised to move in on the spot TNA may soon be vacating.

Another outlet for wrestlers has been MMA. Major MMA promotion UFC has been in the forefront when Brock Lesnar came to WWE, but lately it’s been the other way around. TNA world champion Bobby Lashley signed with Bellator Fighting and has been successful there. WWE former world champion CM Punk (Albert Brooks) recently participated in a losing capacity with UFC  but got paid $500,000 for it. Word is out that former WWE star Ryan Reeves (Ryback) is now in talks with Bellator to fight with them.

All this has led to various desperation moves by Vince to salvage his sinking ship as fans have begun not caring about his product. The signature WWE TV show, “Raw”, has been experiencing declining ratings. Vince went on a “buying spree” by hiring some big names from the competition, like Samoa Joe from TNA and AJ Styles from New Japan. When that didn’t get the hoped-for results, he brought a truckload of talent from his NXT developmental league in Florida (Florida Championship Wrestling before he bought and rebranded it) to give WWE that “fresh talent” feel. Again, this got mixed reviews, so he countered by splitting his roster in half and rebranding WWE in two separate entities, “Raw” and “Smackdown Live” in hopes of salvaging himself in either side, which may be wise since recent weeks have shown a large growth in the “Smackdown” brand while “Raw” continues to flounder as Raw concentrates on the BS storytelling aspect of the sport while Smackdown is more physical in nature, which seems to be what fans want. Raw will make a last-ditch effort by exclusively showcasing the Cruiserweight Division, but it appears that the Godfather of Wrestling, Vince McMahon, is getting ready to throw in the towel, and on that day, no one will celebrate more than me

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Filed under TV, Wrestling

New Direction for Religion

Religion as a whole has plagued humanity for at least thousands of years, ever since a forgotten troglodyte realised that he could get people to do his bidding if he could convince them that a “supreme being” could back him up.

The original plan has seen some changes from time to time and the story spread from one place to another, much like mother-in-law jokes. Some people actually had “inside information” on this entire charade, and incorporated the truth into the thread by incorporating multiple gods into the equation. This happened at a time of “enlightenment” across the world, and soon the religious cannon of various cultures had multiple gods that were named differently and regionally in Roman, Greek, and Norse mythology. Even the Arab and Hindu cultures were caught in this spiral for a time.

The original con game has had its ups and downs over the years, but the truly enlightened individuals reported even the strange events that would eventually reveal religion for what it is—misplaced science that those with lower intellect couldn’t figure out.

Throughout the Bible are multiple examples of advanced science and weaponry. The book of Ezekiel contains one of the most highly detailed sightings of aliens and their ships in recorded history. The Walls of Jericho were destroyed by a sonic weapon. The Hebrews who fled Egypt were aided by an advanced species who displayed cunning weaponry that allowed the Red Sea to be split by a similar weapon that kept the waters behind invisible walls, and when power to those “walls” was turned off, Pharaoh’s army was wiped out. Those aliens remained in a ship that glowed so brightly it was described in such terms as “a pillar of fire”.

The story about Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s wife “turned to salt” is easier to believe if you apply modern physics to it. The place was destroyed by an atomic weapon and Lot’s wife was burned to a crisp by the radiation. Modern history showed many such examples in World War II Japan when we bombed it.

Even that resurrection tall tale can be explained by scientific means. Why is the Shroud of Turin so enigmatic? Was Jesus really wrapped in it? Yes he was, and after his “death”, Jesus was wrapped in chemically embedded cloth and subjected to radiation treatment that brought him back to life. Even today, the world’s three superpowers (Russia, China, and the USA) are trying to replicate this and create new armies from dead people, even though they are unaware of how this will affect the dead bodies.

To make a long story short, all this conflicting array of stories is causing more people to doubt previously held religious beliefs. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this universe wasn’t wished into existence by some cosmic magician with a bipolar disorder problem. Even a few decades ago, God was still the “Supreme Being”, but today it’s Jesus. This is supposedly because they’re both the same entity. If anyone else claimed that, he’d be locked in a padded cell. Truth is, people are beginning to realise that an omnipotent, benevolent god would never treat “his” creations the way we are—destroyed by constant wars and deadly diseases, as well as continuous geophysical manifestations.

No, a truly all-powerful creator would protect his work by never allowing wars or disease to happen. Jesus is easier to believe in because he was a man—or at least a suitable hybrid developed by aliens through artificial insemination, if you really understand how Mary was “visited” by emissaries of God and became pregnant without sexual hijinks.

The world’s population no longer is willing to believe its various governments that say there’s no such things as UFOs. They’re beginning to see the light when people like me say that the truth is in the science hidden away in the Bible and that the government knows this and is covering everything from UFOs to sea monsters.

Religion is changing, and when the change is complete, the world may regret having lied to people so long.

 

 

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