Saturday, December 31, 2016

Out With the Old, In With the…Old?

   As the new year approaches we traditionally think of discarding the “old” and implementing the “new.” We make resolutions (some realistic, some not) and commit ourselves to making the reflection in the mirror a better person. I can’t say what percentage of people actually follow through (I haven’t done a study and am not even motivated enough to look one up) but it occurs to me that instead of simply swapping old for new, that maybe we should examine ourselves a bit more closely and realize that maybe the old…is actually best for us.

   I won’t list what is good or bad since those terms are subjective to what you are doing and trying to achieve. I will say that we don’t always realize what works for us and tend to take that measure based on what is working for someone else. It makes no sense…but I’ve seen it happen. 

   Throwing out the baby with the bathwater leaves you with no baby…when all you really wanted was to get rid of the bathwater. Trying to fix something that isn’t broken can leave you with something that does not work. What I’m saying is sometimes when we go to make sweeping changes, we end up changing some things that we really didn’t want to. Other times we try to improve upon something that is great the way it is…and the process of trying to make the improvisation actually destroys what has already been working (and the replacement may not work as well, or even work for us at all).

   I’ve watched people buy new cars (a fresh start) without accounting for the financial impact it can have on a budget. Eventually the reality presents itself and the new car is gone…replaced by a worse car than the old car, or no car at all. The kicker was the old car was great for what it was being used for (short distance travel to and from work). This is just a simple example of the above analogies, but clearly illustrates that new for the sake of new is not always the best decision or change to make.

   Things get a little more complex when dealing with personal relationships. Sometimes we need to change the type of people we have around us…and sometimes we need to change our exposure to just one person to make all the difference. Maybe our friends are really just people we associate with (I’ve spoken about friendships before) and we simply need to change how we use the term. Self examination can be complicated, but if improvement is your goal for the new year, it’s absolutely necessary.

   Romantic relationships are even more complex than the interactions mentioned above. I’ve seen people change romantic relationships like others change clothes (I can’t make this stuff up) and I gotta wonder if they will ever realize the baby was in the bathwater. A new relationship might not be the best answer when a few changes to the old one might be better. I’ve spoken about relationships before here so won’t go into that rabbit hole, but if I had to convey one aspect we could all benefit from paying more attention to, it would be communication/consideration (see how I snuck two in there when I said it would be only one).

   Whatever it is you want the new year to bring with it, realize that some of those things might be what you have to bring with you…not the new year. So this year when you go to make your resolutions, take a moment to examine what has been working for you and commit to maintaining that occurrence. 

Happy New Year! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Typically an review like this would be on my other blog The Boxed Office, but please enjoy this slight change.

The Cast: 

   Jones plays Jyn Erso, daughter of the man responsible for building the Death Star seen in the original film in 1977, Star Wars: A New Hope. This is the first time a Star Wars film has had a female lead and Jones does a great job carrying this film (and us) further into the Star wars mythos.

   Luna plays Cassian Andor, a rebel loyal to the cause and willing to do whatever is necessary to defeat the Empire. Not having really seen him in anything else, I had no real expectations from him…but early in the film I realized Luna was a very capable actor as he sold me on his role just on his execution (pun intended) alone.

   Mendelsohn has always been a good actor (imo) and didn’t disappoint here. He seems to be very comfortable playing a villain, as well he should, since he plays them so well. In this film he plays Orson Krennic, a commander for the Galactic Empire tasked as the director in charge of building the Death Star. Mendelsohn seems to gravitate to characters with questionable authority issues as Krennic was unsure if he was in charge, dealing with Vader, in this film, and Dagget (The Dark Knight Rises) had a similar complication with Bane (lol).

The Plot: 
   The Rebellion is in full swing and the Galactic Empire has developed a new super weapon that will end it. To that end, they require Galen Urso (Mads Mikkelsen) leaving his daughter Jyn on her own, to be cared for by the infamous Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

   When the Rebels find out that the Empire is nearly done with this new super weapon, they acquire Jyn in hopes that she can lead them to the whereabouts of her father. Together with Andor and a reprogrammed Imperial security droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), they travel to a moon called Jedha seeking out Gerrera since he has pertinent information and the Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed) that delivered it.

   While on Jedha, they are helped and joined by Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind former Guardian of the Whills and his partner-in-arms Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), a man with a rapid fire file that can’t seem to miss. The five rebels succeed in escaping Jedha with the defected Imperial pilot as the Death Star destroys the capital city (and Gerrera). 

   As a traitor within the Empire is revealed the Rebels race to find galen Orso. Not reaching him in time, our unlikely heroes take it upon themselves to steal the plans to the Death Star and exploit the weakness Orso built into it. What follows is a mesmerizing and exciting adventure full of explosions and blaster fire that will leave you stunned and clamoring for more.

The Verdict: 
   This is one of the best Star Wars films….ever.

   Now before we have a huge clamoring of dissented voices, think about it for a second. There have been seven films before this one. This one is certainly better than the three prequels. It’s better than the last sequel (“Force Awakens”). It’s better than “Return of the Jedi.” It’s on par with “Empire Strikes Back” and “A New Hope”…so, that makes it one of the best. Don’t believe me, ask George Lucas:

“George Lucas loved the film so much that Director Gareth Edwards posted on his Twitter "it was the most important review to me he's kind of like God, I will take that conversation to my grave, his opinion means the world to me”.”

   The third act alone is better than the entirety of some of the other Star Wars films.

   Before I get into all the good, let me discuss the bad. The CGI of certain characters could have been better. The first two acts were a bit slow. On that second one though, it could be that the third act is so action packed and filled to the brim with awesomeness that it just seemed like the other acts were slow when in actuality, they may not have been.

  Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen is a badass) and K-2SO were the stand out characters that will have a lasting impression on you…until the end of the film, when the only thing that will matter is that dang door that did not open all the way.

   This film is a Star Wars story. It tells us exactly how the Rebels got the plans to do what they did in “Star Wars: A New Hope” and while some may feel it didn’t need to be told, I am very glad it was as it burned four and a half (4.5) cinnamon sticks into the side of my cup of tea with laser-like precision.

Rating 4.5 / 5

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast: 

   Cruise is back as Jack Reacher (sparking up the Reacher versus John Wick debates) and delivers more of the same we saw in the first film. There will be no Oscars going out for his role, but Cruise is consistent in bringing Reacher to life and does well with the material both in acting and action.

   Smulders (Major Susan Turner) is used to playing the military woman-in-charge type of character from her role as Agent Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She does it well although the chemistry between her and Reacher seems to get lost later on after being built up so nicely. Kudos to her for doing her own stunts (a page taken from Cruise himself no doubt).

   Danika Yarosh nails the rebellious Samantha, who not only has a huge chip n her shoulder for life in general, but is also street savvy, observant, and a proficient thief doing whatever needs to be done to get by. 

The Plot: 
   Reacher is still drifting from place to place doing good wherever he can, but now has a military connection (Major Turner) feeding him information to resolve cases and helping him out with amenities from time to time. Of course their interaction begins to lead in a romantic direction…I mean, how could it not (sarcasm).

   When Reacher finally decides to drop in personally and finally meet Turner, he finds she has been arrested and locked up. His inquiries about her case draws attention and inadvertently lead to Reacher finding out a paternity suit has been filed against hm.

   Reacher begins to investigate the paternity claim while digging deeper to prove Turner’s innocence and finally get to the bottom of what is really going on. This puts Samantha in the cross hairs of those that are trying to stop Reacher as he must free Turner from prison and expose a conspiracy involving top brass in the military.

   As the players and their machinations are revealed, Reacher is marked for death by The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger) and must protect both Samantha and Turner while battling elite forces for survival. What follows is tirade of busted skulls and broken bones as Reacher shows why he is one of the best of the best.

The Verdict: 
   I very much enjoyed the first installment of “Jack Reacher” and thought this sequel was almost just as good. Whereas I found the first film to have a great story that unfolded smoothly, this story wasn’t as interesting nor did it unfold quite as smooth. 

   I realize these films are loosely adapted from the Jack Reacher novels, but perhaps more attention should be paid to the actual content of these novels to avoid making films that are just “good” and instead make films that are “great.”

   I was very pleased though with the increased combat action as it really showcased Reacher’s abilities against trained and elite personnel instead of regular and ordinary people whom you’d expect Reacher to dismantle with ease.

   The film tried to make an interesting character out of Espin (Aldis Hodge) but I never felt that interested in him as it first seemed he would be an antagonist only to later fall into the role of hero support…without ever making the transition feel real.

   Overall this film was just good although still quite entertaining. It could have benefited from a better script and better direction, but despite that, was still able to deliver more of those elements of Reacher I wanted to see…revealing three (3) cinnamon sticks in my cup of tea.

Rating 3 / 5

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Changing Childhood

    Being a child isn’t what is used to be, especially with the interjection of current technology. I can remember having quite a bit of fun growing up. Sure, there were some times when it was not so fun, but overall my memories are good ones filled with the excitement and joy of discovering my abilities and finding out my boundaries. Now, maybe not everyone can say that about their childhood (in fact there are certainly those that obviously can’t), but I don’t see that as a reason to so drastically change the school recess experience of being a child today.

   There are many games and activities that are increasingly being banned from schools. The result of which has yet to be fully determined (we’ll have to wait to see the full impact as these children grow up) but what is clear is much of the joy and discovery I experienced in my youth is being denied to the youth of today.

   Take for example “Dodgeball” being banned for being too violent and promoting a bully mentality. Sure I can remember times when we had to be reminded not to “head-hunt” but overall it was great fun to dodge the ball (especially if you were good at it) and to throw it at someone. Did I want to beat someone up because throwing a ball at them gave me a thirst to conquer those weaker or slower than me? Certainly not…it was just a game.

   “Kickball” is another game going the way of the Dodo. Having to hit someone with the ball to get them out is too violent apparently, but not only that, if it is allowed you can’t keep score (because nobody ever loses in real life right?). I can remember amazing kickball games we used to have in the schoolyard…the stuff of legends when certain kids were up to kick with seemingly a bionic leg that could launch the ball into the stratosphere, eclipsed only by the occasional  catch by that one kid that, at that time, developed and iron nerve and a laser-like focus. Good times some children today will never experience.

   Of course “Tag” is banned. Heaven forbid a child have emotional distress over being “it” and of course touching another child is certainly out because…touching. Never mind the fun variations you can make to the game like freeze-tag or team-tag. Sure some kids can’t run as fast as others, but how does a child learn to cope with their own limitations if you do not allow them to find out what those limitations are and discover how to improvise to compensate?

   Banning “Duck, Duck, Goose” threw me for a loop until I read the continued skewed reasoning behind it. I just can’t cosign that being the goose is emotionally distressing when it’s the most exciting part of the game, instead of just sitting there being a duck. Always being one of the fastest kids was certainly an advantage since if I didn’t feel like exerting myself I could “goose” the slowest kid, but that didn’t stop any of the slower kids from “goosing” me in hopes that they might finally outrun me and make it back in the circle (and some certainly did). I can tell you from experience, it was an esteem booster for those kids and took nothing away from me personally since I knew I was still actually faster (just not fast enough in those instances).

   “Red Rover” is another banned game that is depriving children of fun and developing strategy. Sure…I loved becoming a human missile that few could stop and some actually let go at the last minute, but I had my share of surprises when I hit those sets of arms that would not yield, no matter how fast I was. Of course this game is banned since learning to work together and be stronger together to thwart the machinations of a lone abhorrent is something we never do in real life…as a nation or otherwise (smh).

   “Musical Chairs” has been added to the list. The emotional stress of being that person without a chair is just too much. The potential for argument and confrontation over a chair is too great. This game wasn’t one of my favorites since it had less to do with actual physical ability and more to do with the anticipation of being in the right place at the right time…but isn’t that a skill set we use in real life? Why are we depriving children an early look at what they’ll need when they get older?

   Winning is also being banned. The very point of most games, the icing on the fun cake, is now a bad thing. We teach children now that there are no winners or losers…and that’s just an outright lie, and setting them up for the hard truth later on. Everybody should not get a trophy just for participating (a ribbon maybe, but the trophy should be for those that go above and beyond). Winning makes the losers feel bad, and of course nobody ever feels bad in real life (sarcasm).

   Hey, I get it. Children could get physically hurt playing some of these games. That’s a part of life though, getting hurt actually happens. Children might feel bad playing some of these games. That’s a part of life though, feeling bad actually happens. How do we prepare our children for these parts of life by trying to remove them from their childhood? We don’t…we just create a generation of people that will be disillusioned by reality, to the detriment of society. If this continues, methinks it won’t end well.

   For our future…marinate on this one.

Monday, October 31, 2016

“Magnificent Seven”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast: 

   What can be said about the quality of Denzel’s acting that has not already been said? He seems to ignore his own age and continue to astound with quality acting giving what we all have come to expect from him exercising his craft. Taking the lead here is just another notch in his lengthy habit of meeting expectations.

   Chris Pratt put himself on the map with Guardians of the Galaxy and continues to deliver with each role he takes. This role is no exception as he mixes his style of comedic drama with the western genre to bring us Josh Faraday, a gambler that makes his own luck in a world decidedly unlucky.

   Ethan Hawke is Goodnight Robicheaux, a man with a past rooted in the Civil War that continues to define him as he tries to move on. Hawke plays this role well dangling the mystique of his character in front of us before delivering a very human affliction that brings the character full circle.

   Vincent D’Onofrio is the frontier tracker Jack Horne and although he is a man of few words surrounded in mystery and fear, when he does speak it captures your attention to the exclusion of all else, showcasing why he is such a great actor.

   Peter Sarsgaard is the villainous Bartholomew Bogue, a role he seems born to play as he is very good at “bad.” Granted, it doesn’t take much to be the bad guy (one would think) but not everyone seems able to pull it off and the fact this film is a period piece just makes his brand of villain all the more interesting.

The Plot: 
   A small mining town is besieged by the nefarious intentions of Bogue to take over the mine and by extension, the town.  When his actions spurn the resistance of the townspeople getting one in particular killed, the wife of this brave soul (Haley Bennet) seeks justice…but will settle for revenge.

   In her travels to find someone wiling and able to defend the town against Bogue, she happens across  a man named Chisolm (Washington). Unbeknownst to anyone, Chisolm not only has a past familiarity with Bogue, but after staunch persuasion, is willing to help the town .

   To help the town Chisolm needs the help of some very gifted men, the first of which he recruits is Faraday (Pratt).  Knowing exactly who he wants to recruit, he and Faraday set out to gather the rest of the “seven” with Faraday bringing in Robicheaux (along with his partner Billy Rocks…played by Byung-hun Lee) while Chisolm recruits Vazquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).

   With five assembled, they actually fail initially to recruit Horne, but he soon comes around just in time for the recruiting of their last and unlikely member Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). With all seven assembled, it’s time to teach the town how to defend itself and ready it for the invasion of a small army.

   What follows next is a magnificent display of  bullets, knives, death and mayhem…western style.

The Verdict: 

   I don’t much remember the original (western) version of this film or the original samurai version so I was not burdened with watching this film while subconsciously making comparisons. I took in what was presented and found it to be a very entertaining  way to spend an afternoon.

   Although I kinda felt the assembling of the seven was a bit rushed, especially in the case of Red Harvest (like what really was his motivation to even join), I felt the characterizations of the different character’s personalities and how they interacted with each other really brought some depth to the film.

   It was the classic formula of bad guy terrorizes town, town gest heroes to help, heroes s stop the bad guy. You really can’t mess that up…all you have to do is add your own flair and style to it and this film did that.

   There were no Oscar performances here, but there was a lot a fun. It wasn’t the best film ever made, but it certainly wasn’t the worst film either. It did just what the formula it followed should have, with a few surprises here and there, and shot up three and a half (3.5) cinnamon sticks in my cup of tea.

Rating 3.5/ 5