Movies

Author Chat Part II – Ranking Star Wars Movies – Russ & Mary Fan

In Part I of this Star Wars chat, Mary Fan and I discussed and debated Rogue One. Here, we rank the Star Wars movies in descending order. Think we’re gonna agree? Uh … not likely!

Russ: OK, Mary. So … with eight Star Wars movies under our belts so far … rank them in terms of how much you enjoyed them and would want to watch again most. Include at least some commentary next to each choice.
Go!

Mary’s Star Wars movie countdown:

8 ) Revenge of the Sith – There’s plenty to enjoy about the movie in terms of sets and costume and creature design, but really, how can anyone take Anakin’s fall seriously? Sith had the burden of bridging the gap between the arrogant 20-year-old we met in Ep 2 and Darth freakin’ Vader, and it failed. Does Anakin really think turning to the Dark Side and killing children will save Padme? And how did he get there after, literally minutes before, declaring that he was going to ‘stop’ the Dark Side?? The whole thing was so abrupt. Not to mention, I can’t forgive what they did to Padme. She goes from a kickass heroine to barefoot and pregnant, weeping all the time and needing a big strong man to tell her what to do. And then she dies of a broken heart. WTF??? WORST. MOVIE.

7) The Phantom Menace Another unpopular opinion — yay! I have lots of those about the prequels haha. For some background, I actually watched Phantom before the originals… as a pre-teen in 1999. I thought baby
Anakin was adorable, and you know what? Jar Jar was actually kinda funny. Of course, he’s ridiculous to me now that I’m no longer 11. Just like the Ewoks. Also, that final confrontation with Darth Maul is the best lightsaber fight in the whole series.

6-5) – Oof, this one’s hard. I’m going to cheat and call it a tie between Rogue One and (unpopular opinion time!) Attack of the Clones. Rogue One was a really well made film, yes, but I don’t know how often I’d want to rewatch it (there’s only so much tragedy I can take!). Attack of the Clones was not a fantastic movie, but definitely the best prequel. And I really enjoyed watching it. Forget terrible lines about sand… Did you see that fight between Jango Fett and Obi-Wan? How about that high-speed chase through Coruscant? And the introduction to the clonetroopers was chilling because you know what they’ll become… it’s a fantastic prequel in how it teases the originals. The costume and set design are amazing. Of course, it felt like a different world from the originals, but I didn’t mind that. …. The Rebellion exists on the fringes of the galaxy, which is why we get all the grungy tech in the originals. The prequels are about the Republic at its height… of course it’s going to look very different. Just as Chicago looks very different from, say, Camden.

4) The Force Awakens Fantastic movie. Yes, it was essentially a remake of A New Hope, but A New Hope is just every monomyth ever in space. And yes, Snoke was kind of awful, but Rey and Finn are two of my favorite characters ever. Finn’s actually pretty original… we haven’t seen really seen a turncoat in the film canon before. It was also a thrill catching up with our original trio, even if it was brief and rather tragic. I think that connection to the originals is what really sparked my fan obsession. And I’m so curious to see what they’ll do with Kylo Ren’s character! I actually wonder if Carrie Fisher’s death (May the Force be with her) will change his fate, since Leia’s role is being rewritten for Ep 9.

3) Return of the Jedi The least of the originals because those Ewoks get more ridiculous every time I watch the movie (even though I thought they were adorable as a kid). The Force Awakens nearly unseated it, but I love that final confrontation with Luke, Vader, and Palpatine too much.

2) A New Hope Gotta love the original, with its mix of fairytale idealism and grungy, almost dystopian tech. Also, it has the best ending, with the way it treats you to little victories that lead to bigger setbacks (like
rescuing Leia only to lead the Empire to the Rebel base)… all to build up the tension and make that final moment of victory fantastic.

1) The Empire Strikes Back I mean, it’s EMPIRE!! Need I say more?

Your turn!

Russ: Interesting rankings! For the most part, we definitely don’t see eye to eye here (although we agree on at least our favorite). Ha-ha! Here’s me:

Russ’s Star Wars movie countdown:

8 – The Phantom Menace – Darth Maul was incredible to watch aaaand … that’s about it. I won’t even go into Jar Jar. This could have been a much better movie had the classic Star Wars mysticism been a core underpinning of the narrative, but, aside from Darth Maul, for me, a big, unwatchable dud.

7 – Return of the Jedi – This is kind of weird one for me. The interplay between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor was pretty awesome, and some of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise. But — and I know I’m gonna get nerd hated on this one — I was never a fan of the Joba the Hutt rescue sequence, and the Ewoks are just too silly. I wanted to love Jedi, especially after Empire, and I saw the original in the theaters as a kid, so they’re forever a part of my ongoing childhood, but Jedi falls mostly flat for me.

6 – Attack of the Clones – Yes, the relationship between Padme and Anakin is ridiculous, but I liked the nourish feel to the first half, the sequence with Obi Wan and Jengo Fett on the clone water base was very cool, and, aside from the arena sequence, the last 45 minutes is thrilling. I know it’s not a ‘great’ movie, but I love watching it.

5- The Force Awakens – Lots of cool moments, it looks great, and Rey is an absolute star, but there’s a lot of been there done that here.

4- Revenge of the Sith – For all of its issues (poor Padme, the relationship with Anakin, blech), this is the movie where things go dark and gruesome for our heroes, with Ewan McGregor at his absolute peak as Obi Wan. Flaws aside, it’s kinda badass, and if it’s on, I’m watching it.

3- A New Hope – It’s the original, and the magic is still there. The first 45 minutes feels almost painfully slow by today’s standards, and the light saber duel between Vader and Obi Wan is laughable now, but the characters sing, and the ending is as awesome as ever.

2- Rogue One We discussed Rogue One at length already in Part I of our Star Wars chat, but I’ll say that it kept me riveted all the way through, and makes A New Hope all the more compelling now that we know what leads up to it.

1- The Empire Strikes Back – Hands down the best. Yoda. Lando. Luke and Vader. Han in peril. You know the rest. Pure gold.



Okay, folks! That’s all she wrote for this edition. But Mary and I will be back soon with new chats. Stay tuned!

 

ABOUT MARY FAN
Mary Fan is a sci-fi/fantasy writer hailing from Jersey City, NJ. She is the author of the Jane Colt sci-fi series, which comprises ARTIFICIAL ABSOLUTES (Red Adept Publishing, 2013), SYNTHETIC ILLUSIONS (Red Adept Publishing, 2014), and VIRTUAL SHADOWS. Her works also include several young adult fantasy novellas: THE FIREDRAGON (Glass House Press, 2014), FIREDRAGON RISING (Glass House Press, 2015), TELL ME MY NAME (Glass House Press, 2014), and LET ME FLY FREE (Glass House Press, 2016). These serve as prequels to two full-length series currently under contract with Glass House Press, Flynn Nightsider and Fated Stars.

Find her online at www.maryfan.com, on Twitter as @astralcolt, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mfanwriter.

ABOUT RUSS COLCHAMIRO
He’s a science fiction and comedy author who writes lots of goofy stuff, particularly his Finders Keepers trilogy. But if you want to learn more, you’re visiting his site. Click hereor follow him on Twitter @authorduderuss and Facebook at www.facebook.com/RussColchamiroAuthor

Author Chat – Star Wars Rogue One – Russ & Mary Fan

Mary Fan and I are both science fiction authors and Star Wars nerds, but as we’re 20 years apart in age (Mary the youthful spitfire here – ha!), we thought it would be fun to chat about Rogue One, see where we agreed, where we disagreed, and where this newest Star Wars movie fits on the list of our favorites.


We decided to present this chat — which we did through Facebook Messenger over the course of two days — in two parts. Here is Part I

FAIR WARNING – SPOILERS THROUGHOUT!

Russ: Mary. We’ve both seen Rogue One. What did you think?
Mary: I really liked it!! I loved seeing new parts of the Star Wars universe. And they all fit perfectly into the world of the originals… It was pretty stunning how much Rogue One ‘felt’ like an extension of those movies (unlike the prequels—which I also liked, but whose shininess always clashed with the rundown universe we love). I also really loved the new characters. Chirrut was my favorite, with his blend of dry humor and spiritual idealism. And I loved his interactions with Baze. I also really liked Jyn. She’s an interesting character, and it was great seeing a flawed and amoral woman lead a film. And of course the action was thrilling (I could go on).

That being said, I didn’t LOVE love it as much as I did The Force Awakens, which had more of the Star Wars spirit. Star Wars has always been about hope and idealism (in the fairytale mold). Rogue One talks about hope a lot, but doesn’t offer much at the end. And I’m not a fan of the Rogue One soundtrack… Apparently the composer was only given four weeks to knock off John Williams (and you can tell).

Still, Rogue One is a really well made film (with some awesome acting and cinematography) and a great addition to the Star Wars film canon. What did you think?

Russ: I actually loved it. It has its flaws, but the intensity drew me in all the way to the final frame. But it’s interesting to me that you said it didn’t have hope. Yes, the characters in Rogue One don’t live to fight another day, but they sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Heartbreaking, but I would argue that their sacrifices paved the way for hope. There was a sense of desperation that we haven’t seen since Empire, and parts of Revenge of the Sith.

Now about the music … it was actually my biggest complaint. No matter the reasoning behind it, to me, it’s not a complete Star Wars movie without the classic soundtrack. What the filmmakers offered us was a poor knockoff. There were specific beats in the story that were perfectly queued up for the classic music to kick in, and it was a dud when that music wasn’t there.

But getting back to Jyn. You said she was amoral. How so? I didn’t really see her that way. Disillusioned, yes. But I saw her as waiting to be, pardon the pun, awakened.

Mary: Sorry, I thought we were doing spoiler-free, so I didn’t elaborate. But if we’re talking about the ending… Yes, there ultimately is hope for the rebellion. But not for the characters themselves. Rogue One is ultimately a tragedy, and really, this is the first time Star Wars has been tragic. Even with Episode 3… You knew Anakin was going to be redeemed. Jyn, Chirrut, Cassian, etc… They’re just gone. I didn’t mind how it ended — I thought it worked for the movie — but it didn’t feel very Star Wars-y.

Music: I completely agree. I think it would have been better off if it hadn’t tantalized us with brief glimpses at the original music that wandered off in different directions. Like the theme music over the opening title… It opens with a perfect fifth jump just like the Star Wars main theme, but then gives us different notes, which is just a huge let down. Anyway, enough music nerding for me!

RE Jyn: When we meet Jyn, she’s neither good nor evil. She’s just out for herself, which is perfectly understandable. She doesn’t believe in the rebellion… The empire planting their flags everywhere is “not a problem if you don’t look up.” She’s like Han Solo… He’s amoral when we meet him and doesn’t become good until he saves Luke at the very end. In RPG terms, I see Jyn as chaotic neutral. Of course, like Han, she makes the leap to chaotic good at the end, when she sacrifices herself for the greater good.

I loved that character arc for her. Women in SFF are almost always portrayed as either good or evil, period. They’re not allowed to inhabit that gray area of characters like Han. They’re not allowed to be a bit unlikable, yet still the hero. Jyn was groundbreaking in that sense.

Russ: I agree with that. Jyn was given the chance to have a significant yet tragic arc that had some weight to it.

But speaking of intense. Vader. Whoa. That was awesome! Not a lot of screen time but he definitely made his presence known

Mary: Yes!! I loved Vader’s role. That was the badass Vader I always wanted to see… Vader at the height of his evil power. We don’t really see that in the originals, and I think it’s just because of the technology of the time. Now, we understand why he’s so feared, why those Rebels looked so terrified at the beginning of A New Hope.

Speaking of OT characters, what did you thing of CGI Tarkin?

Russ: Mixed feelings. The performance was really good, with the same understated, cold-hearted delivery as Peter Cushing in New Hope. But … the technology isn’t totally there yet. He looked just ‘fake’ enough where it felt a bit creepy.

Also … what did u think about Krennic? Ben Mendelsohn is a good actor, and I’d love to see the footage of him that they cut from the movie, but I didn’t really fear him as much as he was just an ambitious weasel.

Mary: Krennic? He was all right. He wasn’t scary so much as a representative of a larger evil… Really, he was a high-ranking thug. Which I didn’t mind, to be honest. Vader and Tarkin were the ultimate villains, even though they had less screen time. I wish they hadn’t gotten so cocky with their CGI, though. If they’d only used transmissions/holograms, even full body shots, they could have gotten away with it. But the close-ups looked plastic to me. Good plastic, but plastic nonetheless. The performance by the actor behind the CGI was well done, though.

CGI Leia worked because she’s only seen for an instant. Also, it’s a lot easier to CGI a pretty teen with smooth skin LOL. Also, how thrilling was it to see the original rebel pilots?

Russ: Absolutely! I loved those original pilots! So cool! And one of my favorite nerd moments was learning that the same crystals that powered the light sabers were being mined to power the Death Star. Great use of duality — a physical embodiment of dark vs. light theme.

And how awesome was Donnie Chen as Chirrut! “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.”

Mary: Yes! That’s going to be an iconic line… almost as iconic as “May the Force be with you.” I’ve seen people quoting it already. I loved everything about his character. Though now, having seen a real martial arts master in action in the Star Wars universe, suddenly all the Jedi look like actors with sticks! Which is hilarious because Chirrut isn’t a Jedi — despite several articles mistakenly calling him one.

What are your thoughts on K2? Everyone kept praising Alan Tudyk’s performance, but it mostly fell flat for me. Some moments were funny, but most of the quips felt forced, like he was trying too hard to be the comic relief.

Russ: Yeah … I wasn’t blown away. Not great, not terrible.

So …. we’ve kicked around Rogue One. How would you rate it compared with Force Awakens?

Mary: It’s hard to compare the two since they’re such different movies. Overall, I liked The Force Awakens more, but that’s not because it was necessarily ‘better’ than Rogue One. Breaking it down, Rogue One wins for originality, The Force Awakens wins for enjoyability and that special Star Wars ‘something’ (and for soundtrack). I also liked the characters of The Force Awakens more… I think it’s because there are fewer of them, and so we get to know each a little better.

What did you think?

Russ: I had really mixed feelings about Force Awakens. There were great nerd moments, like the first time we saw the Millennium Falcon, Han and Chewy, R2D2 and C3PO. I was cheering and fist pumping! There were some great action sequences, and for my money, Rey is one of the very best characters in the entire franchise. She’s tremendous. And yet … Force Awakens was, essentially, a remake of Star Wars, where they blow up the Death Star. Again. And Snoke? Meh. Pretty much just Golem with a throne instead of a ring. The movie looked great, but it lacked originality. Whereas Rogue One, I agree, didn’t have the same ‘magic’ as we might call a classic Star Wars movie, but to me it felt much more urgent, intense, and original. And given that Rogue One ends literally seconds before A New Hope begins, I’m really interested in watching them both back to back. It feels like it’ll give A New Hope an entirely different feel. So all in all, for me, Rogue One was the far superior movie, even though it has its flaws.

Stay tuned for Part II of this chat, where Mary and I rank our favorite Star Wars movies!

ABOUT MARY FAN
Mary Fan is a sci-fi/fantasy writer hailing from Jersey City, NJ. She is the author of the Jane Colt sci-fi series, which comprises ARTIFICIAL ABSOLUTES (Red Adept Publishing, 2013), SYNTHETIC ILLUSIONS (Red Adept Publishing, 2014), and VIRTUAL SHADOWS. Her works also include several young adult fantasy novellas: THE FIREDRAGON (Glass House Press, 2014), FIREDRAGON RISING (Glass House Press, 2015), TELL ME MY NAME (Glass House Press, 2014), and LET ME FLY FREE (Glass House Press, 2016). These serve as prequels to two full-length series currently under contract with Glass House Press, Flynn Nightsider and Fated Stars.

Find her online at www.maryfan.com, on Twitter as @astralcolt, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mfanwriter.

 

ABOUT RUSS COLCHAMIRO
He’s a science fiction and comedy author who writes lots of goofy stuff, particularly his Finders Keepers trilogy. But if you want to learn more, you’re visiting his site. Click here, or follow him on Twitter @authorduderuss and Facebook at www.facebook.com/RussColchamiroAuthor

 

My Review: Daredevil Eps 1-4 – Netflix

After 4 episodes of ‪Daredevil‬ on ‎Netflix‬, they are really getting it right, with a show much better — and more solid — than I think we had a right to expect. I love that they film in New York rather than using stand-ins, with Vincent D’Onfrio as Wilson Fisk, Rosario Dawson as nurse Claire and Vondie Curtis-Hall as reporter Ben Urich as standouts.

DDNetflixI also appreciate a lot of the shadowy lighting, which gives the tone of the show a realism that often is lacking in genre TV. And I thought they did a really nice job with the back story of Battlin’ Jack Murdock, which is so important to Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s motivations.

If there’s a weakness in the show, for me it’s actually Charlie Cox as Daredevil himself. He’s not bad. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a tough role to play. But it’s obvious that he’s struggling w the American accent, forcing himself to ‘sound’ American, with a lot of the charisma he showed in Boardwalk Empire somewhat lacking here.

Brit Charlie Hunnam said he had the same issue during the first season of Sons of Anarchy, focusing so hard on making his facial muscles contort to the sound of the American dialect that he found his breathing restricted, which thus made him more rigid than he wanted. But once he got the hang of it, he got much loser, and it showed in his performance throughout the rest of the series.

So maybe the same will happen for Charlie Cox.

I also find Elden Henson working just a little too hard as Foggy Nelson. If he would ease up even just a little bit, it would go a long way.

In any case, there’s really just so much to like here I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Daredevil is off to a great start.

Russ’ Movie Review: Skyfall – Shaken … or Stirred?

There’s been a lot of chatter out there about whether or not Skyfall truly measures up as one of the better, or even elite, James Bond movies, with Casino Royale generally considered by many (including me), to be one of the best in the series and certainly the best Bond outing in many years.

There have been those who felt Skyfall didn’t hit the mark, or that while it is a good movie, it isn’t a good James Bond movie. But I’m here to say this:

Skyfall.

Kicks.

Ass.

Skyfall is not only one of the best Bond movies in the entire 007 series, it’s one of the better movies I’ve seen this year.

What Worked: There is a LOT to like about Skyfall. First, it’s just a great looking and sounding movie, with exotic locales and all the polish a Bond movies deserves.

But on to Mr. Bond himself. Now in his third go as 007, Daniel Craig has never looked more comfortable in the character. Clearly a few years older since he first took the role, he really seems to understand who and what Bond is, and how to embody such an iconic character. Craig has the physical brute force required to handle death-defying situations, the intelligence for the ‘spy’ aspects, and enough charm to woo those lovely ladies.

Skyfall also gives us perhaps the most humanized take of James Bond in the entire series. The detractors say that such human foibles take away from 007, and led to their disappointment. I agree that the existential crisis Bond goes through would only work once. Skyfall has to be a stand-alone entry; it cannot be the model for future outings. But as a one-off, I found the layers of Bond quite compelling, and, in fact, drew me deeper into the character than ever before.

The plot, which borders on being too layered at times, has an actual story and theme, with Bond and others given the time to talk and think and reveal themselves. Unlike many Bond movies, there are only a handful of action sequences, allowing the story to unfold much more organically than we usually get with 007. The rewards are that I was genuinely interested in what was happening, rather than just waiting for something to blow up real good.

Beyond Craig himself, the cast is mostly superb. Judi Dench, as always, is fantastic as M, and we also get believable and even quirky performances from Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whipshaw as the new Q, and Berenice Marlohe as one of the most exotic and alluring Bond girls in a long, long time. And, of course, Javier Bardem as the villain Silva has just the right mix of being twistedly over the top without being a cartoon. He’s a warped mind with a real plan. Quite simply, he is a deadly and unpredictable foil for Mr. Bond.

The fun is back. After the pretty weak and unpolished Quantum of Solace, Skyfall was far more self aware and humorous, and those lighter moments helped elevate — and loosen up — what is a pretty intense movie start to finish. Whereas Casino Royale was more overt popcorn movie, Skyfall is more intense thriller.

What Didn’t Work: Without giving away too much, there wasn’t enough time spent with the Bond girls themselves. Bond is at his most devilish fun when he’s sparring with (and bedding) the delicious Bond girls, and in Skyfall, those scenes are a bit sparse, and one of the reasons I think the detractors didn’t feel that Skyfall was a true “Bond” movie.

Speaking of Bond girls, Naomi Harris as field agent Eve fell flat. Compared to the other performers, she was the weak link. She just didn’t exude the … Bond girlness … we want, and she didn’t bring enough sizzle to the repartee with 007.

As for the plot, Director Sam Mendes said that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight gave him the confidence to tackle certain themes that are typically absent in popcorn action movies. But with Skyfall, some of the plot is essentially an exact replica of The Dark Knight. The plot works within Skyfall unto itself, but I felt that, not only had I seen this before, I had just seen this before.

The plot also hinged on some pretty incredible timing, in parts, and I’m not sure it would really hold up under tighter scrutiny. Then again, it’s a James Bond movie, so how tight do we expect the plots to be? A minor blip, but a blip nonetheless.

Finally, the opening sequence is an extended action piece that, on paper, delivers real excitement. And at times, it did. But in others, I found the directing to be a bit mechanical. I wasn’t always as riveted as I wanted to be.

Shaken or Stirred?: Skyfall is an intense, riveting and thoroughly entertaining entry in the James Bond franchise that actually had something to say about fighting terror in the modern world, and in fact, is one of the best entrees in the entire 007 series. In some ways I liked Skyfall better than Casino Royale, although it’s not quite as fun, and time will tell if it will have that same “re-watchability” factor.

Whereas Casino Royale was a reboot, Skyfall is re-invigoration.

Skyfall missed opportunities, but for a James Bond fan that demands a real movie with his popcorn fun, I found that Skyfall delivered in a big, big way, and nicely sets up the coming adventures with a character that has finally shed his past so that he can fully engage in the future.

I can’t wait for what 007 has in store for us next.

 

Summer TV/Movie Recap: Spiderman, The Dark Knight, Sons of Anarchy and More …

Now that I’ve had a little time to reflect, here’s my rundown of my summer’s TV and movie watching. Have to say, all in all it was pretty darn good:

For my money, The Amazing Spiderman was the best entry in the franchise. I’ve heard complaints that it was too soon to reboot, but I’m not buying it. The Tobey Maquire movies certainly had their moments — the first one being my favorite — but this latest iteration had a great combination of ‘realism’ (as far these things go), fun, humor and lots of heart. The new Peter Parker, played by Andrew Garfield, just seemed far more like a realistic teenager to me. Awkward, confused, but not a total loser dork. And now he’s Spiderman! And they amped up his scientific genius, which was always a core element of the character. Martin Sheen was a GREAT Uncle Ben, and Emma Stone really nailed it as Gwen Stacy. I will admit that the CGI on the Croc wasn’t always great, and the Uncle Ben death scene does have a pretty big flaw, but overall I thought The Amazing Spiderman was great. I can’t wait to see more.

As for The Dark Knight Rises … it was EPIC and intense and a great bookend to the entire three-movie arc. I will say that this last entry wasn’t quite as pure fun as the first two, and, when you take a step back, it has a few plot points that don’t quite hold up, but all in all it was big bang for the buck. Anne Hathaway was especially good, and while Bane wasn’t quite as mesmerizing as The Joker (who could be?), he was a lethal adversary for sure. The creators swung BIG, and for the most part, they landed. I’m really curious to see who takes the reigns next and how they interpret the character.

As for The Avengers, I know it’s sort of geek blasphemy to say, but I didn’t love it. It was kinda entertaining, but I found it to be very loud, very long, and pretty superficial. It looked great, had lots of humor, the HULK was awesome, and the finale did kick some major butt. I’m just hoping that the sequel has more meat on the bones.

On the TV front, Liz and I have been watching The Newsroom. It’s kind of a mixed bag.  The show did get off to a pretty lousy start, and as the season progressed, the intensity and thrill got better overall, and, at times, was great. And Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston are both great. But one of the shows major weaknesses — and it’s huge — is that the female characters, are, by and large, portrayed as schizo, man-pleasing morons often on the verge of a nervous breakdown over their boyfriends. They just can’t be THIS whacked-out and be the media dream team. The ‘media elite’ as they call themselves on the show. It’s a MAJOR flaw, and one I hope they fix. It’s a show that should be much better than it is.

I’m a little late to the game, but after three seasons of Sons of Anarchy … I’m in. It’s intense, twisty, and extremely violent, but if you like shows like The Shield and Breaking Bad, SOA is worth checking out. I won’t put SOA quite at that level, but it is damn good. These dudes are pure outlaws, and I know I shouldn’t care about them, because they really do pretty bad things pretty often. And yet … I do care. Good TV.

Speaking of Breaking Bad … wow. Just wow. Assuming the final eight episodes hold up (grrrrr … not ’til next July!), Breaking Bad will go down as one of the great TV shows of all time. Bryan Cranston was better than ever, and this last season was filled with great acting across the board, tons of tension, and great plot twists. It is, simply … GREAT.

Next up I still need to watch season 4 of SOA so I can get up to speed for season 5, which started. And Sept. 30 we get the season premieres of Dexter and  Homeland, so I’m pretty psyched there. Otherwise I’ll be watching the final season of The Office, the next season of The Big Bang Theory, and maybe I’ll check out a few of the new shows. Where I’ll find the time, I have no idea, but at least I’ve got some TV to look forward to.

And when it comes to movies … it’s all about Bond. James Bond. Skyfall opens in November. And I. Can’t. Freakin. Wait.

What are you watching …?

Russ’ 2011 Top TV & Movie Moments

With 2011 wrapped up I was all ready for my annual top 10 lists for best movies and best TV shows.

Well … through a combination of not enough time to get to everything I want to see — I knew fatherhood would slow me down somewhere — and a rather lackluster year of entertainment, I’ll be mixing things up this time around.

Rather than my usual top 10 in each category — TV and movies — what follows is a top 10 list of my favorites — TV, movies, moments and performances — all rolled up into one list. Starting with …

10. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class – Through  the first three X-Men movies, Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan raised the characters/performances of Professor X and Magneto to iconic status. The odds of any actors slipping into the earlier life roles — and doing the characters justice — were remote at best. And yet both McAvoy and Fassbender brought the goods, making us believe those formative years were utterly real and how and why they developed into the elder versions of themselves we’re tied to forever.

9. Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids – A pretty funny movie in its own right, but Melissa McCarthy steals every scene she’s in. I’ll never look at a bridal shop sink the same way again.

8. Skyscraper Climb in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I did not like any of the first three MI movies, and Tom Cruise over the years went from movie star to raging D-Bag … and then MI4 hit the theater with a bucket full of holy crap! A generic plot and generally wooden performances, but this movie is two hours of heart pounding action that had me sucked in from the get go. And yet the ultimate show-stopper was watching Cruise’s Ethan Hunt scale the Burj Khalifia in Dubai –the world’s tallest skyscraper — in an aerial scene so visceral and extraordinary I almost blacked out. I don’t know how they pulled it off, but it’s not to be missed.

7. Brad Pitt in Moneyball – It’s tough enough selling a movie about baseball statistics and how they changed the way — to some degree at least — the modern ball club is constructed. But Brad Pitt playing real life general manager Billy Beane brings the goods, with his movie star looks and charm and the right mix of confidence and wounded soul that makes us care just that much more about a boys game run by very wealthy men.

6. Dexter, Season 6, Final Moment – The former best show on TV has become a shell of it’s former murderous self, but (SPOILER ALERT) the final moment of season 6, when our beloved serial killer is plunging his knife into the Doomsday Killer, and Dexter’s sister Deb walks in on him committing the act? FREAKIN. AWESOME. It was a long time coming, and now the final two seasons have an end game in sight we can all sign up for.

5. Boardwalk Empire, Season 2, Final Two Episodes — Though a solid show, Boardwalk Empire has never quite lived up to its hype and potential. But the last two episodes of season 2 is some of the best TV … ever. Intense, shocking and utterly gripping. The layers of psychological madness and intrigue still haunt me weeks later. I’m not saying it’s the best crime show you’ll ever see, but the ending of season 2 would be difficult for any show to top.

4. Homeland, Season 1 – Hands down one of the best political thrillers of all time, with writing and performances that knock your socks off, particularly from Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. From the creator of 24 and former show runner of Dexter, you’ve  got a returned Iraqi war vet — back after 8 years of brutal captivity — trying to resume  a “regular” life. But has he been secretly converted into a terrorist against the U.S.? Or is the lone CIA operative who’s convinced of his betrayal falling victim to her own mental illness? Or both? Or neither? Tense, intense and just downright amazing.

3. Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – I’m a huge David Fincher fan, and Dragon Tattoo is another winner on his resume. But Rooney Mara sells this movie. She was so utterly brilliant in a grueling role, that it will go down as one of the most iconic performances in history. Like Christopher Waltz in Inglurious Basterds or Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, it’s impossible for me to even imagine anyone else sinking into the character of Lisbeth Salander better than Rooney Mara. If she doesn’t win an Oscar, then Oscar should pack up his crap and go home.

2. Breaking Bad, Season 4 – The ultimate high stakes game of chess between high school chemistry teacher/turned meth genius Walter White, and mob kingpin Gus Fring, ended in a battle of wits we haven’t seen Kirk vs. Kahn. Even more so, watching Walt’s wife slowly fall in love with the gangster life, as his protege Jesse struggles to retain his soul despite all the awful things he does, and before our very eyes we’re watching Walt become a modern day Scarface. With only 16 episodes to go, this series can only end one way: with everyone finally breaking bad.

1. Game of Thrones, Season 1 – Essentially, this is a sexy, twisty, bloody, action-packed soap opera version of Lord of the Rings. So, yeah … full blown AWESOME. Going in I had absolutely no interest in Game of Thrones, but by the end of the second episode I was hooked. And it only got better from there. More than just epic fantasy, it’s juicy storytelling on a massive scale. Run, don’t walk. It’s that good.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, The Good Wife, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

 

 

 

My Pavlovian Batman Response

One day after school, I was only in pre-K at the time, and I was on my way home on the bus. The day was slightly overcast, but I didn’t care. I only had one thing on my mind: get back in time to watch my favorite show.

Do you remember the theme song?

Denna-nenna neh
Denna-nenna neh
Batmaaaaan

It was the cheesy POW! OOF! Adam West Batman, and I freakin’ loved it.

But in one of those rare scheduling snafus, when the bus driver was set to drop me off at the stop, my mom wasn’t there.

 Not good.

 We waited a minute, but then had to move on. More stops to make.

 I didn’t say much, I just sat there on the bus, four years old, not sure what to do. Since this was 1975, in a world before cell phones, the driver took me with him to his other stops, and each time those doors opened and closed—farther from home—I had two thoughts: where’s Mommy and … I’M MISSING BATMAN!!!!!!!!

 Of course, as an adult, the new incarnations of Batman are far more sophisticated than the original show. Michael Keaton’s first Batman movie put the Caped Crusader back on the map. The sequel, Batman Returns, was lousy. And despite its flaws, I enjoyed the Val Kilmer-led Batman Forever, and then the movie franchise just collapsed with the final (and awful) Batman & Robin, with George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Then the animated Batman returned with a darker, more serious edge, and my hero was back again.

And now we’ve got Batman Begins and epic The Dark Knight from the team of Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan, and Batman is cooler than it’s been, maybe ever. Not to mention The Dark Knight Rises is still on its way.

And yet … as my mother often reminds me, when I was that young boy, no matter where I was or what I was doing, as soon I heard that theme song, I would stop whatever I was doing … and freeze.

My eyes would just light up as I heard:

Denna-nenna neh
Denna-nenna neh
Batmaaaaan

 

With a Pavlovian response, to this day, I’m no different.

Funny how some things never change. In this case, I’m totally OK with it.

Batman lives on.

And by the way, on that day back in 1975, the bus driver circled back to my stop, my mom was waiting for me, and I was able to catch the second half of Batman, with action in the Bat Cave, which, of course, was better than not seeing it all.

Russ’ Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Based on the trailers alone, I was not at all excited to see the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Man, I love being wrong! We have a winner!

What Works: Disregard the trailers. This is not a full blown apes vs. man action movie. This is a mostly character-driven story that centers around Caesar, the Ape that ultimately went from rescued orphan to leader of the Apes. There is a strong emotional center, with a two-pronged approach. Caesar and his maturity/development into “adult,” as he is first raised by, and then rebels against, his scientist/adopted father, played capably by James Franco.

The second is his realization that he — and his fellow apes — have been forced into being “pets,” rather than a “free” tribe allowed to follow their own destiny. I will not give any spoilers here, but Andy Serkis, who provides the motion capture performance for Caesar, gives the character — and the movie — its true heart.

‘Rise’ also takes its time to develop. For us to believe — or suspend disbelief — that these Apes could ultimately secure their freedom with human-level intelligence (and perhaps even greater than that), we need to follow the journey, which has more setbacks than success. We get that. There are a few gaps in logic here, but it is a journey that’s well worth the ride.

What Doesn’t Work: As good as the motion capture was at times, the Apes looked a bit too computer generated at others, which was a slight distraction. Also, the secondary characters, for the most part, were just caricatures, rather than full blown individuals. The “evil tormentors” and corporate baddie were too generic, and some very good actors were mostly wasted.

If I had any frustration with ‘Rise,” is that as much as I enjoyed it, this could have been a classic, and it doesn’t quite get there. With a little more time on the script to flesh out the additional story threads, this version could have risen to the level of greatness.

Final Thoughts: One of the better popcorn sci-fi action movies I’ve seen in quite a while, ‘Rise’ re-instates the ‘Apes’ franchise with a winning formula, with a central figure you can really care about. And while it didn’t reach its full potential, missing out on some opportunities for greatness, I’ll gladly come back for more.

My Score: 7.5 Stars out of 10

Russ’ Review: X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First ClassX-Men: First Class is another thumbs up chapter in the comic-book movie franchise. The first 30 minutes are rousing, and after two plus hours we get the chance to discover how two incredibly powerful minds end up on very different ends of the same spectrum.
What Worked: ‘Class’ is a pure origin story where we follow a young Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr into their evolution to Professor X and Magneto, respectively. The challenge was two-fold: first, take enough time to demonstrate how young men with super-human abilities develop not just their powers, but a code that will define how they view their place in the world–and do so such that we are invested in their evolution. Given the decades of stories we already know about them, this was no small task. And the movie delivers. Big time. Second, was finding two actors who could match the gravitas of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Once again, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively, rise to the occassion. This movie would have failed had they not been as terrific as they were.
What Didn’t: ‘Class’ was a bit long, dragging in places. And the secondary and tertiary characters fell pretty flat. They didn’t necessarily have to shine, but I found them to be almost too silly for the larger story going on around them. I would have liked to have seen a bit more mojo there. In addition, Kevin Bacon’s villain starts out strong, but is surprisingly absent for most of the third act, which I found a bit disappointing, given his role in the larger story.
Final Thoughts: While not quite as entertaining start to finish as the first two X-Men movies, ‘Class’ more than holds its own, and delivered an origin story that could have easily been a waste of everyone’s time. A worthy effort.
My Score: 7 out of 10 Stars

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