December 19, 2016

Rogue One: The Perfect Prequel

I was born in the mid-70's so I grew up with Star Wars. My childhood was dominated by the films, and one year I remember waking up Christmas morning to find the lower branches of our tree decorated with several action figures. I loved Episodes IV-VI and have seen them countless times. As I grew older I came to appreciate that Empire Strikes Back was the best of the trilogy. I have no doubt that my love of Star Wars had a major influence on my choosing Information Technology as a career field.

When Episode I came out in the late 90's, I was finished with college and greatly looking forward to the new trilogy. I remember after having seen it that while Darth Maul was awesome, the movie lacked the same energy as the original trilogy. I still liked it, but not nearly as much a I liked the others. Then came Episode II and I was like "OMG WTF" because it sucked and to date I have only seen it one time, and that was in the theater. Episode III came around and redeemed the trilogy a bit because it got us to where we always knew it was going.

When news first broke that George Lucas had given up the Star Wars world to Disney first, I was on the fence. I knew Disney would market the crap out of it and try to cash in every which way, but they do have quite a knack for that sort of thing. I'm happy with their handling of the Marvel stuff. When it was announced that J.J. Abrams was going to do Episode VII, I was not that excited. I thought Lost was a horrible TV show because of all the misdirection with the writing, and I felt like his take on the new Star Trek series was good, but not great. After having seen The Force Awakens, my first impression was that I liked it but didn't love it because I thought it recycled too much. With repeated viewings I can now say I really like it, primarily because Kylo Ren is a great villain and the casting of Adam Driver turned out to be masterful.

When Rogue One was announced, I felt about the same way I did about J.J. Abrams doing Episode VII. I knew I was going to see it because it's a Star Wars story, but I was less enthused because it was a prequel and the problem with prequels is that you already know how they will end. 

Tonight, I finally saw Rogue One and loved it. I left the theater happier than I had felt about the prequel trilogy or The Force Awakens. If I had the Blu-ray I would have gone straight home and started watching again. This new one has a momentum about it that makes it better with each progressive scene. It escalates from start to finish and never lets up with action and surprises. The last two minutes are the most cheer-worthy thing I've ever seen in a Star Wars movie. Many people in the theater gave applause tonight.

After all this time, I can say honestly that Rogue One was the kind of Star Wars movie I've been waiting 30+ years to see.

November 30, 2016

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

NO SPOILERS! I PROMISE! This is my first review in a while...sorry about that. Been super busy. Anyway, last night I finished watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life on Netflix. Rather than a whole new season of the show, we get a 4-part miniseries where each episode runs @ 90 minutes and is named after a season like fall, winter, spring, or summer.

These new episodes take place in 2016. In fact, the show was filmed from February to May of this year so the turnaround for shooting to final print was really quick. Being that it takes place in real time, we get to see what all has happened since the TV show ended almost 10 years ago.

In short, I loved it. All the main characters slip right back into their roles as if the show ended a week ago. It's pretty amazing how much they all look basically the same, too. There are cameos throughout the series of just about everyone who was on there, though some of the biggest ones don't happen until much later on. It's as much a tribute to the original series as it is new content, and we get a clear picture of what happened to these people and there are some surprises.

Rather than describe what becomes of our main characters, Lorelai, Rory, & Luke, I will discuss something I've thought of since watching the original show because I think it helps to explain the way things play out in the series. So here goes:

Stars Hollow is a fantasy world. A sort of modern day Mayberry. It's a delightful microcosm that represents everything people wish their hometown could be like. Even the annoying parts have a certain charm to them. Like most fantasy worlds, its inhabitants are fine so long as they stay within their world. When outsiders come in, they tend to not stay long, and when insiders leave, they tend to find a harsh outside world that often rejects or eats them up. I think that's the big picture here. If you stay in Stars Hollow, you'll be fine. If you venture out, you'll meet people and go to places that will change you and maybe not always for the better.

In the end, I found the series to be somewhat bittersweet. There will be change that you may predict, other things you won't see coming, plus a few crazy moments to keep it interesting. There are musical numbers, another odd film from Kirk, new places but no new people, and of course, town festivals. If you liked the original series then you must see this, but try to consider the bigger picture. In one scene, Rory actually makes a reference to Lord of the Rings and it's funny how much Stars Hollow may be like the perfect little world of the Hobbits. In fact, this could have been called Gilmore Girls: There and Back Again.

March 20, 2016

The Girl in the Book

The Girl in the Book (2015) stars Emily Vancamp (Revenge) as a young woman who was molested by an older man during her teen years. That man, an author and family friend, used some of their inappropriate relationship experiences in his debut novel that went on to become a huge best seller.

Many years later, Vancamp is now working in the publishing industry when the publisher decides to do a re-release of her molester's book and she suddenly finds herself having to work with him. This causes the past to come flooding back and she realizes that her troubled childhood has always been the root of her relationship and personal problems. If she doesn't do something about it, she will forever live in the shadow of her past, and be nothing more than the dreaded girl in the book.

This story is told using a flashback narrative where it jumps back and forth between past and present. At first she's just an aspiring writer who wants some help from the big shot author, but things quickly turn bad when the man finds himself unable to resist putting his hands on her. This leads to some very disturbing, though brief, scenes.

While I did think the movie was interesting, it lacked a solid conclusion. It puts the focus mainly on Vancamp getting over a traumatic experience, but at no time does it ever mention pressing charges or outing the man for the pedophile that he was. Part of this has to do with her parents brushing things off as teenage fantasy, but on the other hand it also shows how hard it is sometimes for young victims to come forward. Either way, it was a fascinating premise but could have been further developed.


March 16, 2016

The Keeping Room


The Keeping Room (2015) is an independent film set during the end of the Civil War when General Sherman's troops were moving through the Carolinas destroying as much as possible in their path. It focuses on two sisters and a slave girl who are struggling to survive when hell comes to town in the form of two yankee scouts that are raping and murdering their way through the area. It's part thriller, part home invasion horror movie, part shoot 'em up, and part historical fiction that all comes together in a slow burn kind of dreadful but very well done film.

Brit Marling, an up and coming actress with much promise, plays the lead as the older sister trying to keep things together. Oscar nominee Hailee Stanfield plays her younger teen sister who isn't all that helpful at first. Muna Otaru plays the slave who is as much part of the family as anyone else. The most recognizable cast member is Sam Worthington as one of the vicious scouts who can't resist going after Marling in the worst way. This was directed by Daniel Barber, who previously did the excellent revenge thriller Harry Brown with Michael Caine.

I enjoy stories about the Civil War and particularly liked that this one portrayed the northerners as villains given the context. The two scouts were so twisted from their war experience that they'd lost a part of their humanity and were on a rampage partially because it was so easy for them to get away with it. The overall tone of this film is rather dark, but it has some strong moments coupled with great acting all around. Marling does a great job carrying the movie and it's only a matter of time before she becomes a household name. This movie is definitely worth seeing, especially for the final wide angle shot right before the credits roll.


January 26, 2016

Making A Murderer

The big thing going around right now is everyone seems to be binge watching Making A Murderer on Netflix. It's a documentary that follows the case of a Wisconsin man named Steven Avery who served 18 years for a rape he supposedly didn't commit, got out of jail and began a lawsuit against the people who put him behind bars, then suddenly found himself in the middle of a murder investigation.

What this documentary sets out to show is that the Avery family were targeted by police officers, evidence was supposedly planted, and confessions were coerced by Avery and another family member, both of which have less than average IQ's. It is all quite compelling, but I did some of my own research on the case as well as talked with some police officers I know, and it turns out the filmmakers left a few big details out of this documentary. In fact, I just read that a Season 2 is in order to cover some of this new material.

Do you think Avery killed the girl? Are they really a family of criminals or just a poor blue collar family being singled out by police?

Also, be sure to check out this additional info from Ranker.com, which includes a lot of left out bits with sourced information. Personally, I think Avery did it but the nephew was coerced.

October 29, 2015

Child 44

"There is no murder in paradise."

Child 44 is based on the bestselling novel from Tom Rob Smith and the screenplay has supposedly been floating around for years. The movie was put into limited release earlier this year but got overwhelmingly negative reviews and was even banned in Russia for it's bleak portrayal of the Orwellian-like life under communist rule.

The story involves a child murderer who is killing orphans in Russia, and a decorated military veteran (Tom Hardy) who is pursuing him. However, Russia refuses to acknowledge that one of their own may be a killer and to even say so constitutes treason. This means that Hardy's character must go against the state and investigate independently, which brings him all kinds of trouble. When his wife is accused of espionage, the two are forced to go on the run while an old rival hunts them down. Expect quite a few extremely brutal fight scenes as various agents try to kill them both.

I quite liked the movie despite the heavy Russian accents making some dialogue hard to understand. Having previously read the book it was also easier for me to follow since I already knew what was going to happen, so perhaps that made me like the movie more than someone going into it blindly. It's a shame this didn't do better at the box office because the next book in the series is even better. I still think it is worth checking out despite the dark subject matter.


August 20, 2015

Preservation

Preservation may be one of the dumbest movies I have watched in a while. It's about two brothers and a girl (who randomly blurts out, "I'm a vegetarian" while deer hunting) who go on an outdoor trip and find themselves hunted by a small group of masked killers.

The premise here isn't anything new - people being chased through the woods by killers they can't see. There is one minor twist that helps makes things a little creepy, but it's certainly not enough to save the movie from it's own stupidity. The two brothers get into arguments based on random pieces of information that are thrown in just before the fighting starts, and I guess this added drama is to serve as filler while we wait for the bad guys to show up.

In one scene, a guy (Pablo Schrieber - aka "pornstache" from OITNB) actually gets the jump on one of the villains and beats him, then takes his gun. Instead of just finishing the job, our would-be hero turns his back to the knocked out bad guy and says, "I guess I'm gonna have to kill you now" while he reloads the gun. When he turns back around, the bad guy stabs him and takes the gun back. WTF? In another scene, a guy escapes a locked porto-potty by climbing out the top while somebody is beating on the door. Again, WTF?

This was a total waste of time.