Friday, December 15, 2017

The Last Jedi - It's Salt

Where Rian Johnson goes, I’m not sure J.J. Abrams is equipped to follow. He will either grow as a filmmaker, or Episode IX will be disappointing. I think Rian Johnson recognized that what made Empire great wasn’t the specific plot points or emotional beats of the film, but that it took the characters and tested them in new ways. Just as Luke, Leia, Han and even Vader are tested and grow in Empire, the same can be said of Rey, Finn, Po, and Ren here with Ren even going places Vader never could. Johnson also manages to make this movie really funny, which was a little jarring at times, but made me laugh. It doesn't take itself too seriously.

Are there parallels to Episodes IV – VI? Of course, that’s inherent in the story being told. At the heart of each trilogy is a conflicted Skywalker trying to learn about the Force and resolve family issues. Because J.J. Abrams deliberately revisited A New Hope to make the new trilogy familiar (in ways that frankly did not bother me), the story is left with some inherent parallels. Rather than shy away from those, Rian Johnson confronts them, all of them, and blows past them (or makes fun of them, "It's salt."), leaving us a little shell-shocked and with a blank slate heading into Episode IX. That’s both exciting and a little scary with Abrams at the helm. 

The IO9 review largely aligns with my thoughts, if you want to read something more in depth that’s not going to give too much away. I would have been harder on the first 2/3rds of the film, even though the long setup does pay off well in the end (even if you could have cut a good 20 minutes out of the middle). For a lot of the movie I was sitting there wondering “Where the hell is this going?” only to end up thinking “Oh. THAT’S where it’s going…” You have to trust this movie. Plot holes turn out not to be plot holes, etc, etc.  Of course that’s how I felt after my first viewing. I’m interested to see how it holds up over time.

(If you've seen the movie or don't mind massive spoilers, this debrief of the ending is pretty spot on.)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rogue One Spoiler Filled Review

It's been exactly two years to the day since I posted to this blog. Facebook killed blogging, in my opinion, at least for the casual arm-chair blogger, but I have too many words about Rogue One to fit in a Facebook post, so I'm dusting off the old Experiment Farm. Tap tap tap... Is this thing on?

Things I liked about Rogue One:

Tone: I LOVED the tone. I loved how dark and depressing it was. I loved that all of the main characters die. (I told you there were spoilers.) This movie captured the tone that the prequels should have had. We all knew from the beginning that the prequels were not going to end well, but Lucas refused to commit to the Dark Side because they don't sell as many toys or cartoons. Disney went there because Disney embraces it's Dark Side (see Bambi), and it's still selling toys. I would not bring young'ins to this movie though. The kid in front of us cried.

Darth Vader as a bad ass: We need more scenes of Darth Vader kicking butt in the Star Wars cannon. I'd see this movie again just for the scene at the end where Vader takes out the rebels on the ship. 

Mads Mikkelsen: Because he's awesome even if he will always be Le Chiffre

Jimmy Smits: Because I was not expecting him, and it was a good way to bridge the gap between the prequels and the original trilogy. 

I feel like I should have more, but really I just have a generalized feeling of having enjoyed the film. As is often the case, it's easier to elaborate on the things I didn't like.

My issues with Rogue One:

Messy Plot: The plot was messy. Why exactly was it so important to tell the rebel fleet to attack the gate, when they were attacking the gate already? This movie would have been better if the team had had a clear objective from the beginning. You are on an impossible mission to get the Death Star plans. Good luck. Instead it was go to Jedha to this thing, go to Eadu to do this other thing, go to Scarif to do one last thing. This movie could have been The Guns of Navarone or The Dirty Dozen. But that would have required the movie to take its time and build character instead of jumping right into action sequences. 

Computer Animated Characters: The computer animated Tarkin and Leia were creepy. Especially Tarkin. That whole first scene with him, I was so distracted I missed any and all content. Computer animation has come a long way, but they still looked fake and... well... creepy. Peter Cushing has been dead for over 20 years. It was jarring.

Gender Balance: Or lack thereof. Having a female lead does not mean you don't have to hire any other women. This is a man-heavy movie. Aliens was more gender balanced, and that movie is 30 years old. There really weren't any women soldiers in the rebel infantry? Really? Another woman on the core team would have been nice too. 

Forrest Whitaker: Completely wasted in this movie. Whey did he stay behind to die? That was completely unmotivated, as was most everything about his character.

I still liked it though. The cameos and use of the old pilots were well done. It was better than the prequels, but so was most every movie ever made.  

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Black Mirror Scratched

I’ve been seeing a lot of people on Facebook raving about Black Mirror on lately (which is, in itself very ironic), so we watched the first episode last night. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a Twilight Zone type morality play (different characters and stories every episode that generally have something to do with technology). I’m going to attempt to be vague as I write about it and not give away too many details, but there will be spoilers.

At first, I found the episode to be very disturbing (but in that good way art can be disturbing) and impactful but also a bit heavy handed.  Characters said or did things they wouldn’t really say in real-life in order for the story to make its comments on technology. There were also a few plot holes that I let slide. (You’re sneaking someone into a building and you not only don’t clear the street but you let someone hangout by the entrance. Then you let that someone take a picture of the person you’re sneaking into the building and you don’t detain said person or confiscate their phone. You just let them walk away. You’re a moron and deserve for your plan to backfire. OR you spend seemingly hours reconnoitering a building and never bother to do any sort of thermal imaging to determine if anyone is actually in the building.)

Still, I was left chewing on something that didn’t quite sit right. Sure enough, when I woke up this morning, in a half-asleep half-awake daze, it hit me.

In addition to the story itself commenting on technology, we find out at the end that the terrorists weren’t really terrorists but an artist making a comment on technology (which a character has to spell out for us because the viewer can’t be trusted to arrive at the conclusion on their own) that everyone was missing what was going on in real life because they were all inside glued to their TV screens.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my problem with the ending. Did you catch it?

The whole episode is an intricate indictment of how technology can trap someone into having to do something truly horrifying and terrible, but at the end, it completely ignores an entire segment of the technology it claims to be indicting: streaming video.

Not once is a member of the general public shown watching the news on their computer or on their phone. The streets of London wouldn’t have been empty at 3:30 because everyone was inside watching the news. There would have been hundreds or thousands of people too self obsessed or busy with their own lives to be inside watching a TV. They would have been out living their busy lives following the events on their mobile device. The princess would have been discovered before the 4:00 PM deadline. The terrible thing wouldn’t have happened at all.

So the first episode ends up being a rather one-sided view of technology, cherry picking the elements that serve the narrative and ignoring the others. Because, let’s face it, there would have been teams of hackers out there trying to trace the video upload (that somehow this artist managed to make untraceable after single-handedly kidnapping a princess…)

The more I scratch the surface, the more it falls apart. I did like it, at the time. I just hope the other episodes hold up better to a little scrutiny.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014

New Star Wars Trailer!

Things I like about this trailer:

  1. Everyone character in it looks scared. That's a good thing. It means there are real, personal, life-and-death stakes, not trade embargoes. 
  2. We all know Luke, Leia, Han, and the gang are in the film, but they're nowhere to be seen in trailer. That implies they're not the main characters, which will hopefully keep it fresh. 
  3. Things look gritty, not super polished like the prequels. 
The comic-relief droid is a little worrisome, but we'll over look that for now and remain cautiously optimistic. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day of the Doctors

I enjoyed The Day of the Doctor, but there was a giant Christopher Eccleston sized hole in that story. I suppose it's not Steven Moffat's fault that Eccleston passed on being in the 50th Anniversary Special, but I can fault him for continuing with that story when he knew the Ninth Doctor couldn't be in it in any substantive way.

I noticed his absence the most during the scene when Ten, Eleven, and the War Doctor are standing there with their hands on the button. He really needed to be there in that scene. He was the PTSD Doctor. He was closer to the war and more effected by it then any of them. If this was the story of the Doctor redeeming himself for destroying his own people, Nine needed to be there.

I could have even forgiven his absence if they'd been able to get him in the studio long enough to finish the War Doctor's regeneration sequence. All I needed was for Eccleston to look up and say "Fantastic!" But no. Instead we get old footage of him re-purposed along with old footage of all of the Doctors. It was fine. It worked. It just wasn't satisfying.

And I realize that Peter Capaldi wasn't cast in time for this to be possible, but what would have made the show truly epic would have been to add 30 minutes, include Nine, AND include Thirteen. (I'm going to assume he will be known as Thirteen, but there will be no retroactive renumbering of Nine through Eleven.) There's no reason you have to introduce a new Doctor with his regeneration. You could have brought him in from the future. Maybe that would have been too distracting, but I think it would have been brilliant. At least they worked him briefly into the climax.

Then there was Tom Baker. I spent the whole episode assuming the asthmatic with the scarf would somehow turn out to be him. Then he pops in at the end. I thought it was a clever way to work in one of the older actors, even if he did ham it up.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Troilus and Go-see-it-a

I went to opening night of Impact's Troilus and Cressida on Saturday night. I didn't know anything about the play before I showed up at the theater that night, except that it was Shakespeare. You don't need to either. As soon as you open your program, you'll recognize character names and think to yourself "That's what this play is about? I didn't realize Shakespeare wrote a play about that. I wonder who plays the Brad Pitt and Eric Bana characters..."

About halfway through the first act, I found myself thinking "This is really good. It's modern. It's funny. It's tragic. It's way better than that stupid movie. Why isn't this play done more often?". Then the second half began and things started to go a little sideways. Then it started getting really weird. Then it ended, and I thought "Whaaaaat?!" It's not the production's fault at all. It's solid and approachable and engaging and everything you'd expect from an Impact Shakespeare.

It's Shakespeare's fault. Or rather it's time's fault. T & C is one of his "problem plays", a problem because times have changed so much that the humor and dramatic weight of the show are all but incomprehensible to a modern audience.

Even so, I have to highly recommend seeing the show. Why? Think about it: What could be more engaging than watching Shakespeare drive a train wreck? It's riveting to watch just how out of control and weird it gets. The director, Melissa Hillman, does a great job of toning it down and making it hold together into some sort of satisfying arc, but seriously, just go and watch the shit fly. It's worth it for the fight scenes, the humor, and the beer, if nothing else. And you can impress people by telling them you've actually seen a production of Troilus and Cressida that didn't suck.
In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.