"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Undead Army of the Woke Will Make Sure Game of Thrones is the Last Show of Its Kind

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 04 seconds

****WARNING: This article contains some information about Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame that might be considered minor spoilers if you haven’t watched the series or seen the movie yet. You’ve been warned.****

The surge of political correctness in recent years all but assures that in the future, edgy shows like Game of Thrones will be strangled in their creative cradle.

In 2011, Game of Thrones premiered on HBO as an exceedingly well-acted and beautifully photographed fantasy-drama of swords and sex, chock full of palace intrigue, familial rivalry and violent conquest. The show flouted Hollywood storytelling conventions and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Sadly, we will never be able to enjoy anything like Game of Thrones ever again.

The reason that we’ll never see anything like Game of Thrones again is because in the eight years since the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels first hit the small screen, much has changed, and not just in the mythical land of Westeros. In the real world, and the unreal one of social media, political correctness has taken the throne and vanquished all contenders, leaving the bloody head of rational thought on the end of a spike as a warning to anyone who dare speak up against the zeitgeist of neo-feminism, inclusivity and a coddling sensitivity.

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In the past few years, movements like #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo have dramatically changed the landscape of Hollywood by weaponizing diversity and victimhood and using them to bludgeon opponents and silence dissent. The “woke”, whom Merriam-Websters defines as those being “aware of and actively attentive to…issues of racial and social justice”, have taken over the entertainment industry. Just like the Night King’s Army of the Dead broke through The Northern Wall to attempt to destroy all of humanity in Westeros, the Army of the Woke now march on our popular culture intent on obliterating all worthwhile entertainment.

A wonderful example of the vacuity of wokeness came in the form of a Game of Thrones outrage tweet from actress and high-priestess of political correctness, Jessica Chastain, where she slammed the show for the character Sansa’s claim that having survived a plethora of traumas, including rape, transformed her into a strong woman.

Chastain tweeted,

“Rape is not a tool to make a character stronger. A woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly. The #littlebird was always a Phoenix. Her prevailing strength is solely because of her. And her alone.”

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Chastain’s tweet is not only an advertisement for her intellectual dwarfism, not to be confused with the intellect of a dwarf, which Tyrion proves can be formidable, but also an actual advertisement. “Phoenix” is a reference to Chastain’s new X-Men movie, Dark Phoenix, which also happens to star Sophie Turner who plays Sansa on Game of Thrones. It appears Jessica Chastain’s superpowers include self-promotion and shamelessness.

Like Chastain, the pc brigade turns everything, including popular entertainment, into a referendum on social justice issues and their own self-worth. The woke spend their time not enjoying arts and entertainment but rather policing them in search of offense or wrong-think in the hopes that they will get the joyous opportunity to vent their self-righteous rage.

Evidence of this is found in articles from major publications with headlines such as, “Game of Thrones Treatment of Women Will Tarnish Its Legacy”, “On Game of Thrones Daenerys Targaryen faces a sexist double bind – like so many women leaders”, “Game of Thrones Keeps Killing Off Entire Immigrant Populations, And It’s a Problem”, “’There are no black people on Game of Thrones’: why is fantasy TV so white?”, “Racist or just bad writing? What Game of Thrones latest shocking death says about the show”, “Game of Thrones: too much racism and sexism – so I stopped watching”, and finally “My Feminist Opinions Ruined Game of Thrones for My Boyfriend”. These stories are emblematic of the fact that the woke are social media Savanarolas perpetually in search of works of art or entertainment to throw onto their bonfire of the vanities. These people don’t just want their politically correct opinions to “ruin Game of Thrones for their boyfriend”, but to ruin all of popular culture for everybody.

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The feminist criticisms of Game of Thrones are particularly vapid because they are so demonstrably wrong, as women are the most pivotal and powerful characters on the show. The most formidable and effective rulers on Game of Thrones have been Queen Cersei and her nemesis Daenerys, Mother of Dragons. Arya Stark has gone from a little girl to the deadliest warrior in all of Westeros, who became a legend when she killed the Night King. Ser Brienne of Tarth, the first women to ever become a knight, is the most noble and honorable knight in all the Seven Kingdoms. And last but not least is Sansa Stark, who has suffered brutally but whose resilience has allowed her to become the ruler of the North and, who knows, maybe even sit on the Iron Throne when all is said and done.

All of these women have faced great difficulties and horrendous challenges, but they have prevailed not only in spite of them but because of them. In Game of Thrones as in life, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, but the woke warriors either lack the interest or ability to interpret the show in any other way than to see women and minorities as victims.

If you want to see the future of popular entertainment in the wake of Game of Thrones, look no further than the corporate behemoth Disney and their Marvel and Star Wars franchises. The first phase of the twenty-two film Marvel Cinematic Universe just concluded with Avengers: Endgame, and the woke contingent’s victory is obvious with Captain America now a black man and Iron Man replaced as the center of the story by an all-powerful female character, Captain Marvel.

The Star Wars films too have devolved into a politically correct mess where diversity and inclusivity trump narrative cohesion and dramatic coherence. And if you publicly voice displeasure about the direction of Marvel or Star Wars…you are labeled a misogynist and racist troll.

Game of Thrones warned us for years that “Winter is Coming”…well, winter is now here, and hordes of woke zombies have descended upon us to suffocate all but the most sterile of entertainment. Just like Varys and The Unsullied were castrated on Game of Thrones, so our popular entertainment is being neutered, except this time with the dull blade of politically correct utopianism.

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A version of this article was originally published on May 17, 2019 at RT.com.

©2019

Solo: A Star Wars Story - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars           Popcorn Curve* Rating: 3.5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An enjoyable and well paced movie. Not Oscar material, but a good old fashioned bit of big budget entertainment. 

Solo: A Star Wars Story, written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan and directed by Ron Howard*, is the origin story of that lovable and charming rogue, Han Solo, from the original Star Wars films. The movie stars Alden Ehrenreich as Solo with supporting turns from Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson and Donald Glover.

As I have stated many times before, I am more a Planet of the Apes devotee than a Star Wars guy, and so I would consider myself to be, at best, a marginal Star Wars fan. I do thoroughly enjoy the underlying mythology of the franchise but have often found the cinematic execution of that mythology to be a bit lacking at times. My moderation when it comes to all things Star Wars can be both a blessing and a curse, as it means I never get too excited over a new Star Wars movie, but I also never get too downtrodden if it fails to be transcendent. 

With all of that said, before I saw Solo my starting point was that I had very, very low expectations. Those low expectations were born out of the swamp of bad press the film has been receiving for well over a year now. The whispers of problems turned into a scream last June when Dear Leader Mickey Mouse fired the original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, six months into shooting.

The Disney politburo then followed up this stunning move by bringing in the ultimate vanilla studio hack Ron Howard to do reshoots and finish production. Hollywood was abuzz over the beheading of Lord and Miller by Disney hatchet woman, Obergruppenfuhrer Kathleen Kennedy, and news of very costly re-shoots bloating the film's budget only fueled the spreading wildfire of bad buzz that can cripple a big budget movie. 

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That bad buzz came to fruition when on opening night, a good friend of mine, let's call him Doug, who is a stalwart Star Wars nerd, went to a 10 pm showing (in costume, of course) with his wife here in Los Angeles, and they were the only ones in the theater. Another friend of mine went to opening night in Minneapolis and suffered the same fate sans costume. 

Empty theaters on opening night for a Star Wars movie was a strong indicator that Darth Mickey had a big bust on his hands with Solo. The subsequent box office numbers were underwhelming, at least when compared to other Star Wars movies, and so the media narrative was now set in stone…Solo was a bomb. Headlines abounded on the internet questioning if Solo was the beginning of the end for the Star Wars franchise, some articles pondered if audiences stayed away because the film wasn't diverse enough (eye roll!). 

It was in the midst of this negativity storm that out of a sense of duty to my vocation as a film critic, I snuck off to see Solo. I was so sure that Solo would be awful that I was trying to come up with a clever little spin on the old joke about the bad singer who is implored to "sing a solo…so-low we can't hear you". 

But then I ran into a problem…I went and saw Solo and lo and behold I ended up really enjoying it. Midway through the film I actually thought to myself, "you know what...this is an entertaining romp". Why I was using the term "romp" is a mystery to me as is makes me sound like some hackneyed reviewer like Rex Reed or something, but the truth is…Solo really is a fun romp!

As someone who loathes Ron Howard films, it is difficult for me to give him credit for Solo's success, so I will simply say it is to the credit of all three directors on the film, Lord, Miller and Howard, that the pacing of the movie is so well-done. There is virtually no wasted time or energy in Solo, and it never loses steam and moves at a very compelling clip. 

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Another reason why the film is so darn entertaining is the lead actor Alden Ehrenreich.  Ehrenreich is in a tough spot, recreating an iconic role, Han Solo, created by Harrison Ford, but having to devolve the character into an earlier iteration of itself. Ehrenreich tactically increases the swagger and the snark to near adolescent levels at times which ends up being quite effective. To his credit, Ehrenreich possesses the sheer charisma and charm to carry the entire Solo enterprise, which is a talent you simply cannot teach a young actor, they either have it or they don't. 

Being a movie star is a tough gig, as you must have the energy, stamina, force of will, ambition and dynamic magnetism to carry the weight of a major motion picture, all while being continuously beautiful and charming. When I first noticed Ehrenreich it was in the Warren Beatty directed film Rules Don't Apply. The film is abysmal and I only watched maybe a half hour of it on cable, but in that brief time Ehrenreich made me sit up in my seat and say "who is that?" For whatever reason he just jumped off the screen, and no doubt casting people had the same reaction as he made quite a leap going from Rules Don't Apply to the iconic title character in Solo. (as a side note the actress playing opposite Ehrenreich in Rules Don't Apply also jumped off the screen at me, she was beautiful and talented, her name is Lily Collins, and after looking into her I discovered she is famed pop star Phill Collin's daughter...keep and eye out for her)

Ehrenreich's skill is impressive in Solo as he never falls into the trap of caricature when playing Han Solo. His Solo is a real life human being, trying to make his way in the world and find out who he really is, or at least what identity he will adopt. This may be blasphemy to Star Wars fans, but I am telling you, Ehrenreich's Han Solo is a considerably more complex and better acting job that Harrison Ford's version ever was. 

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As for the rest of the cast, for the most part they all do solid and steady work. Emilia Clarke is her usual luminous self as Qi-ra. Clarke is both alluring and approachable and she imbues Qi-ra with an unspoken mysterious wound that makes the character very compelling.

Woody Harrelson continues his streak of doing quality work in big budget franchise films by playing Tobias Beckett in Solo, a sort of criminal mentor to the young Han Solo. Harrelson has really evolved into a superb actor, and while he doesn't have a hell of a lot to work with in Solo, he makes the very most of what he does have. 

Donald Glover plays the young Lando Calrissian, and while he often feels like he is simply doing a spot-on Billy Dee Williams impersonation, he does it with enough panache and style to make it enjoyable. 

The one dour note on the acting is Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos. Vos is a big time crime lord and Bettany simply lacks the gravitas and menace to be able to pull off the character with any believability. I later learned that Michael K. Williams was originally cast in the role and shot the majority of it but when Howard was brought aboard to direct Williams was replaced by Bettany because his schedule conflicted with re-shoots. This is a shame as Williams is a far superior actor to Bettany, and in this role I can only imagine how fantastic he would've been. 

Besides Solo himself, the two best characters in the film are the droid L3 and Chewbacca. Both of these characters have very intriguing and poignant story lines that are rich with political and cultural meaning…so much so that I would love to see a stand alone film about either character or both. I doubt that will ever happen, but it SHOULD happen. 

Solo is still getting a lot of bad press and the box office is only going to continue to disappoint its voracious Disney overlords, but in my opinion it was an entertaining movie. It is more akin to Chinese food than Filet Mignon, as it ultimately doesn't stay with you long after you see it, but that doesn't mean it is an abject failure. Solo entertained me, and to me that makes it a success.

If you want to lose yourself for two hours of big budget Star Wars fun then Solo is the film for you..and if you have no one to go see it with you, then do what I did and see it solo!! (See what I did there? That is a play on words…the film is titled Solo and I said to see it solo…just one more bit of evidence proving how clever I am!!). If you want a transcendent cinematic experience that will give deeper meaning and purpose to your life…better to sit this one out. 

*The Popcorn Curve judges a film based on its entertainment merits as a franchise/blockbuster movie, as opposed to my regular rating system which judges a film solely on its cinematic and artistic merits.

©2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Not worth seeing in the theatre. Don't feed the Disney corporate beast. Save your money and see it for free on Netflix or cable.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson, is the second film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy and the 8th film in the Star Wars saga. The film stars Daisy Ridley as Rey with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher reprising their roles from the original films as Luke and Leia, along with Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro. 

I have a friend who, in order to protect his identity, I will call "Doug". "Doug" is a huge Star Wars nerd, absolutely loves the stuff. "Doug" is a very successful Neil Diamond impersonator and he spends all of his considerable money on every new Star Wars movie and piece of merchandise.

Just the other day I was contemplating going to the movies and was wondering what to go see. On my list of potential films were a plethora of art house type movies and high end dramas. I also knew The Last Jedi was in theaters so in passing I asked Doug if he had seen it and if he liked it. He responded vociferously that I should definitely, without a doubt, go see it. So, against my better judgement, I heeded Doug's advice and switched my plans from the art house to the cineplex and went and saw The Last Jedi

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I should mention at this point that the reason I chose to give my friend…correction…former friend, the name of "Doug" was because I have never known anyone named Doug who wasn't a complete a**hole. It is a fact, backed up by dozens of peer reviewed scientific studies, most notably the Stanford University "Correlations Between Doug and A**hole Syndrome" study of 1992, that anyone who is named Doug is an incorrigible and irredeemable a**hole. If you are named Doug and you are reading this right now thinking, "Hey, my name is Doug and I'm not an a**hole!", well…I have bad news for you…you are an a**hole, you are just such a gigantic a**hole that you are entirely unaware of your a**hole-ness…which ironically enough makes you an even bigger a**hole than I thought your were. 

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I listened to my now former friend "Doug", I went and did my American duty by paying my Disney tax and saw The Last Jedi. My thoughts on the film can be boiled down to this…the movie is a two and a half hour shitshow. A total mess. I have vowed to punch "Doug" squarely in the ear if I ever see him again in retaliation for his Last Jedi recommendation.

The failure of The Last Jedi is baffling on many levels. I am at an advantage when it comes to seeing Star War's films because I am not a Star Wars fanatic which means I do not take it personally if a Star Wars movie is no good. It also means I am also able to enjoy Star Wars films and appreciate them on a mythic level even when the filmmaking is less than stellar.

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With that said, with The Last Jedi it feels as though the rich and complex myth at the core of the Star Wars saga no longer resonates with the collective consciousness (and unconsciousness) of today. That failure to resonate could simply be a result of poor writing and filmmaking on the part of The Last Jedi's director Rian Johnson, or it could be the inevitable result of a franchise that has gone creatively bankrupt through overuse and saturation due to being on its eighth go around. Regardless of who or what is to blame, it is striking to me that this once intricately layered and spiritually vast mythological universe has now been rendered so emaciated and meager in The Last Jedi.

One of the major issues with The Last Jedi is that it suffers from a really unwieldy script that lacks narrative and thematic focus. Combine that with a cavalcade of poor performances and a plethora of logical inconsistencies and you end up with the literal mess of a movie that is The Last Jedi.

To be fair, there are some bright spots, namely Mark Hamill, who always seemed rather underwhelming as Luke Skywalker in the original films, but in The Last Jedi gives a powerful and fully grounded performance that is noteworthy. The film would have been wise to give us more Luke Skywalker and less of everyone else…most notably Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren and Leia.

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To its credit the film also has some pretty interesting politics running through it. It is undeniably an anti-empire movie and goes to great lengths to show the moral, spiritual and economic corruption at the heart of empire that corrodes the humanity of all who touch it. That said, the film also felt to be very reactionary politically. The use of the term "resistance" throughout the movie certainly seemed to be speaking to our current political climate and anti-Trumpism. Some films thrive because they are ahead of the curve when it comes to the collective unconscious and political sentiments (as the Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory teaches us), but The Last Jedi'‘s politics come across as entirely reactionary, thus making them feel forced, contrived and manipulative which severely cripples the dramatic authenticity of the film. 

To Rian Johnson's credit, there are two cinematic gems in The Last Jedi that were very impressive. One sequence of note occurs in a battle outside a salt mine where Johnson wisely uses the color red and it really makes for some stunning visuals. The other is when two large Destroyer/Cruiser ships collide, which results in the best visual sequence of the film and maybe the entire franchise. 

Besides those two sequences the film looks and feels rather flat. The characters and the dialogue are as thin as gruel and embarrassing at times. There are many cringe-worthy moments in the movie but the lowest of lowlights occurs when an injured character gives a heartfelt speech where she says, "we shouldn't fight what we hate but save what we love", then kisses a guy and collapses to much raucous laughter from the audience in the screening I attended.

The performances of most of the cast are pretty abysmal. Daisy Ridley (Rey) has certainly improved from her uneven performance in The Force Awakens but she is still not a very compelling or magnetic actress. Oscar Isaac is simply dreadful as a hot headed fly boy and I know it is blasphemous to say so, but so is Carrie Fisher as Leia, who is as wooden as can be in her final role. 

Adam Driver's success as an actor is one of the great mysteries of life. His appeal as an actor has always completely eluded me and he kept that streak alive in The Last Jedi as bad guy Kylo Ren. Driver's performance is little more than an imitation of Hayden Christensen's excruciatingly abysmal work as the tormented Annakyn Skywalker in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith

John Boyega gives a thoroughly lackluster performance as well and feels entirely out of place as the character Fin. I have a friend who is a big shot Hollywood movie director who I call Mr. X. Mr. X said to me, "Fin may be the most worthless character I've ever seen in a movie before".

Mr. X also said to me in relation to The Last Jedi, "I think the art of directing is dying", and "if you can cast anyone in a Hollywood film why cast such horrible actors?" Mr. X ended our conversation by saying "It's like they don't know how to make movies or even tell stories anymore."  As usual, I agreed with the Hollywood big shot Mr. X.

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To be fair, I actually did not hate The Last Jedi, it didn't make me angry or fill me with rage. At the end of the day The Last Jedi actually left me feeling absolutely nothing, which is about as damning a thing as you can say about a movie. At this point it feels like the Star Wars saga has devolved to the point where it is completely devoid of any genuine drama or mythological insight. The Star Wars films now seem to exist for no other reason than to justify their own existence and to fleece the movie going public in order to fill Mickey Mouse's already overstuffed coffers. That is disappointing to me because while George Lucas certainly had his flaws as a director and producer, it never felt like he was milking his precious Star Wars creation in order to become even more filthy rich than he already was. 

Ironically, considering The Last Jedi's politics, the Star Wars Saga is now part of the Disney Empire, which, like all empires, corrodes the humanity of all who touch it. Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Obi Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Princess Leia and the rest have had the "force" and the archetypal insights that went with it, sucked out of them by the "Doug" of movie studios... Disney, which is a mouse that roars like a giant. As a result, the Star Wars universe will never be the same again. Disney is a like a creative counterfeiting ring that drains the life and meaning out of what was once a very artistically, spiritually and psychologically insightful piece of mythic art for no other reason than to print their own money and expand their decadent and destructive empire even further.

In conclusion, Star Wars: The Last Jedi felt like a two and half hour corporate commercial for itself, and for its inevitable sequel. If you are a huge Star Wars fan you will see the film no matter what, but if you are a casual fan, I would recommend you skip seeing it in the theatre and catch it for free on Netflix or cable. That way you can check out the movie and not have to feed Mickey Mouse's voracious appetite for your money while you do so. To you my dear readers I will finish by saying, May the Force Be With You…but not with you, Doug, you can go straight to hell, or Jestafad, you Ewok and Porg loving son of a gun!! 

©2017

Rogue One : A Star Wars Story - A Review

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****

Estimated Reading Time : 5 Minutes 22 Seconds

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation: See it if you like Star Wars related things, but if you are into Star Wars things you would have seen it already. If you are indifferent to Star Wars or lukewarm at best, there is zero need to see this film.

I had a little bit of free time to other day and decided I should do my duty as a patriotic American and pay my Mickey Mouse Tax, so I went to see Rogue One.  I was running a little late and got to the theatre with nary a moment to spare. I rushed up to the counter in the sparsely populated cineplex to get my ticket and was greeted by a smiling and friendly young woman with blue streaks in her hair, wearing cat girl glasses adorned with rhinestones. She smiled and said, "Can I help you?" I breathlessly returned her smile and said, "One for Star Wars, please." Her smile evened out and her eyes turned vacant and cold. She looked at me indifferently and after a very effective momentary pause, scornfully retorted, "You mean...Rogue One?" I straightened up, looked her right in the eye and politely said, "Yes, ma'am."

 In the eyes of this young woman, whom I had silently named "The Rhinestone Jedi", the stench of my egregious error in failing to properly identify Rogue One hung on me like the stink lines that hover over Pig Pen in the Charlie Brown comics for the remainder of our interaction. Once the transaction was completed, The Rhinestone Jedi dismissively handed me my ticket and turned her back, probably to conceal her rage and loathing at the jackass who had the temerity to ask for a ticket to "Star Wars" and not "Rogue One". As I turned to walk away toward the theatre, I swear I heard her mutter under her breath, "Star Wars? Fucking loser." And thus my Star Wa…oops…Rogue One : A Story Wars Story viewing experience had begun. The film that followed was mildly more enjoyable but not nearly as existentially interesting as my interaction with the gatekeeper of nerd-dom, The Rhinestone Jedi, that blue-haired demon with the cat girl glasses and the unflinching judgement. 

As is my practice, I had not read any reviews of Rogue One prior to seeing it. I was going into the theatre a Rogue One virgin as it were. All I did know was that Rogue One was not a sequel or a prequel to any of the other Star Wars films, but was a stand alone entity. I thought that this was a wise move by Disney as it would enable them to start a whole new Star Wars storyline from which other stories could be born, which would make for a whole new revenue stream. If done properly, Disney could have two Star Wars franchises up and running at the same time, which would mean beaucoup bucks for Mickey Mouse and co. That is what I was thinking before seeing or knowing anything about Rogue One anyway. 

Then I went and saw the film. It was…fine. There are some exciting action sequences, and for the first time in the history of the franchise, there is an actual, genuinely good actress/actor in the lead role (no offense to any other actors or actresses, living or recently deceased, who have graced the Star Wars films, RIP Carrie Fisher) in the form of Felicity Jones. But beyond that, the film is a disappointment. I found it disappointing most of all because it isn't an original and new storyline, but rather the same old storyline just from a different perspective. Rogue One is essentially a one-off, spin-off. Sort of like the ill-fated Matt LeBlanc sitcom "Joey" was in relation to Friends, although the short life span of Joey was not by choice, or if you are a bit older than that, then it is like if The Facts of Life were just a single, stand alone season when they spun-off from Different Strokes. (RIP Alan Thicke)

In terms of the story of Rogue One, there is at its center, as seemingly is always the case, the Death Star, which fails to hold the foreboding doom it once did in the original Star Wars since we already know what happens to it. I found myself rather bored with the whole narrative because all it does is tread old ground in "previously worn" but technically "new", shoes. Hell, it isn't just the Death Star that is less foreboding than I remembered, Darth Vader feels pretty lackluster and limp in Rogue One as well. Vader looked weird in Rogue One, almost like his costume was one size too big or something. And his walk definitely lacked the Imperial swagger it used to have. I am being serious here, Vader looked and physically moved much different than he used to and it made him much less powerful, authoritative and frightening.

What I was really hoping for with Rogue One was an entirely new and creative storyline with no direct connection to the old franchise. Instead I got a retread of the very first Star Wars film except with a female protagonist. The parallels between Jones' Jyn Erso and Luke Skywalker are obvious, both are from remote planets, both have fathers who are "special" and both have pivotal battles in dangerously constructed towers and both are called to do great things in the face of astounding odds against them.

To add to the similarities between Star Wars and Rogue One, Diego Luna plays Cassian Andor, a rebel intel officer who dresses and behaves very similar to Han Solo, except with a Spanish accent. Luna is not a very good actor in any language, in fact he is pretty bad, and his work in Rogue One is distracting at best. As good as Felicity Jones is in Rogue One, Diego Luna is equally bad.

The rest of the cast do the best they can with the little given to them, but no one goes to see a Star Wars film for the acting. People want to see some action sequences, and Rogue One delivers on that count, at least in the second half. There are some great battle scenes in the final third of the film that deliver what most people crave. I certainly was captivated by the battle scenes, but I also had nagging questions that kept popping into my head. Stuff like, if Stormtroopers can be knocked out or defeated by a guy armed with nothing but a stick, what the hell do they wear all that body armor and head gear for? You'd think that since the Stormtrooper armor doesn't protect them from lasers it would at least protect them from a stick. I guess not though. Makes me wonder how much the Empire is paying for all that body armor and if corruption isn't a major issue that needs to be addressed if the Empire is going to succeed in the long term. But, all of those questions aside, I did find the last third of the film to be captivating and was pleased it finally delivered the action goods.

I guess my biggest issue with Rogue One is that there seems to be no purpose in making it. Rogue One is little more than a nostalgia delivery system for people craving a return to their youth, even if the youth they are returning to is the youth of their parents in the 70's and 80's. Rogue One could have been a whole new story, in a whole new time of the Star Wars universe that could have creatively rejuvenated the Star Wars franchise anew. The opportunity is there for Disney to not just remake and reboot the old franchise, but to create an entirely new franchise with the blue prints of the Star Wars universe that George Lucas sold them for 4 billion dollars a few years ago. Sadly, it seems, Disney has no appetite for rolling the dice on truly original Star Wars material, only in rehashing the tired, old formula that has made them, and Mr. Lucas before them, a fortune. Many thought Lucas had become creatively bankrupt (he is sure is hell was never financially bankrupt!!) during and after the Star Wars prequel trilogy and that Disney and some new artistic blood would be able to invigorate the Star Wars brand. In retrospect after seeing Rogue One and comparing it to Lucas' Star Wars prequel trilogy, I have come to the conclusion that Lucas never lost his fastball as a writer of Star Wars films, just that he lacked the requisite skill to direct them. As controversial as Lucas' prequel trilogy have become, a closer inspection of them reveal well-written and genuinely original scripts that Lucas was not able to properly capture on film. In seeing Rogue One it is now clear that it isn't Lucas who is creatively bankrupt, it is Disney, although goodness knows that Disney isn't anywhere near financial bankruptcy thanks to both the Star Wars and Marvel franchises.

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When my screening of Rogue One ended I sat in my seat and took my phone out to check my messages. I texted a famous filmmaker friend of mine who had been curious as to what I would think about the movie after seeing it. I texted him "Saw Rogue One…I am trying to figure out what the purpose of this film is. Why make it?" I then realized that something had fallen out of my pocket when I took my phone out and I reached down to pick it up. It was my receipt for the movie ticket, the one handed to me disdainfully by The Rhinestone Jedi, the blue haired woman with the cat girl glasses. I looked at the ticket receipt and smiled knowingly. I took a photo of it and sent it to my famous filmmaker friend with the text, "I figured out why they made Rogue One!!"  The photo showed the receipt and in big letters it said "ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY". Below that in small print it read…"Adult : $12.50". And thus the mystery was solved. Somewhere, Walt Disney's frozen corpse is smiling and Mickey Mouse is bathing in an Olympic-sized swimming pool of $1,000 bills. I then realized that the blue haired woman with the rhinestone cat girl glasses wasn't judging me for being wrong about the title of the "Star Wars" film, she was judging me for going to see the "Star Wars" film. Her prophetic, and accurate final words to me rung in my ears as I exited the theatre. There is a sucker born every minute, and at that minute I realized I was one of millions of them. "Star Wars? Fuckin' loser". You're right about that, Rhinestone Jedi, you're god-damn right about that. 

©2017

 

Dr. Strange : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. See it on Cable or Netflix. If you are a superhero lover, you'll see the film anyway, so my recommendation is meaningless.

Dr. Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, is the story of a genius, hot shot neuro-surgeon who falls on hard times after an accident and searches the world for a way to heal himself. Through a fortuitous path, the good Doctor finds himself in Kathmandu studying the mystical arts and being thrown into the esoteric world of superheroes, magic and multi-dimensions. 

Dr. Strange is the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is the one inhabited by Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Spider-man and The Avengers to name but a few. The film is directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson. It boasts an impressive cast of supporting actors including Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Stuhlberg.

I admittedly knew very little about the comic book character Dr. Strange before seeing the film. Marvel, and their parent company Disney, are well aware that Dr. Strange is a second level type of superhero. He isn't on par with his more famous compatriots like Spider-man, Hulk, Captain America or Iron Man. So the studio wisely uses this film to roll out not only a "new" property in their cinematic universe, but in doing so they also prepare the audience for multiple and changing versions of the cinematic universe they have already created. What I mean by that is Dr. Strange is not just a superhero, he is a mystical hero, who is part of a group that can cross over into other dimensions, mess with time, and generally warp all that we think we know for sure. It is a very savvy move for Marvel/Disney to roll Dr. Strange out now as it allows them to have a new money-making franchise and also gives them the flexibility to change and alter the current direction of Marvel films by giving themselves the ability to "change universes" through Dr. Strange's multi-dimensional time-line jumping. So they can make a film where Captain America is evil or the Hulk kills Spider-man, and then have Dr. Strange come along and either turn back time or jump to another universe in the multi-verse…pretty savvy.

Disney is on fire right now in terms of the moves they have made in recent years. In 2010 the studio bought Marvel comics and their cavalcade of superheroes, the only notable exception being the X-Men who are stuck over at the creative hell known as Fox. The purchasing price was $4 billion which, sadly, was just out of my price range. That is a lot of money for any studio to invest, but the move has already paid for itself with multiple successful franchise films and spinoffs in the time since the purchase. Disney has pumped out twelve Marvel based films in the last six years, with many more to come. These twelve films have made in excess of $9 billion. Add to that the shrewd move to purchase the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas for another $4 billion, which has already paid off handsomely as the first Star Wars film they made, The Force Awakens, made $2 billion worldwide last year. And that evil mastermind Mickey Mouse plans to release new Star Wars films every year for the next few years ensuring another huge payday for the studio. In other words, Disney earnings are going to be very healthy for the foreseeable future.

So why am I talking all this inside baseball about movie studios and franchises and box office? Well, Dr. Strange is both an example of why that strategy by the studio is good for business and simultaneously bad for movies. Dr. Strange is not a terrible movie comparatively speaking, not at all, but it also isn't a great one. But it could have been a hell of a lot better than it was in the hands of a more daring and confident director. But daring and confident directors are not going to get a chance to mess with the Mickey Mouse Marvel Money Machine. Instead the Marvel films are all going to be formulaic, rather predictable, self-consciously cutesy, and cinematically somewhat lacking, just like Dr. Strange

On the other hand, if a powerhouse like Disney didn't own the rights to Dr. Strange, and they hadn't been so successful with the other Marvel franchise films, this character would never see the light of day, and Dr. Strange is a truly great character worthy of a film. The great disappointment is that the film Dr. Strange never lives up to the compelling intrigue that its main character brings to the show.

Like many Marvel films, Dr. Strange is two-thirds of a good-enough movie, but loses its way in the final third of the film. And like most of the Marvel films, Dr. Strange lacks an exceptional villain that can compete with its main character. Yes, there are villains in the movie, one played by one of my favorite actors, Mads Mikkelson, but that character is never fully fleshed out or given much to do in a rather shallow script. The other villain is an enormous evil entity that is visually unremarkable in every way, thus undercutting the power he may possess for viewers.

The first two thirds of the film are pretty interesting because the character of Dr, Strange is a fascinating one, and also because Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor with an imperative charm to him. Cumberbatch has a weird magnetism to him that draws viewers in to his private world even as he keeps them an arms length away. Cumberbatch's work in Dr. Strange is all the more impressive because it is a star turn that requires great charisma and appeal to be able to pull off, and I didn't think he had the goods to be able to do it, but he does. 

The rest of the cast do fine enough work in underwritten and underwhelming roles. Chiwetel Ojiofor is a terrific actor but is terribly under used as Karl Mordo. Tilda Swinton does a good job as The Ancient One. Swinton is always an interesting actress and her solid work here is a tribute to her talent as it is much more complex and nuanced a performance than the script gives to her. The rest of the cast, Mikkelson as Kaecillius, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer and Michael Stuhlberg as Nicodemus West all do the best they can with the very little they are given.

Visually the film has some interesting sequences where we get to see the multi-verse and things of that nature, but all in all it is a rather stale bit of filmmaking. There are sequences that are reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's film Inception, which do Dr. Strange no favors because Scott Derrickson is certainly no Christopher Nolan, not in any way.

All that said, I did enjoy the film even though in total it is pretty sub-par. I think the reason I enjoyed it was that the character is so interesting, and that Cumberbatch does such a good job bringing him to life. I think another reason I enjoyed it was that I had very low expectations and was glad to just sit and turn off my brain after all the hullaballoo about the election. I have been very critical of the Marvel films of the past as they struck me as just the worst sort of mindless noise meant to separate idiots from their money…idiots like me. I think what has happened to me is that having sat through so many Marvel films, my brain has been softened to mush and I am now more pliable to the wishes of the evil wizard Mouse pulling all the strings back at Disney headquarters. Whatever the reason, I "enjoyed" Dr. Strange on a certain level, and while I wouldn't watch the film again, I will go out and read some of the comic books to learn more about the character. So that in and of itself says something positive about the film.

In conclusion, if you love super hero movies, you will see this film no matter what I say. If you are lukewarm on super hero films, you can skip this one and maybe catch it on cable or Netflix for free and at your leisure. I found Dr. Strange to be a fascinating character in a rather tepid film. I think you will feel the same way, which is why I recommend you skip seeing it in the theatre, and go read some Dr. Strange comics instead.

©2016

A Very Pleasant Awakening : Thoughts on a Galaxy Far, Far Away by Jeff Boehm

***ATTENTION READERS*** :  I have not yet been able to see the new Star Wars film, Star Wars Episode VII : The Force Awakens. So I have no review to share with you. Instead I have something much, much better.  A great friend of mine, Dr. Jeff Boehm, has agreed to share his thoughts on the film with you. Who is Dr. Jeff Boehm and why should you care what he thinks of Star Wars? Whenever there is a topic of which I am not well-read or well-versed, I always try and get informed by someone who is an expert in the field. Trust me when I tell you that Dr. Boehm is an expert, generally, in all things science fiction, and, in particular, in Star Trek and Star Wars. How much of an expert?  Well, Dr. Boehm has two Master's Degrees from Starfleet Academy University, an M.V.A (Masters of Vulcan Administration) and a Master of Arts in Kobayashi Maru Studies. He got his PhD in Galactic Travel with an emphasis on the Kessel Run from the University of Kashyyk at Kachirho. Add to that his "Duel" Degree from the Jedi Academy and,  YES…you can say he's an expert. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the very well informed musings of our guest writer, Dr. Jeff Boehm!!

(In "reality" Jeff Boehm is a great friend of mine, a fantastic actor and a terrifically smart, insightful and interesting guy who also happens to be a huge (maybe the hugest?) fan of all things Star Wars. So I am proud to share his thoughts on the new Star Wars film with you. That said, it is time for a DISCLAIMER : Jeff Boehm's views are his own and may or may not be shared by me…we won't know until I see the movie!!)

****WARNING : THIS POST CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!! ****

 

For the geek & fanboy/girl cognoscenti, there is a fine line between homage and sacrilege. The consensus is that J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek was the former while its sequel, Into Darkness, was firmly the latter. With Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan (with Michael Arndt also getting a credit for his early draft) do a tremendous job satisfying fans’ thirst for nostalgia while introducing a new generation of characters and adventures into Star Wars lore.

While the original heroes with whom we are so familiar are integral to the story (with varying amounts of screen time), Abrams and Kasdan smartly put a new young trio of protagonists front and center. And the three are a wonderfully diverse triad – both in character and race, not a white male among them. Along with scavenging loner Rey (Daisy Ridley), we meet Finn (John Boyega), a fallen stormtrooper, and Poe Dameron, an ace pilot (the always excellent Oscar Isaac). Poe plays a smaller, though vital, role here but no doubt will play a larger role going forward. The new trilogy rests in good hands with these three.

Much has been made of the film’s many similarities to the original Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope). In my opinion, this was the right way to go: give audiences something familiar while also ushering in the new. The idea of a “soft reboot” works. Besides, the first film – Luke Skywalker’s story – closely follows the Hero’s Journey as laid out by Joseph Campbell. And there is just one hero’s journey, as it were, so of course there will be some similarities with our new hero’s path. Mythological archetypes abound, but this is a strength of the film, not a weakness.

 

Daisy Ridley is a revelation as Rey, our new hero. She is a strong, self-sufficient protagonist who is a survivor and has the skillset to reflect that. Ridley’s Rey is tough but relatable and easy to root for. There are hints of her ancestry throughout, though we are never explicitly given her familial connections. Pieces of the whole…

As for the Dark Side, there is new blood, as well. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is one of the more intriguing and complex villains in recent memory. The filmmakers were smart not to try to make another Darth Vader. After all, how could there be a more badass Vader? However, there are some very real reasons why Kylo admires and aspires to be the famous Dark Lord of the Sith. 

But instead of being cold, calculating and controlled like Vader, Kylo is impulsive, imprudent, and immature. He is arrogant, but insecure. Powerful, but easily frustrated. As we begin to learn about his background, these personality traits and internal conflicts start to make sense. I’m very excited to see where this character goes.

 

Anytime something is successful (commercially, especially), there is an inevitable backlash; it suddenly becomes hip to be contrarian. And the response to The Force Awakens is no different; Monday Morning Quarterbacking and criticism already abound on the interwebs.

Likely the most seen – and dimwitted – of the bunch was the HuffPost’s “40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’.” “Unforgivable”?? By a guy who then claims, “I loved the film.” Hmm… Rather than getting red-faced and spending several paragraphs responding, I will leave this post HERE, where a man named Matty Granger, though a bit vitriolic, quite adroitly addresses most every “plot hole” mentioned in the HuffPost piece.

Conveniences! Unanswered questions! Gaps in narrative logic! Oh my!  It is especially funny – and ironic – when these claims come forth from “superfans” of the original Star Wars movies. Those classic movies had all these in spades: 

Just like those wonderful films, The Force Awakens is a 2-hour science fiction space opera, and there is an all-powerful Force making things happen in the universe; a little suspension of disbelief is needed, and an ability to connect-the dots is essential. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Plus, using your imagination to fill in some of the blanks is part of the fun – How did Maz Kanata come to possess that lightsaber last seen tumbling down a shaft in Cloud City?

The Force Awakens laid a solid foundation for a new trilogy; while some goals were achieved, so many questions ARE left unanswered, details not put right out in the open, many loose ends not tied up. But for me, that does not detract from the movie. Instead, it adds to my appreciation, encourages me to re-watch, and makes me look forward to future episodes, anticipating what might be revealed next…

Especially with the gigantic weight of 40 years of Star Wars devotees and mythology on his shoulders, I think Abrams came through with a funny, entertaining, nostalgically sound adventure.

One more thing to mention about J.J. Abrams’ deft touch with this material: he excels at working with actors and directing for comedic timing (things his predecessor, George Lucas, was not known for). Both these skills are on fine display in The Force Awakens. And, in tandem with Abrams’ and Kasdan’s clever writing, they are most apparent during the key moments of levity sprinkled throughout. These scenes, sometimes just lines or actions, fit perfectly within the narrative and reveal much about the individual characters. The laughs are earned and welcome. 

A word about the movie’s commercial appeal – Box Office isn't everything certainly, but it can be used as a barometer for a movie’s reach and resonance. In setting a new domestic box office record in less than three weeks with great word of mouth, scoring many returning customers, and earning a 93% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, one could reason that Abrams and Kasdan did a pretty bang-up job of giving the people what they want. That's an art that has been pretty stale in Hollywood (save for Marvel) since that magical time from the mid 70's to the mid 90's, when Spielberg reigned supreme.   

Lest I be accused of seeing the film only through rose-colored glasses, I must admit that I did have a few minor quibbles with the film. One scene in particular - involving alien beasts and bounty hunters soon after Rey meets Han Solo - doesn't seem to fit the tone of the movie. Also, Captain Phasma struck me as giving in a little too easily, and I wouldn't have minded a bit more backstory during the Maz Kanata sequence. but any tiny issues were far outweighed by the propulsion of the grand adventure and the moments of sheer joy I experienced watching X-wings coming in hot over the water ?! A lightsaber battle in a snowy forest?! Yes, Please!

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The Force Awakens might not have been perfect, but I was not disappointed at all. That in itself was a great relief after the pain of the prequels (and another more recent slap to the face of my youth, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull). Indeed, I was walking on air as I left the theater, feeling like an 8-year-old kid once more, ready to go back and see it again. 

©2016