Reviews

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

 

Review: Orphan Black – Accept No Subtitute

Although I’m a little behind this season I’ve really been enjoying Arrow, and based on how it’s developed so far I’m confident it will keep getting better and better. Agents of SHIELD is, well, let’s just walk on by and leave that to others to pick on.

But if we’re talking about genre shows that I love, where I just can’t get enough, the conversation begins and ends with Orphan Black, on BBC America.

Orphan Black

Orphan Black is a dark, twisty, fast-paced conspiracy thriller with maybe the best performance … ever? … by an actress in any show, and I would argue the best of any genre show for sure. Tatiana Maslany is nothing short of brilliant playing nine — yep, nine — totally unique versions of the same character. I have no idea how they pulled it off, but man oh man they did.

But it’s not a one-woman show. It’s got a full cast of characters you either root for, or against — a shout out to Jordan Gavaris as Felix – and whereas they could have dragged out this 10 episode season into multiple seasons, just to milk it, they went full throttle and brought us so far so fast, without ever leaving us behind, that you just have to hang on try to catch your breath.

If there’s a problem with Orphan Black, it’s that they actually did pack so much story into season 1, it will be difficult to replicate the quality over season 2. But if there’s any show that might just pull it off, I’m putting my money on Orphan Black.

Tatiana Maslany?

Oh. Yes, please. Just tell me when and where Orphan Black is airing next, and I’m showing up.

* Note: This blog was originally posted on the Crazy 8 Press Web site: http://www.crazy8press.com/2013/12/16/orphan-black-accept-no-substitute/

Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews Q&A with Author Russ Colchamiro

Hi Gang-

Below is a new Q&A interview with yours truly, courtesy of book reviewer and interviewer Laurie from Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews. Here we talk about my latest novel, the mysterious scifi space romp, CROSSLINE, my favorite TV shows, whether I’m an early morning chirpy bird or grumpy bear (take a guess), and where I would go, anywhere in the world, if my publisher was footing the bill:

Welcome Russ!  It’s so great of you to stop by today and agree to answer some questions .  I’m excited to find out a little about you and your books.

How did your start your writing career?

I wrote a King Arthur-style short story in the third grade. It was pretty bad, but I had fun with it. Then in high school I wrote a short story trilogy — about the ‘troubles’ in Ireland, of all things — which is actually the basis of my new sci-fi space adventure, Crossline. Go figure. So Crossline was actually 25 years in the making. But before that I started to get more serious about writing in college, and became a journalist professionally, so I was always writing.

But in terms of fiction I dabbled with comic book scripts and more serious short stories in my 20s, when I needed to sort of prime the pump, and get some really awful writing out of my system. And then about 10 years ago I started writing what became my debut novel, Finders Keepers. It’s been non-stop ever since.

Describe what it’s like to be an author in three words.

Thrilling. Heartbreaking. Exhausting.

If I came to visit early in the morning would you impress me as being more like a chirpy bird or a grumpy bear?

Grumpy bear, definitely. I don’t drink coffee — I’ve actually never had a cup of coffee, ever — so it takes me a while to ‘wake up’, even after I wake up. It’s nothing personal to anyone. I just need a little ‘me’ time before I really get going. But I have two little kids, so they’ve trained me to jump into daddy mode pretty much on demand, whether I’m in the mood or not!

How do you react to a bad review of your book?

Thankfully there have been far more good ones than bad, but with the negative reviews, I admit they can get under my skin a little bit … but usually not for long. If someone criticizes my work and I think they’ve made a fair point, I try to incorporate those comments into how I think about writing going forward, and look at the feedback as an opportunity to improve as a writer going forward. And I’m not just saying that. Sometimes the truth hurts! Ha.

But if I disagree with the comment or I feel that it makes no sense, I let it go. It just doesn’t bother me. One reviewer gave Finders Keepers a low rating because he said it had too much naughty language. But there’s an F-bomb on the very first page, including a kinky love-making scene. He knew what he was getting into and he kept reading anyway. There’s a compliment in there somewhere. But what did he think he was going to read going forward? That one made me laugh.

Tell us about the absolute BEST fan letter you have received.

A few months ago I attended the LunaCon sci-fi convention in Rye, NY. I was at my table, promoting Crossline. And then I heard a girl’s voice. “Russ!” I turned around and saw Kelly*, who is now a freshman at Syracuse University. She met me at a convention about a year before, and bought and read Finders Keepers, which she loved. She asked me if I was working on the sequel, which I am, and if I would have it ready for LunaCon 2014. I told her I wasn’t sure, but that I’m trying. She said, “Don’t rush. Take your time. Make it great.” That’s about the best moment I could ask for.
(*Not her real name)

What are your favorite TV shows?

Yikes. Tough one, but here goes: Current shows: Dexter, Breaking Bad, The Big Bang Theory, Homeland, Game of Thrones, Justified, The Killing, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men, The Americans. Of all time: Sports Night, Northern Exposure, The Sopranos, The Wire, Homicide, The Shield, Seinfeld, Friends, Scrubs, Battlestar Galactica (remake), Lost, The X-Files, The Office (U.S. version), The Honeymooners, The Simpsons, Family Guy, M.A.S.H., House, Brotherhood, ER, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Star Trek Next Generation, Cheers, Columbo, Law & Order, The Odd Couple

Say your publisher has offered to fly you anywhere in the world to do research on an upcoming book, where would you most likely want to go?

Hmm …. I want to be careful about specifics, as doing so would ruin a few surprises I have coming in new books that I’m working on, but it’s safe to say that one location is hot, humid, and rocky, and the other is really cold. And I mean REALLY cold. Use no more than two sentences.

Why should we read your new book, Crossline?

Crossline is part rollicking space romp, part parallel Universe stranger-in-a-strange-land adventure, and part mystery. It’s a pulpy epic tale that will keep you guessing — and out of breath — laced with great characters, plenty of twists, and loads of humor.

Click here for the full, expanded interview …

 

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.

 

There and Back Again: The Evolution of a Chris Daughtry Fan

Be with me. Here’s the scene:

My apartment. Queens, NY. Saturday morning. The sun is shining. I go to the computer, and load up iTunes. I scroll for Chris Daughtry’s new album, Break the Spell. I click on the third song, Outta My Head. I turn up the volume. Loud.

The music blares:

Bahm! Bahm!
Baddah-daddah-daddah-daddah
Bahm! Bahm!

I turn toward the front of my apartment. My twins — who are 20 months old — are in their high chairs waiting for me to feed them breakfast. Waffles and strawberries. Their backs are to me. And we hear:

I thought it would be easy, but it ain’t for me
It’s kinda hard, when you lay your heart on a one-way street

My son, then my daughter. First one hand, then the other.

I really thought by NOW!
You would’ve slipped my mind
But the kind of love sent from above is the killing kind …

My kids are fist pumping. They are head banging. And all because Chris Daughtry is bringin’ it.

Rock is in the air. Life is good.

The Idol Maker

Okay. Now it’s confession time. I wasn’t always a Chris Daughtry fan.

In fact, I dismissed his music.

When Chris first came on the scene back in 2006, all I knew was that “the rocker dude” from American Idol got voted off, and apparently it was unfair. I never saw the show, and had zero interest in learning more.

Yet my sister Alison said — repeatedly, ad nauseam — that Chris was the man.

Whatever.

Fast forward a few years and two albums later. At this point the only Daughtry songs I know are from the radio: What About Now, Feels Like Tonight and Life After You. These songs aren’t bad, but let’s face it. They’re not really directed at me.

To my classic rock-loving ear, Daughtry was very … Meh.

And though my sister insisted — avalanche-style — that Chris was awesome, I rejected her assessment. Here’s a typical exchange:

Alison: Dude. Listen to his voice.

Me: Don’t care.

Alison: He’s great.

Me: Nah.

Alison: Just give him a chance!

Me: I’ve heard the songs. They’re all the same to me. Snore.

Alison: Grrrrr …. Dude. You. Are. WRONG!


What I Meant to Say

Whether I was truly convinced that there was more to Daughtry than I gave him credit for — or I simply wilted beneath my sister’s onslaught — I finally listened to Chris’ first two albums, Daughtry and Leave This Town. I focused on certain tracks. No Surprise. Supernatural. Ghost of Me. Crashed. Every Time You Turn Around.

And eventually I admitted … okay, this is better than I thought.

But you know what really got me? That ass-kicking vocal hook in What I Meant to Say:

And I just thought … that you should know
That I’ve been holding on while you’ve been letting GO!

Now I’m starting to feel it. And I think: whoa, this guy’s voice is BOOMIN’. There are some great hooks. But I couldn’t understand why the more rockin’ tunes didn’t get more radio play.

Then it clicked for me. Chris was facing a marketing obstacle I hadn’t initially appreciated. The record label was putting out the songs they thought would sell. Fair enough. But in doing so they didn’t necessarily showcase who Chris really is.

They pumped out more of his softer-side tunes, keeping his potent, overdrive mojo a secret from rock n’ roll fans like me. I didn’t get Chris Daughtry at first because I didn’t know to look for him. As far as I knew, that guy didn’t even exist.

But he does. Trust me. He does.


Let’s Break the Spell

Having finally been converted, I was then educated that Daughtry isn’t just Chris with a backing band. Together, all the musicians — who co-write many of the songs and form the sound — make up Daughtry. This isn’t just a one-man show.

So by this point I’m diggin’ a bunch of Daughtry tunes … yet I still found the first two albums to be fairly similar. And despite the band’s talent, to me the overall quality of the song-writing just hadn’t caught up with that Hall of Fame voice.

Which then led me to ask: Will this band grow? Will the songwriting become richer and more intricate — textured with subtly and nuance? Will the guys trust themselves enough to layer more technical sophistication to their musical instincts and let their sound evolve as it naturally wants to? Or will Daughtry essentially release a third version of the same album?

Translation: Guys, I like you pretty okay, but I want to hear more. You can do better. You. Can do. Better.

And guess what? They did. Big time.

Break the Spell is — by a large margin – Daughtry’s most developed, confident and satisfying album. No dis on the first two records, but with BTS the boys took a significant, creative leap. 

Just hold on tight to the Rebel Yell-style bad-boy opener, Renegade.

Or listen to Chris’ falsetto rising in Losing My Mind.

Get completely absorbed by the surging, devil-eyed chorus of the BTS title track:

The way you pull me in,
The way you chew me up,
The way you spit me out,
I KEEP COMING BACK! I CAN’T GET ENOUGH!
I CAN’T GO WITHOUT!

And the album’s most deliciously confessional lyric, from Losing My Mind:

You’re one part angel, one part danger
But, oh, the kind of crazy I like …

Oh, yeah. It’s go time. Daughtry is no longer just a solid, radio-friendly band with a killer voice at its core. They have begun their ascent as a musical force. They will stand the test of time.

Off on a Spaceship

Back in my apartment. My kids in high chairs. I’m feeding them breakfast. BTS is playing. Spaceship:

If somebody’s out there
S
how me that you care
Give me a sign that comes out of nowhere

My daughter smiles, with strawberries on her face. My son then looks at me, looks at his sister, and we hear:

Like a shooting star
We’ll maybe laugh for miles
Something inside tells me we can’t be too far

The fist pump returns.

Rock is in the air. Daughtry.

And life is good.

 

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

 

 

 

Russ’ Review: The Good Wife, Season 1

My initial reaction to The Good Wife, before even having seen it was, meh. Not interested. But then I kept hearing how great it was, so I gave it a shot. Having watched all of Season 1, I can say that the quality of the shows is somewhere in the middle.

What Works: The chemistry between the characters is generally good, and the actors all do pretty well with their roles. There’s good tension between the characters and as the season progressed the relationships started to develop. There’s also good, inherent drama with the premise. Julianna Marguiles is Alicia Florek, the spurned wife of Chris Noth’s ridiculed former State’s Attorney, who had an illicit affair and went to jail for alleged crooked dealings. Now she’s a lawyer trying to make a career for herself—despite her husband’s name—but keeps running into those who either judge her for it, or want her to use the political influence she wants to deny she actually has. Plus there’s a potential love triangle here, so lot’s of pulpy drama.

What Doesn’t: Man oh man the plots be dumb as a post. My biggest problem with The Good Wife is that it isn’t really sure what kind of show it wants to be. A pulpy political/office workplace love drama, or a case-of-the-week lawyer show. Problem is, the cases are very silly and often implausible. There are too many examples to list here, but for one, how about the episode where the building managers in the Floreks’ building just happen to be diamond smugglers? Naturally.

Or the one where an injured plaintiff’s wife just happens to have access to a jury pool, so she can screen for someone who’d be open to a bribe … and then has the mojo to arrange back alley payments to throw the case? Wow. She’s good.

Or that the Florek’s 15-year-old son can detect uneven light patterns reflected back in his dad’s eye in a photograph to prove a steamy, drug-fueled photo was a fake—but all law enforcement missed it. Uh. Yeah. I can go on and on. And why does every case need to be wrapped up each week? Lazy plotting.

Final Thoughts: Despite the show’s inherent flaws, it’s still enough of a fast-paced, love-triangle/political chess match to keep me interested. Good characters with juicy entanglements overcome the silly and often implausible storylines, although there are many times when I cringe at the ridiculous plotting. I will say that the second half of the season was much better than the first, so I’m hoping this bodes well for future seasons. As for the first run, fun trumps logic. But just barely.

Season 1 Score: 6 Stars out of 10

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

You Could Be Reading...

Crossline

Blog Archives

Goodreads

Russ Colchamiro's books on Goodreads
Finders KeepersFinders Keepers
reviews: 10
ratings: 303 (avg rating 4.00)