Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ending on a Strange Note.

I wonder if film studios are ever going to stop making comic-book films at the pace which they are currently? You would think that at some point people are going to grow tired of them or the phase will be over, but perhaps not. I have to say that I wasn't expecting much of Doctor Strange but I have to say that after recently watching it, I wasn't annoyed or bored as I had anticipated. Now granted, I didn't see it in 3-D which I would have loved to, but you work with what you have. Obviously the story follows a phenomenal surgeon who damages his hands to the point where he can't really use them again and he embarks on a crusade to correct the issue which leads him to a group of mystics that teach him to essentially harness magic and find the inner peace for his troubled soul. However, along the way a bad sorcerer seeks to release the ultimate evil Dormammu which will destroy the earth and thus they set out to stop him. Kind of your routine plot line for comic-book films these days. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the good doctor, and I have to say that he of course performed masterfully with the title character. He was empathetic, humorous, and vulnerable in a way that made him believable as opposed to ridiculous (which was what unfortunately happened to Ryan Reynolds in The Green Lantern). The role worked for him and he did well with it; I actually believe the next Doctor Strange film will be better than the first because he knows his character so well. Chiwetel Eijofor plays Mordo (who becomes a pretty big baddie in the Marvel world) and his character was boring and typical of the type often cast in that position. Rachel McAdams plays the love interest of the good doctor, Christine Palmer, and she's a good fold for him. Hopefully that get's played out a little more in the next film. Benedict Wong plays the character Wong, a sort of what I thought was a sidekick to the good doctor, but he plays a librarian that knows a lot. The two men when they have scenes together are quite good; lot's of good on-screen chemistry, and got me to laugh a number of times. Mads Mikkelsen continues to showcase his talent in big name movies and franchises (James Bond, Star Wars, Marvel) and of course he was great; a bit flat and boring, but a good villain as always. Perhaps the most ridiculous of all casting decisions was to make Tilda Swinton the Ancient One; the Sorcerer Supreme. While I have to say that they could have cast other people that might have worked and definitely looked the part, the actress did a fantastic job herself with the character and shouldn't be castigated for taking the role. She came off with all of the necessary elements of a mystical Yoda type character, but definitely not as wise or relatable. All in all it was a great cast.
The technical elements of the film were of course pretty good. Director Scott Derrickson did a fine job and the writers as well, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill. Michael Giacchino composed the music and did a fairly good job as well, although I don't know if he really came up with a very distinctive motif or theme for the good doctor unfortunately. The actions sequences were very dynamic and new, which I believe was a credit to all of the magic that was being used as it gave the creators a lot of good material to work with and shape into something cool. The only thing I thought that was over the top and rather ridiculous most of the time was the red cape that he wore which seemed to have a personality and will of its own. I think it would have been just fine had it been simply a cool, magical cape; there was no need to make it cognizant. Overall I would have to say that it was a good and entertaining film; it's not the best comic-book film, but it balances the dark and light humored very well without coming off too serious, but just serious enough. In that regard the director deserves a very loud round of applause. It's a film that would work well for date night, watching it with your family of any age (except for very young children), or if you simply want to forget how much reality sucks. Well the end of April is here, and the USA along with the rest of the world is still around without anything apocalyptic occurring. I hope the next one hundred days only gets better and better, oh and while I am at it, God be with the French people as they choose a new direction in which to take their own destinies.

Doctor Strange clip 1

Doctor Strange clip 2

Doctor Strange interviews

Thor: Ragnarok trailer (looks good...I think).

Saturday, April 29, 2017

At War.

Granted one of the books I am looking at is fictional and the other is non-fiction, but both of them deal with that topic and especially the theme of effective leadership. Aside from James Luceno, Timothy Zahn is the finest Star Wars in the business, although Drew Karpyshyn and Matthew Stover rank up there as well. I used to read a lot of that, but not really anymore since I've gotten into my non-fiction/biographical kick. However, my sister sent me Thrawn which my brother in-law was also reading, and since Grand Admiral Thrawn is my favorite Star Wars character of all time I sat down to read it recently. Definitely not Zahn's best work I have to say; Outbound Flight might rank as my most favorite of his books, even though the original Thrawn trilogy was great, I don't like reading about my character losing and dying...although with Disney's takeover, who even knows if that ends of happening. Of course Thrawn himself was written perfectly, and Zahn elaborated on a character that was introduced in season 3 of Star Wars: Rebels Governor Arihnda Pryce. He did an amazing job with this character (and yes I know I am cheering for the villains....what can I say), from growing her from nothing to making her almost on the same level as Grand Moff Tarkin; that was excellent writing. The other major character that was introduced was Eli Vanto whom Thrawn took under his wing and taught him almost as if he were grooming him. He was okay, but I think Zahn did a much better job writing Admiral Pellaeon. I also liked Colonel Yularen's presence as well (he was heavily featured in the Clone Wars often fighting alongside Obi-Wan and Anakin). The story was how Thrawn entered service to the Empire and crawled up from being a lieutenant to becoming Grand Admiral, which was the highest rank in the Imperial Navy. He basically had a nemesis that he fought along the way; think Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. I have to say the ending wasn't very satisfying; it felt forced and/or rushed, which isn't very typical of Zahn; but overall it was a very enjoyable reading experience. Granted I really enjoy Star Wars, or I used to before The Force Awakens, and it is difficult for people who do not enjoy it as much as I to get into a book like this, but even if you really enjoy science fiction then you'll enjoy this book. Oh, and I have to say that I really enjoyed the cover art!
Now I've never read the memoirs of a former US Secretary of Defense (or what used to be Secretary of War) until former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently. I had been wanting to read his memoir Duty for quite some time, but I had never gotten around to it until now. I do have to say that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is one of the finest men who have ever served in that position, and as a citizen of the United States of America I am proud of his record and thankful that he served both former US Presidents G.W. Bush and Obama in their administrations. And yes if you can't tell I pretty much have nothing but glowing things to write about this man and his memoirs. First and foremost the richness in detail about his day-to-day work as Secretary of Defense was brilliant; I have no idea how the man did it for 4 and a half years. I enjoyed reading how he "went to war on the Pentagon" bureaucracy, or how he dealt with the zealous, partisan idiots from congress (regardless of party), or even how he had disagreements frequently with both former Vice-Presidents Cheney and Biden (the latter he seemed to have less positive to say about), but what I enjoyed reading the most was how much he cared for the men and women in uniform whether they were a captain, admiral, private or near death. I think that was his greatest strength and what made him extraordinarily fantastic for the job of Secretary of Defense, aside from working previously in the CIA; he also worked with Presidents: Ford, Carter, Reagan, and H.W. Bush. Perhaps the only complain about his memoir was that at times it became very technical or very rote; as if he was merely writing in a log with no passion or interest, he was just writing the information down. I had no idea how ridiculous the procurement process was for the US Armed Forces, and if the average American really knew the kind of crap the US Congress pulls, they'd not re-elect several Congressional delegates. The other fascinating part of this memoir was reading about the culture of the military, and especially of the higher up officers (Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretaries of the various military branches, commanders of the different theaters of operation, and others I'm certain I'm forgetting) and how all of that works with promotions and appointing the right people to the right field commands. One of my brother in-laws is in the military and I think he's a captain in the army, and I talk to my sister who also has discussed the culture of the army officers and specifically being an army officer's wife and what all of that is like and what is expected of everyone. I think military and officer culture was something that former President Obama never understood, and never attempted to understand and that was perhaps why there was a good deal of enmity between him, his White House Staff, and the Pentagon. I could go on and on about incredible details concerning the book, but take my word for it; Duty the memoirs of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was an awesome  read and every single American should read it. And if people who aren't Americans want to better understand this country and what makes it tick, then I encourage them to read it as well. I'm hoping to read former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's memoirs as well next, but for now I've returned to biographies on former US Presidents, which every American should be reading as well. I guess the moral of the story is read more, watch less or no cable news, and ignore any "news" you come across on Facebook; my suggestion is never trust anything but rather go straight to the source for the most accurate information. In the end the your time spent will be well worth it.

Timothy Zahn on his book Thrawn

Grand Admiral Thrawn at his finest in season 3 of Star Wars: Rebels

Interview with Robert Gates

Star Wars: The Last Jedi teaser (hopefully it's better than its predecessor)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Suicidal Heroes?

It is such an interesting day in American culture when very, very nasty villains suddenly become the saviors and heroes of the day. The main character (whether or not he is the antagonist or protagonist is something I still don't understand) is a professional assassin that kills without peer or regard. The next main character is a psychotic killer that has so many psychiatric problems in reality she would never leave a psychiatric institution. And then the other tow main characters are a cross between a corrupt government official that believes that the ends justify the means, and a man who struggles between duty and decency (he's probably the only really likable and good character in the film). Not really an inspiring message to start with. I was not a fan of Suicide Squad before or after watching the film. The story follows a group of villains who are rounded up and forced to work for the US Government to kill far worse bad guys. Such bad guys occur in the form of an ancient evil enchantress and her equally powerful brother who want to destroy humanity and rule what's left, or something like that. So, yeah not a very interesting story. And the characters are interesting, but I think they focused on the wrong ones. Will Smith as Deadshot was dreadful; let me say that I have never been a fan of his at all. Independence Day, Men in Black, and Wild Wild West are his only work that I actually like and enjoy and that is mostly in spite of his presence on-screen which I could have lived without on any of those films. He just isn't that talented of an actor; he just plays the same character over and over again (which he did in all 3 films I mentioned above). So having him be the main character in this film I knew it was already heading in the wrong direction. Fortunately Margot Robbie saved the day with her portrayal of Harley Quinn. Forget Will Smith as Deadshot, people are going to remember Harley Quinn portrayed by Margot Robbie and the Joker played by Jared Leto. She was funny, sympathetic, and had a fascinating backstory, but was also quite evil as well. Jared Leto as the Joker unfairly had a small role (because Will Smith probably demanded a huge role if he was going to be in the film) which was a shame; I would have loved to have seen more of him and Harley Quinn together. These two will most likely be remembered as the best part of the film. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller (the person in charge) was perfect; it was like she was playing the same character as she does in How to Get Away with Murder. Joel Kinnaman played Rick Flagg, pretty much the only really good guy with any amount of screen time, and he did a good job, although it would have been a better story arc to follow him more closely than Deadshot. The rest of the villains: Killer Croc, Diablo, Captain Boomerang (really?), and Slipknot (even worse) were rather boring and just kind of there just to be there really, which is typically indicative of bad writing. As for the villain, the Enchantress played by Cara Delevingne, was pretty uninteresting although her backstory was quite fascinating.
David Ayer wrote and directed Suicide Squad and honestly, I have to say with as much source material as they had to work with, that the end product isn't really that impressive, good or even interesting. I suppose it's an okay action film, but when it comes down to it there's just a lot of shooting, running and physical fighting which is something every action film has in spades; what's difficult is to breathe new ideas and fresh life into action, and this film falls so short. The story writing was atrocious, and the dialog was alright. Steven Price did the music, and I don't even know who that is; I can't even recall the score of the film. The cinematography was okay, and the costume design wasn't too bad. The technical elements of the film weren't really all that impressive. On an interesting note, one of the Executive Producers of the film was Steven Mnuchin, President Trump's current Secretary of the Treasury. I am concerned that Americans are (just like in the 1970's) turning to darker films and darker heroes due to the malcontent and discouraging social and cultural environment currently in the United States of America. Honestly, what the world and this country needs are good, wholesome, and sacrificial heroes like Captain America, not like Deadshot. I would only recommend this film to watch for Harley Quinn and the Joker, other than that it's boring and not worth the time. Hopefully DC films become a whole lot better, even though this film did make a lot of money. Well apparently one of my favorite James Bond villains of all time (Elliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies) was correct..."There's no news, like bad news." And the media and world is full of it. You know, a lot of good news would be great right about now.

Harley Quinn and the Joker in Suicide Squad

Margot Robbie being Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (should be interesting)

Alien: Covenant prologue (now this is what I am talking about! Looks great!)

Friday, April 7, 2017

13 Reasons & Number 26.

So I was mindlessly perusing Netflix recently when I came across a show 13 Reasons Why that had just been posted. The premise looked interesting, and given the rating I knew it was going to have a more adult theme to the drama than annoying teenage angst depicted in most shows directed at that age group. I have to say that I got pulled into that show like a moth to a flame. I don't think I've ever binge watched anything in my entire life as I did that show. Regardless whether or not it is critiqued in a positive or negative light, you have to admit that by the end of each episode you wanted to see what would happen next, and where the story narrative was going. The show is about a young woman, junior in high school, that killed herself due to many factors and the title of the show is connected to those factors. She recorded the reasons why she killed herself on 13 audio cassettes, and each side of the tape revolved around a specific person that in her mind participated in her psychological and emotional deterioration. The 13 audio tapes are each passed on by the people about who they are about until they get to the main character of this show, Clay Jensen (played excellently by Dylan Minnette), who struggles greatly listening to the emotional angst that his friend experienced. All thirteen episodes of the show are about him systematically listening to the audio tapes and dealing with the people that they are about, there are also frequent flashbacks as the reasons for why she killed herself are all pieced together by Clay. The performances were pretty good I have to say, although there were some moments that were a little ridiculous. I didn't care either that it seemed on more than one occasion the girl who killed herself, Hannah (played very well by Katherine Langford), was blaming other people for why she killed herself rather than taking responsibility for her actions which led to her demise. There are a lot of highly emotionally charged scenes, as well as some disturbing scenes depicting rape, and then there was the scene where she killed herself. This show has brevity yes, but for the most part it is dark, painful and tortuous drama that can unfold (and I'm sure does) in a young person's life. I for one didn't experience anything like that as I was homeschooled for most of my life and then went to small private Christian schools, of which I am very thankful after watching this show. If this is really what high school is like these days, then God be with every young woman and man. But regarding the show, I'd re-watch it, but if you prefer non-serious, lighthearted fare it would be best to avoid.
Not too long ago I decided that I was going to read a biography on every American president before I die. So far I read George W. Bush's memoirs, and I just finished reading a biography on Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States of America. I didn't know too much about the man before I read the 800 plus page volume, but I think I have a firm grasp of him now. I believe I would say he has become one of my favorite presidents. He pushed himself throughout his entire life against all odds. He was very sickly as a child, he had asthma, but he pushed himself physically to be tough, and was very much a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of man. He experienced great tragedy in his life though. His father died when he was about 19 years old. His mother and first wife died essentially on the same day when he was about 21 right after his first child was born. And then later on during WWI when all of his sons (5 I think) were in the war, one of them died in a plane crash. He believed in doing something because there was a moral necessity to do so, particularly when it came to foreign affairs and domestic progressive policy against business. He constantly bucked his own party, Republican, which was very pro-business and he began the process of breaking of the great trusts of his time: Rockefeller, Carnegie and JP Morgan as well as other large companies. He was progressive in favoring workers over businesses, he decided to build the Panama canal, he balanced relations between the German, Japanese and Russian Empires and while he was president there were no major world wars or conflicts that boiled out of control. Now I'm going to make a parallel here, and even though I haven't read many presidential biographies, so far President Trump is very similar to President Teddy Roosevelt in personality style, leadership style, governing style, and both came from wealth and were not very well liked in their own political party. He was a bombastic man, but what I like about him was his belief in the simple, ordinary, every day American who he believed made this country great and those were the people he enjoyed being around and championing. He wasn't afraid to take anyone on who he believed threatened the security and well being of this country; from his friends to his own political party. He made a decision and he would follow through on it. I think he balanced Federalism and the rights of states very well, and although he made some strategic mistakes as every president does, nothing he did irreparably damaged the US and only magnified the greatness in which he imbued on the office of President of the United States. Here is a quote from some his final writings before he died:
"Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die, and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure..."
I definitely recommend that each person reads at least a few biographies of these great men who ran/run the greatest experiment in democracy of all time; there are 45 to choose from, so where will you begin?

13 Reasons Why cast interviews

 The History Channel on President Theodore Roosevelt