Monday, December 19, 2016

Rogue One: Initial Thoughts, Part Three



* Today is all about the bad guys.

* Orson Krennic. Walking out of the theater, he was the most underwhelming part of Rogue One for me. (The character, not the performance. Ben Mendelsohn is exquisitely evil as Krennic. "Oh, it's beautiful..." is the line reading of the movie for me.) I just felt like there wasn't much to him besides a great performance and a wicked cape.

I've warmed up to Krennic a good deal. I like where his character ends up. Like Jyn and company, he becomes another soldier forgotten to history. The fact that he dies usurped and alone, destroyed by his own creation is riveting stuff. And like our heroes, he looks his death square on, powerless to change it.

Think how fascinating his death would be if we knew more about him. We hear the Death Star is behind schedule. Is it his fault? Is that why he's slowly losing power over it? Or is he just another hardworking, screwed-over middle manager whose boss hogs all the glory?

What drives him? The power? The work? That sweet Imperial grant money?

A little more clarity could've turned Krennic into an all-time great villain. I'm willing to admit there's something I missed during my first viewing that would explain away my frustrations. We'll see.

* Death troopers, man. Those assholes can aim.

* What else is there to say about Tarkin? He's in the movie for a good reason, even if he gets too much screentime. Right now, I'm ambivalent about Peter Cushing's digital resurrection. I prefer the idea of this technology being used to age/de-age living actors, who are involved with the production. I'm pleased to hear Peter Cushing's family gave their blessing, but it still raises a lot of questions for the future.

At this time, the technology isn't photo-realistic. It's impressive...but fake. Since it is an obvious artificial performance, I'm not sure how this differs from his likeness being used in a Star Wars comic or on Rebels.

Again, there are questions for the future - if the technology ever progresses past the uncanny valley. I'm not sure it ever will, though. The tech here is a big step forward from Jeff Bridges' de-aging in Tron: Legacy. It's not perfect and a little distracting - especially the one shot of "young" Carrie Fisher. But here's the thing: recasting, makeup, or digital augmentation - they're all going to spoil the illusion to some degree. It's gonna happen and it's not that big a deal. I was willing to step back and go along with the idea that Tarkin - not Peter Cushing - was alive again on the big screen.

Though if Christoper Lee were still alive, I bet he'd be Hayao Miyazaki-levels of mortified by all this.

* Darth Vader. One bad pun and a lot of badass moments. James Earl Jones still has it. I've always been of the opinion that Vader can be a whiny bastard and the baddest villain of all time. That being said, it's nice to leave the whiny bastard behind and get the character back to where we met him in A New Hope.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One: Initial Thoughts, Part Two



* Saw Gerrera. One character, one monster, and one idea too many for this movie.

* Don't get me wrong. I like this character and the idea of a more militant band of rebels. And I dig what Forest Whitaker's doing. It's big - but he's in control of the performance. And we need more weird performances in sci-fi movies. Here's the problem: we're introduced to his rebels and the Guardians of the Whills on Jedha. All of our affection goes to Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen's characters before Jyn reunites with Saw.

It's too much information in too short a time - because this movie moves.

* Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe. My favorite new character by a country mile.

* I wish we got more on the Guardians - and how the Empire is stripping another piece of the Jedi from history. I'm not sure why Saw wasn't a part of this group, especially since there isn't much tension once Jyn and company arrive at his base. That feels like a cleaner narrative.

* One idea half-explored in the final cut is that the rebellion is trying to be an army while clinging to the democracy they once were. You see an uglier side of the Rebellion here, and it feels like Saw Gerrera was designed to show a road they shouldn't go down. On that front, he's in and out of the movie too fast for that to stick.

* There are only a few moments in this movie I actually dislike - and the brain-sucking monster is one of 'em. It's ticking off a box on a list of things we expect from Star Wars. First off, it seems weird that a group of insurgents travels around with a polygraphuosaurus - but hey, it's Star Wars. Let's not get too Comic Book Guy about this.

My beef is they set up that this monster will fry your brain while sucking it. After his brain-sucking, Bodhi Rook (a great Riz Ahmed) snaps back awfully fast with no harm done, and the creature is never seen again. Maybe a previous draft featured Saw attempting to use it on Jyn or Cassian? As is, it feels like a long way to go for one small link in the narrative chain.

* There are a lot of good things in this part of the movie, too. The battle in the city streets of Jedha is fantastic, gritty and visceral. And as I said on Twitter, Donnie Yen kung fu fightin' stormtroopers filled a hole in my heart I didn't know was there.

Galen Erso's holographic message to his daughter is powerful stuff. Jyn's scenes with Saw are too brief to have the same power, but I appreciate how Saw's death is handled. He'd only slow Jyn down. Saw looks death in the face, knowing he did what he could. It's a nice bit of foreshadowing for where the film ends up.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: Initial Thoughts



No, it's not the best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back. But it's pretty darn close and pretty darn good.

Rogue One feels manufactured, even if it was manufactured with love. I'm sure I'll warm to it more on repeat viewings. I walked out of Force Awakens the first time with frustrations (though fewer than I have with Rogue One), and I freakin' adore that movie now, warts and all.

My time is limited due to the holiday season, so I'll be jotting down thoughts over the weekend about Rogue One. Full spoilers ahead - so come back after you've seen the movie. And remember, there's no right way to enjoy Star Wars. These are my thoughts and they're gonna change with time. But here's where I am now with this messy but riveting entry in the series. Please feel free to leave a comment or engage with me on Twitter.

* Holy shit, the ending. They went for it. I'm curious what the backlash from parents with younger kids will be. Rogue One may join the infamous list of films - like Dune and Batman Returns -  aimed at kids that are so not for kids. I'm not letting my young son anywhere near this movie for a long time. More thoughts on the ending to come.

* Well, one more thought right now. On the whole, it's the right ending.

* Although offering no surprises, the opening sequence - where a young Jyn Erso is orphaned - is still tense. A real rough opening. From the start, this film is visually and tonally different. The writing also differs from previous installments. Not bad different - but these characters and their voices didn't come from George Lucas or Lawrence Kasdan. The dialogue is punchy and lean. There's little of the bantering we expect from Star Wars. And it works.

* These characters truly feel new, but they still fit comfortably into the Star Wars universe.

* It's amazing how little footage from the teaser trailer (above) is in the final movie.

* Not sure we'll ever know how the story changed with reshoots, but I'm guessing the focus was on Jyn's backstory and character arc. In the movie we got, she is a criminal - but she's just trying to get by. My guess is she was a harder character at the start, much more morally complex. The issue probably wasn't about softening her but making sure she was a counterpoint to Cassian Andor, who does the Rebellion's dirty work.

* The teaser trailer plays like she's a hostage of the Rebellion. Was the relationship with her father not clear at first and they saw her as a potential threat? If that was the case, I can see audiences - especially casual viewers - having mixed feelings about the Rebellion, especially if this scene still took place after Cassian shooting a fellow conspirator in the back.

* I bet Jyn originally left Saw Gerrera, not the other way. The idea of her being orphaned twice works, but it feels a little... Disney. Lucasfilm most likely wanted us to think the choices she made were the only choices available to her.

* Oh man, we're gonna get to Saw Gerrera. By far the messiest part of the movie. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Star Trek: First Contact (20th Anniversay)

Had to fix a clogged drain tonight, so not much time for words tonight.

In short, happy 20th anniversary to First Contact, one of the best Star Trek movies. Action-packed but still soulful, proudly trumpeting a better tomorrow. No offense to J.J. Abrams, but I still think it's the most masterfully directed movie of the franchise. The way the camera moves around James Cromwell as he steps forward to shake that Vulcan's hand gives me goosebumps every time.

It's a shame that Jonathan Frakes wasn't at the helm of more blockbusters. He's one hell of a director who made one hell of a film.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ghost Story (Dresden Files)

First time reading (well, listening to) Ghost Story. I've been rationing out the Dresden Files books slowly, especially now that I'm coming to the last books in the series to date. I waited as long as I could before discovering how Jim Butcher resolved the cliffhanger from Changes. While I won't overtly spoil what said cliffhanger was, just look at the title Ghost Story.

It's not one-for-one, but The Dresden Files books come in two flavors, Harry Dresden wins the day but digs himself deeper into a hole or Harry Dresden wins the day and decreases the chances that he will, to use Butcher's words, "take the southbound train" when his journey is truly over. Ghost Story falls under that second category, even if it's more bittersweet than most.

Still, it's exactly the book I needed right now. Butcher admits that Harry Dresden is bascially Peter Parker, if Spider-Man were allowed to continually change and mature over the years. Both characters speak to me at such a fundamental level. Flawed, human, brave, self-doubting, determinated, regretful, hopeful, and yes, a wise-ass.

And there's good lesson to take away from these books, especially during these times: there's no monster out there that you can't look in the face and mock - preferably with a cheesy Star Wars quote.

Again, exactly what I needed right now.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (11/18 - 11/20)

Out of town this weekend. Old friend's birthday.

Enjoy yourself. Do something good for someone else.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders



Man, what a treat. And a $.99 rental on iTunes right now.

It's made with affection and a healthy respect for silliness. DC's home video division gets close to perfectly capturing the tone of Batman '66. It's no surprise to see names from Brave and the Bold (such a fantastic show) in the credits. It's made by people who believe the world needs a few more Caped Crusaders and a few less Dark Knights.

I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Nice Guys (More Thoughts)

Tons of fun. Enjoyed it a little less than expected.

It's always cool, but only amazing in fits and starts. It's a shaggy dog of a story that coasts on its considerable charm. It feels like Shane Black focused too much time on flexing his directing chops at the expense of the script, which doesn't crackle with life like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (his best script and movie) did. But it further proves that Black is an exceptional writer and director.

There are more than a few moments where the film hits its mark, surprising you with a gag, a moment of violence, or a clever play on classic pulp cliches. The one surprise missing are the moments of weight that Kiss Kiss had - moments where Black considered the horrible things he was always puts his characters through.

Despite the story being underdeveloped in places, Healy (Russell Crowe) and March (Ryan Gosling) are the best duo Black's created yet. To say anything more about them would ruin the film's surprises. (And Jesus, the red band trailer spoiled far too much.) While Ryan Gosling gets the showier performance (absolutely inspired), Russell Crowe walks a tightrope between tough and charming better than he ever has before.

For better or worse, their story is just beginning as the credits roll. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I wish I hadn't felt like the best was yet to come.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Nice Guys

My head hurts. A lot.

Going to finish watching The Nice Guys with volume down low. Watch it. It's good. Probably the second best movie of Shane Black's career. More on that tomorrow.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Warcraft



Not as bad as I expected. But not, you know, good.

Don't know what I can say that the initial reviews didn't. Far too many characters and world-building in the first act. A rushed back half and an anti-climatic, franchise-building ending. Having played Warcraft II and III (only dipped my toe into World of Warcraft - not a MMO guy), I could follow everything well enough. I just didn't care.

Like The Phantom Menace, Warcraft gets all the pieces on the board for future movies. And like Lucas' prequel, it feels unnecessary to start at square one. Most of the movie - where the orcs come from, the corruptive magic of the Fel, and the death of Lothar's son - could've been told through visual shorthand or scenes where we learn about this world a piece at a time while an actual story was told.

The odd thing is I'm still impressed Duncan Jones' direction. I've never seen a movie I had so many problems with that I thought was so well-directed. And I'm not saying that because I'm such a huge fan of Moon and Source Code. As he's already proved, he's great with actors and can do spectacle. He can tell complicated stories with complicated ideas. This is only a guess, but it feels like he was forced to cut a three-hour movie down to two.

There are a few nice things here. The visual effects for the Orcs are another step forward for mo-cap technology, especially in capturing nuanced facial expressions. Travis Fimmel and Ben Foster turn in surprisingly good performances. And there are a few moments here and there that actually work. In those moments, you feel like you're watching something other than a $200 million Wikipedia summary.

But here's the crazy thing, I'd still be willing to watch Jones return to this world and get it right.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (11/11 -11/13)


Writing: Not much planned at the moment. We have another round of Indefensibles articles to finish. I haven't attempted a prose work in awhile. I've been playing with doing a Cthulhu Mythos story just for fun. But instead of mimicking Lovecraft's purple prose, I'd thought it'd be fun to tackle that universe in the lean style of Elmore Leonard or Gregory Mcdonald. You know, more dialog than prose. Play with the Mythos, but run as far away from aping Lovecraft as possible.

Could be fun.

TV and Movies: Almost done with Season 5 of Gilmore Girls. It's my first time through the show. The wife's watched it two or three times since it popped up on Netflix. In the past, I'd sit down with her off and on and watch a few episodes. It's now one of our favorite shows. Like a lot of serialized shows, the plotting is a bit wonky to keep the dramatic tension going. But, Jesus, the banter. I live for banter, and I'm not sure anyone does it better.

Speaking of banter, I have The Nice Guys checked out along with Warcraft. Actually more excited to watch Warcraft, but I know The Nice Guys is gonna treat me better. I just need a little fantasy right now, I think, after this goddamned week.

Games: About a quarter of the way through Resident Evil: Revelations. It's not bad - but a big step down when you play it right after Resident Evil 4. That was my second time through RE4, and while I remember liking it the last time, I realized this time around that it's a friggin' masterpiece. At this moment, it might even crack my all-time top ten games.

Anyway, Revelations feels slight in comparison, but it's a nice fusion of classic Resident Evil survival horror (limited ammo and health, the necessity to avoid enemies, etc.) and the more action-oriented direction the series took with RE4. The controls are a huge improvement over RE4, but the limited monster types and backtracking might wear out its welcome. Still, it's a survival horror game on a giant cruise ship. That's pretty kick-ass for a Deep Rising fan like me.

Books: Finally getting around to picking up The Dreden Files again. Getting near the end of the series with Ghost Story. Not much to say about it so far. Maybe more on that next week.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

11/10/16

I don't know where we go from here.

It's forty-eight hours after this goddamned election. Words, feelings, and plans for the future are still half-formed. A dam in my head has been erected, and there's this phantom limb feeling that it should be ready to burst.

We, as a nation, are not lost - not yet - but we have lost something. Most likely, for good. And I won't lay blame for that loss on anyone's feet - there's enough blame to go around. I didn't do enough. We didn't do enough to say, "No. This isn't normal. This isn't right. This is not who we are."

Guess what? This is who we are. We're talkers, not listeners. We're winners. We feel like we have the right to be right all the time. This is who we are, and I don't know where we go from here.

I know where I need to go, what I need to do - at least in some small part. I need to write. Something I don't do enough. It's probably the only thing I'm good at it... and it's something I hate doing. I hate it because the "you suck" voice in my head - a voice I can usually tune out - gets cranked to eleven. And it keeps getting louder the more I do it. Better to keep that voice quiet, I usually tell myself.

I'm beginning to understand how limiting, how damaging, that voice is. It goes through a lot of our heads. More than you probably think. And that voice may even be the reason we elected this monster of a man as our next president. And I bet you good money that tonight, as he tweets about how unfair it is that people are in the streets protesting his electoral win, there's a voice in his ruined head that sounds like daddy. And even now daddy's screaming, "You're a failure. You're a failure."

But enough of that shit. At least for now. It's time for all of us to do something - anything - that helps give the middle finger to the darkness that surrounds us. For me, that's writing. Thanks to everyone who's reading this now or plans to keep coming back. I imagine most of you will be people I know only through Twitter. So let me say now how grateful I am to have you in my life. Even before this awful time, you've made me laugh and see the good in this world. For that, I'm eternally grateful. I hope I've made you laugh, as well - and see things from a slightly different angle. I'm so glad you listened. And I want to hear what you have to say, now more than ever.

I'm not sure what good it will do, but it's time to resume this blog. A few hundred words a day about one geek and his geek obsessions.It's something. And something is better than nothing.

END OF LINE.