Category Archives: Non-Writing Related

Movie Review: The Last Jedi

I just got home from seeing an early screening of Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, and if I could sum up my thoughts and feelings in a single word, it would have to be… unsatisfied.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable movie, with stunning visuals, good pace, spot-on comedy, and of course John Williams’ classic handiwork on the score, but while I enjoyed it during the act of viewing, when the end credits began to roll, I found myself staring at the screen and wondering what was missing.  There won’t be any spoilers in this review, so don’t worry on that front. I’ll be discussing this in a more abstract way, and arguing with people who have seen the movie about the fine details.

One of the biggest criticisms of The Force Awakens I heard from people is that Rey is a ‘Mary Sue’.  A character who can do no wrong and excels at everything she attempts. As one might have already gathered from the trailers, The Last Jedi disabuses us of this notion. She remains the same character, but circumstances change and she finds herself in scenarios that show us her flaws and weaknesses. This is a positive thing for her development arc, and yet I find myself more disappointed by the choices she makes now, as a more fully-fleshed character, than I did in The Force Awakens.

The other big attack on VII was that it was nothing more than a retread of IV: A New Hope. If you’re in that camp, I’m afraid you’re in for more of the same; The Last Jedi covered a lot of ground that had already been covered in both V: The Empire Strikes Back and VI: Return of the Jedi. I defended The Force Awakens because I felt that a little retreading and fanservice was useful, even needed, to reboot the Star Wars universe. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and said I would render a more final judgement after Episode VIII. Well, VIII has come and gone, and I’m left feeling the fool. Again, there was a great deal to like about this movie, but the plot beats, and even some of the scenes and shot choices, were ripped directly from Episodes V and VI.

It wasn’t so far gone as to make me lose my hope for the series. After all, they’ve run out of old movies to copy, since they de-canonized the prequels, so anything they make now must be new material, new ground. This movie did, however, suffer from being the middle of a new trilogy. Unlike The Empire Strikes Back, held in many circles as the greatest of the original trilogy, The Last Jedi fails to offer us anything concrete to carry into the next movie. The plot twists and character arcs were either deliberately unresolved or simply not well fleshed-out, so the entire movie ends up building a sense of anticipation that never really pays off.

Despite all this, I would give The Last Jedi an 8/10. There were enough moments with emotional impact to keep me invested, and the humor knew exactly when and where it should be, and showed itself in those places and only those places. Once again, I find myself in the position of saying, “Well, we’ll see if it all pays off with the next movie,” and tenuously defending Disney’s choices while hoping they know where they’re headed; sadly, with Carrie Fisher’s passing, and the subsequent rewrite of Episode IX that that forced, I’m beginning to question whether they can pull it off. They cleaned up some of the questions surrounding the first movie, only to generate another batch, and personally disappointing me in a few specific ways.

See you in two years, when I decide whether or not Disney was able to pull together a trilogy that matched or even outshone the original.

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Speculation on Marvel’s ‘Defenders’

With the first official post for Defenders being released, I thought I would share what I expect from it.

I’ll start by going over each of the individual shows that led into this, giving each show and character a separate rating.

Daredevil (9/10)

The flagship show, and still the best one.  Daredevil, the show, was an excellently-crafted work.  The characters were well-rounded, the plot was strong, and the camerawork was spot-on.  That may sound like a strangely specific piece of praise, but this show deserves it.  In particular, one of the fight scenes early in the show, which takes place in a long hallway, and consists of one, unbroken shot.  While the rest of the show never quite reaches that level, that shot earns it some brownie points.  Daredevil, the character, is also a solid 9/10.  He’s likable as Matt Murdock, attorney at law, and his backstory and motivations for becoming Daredevil make sense.

Jessica Jones (2/10)

I actually disliked this show.  Even David Tennant’s role as Kilgrave, the villain, couldn’t make this enjoyable for me.  I’ve been told that it was an accurate representation of Jessica’s backstory in the comics, and that she’s a much better person, post-origin-story, and given the end of the first season, I do hope that will be the case.  Jessica Jones, the character, was a 3/10 at best, but there was the glimmer of hope that she’ll improve.

Luke Cage (6/10)

My biggest problem with Luke Cage was that each episode felt about 25% too long.  There was good stuff in every episode, but there was a lot of unnecessary filler and fluff that was frankly just boring.  Cage himself was a decent character, 7 or 8/10, but he was dragged down somewhat by the clutter of his show.

Iron Fist (8/10)

Before Iron Fist came out, I had doubts about whether I even wanted to see Defenders; Daredevil was the only show that I really wanted to continue watching of the three that existed.  Iron Fist, while not quite as good a show as Daredevil, renewed my faith in the Netflix/Marvel franchise and got me quite excited for the union of these four shows.  The Iron Fist himself, Danny Rand, is a 9/10 character.  He had a surprisingly good arc involving his naivety with how the real world works, and maintains a solid, engaging sense of self throughout the show.

Defenders (???)

Without spoiling the endings of the existing shows, there are plenty of leads buried in the shows as they stand to pull them all together.  Most of these involve Claire Temple, the nurse character who makes appearances in all four shows, and who is a 10/10 character in her own right.  Overall, I’m fairly excited for Defenders, and hoping that Matt Murdock and Danny Rand play well together, because those two could carry the show on their own.

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Sanders and Socialism

This is me, making my first and last sincere plea to anyone who thinks Bernie Sanders actually has a good, solid economic plan for America.  I see bits and pieces of this all over the internet, so this is less of a personal blog most and more of a bundle of other things to look at, gathered for your convenience and summarized.

Let’s start with a look at a country which is unequivocally socialist, and yet which never seems to be addressed by the rabid masses that are “Feeling the Bern”: Venezuela.  Here is an article that sums up what’s going on there.  Rationed electricity, leaving homes without power for hours at a time.  The country outsourcing the printing of their own (staggeringly inflated and increasing worthless) money because they literally don’t have the resources to do it all.  People hunting cats, dogs, and pigeons, and robbing water trucks in an attempt to survive.

“But Bernie’s a DEMOCRATIC Socialist”, I see commented on articles like these.  Well, I have another point to counter that.  Bernie has often pointed at Denmark as the benchmark, an ideal to which we should strive.  Well, Denmark wants Bernie to stop pointing.

While speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the center-right Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he was aware “that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism.”

“Therefore,” he said, “I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

While he does admit to a certain level of welfare state, even that is being cut back, according to the New York Times.

Denmark has among the highest marginal income-tax rates in the world, with the top bracket of 56.5 percent kicking in on incomes of more than about $80,000. But in exchange, the Danes get a cradle-to-grave safety net that includes free healthcare, a free university education, and hefty payouts even to the richest citizens.

Parents in all income brackets, for example, get quarterly checks from the government to help defray child-care costs. The elderly get free maid service if they need it, even if they are wealthy.

But few experts here believe that Denmark can long afford the current perks. So Denmark is retooling itself, tinkering with corporate tax rates, considering new public sector investments, and, for the long term, trying to wean more people, the young and the old, off government benefits.

Even in our own country, we can see this trend of Socialism being a brief economic relief, followed by either reformations (as Denmark is trying to do) or disaster (as in Venezuela).  FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression kept a lot of people in work, at least enough to keep their families alive, until World War II kick-started our economy and brought us back on top of things.  But now, even a socialist step as comparatively small as Social Security is proving how damaging it can be.  With the Social Security trust fund running out, recipients will start receiving less than they put in, about 75 cents on the dollar, in about twenty years, and those who draw on disability can expect to feel the sting well before that.

To expect Socialism to fix a problem that Socialism itself has caused, no matter what you call it, is madness at its heart.  Venezuela, fiercely socialist, is a barren wasteland, on the verge of collapsing entirely, where a value menu McDonald’s burger costs $170.  Denmark, loudly denying that it is socialist to begin with, is cutting back on those traits that Bernie Sanders espouses because they are unsustainable.

Socialism.  Doesn’t.  Work.

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“War.

War never changes.”

Iconic words from a game series almost as old as I am.  And yet, they seem blatantly untrue.  Wars were once fought with swords, with bows.  Now wars can be fought entirely from behind screens, with soldiers of one faction never actually seeing the soldiers of the other faction.

Today, as I ponder yet another unproductive online discussion, I realize how true these words are.   It was posited to me that the advancement of 3D printing and Artificial Intelligence would soon render human labor unnecessary, that all the world would have to embrace socialism, which would end poverty, which would, in turn, end war.

At face value, this seems like a reasonable hypothesis.  If the value of labor falls to almost nothing, and all humans can just kick back and relax, reaping the benefit of automated labor, why would we keep fighting?

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world.  Even if labor has no value, even if every country embraces socialism and the income inequality vanishes, there will still be reasons to fight.

For an immediate example, take the war in the Middle East.  Not just the current operations, but the entire period of conflict in that region, going all the way back to the 1990’s.  Without trying to argue any of the theories of exactly why we were involved, we can still get a good grasp of the motivating factors.

First, natural resources.  There is oil in the Middle East, and oil is the lifeblood of modern industry.  Even in this hypothetical perfect world, the oil will still only be where it currently is, and there will still be those who want it badly enough to fight for it.

Second, ideologies.  Whether you believe that the Muslim terror organizations are extremists distorting their holy scriptures or stalwart fundamentalists doing exactly what the Koran tells them to, the fact remains that there are Muslim terror organizations, and they are using the Koran to spur their followers into a war that they consider holy.  No amount of economic change or political shift will stop people intent on inflicting harm on others purely because they believe it to be the right thing to do.

Third, vendettas.  Personal or national, there are some hatreds that run deeper than circumstance.  Sometimes irrational, sometimes misplaced, but nonetheless real, hatred will always exist, and will always drive man against his fellows,  The Muslim terror organizations, particularly those involved in the conflict in the Gaza Strip, hate the nation of Israel.  There can be no peace brokered between two parties, when the only goal of one party is the utter eradication of the other.

This is another idea that sounds utopian on paper, but which would not survive contact with humanity.  Human beings, whether you believe them to be inherently good or inherently evil, are undeniably flawed.  Greed and pride and wrath will always bring about conflict, even in a perfect world where machines give humanity everything it could want.  When there is no logical reason to fight, someone will find an illogical reason.

Because war… war never changes.

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On Ferguson

Warning: Post written on anger and Vicodin. Profanity and insults may follow.

Okay. So I watched the livestreams the night after the grand jury decisions, so this isn’t me repeating what the media is saying, or listening to someone else’s opinions. This is me seeing what physically happened, and commenting on it.

What happened in Ferguson was completely uncalled for and out of control.  If I had sympathy for the protesters before, it is now gone.  I saw what I can only describe as complete stupidity on behalf of the protesters. The police gave repeated verbal warnings for them to disperse. When the warnings went unheeded, when the police began using tear gas in attempt to disperse what was, by that point, an unlawful and unruly mob, they began shouting “F*** the police!” and yelling about police brutality and ‘collective punishment’, complaining about the ‘soldiers’ and ‘military vehicles’.

Then they complained, with a burning squad car in the frame, that they were being unjustly punished, and that it was a peaceful protest.

Now, I’m not one to endorse a police state or the absolute necessity of following the letter of the law.  But when mobs have threatened riots and violence, including direct death threats against officers and their families, I’d want a couple of armored vehicles, too.  When squad cars burn and buildings are looted and destroyed, you’ve lost all right to expect to be treated as a peaceful protest.

As far as the actual lack of indictment goes: I haven’t read the full report yet.  I plan to.  But this is not the first time something like this has happened.  And given the fact that I just saw hundreds of black people acting clearly hostile towards police officers who had already deployed tear gas and who were standing defensively with loaded weapons, I don’t find it at all hard to believe that Mike Brown could have been doing something that warranted him being shot.  Yes, yes, witnesses that he was surrendering, coroner’s reports, I’ve heard all that.  I’ve also heard the exact opposite.  No one had all the details up until now except for the grand jury, who decided that Officer Wilson shouldn’t be indicted.

My mother was alive, and local, in fact, when the Rodney King riots happened.  It was a very similar situation.  A bunch of black people blindly believing that the police are racists, that the justice system failed, that they’re all so oppressed and no one will help them, and then they loot and burn and destroy their own neighborhoods.

Maybe the fact that black people get shot and white people get arrested isn’t because of the racism of the officers on the scene.  Maybe it’s because of the attitudes of the people in question.  This whole ‘f*** the police’ attitude, the constant threats against law enforcement, those create an atmosphere of hostility that creates a very real danger for officers, who then defend themselves appropriately.

So don’t tell me that the rioters have your sympathy.  Don’t tell me that justice wasn’t done.  Is our justice system broken?  Absolutely.  Is this an example of it?  No.  The grand jury made the right call.  It’s absolutely a tragedy that this happened, but it’s not because Officer Wilson is a racist, and it’s not because the whites are oppressing the blacks.  It’s because certain stereotypes exist because they’re true.

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A Hope for the Human Race

A Hope for the Human Race.

Yeah, not really much to say to add to this.  Just read it.

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Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

I’m sure you’ve all seen the commercials for Edge of Tomorrow.  If you haven’t, watch it right now.

When I saw trailers, I expected it to be fairly good, but I was skeptical that it would be done well.  As it turns out, my skepticism was unfounded.

I saw a pre-screening of Edge of Tomorrow, and it more than lived up to the trailers.  The exo-suits were awesome, the ‘Live, Die, Repeat’ theme was used expertly, both for comedic and dramatic purposes, and the acting was (surprisingly) very good.  Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt put on an excellent performance with well-written dialog, in a world full of amusing characters.

One big problems a lot of science-fiction has is over-explaining things.  No, I don’t want to spend twenty minutes listening to you explain the backstory of the aliens and how we’ve developed weapons to stop them.  Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t have that problem.  It drops you into the story and lets you figure things out alongside Tom Cruise’s character.

The movie has a few holes in it (though to be fair, what movie doesn’t?), but it manages to maintain the suspension of disbelief and immersion throughout.  I also avoids the sort of deus ex machina that these movies tend to end with.  It was close to two hours of non-stop entertainment, with action and comedy and sheer sci-fi awesomeness.

I would recommend everyone go see Edge of Tomorrow.  95/100

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