Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star Wars Review - Part 4

Subtitle: Why did Lucas go wrong?

I briefly pause my review of The Force Awakens series to postulate a new theory answering an old question that I and many of you must have had over the years.  How could George Lucas be so brilliant by creating not one but three epic films that will forever be touted as one of the best trilogies ever made to later make three of the worst? Even more damning is he had great actors like Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Liam Neeson plus two decades of advancement in technology and movie making techniques to work with.

It occured to me yesterday as I posted my list of what was cheesy about the prequels and compared it to The Force Awakens that I had an epiphany.  Lucas learned in the first three films just how valuable "after effects" were.  Have you ever seen raw footage of a Darth Vader scene with the original actors voice?  If not, check out this video below and you will see what I mean.

Without dramatic music in the background, without the robotic deep voice of James Earl Jones, that scene is indeed hilarious and barely worthy of a fan following.  For whatever reason, I believe this falsely put the idea in George's head that it really doesn't matter how it looks on camera, "I can fix it in post." And if you remember he didn't actually wait until the prequels to start using more after effects. If memory serves me correctly he started digitally manipulating all the originals and re-releasing them with said modifications.  I believe this is also why he went so nuts in the prequels with green screen and didn't worry too much about the writing or acting.  Why would he?  This is a familiar formula for him and his safety net of after effects and editing hasn't let him down so far!

Another theory I have that might be just as possible is he was out of practice after 20 years.  But what do you think?  Share your thoughts about why there is such a huge difference between the two and what he is probably thinking now about the major props JJ is now getting for this newest film.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Force Awakens Review - Part 3 (Spoiler Alert)

Subtitle: Was There A Cheese Factor?

I think I can speak for 99.999% of Star Wars fans when I say our biggest fear about Episode 7 – The Force Awakens is whether or not it would be “as good” as the originals or instead be more on the spectrum of “as bad” as the prequels.  I had made up  my mind to hope for the best but to expect the worst.  I had also made up my mind that I would be “ok” so long as the quality level landed somewhere in the middle.  I am elated to report, however, it met and exceeded all of my hopes and expectations and I will go so far out on this limb as to state…I think it rivals the originals.  It might even be better.
But before I go so far as to make that claim and get too many of you upset, the point of this post is to examine if there is anything in this installment to be critical about.  Did it have ANY of the cheese that stunk up the prequels or is it cheese-free?  As stated in my last post, it did not bother me that JJ followed the pre-established formula and in many ways mirrored A New Hope.  However, it did upset the hyper-critical crowd a little and its probably worth mentioning.  My take is we chalk that up to JJ’s attempt to accomplish two things:

1. Honor the originals that we all so dearly loved without deviating too much off grid.  I bet had he done that, this hyper-critical crowd we be all the more upset.

2. The first installment of any trilogy is meant to provide a foundation and set everything in motion.  So long as the next two establish their own identity apart from the original series, I think I can forgive anything that resembled A New Hope.

So here is the rest of my checklist.  Feel free to add to it in the comments:
Was there any cheesy use of green screen or over-use of CGI?  No!
Was there ridiculous dialog causing normally good actors to look like bad actors? No!
Were there any cheesy characters, like Jar-Jar that made me want to impale myself on a light saber? No!
Did all the animations, puppets, landscapes and actors look realistic especially when interacting with one another?  Yes!
Does this movie escape any and all criticism from me?  No…but almost and here is why. I did find it a bit of a leap for JJ to essentially ask us to believe that in just a few minutes Rey, who formally had no idea she had the force, touches a light saber…has several visions and then bests Kylo Ren in both Jedi Mind tricks and light saber skills just a few scenes later.  I understand movies must accelerate plot lines to keep within the 3 hour time limit but that felt “too fast” and somewhat unbelievable.
That said, I must confess my absolute favorite part of the move was when Kylo tried to make Luke’s sword come to him but instead it flew right past him and into Rey’s hands.  Truly. Epic!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Force Awakens - Part 2 (Spoiler Alert)

Subtitle: Han is Dead.
Some people seem a bit upset that a very noticeable “formula” is being used by JJ Abram in this installment of the Star Wars, going so far as to complain it’s a complete copy of A New Hope with new characters.  I am as Star Wars nerd as they come and have the closet full of unopened, collectible toys to prove it.  BUT my guess is these people are the same ones that would complain if JJ didn’t properly honor the original series by diverting away from it too much.  So I guess you can’t please everybody!

And yes, Han dying is part of the formula.  Someone important dies in the first installment of the other two trilogies as well.  Qui-Gon is bested by Darth Maul and Obi-Wan by Darth Vader.  Makes sense to continue the formula by introducing our head villain and causing you to REALLY dislike them.  Until Kylo Ren took out Han, most of us were probably rooting for him to turn to the light and didn’t really have a beef with him.  Now we want a great deal of blood before he gets turned back…and I predict he will in part three (see above references to “the formula”).

That said, gut reaction to this was, “I hated it!” How, after 40 years of life can I say goodbye to one of my favorite characters?  I actually tried to do mental gymnastics to figure out a way he might have survived.  But even if he could survive being impaled by a light saber, calling it “but a flesh wound”, he then fell into a very deep crevasse that surely had a bottom to it.  It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s that sudden stop and who knows how many MPH he was travelling at that point.  Even THEN you want to believe he could be alive but…oh yeah…the planet EXPLODES.  Pretty sure Han is dead.

Once that sank in I factored in who plays Han and came up with a viable theory, although I will be the first to admit, possibly wrong.  Harrison Ford is a grumpy dude.  Its part of what endears us to him and why playing Han seems to come so naturally to him.  He doesn’t put up with much and I bet he really didn’t want to do Star Wars to begin with.  He is probably so jaded and tired of being asked questions about the character and not being able to move on, that JJ enticed him by saying something like, “listen…come back one more time for this pile of cash, give your old fans the jolly’s they are deeply desiring, and I promise to kill Han off in the first episode.”

It doesn’t truly help much in my grieving over one of the greatest cinematic characters to ever grace the screens but I have at least arrived at an understanding of the decision.

Put your thoughts and theories about Han in the comments!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Force Awakens Review - Part 1 (Spoiler Alert)

Subtitle:  Who is Rey?

I have much to say and this will certainly be a series of posts so that each topic can be tackled and properly handled individually.  Since this will be spoiler-ridden, I would love it if you would comment on this post, rather than on my Facebook link.

First off...major props to J.J. Abrams for casting Daisy Ridley into this role. She was and is phenomenal.  But straight to the speculation about the character she portrays on the silver screen...most are betting this is Luke's daughter and I happen to agree.

Clues that she is:
  • Grew up, relatively alone on a Tatooine-like planet (Jakku), not truly understanding her origin story just like Luke and Anakin.
  • Luke's light saber "called out to her" just like it did for Anakin and Luke.
  • She is a natural with the force even without formal training, just like Anakin and Luke.
  • The trailer has Mark Hamill’s voice saying the following:
“The force is strong in my family.  My father had it.  I have it, my sister has it, and YOU have it.” 
Unless we get introduced to yet another character in the next film installment, this is a line of dialog aimed at Rey.  And it would only make sense to reference all the other family members that have it, if indeed she is also a family member.
  • Maz seems to know how significant Rey is and even offers her Luke's saber.

Reasons I might be wrong:
  • Why would Luke abandon his daughter and if he did, why give her the cruddy existence we find her in at the beginning of the movie? Surely he could have left her with people he trusted on a lush planet rather than one where she appears to be taking care of herself and left to sell junkyard scraps for a half portion of food.
  • We have no reason (yet) to believe Luke had a love interest or started a family, begging the question if Rey is his daughter…who is the Mamma!?
  • Wouldn’t Leia know or at least “sense” Rey was her niece upon meeting her?
  • Wouldn’t Kylo Ren know or at least “sense” he was fighting his cousin?
Please share your theories and add to this list in the comment section!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Rant About New Gadgets

Boosted Board
Sure boys grow up to be men but we never stop loving our toys. They just get more expensive and sometimes more elaborate. My generation grew up playing video games and skateboarding.  I assure you that I am not the only 40 year old that still does both. So with that setup in mind, take a good look at the photo to the left of this post.  That is called a boosted board.  Its an electric skateboard that can travel up to 20 MPH and they are very popular right now. I. want. one!

Problem is now and has always been in the past, for me...price.  I learned way back in the day that for a product to finally reach a level of affordability that I could finally take part or stomach, it probably needed to have saturated the market for a while or have newer generation being released so that the beta version prices drastically drop.  This is true of gaming systems, cell phones, and just about any "toy" that I have interest in.  There are currently about 7 companies making skate boards like this but they must have all gotten together and decided to price these things relatively the same, so that they have an oligarchy and no, one company, rose to the top for being "most affordable".

The average price is $1200. Folks this its core...just a skateboard. I don't know the true cost to manufacture one of these bad boys but the mark-up and subsequent profit must be spectacular at this price point.  Let me show you something that is quite a bit faster, endlessly more complex from an engineering and cost standpoint to make, yet LOTS cheaper.

So while these boards are competitively priced compared to other boards like it, they are about double what I could pay for a Moped.  And honestly I am so cheap that I probably won't buy one when that is the going rate.  These companies are marketing these boards as vehicles to help the big city commuter get around faster, so it really is an apples to apples comparison to show you a cheaper vehicle that will accomplish the same thing.  The only distinct advantage to the boards is they are more compact, can be carried, and stored without finding a parking space. Great point, then get one of these instead...

These even come with nifty handles for your riding pleasure and comfort! Those are prices I can handle.  At that level, I would gladly tell Boosted Boards retailers to "take MY money!"

Perhaps in effort to change my mind and help me come around, one of these savvy companies will send me one to take for a test drive? While that would solve my monetary woes and while I would not refuse such an opportunity, it still wouldn't negate my point or make it any more affordable to everyone else. normal...I will wait for these boards to be overshadowed by versions 2.0 or even 3.0 so that I can finally enjoy 1.0.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Put down the phone...and back away!

“Get off your tablet, go outside, and play! You rely too much on that and you need to stimulate your brain and realize there is a whole world out there.”

* Kids exit stage right, I proceed to pick up my iPhone and start scrolling through my news feed, completely oblivious to my hypocrisy.

Is this a familiar setting?  I thought so.  How effective can we possibly be with our kids about this topic when we are just as trapped, dependent, distracted, and enamored with our gadgets and social media as they are?   Is this just another category where we have to claim, “Do as I say, not as I do?” I hope not.
I think there is probably a healthy way to engage this electronic world without letting it swallow us whole.  I would love you to share your suggestions and your struggles in the comments. 

My plan, for now, is to put my phone down when I get home.  Save for a call or text that is important, I will not use it.  Only if my family is for some reason unavailable to play or chat, will I grant an exception.  I wonder what a week-long experiment like this might produce?

Monday, June 01, 2015

Losing 35 Pounds - What I've Learned (Part 3)

Diet AND Exercise
For years I tried to get away with one or the other but never both.  That word “and” between the two words “diet” and “exercise” was just a suggestion, right?  Or perhaps meant for overachievers?  I grew up eating whatever I wanted and in the volumes I desired without any weight gain issues.  Then I got old and my metabolism ceased to be as amazing, so the gut games began.  I still like eating whatever I desire, so most times when trying to cut weight I would ONLY exercise.  I would occasionally show small losses but they always came right back after a week or two of buffet style calorie intake.

I think I can only remember once, trying dieting without exercise.  It was back when the no carbs fad was all the rage.  This too worked a little bit for a little while but my sedentary lifestyle makes the amount of food I can consume in one day pretty miniscule and unreasonable.  So…the only real solution that has any chance of getting all the weight off and keeping it off is to combine diet with exercise and quit trying to do things halfway. 
My problem in getting both going was in motivation.  That is where my next segment will come in because for me, the solution was in tracking the intake and the burn so I knew where I stood. Suddenly a three mile run was worth it because I could see the impact on my Fitbit App and how many extra calories I could still eat for the day without going over budget.  Suddenly it was about earning that brownie without guilt or worry, rather than punishing my body for no immediate, tangible reason.  The good news is that it doesn’t take tons of activity to become more active.  And it doesn’t mean starving or eating 100% vegetarian to have a better diet.  A little bit of effort in both categories goes a LONG way.