Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Is a Treat

Rogue One is a fun movie that I think most every Star Wars fan will love. Rogue One stars a host of familiar faces and like Force Awakens some new ones in the central roles. The cast includes Felicity Jones as Jyn Urso, and Diego Luna, as Captain Cassian Andor. They are surrounded by a strong supporting cast which includes Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whittaker. The story is for older Star Wars fans, in particular, is the prequel we’d hoped for. It fills in certain holes that A New Hope left unanswered. Rogue One was always designed and intended as a standalone movie. I hear there are also more of these movies, which will expand the Star Wars universe, planned. Next up is a Han Solo origin story. In all, if rumors are to be believed, there may be as many as ten more. To say the success of Rogue One had a lot riding on it for Disney’s future plans for the franchise is an understatement.

The premise of Rogue One all hinges on a single sentence from the opening scrawl of the A New Hope: “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon.” It is the story of how Jyn Urso and a ragtag band of thieves, rebels, and Jedi wannabes capture the plans of the Death Star which leads to the central plot of Star Wars: A New Hope, the original movie which most of us older fans simply called Star Wars or Star Wars I.

The movie is classic Star Wars stuff. It has super bad guys including an appearance by Darth Vader and original movie characters. It has those same, sometimes awkward, romance moments that are something of a trademark for the franchise.  It is a fun ride. Alan Tudyk’s robot, K-2S0 is a great add to the Star Wars list of favorite creations.

I did find some of the CGI resurrections of original actors, especially General Moff Tarkin, originally created by Peter Cushing, a bit unrealistic. Cushing died in 1994. He is not the first actor to be digitally resurrected and will probably not be the last. I find the practice one, a bit ridiculous when there are many fine and living actors.  I think most fans will forgive a movie for having to recast a role for an actor who is no longer with us. Two, the digital creations are not quite life-like. Even the attempts to make older performers look younger just does not quite look real. I prefer live actors. 

Overall, I really liked the movie. We saw it in 3-D and on an over-sized screen. While the 3-D was good, I don’t really think by paying the extra cost, you’ll lose much if you go see it in standard. I think most folks will enjoy the movie. You may need some background for the original movie if you’ve been living under a rock. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a movie well worth the ride.  I will buy the Blu-ray. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Surreal Story of Clara and The Nutcracker

Let’s face it. Every child you’ve ever known wants a nutcracker given to her by a creepy old magician during a Christmas party infested by adults, whose only means of communicating with children is to shake their collective index finger at them, and with children, who for some unknown reason seem to be completely without any discipline. Not only does one child get a nutcracker but also all the other girls at the party get really nice dolls. For some reason, every boy at the party gets a stick horse and a hunting horn.  And so you have the beginnings of a great holiday story that is The Nutcracker.

So for this yuletide, I thought I would tell you the strange and surrealistic holiday story that so many folks become enamored by from say mid-November to January 1st. I really am none too sure as to why, but many view this as a holiday treat that compares easily with sugar cookies and candy canes.

The story – or at least what I think is the story – of The Nutcracker is as follows.

Clara, a young and precocious girl on the cusp of womanhood, is at a Christmas party.  There are a number of families and family friends who have gathered for the event which includes an inordinate number of children. Several of them seem to be spoiled. Invited to this party is also the creepy, old magician and apparently Clara’s godfather, Drosselmeyer. We know that Drosselmeyer is her godfather because the program tells us so. We now that he is a magician because he does some pretty bad party tricks. While the other children receive their gifts of dolls and horns, Drosselmeyer, who for some reason often wears an eyepatch, gives Clara the Nutcracker. Just like every girl who is on the cusp of womanhood, Clara falls instantly in love with the strange and bizarre wooden gift that is designed to shell walnuts.

Clara, after dancing with the nutcracker doll, has it taken from her by her little brother, Fritz. After a brief tussle over the doll, it is broken. Drosselmeyer, being a clever and creepy magician, uses a ribbon from Clara’s hair to repair the Nutcracker. We know, after all, nothing says “good as new” as a wooden doll held together by a bit of ribbon. Clara then falls asleep. She apparently has drunk some bad eggnog or the doll was laced with a hallucinogen by Drosselmeyer. Clara has a dream from the contact high that is one of the most bizarre dreams since Mary Shelly dreamt of Frankenstein. In all honesty, if I had this dream, I would probably wake up screaming.

In her dream/nightmare, the house is infested by mice who are led by a rat which they believe is their king. Under his leadership, the mice have decided they should steal all the presents which include several wind-up dancing dolls, tin soldiers, and the Nutcracker. The toys come to life and defend themselves against the evil mice and Mouse King and battle ensues with the toys being led by the noble Nutcracker. The Mouse King and Nutcracker meet on the field of honor and kill each other. Clara mourns the Nutcracker’s death and this love turns the Nutcracker into a real boy. –No, wait the real boy thing is Pinocchio. The Nutcracker turns into a real prince.  I know this because after all death always equals real boy – I mean prince – when dealing with bad eggnog enduced dream.

Clara and the real boy –dammit – prince run off into the forest where they are led by the creepy, old Drosselmeyer to the land of candy. There, they are attacked by snowflakes. Apparently, snowflakes don’t like creepy old guys and real boys – oh heck, you know who I mean. Finally, they arrive in the Kingdom of the once wooden Nutcracker, and we reach the end of the first act – and also the plot.

The second act begins with Clara and the real – umm – prince watching dancing sugar plums. You know, like the ones in “A Night before Christmas,” but this is the first time they danced in anyone’s head.  The plot now consists of people dancing for Clara and you know who. Following the dance of the sugarplums led by a fairy, Clara and the real prince – Ha! Got it! – are entertained by people from all over the world because of the victory over the Mouse King which converted the Nutcracker into a real boy –Shoot, I give up. We know this because the program tells us so. The many foreign and exotic dancers are Spaniards, Arabians, Russians, Chinese, Mirlitons, Gingerbreads, Flowers, and a Cavalier. I am not sure where Mirlitons are from so I am going to pick France. Yep, they are from France.  They do not, however, resemble, Coneheads. (If you don’t get that joke, you really are young, aren’t you?) I suppose Gingerbreads dance because they are glad not to be nibbled on by the Mouse King and his minions. I figure the flowers are refugees having fled the killer snowflakes from the end of act one.  I have no clue what happened to Drosselmeyer.  I am not sure why there is also a Cavalier. The Cavaliers were supporters of Charles I. I know this because I looked it up.  The Cavalier in the story apparently likes to dance with the Sugarplum Fairy.  The bad eggnog or drug is wearing off and Clara awakes. Yep. After battling mice and being chased by snowflakes and having sugarplums dance in her head, she wakes up.  The Nutcracker is once again the wooden doll that every girl desired, well desired until Barbie was invented. I warned you the plot progresses no further after the first act.

On a personal note, I once taught creative writing and I would have failed any student who wrote a story that ends with “and then she woke up.”

Here endeth the strange and surreal story of The Nutcracker. I hope you enjoyed it.  

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Arrival Solid Sci-Fi

I know this review is a bit late in coming, but finally had the opportunity to see Arrival which stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. I will be brief and try to remain spoiler free. That means I cannot discuss anything about the plot except to give you the overview that you can see in the trailers.  Simply put, aliens arrive on Earth in twelve locations. The US government sends military leader Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to find out information about the visitors. In order to communicate with the aliens, Weber assembles a team which includes linguistic expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). This team must learn to communicate with the alien culture which is vastly different from humans.

Arrival is hardcore science fiction. It is well acted and while a bit slow paced early on, it builds at a good steady pace. It even takes time to play on stereotypes and also poke a bit of fun at fear mongers and pundits. Arrival is also a sort of love story. The themes run strong in this show and deal with powerful themes dealing with how we view our world, life, and the constant fear we have of "the other." Short of giving away the central idea the movie is one that if you allow your attention to drift for even a moment, you will probably end up completely lost.

I like movies that give us things to ponder without being ridiculous in its attempts to be thought-provoking. Arrival offers us a film of solid acting, careful plotting, and powerful themes. It is a complex plot. I have little doubt that I could watch the movie several more times and find new details and plot points I had missed the first time.It is well worth the time. The more I think about Arrival, the better I like it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A Chase

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is inspired by the companion book by J. K. Rowling. The book actually has no real plot. It was  a Harry Potter mock textbook that Rowling created to benefit a charity.  The movie suffers a bit because unlike the Harry Potter series, there is no real back story from which it can draw. It relies almost solely on capturing the wizarding world of Harry Potter without Harry and the gang.

It is 1926, and we meet the author of the textbook used at wizarding schools, Newt Scamander who is played by Oscar winner, Eddie Redmayne. Newt has come to America with his suitcase full of magical creatures on a mission which in order to remain spoiler free, I won't reveal.  Problems ensue when Newt has his suitcase confused and switched with one belonging to a baker. Newt, along with a No-mag (Muggle for you Potterheads) baker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and a former Magic Investigator Porpentina 'Tina' Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her mind-reading sister,
Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), must recapture the beasties that escaped from his suitcase.  Along the route, there will be brushes with abused children (Ezra Miller, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Jenn Murray) and their evil adopted mother (Samantha Morton), with a power-hungry magician, Graves (Colin Farrell), with the somewhat Puritanical American wizards, with a newspaper magnet (Jon Voight) and his sons (Josh Cowdery and Ronan Raftery), and with an evil Voldemort-like wizard named Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) whom we barely meet. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a chase. It is a love story. It is a magical adventure and a fun watch.

The movie gets a bit slow in the middle and it takes time to develop. Our bad guys need some work as they lack the depth of menace that we saw in characters from the original series like Voldemort, Snape, and Lucius Malfoy. I had forgotten, for example, the in the original series it was Grindelwald that gave Aldus Dumbledore his legendary status from their duel. Still, since there are four sequels planned for this series, one can only guess at how the characters will develop now that the foundation is set for them. 

All in all, the movie is fun. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 3-D is well worth the money and the cast turn in some fun performances. I must admit that the budding romance between Jacob the Baker and Queenie the mind-reader was probably the most charming part of the movie. There are great moments of excitement and some stunning special effects. I'm glad I went and I will probably buy the Blu-Ray. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Strange Is Wonderfully Strange

I am going to try and be spoiler free. Marvel's latest add to the Marvel Cinema Universe is Doctor Strange starring consummate actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the mystical superhero. Strange is a slightly different comic book hero. He is a supernatural protector of the Earth. He can bend time and space.

The movie is an origin story about how the arrogant and egotistical neurosurgeon, Doctor Stephen Strange becomes a sorcerer. To do this, he must conquer his arrogance. Along the route, he is tutored by the Ancient One, played by another superior actor, Tilda Swinton. She, along with other Masters of magic, Wong, played by Benedict Wong, and Mordo, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, protect the Earth from forces in the supernatural realms of multiple universes.  Mordo is something of Strange's foil. Where Strange is a rule-breaker, Mordo is the unbending, straight arrow.

It befalls Strange and Mordo that they must defeat the dark sorcerer, Kaecilius, played by Mads Mikkelsen. Kaecilius wants eternal life and has, along with his followers, turned to the dark immortal, Dormammu. The battle between the magicians is epic.

What makes Doctor Strange work is that it is multifaceted. The acting is well done. The special effects are some of the best I've seen in a long while. More importantly, Doctor Strange is like most of the really good superhero movies, character driven. It is exciting, dark at times, light-hearted at others. We see the growth and changes in all the characters from Strange's arrogant charm to Mordo's need for a world of black and white. It is, in short, a well-crafted movie. 
Doctor Strange is well worth the time. Its effects will dazzle in 3-D. I will buy the Blu-Ray. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Living in a Real World

The good news is the national nightmare that is the 2016 Presidential Campaign is almost over.

These are the realities.

You have two candidates.  Republican pundit, Anna Navaro summed it up this way, "They (the voters) are faced with a choice between a bad person or a person with bad judgment."

I know what you're thinking, "Mr. T, what about Gary Johnson? What about Jill Stein? What about Evan McMullen?"

Living in the Real World: 

You may hate the two party system. It may be time for it to change. But on Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, it will not change. If you want to change the two-party system, you will need to start sooner than a few weeks or months before the elections. If you start now, you might make a change by the next one, but it is more likely that you will change one of the parties than the system. The truth is, I can think of no election in any other country or in this country that has not boiled down to essentially two parties and two candidates.

Living in the Real World:

Gary Johnson will not become President.
Jill Stein will not become President.
Evan McMullen will not become President.
Not one of the multitude of other parties will have a candidate that will become President.

But voting for one of them could put a person you may fear into the White House.

Living in the Real World:

Reports say that of likely voters only 3 to 5 percent of them are undecided. To them, I say, "What the (expletive deleted) is wrong with you?"

Living in the Real World:

One of the candidates has been rated by Economist Intelligence Unit of The Economist as the 6th greatest danger to the world economy.

The other of the candidate is likely to have her presidency blocked by constant investigations and is plagued by 30 years of scandals, some real and most imagined.

I can put it no more simply.

Living in the Real World:

Sometimes, we must make hard decisions. This is one of those times.

Pull up your big boy and big girl pants and VOTE.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Logic by Omission

Logic? Logic.
Yep, logic.

Let's forget that  the people spreading this meme don't have a security clearance either, for a moment. Why would we want to bring that into the argument? But then that is the problem with the logical fallacy of appeal to an improper authority in the form of an appeal to accomplishment.

Let me put it another way by reversing the meme:
"When a person without a security clearance  tells you that Hillary did break the law."

Or how about
"When a person who is not in law enforcement tells you Hillary did break the law'?

"When a person who has no law degree tells you that you should put someone in jail without trial."

Divisive much?

You cannot hold a presumption of innocence if you chant "Lock her up" without any charges or trial.

But there is this.

Hillary has never been tried or even charged in relation to her emails. The presumption of innocence does not judge the smartness of what she has done, but the highest ranking member of law enforcement has announced that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring charges.

If you are for law and order, then perhaps even a basic understanding of the law would be good.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

No...Not Lincoln!

I am not sure which one of our two best-known presidents are abused and misquoted more often, Lincoln or Washington. I willing to bet that it is pretty close. Besides the quotes attributed to them that never occurred, there are the ones that are taken out of context and others that simply got history wrong. So let's take a look.

The third-party crowd has been floating this one around. Lord knows, being perfect, I've never got anything wrong and what makes this meme worse is how it got started. Bill Moyers, who is well known as a political commentator and a pretty good journalist, announced that Lincoln was a third-party candidate back in 2012 . Lincoln wasn't. He was a member of a relatively new political party. The Republican party was about six years old. The Whig party had pretty much imploded over slavery and disbanded. Those in favor of slavery went to the Democrats and those opposed joined the fledgling Republicans. The Republicans had run a presidential candidate, John Fremont in 1856. He came in second. Not only did Lincoln win in 1860, but so did the Republicans in 1856 actually making them the other party.  In 1856, Republicans won 15 of 62 seats in the Senate and 90 out of 237 seats in the House. That makes them a major player. If there was a third party in 1856 it was the short-lived Know-Nothing Party which held 14 seats in 1856. Sorry, but being the young party does not make a third party in 1860. History....

And then there is the quote out of context. Yes, Lincoln did say this, sort of. What is not included is what he said before this:

"We must not disturb slavery in the states where it exists, because the Constitution, and the peace of the country both forbid us — We must not withhold an efficient fugitive slave law, because the constitution demands it —

But we must, by a national policy, prevent the spread of slavery into new territories, or free states, because the constitution does not forbid us, and the general welfare does demand such prevention — We must prevent the revival of the African slave trade, because the constitution does not forbid us, and the general welfare does require the prevention — We must prevent these things being done, by either congresses or courts — The people — the people — are the rightful masters of both Congresses, and courts — not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it —"

Sort of changes the entire complexion of the above meme, huh? He is talking about changing public policy, not a revolutionary over-throw. 

Before you post that quote from a founding father or a great leader, do just a tiny bit of research.  I found the information in just a couple of minutes on Google. 

Let me help. Quotes that Lincoln did not say.

Friday, October 21, 2016

It's Not A Contest

 I see a bunch of memes  that uses the technique of what is commonly called "the other."

People who burn flags are not necessarily on welfare.

And so what if they are? You cannot protect only the people's rights only if they agree with you. It's not only illogical; it is unconstitutional. BTW, we don't know if these people are on welfare or if they are even American. A picture with writing on it means nothing.

"The other" argument comes in all kinds of shapes and forms. Someone who uses drugs and smokes does not necessarily have food stamps or welfare. The vast majority are on welfare less than two years.  BTW, the Food Stamps is now called SNAP. People on SNAP may not use them to buy any of the things listed or implied by this meme. They are on SNAP on average 8-10 months and the average recipient receives just under $1.50 per meal based on 3 meals a day for 30 days. 

The fact is most folks don't want to be on welfare. But because they are, maybe this meme's author would be happier if they lived in a packing crate.  We are supposed to protect the least of us. It is not our job to judge. What's that old saying about "walking a mile in another man's moccasins"?

1. There has not been one case of a Syrian refugee coming to the United States and causing terrorism. Since 9/11 as of 2015 "Of the almost 750,000 refugees who have been admitted to America since 9/11, only two Iraqis have arrested on terrorist charges." The FBI has described current terrorism in the USA as "Americans attacking Americans."

2. Causing homeless Vets is not the fault of these "others." Homeless veterans are a far more complex problem than protecting mostly women and children from Syria.  (P.S. Not all Syrian refugees are Muslim but the number that aren't, is admittedly very small.)

We are a rich and powerful country. Why can't we do good for both?

What have Fast Food workers ever done to this meme's creator besides serve him or her food? Why shouldn't they make a living wage? And why aren't we paying the man on the left more? Oh yeah, the meme creator probably voted against the tax raise or voted for something stupid like TABOR which prevents this very important and valuable public worker from getting a raise.

His pay is attached to taxes if he is an EMT or Firefighter. The fast food folks on the right are paid by the multi-national, multi-billion company they work for not by tax dollars. If you don't like that cost of food may go up slightly, then don't eat there. It really is that simple.

Every faith and every decent person should be more concerned about helping "the other."  I suppose the folks who write these memes and those who repost them can continue to follow the dividers or perhaps, just perhaps quit living in fear of "the other" and start thinking about them as fellow human travelers instead.

Give it a shot. There are no "OTHERS." There is only us.

Or just think about this meme...