Review: Iron Man 3

Warning! Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!

I finally filled in the last gap in my Marvel Cinematic Universe viewing experience by watching Iron Man 3 Sunday night. I’m not going to summarize the plot. Instead I’ll just jump right into what I liked and didn’t like about this film. In short, I loved most of the movie, but hated the last act.

The best thing about this movie is that for most of its runtime it’s really not an Iron Man movie, it’s a Tony Stark movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with Iron Man, but it was neat to see it focus on Tony Stark and his investigative and problem-solving skills without the aid of his suit.

I also really liked the tone of this movie. It kept a good balance between the seriousness of the plot and the lightness that is sprinkled throughout most of the MCU films. Honestly, one of the things I give the MCU the most credit for is not succumbing to the post-Dark Knight temptation to make all superhero movies dark. I can see why some would find some of the humor in Iron Man 3 off-putting, but for me it landed right.

I really enjoyed Ben Kingsley’s performance. I already knew the twist before watching the movie and I kind of wonder if I would have had a different reaction to that part of the plot had I not known it in advance. I also didn’t read a ton of Iron Man comics as a kid, so I didn’t bring that baggage into the movie. In other words, it didn’t disappoint me that the Mandarin wasn’t who he first appeared to be. Kingsley was hilarious.

I liked the 70’s-style closing credits. Actually reminded me a lot of Ang Lee’s Hulk. I know, I know. We’re supposed to forget that exists. I actually kind of liked it. Speaking of the Hulk, I kind of liked the reveal that it was Bruce Banner that Stark was narrating the film to.

Throughout the film Tony Stark is seen to be suffering from panic attacks and sleeplessness in the aftermath of the Battle of New York as depicted in The Avengers. Though if that was keeping him up at night, imagine the nightmares he’ll have after having the wreckage of his house pin him to the bottom of the ocean. Man.

I had forgotten that director Shane Black was the writer of Lethal Weapon. The scene where Stark is tied, standing up, to a bed frame reminded me of the torture scene in Lethal Weapon.

As a Tennessee resident I enjoyed Tony Stark spending some time in my state. That said, it was mostly a typical Hollywood mischaracterization. For one thing, Tennesseans only dream of getting that much snow at Christmas. Heck, we dream of getting any trace amount of snow for Christmas!

Why did the little boy not recognize Tony Stark immediately? He would have been famous even before becoming Iron Man, but surely in the aftermath of New York everyone would know who he is. Not to mention the glowing arc reactor in his chest being a dead giveaway.

I really liked Don Cheadle in Iron Man 3, and he and Downey Jr. had some nice “buddy cop” moments.

With each movie it gets easier and easier to get into and out of the Iron Man suit, and that bugs me. I get that Stark is making improvements to his technology, but when you can leap off a platform and land in the suit it gets a little ridiculous. Also, apparently anyone can perfectly fit into the suit now no matter how tall they are as we see three different people all wear the same suit in this movie, not to mention Rhodes who first put on the suit in the second movie. Also, the suit pieces flying to him looked neat onscreen but was really pretty dumb, especially near the end when they had to fly at supersonic speed from Tennessee to Miami to break Stark out of captivity. Also, in this film it’s trivially easy to break apart the Iron Man suit… so long as Tony Stark isn’t wearing it. Too convenient. Like the light sabers in Star Wars that turn on dramatically slowly when people are facing off with them but activate lightning fast when someone gets jumped.

Any annoyances listed above aren’t movie-breaking. But let’s get onto the really bad stuff:

I like Guy Pearce. I really do. Unfortunately he’s not given too much to work with in this film. On top of that, his character’s a little too similar to the Sam Rockwell character from the previous film.

I do give this movie major props for not destroying a city or making Iron Man fight yet another guy in an Iron Man suit. Unfortunately instead we get Jarvis flying a fleet of forty Iron Man suits to fight the bad guys at the end. Again, looks neat on screen, but has a couple of major downfalls: first it makes Iron Man himself less special. If Jarvis can fly an army of remote controlled Iron Man suits into battle, then there no reason for Stark not to use that strategy in every Iron Man or Avengers movie going forward. It’s a case of the writers painting themselves into a corner. And don’t tell me the fact that he destroyed them all at the end gets them out of this dilemma. On top of all that, the whole ending was just boring. The movie was actually pretty interesting up until the point where it just adopted the big, dumb Marvel cookie cutter ending where the movie just distracts you with a million explosions and more action happening onscreen than your brain can process. This is why I love the first Iron Man so much. The stakes are high for the character, but it’s just two guys facing off.

My other major gripe really isn’t the fault of this film, but is a problem with the MCU in general. Every stand-alone film begs you to ask the question: why doesn’t the hero just assemble the Avengers? I get that Thor’s not exactly available by telephone, but why didn’t Stark call up his buddy Captain America? I mean, he’s going after a person he thinks is a terrorist and the president is kidnapped. This sounds like something right up Cap’s alley! Does Black Widow or Hawkeye really have anything better to do? How about Hulk? The Avengers established that Stark and Banner have a rapport. Heck, the after credits scene shows Stark pouring out his heart to Bruce. I get that Marvel can’t get these actors out for every film and you do want each character to have their individual moment. But the Avengers is another case of Marvel painting themselves into a corner.

The movie ties up all the loose ends way too quickly/neatly. I know it’s aping a Christmas movie trope, but the film just casually glosses over Stark saving Pepper from Extremis. Then, almost as an afterthought, Stark just decides he’s tired of having the arc reactor in his chest and has it removed in a twenty-second clip. 

Review: Thor: The Dark World

aWarning! Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!

Thor: The Dark World is one of two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that I had somehow failed to see, despite the fact that the first Thor movie is my second favorite MCU film to date. I finally watched it this weekend and quite enjoyed it, despite the fact that the writing and plot are mostly pretty lousy.

The movie starts out with a several minutes-long scene of voice-over exposition from Odin that tries way too hard to copy the opening minutes of Fellowship Of The Rings. Odin tells us of a great battle between Asgard and the Dark Elves, led by Malekith who basically hate the entire universe and want to destroy it. He attempted to use the film’s MacGuffin, the Aether to destroy the universe during a period the movie calls “convergence” in which the nine realms are aligned. Apparently this happens every few thousand years or so. The Asgardians stopped him and hid the Aether. Now, thousands of years later the point of convergence is once again near, and Thor’s girlfriend Jane Foster accidentally falls through a hole between realms and gets possessed by the Aether. Malekith and his people awaken and the story proceeds from there.

I’m going to launch into what I didn’t like about this movie first, but overall I did enjoy it, so just bear with me for a bit:

I hate it when movie plot points call for obvious questions from the audience. Malekith invades Asgard and Frigga hides Jane with some kind of hologram/illusion but then gets killed by Malekith in the ensuing fight. Why? Why can’t she protect herself with the same illusion? It just feels like the only reason why she got killed was so that Thor would get mad. Thor then defies his father and he and his buddies launch into a plan that involves sneaking off and fighting Malekith directly… which is the exact same scenario that got him banished from Asgard in the previous movie. Why have a character experience an entire movie of growth and development if he’s going to do the exact same thing in the sequel?

Too many illusions. They use the illusion trick way too much in this movie. There are tons of things that happen in this movie that are supposed to make the audience gasp. The problem is when you use the illusion trick so many times you stop falling for the trick. Did anyone really think Loki was dead or that Thor would spend the remainder of the franchise with one arm?

The way too coincidental cave. After the confrontation with Malekith and Loki’s “death”, Thor and Jane just happen to walk into the one cave on the whole planet that has a portal that leads directly back to Jane’s car on Earth. It’s the dumbest film coincidence since Kirk was stranded within walking distance of Spock on that moon in Star Trek.

*sigh* More ships crashing into cities. This is way beyond played out, Hollywood. Also, do we have to amp up the action/stakes a million percent in every sequel? And if you don’t call out the entire Avengers for this, when do you call them out? I mean, like The Avengers this movie featured an alien army invading Earth. Only this time the bad guy isn’t trying to subdue and rule Earth, he’s trying to destroy the entire universe! I think Thor could have used a little backup.

The ending seen with “the collector”. I know Marvel was trying to put in a tie to Guardians Of The Galaxy, but does it make any sense to give a super powerful weapon to a sketchy character who lives in the Marvel equivalent of Mos Eisley Spaceport?

Despite all that, I actually was entertained by this movie. I’d rank it in the lower half of MCU films, but it was enjoyable. Part of that is because I like the universe they’ve set up around Thor. The other part is that this movie is loaded with incredible actors. I actually don’t like Natalie Portman in this series. I don’t see why Thor’s so interested in her and they don’t have great chemistry. I think part of that is because her character is written pretty badly, but still. Nevertheless, Chris Hemsworth fits Thor well, and Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston are amazing as always. I’m a little more neutral on Christopher Eccleston. I love him as an actor, but they used so much vocal processing on his voice that it was hard to tell it was him. Zachary Levi did such a good job in his small role you might not even realize the part had been recast from the first film.

This is an ok movie. Definitely fun, but not a great work of cinema.

Rewatch: Crimson Tide

Warning! Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!

Crimson Tide is the story of an America nuclear submarine called into action in the midst of an attempted coup in Russia. A Russian hardliner is after nuclear weapons, and the U.S.S. Alabama (from which the movie gets its name for all of you non-football fans) sets sail into the Pacific in case it’s called on to fire its nuclear weapons at the launch site. In the midst of combat with a rebel Russian attack sub, the Alabama gets two sets of orders: the first informs them that they are ordered to launch their nukes at the Russian missile sites, the second is cut off. The captain, played by Gene Hackman, decides to proceed with the launch while his executive officer, played by Denzel Washington, argues that they need to find out the content of the second message before proceeding, thus setting off the main conflict between the two.

I had seen Crimson Tide multiple times before, but not since the late 90’s when it was on TV all the time. I remembered the plot pretty well, so there weren’t really any surprises, but the movie still managed to amp up the tension and get my heart pumping. That’s what a good thriler does. Director Tony Scott paces the film perfectly, and places his characters in a plausible situation (at least for those of us completely unfamiliar with how submarines actually work).

I love submarine movies. The submarine is a great storytelling device. It’s great for building tension. It’s great for putting characters in extreme and difficult situations, and it keeps the action relatively confined given that submarines are by their nature confining. That really lets you focus on characters and acting. Crimson Tide provides us with two incredibly talented actors in Washington and Hackman, and their chemistry together is incredible. They say more to each other between their words than they do with their words. Hackman’s captain is seasoned and grizzled, tough on his men and ready to leap into action without being hindered by thought. Washington’s character is highly educated, thoughtful, “complicated” as Hackman’s character says. Hackman sees war dispassionately and simply while Washington sees it as the enemy itself. A thing that, while sometimes necessary, is to be avoided whenever possible.

Submarine movies are notoriously formulaic, and Crimson Tide certainly falls into line with a lot of the familiar tropes: a sub on sub battle, an officer ordering a hatch to be shut to save the ship even though men are below, the damaged ship getting dangerously near its crush depth while repairs are underway. Still, in many ways the submarine story is only there to frame the interpersonal conflict between Hackman and Washington’s characters, and the actors are so good that it could have been a stage play with both of them sitting on stools delivering their lines and it would still be riveting.

The film also features a score by Hans Zimmer, and some actors who would go on to more fame later like Viggo Mortensen and James Gandolfini.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, or if it’s just been a while, fire up Netflix and take a dive with Crimson Tide.

Review: The Avengers

Warning! Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!

After re-watching The Avengers the other night I realized that I’d never written a review back when it was new! The Avengers is actually in my top three favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movies (right behind Iron Man and Thor), but it’s not without its faults. Fortunately those faults are mostly glossed over by the coolness factor of seeing all of these heroes on screen in the same movie. There’s really nothing in cinematic history I can think of that comes close to the uniqueness of this.

One of the problems the MCU has is how do you decide what threat warrants assembling The Avengers? I mean, you’d think that the events of, say, Captain America 2 would have warranted it. (HISHE dealt with this masterfully this week.) The Avengers teases Thanos, the big baddy from the years away Avengers 3, by having one of his proxies wage war on Earth. He gives Thor’s brother Loki an alien army to attack Earth which he then plans to rule. While this is a pretty straightforward plot that definitely requires the attention of Earth’s mightiest superheroes, most of Loki’s plan makes little sense.

The Avengers is one of a long string of movies to employ the “bad guy wants to get caught” plot point. I sincerely hope this is played out, but it was still kind of fresh when The Avengers stole it from The Dark Knight. I’m not sure I even understand Loki’s plan, even after two viewings of the movie, but I think he allows himself to get captured as a ruse to divide the Avengers and get them to quarrel amongst themselves and as a decoy while his army-teleporting device is completed. Really, it just serves to get the Avengers together, give them some interpersonal conflict so that later they can grow closer together, and then give them some cool action scenes while Loki escapes. And I guess that’s ok, because all of that is definitely a good thing. It just seemed like a flimsy story-telling device.

With the exception of the Hulk, none of the characters experience much growth, but again that’s ok because at two and a half hours this movie is long enough already. But I really liked Mark Ruffalo’s interpretation of Bruce Banner, and I liked the fact that it was Tony Stark, the character with arguably the least depth, that saw the potential in Banner from the start and encouraged him to embrace his power and not run from it. Furthermore during this most recent watch of The Avengers, it was the scenes with the Hulk that were most delightful to me. I definitely hope Marvel makes another Hulk movie before too much longer. He’s such a great, tragic character.

The final battle is interesting. Joss Whedon does succumb to the temptation to throw a ton of CGI at the audience, but for the most part it’s easy to follow the action, and it’s actually pretty good. Reminds me a lot of the fight in downtown Metropolis in Superman II. I also give Whedon major props for keeping the destruction to a minimum. It’s downright restrained compared to most sci-fi blockbusters these days. Captain America takes charge of the Avengers and directs them to keep the fighting contained within a certain radium to protect the people of New York. Imagine if Superman had thought of that in Man Of Steel! The stupidest part of the movie is when, after Iron Man blows up the mother ship with the nuke, all of the alien soldiers just collapse dead for no other reason than that it’s convenient to the plot. An army that dies en masse any time communication with base is cut off has a pretty major weakness.

The Avengers is a ton of fun, and the characters all have a really good chemistry together. Now, let’s get that Hulk movie made, Marvel!

Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy

Warning! Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!

Marvel/Disney have crafted one of the most successful movie franchises in the history of cinema with their Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s really nothing to compare it to. And while the MCU films released thus far have varied in quality, they’ve all been runaway successes. It’ll be really interesting to see how Guardians Of The Galaxy, the most recent entrant in the MCU film series, does at the box office. This is Marvel’s first real “risky” movie because unless you’re really into comic books, chances are you’ve never heard of this band of heroes. If Guardians has a similar profit haul as the other films in the MCU, it’ll truly prove that Marvel/Disney can print money. After all, this is a movie where two of the main characters are a talking raccoon and a walking tree. It’s also by far the goofiest MCU movie yet. The series has definitely featured humor in the past, most notably from Iron Man/Tony Stark, but this movie takes it to a whole other level of cheese.

The film follows a human named Peter Quill who operates under the name Star-Lord. As a boy he was kidnapped by aliens on the night his mother died. As an adult he’s a thief/treasure-hunter who finds the film’s MacGuffin, the super-powerful Infinity Stone. Unfortunately for Quill, a warlord named Ronan is after the stone so he can use it to defeat his enemies and I guess rule the galaxy. Along the way Quill teams up with a talking raccoon named Rocket and his companion a walking tree named Groot. His other companions are Drax the Destroyer, and Gamora, “daughter” of Thanos. Thanos is a big baddie the MCU has been teasing us with since The Avengers. Together they decide that for the sake of the galaxy they must stop Ronan at all costs.

This film has been compared to Star Wars. While I think it comes up short in that comparison, it’s definitely similar in that both films feature a lot of references/homages to other movies. In most cases this is not a bad thing. After all, everything is a remix. Firefly seems like an obvious influence. The tone, the fact that they’re all outlaws, and even the ship reminded me of Firefly. The scene in which Quill convinces them all to go after Ronan felt a lot like the “I aim to misbehave" scene from Serenity, though not as good. Ronan and his forces felt like a clear reference to the Necromongers in The Chronicles Of Riddick. I even got a Titan A.E. vibe from the film. Perhaps the film it’s most like (and I wish I had made this connection myself) is Battle Beyond The Stars. I remember when I watched that film a couple of years ago I thought it would be awesome to see a modern, big-budget, better-written version of that concept. Guardians Of The Galaxy isn’t quite that, but it’s awfully close. On the other hand, Ronan’s holographic FaceTime room looked a little too much like the one Darth Vader used in The Empire Strikes Back.

The cast is really good in the film. Go look at the IMDb page. This movie is loaded with Hollywood stars and other recognizable actors. It really shows how much actors want to be in a Marvel movie. One of my biggest concerns going in is that with Chris Pratt in the lead role the film would feel like Andy Dwyer in space. And it kind of did, but it mostly worked. The subplot about Quill’s relationship with his mother is really touching. The movie definitely walks a fine line in balancing the zany humor with the high stakes in the plot. Most of the time it walked that line well. A few times it didn’t. Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper really steals the movie from the other characters. He’s absolutely hilarious, even though a lot of the humor comes from the fact that the lines are being spoken by a talking raccoon.

The soundtrack really becomes a star of the movie too. In the film, Quill’s most prized possession is a walkman with a cassette tape of 70’s pop-rock songs that his mother had given him, and those songs form a lot of the movie’s soundtrack. The filmmakers chose really good songs, and it really sets the tone nicely for the movie.

I also really like that the movie stayed at right around two hours in length. It seems like directors like to push these blockbusters out to 2.5 and 3 hours so often these days.

Of course I do have some nitpicks, but not too many. Like most big-budget sci-fi blockbusters these days, Guardians can’t escape the trap of throwing way more on the screen than you can focus on in the final battle. It’s a really good thing that Star Wars was made in 1977 because I shudder to think what that final trench run scene would have looked like if it had been made today. Also, does every single sci-fi blockbuster have to feature a major city getting destroyed? Enough already! While the cast and main characters have great chemistry together, their gelling felt a little rushed and contrived, and at the end of the film there really didn’t seem to be a good reason for all of them to stay together except that the movie told you they were all friends now.

This film has widely been referred to as the best Marvel film to date. I’m not buying that. For my money, Iron Man and Thor are the two best MCU films with The Avengers not too far behind. To me Guardians Of The Galaxy was good, but not great. Definitely worth seeing, and I even think I’ll enjoy it more with repeat viewings. It’s not worthy of the fawning over it’s getting, but it’s definitely a fun ride. I’d love to see a sequel, and I’ll be curious how they integrate the Guardians into the wider MCU in the future. Avengers 3 could be massive.

The ESV Reader’s Bible: First Impressions

ESV Reader’s Bible from Crossway on Vimeo.

Adam Lewis Greene’s Bibliotheca project has certainly opened my eyes to the concept of a more reader-friendly, less reference-heavy Bible design experience, and I’m not the only one. Nearly 15,000 people pledged over $1.4 million toward his ingenious Kickstarter project that had an initial goal of $37,000. That project is now closed on Kickstarter, but for now you can still order a set through Greene’s own website: Bibliotheca.co.

I’m sure Bible publishers have taken note, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see more of this kind of Bible from them in the future. That said, some have already been thinking along those lines. When I expressed my fascination with Bibliotheca on Twitter a friend pointed out that Crossway already has a product on the market called the ESV Reader’s Bible. I was so thrilled that my wife and I ordered two copies. We’ve been reading them now for a couple of days, and I wanted to offer a few initial thoughts.

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Design is about compromise. With Bibliotheca, Adam Greene wanted to provide more opaque paper than what’s typically found in a Bible. Thicker paper means a thicker Bible, so Greene chose to split his edition into four volumes. The ESV Reader’s Bible chose to keep the Bible in one volume, and therefore went with the more traditional thin “Bible paper”. That’s a definite downside, but it is convenient to have the Bible in one volume. The Reader’s Bible is available in different coverings. I chose the cloth-on-board hardcover style. It looks great, and it feels even better when you hold it in your hand. It comes in a nice slipcase and features two ribbon bookmarks. This is handy since my wife and I are starting in Genesis together but I also want to read the New Testament separately.

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The text is presented sans verse numbers in a single-column, paragraph style similar to what you’d find in any novel. The text is a bit small, but the font is very readable. Chapter numbers are included, but they’re pushed off into the margin, so they provide as little distraction as possible given the choice to include them. The top of the page provides a verse range for the material covered on that page, so you do still have some sense of where you are in the traditional format if you choose to look up there. The red header color is very attractive. There is no reference material and no footnotes. Like Bibliotheca this is all about the reading experience. 

Part of me does wish they had excluded the chapter numbers to really provide that immersive experience, or had substituted breaks that match the content better than our traditional chapter breaks do, but that’s a minor quibble, if I can even call it that.

This doesn’t take the concept as far as Bibliotheca does, but for around $20 on Amazon, it’s a great place to start if you’re not ready to spend $75 on Adam Greene’s project. I’ve only been reading it for two days, but my initial impression is that it is indeed an easier and more pleasant way to read the Bible.

Now that you’ve read my review, you really owe it to yourself to check out J. Mark Bertrand’s review over at bibledesignblog.com. Again, it was through Bibliotheca that I discovered Mark’s work, but he’s been championing the concept of a reader’s Bible for quite some time, and has written thousands of words on the topic of Bible design over the years. Really good stuff.

Bibliotheca

I had started seeing social media posts about Bibliotheca in the last few days, but it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that I actually sat down and watched the above video from Adam Lewis Greene’s Kickstarter project. His main goal seems to be to enhance the experience of reading the Bible through intelligent, beautiful design.

Honestly I’d never really thought much about the physical and visual design of the Bible, but Greene makes some great points about how modern Bible design prioritizes reference over reading. Almost every Bible you’ve ever seen is laid out in two columns per page with a center channel filled with reference notes, often with copious footnotes at the bottom of the page. As Greene points out, there’s nothing wrong with that way of presenting the Bible, and a lot of good reasons for doing it that way. However, there’s also room for editions that strip all of that away to enhance the experience of actually reading the Bible.

To that end, Greene (who comes across as the Jony Ive of Bible designing in the above video), has done a few key things. He’s stripped out the chapter and verse numbers (those are relatively late additions to the Bible), laid out the text in a custom-designed font in a paragraphed, single-column layout, and used more opaque paper. (Bibles are notorious for using super-thin, partially transparent paper.) A single-volume Bible with paper like that would be extremely thick, so he’s broken the text into four volumes. He’s also put a ton of attention into the materials and binding style. It’s very clear that Greene is both learned and thoughtful in the areas of typography and book design.

He’s also clearly on to something. His Kickstarter project, which ends Sunday, had an original goal of $37,000. As of the time of this writing he had received nearly a million dollars in pledges! He’s already more than accomplished his goal, and I suspect Bible publishers will take note of his accomplishments. There’s clearly a market for Bibles which focus on readability and beautiful design. Most importantly, Greene’s work has gotten people talking about the Bible. He’s been featured in highly read secular publications. Because of his work, people are going to meet the Lord for the first time.

Getting a set of Greene’s books isn’t cheap, but I was considering backing him until a friend pointed out that Crossway publishes the ESV Reader’s Bible. While it lacks the high-end, first edition feel of Greene’s work, it is similar in that emphasizes reading over reference. My wife and I ordered a couple of copies of the ESV Reader’s Bible and can’t wait to start reading together!

A Trip To St. Augustine

St. Augustine, Florida has always been my favorite place in the world. We went many times when I was a kid, often for my birthday. This year I was blessed with the opportunity to take my family for the first time. Jessica and I had taken a trip there together years ago, but this was the first time I got to take my kids, and I had a blast!

If you’re unfamiliar with St. Augustine, you really need to check it out. It was founded by the Spanish in 1565, so it predates the founding of Jamestown and the arrival of the Pilgrims by decades. It’s really about the closest thing you can get to an Old World city in the U.S. The mixture of great beaches and rich history are what I love about it.

We spent a lot of time at the beach and at the pool, and the kids loved both! Last year Marty was way too young to appreciate the beach, and Noah was scared to go in the water. This year they both took right to it, and had a blast playing in the surf and digging in the sand with their beach toys! Noah walked up and down the beach with his grandmother collecting shells in a bucket.

We also took the time to take in some of my favorite sights. As a kid, my favorite thing to do in St. Augustine was to visit the Castillo de San Marcos, the 300+ year old fort that the Spanish built to protect the harbor and the city. It’s about the closest thing to a European castle you’ll find in the New World. It was an absolute delight to take my son to tour it! He’s still a little young to fully appreciate it, but I loved getting to take pictures like the one above! I also took the opportunity to stroll down St. George Street, the ancient city’s main thoroughfare, and check out some of the shops. A few of us adults even climbed the more than 200 steps of the St. Augustine lighthouse to take in the incredible 360-degree views. While we were in town we also took the opportunity to tour a replica of Ponce de León’s ship that was visiting the harbor.

I love this shot of Noah and me standing in front of one of the lion statues that guards the Bridge of Lions. Noah was a little wary of that big guy!

My family has been blessed with the opportunity to take some great summer vacations in recent years, but this has been by far my favorite!

Doctor Who

I’d wanted to start watching Doctor Who for years, but I was daunted by the fact that this is a show that has been running, off and on, since 1963. There was a lengthy hiatus that eventually resulted in a renewal of the show in 2005 that has continued to today, with a new season to start in August. Starting with 2005 seemed like the logical place to begin, but I was concerned that without the previous 40 years worth of content I wouldn’t be able to get into it. I had seen a few episodes of the Tom Baker era as a kid, but not enough to really grasp what the show was about. In early 2013, I finally sat down and plunged into Doctor Who, and tonight I finally finished with everything available on Netflix and Amazon Prime starting with the 2005 series. Crucially I have yet to see The Day Of The Doctor or The Time Of The Doctor, and will be scanning those streaming services frequently until they arrive. What I can definitely tell you though, is that starting with 2005 is the perfect place to jump into this wonderful series.

So what is Doctor Who? Well, it’s part sci-fi/horror, part adventure, and part comedy tossed into a blender. The protagonist is a 1,000-year-old, two-hearted alien called the Doctor, the last of a race called the Time Lords. He travels through time and space in a device called the TARDIS that is disguised as a mid-twentieth century London police box. The box is small on the outside, but gigantic on the inside, making it a great storytelling device. I love the DeLorean in Back To The Future, but it’s really rubbish as a time machine. It stands out in any century, and it’s difficult or impossible to operate in eras or areas without good roads. But a little blue, nondescript wooden box can fit in anywhere and anytime. The Doctor almost never travels alone, but rather takes with him a companion or companions. They’re almost always human and almost always young and female. The companion is the stand-in for the audience. She provides a person for us to relate to, and for the Doctor to explain important plot points to. The writers of the show also devised an ingenious way for multiple actors to portray the Doctor over the years. When the Doctor is near death he regenerates and looks like a completely different person.

If you start with the 2005 season you’ll work your way through three different Doctors: Christopher Ecclestone, David Tenant, and Matt Smith. My heart wants me to call Tenant my favorite, but my brain says it should be Ecclestone. Tenant is an amazing actor who put such a distinctive stamp on the character. His doctor has a tremendous sense of humor, and is frequently light-hearted, but can be serious and earnest when the time comes. Matt Smith is a fine actor, but his portrayal of the Doctor felt like a caricature of Tenant’s Doctor, and rarely strayed from being eccentrically goofy. He was also saddled with Amy and Rory for most of his tenure, and I didn’t care for them as companions. Ecclestone only played the Doctor for one season, but to me his portrayal suits the character best. He’s not handsome and he’s older which meant the writers didn’t try to put him into an awkward romantic situation with his companion. He also had a dark, almost reckless edge to him, befitting of a character who has taken part in a massive war that raged across time and space and all but wiped two species from the universe. This Fall we get the Doctor’s latest regeneration, played by Peter Capaldi, and I can’t wait. He is exactly the type of person I was hoping the show runners would go for. He’s older, and from what little they’ve showed us of him in the form of teasers, he appears to have a dark edge to him.

As with any series you get a few bad episodes. You also get a lot of ho-hum monster-of-the-week episodes. But every now and then you get a truly great episode, and those are some of the best of what’s available on TV. I always recommend the third season episode “Blink” to people who are thinking about trying out the series. It’s a little unusual of a choice because the Doctor’s barely in it himself, but it’s one of the best episodes of the entire series. If you like that episode then I think you’ll enjoy watching the whole series.

A lot of you are way ahead of me and have been Whovians for years, but if you haven’t given Doctor Who a try, you really should. If it seems weird at first, stick with it. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Apple Discontinues Development Of Aperture (And Likely iPhoto)

As someone who is certified in Aperture 1.5 and Aperture 2 I was interested, but not shocked, to hear the news that Apple is discontinuing development of its pro app for photographers. (It’s still for sale on the Mac App Store at the time of this writing.) Here’s a statement that Apple provided to Jim Dalrymple as recorded on his website The Loop:

“With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture,” said Apple in a statement provided to The Loop. “When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS X.”

The wording above bothers me. Though they don’t say it, and I don’t think they intended to imply it, you could almost read that as Apple saying that the new Photos app will obviate the need for Aperture. But there’s no way that can be true. Aperture was a niche app for professional photographers and advanced hobbyists. Though iPhoto was definitely the app that best met my photography needs, there are a lot of photographers who really need advanced organization and editing tools, and I doubt Photos is ever going to deliver that. These photographers will now have little choice but to make the switch to Adobe’s Lightroom. Making that kind of switch is no small task.

When Apple announced at WWDC a few weeks back that Photos would be coming to OS X early next year, you couldn’t help but wonder if that meant the end of iPhoto. It didn’t occur to me that it might spell the end of Aperture. Apple’s above statement doesn’t mention iPhoto, but Dalrymple and others are reporting that iPhoto too will be going away. I’ll miss the iPhoto brand, but the app itself has definitely gotten truly bloated in recent years. A clean slate might do some good there. Will all of my Events be converted over though? What about the originals/edited version relationship? I’d definitely love it if Photos got Aperture’s versioning system, but I doubt that’ll happen.

Dalyrmple concludes his piece thusly:

Apple was very clear when I spoke with them this morning that development on other pro apps like Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro is continuing. Professionals in those app categories should not worry about their apps—they will continue as normal.

That may well be true, but if you currently use one of Apple’s other pro apps you’ve got to be a little bit concerned. Aperture has become the latest victim of Apple’s ever widening product portfolio. (And subsequent lack of focus/interest on small profit products/areas.) I don’t believe that this is a Steve Jobs versus Tim Cook thing, but the reality is that Apple isn’t the same company it was ten years ago. In most ways that’s a good thing, but in some ways it’s not.