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First, Do No Harm. A Rogue One Review

Here’s something a little different, I know it’s not DB Cooper but after two years I think I’ve covered the case pretty well, it’s time to move on. The Review contains spoilers, but spoilers won’t ruin the movie for you, I promise.

With any new Star Wars movie, the first question that needs to be asked is “did it do harm to the Original?” Did the filmmakers, for reasons of convenience or avarice or ignorance, harm in some way the memory of what made Star Wars the most beloved fictional franchise in history? To quickly answer this question in regard to Rogue One: No. Not only does Rogue One do no harm, it even fixes some issues with A New Hope. This is quite an accomplishment considering the movie ends minutes before the start of A New Hope. Rogue One is a good standalone sci-fi movie, which is an accomplishment for any Star Wars film, and more importantly, a worthy flag bearer in the growing Star Wars canon.

It will forever be difficult to make a new Star Wars movie because the filmmakers have to strike a balance between originality and mimicry. Make the movie too reminiscent of the Original Trilogy and it will be accused of plagiarizing and manipulating nostalgia for the sin of greed. If the movie is too original and fails to connect to what has come before, then audiences will accuse the film of infidelity. Over time. I believe this will become a larger problem, especially as audiences change over time with shifting technological culture. Thanks to the prequels, the bar is very low right now, and the folks at Disney have cleared it by miles.

Rogue One opens… somewhere. I’m not actually sure, as we visit so many planets in a short period of time. Regardless, the Empire has come for an engineer, Galen Erso. In the course of kidnapping Erso, Imperial agents kill Galen’s wife, and a young girl, Galen’s daughter, escapes. We shoot ahead about a decade and meet the daughter again, who is now serving a prison sentence for crimes we hear about, but never actually see.

The Daughter, Jyn Erso, is rescued by the Rebels. Based on her reaction. she was rescued against her will. The rebels need Jyn, I think, because Galen Erso is rumored to have sent a defecting cargo pilot with a message to warn the Rebellion about an Imperial superweapon. I’m not even sure how the Rebels know they need Jyn Erso or where to go to rescue her, since she’s living under an assumed name. This part of the film is painfully convoluted and reeks of poor writing or failed reshoots or corporate suits interfering with the movie. I’m not 100% certain what happened, but the end result is a mess. Even the witty dialogue and pumped up action doesn’t save this part of the film from being boring. In fact, the entire movie struggles to get its main cast into a position for the big ending. There are a lot of questions about these scenes, now that I have time to think about them.

What makes everything worse about these scenes is the movie is constantly throwing references for the diehard fans. Characters from the original trilogy get glorious cameos throughout, most of which work fine, especially in the third act. But…. This forty-five minutes of the movie, from Jyn’s jailbreak to the roundtable at Yavin Base, all I can remember is the bright green light from the emergency exit sign (which is, distractingly close to the screen at my theatre) and the sound of the family behind me assaulting their bags of popcorn.

Eventually, the film finds its mojo and the audience is treated to seeing the rebel base on Yavin IV. Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, our new cast of characters, the disparate members of the Rebel Alliance, they all get crammed into a roundtable discussion about the Death Star and the future of their resistance movement. It sounds like an awful scene, now that I write it down, but it worked. We see a Rebellion on the verge of collapse before it has really started. We understand the stakes, which are even bigger than losing a planet or two to the Death Star. We see the desperation and despair. Our main characters become the catalyst for the entire Rebellion through their resolve.

Here the Big Dumb Ending starts. And it is glorious. The story comes together, the characters begin to shine, we start to connect emotionally to the people and the story, the action was exciting and reasonable, no cartoon physics or poor effects. The movie even fixed some of the nitpicker objections sourpusses like to bring up to belittle the Original Trilogy.

Rogue One has wonderful cinematography, a serious tone that captures the uncertainty created by the modern war against terrorism, wonderful performances by a vast cast of characters, including some from A New Hope (Seriously). It suffers from some combination of poor writing or poor editing in post-production. It’s far from perfect, but for half the movie I forgot about that stupid Exit sign and I have no idea if those hogs behind me stopped eating or if I was just that absorbed in the story. That’s just about the highest praise I can give a film.

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http://www.kli.org/

From the Notebook

Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine in The Phan...

Image via Wikipedia

Even when the winters aren’t long, the winters are long.

– Anyone else sick of the GOP nomination race?

– If anyone cares, I did caucus this year, supported Ron Paul in the preference poll, was elected a delegate, and I’m hoping to be elected a delegate to the 7th congressional district convention. Our BPOU convention is March 3rd. I have no intention to liveblog it.

– My Representative, Mary Franson, was grouped in with another GOP incumbent. The other guy, based on a quick look at the new maps, has an open district not too far from his current address, while Franson is surrounded by incumbents. I don’t know exactly if that’s how things are going, but based on her speech at caucuses and local media coverage, Franson is staying put. My new district is 8b. Redistricting is really boring.

– I am closing in on completing all of the Khan Academy math exercises. I’ve completed 285 of them, out of a total of 306. Sal keeps adding exercises, which is getting frustrating, there were only 129 exercises when I started my quest. Still, it has been a great experience.

– Watched through the Khan Academy Current Economics Playlist. This list included some basic econometrics, specifically capacity utilization, inflation and unemployment. There was a distinct bias towards Keynes, but that’s always the case when discussing macroeconomics. The microeconomics videos bias toward the classical view. This is a really good playlist for those seeking greater insight into the machinations of The Fed.

– Also watched the Khan Academy Art History; Ancient Cultures (to 400 AD) video list. These videos are not done by Sal, but by a small group of academics in the Art field. Like usual, it’s all excellent. This list covers everything from Greek statues to Roman victory arches. It amazed me to see the incredible works of art still in existence in the world, and the quality of these works is beyond description.

– Finished half an assignment in the Great Books of the Western World ten-year reading program: read Euripides’ Medea, and Hippolytus. Euripides needs no approval from me, but I have to say the vivid and sometimes brutal imagery in these stories really keeps these stories ageless.

– Read ‘Darth Plagueis‘ by James Luceno, a Star Wars expanded universe book. I was looking for something fast-moving and fun. My mistake. Expanded universe stories are getting too complex; there are too many new aliens species, there are too many characters, and too many references to events happening in other expanded universe materials (and we’re not talking books. Some references were to comic books, others to short stories in magazines that are out of print, all stuff I have no intention of ever reading). I spent more time reading articles on Wookiepedia than I did reading the actual book. Darth Plagueis, the mentor of Darth Sidious (Palpatine), turns out to be a banker, spinning financial intrigue a little too similar to the plot of “Too Big to Fail”, it is not something I wanted from a book about a Dark Lord of the Sith. All around disappointment.

Darth Vader: Borderline or AntiSocial?

A survey of people who should be in the know suggests Darth Vader had Borderline Personality Disorder:

According to a popular blog over at CNN, French researchers have concluded that Mr. Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker) has, at various times, exhibited six of the nine criteria for borderline personality disorder. To be diagnosed with BPD, you need only showcase five of the behaviors.

Just what are these traits? Well, there are the unstable moods that Vader suffers. One minute he’s happy because he sliced Obi-Wan Kenobi in half. The next, he’s all huffy that his subordinates let the Millennium Falcon escape. And when Vader ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

There are also his unstable relationships to consider. Over the course of the “Star Wars” movies, Vader has tried to kill his son, Luke Skywalker, multiple times. However, he also saved Luke’s life from his boss, the impossible-to-please Emperor Palpatine. The researchers write that Palpatine had a “dark and destabilizing influence” on Vader and likely contributed to his borderline personality.

Some time ago, I thought he clearly had Antisocial Personality disorder:

Anakin clearly has three of the required criteria:

impulsivity or failure to plan ahead

This one is obvious, how often do we see Anakin just rushing into dangerous situations, like in Episode 2 where he attacks Dooku despite Obi-Wan’s caution. He gets married despite the fact it might end his employment, gets his wife pregnant, etc.

irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults

Yeah, he gets into a lot of fights, and does nothing to avoid them.

reckless disregard for safety of self or others

I don’t care if it is the Jedi way to give up on the self, Anakin is crazy with that whole jumping off the speeder deal in episode II.

deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure

In ROTS he lies to Master Yoda about his nightmares about Padme, besides the whole marriage in secret thing.

I’d also mention, as fas as I could tell, Anakin didn’t ever have any pets.

So, you decide. Upon reflection, I still feel I’m closer to the truth.

Avatar Aversion: A Movie “Review”

Sometime in the future, Pandora, the planet where Doctor Manhattan settled after killing Rorschach, is found to have that rarest of all elements, atmosphereum. Or unobtanium. Or somethingtoostupidtosayium.

The descendants of Doctor Manhattan, a neolithic culture of smurfs, lives in tune with nature on the planet. That is, until Dick Cheney and Darth Vader started a mining operation there and put Elmur Fudd in charge. The goal was to extract as much evil, in the form of atmosphereum, from the planet.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants to see FernGully destroyed. Lieutenant John J. Dunbar, who takes on the form of Doctor Manhattan and uses his “Avatar” to flirt in the alt.FernGully.Lovers.usenet chat group, decides to convert to Gozerism, despite being warned by Dr. Venkman not to.

Gozer (“The Barbarian”) is really a cool cat better known as Gaia. Life, death, e coli, cancer, slow digestion in the stomach of Sarlacc, all come from the benevolent god “Gaia.” Gaia is also known as “mother nature” or “Frank.” Anyway, Frank has connected all animals into his facebook page and everyone gets along really well, especially when being eaten alive and dying of SARs.

Dunbar begins to doubt the benefits of strip mining planets for unknown, unexplained and completely implausible reasons. Especially considering the only way to really mine anything is to throw sentient life into mines and force them to start crying. Then Darth Vader kills his wife. Then puppies. Because technologies like the wheel or aspirin is very bad. And Bender says to kill all humans. So…

After Lt. Kif Kroker conquers the mighty buggalo, a big battle is fought. Lots of people die. Gaia comes to the rescue. The Badgeman is finally killed and the refugees from the dying planet of Earth are sent back to their well deserved doom.

Only, they returned again with Evil Captain Kirk (The one with the goatee) and nuked the planet from space, killed Gaia, and realized their initial explorations were incorrect and all the atmosphereum was actually located in the asteroid belt of the planetary system circling around the sun known to some as “Sol.”

Upon completion of the movie, all white males were slaughtered or committed suicide.

Notes, Nitpicks and Spoilers after the jump.

Continue reading

Christmas Gift Guide 2009

For the Ladies:

Star Trek Blue Dress

This is the perfect gift for men to give to the platonic never-a-chance-ever-of-a-romantic-relationship ladies in their life. It sends a simple and completely understandable message, I just forgot what that message is.

Needless to say, you won’t be forgotten soon with this high impact gift.

Star Trek, 5th Edition–Revised

Still sucks.

From RiffTrax:

Like the odometer on your 1984 Plymouth Reliant rolling back over to zero, the Star Trek series gets a reset! The previous thirty-eight films had barely begun to scratch the surface of these fascinating characters, and so Star Trek is back to answer all your burning questions: What’s Scotty’s favorite brand of bacon? Why does no one seize the moment and slap the hell out of Chekov? Why does Uhura jam that huge piece of machined steel into her ear? Was Spock’s mom younger than him, and which uncle taught him that nerve pinchy thing?

A tour de force of shameless retconning, Star Trek nevertheless introduces a bold new sci-fi innovation: time travel! And black holes! And characters meeting themselves! And ice planets! And evil nemeses who vow revenge! And ship flybys! These are by themselves very compelling reasons to watch, but Star Trek gives you an even more compelling one—to learn Uhura’s first name. Sure, you never knew she didn’t have a first name, it was never an issue for you, and you haven’t even given it one millisecond’s thought, but at last you get to find out! (It’s Nyota, by the way.)

Mike, Kevin and Bill self-consciously tug down their red Federation uniform tops and go boldly into Star Trek!

Consider this the beginning of the Christmas Gift Guide. And consider this MP3 from Mike Nelson et al. as the ideal gift for your unflinchingly devoted trekkie kool-aid drinker.

Some Quick Reviews

-The Bruce Willis film “Surrogates” was a real joy. The ending was a tad Hollywood-vanilla that I hate with such a passion, but the message was a good one, if not entirely thought out. Sometime in the near future, advanced robots connect us to our lives, we never have to leave our homes. We can be anybody, and normally this entails being attractive. A mad scientist soon realizes surrogates have replaced the joys, pains and meaning of life and made everyone a bunch of pleasure hungry, shallow narcissists (sound familiar?). Some gratuitous action shots of Bruce Willis being Bruce Willis later, the movie ends in climactic fashion. There has been a lot of good, meaningful, science-fiction being produced by Hollywood over the last few years; this film should be included as one of the future classics (along with Gattaca, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and about a third of “The Island,” among others).

-Zombieland was similarly superlative. Fun, light and breezy (not exactly normal zombie adjectives) the film is life affirming and almost sentimental. The “rules” developed throughout represent not just a how-to guide for surviving the zombie apocalypse, but a guide to life in general.

-“The Dumbest Generation”, a book by English professor and notable scribe Mark Bauerlein, details the consequences of the new screen-obsessed youth culture now pervading our country. This includes declines in knowledge, reasoning ability, complex task completions and overall wisdomage. Using surveys and hard data, Bauerlein shows students coming out of high schools and colleges are not getting any kind of classic education based on intellectual traditions. He links these declines to the declines in leisure reading by those under thirty years of age, and to the new technology-based education doctrine that has students focusing on how to use computers rather than learning “unplugged”.

Bauerlein is persuasive, thoughtful and slowly builds his case over the length of the entire book. Unfortunately, his thesis is insurmountable to those who could learn the most from it: screen-obsessed youth. Unrelenting in his vocabulary, long and complex in sentence and paragraph structure, subtle and magniloquent, his words must be taken in with deep contemplation and patience. His work stands as an indissoluble whole, cogent only in toto–Totally not what the Twitter crowd is looking for.

It is a rich work for the curmudgeon in all of us. It was especially sweet to my ludditic preferences. Will it matter? I doubt it.

From the Notebook

-Did double duty yesterday in the Twins Podcasts. The pregame podcast saw myself and Seth Stohs hanging out during lunch. It also included a 20 minute rant about Joe Mauer is the only moral choice for the AL MVP award.

The second podcast was a lot of fun too, Nick Nelson and Dan Wade joined me at midnight after the game (the most incredible I’ve ever witnessed).

-Special thanks to all the guys who joined me in the podcasts. Being a guest on one of my podcasts is difficult; there’s no prep. There are no hints. Guests have no idea what topics will be brought up or what questions they may have to answer. Often times they have just a few seconds to formulate an intelligent response. I’m always impressed by how well the do.

-GPA for the MBA is up above 3.9 (after that shocking B in my teamwork class). Just a little bit more to go. The elective I chose this quarter was fiscal resources II. It’s a stats based class. There are just 2 other students in the class. (Another elective, on qualitative management, is much more popular).

-I finished up David Horowitz’s “Left Illusions.” This book is a collection of essays, columns and book chapters. It creates an interesting perspective on the development of Horowitz from New Left intellectual to hated conservative reactionary. I would vote for its inclusion in the canon.

-Saw “Surrogates” starring Bruce Willis. I was prompted by a friend. After a lengthy email exchange we both came to the conclusion the ending was weak, a little too “happy” or “Hollywood.” But, I think there’s a great message in the film and would encourage all my readers to see the film.

From the Notebook

-Last Thursday I attended the Rifftrax Live event in St. Cloud. It was Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett (The final MST3K crew) doing a life riffing of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and it included a short on airline travel and a couple of sci-fi related songs. It was a lot of fun; I haven’t laughed so hard since I saw “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.” If you haven’t yet, I’d also recommend following those guys on Twitter.

-Read the entire “Strategic Human Resources Management” by Armstrong (obviously as part of a class). All I can say is, I’m not an HR kind of guy.

-After a long time of avoiding Twitter, I’m now a strong proponent of this as a tool for writers. One, getting your point across in 140 characters or less is hard and requires good writing (which suprised me) and two, it’s actually helping me get back into producing some actual content (though it’s still just a trickle). I’ve integrated Twitter, Delicious, Facebook and this blog together so everything basically appears everywhere, giving my work maximum exposure. This not the only reason I like Twitter. I just like Twitter.

-“According to http://www.friendshipstats.com I have 292 friends, 172 more than average. 79% are male, 21% are female. 61 are single, 126 are dating or married. If I contracted a deadly variant of flu, I would likely infect 11 people, 1 of whom would d…ie. When I share something on Facebook, it is typically viewed by 22 people. If I died today, an estimated 446 people would try to attend my funeral. Based on my Facebook profile, I have a 91% probability of getting married. I am likely to earn US$3.6 million and have 2.3 children over my lifetime. Calculate your own stats at http://www.friendshipstats.com.”

I thought this was funny. I don’t even know 440 people, how could so many go to my funeral? And how about that 79/21 male to female ratio? Not sure how that translates into a 90%+ probability of getting married.

-I don’t buy a lot of books anymore. Since I graduated from college I really can’t afford it. But, I and my family owned so many books I’ve been able to burn through a huge portion of the family library, about 200 books. Now though, I’m running short on books that I want to read. Kindle time? (I have hundreds of PDF book files on my computer, so getting one the newer/better Kindle versions would save me money in the longrun.) I’m just asking for advice from any Kindle owners.