A very short review of “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)

I had fun with “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014).  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, if a little grudgingly.  For me, it started quite strong with its introduction of Chris Pratt’s roguish space antihero; I actually had no idea he could be this funny.  (I’ve only seen him once before, weighed down by the failed comedic scripting of 2015’s “Jurassic World.”)

I’m sorry to say that my interest in “Guardians of the Galaxy” waned just a bit as it subsequently unfolded as a cartoonish, relatively tame, family-friendly adventure — complete with a heartwarming value-of-friendship lesson.  That’s fine, I guess — it’s cool and it makes sense that the Marvel Cinematic Universe should offer films more appropriate for younger viewers.  Can you imagine, however, how hilarious this movie would be if it truly deserved its (befuddling) PG-13 rating, and really pressed the envelope?  Between Pratt’s wit and these offbeat character concepts, it would be amazing.

I still had fun with this, though, thanks mainly to the action and the impressive special effects.  I’d recommend it, and I’m planning on seeing the sequel.

Postscript — people are saying that this is the MCU’s answer to “Star Wars,” and I suppose it could be.  But I had a lot more fun thinking that the movie was channeling Harry Harrison’s priceless science fiction book series featuring criminal-antiheroes — the “Stainless Steel Rat” adventures.

 

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A short review of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017)

I’ll never be able to love “Star Wars” the way its lifelong fans do.  After the unexpected magic of the first three films, the subsequent movies almost always seemed to me to be just space fantasies for kids, formulaically developed to hit all the right notes and sell licensed merchandise.  (The exception would be last year’s generally excellent “Star Wars: Rogue One,” which uniquely felt like a genuine, human story that a creator wanted to tell, rather than something brainstormed until consensus in a corporate writers’ room.)  With that said, I’ll happily report here that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was actually very good — as someone with little favorable bias toward the franchise, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

The movie simply got more right than it got wrong.  It’s still a marketing-oriented space opera developed for mass appeal, but it managed to rise above that because its many elements included more hits than misses.

If I had to pick one thing that made this movie succeed for me, it’s the balance it struck between its epic war story and its narrower sword-and-sorcery central plot thread.  I like how the film began with an interstellar war — it had ordinary, mortal, relatable human characters fight and make sacrifices.  Anyone can relate to characters like that because they are interchangeable with people fighting a war in our world.  (It was also excellently rendered, in terms of fantastic visuals and some creative ideas.)  Only afterward does the movie layer in the far-out Jedi stuff, which contrasts the war story and adds complexity to it.

The second thing I liked about it was its terrific special effects — I’ve never seen a “Star Wars” movie without them, even if the prequels had a more cartoonish, toylike quality to what they depicted.

The third, I think, was the return of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker.  Hamill is actually quite a good actor, and his skilled turn here was alternately funny and dramatically convincing.  I found myself more nostalgic after watching Luke’s return to the franchise than after Han Solo’s return in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015).  (And I love Harrison Ford just as much as everyone else in the universe.)

Is there a lot to nitpick?  Sure.  In addition to some plot holes, the character of Rose was rather annoying.  (Spunky young idealists can grate on the nerves if they’re too cutesy and seem to ingratiate themselves to the viewer.)

But a far larger weakness is that “the force” has become more of a deus ex machina than ever before.  I can’t be specific here because I want to avoid spoilers, but both the Jedi and their Sith counterparts employ incredible new powers in the movie that are absolutely unprecedented.  It isn’t explained at all, and it isn’t consistent with any prior “Star Wars” movie.  And it feels like a cheat that is both sweeping and … a little strange.

Still, I’d recommend this movie — even if you didn’t love every “Star Wars” movie you’ve seen in the past.

I’ll end with a quick note about the “porgs” — those little penguinesque aliens that are supposedly dividing longtime fans into opposing war-camps.  I loved the damn things.  It makes perfect sense that Luke’s hideaway planet would have local fauna.  And I read that the filmmakers actually did include them for an understandable reason.  The island shooting location’s landscape was inhabited by puffins.  It made more sense to overwrite them with CGI stand-ins than to digitally remove them altogether.

 

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Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine to publish “Iphigenia’s Womb”

I received some nice news this morning — Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine will publish my my poem “Iphigenia’s Womb” in its upcoming December 2017 issue.  This poem appeared previously appeared in 2014 in Dead Snakes and 2015 in Aphelion.

As always, I am grateful to Editor Samantha Rose for allowing me to share my work with the readers of Peeking Cat.

 

 

 

 

“Operation Staffhound,” by Philippe Atherton-Blenkiron

Hey, gang — if you missed its appearance last week over at The Bees Are Dead, here is the audio for my reading of Philippe Atherton-Blenkiron’s “Operation Staffhound.”  The poem is from his superb 2014 dystopian science fiction novel in poetry format, “The Pustoy.”

“Operation Staffhound” describes the brutal domestic police force employed by Lev Solokov, the future dictator of Britain and the novel’s central antagonist.

 

“Operation Staffhound,” by Philippe Atherton-Blenkiron (read by Eric Robert Nolan)

I’m happy today to be able to share The Bees Are Dead’s release of my audio recording of “Operation Staffhound,” by Philippe Atherton-Blenkiron.  This truly excellent poem is an excerpt from his 2014 dystopian novel in verse format, “The Pustoy.”  (I quite positively reviewed the book both here at the blog and over at Amazon, where it can be purchased — “Operation Staffhound” might be my favorite poem in the complete work.)

“The Pustoy” is a particularly dark science fiction epic that imagines a genocidal dictator, Lev Solokov, ruling a nightmarish future Britain.  The brutal “Staffhounds” are his fascist foot-soldiers in the streets.

I had great fun reading the poem.  I’m grateful to Philippe for allowing me to interpret it, and to The Bees Are Dead for sharing my recording with its audience:

Philippe Atherton-Blenkiron’s “Operation Staffhound” at The Bees Are Dead

 

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A review of Season 2 of “Black Mirror” (2013)

“Black Mirror” seems to me to be  the best science fiction show on television; I’d rate Season 2 (2013) a 9 out of 10.  (I’m never quite certain whether to group British shows by “season” or by “series,” as they do.  I’m also a little uncertain why the fourth and final episode here, “White Christmas,” is included in Season 2, as it aired nearly two years later as a 2014 holiday special.)

I commented to a friend of mine after seeing “White Christmas” the other night that the show was “brave” — it just isn’t afraid to alienate mainstream audiences by being too dark.  Not all of “Black Mirror’s”  episodes have “twists,” but they typically have an unexpected plot development, and their outcomes and implications are arguably depressing.

It’s just such a damned good show, though, in terms of its writing and acting.  My friend told me she wasn’t aware of anyone who had seen it and disliked it.

“White Christmas,” for example, was one of the best hours of science fiction television I’ve ever seen.  It consists of three blackly tragic vignettes seamlessly woven withing a wraparound story, and it employs a sci-fi plot device that is mind-bending and brutal.  I believe this is the first time I’ve seen its lead actor, Jon Hamm, and I was extremely impressed with his performance.

My only quibbles with the program are extremely minor.  As with the first season, I think that not every episode truly requires a 44-minute running length.  I thought two episodes  (“Be Right Back” and “The Waldo Moment”) seemed like they could have been tightened up into one, maybe with tighter writing allowing for shorter segments.

I’ve noticed another minor relative weakness with “Black Mirror” in general as well — the show does not always present the viewer with likable protagonists.  Occasionally, the various characters we’re asked to identify with are either slightly off-putting or even annoying.  Again, “Be Right Back” and “The Waldo Moment” spring to mind.  This wasn’t enough to greatly affect my enjoyment of the episodes, though.

What an incredible show.

 

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