Category: Movies

The Force Is Strong with Rogue One

Warning: the following post contains spoilers from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, so if you have not seen the movie and care about what happens in it, proceed with caution. I have also placed a warning before the spoiler paragraphs.

The Star Wars franchise is one of the few certainties in life anymore. The Original Trilogy, might not be the greatest films ever made, but they probably matter the most to the greatest number of people. Even with the Prequel Trilogy that George Lucas released to the world from 1999 to 2005, for all their flaws, I still find myself going back to them. The Phantom Menace came out when I was in 3rd grade, Attack of the Clones was in 6th grade, and Revenge of the Sith was in 9th grade, and by the time they came out, I was already so in love with the originals that I wanted more than anything for the prequels to also be good. In my early 20s, I experienced a similar feeling with the fourth season of Community, when NBC fired Dan Harmon and you could really feel a change in tone on the show without its creator in the writers’ room.

The big difference between Star Wars and Community is that while Community needed to bring its creator back to get good again, Star Wars needed its creator to leave in order to move forward. George Lucas built two generations of great childhoods with the Star Wars trilogy, and subsequently ruined them by building another trilogy around the greatest villain in the history of cinema as a whiny kid turned angsty teenager, by showing us that the legendary Jedi Knights of which Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Yoda were the last, were nothing more than glorified tax collection agents, and by adding unnecessary editing to the old movies we loved so much.

When Lucas sold the rights to the franchise to Disney in 2012, it meant that this beloved intellectual property was going to be worked on by a fresh set of eyes, and by a company that had already injected new life into Marvel Comics with unprecedented success. One of the more overlooked signs that things have been pretty good the last few years is that if someone told me in 2011 that two more Star Wars movies would be made before Barack Obama leaves office, and that they would be the two best Star Wars movies of my lifetime, I would not have believed them, but it happened.

With Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it was refreshing in its familiarity. J.J. Abrams’ reboot followed the beats of the original 1977 film, and put my mind at ease that the movie series I cared so much about was in good hands. At the same time, the movie I was really looking forward to was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This was the first of a few anthology movies, separate from the main Star Wars episodes. There is already a young Han Solo movie in the works, but like the Marvel Cinematic Universe that Disney has built into a formidable empire, in order for more of these movies to get made, the initial ventures need to be successful. The next paragraphs are where the spoiler disclaimers up top come into play.

Rogue One begins in a way different from any Star Wars film to date. Sure, it begins with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” but there is not opening crawl to follow. This is a Star Wars story, not a Star Wars episode. Already, the difference is felt. The movie focuses on characters we have never met before, and will never meet again, because everybody dies. Every other Star Wars movie before this one had character shields. You knew the Millennium Falcon was going to get through the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back because Han, Leia, Chewie, and C-3PO were on board. The ship was going to be fine.

Even the characters we had met before had mostly known fates. Jimmy Smits reprises his role from Revenge of the Sith as Senator Organa of Alderaan, and he leaves the Rebel base on Yavin IV and sends his daughter to retrieve the plans to the Death Star to go back home to Alderaan… and die when that planet is destroyed by the Death Star, as first seen in 1977. Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the likeness of Peter Cushing, who died in 1994 but was reanimated by the magic of computers, dies when the Death Star is destroyed later on in the same movie. Darth Vader dies in Return of the Jedi, but his descendants continue to be the central focus of the Star Wars episodes. The only characters from Rogue One who are still alive at the end of The Force Awakens are Princess Leia (who was also given the Peter Cushing treatment to make Carrie Fisher 19 again), C-3PO, and R2-D2, who appear onscreen for less than a minute combined, and considering the 2016 deaths of Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker, two of the three may have uncertain futures in the series beyond Episode VIII.

This kind of mortality in a gritty war movie take on the Star Wars universe is a game-changer. Finally, after waiting 17 years since The Phantom Menace, fans finally got the prequel we deserved. It opens the door for different kinds of stories to be told with the backdrop of a universe I have still yet to tire of exploring. Rogue One was not without flaws, and the first hour of the movie was a little messy, but the final battle was legit, and I came away invested in a bunch of one-off characters once their ship was destroyed and it was clear that their rogue mission was a one-way trip. I went in with high expectations, and still got my mind blown. Well done.

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Remembering Robin Williams

This post took about a week longer than it should have, trying to include as much about what made Robin Williams important to me as possible without writing what a million other people had already written about such a wonderful entertainer. I probably didn’t do a very good job, but this was something I needed to write about.

I feel like a large chunk of my childhood died yesterday. Robin Williams really was an all time great, both as a comedian and as an actor, and the world is a sadder place without him. He has meant so much to me, and I can think of so many moments that he created that have made me laugh or made me cry, but at this moment, I’m having trouble trying to write about him.

My first exposure to Robin Williams was probably Aladdin. Come to think of it, I’ve probably seen that movie more times than any other, since we had it on VHS, and it was the funniest movie we had. Robin carries that movie. He was absolutely spectacular. We ain’t never had a friend like him. Letting a talent like Robin Williams loose in a recording studio and then animating all hit bits and building a movie around it has to be one of the most brilliant ideas the executives at Disney ever came up with. Maybe someday we’ll get a Saving Mr. Banks type film out of it if Hollywood could ever find an actor to play Robin Williams. Then I saw Jumanji, and now I think of Robin Williams every time I cut myself while shaving (including yesterday!). As I got older, and saw more of his movies, I realized that he was good at being more than just silly. Movies like Good Will Hunting and Dead Poet Society pack more of an emotional punch. He, like Woody Allen, was always a comedian at heart, but was capable of transcending genre and doing so much more.

Williams was always a great interview for late night talk shows whether it was with Johnny Carson, or David Letterman, or Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Fallon paid tribute to him this week with a terrific impression and an emotional tribute. He even got Charlie Rose to crack up and lose his composure.

The key to my emotional connection to Robin Williams was that I saw what I saw of him at the right age. I was four or five the first time I saw Aladdin. I was six or seven when I saw Jumanji. I was 14 when I saw Dead Poets Society. I was 19 when I saw Good Will Hunting. He was a star in every stage of my life. I saw Tom Hanks in Toy Story growing up, and Bill Murray in Space Jam, but Robin Williams was a bigger star to me from an earlier age.

Robin’s death is sad for more reasons than one. It’s depressing to me that someone who achieves that level of success and is that universally beloved still struggles with the demons that cause him to take his own life. On one hand, I would love achieve the creative genius of Robin Williams or Hunter S. Thompson or Ernest Hemingway or David Foster Wallace, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t want to have to go through what they went through. Phenomenal cosmic power, itty-bitty living space. Robin Williams was able to use comedy as therapy, to express himself in different ways, but you could see in his comedy a human who was struggling through human emotions.

I feel as though we took him for granted. He was there for everyone’s childhood who grew up in the 70s or later, and he was only 63. I thought we would have at least 20 more years of Robin Williams material to enjoy, and I wasn’t ready for the ride to be over. Last year at the Emmys, Robin gave a heartfelt tribute to his friend and comedic mentor Jonathan Winters, who played Mork’s 40 year old alien baby of a son on Mork and Mindy, but I never thought for a second that the next award season would be full of tributes to Robin Williams.

The last great thing I saw Robin Williams do was his guest appearance in an episode from the third season of Louie. He and Louis C.K. attend the burial of a man they both hated, and seemingly everyone hated, and were the only ones there. They were both haunted by the thought of nobody being there, and decided to go. Afterwards they went to the strip club that this deceased jerk always talked about, and when they told the people at the club of his death, it turned into this weird scene of mourning for such a caring and generous and beloved man…at a strip club. Louie and Robin promise each other that they will attend the funeral of whoever dies first. Two years later, Robin Williams is gone, and we are the the crowd at the strip club. There has never been anyone like him, there will never be anyone like him again, and the world misses his funny, quirky presence. “Oh Captain! My Captain!”

Moneyball II: Statistical Dreams Come True

Somewhere, Aaron Sorkin is probably going to town on an early draft of a sequel to the hit movie Moneyball, but one that has an ending like Rocky II. He’s probably feverishly typing away at different ways Brad Pitt can have his “Yo Adrian! I did it!” moment on the big screen in anticipation of what could happen in this year’s Fall Classic. Billy Beane has received all kinds of praise for running the Oakland Athletics and keeping them in playoff contention with a fair amount of consistency despite having a much tighter budget than the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, or Detroit Tigers, and it has earned him fame outside the baseball diamond in the form of a bestselling book and Academy Award nominated film. He has drafted well, been fearless at the trade deadline, and has led a revolution in the way baseball players are evaluated, but he still has yet to guide the A’s to the World Series. Baseball is a gamble. Risks have to be taken, and the margin for error for a club like Oakland is much smaller than New York or Boston (who has won three World Series titles since the 2002 season chronicled in Moneyball using player evaluation strategies made popular by the Athletics), and while what Beane has done in Oakland is incredible, he needs to win a World Series to validate his reputation at this point, and he knows it.

Flipping your best hitter in a trade for another pitcher is a huge risk on Oakland’s part, especially when Jon Lester is due to become one of the top pitchers in the free agent market this winter and out of Oakland’s price range in the future, but the A’s are really close this year. Billy Beane is a smart man. He saw Lester pitch for the Red Sox in the World Series last October. The guy has been an elite playoff performer his entire career. The 2007 World Series was just the tip of the iceberg. Lester is a good pitcher in the regular season, but not on the level of Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander, but he has proven time and again that he has the ability to step it up that much more and do his best pitching in the month where every pitch is exponentially more important than they were in the previous six. With Lester set to hit the open market at the end of the season, and the Red Sox playing hardball in contract extension negotiations with their ace, every general manager in the playoff hunt from New York to Detroit to Seattle was salivating over the possibility of acquiring his services, even if it was just as a three month rental.

It’s only been a few days since the trade, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be used to this picture.

Beane needed to blow Boston’s doors off with an offer for Jon Lester. The uncertainty of minor league prospects is always something to be wary about, but the Red Sox would also have to deal with the public relations backlash of trading their ace pitcher (and arguably best player on the roster) for players nobody has ever heard of while plummeting towards a second last place finish in three years, just ten months after winning fans’ hearts back with an improbable (and in hindsight, miraculous) World Series title. Acquiring Lester was a priority for the A’s, even if it meant giving up Yoenis Cespedes.

The Lester/Cespedes trade was a bold move by Billy Beane. That’s why he was played by Brad Pitt in Hollywood and not Rick Moranis, even if the Athletics haven’t won anything since Beane took over the baseball operations department. He’s embraced his status as the celebrity sports executive, with a movie that promoted his philosophy and his transformation of the way baseball clubs build their rosters, but he knows if it doesn’t happen this year, the critics will come out in droves to try and take him down. In a year, the A’s would likely lose Cespedes in free agency (and I’m worried I might be writing another “Pay this Man” article about Boston’s newly acquired Cuban slugger this time next year), and they will most certainly lose Lester to one of the rich teams, or poor teams, or fifty feet of crap ahead of them on the MLB payroll rankings, but it will have all been worth it if they win the American League Pennant, or better yet, the World Series.

My Red Sox are more or less out of the playoff picture here in the first weekend of August, so I have no problem being excited about this potential Moneyball sequel in the making. I would love to see Jon Lester carry the Oakland A’s on his back and take them to the same level of baseball glory he took the Red Sox to in 2007 and 2013. I would love to see Billy Beane get the validation he deserves, and prove that his system works and you don’t need lots of money to make Moneyball work (like the Sox already have three times). I would also love to see Lester leave Oakland with this winter and re-sign with the Red Sox, but that’s probably a pipe dream at this point. Time will tell. The law of averages has the A’s going all the way at some point, but regardless of what it says on paper, you still need to play the games. It should be fun.

More Isn’t Always Better

As fans, we always want more of what we love. More Star Wars. More Star Trek. More Indiana Jones. More Ghostbusters. More Breaking Bad (Better call Saul!). More Arrested Development (which Netflix actually delivered last year!). More Community (which Yahoo Screen is actually delivering this fall!). We want more of everything even if we know we will be disappointed more often than not.

This week, a new Harry Potter story was published, and it made waves in the pool that is the Internet. Everyone was talking about it. Harry Potter was trending like it was 2007, and you had to avoid the Web until you finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows so nobody could spoil it for you. Well, maybe not quite on that level, but more that you’d expect a book series that concluded in 2007 and a movie franchise that rolled the end credits in 2011 to at any time later on. I was intrigued, but nervous. The ending to the Harry Potter books was second only to the ending of Breaking Bad as far as satisfying endings to things are concerned (the 1998 ending of Michael Jordan’s basketball career would be at the top of the list had he not ruined it by coming out of retirement with the Washington Wizards a few years later), and I was perfectly content with J.K. Rowling leaving that universe alone. I’ve seen it go wrong too many times.

Truth be told, I still haven’t gotten around to reading J.K. Rowling’s new story. I searched for it on Google, and found article after article linking to article after article and providing spoilers before finally finding one that said it was available on Pottermore. I needed to create an account to read it. Along the way, I found out the story was an article by Rita Skeeter that was published in 2014, when Harry is now 34 years of age. The last time I checked, Rita Skeeter had been found out to be an unregistered animagus (J.K. Rowling must have disabled spell check over a decade ago or all the red underlines would have driven her mad by now) transforming into an insect, and secured in a magically unbreakable glass jar, effectively ending her career as the beat reporter for Gryffindor common room gossip. So now 20 years later she’s back? How does that happen? The very premise was enough to make me think I wouldn’t like it.

I do have some hope for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them adaptation, though. It’ll be another movie in Harry’s universe, but it’s based on a Hogwarts textbook, and shouldn’t open any new doors into Harry’s life or effect the canon of the existing books and movies. It can be independent, the way AlienBlade RunnerPredator, and Firefly all are, but exist in the same universe without bumping into each other too much.

With Star Wars, it was Jar Jar Binks and the unnecessary edits to the Original Trilogy that made fans turn on George Lucas. With Indiana Jones, it was the 2008 alien-infested Kingdom of Crystal Skull installment that made George Lucas a bad guy again with Steven Spielberg as his guilty accomplice. Dan Aykroyd has been teasing us with the possibility of a third Ghostbusters movie, but if it ever gets made, it will now be without the late great Harold Ramis to reprise his role as Dr. Egon Spengler, so how good could Ghostbusters 3 possibly be? Sometimes it’s better to be satisfied with what we already have, but at the same time, I still cannot wait for Star Wars Episode VII or Better Call Saul and any more of the franchises I love. I just can’t look away.

A Journey of Julian Glover

I was browsing the discussions in the A Song of Ice and Fire subreddit on Reddit over the weekend, when I came across a character discussion of Grand Maester Pycelle. It was a pretty good overview of what a creep about how much of a creep Pycelle is and his portrayal in Game of Thrones as it compares to the book, but then I started reading the comments. There were a lot of references to Pycelle leading the invasion of the Rebel base on Hoth. And that’s when I started fiercely Googling.

That’s right. Julian Glover, who plays Pycelle on Game of Thrones, also played General Veers in The Empire Strikes Back. Veers seemed to be one of the only competent officers in the Galactic Empire. According to his Wiki, things do not end well for Maximilian Veers, though.

But wait, there’s more…

Julian Glover was also the bad guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (which is the best movie in the Indiana Jones franchise, in my opinion). He chose poorly.

Needless to say, my mind has been blown. I knew the name “Julian Glover” when attached to Game of Thrones, but I’m ashamed that I didn’t know it was because of his memorable roles in my favorite Star Wars movie as well as my favorite Indiana Jones movie.

Late to the Party Movie Reviews: Jobs

This is a new series of posts I’ve decided to write. I love talking and writing about movies, but rarely see new movies in time to review it before everyone else saw it. Now, I’m jumping into it fully aware that I should have seen these movies a long time ago. Who knows, maybe you haven’t gotten around to seeing it either!

When Steve Jobs past away, it was perhaps the biggest celebrity death of 2011. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, as he had resigned as the man in charge of Apple due to health concerns, but it was a time to reflect on the life and legacy of a man who had changed the world in so many ways. From the personal computer to the iPad, few humans have done more to change the daily routines of the species in the way Steve Jobs had. Thomas Edison comes to mind, but few others have had an influence as expansive as Mr. Jobs. Naturally, a biopic about the life of Steve Jobs was something Hollywood would want to make because the people would want it, but it may have been a little too rushed.

I remember hearing about Jobs while it was still in production, but did not hear a whole lot of hype, and didn’t see it until it popped up on my Netflix homepage last week. I remember an image that went viral that was a side-by-side of a young Steve Jobs from the 70s next to Ashton Kutcher in costume as Steve Jobs from that era. It feels as if Hollywood felt pressured to make a Steve Jobs movie while Ashton Kutcher was still young.

The biggest problem with Jobs was that it tried to do too much. It spans 30 years of Steve Jobs’ life, from his days wandering the campus of Reed College to the introduction of the iPod. There is only so much time in a movie, and there were several aspects of the movie that could be movies by themselves if they had been given the time to dig deeper. I would watch a movie just about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak building the Apple II in Jobs’ parents garage. I would also be interested in a movie about the wars Jobs fought with IBM, Microsoft, and Apple’s own board of directors in the 1980s. Jobs barely touched on the innovations Steve Jobs made in the 21st Century or with Pixar because it would have been a four hour movie. Jobs was stretched thin by its own ambition, much like Apple Computer was with the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984. Lincoln and The Social Network succeeded as biopics because they didn’t take on such a vast time frame. If Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner had tried to make a movie about Abraham Lincoln’s entire life leading up to abolishing slavery, I would still be at the movie theater, and I saw it in December of 2012.

Ashton Kutcher’s performance was admirable. They did a good job of making him look old in the iPod presentation, and he showed a great range in the highs and lows of Steve Jobs’ life, but he’s one of those actors who I have trouble taking seriously. This performance was a step in the right direction, but I still see Michael Kelso from That 70’s Show. It’s hard to play a pioneer and innovator in a serious movie when he was this guy earlier in his career. It’s unfair, I know, but it’ll have to take a better movie than this one to change my mind on Ashton Kutcher.

Jobs was a decent movie, but it could have been better. I initially gave it four stars on Netflix, until I saw a PBS documentary on the life and influence of Steve Jobs that I liked more, but not enough to give five stars, so the documentary got four and Jobs was downgraded to three. It was entertaining, but not the world changer that its subject was.

Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman

On Sunday, the Super Bowl was not the only big thing happening in New York. The world lost one of the greatest character actors of all time when Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment Sunday morning from an apparent heroin overdose. The details of his death paint the picture of a tortured genius. Without trying to get too deeply into Hoffman’s personal life, his body of work is certainly the work of a genius.

Hoffman was one of those character actors who could legitimize any film just by being in it, much like Kevin Spacey, Steve Buscemi, or Harvey Keitel. I’m pretty sure the sentence: “This movie would have been so much better if Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t in it.” has never been written by anyone ever. He had an incredible range as a performer, from the title character’s nervously bemused personal assistant in The Big Lebowski to Art Howe, the old school baseball manager and stubborn foil to Brad Pitt’s Billy Bean in Moneyball, to his Academy Award winning portrayal of Truman Capote in Capote. I was surprised that he was only 46, since he’s been playing mature roles for a long time. Art Howe didn’t like they way Hoffman portrayed him, much the way Mark Zuckerberg didn’t like the way Jesse Eisenberg played him in The Social Network. To me, that means that Hoffman nailed the former Oakland A’s skipper, and I was more impressed by his performance than they highly acclaimed performances by Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Chris Pratt. He complimented the actors around him very well, providing a great contrast to the other pieces of the ensemble.

Last year, Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Master. Everyone nominated in that category had already won an Oscar for acting: Hoffman, Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), and Christoph Waltz, who ended up taking the statue home for Django Unchained. Never before had an Oscar category been stacked with winners like that, and a compelling case could have been made for all of these men.

Hollywood has lost another great actor to drug problems. Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the best of his generation, and will certainly be missed.