Sunday, July 25, 2010

Film Review: Predators


Back in 1987, I really enjoyed the movie Predator, the original film about a race of warrior aliens who home to Earth on hunting expeditions. Their prey is an elite military team on a covert rescue mission. The Predator kills the team members one by one, but it is ultimately defeated by the team leader, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The sequel, set in present day Los Angeles, pitted the Predator against rival drug cartels and LAPD officers. It's a much more convoluted story and not as well done as the first film.

The less said about the two Alien V. Predator movies, the better.


As in the original film, Predators pits a group of humans against alien hunters. In this film, the group of trained soldiers and experienced killers are dropped into an unfamiliar jungle, which they later discover is an alien planet. They soon realize that they are in a game preserve, where they are being hunted for sport by aliens.

The movie begins with an unconscious man (Adrian Brody) plummeting through the air. He wakes up, panics, but then begins beating the parachute harness on his chest. It seems to be malfunctioning, but opens soon enough that the man makes a survivable hard landing. He is equipped for battle so quickly pulls out his machine gun. Soon more humans fall out of the sky near him. None of them know what's happening, and they are inclined to fight with each other. Brody (his character refuses to give his name) convinces them to calm down, and they figure out that most of them are soldiers, one is a convicted murderer, and one tells them he's a doctor. No one can identify the jungle that they're in, so they begin to travel towards higher ground, where they can observe the lay of the land. When they reach a clearing, they see a sky filled with planets and realize they are no longer on Earth.

During their journey, the group are pursued by alien hunting dogs, encounter booby traps set by another human, and are almost lured into an ambush when the Predators nab one of their group and use him to set a trap. They locate a death camp, where they see the bodies and bones of many previous victims, as well as a living Predator captive. One more human is killed there. The lone female in the group (Alice Braga) recognized the captured Predator, and explains that a similar creature attacked a group of soldiers in Guatemala in 1987 (a reference to the first film).

Another member of the group is almost killed when another human comes to the rescue. Noland (Laurence Fishburne) has been on the planet for a long time, surviving by salvaging weapons and tools from the Predators and their victims. He talks to an imaginary friend, seemingly suffering from the stress of battle and being alone. He tells the group that an alien spaceship has landed near the death camp, and he also explains that they are up against two species of Predators. One is larger and kills the smaller ones (the ones we have seen on Earth before) for sport, just as they kill the humans.

Predators find their camp and several of the humans are killed. One of the humans uses an ancient Japanese sword and duels with a Predator. Both are killed. The doctor is injured by a steel jaw trap, and Brody encourages Braga to leave him. She refuses. Brody releases the Predator in the camp and they seem to come to an understanding. Then the bigger Predator attacks. Brody runs for the spaceship. The spaceship takes off. The big Predator kills the little Predator. The spaceship blows up.


The doctor and Braga are trapped in a pit. Braga offers to kill them both before the Predators can, but he doesn't care about that. He cuts Braga with a poisoned knife, paralyzing her. He tells her that he's a murderer and is going to kill her. Brody comes back in the nick of time, having not gotten on the spaceship after all, and he stops the doctor. In a technique similar to what the Predators did with the first human victim, Brody uses the doctor to lure the Predator close then detonates a bunch of grenades. The Predator is not killed, so they have a big final battle. Braga is wounded. Brody beats the Predator to death. Brody admits that his name is Royce and Braga introduces herself as Isabelle. They look up and see a bunch of new victims parachuting into the jungle, and Brody announces that it's time to find a way off this planet.

Credits roll over to the tune of "Long Tall Sally" sung by Little Richard.


Most of the characters are not likeable. They are thugs and murderers. Why should we care that they are in the position of being hunted like animals. They are animals.

The planet was too much like Earth. The doctor recognizes a strange looking plant as containing a dangerous neurotoxin. I know they had to film on Earth, but we saw nothing alien at all except the Predators and one alien hunting victim. No plants that were unrecognizable. No animals or birds. (Hubby says he heard birds but I don't recall seeing any.) Some kind of beetle is found in the crate that an alien captive was dropped in, and they saw the same beetles on the corpse. Brody slapped a bug on his neck once. Just once. He also skewered a beetle of some kind, but I don't know if it was the same as the ones on the alien.

I thought Brody was going to eat the beetle. It would have been gross, but not at all unexpected. They hadn't eaten or said anything about food the whole time. They walked and walked and walked and ran and fought and walked, and never talked about being hungry or thirsty. Some of them had their battle backpacks with them; maybe they had some rations or bottled water, but we never saw it. We never saw the inevitable confrontation by the people who didn't have packs with them and would have also been hungry or thirsty.

The doctor is hanging from his parachute straps in a tree when the others first encounter him. He falls into a pool of water. It's played for laughs like, he's acting like he's going to drown then he stands up. None of these people think about the things that are in water in a jungle. There might have been leeches or bacteria or any number of nasty things. Nobody says to get out quick or anything. Later they are chased off a cliff and into a larger body of water, but they still don't seem concerned about dangers that might be in the water.

When Isabelle (Braga) tells about the Guatemala incident, she says one man survived by covering himself with mud to hide his body heat. The movie goes on for another hour before anyone uses that tip, and even then, it's not really used effectively. A ring of fire is more useful camouflage at that point.

The humans don't seem very careful to grab weapons when someone is killed. They do salvage a few things from Noland's place when they have to leave quickly. Near the beginning, they are using their guns pretty carelessly. After a big gun battle, when they have wasted a lot of ammo, in my opinion, Brody says that they need to count their rounds and conserve what they have, but we don't get a count and they don't seem ever to try to make their shots count.

The doctor's change at the end seems to come out of the blue. He has one conversation with the convicted killer/rapist that could possibly have made us wonder about it, but if they tried to do something subtle, it was too subtle for me. Near the end, he makes one decision that didn't seem in character, and then he lies about a photograph, but this was very near the end. It almost seems like they started out with him as a doctor then decided to go a different direction midway through the script.

The doctor finds the neurotoxin plant early on. Two other characters know about it. we don't see what the doctor does with the poison on his little knife; one assumes he wiped it off somewhere. At no point does anyone suggest that they use the neurotoxin on spears or arrows or bullets that might help defeat the alien enemy. Nor does anyone suggest that they try to reset the booby traps at the other human's camp or create similar ones around a camp of their own. It's like they just don't think about it.

The music was adequate and draws on the themes created by Alan Silvestri for the first film. New composer John Debney has never done anything truly inventive or inspiring, so it's not a surprise that the score wasn't anything special. The Little Richard tune was used in a couple of scenes in the original film, but my husband and I didn't remember it from the first movie, so its use over the end credits was mystifying at the time.

The direction by Nimród Antal was adequate. It's certainly not the worst film direction I've seen. Only one scene featured truly irritating camera work; it's near the beginning when the convict is fighting with a soldier from Sierra Leone. They stand up and the camera is shaking and the men are wobbling, and it's hard to focus in on anything. My husband was not impressed with the way some of the fights were shot. Antal has done a couple of features and apparently a lot of music videos. It's a really bad idea to use music video and videogame directors to direct features, but it seems to be the recruitment tool of choice for Hollywood. I think that's a lot of the reason that movies don't seem to have much heart and soul these days.

Predators was an interesting enough film and a somewhat worthy sequel to the 1987 movie. It's far from a great film. Like so many movies today, it seems less a cohesive script than a compilation of scenes and lines and characters cobbled together from previous films. It's not well thought out. There's no point to having the fight on an alien planet, except that it leaves two characters trapped there in set-up for another sequel.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I'm trying something new.

The BeFrugal website contacted me about becoming an advertising affiliate, and through that site I learned about Commission Junction. The registration process took a few minutes, and now I'm about to ad an advertising widget to my blog. I have Google Ads, but they're really not very targeted. I guess they key in on select words and stick up links, which I've never completely trusted, either on my site or anyone else's. I always figured it was worth having, even though hardly anyone visits my blogs. It can't hurt.

And so, it can't hurt to put in an advertising widget for something specific, and through BeFrugal and Commission Junction, I can choose what business I want to feature. I selected Entirely Pets, which is a website I patronize. They have a really good price on Pill Pockets, which are instrumental to getting my cat Remy to take his heart medicine without a fight. Remy's littermate died of a heart attack. Poor Quinn had a terrible time with all the meds he had to take after his first attack. Not only that, but we had to take him to a lot of different vets for tests, and at one of those locations he picked up a respiratory infection which he then passed to all the other cats in the household. Just about the time we though he was going to recover fully, he had another attack.

Anyway, between the heart meds and the respiratory meds, Quinn was taking pills around the clock. It broke our hearts that he would look sad and try to hide from us to avoid the pills.

A few months after Quinn died, Remy's heart murmur was diagnosed. He only takes one quarter of a very small pill every day, and at first we hid it in Pounce Hairball Treats. That can be a little messy, and I didn't necessarily like to give him a hairball treat every day.

Finally, we found Pill Pockets. A half a pocket easily hides his tiny pill, so a bag of 45 can last for almost three months. I say almost because we also use them as treats for everyone, and sometimes I'll break up an allergy pill into pieces and hide them in pockets for Trickster, when he's having a bad day.

Still, it's kind of pricey at the stores. They are anywhere from $7.99 to $10.99 a bag locally. When we were first getting them, I didn't realize they had expiration dates and a local (chain) store sold me two expired bags! When I opened the first bag, I knew there was something wrong, because they were dry and crumbly. Then I saw the date stamp. I still had the receipt and took them back to the store. They had two more expired bags on the shelf, so I felt it was easy to prove I had just purchased them and wasn't trying to pull something. They still didn't want to give me a refund! I finally convinced the manager to give me my money back, but I will never shop there again.

Entirely Pets has always shipped my product well in advance of the expiration date. It only takes few days to get an order filled. I'm on their mailing list, so I regularly get offers for free shipping over $25. I buy six bags at a time and they're about $5 each, so I easily meet the minimum. I've been really pleased with their service and the quality of the product I receive, so that's why I picked their company for my first affiliate ad.

Entirely Pets did not ask me to do this. I'll get credit for every click through on the ad in my sidebar, but that's all. I'm just happy to have the opportunity to help someone else save a few bucks and to help a business that does a good job.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Cox HSI is hijacking websites to make money.

I am so mad at Cox Communications, my home ISP, that I could spit nails.

If you've read my blog before, you know I enter a lot of sweepstakes. I visit 50-60 websites per night to fill out entry forms and to learn more about the sponsors. That's not counting my webmail service (not Cox); news and weather sites; entertainment sites and forums.

On a usual night, I might get a couple of "page not found" messages. Sometimes the page will load just fine a minute or two later. Sometimes the URL was posted somewhere incorrectly.

I have noticed, of late, that I was seeing a lot of "Cox Finder" error pages instead of the usual "page not found" pages. I guess I paid more attention tonight because the problem was so frequent and irritating.

The Cox Finder, or as they refer to it the "Enhanced Error Results" page, tells the user that the page cannot be loaded, but wouldn't you like to try one of these other pages instead?

Here's what the Cox website says about "Enhanced Error Results":

Cox is currently providing an enhanced error results service that redirects URL entries in Internet Explorer to relevant alternative results provided by Yahoo! Search Marketing. When no relevant keyword can be extracted to produce a list of alternative sites, a search box is presented to the users so they can conduct the search again. If relevant results are identified, an enhanced results page displays providing a suggested list of alternative sites.

My arguments:

(1) I wasn't searching for terms. I plugged in a URL or clicked on a link.

(2) I primarily use Mozilla Firefox. I only use Internet Explorer when a site doesn't open correctly in Firefox.

(3) I received these "Enhanced Error Results" instead of valid URLs. In one case, I had a site open but something within the page (an ad or a form) showed the Cox Finder page. I refreshed, and then I got the Cox Finder message for the whole page. Eventually, the page reloaded after multiple tries from the original link.

(4) I received the "Enhanced Error Results" when trying to visit a manufacturer's website. The same website came up as the last search result in a list of about 10 options. Cox says, "The results served are a combination of sponsored links and ‘natural’ search results, depending on what you were looking for –- just the same as if you used any search engine."

As I became more and more frustrated and suspicious of Cox's motives and methods, I did a Google search for the phrase and found a FAQ about "Enhanced Error Results" on the Cox website. I found instructions on how to opt-out. I logged into my account and followed the instructions. Then I logged into a different account and attempted to follow the instructions, and I received a message that I had already opted out.

I continued to have some problems off and on with pages not loading. Then I started seeing the "Enhanced Error Results" again.

Giving Cox the benefit of the doubt, I contacted their 24/7 Live Technical Support via Chat. Here's how it began:

Edward> My name is Edward, welcome to Cox High Speed Internet Online Support.

Auriette> Is there some problem with Cox HSI service in my area tonight?

Edward> I am really sorry for the inconvenience.
Edward> Unfortunately, there is difficulty with the e-mail service for your
Edward> Our technicians are aware of the issue and are currently taking care of

Hmm. Did I say I was having problem with my email? I don't use Cox for email. So I asked if he meant there was a problem with internet connectivity. At that point, he asked for all kinds of account information. Now, if he didn't know where I was, how did he know there was an email service issue in my area?

So then Edward tells me "I have checked your modem signals and are working properly and there is no reported outage for your area."

And then he tries to blame it on my router, saying, "we do not provide technical assistance for connections behind a third party router."

This would be the router that Cox's installer recommended and installed more than five years ago. We've never been connected to the internet without it. I've had techs over the phone tell me to disconnect everything and unplug it and turn it all back on, but never to remove the router and connect the modem directly to the internet, and I had no intention of trying it tonight, because I believe the problem is related to this sudden influx of sales pitches via the "Enhanced Error Results."

So, I ask:

Auriette> I opted out of the "Enhanced Error Results" sales page over two hours
ago. How long does it normally take for the opt-out to take full effect?

Edward> It is immediately. However, sometimes the site does not work.

Ahhh. Sometimes the site doesn't work. Hmmm.

So Edward pastes in a link and says I'll have to change my settings manually in order to "opt out." I cannot, however, copy or paste the link.

Auriette> Please wait while I try that.
Auriette> I'm not able to copy and paste that link or to click on it.
Auriette> Please email to

Edward> Just a moment please.

That is not the end of our chat, but it is the end of the transcript that Edward emailed to me. Here's what really happened:

I ask him to send it to the email address that I use, the email that I had open on my desktop. He sent it to my Cox address. I ask him again to send it to my usual email address and HE LIED TO ME! He said he sent it there, but he sent it again to the Cox address.


I was able to click on the link in the transcript and follow the instructions to manually set my DNS settings. I'm not sure what will happen the next time I have to repair my LAN settings after leaving on the firewall for a few minutes.

I am continuing to have problems with my internet connection, though I haven't seen the "Enhanced Error Results" page lately.

Cox needs to understand that they are not the only option for broadband connection. By partnering with Yahoo Search for this "Enhanced Error Results" process, they are playing games with their customers. In trying to earn a few pennies from click throughs, they are going to end up losing steady customers to other ISPs. Their rude, incompetent, lying tech support personnel will only hurt the situation.

I hope they wise up and correct this problem.

UPDATE: 24 hours later, and I haven't gotten a single "page not found" of any variety, and no sign of the Cox Finder "Enhanced Error Results" page. Perhaps my opt-out was finally processed. Maybe they repaired the non-existent problem that was causing the lost connections. I'm still suspicious of the Cox-Yahoo partnership.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Review: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

Contains observations that may be considered SPOILERS.

I received an advanced reading copy of “The Left Hand of God” through a giveaway at the Goodreads website. It’s not something I would have picked up on my own. I’m not sure if that small detail colored the way I feel about the novel, but it’s worth mentioning.

The plot seems fairly standard, combining elements from myth, fairy tales and film. Young boys are bought or kidnapped and brought to a monastery where they are cruelly treated and trained for warfare. The protagonist is Thomas Cale, a boy brought to the Sanctuary as a child and who is now the top student. He witnesses an unexpected and savage event that leads him to escape the Sanctuary, taking with him three others. They make their way to Memphis, major city, where Cale earns both respect and hatred. He falls in love, and that completely changes his outlook and approach to combat. The book concludes with a massive battle between the Redeemers of the Sanctuary and the Materazzi of Memphis.

The story doesn’t end there, because “The Left Hand of God” is, in another commonality, the first in a trilogy.

I must admit that the novel is compelling. I was never inclined to set it down and leave it, which I have done with books on rare occasions. I wanted to know what happened to the characters and what secrets they were hiding. I can’t say that the characters are well developed. We don’t often see into their thoughts, and when we do, it’s as though the door is cracked just a little. We get a glimpse, just enough to let us know that there is much more that remains tantalizingly beyond our view.

The time and place of the story is one of the most frustrating elements. According to the back cover blurb and the publisher’s website, “The Left Hand of God” is set in a “distant, dystopian past.” Many of the locations we visit or hear about bear familiar names: Memphis, the Appalachians, Fatima, Silbury Hill. Even the ones that didn’t sound familiar tend to show up in a web search, although they are not close together. The presence of plate armour suggests that it takes place during the middle ages, though certain aspects seem more akin to the Roman Empire. The characters will make one comment that makes it seem later in history then say something that seems contradictory.

The language includes many unfamiliar terms, some of which appears to be slang. I’m not sure those words are British slang or something that Hoffman made up. The characters know what they mean, so nothing is defined for us. Sometimes the meaning is easily discerned, but at other times I had no idea what I was supposed to be picturing or what the character was trying to say. A couple of times, I was left wondering if I was experiencing a typographical error. When the book says “squits” was it a typo for “squirts?” Hard to say. As I mentioned, the copy I have is an advanced reading copy, specifically an “advance uncorrected proof.” Had the book not been released shortly before I started reading it, I might have felt a duty to record the many typos and mail it in. In the past, I have read ARCs that contained typos and I have found those typos in for-sale copies of the book. I truly wonder if the “uncorrected proofs” are actually used for proofing.

In addition to the typos, I found any number of sentences that were not well constructed. I sometimes had to read over a line several times, trying different inflections and breaks to figure out exactly what Hoffman intended to say. Most of the time, I eventually understood. A couple of times, I just moved on. Those lines just weren’t written clearly, and could have been broken up or rearranged to have them make more sense.

The Redeemers are a religious cult that is very much based on Christianity or perhaps more specifically Catholicism. They worship the Hanged Redeemer, a martyr worshipped as the son of God, and death without redemption means burning for all eternity. Hoffman makes frequent and obvious parallels between the faiths. One of the primary Redeemer characters reveals, at the end of the novel, a prophesy given to him by a vision of the Redeemer’s mother.

It was at that point, at the end, that I came to believe that the novel takes place in a history so long ago that it’s been forgotten, with mankind and all civilization wiped out in the interim and reinvented by a God trying again to get things right.

So just tell me that. Don’t leave me trying to figure out if this is an alternate history or a fantasy world that just seems like Earth. I also would have liked more insight into who was telling the story. The book starts out (and I’m pulling this from the official series website, not the uncorrected proof):

“Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie, for there is no redemption that goes on there…”

The first word suggests that someone is telling this story, someone who witnessed the events or who’s passing down the legend. It’s not written in first person, so it can’t be (or shouldn’t be) any of the characters we meet in the book. Sometimes, the narrator is omniscient. He knows what’s going on at the Sanctuary after Cale leaves, he tells us about secret meetings between a Redeemer agent and Kitty the Hare, a perverse businessman who seems to have some sort of physical deformity or mutation. Sometimes the narrator gives us a glimpse into a character’s mind; at other times, we get no insight into what anyone is really thinking.

While I was compelled to finish reading this book, I am not inclined to buy the next two books. I feel no pressing knowledge to know what happens next. So much of the story seems trite, endless set-up for religious and social commentary from the author, which he may reveal by the end or perhaps he’ll just let the readers decide for themselves.

A final note: on the official website for the trilogy I found a map of Cale’s world. I’m not sure if the map or any reference to it was included in the for-sale version. If not, it should have been. It doesn’t offer any particular insight, but it would have been a nice touch. I would also like to have had a guide to pronunciation for unfamiliar names and words and a dictionary of the unfamiliar or slang terms.

“The Left Hand of God” was released in hardcover in June 2010. It’s available for $25.95 from