Thoughts on the Last Jedi

With the holidays, it’s taken me a while to get this down. To date, I’ve still only seen The Last Jedi once, so this is still based on my first take of the film. Maybe I’ll post an update after a couple of more viewings. 

First, the non-spoilers review:

Unlike The Force Awakens (TFA), Lucasfilm creators appear to have given director Rian Johnson much more creative control over The Last Jedi (TLJ), and in a lot of ways, The Last Jedi is what The Force Awakens should have been: a fresh take on the Star Wars franchise without George Lucas at the helm.

The Last Jedi isn’t without its flaws, but overall, with the exception of the lag about midway through the film and maybe just a tad too many attempts at humor, Rian Johnson delivers on giving us a fresh take on the Star Wars universe that’s both visually stunning and entertaining. 

After reading some of the complaints on the internet, I suspect The Last Jedi will become one of the most polarizing films among fans, who seem to be equally divided between loving it and hating it. I don’t think there’s one right answer, and it’s impossible to look at the new movies with the same childlike wonder that I watched the original trilogy (which naturally biases me towards those three movies).

I watched The Force Awakens last weekend, and I despise it more than I did before, mainly because of the complete rehash of A New Hope (the original Star Wars). I’d rank it just above the prequels. I’d probably place The Last Jedi just behind the original trilogy. 

!!!END OF SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

If you’re reading this far you’ve been warned. Spoilers will be rampant in 3…2…1…

TURN BACK IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST JEDI!!!

SPOILERS BEGIN NOW!!!

There’s plenty to like about The Last Jedi. Here’s a decent list of things that I enjoyed:

  • I like that they tried to give the three major characters story arcs, even if the arcs were not complete hits. 
  • I loved some of the humor – The “do you feel it now” scene with Rey and Luke still cracks me up just thinking about it. 
  • I like that the ending illustrated that “spark of hope” for the rebellion even though they’re at their lowest point by the end of the film.
  • Mark Hamill was amazing and did an enormous job of portraying Luke’s guilt and hesitation in training Rey
  • I loved the fight between Luke and Rey
  • I loved the appearance of Yoda
  • I actually like that the story didn’t follow the conventional Star Wars formula
  • I liked the new twists on Force abilities and the connection between Rey and Kylo
  • I liked that despite everything the rivalry between Kylo and Hux is ongoing, which could have major repercussions for the First Order
  • Despite the twist, I actually really enjoyed the final conflict between Luke and Kylo.
  • The “chase” sequence – Although the set up was kind of dumb, I liked where they were going with it. 
    • My take on this whole thing is that, yes, the First Order could have guessed where the ships were heading and radioed ahead to have other ships fly in to intercept the Rebel ships. But, I think the idea was Hux is a major asshole, and, knowing the Rebels were out of options, wanted to simply drag things out. He’s like a cat playing with its prey. 
  • The reunion scene with Luke and Leia. It was hard not to tear up, especially with the meta of Carrie Fisher’s death and knowing that she and Mark Hamill treated each other like brother and sister in real life.

As I’ve said, the movie is not without its flaws. Here’s my list:

I loved some of the humor, but in other places, it felt forced or awkward. Unlike Thor: Ragnarok, I think maybe they strayed a bit too far down the humor trail in TLJ.

Porgs. Meh. I just want a picture of Chewie with that one on the skewer with the caption: Porg: It’s What’s for Dinner.

 

The “Epic” Chase

I think this could have been set up better. I don’t think they explained why there wasn’t a tracker on one of the resistance ships. The set up was the First Order has tech that can track ships through hyperspace. The first response in the Star Wars universe should have been: Oh, they’ve got a tracker on one of the ships. Instead the characters quickly jump into a convoluted plot to “hack” the main First Order’s ship’s shields into order to slip on board and disable the tracker from that ship. 

The “tracker” story could have been interesting in its own right. If they found a tracker, then there could be a mole on one of the ships. That could have fed into Poe’s distrust of Holdo, eventually suspecting that she may be the mole.

Plus, no one on the First Order ships asks the obvious question: Why not bring in other ships to intercept the fleeing Resistance ships and shoot them all down in a crossfire. The answer, I think, is that Hux is a major asshole, and being such, opts to simply slowly continue the slow pursuit. He knows full well that the Resistance ships can’t run forever, so he wants to make his final victory last. 

A simple conversation between Hux and a junior officer could have made that clear. 

The awkward setup sticks out because this is basically the end of Act I, and the chase  is what triggers everyone else’s actions from this point, from Holdo’s secret plan to Poe/Finn/Rose’s ridiculous plan. 

 

The “WTF” Moment

This is the moment that made no sense to me, and it sucks because I don’t see an easy way to fix it. The hacker DJ sells out not only Finn and Rose but the Resistance as well by telling the First Order the good guys have cloaked? transports. Holdo was keeping this info on a need to know basis. She didn’t tell Poe, which drives Poe’s arc, and it drives the need for Finn/Rose to go off on their adventure. If Finn/Rose don’t know about this plan, how the hell does DJ know?

Again, it’s a problem because it sets everything up for the third act. It’s just sloppy storytelling. 

 

Leia Innnn Spaaaace 

For me, I really agonized about this. My first thought when this started to play out was “Oh come on!” On the one hand, I thought it was over the top, but on the other hand, I really liked seeing Leia, at the moment of nearly dying, finally connecting with the Force and saving herself. I didn’t want to see Leia go out that way, so I’m going to let it pass.

 

Canto Bight 

It bites. Really. I liked some of the ideas Rian Johnson introduced here, that there are people who are profiting from the war and there are people/creatures suffering because of it. It feels too much though like “let’s give Finn & Rose something to do.” It bogs down the movie and really messes with the story timeline as well. The resistance ships have mere hours before they run out of fuel, but it’s fine that Finn/Rose go off on their marry adventure. Since this introduces DJ, but Finn and Rose ultimately fail to stop the First Order, this entire arc feels out of place. 

 

Luke’s Bad Decision

A lot of fans are upset about Luke deciding, if only briefly, that he’s lost Ben to Snoke, and he should kill Ben while he has the chance. I agree with argument that the “Luke we knew” probably wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t give up on Ben. 

But – the “Luke we knew” was from Return of the Jedi. At the point this happens in TLJ, we’re watching a Luke Skywalker 20 plus years after ROTJ. We don’t know what’s happened to him in that time. Luke having doubts about losing influence over Ben and ultimately being betrayed by him is the beginning of the end for Luke. 

It’s that moment that consumes Luke with fear and doubt and guilt that drives him away from everyone he loves and places him in isolation on Ach-To. 

It’s a hard moment to see. To me, it’s much like finding Han basically running from Leia and going back to smuggling in TFA.

These characters were our heroes in the original trilogy, and it’s hard to see them 30 years later to find out that they’re human after all. 

At the same time though, these movies are also about passing the torch to a new generation of characters that have will bring with them a new legion of fans to the Star Wars universe. 

I hope, though, that Lucasfilm allows someone to publish a novel or two that further explores the adventures of Luke and Ben/Kylo and their relationship, including Ben’s eventual betrayal.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Knights of Ren were a no-show.

 

Luke’s Last Stand

I have to see the movie again, but I don’t know if they really explained why Luke’s projection was a one-time deal. I read somewhere that Kylo says something about this, but I missed it. Outside of that, I fully expect to see a Luke ghost both helping Rey and (hopefully) taunting Kylo.

 

Poe’s Arc

I really liked Poe’s arc for the most part. I didn’t mind that he’s left out in the cold by Holdo. I wished there was a moment of reckoning after the mutiny between Poe and Leia. I liked that he’s learning in the battle of Krait that maybe there’s a time to back off and not sacrifice forces. The problem, though, is at this point of the movie, there is no Plan B. This is a “last stand” moment, and Poe should have been all for helping Finn sacrifice himself in order to help buy them time.

 

Finn’s Arc

Again, Finn had a pretty decent story arc, but it felt cheated at the end because Rose kept him from making a heroic sacrifice. I would have liked to see him eject at the last second or something where he’s able to survive but still succeed in destroying the weapon. Let’s say the ship hits the weapon but doesn’t destroy it; at least it still completes Finn’s arc and it adds to his own mythology. 

 

Rey’s Arc 

I’m more bummed that we didn’t see Rey get more training than I am about her parents. Sure, Kylo could be lying, but I don’t think any of the other “theories” would have been better. If she’s Luke’s daughter, then we turn Luke into a deadbeat dad. Same with her being a Solo. Making her related to Obi Wan or Palpatine would only be interesting because it ties her to characters in the other movies. 

Hey, at least they skipped the “immaculate conception” this time. Making her parents irrelevant opens up the idea that anyone could be Force sensitive and evolve into a Jedi or Sith (or something else). I’m okay with that. 

Rey, though, has had less training than Luke did, and that may or may not be a bad thing. She may? have the Jedi Order books, but I think the main point is that because she’s not completely indoctrinated in either the Sith or the Jedi, Rey may ultimately become something else – a person truly balanced between the light and the dark.

 

Not Enough Snoke

Alas, poor Snoke, we hardly knew ye.

Maybe this will be covered in a novel, but it’s a shame that for all his power, Snoke doesn’t get enough screen time, so his eventual death feels a bit meaningless. The final confrontation between Rey, Kylo and Snoke kind of echoes Return of the Jedi, but it feels off. By the time the scene happens in ROTJ, Luke has faced Vader once, and he’s come to terms with the fact that Vader is his father. The stakes are much higher there because of the connection between Luke and Vader. The Emperor still wants to turn Luke, and catching his friends in a trap with the new Death Star, he hopes to push Luke to the dark side. 

In TLJ, Rey senses Kylo’s conflict, and like Luke with Vader, hopes to lure him back into the light. We know Snoke wants to kill Luke, but it’s never clear why. He also doesn’t seem to be as interested in converting Rey, who, with little training, should be susceptible to Snoke’s influence, just as Ben was. 

Snoke has also created a trap, but he seems to be singularly focused on killing Skywalker. Although the twist here is great, Snoke’s death doesn’t have the same impact as the Emperor’s.

I can’t place my finger on it. Maybe seeing it again will help. I like the overall sequence of events here, but it seemed to lack the same emotional impact as ROTJ.

 

Too Many Woman

Ugh, the dumbest thing I’ve seen in the last week or so is the political “far right” having fits about too many women in positions of power in TLJ. I honestly thought it was great to see more than one strong female character in these movies, and I think the “far right” can just crawl back under their rocks. 

 

Moving On 

We will always have the original trilogy of movies, and the memories of seeing those and playing with the toys and reading all of the theories about how Vader could be Luke’s father will not simply disappear because we may or may not like the direction the new films are going in. 

Note, that does NOT include the prequels, which were bad on so many levels. They didn’t destroy my childhood, but I don’t have to bother to watch them, either.

While it has its flaws, I have to give props to Rian Johnson and the Lucasfilm folks for taking chances with The Last Jedi. They’ve opened up some new ideas about what it means to be a Force-wielder (either Jedi or Sith), and they’re trying to take the world of Star Wars into new directions. The Skywalker saga is ending, but the Star Wars universe will be stronger than ever.

I only wish they had started this with The Force Awakens, because there’s so much crammed into The Last Jedi, I almost wish they had made two movies (or had simply introduced some of these things in TFA). 

My biggest worry at this point is whether or not JJ Abrams will be open to the direction that TLJ has gone, or will he backtrack and turn Episode IX into a re-hash of Return of the Jedi. 

 

Justice League – Watchable, but pretty meh

A couple of weeks ago, a buddy of mine and I went to see Thor: Ragnarok (again). Afterward, we were discussing if Ragnarok was worthy of being in our personal top five Marvel movies. 

 

For both of us, it was. 

 

Last week, I watched a review of Justice League and the most positive thing they could say about the movie was that they considered to be the 2nd best DC Cinematic Universe movie behind Wonder Woman. 

 

So, now, after seeing it, where does Justice League land, in my opinion? 

 

Meh? It’s watchable, but it’s also kind of boring. 

 

Instead of the top five Marevel movies, think about which one you would consider to be the WORST of the MCCU movies (starting with Iron Man in 2008). 

 

Your pick for the worst Marvel movie is still able to tell a more coherent story and may actually have a better villain than Justice League. 

 

Despite this, you may ultimately agree that Justice League is the second best DC movie to date (and that depends on how you felt about Man of Steel). The bar, though, is so low at this point, it’s hard not to beat those expectations.

 

Justice League also has the misfortune of following Thor: Ragnarok: It’s easily the best Thor movie to date, and it’s a showcase of the MCCU hitting all the right notes. 

 

So what worked in Justice League? 

 

Certainly, adding a bit of humor to the movie certainly helped along with making Batman less murdery (although Affleck’s “phoned-it-in” performance seems pretty obvious he’s lost interest in the role – or maybe that was his intent for Batman to sulk because he’s not killing so many bad guys this time around).

 

Gal Gadot is still great as Wonder Woman.  Flash and Cyborq are pretty good, and even Aqua-brah is at least tolerable. It’s disappointing that the movie didn’t take a bit more time fleshing out the back stories of these guys, especially Aquaman.  They made him look cool, sure, but there’s just not much revealed about his own story outside of the fact that he’s Atlantean.  There are some funny moments, and there are a few moments of seeing the group start to bond that are fun to watch. 

It certainly feels like Whedon had a hand in some of the bonding scenes.

 

The opening song is a bit gut-wrenching. It’s meant to echo the feeling of the world losing hope as they mourn the death of Superman, but the song also touches a bit close to home with the political situation here in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

 

I’m still a bit disappointed in Cyborg being in the League, but that’s mostly because of my background. When I read & collected comics in the 80s, the sixth member of the Justice League was Green Lantern and Cyborg was part of the Teen Titans. 

 

What didn’t work?

 

It’s hard to get into what went wrong with the movie without delving into spoilers. Basically, Batman, for reasons, suspects that something bad is coming, and that the world is in danger. He needs to put together a team to fight this thing and hopefully stop it and help restore “hope” to the world.  Beyond that, the story is a complete mess.

 

Part of the problem with Justice League is that it wants us to forget about Batman vs Superman. Part of the entire theme of that movie was that world wasn’t sure about Superman, but now that he’s dead, everyone loves him. Batman already has files on the “recruits” so it feels odd that he’s got to find them and/or isn’t sure how to approach them. 

 

Another part of the problem is the main villain: Steppenwolf. For one, he looks too much like Mars did in Wonder Woman. He’s just not interesting. He shows up, and he’s out to destroy the world: for reasons. There are hints about a backstory, but there are almost no details. 

 

Unless you’re deeply familiar with DC comics, you’ll have no idea who or what Steppenwolf or parademons or mother boxes are. They could have swapped any of the bad guys out with vampires or zombies or giant alien robots and you’d care about the same.

 

Why does this suck? 

 

Towards the end of the credits, the movie recognizes some of the brilliant creators who have worked on Justice League over the years. The Justice League/Justice League of America/JLA have been in comics since 1960, yet Warner Bros/DC could not find a single story from almost 60 years of comic archives by some of the greatest creators in the industry that would have worked in a movie? 

 

The other sad thing is that the villain most fans were truly excited to see doesn’t show up until the post credits scene. He looks amazing, and I look forward to seeing him in action. But again, in my comics background, that bad guy isn’t one of the JLA’s normal opponents.

 

I guess Steppenwolf is meant to be a kind of an harbinger of Darkseid, but outside of Steppenwolf saying the word “Darkseid” once in the film, the movie never mentions anything about that. 

 

It’s almost like the movie creators put a list of names of villains that could be powerful enough for the League to fight on a wall and just threw a dart at the wall to pick one at random. 

 

And don’t get me started on what happens with Superman. 

 

Ultimately, the movie suffers from the same thing that all of the DCCU movies have suffered from: they’re desperately trying to catch up to Marvel. But, they don’t want to spend the time in creating individual movies and building the characters up to a point where a movie with them working as a team makes sense. 

 

From a software perspective, it’s like rushing a product that tries to catch up to a competitor and trying to convince buyers that they have the same “feature set” as the competition, even though the competition has spent years getting to where they are. Look at this list of features, marketing says, we check all the same boxes as the other guys. 

 

That’s what Justice League is: See? We’ve got all the things as those other guys! They have six super-heroes; we have six heroes. They have witty banter; we have witty banter.  They save the world; our guys save the world, too. They care about protecting innocent civilians, and, now, so do our guys. 

 

And for better or worse, DC can now say they’ve checked off all the boxes, and that Justice League is “just the same” as the Avengers. 

 

Except that Marvel can still tell a better, more coherent story on their worst day.

 

I won’t even bother comparing it to Thor: Ragnarok, because that wouldn’t even be a fair fight. 

 

Justice League may check off all of the boxes and it may be better than the clusterfuck that BvS, but DC still has a long way to go before they’re able to put together something that competes with the Avengers. 

 

I wouldn’t rush out to see this one; maybe it’s worth a rental. A cheap rental.

As much as DC likes rebooting their comic universe lately, I’d say that maybe it’s time to boot Zack Snyder and start over. (Find a way to keep Gal Gadot though)

 

Additional Notes:

 

I found the second post credits scene to be a complete cringeworthy mess despite the fact of who shows up in it. It’s amazing that a single two minute scene can make you exclaim “Wait, what?!?”, then “Yes!”, then “Oh, for fuck’s sake” by the end. Again, you’d think this scene would drop hints that would tie this movie into the sequel, but nope, not so much. 

 

Will DC try to make individual movies for Superman and Batman (and Flash and/or Cyborg)? Aquaman is basically done, so they’re committed there. Obviously, Wonder Woman is a go as well. Flash seems to be getting pretty positive vibes from other reviews I’ve read, so… maybe?

 

There are also the constant rumors that Affleck wants out. Do they do an Affleck solo Batman movie and have him pass the torch to a younger guy to be the new Batman?  Do they just let him off after the solo Batman movie and then retcon Batman as a younger actor and hope nobody notices? 

(No, really, Batman is really this guy not that old Affleck guy – fake news!)

 

Of course, if not Affleck, then who would be the next to wear the cowl?

Suicide Squad: A Hot Mess

Although visually interesting and sprinkled with a few great performances and some humor, the mess of Suicide Squad’s story overshadows everything else. It still manages to entertain, though, making it better than Batman v. Superman, but BvS set the bar pretty low.

While it will likely make lots of money for DC, Suicide Squad also does nothing to prove that DC can produce a good comic-book movie outside of Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Secret government person Amanda Waller wants to build a team to combat a potential future meta-human threat (i.e. What if the next “superman” wasn’t on our side). Instead of looking for potential “good guys” (because that relates to a different upcoming DC movie), Waller decides to use villains, including other meta-humans. Ultimately, she argues, the villains are expendable – if something goes south, they’ll throw the team under the bus.

Harley Quinn and Deadshot get the longest introductions since they both involve scenes with the Batman (Batfleck) and the Joker. The other members of the squad get shorter intros: Killer Croc, Diablo, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress. Colonel Rick Flag, a bad-ass best-of-the-best soldier is recruited to lead them. Oh, and Katana and Slipknot show up about an hour into the movie with no explanation. 

So after about 30-40 minutes setting up the Squad, someone realizes there should be a villain in the film, and that’s where things go completely off the rails. 

The villain, via a series of badly edited scenes, quickly sets up in Midway City? (because it can’t be Gotham or Metropolis?) and establishes that it’s going to do something very bad to the city (and the world?) and that the military is powerless to stop them. 

So, the Squad is activated. Each member of the team has a small explosive implanted in their necks that can be remotely detonated by Flag/Waller to ensure that they follow orders. Instead of pursuing the villain, Waller sends the team in to retrieve a high-value target in the city and escort them to safety.

So, yeah, although the squad was formed to combat evil meta-humans, and there’s a clear meta-human threat, the squad is sent on an entirely different mission. 

Of course, the squad ultimately winds up confronting the villain, but by that happens, you’ve given up on watching a cohesive story and are just rolling with what happens on screen. There’s a subplot with Joker in order give Jared Leto’s Joker some additional screen time, but outside of the flashbacks to establish Harley Quinn’s story, the entire Joker arc feels unnecessary and tacked on. 

The weirdest thing about the squad? There’s virtually no conflict amongst the team. They all go along with the orders they’re given, and despite that none of these characters were meant to be team players and are thrown together into this situation, they all work together with almost no conflict between each other. 

And, there’s something odd about the music choices. It’s not that the songs are bad, but they never feel like they’re played at the right moments. It feels like the choice to use classic rock songs was a deliberate attempt to try give the movie a “Guardians of the Galaxy vibe” without understanding how or why the music worked in that film.

As far as the cast goes, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn steals every scene she’s in. Viola Davis is excellent as the cool and fierce Amanda Waller. 

Will Smith is fine as Deadshot, with one exception. He’s given the Deadshot mask as part of his costume, but it seems like he’s got a clause in his contract that the audience must see his face on film 95% of the time. He puts the mask on twice in the film, and neither case makes any sense. Arrow’s version of Deadshot didn’t have the mask at all, so Smith would have been fine without it.

Jared Leto’s Joker is… fine, I guess. Trying to do something different from Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight, Leto’s version is more of a crazed, tattooed gangster. He does bring some nice touches to the character, though.

Katana matches her comic-book version. Boomerang is kind of the comic relief of the film. Croc doesn’t have much screen time, but the look doesn’t feel quite right. Croc should have been much bigger, either via a suit or digital effects. Diablo looks great when he transforms.

And the Enchantress – She’s probably the worst part of the film. The initial set up is interesting by setting up the dual personas, and the transformation from June Moone to the Enchantress is pretty good. I don’t think it’s just Cara Delevingne’s performance; the entire arc around this character was so badly written that every scene with her in it disrupts the flow of the movie.

There are already stories out that state the studio got involved late in the project after the dismal reviews from BvS and even paid for some reshoots to add some levity to this film. I read one article that went as far as to say there were actually two different versions of the movie being put together at one point – David Ayer’s version, and the studio’s. 

It feels like the release was a mishmash of both versions, and it shows. Still, it could have been a LOT worse (for that, see last year’s Fantastic Four). 

There are a few great performances (Smith, Davis, and Robbie) in the film and, despite grinding to a halt story-wise halfway through, the movie does succeed in limping to the end and is, if nothing else, at least entertaining to watch. 

Unfortunately, DC still hasn’t managed to find the right combination of elements to produce a comic-book movie that matches the success or coherence of any of the Marvel films. It’s unfortunate, too, because I could have easily seen Suicide Squad capturing a lot of the elements from both Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool and create a distinct movie franchise. 

The Long Con (with tiny hands)

I’m going to call it now – Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States.

What? You ask. What about Trump? 

Trump may still be on the ballot come November, but he will have dropped out of the race before then. 

WHAT? TRUMP WOULD NEVER QUIT!!!

Oh yes. Yes he would.

I’m saying he’d rather quit than lose. if Trump can bow out and spin it in a way where he can declare that he’d “easily” win the election if the system wasn’t “rigged” so Hillary would win, he’d do it. He wouldn’t have to deal with the debates, he wouldn’t have to face losing the election. He could declare himself the “winner” – that he would have won by “YUGE” margins if the system wasn’t so rigged against him.

Don’t believe me?

Instead of trying to be more Presidential, Trump has instead amped up the crazy. The democrats have said Trump can easily be baited, and he proved them right over and over again. He continues to attack anyone that challenges him. The situation with attacking the Khans has the GOP leadership dancing in full spin mode yet again.

Look at his speeches over the last couple of days. He’s already laying the groundwork to bow out. Sunday, he was complaining that the dates of the debates were being “rigged” in Hillary’s favor. He complains that the government is “rigged” because they failed to press charges against Clinton over the personal email server fiasco. 

Now, he’s telling supporters that he’s “hearing” that the election in November will be “rigged” to allow Hillary to win. He won’t have any proof of any of this, just “hears things” from “people he knows”.

He already has subordinates declaring that, for example, a Trump loss in Florida would literally be because of voter fraud. A Trump loss in Florida would be considered fraud by the Trump campaign, who would then declare the entire election illegitimate (assuming Trump loses the election), which they say would create a constitutional crisis, shut down the government and create massive civil disobedience across the country. 

Basically, if you don’t buy into the fear, chaos and disaster that the Trump campaign has been spinning until now, they’re going to make sure the fear, chaos and disaster happens if Trump doesn’t win.

Trump is also now going after GOP leaders who haven’t fully supported him. Today he’s announced he is withholding support for Paul Ryan and John McCain, both of whom are facing GOP challengers for their Senate seats. Both Ryan and McCain condemned Trump’s attacks on the Khan family, but still support Trump as the nominee.

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Cuban declared that Trump was only in the race as a means to boost his name/brand value. The ideal situation for Trump, Cuban said, would be for him to win the popular vote in the election but lose the electoral. That way he could still spin things as he “won” the election – the people wanted him, but again, the system (i.e.. the electoral college) was “rigged” so he’d lose.

After the last few days of hearing about more and more Trump snafus, I don’t think he’ll wait that long.

Why? It’s the same idea. Trump will bow out by declaring that as much as the people want him in office, the system is “rigged” against them. He could have easily won the election if Obama and Hillary didn’t “rig” the system in their favor. He can boost his own brand, and pass the blame on to everyone else.

As a bonus, he’ll also be able to completely screw over the GOP who will have no way to name a new candidate and get a fresh campaign up and running before the election. Those “losers” haven’t really supported him anyway. The GOP could try to run with Pence, but I suspect it wouldn’t matter who they brought in – it’d be too little, too late.

The damage will have been done. Sure, the faithful will still vote for Trump, even if they have to write him in on the ballots. But, I also think a lot of GOP voters will consider voting Democrat if only to send a message. Instead of being angry at Trump, I suspect many will go after the existing GOP leadership for letting Trump game the system and effectively drive the GOP into the ground.

So, yeah, my money is on Trump walking away. He’ll say he coulda won, but he’ll blame it on the system, the GOP leadership, the liberal media, the Mexicans, the Muslims, Hillary Clinton, and of course, Obama.

When will he quit? I’d say October first. But, I think he may go as early as September, before he has to face Hillary in any debate. And, I think, he wants to maximize the negative impact on the GOP leadership. If he can bow out and directly or indirectly cause Paul Ryan and/or John McCain lose re-election, that would be icing in the cake.

He told everyone at the GOP convention that he’s the guy that knows the system better than anyone, and he alone can fix it.

He’s fixing it alright – He’s fixing the system in order to make Trump, not America, great again.

Un-debatable?

Not surprisingly, tonight there are stories suggesting that Trump is looking for excuses to bail on debates with Hillary Clinton. Of course, Trump is trying to spin it as Clinton and the Democrats are trying to “rig” the debates. 

We’ve already seen how Trump “debates”. He’s certainly not going to debate about the issues because Clinton would utterly destroy him. If he does show up, instead of talking about the issues, he’s going to deflect and spew insults at his opponent, her spouse (and her spouse’s Presidency), and (more than likely) their family. 

It would play out something like this: 

Moderator: Mr. Trump, you’ve spoken repeatedly about building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border and claiming that Mexico will pay for it. Can you explain what specific initiatives you’ll introduce that will build the wall and get Mexico to pay for it?

Trump: (thinking – I’ve got this) It’s going to be a Great Wall. It will be YUHGE, the best wall, you’ll see.  (Rambles about the amazing wall and Mexco – probably throws in a couple of lines about President Clinton and evil NAFTA for good measure – for three minutes or until the moderator stops him)

Moderator: Senator Clinton, would you care to respond?

Senator Clinton: I would be happy to respond once Mr. Trump answers the question.

Trump: (now confused) What?

Senator Clinton: (patiently) The moderator asked you about your specific plans to build this wall of yours. You haven’t answered the question.

Trump: (now getting angry) Did so. 

Clinton: The American people would like to know, as would I, what your specific plans are to build this wall?

Moderator: Senator Clinton is right, Mr Trump. Would you please answer the question?

Trump: (angry) This is what I’ve been talking about! The liberal media is always out to get me (another rant about the media and “Crooked Hillary” for a few minutes)

(There should be at least one cut to Clinton rolling her eyes at Trump in the middle of this rant)

Moderator: Senator Clinton? 

Clinton: I heard Mr Trump say a lot of things just now, but I still did not hear an answer to the original question. I would be happy to respond when Mr. Trump provides an answer. 

Moderator: (sighs) 

Of course, Hillary Clinton could take the high road and explain that a more rational plan would be to work with the Mexican government and discuss other initiatives, such as increasing funding to the border patrol, more cops, etc, instead of building a wall. Or something – She’d actually try to address the issue.

Regardless of a response or policy Clinton could provide about the wall (or anything, really), Trump would scoff and decry it as “that’s what Obama would do” and spend a couple of minutes ranting about how Obama has destroyed the country and that only he, Donald Trump, can make America great again. 

Wash, rinse, repeat. For two hours.

And there you have it.

You’d have one candidate at the debate making their case for why they would be the right choice for President, and you’d have another candidate whose sole focus is improving their TV rating.

 

 

The Martian

TLDR: Go see it! Then, go buy the book, and read it!

I’ve seen a couple of reviews compare the Martian to Cast Away, and although the premise may be similar, the comparison doesn’t really do the story justice.

Based on Andy Weir’s first novel, the movie tells the story of Mark Watney. Watney is part of a series of manned missions to Mars called Ares, but when a massive storm forces the team of astronauts to abort their mission and leave the planet, Watney is struck by debris and tossed out of sight of the others. The electronics in his suit fail, making the others assume the worst. Because of the risk to their own lives, they have no other choice but to leave Mars, assuming that Watney died on the surface.

Only, (spoilers!), he didn’t die. Watney survived, but now he’s the only man on Mars, with no communications, 50 million miles away from Earth, and the next manned mission to the planet won’t arrive for another four years.

The movie is both a story of survival as Watney tries to solve the problems he’s facing on the desolate Martian landscape as well as the drama faced by both NASA and the other members of the Ares crew learn that Watney is alive and was left behind on Mars and struggle to find a way to rescue him.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Watney, and he does an amazing job in portraying both the humor and the emotional roller coaster Watney experiences as he fights to endure on Mars. The film balances everything well between both Mars and Earth, so viewers aren’t simply watching one man struggle to survive. They do a great job of handling the problem-solving scenes, setting up the problem, then watching as Watney or Watney and NASA work through the task at hand.

The cinematography of the vast, wide shots of the Martian landscape are gorgeous even though they serve to remind us of just how isolated Watney is.

Despite the smooth pacing of most of the movie, the film feels a bit rushed towards the end – as if someone was trying to keep the film from stretching out for three hours (which it may have if they didn’t speed things up). A couple of tense scenes from the end of the book are lost here, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story. As it is, the film clocks in at 2:14.

My only quibbles about the film are that the film ignores the fact that in the book Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. I always felt his expertise in both disciplines helped the character to survive. The film also leaves out some of the best lines from the book (which is why you should really read the book, too)

The movie is a very tense but enjoyable experience. Be forewarned, if you’re someone who gets emotional watching films, you may want to bring some tissues.

Farewell

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Isabella, aka Izzie, passed away in the wee hours of Friday morning, Sept 11, 2015 as her fourteen-year-old body suddenly began giving out on her.
 
She was a great cat who loved being around people, which is unusual for a cat (and a stark contrast to my other Persian – who generally only wanted attention on his terms). She was my “lap-kitty” who would curl into my lap when I sat down in a recliner to watch TV. 
 
She always made sure she was in the location of the house – anyone’s house, mine, my folks, my sister, where there was the most traffic. She’d make sure to lay down on a chair or table in the “optimal petting location” to ensure passersby could easily stop and pet her. 
 
The funniest thing, though, is that she wasn’t originally going to be my cat. 
 
Back in 2006, my sister had the bug to get a cat, and she’d always wanted a white Persian with blue eyes. Izzie didn’t have blue eyes, and she was an older cat a breeder in Dallas was selling. The original plan was for me to pick her up (this was late October) and keep her with me until Thanksgiving. I normally went home to Lubbock for the holidays, so I could just bring her home then. 
 
A white cat would have never been my first pick of hair color, but Ozzie’s personality won me over. I took her and my other cat home for Thanksgiving.
 
I left her there with my sister, but realized that I had already bonded with her and wanted to keep her as my own cat. I usually kept two cats around the house, and I had lost a kitten earlier in the year to FIV. I was down to a one cat household, and my cat adjusted remarkably well to Izzie in the house.
 
So, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the negotiations began. I had to scramble to find another white Persian cat in DFW that my sister approved of and bring it to my sister before I could take Izzie home to my house. Luckily, the breeder had a second cat, and we were able to make the swap. 
 
Of all the cat’s I’ve had since being in Dallas, Izzie was one of the most loving cats I’d ever owned. She loved attention from everyone, and she’d quickly purr and stick the tip of her little tongue out to let you know she was content while you pet her. She was loved by everyone in the family, and she will be greatly missed.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Back to Jurassic Park

A few weeks ago, one of my buddies had mentioned that he’d read Jurassic Park for the first time recently, and he was surprised at the number of differences between the book and the movie. I haven’t read the book since 1993 (around the time the movie came out), so it was a bit fuzzy. At this point I’ve seen the movie quite a few times, so it has kind of become “canon” in my memory. 

Last week, I was going through a slow purge of my existing books and stumbled across my paperback copies of both Jurassic Park and the Lost World. Inspired by my discussion with my friend, I decided to re-read both books. 

Here are some of the differences that I thought were interesting and/or was disappointed they left out of the movie. 

(Needless to say – uh, spoilers – for both the book and the movie. C’mon people you’ve had at least 20+ years to see the movie and/or read the book) 

1. The movie flips the ages and a couple of the personality traits of the kids. Lex is the older and the computer nerd, and Tim is the younger one and the dinosaur expert. In the book, Tim is still the dinosaur expert, but he’s the computer nerd and the oldest. Lex is the youngest and really doesn’t do much in the book (outside of petting and naming the dinosaurs they encounter. I prefer the movie switch, since it gives both kids something to do (Although I still cringe every time I hear “It’s a Unix system.” from that scene in the movie). The book also mentions the kids’ parents are divorcing, but it’s left out of the movie.

2. My favorite – and I chuckled at this as I read it – was that Alan Grant “loves kids” in the book. I didn’t mind that they made him uncomfortable around kids in the movie because it gave his character a chance to grow through the film, but it was a funny thing to read that line in the book.

3. The T-Rex is a much bigger antagonist in the book. All of the content about Grant and the kids taking a raft into the lagoon / river in the book are not in the movie. I’d completely forgotten about this, so I was disappointed (again) that they weren’t in the film. A couple of them – the scene where they learn the T-Rex can swim, and the waterfall scene where the raft is about to go over the falls to where the T-Rex is waiting below – would have been amazing on film.

4. I was happily surprised that a lot of the great lines from the movie came directly from the book.

5. The aviary and the opening scenes are left out of the book, but they are used in the other films. The opening scene of Jurassic Park becomes the opening scene for the Lost World movie. The aviary shows up in Jurassic Park III (you know, the one where you root for the dinosaurs to eat Tea Leoni’s character)

6. The main subplot of the book that’s completely left out of the movie is the concern about the dinosaurs getting off (and possibly already have gotten off) the island. It’s another point about “life finds a way” that the movie picks up when they discover that the dinosaurs are breeding, but the other, much greater concern, of dinosaurs getting off the island is left out. In fact, while the book describes the island being bombed to eradicate all life, the movie leaves the island intact, In fact, the end of the movies shows pterodactyls flying along side the helicopter as the survivors leave the island, and nobody is the least bit concerned. 

7. Speaking of survivors, the book makes it pretty clear that both Hammond and Malcolm die on the island. Both survive in the movie. The Lost World book has to quickly explain how Malcolm is now alive since he’s the main character in the story (turns out he was only “mostly” dead). 

Both the movie and the book are excellent, and it’d be worth your time to go and enjoy both again. Read the book first, then re-watch the movie.

For me, I’m moving on to reading the Lost World. 

The New MacBook – Just the Beginning?

This morning, I made a comment on Twitter that the new MacBook is really meant to be a “road” or “travel” or “second” computer for people who already owned Macs. It’s probably not powerful enough or flexible enough to work as an everyday computer. 

But then, on my drive into work, I was thinking that I’d heard that before…

Isn’t that what a lot of people said about the original MacBook Air in 2008?

What’s this? A computer without a CD/DVD drive? Only a single USB port? So thin you could use it as a knife? 

What was Apple thinking?!? 

As we know now, the Macbook Air is one of Apple’s best selling line of laptops, and, in fact, now represents the “budge-conscious” side of Apple’s lineup. It’s only in the last year or so that competitors in the PC world have been able to come close to replicating the Macbook Air’s form factor and weight.

What does it mean? 

Right now, the MacBook is step towards the future. We won’t know for sure until next month, but from what I’ve read the Core M processor won’t match the performance of the Core i5’s in the baseline Macbook Air’s. It probably won’t be fast enough for power users, but it may be plenty fast enough for the average computer user. 

If I remember correctly, the first generation Macbook Air suffered from the same problem. It wasn’t nearly as fast and as the other machines in Apple’s lineup. They had less memory, less hard drive space, etc. 

But that form factor was damn sexy. 

The Air’s design elements eventually spread to the Macbook Pros: thinner, lighter machines with fewer ports and no CD/DVD drive.

Like the original MacBook Air, the new MacBook has taken some gutsy steps of its own. It’s even thinner and lighter, with a Retina display, new keyboard, new trackpad, and a single USB-C port. And, like previous MacBooks, it comes in colors!

i’ve no doubt that we’ll see Apple sell a ton of them. 

Intel is working towards moving the Core i3/i5/i7 processors to the 14nm process, so it’s possible that in a couple of generations, the MacBook may be powerful enough to meet even power user demands. It will probably replace the Air lineup in a couple of years. 

The trackpad is already in the 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro, so it’s a no-brainer that the pad will move to the other MacBook Pros.

What about USB-C? 

This is the one area i’m the most curious about. How soon will (or if) Apple will ditch Thunderbolt in favor of USB-C?  Will there be any adapters, especially since right now – the MacBook won’t be able to connect to any Apple Cinema Display. How aggressive will Apple be in moving the new components into the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro lines?

Basically, how soon will my fancy new Thunderbolt dock become obsolete?

Also, if Retina now appears in the MacBook, does that mean that the MacBook Pros will bump up to 5K displays? 

Picture that: A new, thinner 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 5k display, 4 USB-C ports and weighs less than 4 pounds? 

That would be pretty sweet.

Gotham – Ugh

My quick thoughts on Gotham.

I had really hoped that they would take the story elements from Batman:Year One, which is as much Gordon’s story as it is Batman’s and use that as the foundation for the series. (If you’re a Batman fan and haven’t read Year One, you should – it’s one of the best Batman stories out there)

I guess they should put a disclaimer or something that this series will not tie into the movies? Or, maybe it will tie in with Batman v. Superman (ugh)? 

The pilot was okay. The fact that the story is set back at the point Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered makes me wonder what they’re going to do with 15-20 years of time to kill. (I’m assuming Bruce was 8 — the show makes him look 10-11 — when his parents were killed and probably in his 20s when he becomes Batman)

The overall plot eventually wound up being mildly interesting, but too many elements where thrown in that get in the way. Instead of making a good police show about Gotham, the producers seem to be determined (at least for now) in beating people over the head with reminders that – “Hey, this is a Batman show – but without Batman.”

I’m also not thrilled that other police characters from the “current” Batman are now in the past. it feels like some of the characters were forced into the story because someone scanned through the Batman comics and picked up on them. They didn’t read the story, just kind of skimmed through the comics and brought things in without thinking of how they fit in the context.

Case in point: Officer Montoya – I suspect she’s only in this series to play on the idea that she’s had some type of prior relationship with Gordon’s fiancé, Barbara Kean. Kean appears to be a based on Kathine Kane, aka Batwoman, and she doesn’t belong in this story. 

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the possible lesbian relationship between Kean and Montoya. To me, though, if you want to do a Batwoman TV show, then make one. It’s a disservice to that comic to just force a few elements of those characters here.

The really really annoying thing though? Sticking these not-so-subtle references of characters from Batman’s rogues gallery in the show. This feels like an bad corporate decision. Wouldn’t it be “cool” to show younger versions of Batman villains? 

The short answer is: No

Someone watched Kick-Ass and thought a young Catwoman would be cool to add to the show. Someone else thought it would be cute if Riddler was working for the police. There are four of these characters appearing in the pilot alone, so I shudder to think of how long this will keep going on. Scarecrow is young Bruce’s psychologist helping him deal with the death of his parents? Mr Freeze is driving an ice-cream truck? 

There are so many excellent police shows out there that they could borrow from, I’m not sure why they couldn’t simply make it a good police show.

Take us back in time to the time before Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed. Maybe months? Show us that Gotham was a good place to live, but the first seeds of corruption were already appearing. The death of the Waynes could have made a major statement to the characters in the show and the people of Gotham in general if it had been used later. 

Year One would have been a better point in time to start the show. Gordon has just arrived in town. The town is already corrupt. The show focuses on Gordon trying to do the right thing while facing an uphill battle inside an already corrupt police force. You could even have the show without Batman – directly. He appears and all the cops have to go on are the descriptions from the criminals, Gordon eventually is ordered to try capture the “Bat-Man.” and we could see him stage stings to try lure him out of the shadows.  Eventually, Gordon wonders if stopping the Batman is such a great idea because he seems to be pissing off all of the right people.

Alas…

Maybe they’ll find a way to make the show work, but right now it’s not high on my list of shows to watch. 

Of course, I say that, and yet I suffered through the most of Agents of Shield last year.. 

 

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