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.