Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 1
So I’ve watched two and a half of the discs. Interestingly Netflix says there is “Unknown Availability” for Discs 3 and 6. How’s that for the customer is always right? I’m liking the show. The episodes vary. Some are back story. Some introduce new characters. There’s usually at least a little bounty hunting involved. The ratio of comedy to drama is high. The visuals are a mixture of standard cartoon and high-end graphics. Some of the space scenes are especially well done and interesting.
I’ve been trying to think of what I can compare the viewing experience to. As I said in my last post, there is a decidedly close resemblance to the look and atmosphere of Firefly. But because it’s animated it’s obviously not identical. And in a related sense it is reminiscent of Westerns.
Not being a recent consumer of Japanese cartoons, I guess another thing it reminds me of are the Japanese cartoons that were on when I was a kid back in the sixties. One that has a little relevance was “Eighth Man.” The story was completely unrelated. But just something about the pacing makes it seem akin in my mind.
With respect to back story, the protagonist, Spike, has a history involved with a crime family. There is an evil brother figure lurking in his past. Down the road there is sure to be a reckoning for past sins.
I still don’t know what the relevance of the welsh corgi will be. Maybe he’ll turn out to be super intelligent. Right now he’s just sort of annoying. They’ve also added a young girl who is also (of course) a world class hacker to the crew. I’m guessing she’s the River Tam of the crew.
So, just to update, not sure where it’s going, still liking it.
What do most of the Twilight Zone episodes, the third season of Star Trek and Transformers VI (or whatever number they’re up to this year) have in common? They were no good, nobody wanted to see them and they were written by hacks. Sure, there were a few good Zone episodes and also a few of the Trek episodes were fun or interesting. What I think you’ll notice with these is that the episode was written by somebody creative. The rest of the dreck in these categories was ground out by talentless hacks who couldn’t even spell the word plot let alone write one. And that brings us back to Transformers XX or whatever it is. Great Caesar’s Ghost!
Is the business really that bad? Is there no other way to fund and produce movies than to pile sequel onto sequel? How many times can Sylvester Stallone climb into the ring or jump out of a crashing helicopter? How many times can that stupid alien ravage human colonies before somebody gets around to inventing industrial strength Raid for aliens and drop it on their ugly butts?
As even Deadpool himself said (before his upcoming sequel of course), and I paraphrase, how many times can Liam Neeson let his daughter be Taken before we assume he’s just a not a very good father. Wasn’t Godfather III enough to prove that even the best stories can’t be endlessly resuscitated without being turned into crap?
But you notice, TV is able to make some pretty good stuff. I’ve just finished Justified and I’d put that up against anything I’ve seen in the theater in the last five years. Why the disparity? First of all, Justified was adapted from the works of Elmore Leonard whose stories have time and again translated well into movies. Whereas with these endless sequel franchises, I assume they are assembled from some formula that is somehow supposed to capture the original flavor of the first episode but without the high price of the original screenwriter. Apparently, they’ll pay tens of millions to get Bruce Willis or Jamie Foxx and millions more to CGI the explosions but they’ll settle for the story line to be written by the corporate lawyers who put the financial deal together for the studios.
I think I read that because of the cable fees TV is actually able to monetize their quality shows pretty successfully whereas on the big screen only a giant blockbuster success is lucrative enough to even attract sufficient funding to get made. And that means Terminator 30 gets made before something well written and entertaining like possibly a faithful version of one of Heinlein’s juveniles. I imagine that Citizen of the Galaxy or Farmer in the Sky in the hands of a good screenwriter and director would be very entertaining and very commercial.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Focus Photog, focus. What’s your point? Bring this back around to the title. Bring it home.”
Fine, I will. Hollywood is dead. Long live TV. Except for some extraordinary slam dunks like “The Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” Hollywood is too paralyzed by the fear of losing gobs of money to try and put a quality product together from quality components. And that’s why I don’t feel deprived when I skip whole decades at the theater. There’s nothing there. Even the occasional stand out ends up being barely acceptable. I remember hearing raves about Gravity. When I finally rented it, I was puzzled what all the fuss was about. Okay would be a generous appraisal. The same with “The Martian.” Adequate would cover it.
And it couldn’t happen to a nicer set of people. If DiCaprio and Depp start only making seven figures instead of eight I certainly won’t cry. When they’re replaced by AI – CGI maybe the stories won’t be as insulting to the dirt people. What a concept!
Robert Louis Stevenson is the author of a number of interesting stories including the “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Kidnapped” and “Treasure Island.” I’ve always thought Treasure Island is one of the best boy’s stories ever written. I give a copy to each of my grandsons when he reaches the age where he can read it. It is one of the best.
Treasure Island has been made into a movie several times by Hollywood but for my money the best by a mile is the 1934 version with Victor Fleming directing. It stars Jackie Cooper as the boy hero Jim Hawkins and Wallace Beery as the pirate chief Long John Silver. Cooper was a kid actor in the Little Rascals series and also known for melodramatic roles in some big movies. Beery was a big star of the time who appeared in both comic and dramatic roles. The idea of using American actors in this British story seems ridiculous. Cooper doesn’t even pretend to use a British accent. He speaks in an obviously 20th century American accent. Beery uses a very stagey 18th century English accent. This is also the case with the rest of the cast. There is one actual brit Nigel Bruce (of Sherlock Holmes’ Doctor Watson fame) in the cast but he doesn’t come off any more authentic than any of the other actors. On the face of it, it seems impossible that anything good would emerge. But it does. It’s the best.
The story entertains at every turn. Boys from six to a hundred and six love this movie because it has everything they want. Treasure, pirates, sailing ships (the Hispaniola), desert islands, battles with flintlocks and cutlasses, and all manner of exciting adventure. The movie version takes some liberties with the book (mostly to put Long John Silver in a slightly better light) but the adaption is faithful to the spirit of the story and it remains solidly entertaining.
One of my favorite scenes is Jim Hawkins confronting the pirate, Israel Hands, while Jim is stealing the Hispaniola from the pirates to forestall the use of the ship’s cannons against his friends in the besieged blockhouse. In that scene Jim needs to be brave and resourceful and no adult is there to help him against a deadly adversary. In other scenes, the comedy inherent in his conversations with the ruthless but personable Long John Silver are memorable.
I guess what makes it timeless is the young protagonist proving himself a heroic and resourceful figure in the company of men, both good men and truly evil men. Basically it’s the same formula in the greek myths and every other hero coming of age story.
If you have a son or a grandson or a nephew or other boy who enjoys adventure (as most boys do) buy him the book and after he’s read it give him the movie to watch. And make some popcorn and watch it with him. You’ll enjoy it and so will he. Certain he will matey. Certain he will.
Only a seriously unserious photographer would spend 350 bucks to rent a camera like the A9 for a week and then use it as frivolously and haphazardly as I just did with it. My only defense is that I only wanted to establish one thing. I wanted to know whether the autofocus was great, good or as miserable as on my A7S. It’s not a good defense. Enough reports are out there to show that it’s much, much better than the A7S. In fact there is plenty of testimony for it being better than any of the A7 cameras and for it being at least comparable to high end Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
Well, call me Doubting Thomas. I needed to see it with my own eyes and experience it with my own hands.
Okay, big surprise, it’s really very, very good. Put the camera on center point focus and point it at anything inside or outside and it focuses instantaneously and flawlessly. Beyond that I did some tests with tracking and eye-focus of moving targets and it was pretty good. It wasn’t perfect or flawless but that could be attributed to my lack of understanding of which setting should be used when and my lack of technique for shooting sports or occasion subjects.
At this point you can see that there will be no big surprises or important information coming out of this post (unless you are a doubter like me and for some reason trust me more than the reputable reporters who’ve already sung the A9’s praises). What this is is a personal opinion about why the A9 is an important camera for Sony shooters.
As anyone who has been following my photography posts knows I have been a somewhat patient long-suffering Sony camera user. As an owner of the last full frame DSLR from Sony (the praiseworthy A-850) I have been waiting and suffering through the long chain of mirrorless cameras that Sony produced. From the NEX-5N up to and including the A7R II I have been disappointed by the incompetent autofocus and mediocre shooting experience of these cameras compared to a basic DSLR like the A-850.
Those days are over.
The A9 is a better camera than the A-850 in every way.
And here’s my take on why this is important. I don’t have to abandon Sony. I can keep my lense and buy into their overpriced stuff and at least I won’t have to sell it all in a fire sale and go over to Canon or Nikon. The features that the A9 has are remarkable. No black out shooting, excellent indoor and outdoor autofocus, low light capability, silent shutter, very short exposure time, you name it, it’s got it.
The only downside, $4,500 price tag. I am not that nuts. You see I’m a hobbyist. I don’t shoot weddings and I don’t work for CBS sports. I do not actually need 20 frames per second. Nor do I want to pay for it.
What I do want is that fantastic autofocus and the no blackout shooting experience. Well actually, I’d also like to get that bigger battery too. Unfortunately, it’s starting to get closer to most of the camera. Damn. Well anyway, I want an A7 III with all the goodies of the A9 but without the mortgage. Three grand? Sure. Thirty five hundred? Ahhhh, I dono. So come on Sony make it a Merry Christmas. After all I have been patient.
As someone who has slowly become aware of the depths of the change going on in the country I’ve recently been in the odd position of acting as an interpreter to my even less aware brethren. At a family gathering I was drawn into a discussion of the recent Charlottesville riot. The prevailing opinion was that Trump had botched it by addressing the situation the way he did.
• It was a mistake to give the press the chance to tie him to the protesters.
• They were bemoaning his drops in opinion polls and the chaos at the White House.
• I was warned about the danger to the Senate majority and the inevitability of impeachment.
• I was told that he must begin getting on message and concentrate on passing an agenda that included tax reform and spending cuts.
The talk became rather heated and I tried to convince them that what they took for a bug was a feature. I tried to make them understand that what Trump needed to do was not embrace the moderates but wake up the sleep walkers. And that they themselves were the sleepwalkers. I pointed out that any actual Nazis there were more than matched in evil by the fascistic Antifa present at the proceedings. Highlighting that and countering the narrative coming from the press and the establishment political parties was Trump’s job and needed to be done. I’m not sure I was successful in convincing my audience. I think their time hasn’t yet arrived. Or maybe it won’t. For some the chaos that would occur during a full-blown confrontation between left and right is unthinkable. Hell, even I view such an event with enormous trepidation and distaste. But just as strongly I reject the notion that these leftist miscreants should destroy what’s good about this country.
At a certain point in the conversation I was asked how Trump calling out the left could succeed in reversing the damage that already had been done by the left. I answered that he couldn’t. All he could do was try to wake up the sleepwalkers to how much trouble we are in. Wake them up and and hope that there are enough of them left to win by democratic means. When asked how likely that was I made up a number based on how pessimistic I felt. Maybe thirty percent, maybe ten? Later on, I thought about that guess and realized that ten percent was actually closer to what I believed.
The next day I noticed that everyone actually seemed a little more optimistic about the future. I think just talking with someone who wasn’t discouraged with how Trump was addressing the press and the left seemed to help them even if the prognosis for difficult times ahead was part of the package. We discussed how to take positive action and improve our own personal environments. Build business and social connections to protect ourselves and our families from disruptions to come. We even discussed what areas of the country might be the best place for us to coalesce to. It was a real shot in the arm. So today I’m encouraged. People can learn that there are alternatives to capitulation. If you articulate the futility of the establishment appeasement position people will listen. And if they listen sometimes they wake up. And talking about it with friends actually seems therapeutic.
Did I wake anyone up? I don’t know, but at least now I feel like I want to keep trying.
So, every month or two the world becomes even a lot weirder and I need to do an evaluation to allow for course correction. And it’s definitely one of those times again. The events of the last week have pushed us still deeper into the uncharted territory of American Guerilla War. The prospect of Antifa battling it out with Nationalists has become reality. And right on script establishment republicans have backed Antifa. The press has become almost apoplectic and President Trump is still managing to defy the powers that be. Wow.
The upshot. Social media and much of corporate America have joined lock-step with the narrative that right-wing = Nazism. Even relatively moderate bloggers are being deplatformed by social media and even their internet service providers. Moderates are panicking and swearing allegiance to anyone on the left who will accept their confessions. Many on the right are angry and confused. Some are blaming the Alt-Right for making all this happen.
What do I think? I think that those who foretold a growing separation between left and right in America and the beginning of a schism of the American public were right. I think it may be starting to happen. Now, I don’t think this will be some civil war (either cold or hot). I think there will be more clashes in the streets and more and more animosity and hate. And I think it will harden opinions on both sides and it will move things further along toward a separation of us and them. Alternative platforms and companies and agencies will begin to form that will allow people to disengage from the irritants that exist in the present condition. A way for people to avoid Twitter, Facebook, PayPal, Patreon and Google and the other myriad institutions that despise the right and everything it believes in. And then people on the right are going to start using boycotts to put pressure on Walmart and Target and the other big businesses to stop caving into the pressure from the left and just sell their crap to us without the social justice virtue signaling attached. And they are going to have to start looking for alternative places for their kids to go to school. That will be the toughest choice of all.
But I think all of these things are starting to become more real. The left becomes ever more hateful and irrational. It becomes ever more strident and its demands become more and more intolerable. I believe people on the right will have to build networks and relationships that allow mutual support and even economic relationships. Hire the people you trust and the people you like. Buy from people who don’t despise you. Shun the businesses and the individuals who openly hate everything you stand for and believe in.
It’s not a pretty picture. A year-ago I would have said it sounded silly and melodramatic. I don’t think so anymore. I think it’s the direction we’re going. I’ve begun the first little steps myself. I will no longer click on a news link from any of the left-wing media. Never. I avoid all arts and entertainment sites that control the message and only allow leftist dogma. That is one of the reasons I include photography and science fiction on this website. I wanted a place where people on the right who enjoyed these things weren’t second class citizens. I am looking for alternative companies for products that are produced by flagrantly leftist companies. I don’t use Twitter, Wikipedia or Facebook. I limit what I use Google for and avoid their browser. I support alternatives like Gab, Infogalactic and Brave. I’m waiting to see what alternative crowd-funding and other funding choices become available.
Of course, these are tiny steps. For many of the daily actions no good alternatives exist yet. But start somewhere. Patronize those who agree with you. Shun those who are your sworn enemies. Make a start.
So this is a bit of a joke. The FE 55mm is in no way a macro lens. Its closest focus is about a foot away and so with a 55mm focal length it’s basically a normal size image. The twist is that because the A9 allows autofocus in a magnified view you can get incredibly exact focus on small things like insects from that 12 inches away and then you can crop the image to look like a macro shot. What follows is a series of images followed by a crop of the focal point. I found it pretty easy to get even hyperactive bugs like the bees and wasps to end up in focus. This was my first day with the camera. These photos are just jpgs. I don’t have the latest Lightroom rev that works with A9 files so these are rough pictures and won’t be reworked to their fullest potential. Tomorrow I’ll see if I can do anything more sensible with it.
In what kind of bizarro alternate reality does Donald Trump end up as the only man brave enough to speak truth to power? While all the republican politicians and the alleged right-wing pundits groveled and cowered away from the charges of racism and Nazism being hurled by the Fake News, Donald Trump stood there and dared to proclaim that both sides of the riot at Charlottesville came prepared to spill blood. This he did clearly, strenuously and repeatedly. He didn’t cower or equivocate or back-pedal. He stood his ground. He used effective logic to show how today’s statue of Robert E Lee would be tomorrow’s Washington Monument or Jefferson Memorial. Watching him fight the good fight should fill the rest of the right wing with shame and feelings of inadequacy. How is it possible that a real estate builder whose biggest claim to fame was a tv show that showed him firing make believe employees is basically the only republican in the country with an intact backbone? How did we get here?
I’ll confess I don’t know the answer. And I don’t know if Trump can continue to stand up to every power structure in the whole world attacking from every angle. But I will tell you that as long as he continues to show the courage and stamina to hold his ground, I’ll support him 100%. If he needs me to send letters to my congress critters I’ll do it. If he wants to draft me into some kind of geriatric right-wing literary goon squad whose job it is to send nasty letters to Rosie O’Donnell and Nancy Pelosi, I’ll volunteer. If he needs cash for his defense fund once he’s retired from the White House I’ll send him cash. Hell, if he needs a getaway car to make a break for the border I’ll drive it. The man delivers. He’s fearless and he’s obviously talented. Damn, I wish he’d been president during 9-11. We wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now.
What Trump has demonstrated is that if you stand up to the Press and push back you look good and they look stupid and dishonest. If you speak plainly and avoid the weasel words you can get people to understand that the Left isn’t the good guys. Sometimes they are the villains and we are the good guys, or at least we’re the lesser of two evils.
I’ve said it before jokingly but now I’m saying it completely seriously. Trump is the best American President in my lifetime. And that includes Reagan. Reagan was a great president and a good man. But Trump has been plopped down in the greatest meltdown in American history and every day he’s wrestling with the most dysfunctional array of fake newscasters, politicians, special interest groups and corporate thugs ever assembled. And despite that he’s getting done what can be done through the power of the executive branch. And even there he’s being harassed and sabotaged by deep state bureaucrats and operatives at every turn. Reading the news, I wonder how long a man his age can stand up to the pounding. But I’ll offer up a fervent prayer that he does survive.
So here’s to you President Trump. As I’ve said before, you’re a crazy son of a bitch. But you’re our crazy son of a bitch and the only one who just may save this country from collectivist oblivion.
Back at the beginning of the summer one of my relatives recommended this movie to me. He’s a sci-fi fan but of course tastes vary. Well anyway, I watched it last week and it was bizarre. The premise of the movie is basically ridiculous. As a way to combat global warming, humans treat the atmosphere of earth with a chemical that ends up plunging them into an ice age. The temperature drop is so severe that all human life is destroyed except for a tiny remnant that lives on a train that constantly circles the planet. This is the eponymous “Snowpiercer.” So, this is the first problem with the movie. If the earth was becoming cold and uninhabitable would you build a train as a refuge? I would think that an insulated bunker somewhere near the equator would make sense. Or something under the ocean would remain warm for centuries. It’s just a ridiculous idea.
Put the inconceivable nature of the premise aside and let’s look at the story. The train has a population that is stratified by position on the train. The back cars of the train are inhabited by the wretched refuse who are crowded into cattle cars and fed protein concentrate bars that look like sludge. Moving forward the environment and the inhabitants become progressively more fortunate until by the front few cars we have the elite who live in luxury and eat delicacies like sushi and fresh fruit. The proles in the rear are controlled by armed guards and punished for infractions with barbaric violence. When a man whose child is taken away by one of the rulers throws his shoe at her we see an example of this. For this offense, his arm is exposed through a gasketed aperture in the side of the train to the frigid gale whipping past the train. After eleven minutes, his arm is brought back in and struck with a sledge hammer. The arm shatters like one of those rubber balls that’s been dipped in liquid nitrogen and bounced off the floor. That’ll teach him!
The majority of the movie is the chronicle of the revolt of the proles and their battle to reach the front of the train and conquer their overlords. Along the way we see details of how the ecosystem of the Snowpiercer works. The prole food is revoltingly produced while the elite have whole car lengths of aquariums full of rare fish and rain forests of plant life to produce food and purify the water. We also get some of the back story to explain how the proles became so downtrodden and the greater horrors that transpired when they first entered into the train. The details are horrific and make you wonder why these people even bothered to keep struggling.
And finally, the climax occurs when the proles reach the engine. At this point we learn the answer to how this train maintains the balance between life and death. And we meet the engineer, Ed Harris, who charms us into seeing his point of view. And of course, the movie ends on a catastrophic reversal that resolves the whole thing.
So, is it any good? Parts of it are interesting and some of the characters are fun to watch. I especially enjoy Tilda Swinton as the schoolmarmish sadist who has the man’s armed frozen off. She’s quite demented fun. But I’d say as a movie it’s just too jumbled a mixture of action, sci-fi and human drama to recommend. It’s just too nuts. But maybe there is an audience out there for this. But it’s not me.
Years ago, I had read that Cowboy Bebop might have been one of the influences on the making of the TV show Firefly. Being a big fan of Firefly, you would have thought that I would have tracked it down and watched Cowboy Bebop long ago. And you would have been wrong. I never did. Now this might have been because it was an animated series. Or maybe because it wasn’t originally an English language show. Or maybe because I figured it wasn’t as good as Firefly. Who knows? Anyway, I started watching the first few episodes last week. My first conclusion is that Joss Whedon definitely borrowed heavily from the look and feel of Cowboy Bebop. Secondly, it is an enjoyable show and stands on its own merits. Now let me qualify that second statement. It’s a cartoon. The characters and the action are larger than life. When a gun fight breaks out bullets saturate every last square inch of wall space around the protagonist. Every fight has fists and feet flying in all directions and every facial close up has clenched jaw muscles and popping eyes. Basically, everything is exaggerated to cartoon level. Oh, and there’s a Welsh Corgi as part of the crew of a space travelling bounty hunters. Suffice it to say that reality is in no way a condition for something showing up in this show. But the characters have consistent personalities, the look of the show is very well done, there’s a fascinating backstory with terrible enemies and mysterious women and the plots although wildly unrealistic are (in my opinion) enjoyable. As I’ve said, I’ve only watched the first five episodes but I like it well enough to want to keep watching it.
Alright, now what’s it about? Cowboy Bebop is a space ship that so far has a crew of three humans and one Welsh Corgi. They are bounty hunters who work for whatever government (or other organization) that can provide a large enough pay day. Like on Firefly the culture seems to be a combination of American and Chinese culture. Also, as on Firefly, humans inhabit a number on moons and planets (but this time within our own solar system). Cowboy Bebop seems to work on both sides of the interface between the criminal and legal spheres. Their biggest problems seem to be monetary. They are chronically short of funds. The protagonist is named Spike and seems to be a young man in his thirties who enjoys his job as much for the fighting as for the rewards. In his past, he worked for a very high-level mob boss. Spike’s partner is an older man with a much angrier façade but can also be depended on in a fight. The similarities to Mal and Jane Cobb in Firefly are pretty strong. The regularity with which the ship comes up empty handed after a mission is also a point of similarity to Firefly.
I consider that I prefer live action movies to animation but I’ll go on record as saying that Cowboy Bebop seems a highly creative show and has many features that make it interesting and entertaining. I look forward to seeing the remainder of the series and will report back on its qualities.
So now I know where Whedon got his inspiration. And maybe his own effort may not have been the superior to the model.