Category Archives: Films

Mini-Review: “Star Wars–Rebels: Entanglement”

Episode Title: Entanglement
Episode Writer: Henry Gilroy & Simon Kinberg
Short Story Author: Michael Kogge
Series: Star Wars: Rebels
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Disney, 2014

Take three! I think this is my favorite of these shorts so far. Entanglement is the third of four three-minute shorts being released to help promote the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels TV series. I posted on the first and second shorts a while back, and the final one is on its way. Those same four prequels were also adapted by Michael Kogge into a series of short stories in the book Rise Of The Rebels. These prequels are meant to introduce you to the characters from the show in the context of an actual story as opposed to their earlier introductions that focused more on the production/character conception side of things. This time we meet Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios, the brawny (yet intelligent) Lasat who serves as the muscle for our crew. Check out the short below:

Here we watch Zeb get lost on his way to a rendezvous and get distracted rescuing a local street merchant from Stormtroopers, who of course have to call in reinforcements. It was a lot of fun, especially his running banter with Kanan over the comlink. Zeb is an interesting character, and I look forward to seeing him develop as the series gets rolling. There’s an interesting fighting dynamic here with his “Bo-Rifle” that we didn’t really get a chance to see put through its paces, but that’s a function of the runtime. Plus, he’s voiced by the guy that does Wolverine in all of the animated Marvel stuff–Steve Blum, if you were wondering. And he’s got the whole thing where he’s based on the early Ralph McQuarrie designs for Chewie, which is cool. The short story version of this tried to add a little bit to the choreography of the fighting, adding a bit where Zeb starts an abortive chase down the adjacent alley, but literally goes nowhere because three sentences later he’s back in the hangar. I laud the effort, but decry the lack of follow-through. Maybe this was an artifact from a previous version, or or maybe it just needed one more draft. I don’t know. I wanted it to work, but it didn’t. Based on everyone referring to these shorts as prequels, this is set sometime just before the Star Wars: Rebels series kicks off.

Content: Some mild violence. No language, no sex.

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Mini-Review: “Star Wars–Rebels: Art Attack”

Episode Title: Art Attack
Episode Writer: Greg Weisman
Short Story Author: Michael Kogge
Series: Star Wars: Rebels
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Disney, 2014

And here we go for take two! Art Attack is the second of four three-minute shorts being released to help promote the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels TV series. I posted on the first short a couple days ago, and the final two will soon follow. Those same four prequels were also adapted by Michael Kogge into a series of short stories in the book Rise Of The Rebels. These prequels are meant to introduce you to the characters from the show in the context of an actual story as opposed to their earlier introductions that focused more on the production/character conception side of things. This time we meet Sabine Wren, a teenage Mandalorian artist-slash-explosives expert. Check out the short below:

Here we watch as Sabine creates a diversion to allow the Ghost to take off unnoticed, and her preferred method of creating diversions seems to involve graffiti and taunting stormtroopers, followed by explosions. I really did enjoy this one, and I think Sabine will probably end up being one of my favorite characters. She’s spunky and sarcastic, both of which are traits I fully enjoy seeing in my characters. Plus, Mandalorian! That said, I’m hoping that the actual show doesn’t veer as far to the kid-side as this one did–without spoilers, there should be a body count to this diversion. Plus, the stormtroopers are portrayed as being even stupider than usual. The short story adaptation here irked me as well with it’s portrayal of the troopers. You don’t have to work so hard to convince me that stormtroopers are bad! We know that. Having the POV trooper reflect on how he was recruited as a result of his school detention record for bullying was blunt. Having him think “Artists were almost as bad as rebels. They could draw, paint, and create things he couldn’t. And for that they deserved to be crushed.”? That’s about as subtle as a brick upside the head. I don’t have a problem with “black and white” characters, per se, but it stands in stark contrast to the more nuanced work of earlier writers, such as Timothy Zahn’s stormtrooper characters in Allegiance and Choices Of One, or Davin Felth, the character from Doug Beason’s short story When The Desert Wind Turns. On the other hand, the story did explore some of Sabine’s motivations as well, and lent an added effect to her paint bomb, so it wasn’t all bad. These shorts are being referred to as prequels to the series, so I’m assuming this is part of a minor mission set before the introductory TV movie coming in April.

CONTENT: No profanity, but some unkind name-calling. Mild violence, no body count. No sexual content whatsoever.

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Mini-Review: “Star Wars–Rebels: The Machine In The Ghost”

Episode Title: The Machine In The Ghost
Episode Writer: Greg Weisman
Short Story Author: Michael Kogge
Series: Star Wars: Rebels
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Disney, 2014

And here we go! I think this is officially the first new story released for the rebooted Star Wars Expanded Universe. That honor was supposed to go to the upcoming novel A New Dawn, but the people over at Star Wars: Rebels jumped the gun a bit in promoting their new show. What we have here is a three-minute short, part one of a four-episode series of prequels to the actual show. Those same four prequels were also adapted by Michael Kogge into a series of short stories in the book Rise Of The Rebels. These prequels are meant to introduce you to the characters from the show in the context of an actual story as opposed to their earlier introductions that focused more on the production/character conception side of things. This time we meet Kanan Jarrus, Hera Syndulla, and C1-10p or “Chopper”. Kanan is a former Jedi Padawan who managed to survive Order 66 and has locked away his lightsaber, living on the run until he hooked up with rest of this crew. Hera is the pilot and owner of the Ghost, with her own unrevealed (so far) reasons for hating the Empire. Chopper may be the grumpiest astromech droid you’ll ever meet, but there’s no way he’s going to let the Ghost and her crew be blown to smithereens on his watch. There are links to the introduction videos above, and you can see the short below.

The actual video itself is so short that I can’t give much of a summary without spoilers. Basically, we find Kanan, Hera and Chopper alone in the Ghost being pursued by a quartet of TIE Fighters after being ambushed when they tried to raid an Imperial supply convoy. When the ship starts taking damage, Chopper has to balance conflicting orders from Kanan and Hera as to what to fix first before the TIEs blow them out of the sky.

Since I’m a huge Star Wars geek, I’m obviously excited about this upcoming show. A lot of the same people from the Clone Wars cartoon have been carried over, and as much as I gripe about that show it definitely did improve as things went along. Plus, you know, since they rebooted the timeline I can’t gripe about how much they screwed stuff up anymore–that other stuff no longer exists. I think the crew has learned a lot (they say they have) from that experience, and I look forward to seeing what they can do in this new time period. Regarding this particular installment, it was very fun. I really enjoyed the banter between Kanan and Hera, but Chopper was the real focus here, I suspect because Kanan and Hera will be getting much better introductions when A New Dawn hits shelves. We know that Kanan and Hera meet in that book, set in 11 BBY,* while the show is set in 5 BBY. This short could hypothetically be set anywhere in that interim period, especially since the rest of the crew is absent, but I’m placing it as close to the start of the show as possible given the characters’ unchanging appearance. Obviously, as more information emerges as to the status quo at the start of the series I can refine that further. Is the short story version worthwhile? It doesn’t really add much, aside from refining the context of why they’re being chased and pointing out that the guns Chopper fires are mounted on the Phantom, a smaller fighter docked to the back of the Ghost. You also get inside Chopper’s “head” a bit more to see what he’s actually thinking, but there’s really no need–he’s a very expressive droid, so it doesn’t add much to the experience. It’s not bad, I was just hoping it would be expanded a bit. Use the short as a jumping-off point or something, maybe even offer context as to whether this happens before the rest of the crew joins up or if they’re just off on another errand (I doubt this, since the Phantom is still present, but who knows).

CONTENT: Aside from TIE pilots being blown up, no violence. If you understand the binary language Chopper beeps in, I imagine his dialogue would be profanity-laden, but you can’t and so there is none. No sexual content.

*Star Wars dates are measured in years BBY or ABY, before or after the Battle of Yavin respectively. Effectively, BC/AD with Star Wars: A New Hope as the tipping point.

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Review: Eureka (2006-2012 TV Series)

Created by: Andrew Cosby & Jaime Paglia

If you’ve followed my reviews for very long, you are aware of my nearly fanatical love of science fiction as a genre, be it novels or movies or television. For five seasons on the cable network Sci-Fi (or SyFy, as it has rebranded itself) Eureka offered one of the more entertaining television shows in this genre.

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest there is a town you won’t find on any map, a town where the nation’s most brilliant scientists are all gathered together in one place to better harness their combined genius, working together at the government-funded Global Dynamics in a nurturing environment that would be otherwise difficult to create. Not that everything goes smoothly in Eureka, by any means. If that were the case we would have no show. Instead, we are treated each episode to experiments and projects gone thrillingly awry–from a personal shielding unit that refuses to shut off to an accidentally launched experimental unmanned spacecraft….that just so happens to be manned at the moment. Into this high-IQ environment is thrust former US Marshall Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson), the town’s newly-assigned sheriff, and his rebellious daughter Zoe (Jordan Hinson). Carter doesn’t always understand the science of what’s going on around him, but he does usually manage to come up with a common sense solution. Henry Deacon (Joe Morton) is usually instrumental in this, as both a brilliant scientist and Jack’s best friend in town. Global Dynamics is run by Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn), whose disdain for Carter may have less to do with Carter’s IQ and more with Carter’s interest in Stark’s ex-wife Alison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), the company’s liaison with the Department of Defense. Carter’s partner in protecting the town is Deputy Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra), an ex-Army Ranger with a love of weaponry some would consider disturbing. Douglas Fargo (Neil Grayston) begins the series as Dr. Stark’s aid, but soon gets a lab of his own despite his accident-prone nature. Apparently his file at GD contains the phrase “inappropriately pressed buttons” thirty-seven times, which is often the cause of whatever disaster is befalling Eureka this week. Notable guest stars include Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day.

If I have one complaint with the series it is that there is sometimes a lack of structure. Later seasons have a cohesive story arc running through, but while the earlier season do tend to have a recurring theme there is little other structure. The writers do such things as killing off a major character just a couple episodes into a season (something you would expect in a finale or premier, not three or four episodes in), and Carter’s love life is very inconsistent. He swings between pining after Alison and dating other characters, which wouldn’t be a problem except that in a couple cases the other woman simply disappears from the narrative with no wrap-up. There are occasional cases of time travel, and that tends to completely change the status quo in interesting ways–all good, but it feels a bit as if the writers ran out of stories to tell and threw a “Hail Mary” a couple times. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the show and very much recommend it.

Content: I think this was probably TV-14 when it was broadcast. There is occasional violence or violent outcomes to the many malfunctions and disasters, occasionally gruesome and often played for dramatic effect. Mild language, nothing too extreme. PG-13 sexual content–references, characters heading off to the bedroom where we refuse to follow, characters in their underwear or with nudity obscured just offscreen or behind foreground objects. Stuff like that.

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Review: Fringe (2008-2013 TV Series)

Created by: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, & Alex Kurtzman.

“Endless Impossibilities.” That’s what Fringe (*****) offered, and that’s what it delivered for five straight seasons of programming. If you’re a longtime reader you know of my love for good science fiction, and this series did not disappoint. In fact, it was by far one of my absolute favorite series all the way through its run, and I recently worked through the entire series again so my wife could see it. She loved it as much as I did, so I can confidently tell you that its appeal goes beyond uber-geeks.

Fringe is the spiritual if not actual successor to The X-Files, which I am somewhat ashamed to admit I have not yet watched all the way through. (Cut me a little slack, I was way too little when it first started! It’s on my to-do list….) In fact, they briefly make reference to the old X-designation” as having been the FBI’s standard practice for dealing with unexplainable phenomena before Fringe Division was created. I’m pretty sure the two mythologies are incompatible, as aliens play little if any role in Fringe, but it was a fun moment nonetheless. Regardless of any ties between the two, the shows have a number of similarities including complicated mythologies. Instead of Scully and Mulder going rogue and investigating things their superiors would rather sweep under the rug, in Fringe the FBI has set up a whole division to investigate “the Pattern,” a series of unexplainable or “fringe” events that have been recently escalating in frequency. To this end, Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is assisted in her investigations by Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a proverbial mad scientist who doesn’t believe in the word “impossible”–or that there is any conundrum an acid trip won’t help him unravel. Walter is mentally and emotionally unstable for reasons it will be far more fun for you to discover yourself than for me to reveal to you here, and is only allowed out of the mental institution where he has lived for twenty years because his estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson) has agreed to be responsible for him. Peter is a borderline-genius himself, and once conned his way into MIT–he even managed to get a couple papers published before he was found out. Secondary characters include Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), who usually gets stuck babysitting Walter in the lab; Agent Philip Broyles (Lance Reddick), the head of Fringe Division; Agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo), Dunham’s partner and friend; and Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), the CEO of the multi-national mega-company Massive Dynamic who always seems to know more than she’s telling (“What do we do here at Massive Dynamic? The better question is, what don’t we do…”). There are a score of wonderful guest appearances as well, from Jared Harris to the legendary Leonard Nimoy. I will also say that the quality of the acting is phenomenal, with several of the castmembers portraying multiple distinct versions of their characters (alternate universes, remember?)

When I watched through this series the first time, I was watching it as it was broadcast over a five-year period. I greatly enjoyed it, but you forget things after that long. Watching it through the second time, knowing where things were headed, I could see so much more depth and interconnectedness. The writers had to have the entire story arc of the show in mind from the beginning, because the entire plot of Season 5 is hinted at and rooted in an episode from Season 1! So watching it the second time and catching all the setup for later things was great. I do wish they would have had longer to set up their endgame–they were kind of forced to just jump into it by the threat of imminent cancelation–but overall it worked out well. Season 1 and to some degree Season 2 are mostly episodic case-of-the-week things, but gradually the show morphs into a serial adventure with most of the cases intimately connected. Major elements involve alternate universes and time travel, which I always find fun.

I jokingly say that one thing I wish they had explored was the origin of the giant floating letters that always set the scene during the show (see example. And no, its not mispelled, that’s how they spell it in the alternate universe….) Another thing I wish had been included was an explanation for how they always manage to get between New York and Boston so quickly. The show bends the laws of physics all the time–just acknowledge the fact and give us a throwaway line!

There are a number of comics based on the show. I reviewed one set of them here, but haven’t managed to get my hands on the rest. I’m a bit sad about this, as the others are by all accounts of a much higher quality than the mediocre ones I did manage to find….

Content: When this was broadcast it was rated TV-14, and I think that’s fair. The show can be fairly violent, and at times quite gruesome with the aftermath of whatever fringe event they are investigating. Mild language, typical for that rating slot. Occasional sexual content, nothing too explicit. This is more prevalent in the first couple episodes….I cynically atribute this to trying to draw people in and grab their attention. They do say sex sells…..

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Review: Odd Passenger (2009 Webseries)

Creator: Dean Koontz
Writer: Jerry White
Director: Jack Paccione, Jr.

I’m a huge Odd Thomas fan. This is a four-part webisode series available here on YouTube that follows Odd as he hitchhikes between Brother Odd and Odd Hours. The first episode is basically his “I’m Odd Thomas, and I see dead people” spiel, followed by the hook to get you to watch the other three episodes. We catch up to Odd as he hitchhikes, being picked up by a man named Perkins. Odd goes to throw his bag in the backseat, only to see a lingering young woman with an X carved on her forehead who solemnly points at Perkins. “Some days are more interesting than others….”

Anthony Marks, the young man playing Odd isn’t really how I pictured the character, but that’s okay. His performance worked well enough, and they managed to get the right tone with the voiceover narration, which is one of the things I’ve always felt they would have a hard time with if they filmed the books. Definitely worth the fifteen to twenty minutes it takes to watch the series, especially if you’re as much of a fan of the series as I am.

UPDATE: This is apparently not canon, as Odd later states in Deeply Odd that he’s only met one other person who could see spirits, meaning the young British lad he mentions that gave the Bodachs their name. Still worth seeing, but be aware of its non-canonical state.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

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Review: Cloud Atlas (2012 Film)

Directed by: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, & Andy Wachowski.
Screenplay by: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, & Andy Wachowski.
Based on the novel by David Mitchell.

If you follow my reviews, you’ll know that I recently reviewed the novel Cloud Atlas (find that here). Having read the book, and given that a trailer for the film was what turned me onto reading it in the first place, I then set out to see the film. I found it to be an excellent adaptation, all things considered. Things were changed, sometimes significantly, but a straight translation would have been impossible to pull off. In every case I could see why they made the decisions they did and it made sense. This is a very unique movie, and not one you can watch casually. It will take a significant amount of brainpower just to follow the six different stories being presented simultaneously, let alone the various themes and recurring elements tying everything together. You may want to watch it a second time. Maybe more. For spoiler-free rundowns on the six interrelated stories, check out my review of the book. They didn’t change things enough to render them irrelevant, and I don’t really feel like reproducing them here. Oh! Except that Zachry is not a young boy in the film but instead is played by Tom Hanks.

First things first: I absolutely loved it. How much of that had to do with the fact that I enjoyed the book I cannot say, but I highly recommend both versions of this tale. That said, they are two very different experiences. The book, briefly, is structured as a Russian nested doll–six stories, each breaking off at the halfway point and the next beginning until you reach the last one, then revisiting each story in reverse order. Picture six loosely-connected novellas arranged chronologically, then each one opened to the middle and stacked on top of each other. While the film tells the same stories, its structurally more of a mosaic, cutting from era to era in such a way as to emphasize thematic parallels or moments of recurrence. For example, we cut from our dystopian-future tale where our heroes are running across a narrow bridge to the South Pacific where another character is racing through the rigging of a sailing clipper ship. A lot of subplots got cut and elements of the main plots were cut up or rearranged to streamline the flow and allow everything to happen within a reasonable runtime, and the entire ending of the Somni-451 tale was rewritten so that it better fit the thematic emphasis of the film. Additionally, whereas the reincarnation of a single “soul” across all six stories in the book was a minor theme, the film decided to make this a major element of the film and highlight it by casting the same actors in most/all (depending on the actor) of the stories. Thus the reincarnation theme links each character played by a particular person instead of the six protagonists. I have to say, this was a very risky decision on the part of the filmmakers, but for my money it paid off. I’ll say more about this when I talk about the actors and the makeup jobs.

The performances from the various cast members were simply phenomenal. It takes a lot of skill to convincingly play one character in a film, let alone six unique and complicated characters….at the same time. A lot of credit is also due to the makeup department for the work they did, especially in turning changing actors/actresses sexes or white actors asian and vice versa. Turning the asian actresses white didn’t work quite as well–Doona Bae’s character in 1800s California looked very exotic, for example. She was incredibly beautiful, but I don’t think anyone would mistake her for fully caucasian. (Please understand this is not meant in any way to promote racism–the fact is that certain racial backgrounds come with distinct facial characteristics. Not better, not worse, just different. Everyone on board? Good, lets stop wasting time….) In fact, even if nothing else in this review grabs you, you should see this film just for Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings’ Elrond, The Matrix’s Agent Smith) as the tyrannical female head nurse at a retirement home.

This film is rated R, for good reason. There is some disturbing violent content that is a bit gory, the language is definitely R-rated (though not as bad as many other films I’ve seen), and there is some sexual content and nudity. I didn’t find it gratuitous, as in every case it served to advance the plot, enhance the worldbuilding or even evoke certain thematic elements, but viewers should be advised nonetheless.

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