Vintage SF Month is hosted by the Little Red Reviewer. The objective: Read and discuss "older than I am" Science Fiction in the month of January.

Rumor has it that James P. Hogan, disappointed by the ending of Stanley Kubrick's (and I suppose I should also mention Arthur C. Clarke's) 2001: A Space Odyssey, made a bet with his engineer colleagues that he'd write a science fiction novel inspired by some of the ideas he liked in 2001 (presumably he liked the idea of finding something really weird on the moon). The result is Inherit the Stars, Hogan's debut novel. It seems to be pretty well received and spawned a few sequels. Hogan would later become a notorious crank, but this debut is pretty interesting and well regarded.

Inherit the Stars
Explorers on the moon make a grim discovery: a corpse in a bright red spacesuit. By all measures, "Charlie" (as he is nicknamed) is human, the same as his discoverers. But no one can identify him. He doesn't match the description of any missing astronauts and his spacesuit is not of any known manufacture. The mystery only deepens when scientists discover that the body had been lying dead on the moon for 50,000 years. Who was this man? Where was he from? Surely Earth, right? Why was he on the moon? Charlie had a notebook written in an unknown language, but once the translations start to progress, we begin to find some answers, and yet more mysteries also emerge. Soon, other "Lunarians" are discovered on the moon, as well as other evidence of their civilization and the conflict that destroyed them throughout our solar system. But mysteries still abound.

Published in 1977, Inherit the Stars feels more like something out of the 50s. The prose is straightforward and unremarkable, the info-dumps are bald and plentiful, the characterizations are basically an afterthought, and in terms of plot and storytelling, it's a bit staid. The bulk of the story is just scientists talking to each other about confounding discoveries. I kinda love it. The sense of wonder remains fully intact, starting with the premise, and with the way characters slowly break down the evidence, piecing together what happened 50,000 years ago, hypothesizing explanations, and constantly revising their thoughts when new discoveries don't fit with the current theories.

To some, the deep dives into how one deciphers a lost language could be tedious, and so too could the constant revisions of speculations about what is really going on. To me, though, this is the beating heart of science fiction. The potential explanations are, in themselves, mysterious and tantalizing, and grow moreso as we find out more information. I'm not entirely sure that the orbital mechanics work out perfectly, but everything generally fits, and the ending makes for a satisfying explanation.

While I was a bit hard on the characterization and plotting, it's worth noting that the two main characters, while they have opposing theories of what happened throughout the story, are generally cooperative and one of the more impressive things about Hogan's resolution is that he manages to allow both characters to be correct. It turns out that there's one piece of evidence that, once discovered, removes all the apparent contradictions, allowing both scientists a victory.

People don't write books like this anymore. Standards of storytelling and characterization have perhaps risen over time (and, frankly, this still feels like a bit of an outlier even for 1977). That being said, maybe the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Characterization is great and all, but these days, it seems to overwhelm the ideas and sense of wonder. In a book like Inherit the Stars, the idea is the hero, something that you don't see often these days.

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2019 in Movies

The transition of year to year is largely arbitrary, but then, it does happen, and one might as well take the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we're going. When it comes to movies, most critics and publications have long since published their "Best of 2019" lists and other such reminiscences. This sort of thing has been trending earlier and earlier every year, to the point where people are posting their annual movie recaps in November or early December. This is a bit absurd, so here at Kaedrin, we wait until January to start our festivities, which tend to last about a month. Today, we look at my overall movie consumption in 2019. This will be followed by the Kaedrin Movie Award nominations next week, then the winners, the Arbitrary awards, and finally a Top 10 list. For now, though, let's look at what I managed to see in 2019:
  • 392 films watched
  • 682.7 hours watched
  • 32.7 movies a month on average
  • 7.5 movies a week on average
  • 26 movies made in 1978
Last year, I "only" watched 356 movies, which was kind of a bummer because I was so close to the 1 per day average but didn't quite get there. This year I managed to blow past that goal with 392 films. The general trend is due to watching less television and playing less video games (book reading is about on par with last year). The 1978 project started in the latter half of the year, though I had inadvertently seen a few things earlier in the year too, but 26 movies represents pretty great progress).
2019 movies by week
As usual, lots of variability from week to week, though you can see a pretty consistent high rate towards the end of the year. New record for movies in one week hits 14 (I may have done more than that before, but since I've been recording my watching habits this closely, this is a record), with lots of 10-12 level weeks included. As for days of the week, it looks like Mondays and Saturdays got a little bump this year, though it's overall more consistent.
2019 movies by genre, country, and language
When it comes to genres, countries, and languages, it's not that big of a surprise to see US and English with a commanding lead. UK movies had a decent increase, but are still dwarfed by US movies. The top six countries remain the same though, and tend to be western-focused. Heck, Japan didn't even place this year (though I certainly watched several Japanese movies.) Action leads the genres, which is not too surprising, with Thrillers and Comedies nipping at their heels. Horror had a bit of a dip compared to last year, but the catchall category of Drama is right about where it normally is.
2019 Movies Map
I didn't count the countries I managed to see a film from this year, but this seems fairly diverse, about on par with last year's map (give or take a few countries). One of these years, I'll do a 50 from 50 list to watch 50 films from 50 different countries in one year (maybe even more, since I seem to do pretty well without even trying)...
2019 Movies Breakdown
19.9% of the movies I watched last year were a 2019 release, a slight increase from last year's 17.1% of 2018 movies. Most of this is driven by streaming movies, which makes sense. 24% of the movies I watched in 2019 were rewatches, which is actually a pretty significant decrease from last year (which was at 29.2%). The ratings spread has moved slightly lower, with the 3 stars (out of 5) rating being the most popular (I used to be a little more forgiving, averaging more like 3.5 stars out of 5). Otherwise a pretty standard bell curve (with a slight bias on the higher end of the scale, driven by rewatches of things I love)...
Most Watched Movie Stars in 2019
Most watched stars remain pretty white and male, with Harrison Ford edging out Samuel L. Jackson for the top slot. This is mostly driven by a Star Wars rewatch (which, when considering Rise of Skywalker, represented 6 out of the 9 things I saw him in...) ScarJo (driven by Marvel flicks, but she also had a pretty busy year) and Carrie Fisher (also driven by Star Wars) are the female actors on the list. Actually, the grand majority of the list is driven by franchises like Star Wars, Mission Impossible, Marvel, and Ocean's. The longer list contains only one person not associated with those franchises, which is Danielle Harris (though, heh, her presence is driven by the Halloween and Hatchet franchises, but there are also some other flicks).
Most Watched Directors in 2019
And the most watched directors are not exclusively white and male, but could probably still be more diverse. Maybe a little less franchise driven here, though there's plenty of that (even Kenji Misumi is only there because I watched a few Lone Wolf & Cub movies this year). A weird inclusion is Jesse V. Johnson, a DTV action director that makes generally enjoyable stuff.
2019 movies - highs and lows
Lowest Average rating and Most Obscure film are the more interesting categories here, though it's nice to see that both of the others are 2019 flicks, and not some rewatch (which they have been frequently in the past)...

So it's been a banner year for movie watching here at Kaedrin. Stay tuned for the Kaedrin Movie Award nominations next week!
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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I joked about avoiding this review last week because, well, the discourse around this movie (and it's predecessor) has become a bit of a battleground in the culture wars, which are totally not as fun as the star wars these movies are talking about. As a child of the 80s, I can't help but hold a special place in my heart for Star Wars, and so there's this never-ending reserve of goodwill towards new installments in the series, even when they don't hold up (like, say, the prequels). As such, I found Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker a cromulent enough entry into the canon. That being said, it's clear that the film and the trilogy it purports to cap off is janky as hell, mostly because there didn't appear to be any real plan.
  • In fairness, J.J. Abrams was dealt a pretty weak hand. Disney originally brought him in to kickstart the relatively dormant franchise, which plays to Abrams's strengths. He's rejuvenated franchises before and he's infamous for creating tantalizing mysteries at the beginning of a story. So it wasn't surprising that The Force Awakens was a massive hit. It was severely dependent on (verging on a remake of) the original Star Wars movie, but that seemed to suit the franchise well. Then Disney brought in Rian Johnson to follow up Abrams with The Last Jedi. Regardless of what you may think of that entry (and I liked it a lot!), it's clear that it didn't strike quite the same chord with audiences, though to my mind, Johnson left the third film wide open to do something new and exciting, not as bound by the shape of the original trilogy. The third movie was planned to be written and directed by Colin Trevorrow (presumably based on the success of Jurassic World), but like most of the Disney Star Wars movies, this movie had a troubled production and Trevorrow left/was-fired/whatever, and Abrams was brought in to save the day. Add to that the untimely death of Carrie Fisher, and things get really complicated. Abrams, not known for ending stories well, was brought in to an unpopular but relatively clean slate, inheriting a troubled production that had based the story on a character whose actress was no longer with us (in as much as the Disney trilogy had a shape, it was based on the original three characters: Han in Force Awakens, Luke in "Last Jedi", and presumably Leia in this third installment), thus forcing a large rewrite on a shortened timeline. Given the constraints, Abrams did a fine job bringing this home, even if a lot of the movie doesn't quite gel for me.
  • It has become abundantly clear is that there was no overarching plan or vision for this trilogy. I'm not sure who's to blame for this, though the obvious choices are Kathleen Kennedy and Bob Iger. Still, this sort of thing gets complicated, so I'm sure there are tons of other folks who played a role in muddying the waters of the trilogy. I mean, some of the poor cards in Abrams' hand were dealt by Abrams himself. In the end, it still feels like the overarching vision for Star Wars at Disney was "Make boatloads of money!" Which, to be fair, they've certainly accomplished. But have they done so only in the short term? The grand majority of the issues I have with the new trilogy emerge from this one decision to just sorta wing it for this trilogy.
  • The bit about the production being rushed should not be underestimated. One thing Abrams had mentioned about Force Awakens was that while he obviously didn't plan for Harrison Ford to get injured, having to slow the production down actually helped make the movie better, as they had some more time to iron out details. This sort of story isn't unusual in Hollywood either. John Carpenter's The Thing famously benefited from the unexpected luxury of time. On the flipside, rushed productions can have an inverse effect. One recent example was Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies. How could the guy who made The Lord of the Rings work so well fail so completely at The Hobbit? Well, he inherited a troubled production and didn't have as much time as he did with the previous movies (which, to be sure, probably isn't the only reason those movies were so flabby, but definitely a key part of it). There have been lots of interviews indicating that the rushed schedule of Rise of Skywalker presented a struggle, particularly for the editing (which was partially done in parallel, on the set, due to the time constraints - not a good sign). Again, this is a part of the hand Abrams was dealt. He did a pretty good job considering this constraint. But should we be considering this sort of constraint?
  • As mentioned above, one of the things I actually liked about Rian Johnson's entry into the series was that he sorta cleared the slate, opening up a lot of opportunities to do something new and interesting in the third film. For example, the notion that Rey was a "nobody" frees that character up to choose her own path. The familial connection bit seems quite overplayed these days, and while it was a key component of the original trilogy, there's no real need for it here. Of course, then Abrams goes and informs us that no, she's only a nobody from a certain point of view, and in fact, she's a Palpatine. Now, this isn't the worst idea in the world, and there were pretty intriguing fan theories way back during the Force Awakens timeframe that speculated on this, but it very clearly wasn't the intention all along. I don't know, maybe Johnson threw a wrench into some sort of original plan, but from everything I've seen, that's not actually the case. Whatever the case, in this movie it just feels rushed and unnecessary. A perfunctory twist that doesn't actually add anything, other than vaguely recalling the Luke/Vader revelation in Empire. It's not strictly bad, but it contributes to the overall jankiness of the story.
  • Abrams approach to this movie feels very similar to his approach to Star Trek into Darkness. Abrams managed to breath new life into the Star Trek franchise with his fun, action-packed Star Trek flick from 2009. One of the mildly clever things that story did was to introduce a plot device that freed the filmmakers from the continuity of the earlier Kirk/Spock canon. What did Abrams do with that newfound freedom in the sequel? He remade The Wrath of Khan. Similarly, Johnson seemed to free up the playing field for Abrams in the third movie, and Abrams took that freedom and punted. You could say that Johnson did his bit in a way that alienated too many fans or cut off too many avenues or whatever, but I suspect there could have been a way to do something new and interesting in the third movie that would have underlined and reinforced what Johnson did, such that people might have changed their mind about it. Instead, Abrams seemed to be actively hostile to Johnson's efforts, almost trying to make the third movie more of a direct sequel to Force Awakens than to create a cohesive trilogy. I don't want to be too hard on Abrams here though, because The Last Jedi clearly wasn't as popular as The Force Awakens and my thoughts here verge on me just harping on what I want rather than Abrams doing what he wants. However, all of this goes back more to the whole "no real plan for the trilogy" idea than anything else, and again, Abrams was dealt a bad hand with respect to timing and an untimely death.
  • The dead speak! I have to admit, I kinda loved that opening line of the crawl. I mean, sure, Palpatine coming back makes no sense whatsoever, but handling it at a remove in the crawl is actually pretty fun. Just kooky enough to grab my attention and honestly it sorta hedged against my fears of Palpatine as a character in this. Which were justified, to be sure, and honestly I still think the Palpatine concept is a bit much, but if you're going to do it, go all the way, and they did. I can kinda, sorta retcon the whole thing in my head by involving cloning and some sort of weird collective Sith hive mind concept (i.e. he's not just Palpatine, but rather all of the Sith, which is literally mentioned but somewhat unclear in the movie proper). Also, it's worth noting that Ian McDiarmid is an excellent actor and he really makes Palpatine work through his performance (which is something we never really got out of Snoke).
  • Kylo Ren continues to be one of the more interesting parts of this new trilogy. He's got an actual arc in this movie, but unfortunately, it's an arc that would have worked better with more Leia interactions, which was just not possible (and I respect that they minimized CGI Leia stuff here). Like Poe's arc in The Last Jedi, I can see the shape of what they were going for here and it works, but the execution is a bit off, which sorta mutes my response. That being said, Adam Driver puts in a great performance, and almost manages to pull it off all on his lonesome. His relationship with Rey has a similar feel, though it comes off a bit better. I'm not entirely sure the kiss was earned, but everything else works. That lightsaber fight on the old death star was pretty darned cool too.
    Light Saber Battle
  • Rey's story here is a bit messy, but ultimately works. There's a couple of bits that feint towards a really interesting "maybe she'll fall to the dark side" arc, but every time something like that comes up, it's almost immediately undercut in the next scene. Like when she accidentally destroys a troop transport - she thinks she may have inadvertently killed Chewbacca. But it turns out that she didn't, it was a different transport, we're only left wondering about it for a mere couple of minutes, and no thought is given to her murder of an entire transport of stormtroopers. Which, sure, they're stormtroopers, who cares? But one of the bits that runs through this new trilogy is that the stormtroopers are people too, usually born into slavery and forced into this role. This is one of the things established by the Finn character, and underlined in this new film by the character Jannah, another stormtrooper who disobeyed orders and overcame her conditioning, refusing to fire on innocent civilians (and who references a bunch of other stormtroopers with similar stories). So yeah, killing a bunch of stormtroopers could have been a step on the slippery slope to the dark side, but who are we kidding, there was never really any danger of Rey going to the dark side and the movie doesn't even pretend to care about stormtroopers. Now, Rey being a "nobody" could have been an interesting starting point, because finding your way in the universe is difficult enough even with guidance from your family, and starting from a literal clean slate can be daunting and scary. Of course, this movie went a different direction, as she learns that she's a Palpatine. As mentioned above, this doesn't quite have the same impact as, for example, the Vader/Luke revelation, but it could have been interesting if developed over the course of the trilogy. Unfortunately, it has to mostly happen in this one film, so it feels a bit rushed. It's ultimately fine, but again, it really underscores the "no plan for the trilogy" bit.
  • Poe gets some great one liners and has some nice back-and-forth tension with Rey, such that it seemed like they were building up a romance angle there, but then that was sorta dumped in favor of Kylo and Rey and Poe and Zorii Bliss? Who's that, you ask? I don't know, some woman from Poe's past. There's some chemistry there, I guess. It just seems weird to be introducing so many new characters in the final film of a trilogy like this. And really, these movies don't know what to do with Poe (or Finn, for that matter, but we'll get to that). So yeah, Zorii Bliss looks cool, I guess, and I always get a kick out of casting a recognizable face in a role where the character wears a mask the whole time, but ultimately she just feels extraneous and introducing a new character while trying to wind down the story seems like a bad idea.
  • Finn gets a couple of decent moments, but like Poe, this series never really knew what to do with him. Johnson introduced Rose Tico as a love interest for Finn, but that's completely sidelined here (and frankly, that whole plotline was one of the weaker parts of The Last Jedi, so maybe that was a good idea). We get a new character with a similar backstory to Finn, which is the aforementioned Jannah, but this relationship doesn't progress much beyond an introduction. At the end of the movie, there's a bunch of character interactions, and it seemed weird that Jannah's final bit was her discussing her past with Lando (rather than Finn) and then literally asking the audience to subscribe to Disney+ to find out what happens (ok, fine, it wasn't a literal thing, but the implication was so strong that it sure felt like one). Anyway, there's also this bizarre dangling bit about Finn having something to tell Rey, but then not actually telling her? And it's not, like, one line, but rather repeated a couple times throughout the movie. There's some notion out there that Finn's secret was that he's Force sensitive, but once again, this is not something that's particularly supported by the trilogy and a clear indicator that there was no plan for these three movies (or that the plan was abandoned or something).
  • There's probably a much shorter version of this trilogy that you could make (maybe you could even do it Phantom Edit style?) that just totally downplays Finn and Poe, putting more weight on Rey/Kylo. That might actually be a better film. One of the big challenges of this new trilogy goes back to one key decision: they wanted to include the original trilogy characters of Han, Leia, and Luke in very prominent roles, which really constrains options for the whole trilogy, but particularly for the new trio of characters (I went over this in more detail for my TLJ review). As a result, only Rey and Kylo got the depth and focus needed throughout the trilogy. The more I think about it, the more I think that a major flaw of The Last Jedi is that Poe and Finn are separated throughout most of the movie. One thing that is nice about The Rise of Skywalker is that our three new heros spend a fair amount of time with each other. There's a scene when they're in a cave and need light, so Rey fires up her light saber and Poe clicks on a flashlight and it's way funnier than that sounds, and it's nice to see our characters interacting in fun ways like that. We haven't gotten much of that throughout the series, and there's a bunch of it in The Rise of Skywalker, which is to be commended.
  • Hux is a spy! I actually kinda like this little twist and payoff. Hux and Kylo's petty rivalry was always fun, and you could argue that Johnson's use of Hux as a buffoon in The Last Jedi took the teeth out of the character, but I like this bit about him spying for the resistance not because he wants them to win, but because he wants Kylo Ren to lose. Naturally, the movie immediately kills him off in favor of another middle-manager in the empire, General Pryde. I think Hux's plan to reveal himself and then stay aboard was pretty foolish, and it misses an opportunity for him to have fun interactions with the resistance people by joining them, but whatever. Pryde is played by Richard E. Grant, who actually makes the character memorable and interesting despite minimal screen time.
  • Lando Calrissian is back! This is a statement that is true!
  • Maz Kanata gives Chewie the medal he deserved from the original Star Wars movie, for some reason? Completely unnecessary, but for whatever reason, I always like when Maz Kanata shows up. She's one of those side characters that gave The Force Awakens a little bit of texture, and I kinda like seeing her again, even if this bit was extraneous.
  • Babu Frik is great. No joke, no snark, he's great. Despite being part of a video-game-esque fetch-quest sub-plot, this is the sort of new character you can introduce in the third movie of a trilogy and get away with. The D-O droid also works well enough, though he's a little less successful and probably unnecessary. I mean, we've got R2-D2 and C-3PO and BB-8, why do we need to keep adding more droids to the mix.
  • C-3PO is surprisingly fantastic in this. His stuff represents some of the grace notes that pepper this movie and keep it from going off the rails.
  • Snoke was a clone or at least grown in some sort of vat and really just a puppet of Palpatine/Sithhivemind? Sure, let's go with it. I wonder if all the ships in Paplatine's new fleet are, like, staffed by Snoke clones.
  • The Knights of Ren are back, and they're just dudes in fancy suits who represent the boss-battle before Palpatine. Another thing that was sorta set up by Abrams, perhaps squandered by Johnson, but not really paid off much in this movie. But then, they do look cool, and the scene where Rey passes Ben the light saber is awesome, so there is that. And I suppose the whole "dudes in cool costumes without any real development" is a pretty common thing in Star Wars, so these guys are ultimately pretty cool, I think.
  • So remember when people where like "The Force Awakens is fun and all, but maybe there doesn't need to be a Death Star in every movie?" In this movie, Abrams is like, "Yeah, but what if we had a fleet of 10,000 Death Stars? Wouldn't that be cool?" And, well, yeah, I guess it's kinda cool, but nothing about that fleet made any sense. Where did they actually come from? Who is staffing them? I mean, yeah, "the evil space wizard did it" is a nice hand-wavey explanation, but then, why do they need some Star-Trek-esque Tech-the-Tech explanation for why they can't leave the planet? And what's the point of this fleet? Palpatine just wants to blow up the galaxy or something?
  • That whole Sith chorus thing, like all the people sitting in the amphitheater on Exegol, those were, like, the spirits off all the dead Siths right? Like, somewhere in there is a salty Count Dooku chanting along with Palpatine? As mentioned above, I found a lot of this stuff interesting because it's just sorta there and you can fill in the gaps yourself, but that sort of wild retcon might not last. Some people think that the people in the stadium are, like, actual physical people and Sith worshippers or something, but that doesn't feel quite right.
  • Palpatine has this whole power move thing where he's like "Strike me down in anger and your turn to the dark side will be complete!" which has always felt like an awkward way to transition power (even in Return of the Jedi), but it kinda fits with the whole Sith are a hive mind thing mentioned earlier, I guess? The notion of Rey not really striking him down in anger, but just sorta reflecting his force lightning back at him works well enough, but the whole thing feels a bit muddy. Also: Force Lightning. Doesn't seem like the best Force power, seeing as though nearly every time we see it, it's not really successful. In the prequels, it doesn't work when he's fighting Mace Windu, who reflects it back at Palpatine giving him that extra-wrinkled look. I think Dooku uses it unsuccessfully sometime in the prequels too? In the original trilogy, it sorta works, but also convinces Darth Vader to throw him down a giant shaft (and I think some of that lightning also ended up going stray and hitting Palpatine again). In Rise of Skywalker, Rey inadvertently uses it to kill a bunch of people by accident, and Palpatine tries to use it again, and again has it thrown back into his face (and into the sky or something?) Yeah, maybe the Force Lightning isn't that useful.
  • From a nuts and bolts filmmaking perspective, this movie is mostly competent, with some bits remaining janky. It certainly looks... expensive. I mean, it looks like they spent a lot of money on this movie. There are definitely some nice, painterly shots sprinkled throughout. There's also a fair amount of CGIed pixel stew, but it's far from the worst in the series in that respect. The editing of the film threw me for a loop during the first half hour or so. It felt so sloppy and uncoordinated. They seemed to right the ship as the film progressed though, and it definitely got much better in the middle of the film. I suspect a good portion of this could be resolved by giving Abrams and co. more time to refine and optimize. Heck, rumors abound of a "Skywalker" cut or director's cut of this movie, and we might just get that.
  • The film isn't conversant with cinema history in the way that Lucas' originals were. Lucas' callbacks were to old Flash Gordon type serials, Kurosawa movies (particularly The Hidden Fortress), WWII dogfighting movies, and so on. Of course, Lucas sorta forgot all that in the prequels, having become far to enamored with special effects to worry about that sort of thing (though there are occasional bits that jump out, like that dude Obi Wan visits in the space diner - straight out of Film Noir). One of the things I really loved about Rian Johnson's effort is that he brought back these cinematic reference points. Kurosawa again (particularly Rashomon) and even the worst parts of The Last Jedi have decent cinematic references (think about that Wings-esque shot zooming through that casino on Canto Bight. As bad as that whole sequence was conceptually and story-wise, shots like that kept me into it). The Abrams installments don't particularly do this sort of thing. The cinematic references in his Star Wars films are to... other Star Wars films. Not a bad idea, for sure, but there's less to dig into for movie nerds and some of the Star Wars references are a bit on the nose. Or maybe I just need to watch this one again with a eye trained on that sort of thing. I might be surprised.
  • At the end of the film, you see Rey take the name Skywalker, which is a non sequitor but kinda fits thematically and I guess makes the title of the movie work? I dunno, the whole familial thing just feels shoehorned in here.
  • So it looks like there's a lot of things I don't like about this movie, and I suppose there are, but I still enjoyed the movie. It's just that I have sorta mixed feelings about everything. Palpatine being back wasn't the worst thing in the world, but it's not the best either. Rey being a Palpaine isn't bad, but it's not really good either. And so on. Most of this has to do with the disappointment of the trilogy not being planned or cohesive. You can blame that on Rian Johnson if you want, but that seems more like a Disney problem than anything else. As it is, we're left with a trio of decent movies (and a couple other movies that are also a bit mixed), which isn't that bad.
  • I think people are probably just exhausted with Star Wars at this point. It turns out that churning out Star Wars movies year after year for half a decade has maybe diluted the brand a bit. Last week, I got together with some friends at a bar and we chatted for a few hours... and this movie didn't come up. Now, we're all nerds. I'm pretty sure we've all seen the movie. We've geeked out about Star Wars on numerous occasions in the past and even gushed over stuff we liked about the prequels back when those were being released. We talked about lots of stuff, even about movies, but Star Wars just didn't come up. That's not a good sign for these movies. On the other hand, a counterpoint: The Mandalorian seems to be pretty popular, so maybe people aren't completely sick of Star Wars...
  • My Humble Star Wars Wish List remains in effect. This movie didn't really scratch the itch of what I want out of Star Wars, and that's fine, but The Mandalorian is actually pretty good, so there's still hope. I suspect future installments will do better when they don't have to deal with as much baggage from the originals. Onwards and upwards!
I could probably keep writing about this for a while, but I'll leave it at that for now.
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The Great Movie Catch-Up, 2019 Edition

I'm a little late to posting this list of movies I want to watch in preparation for the annual Kaedrin Movie Awards and Top 10 list (which, because I'm not a fancy schmancy critic, means I post much later than everyone else, usually at the precise moment people are totally sick of the best-of discourse, but still before the Oscars, so there's that, stop looking at me like that, I'm trying here, ok, I get it, you have to want it, but I've got other things to do, like maybe write a Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker review that I'm totally not avoiding in any way, no sirree, is that how you spell sirree, weird, the spellcheck doesn't mark it as a misspelled word like "schmancy" or "Skywalker", oh wow, I did actually spell it right on the first try and it totally means what I thought it meant, I'm the best, wait, what the hell were we talking about, shit we're still in the parenthetical, I should end that before we get started, or maybe not, rules are made to be broken, are they not, I mean, look at all the goddamn commas I've used recently, jeeze, maybe I'm not as much the best as I thought, um, yeah, let's actually get this over with, close-parenthesis.

As of this moment, I've already seen 81 movies that could plausibly be considered 2019 releases (some are listed as 2018, but my official criteria doesn't count film festivals, jerks). Much of this is due to the rise of streaming (not the Rise of Skywalker, which, again, I'm not avoiding) and it also helps that Regal Cinemas (i.e. the chain that has the most theaters around me) finally released their MoviePass money-losing scheme that I'm totally taking them up on. Anywho, despite all the movies I've already seen, there are still quite a few that I never got to, and I always try to track them down because I usually manage to discover a couple of things that I never would have seen if left to my normal devices (or, uh, streaming devices, yeah?), but which I really enjoyed. Usually 1-2 of my top 10 are discovered during this period, which is actually pretty great. So here's a bunch of movies I want to catch up with that are totally not ways to avoid writing a Rise of Skywalker review, which I am definitely going to do soon.

  • Uncut Gems - The Safdie brothers latest, I didn't quite love their previous release (Good Time), but their artistry is evident, and this one has great reviews. Update: I've seen it! It's good, but it's anything but a crowdpleaser. I didn't like the main character, despite Adam Sandler's great performance, so it sorta felt flat for me. Well, like, you're not really supposed to like him, and the movie does manage to ratchet up the tension in that final half hour, but all I kept thinking was "damn, I wished I cared more about this guy who's clearly going to die". Anyway, if you're a normal person, you probably won't like this, but if you're a weirdo who likes watching assholes make dumb decisions and like, lots of conversations where everyone is yelling over each other, you might enjoy it.
  • The Farewell - Pretty emphatically doesn't seem like my sort of thing, which could mean that I'll love it. It could also mean that it's emphatically not my thing.
  • Under the Silver Lake - This seems like one of those things that has an incomprehensible plot, which I hate, but which is made really well, which I like. Another toss up.
  • Little Women - It looks like a really well made version of a story that's probably not my thing, so I should totally watch it in the hopes that it will surprise me.
  • Little Monsters - I'm not a huge zombie movie fan, but "A washed-up musician teams up with a teacher and a kids show personality to protect young children from a sudden outbreak of zombies." does sound pretty great. Plus: Lupita Nyong’o!
  • Cold Pursuit - American remakes of quirky foreign films don't usually work out, but the talent behind this one gives me some hope that they could translate the original into something interesting. That being said, you should totally watch In Order of Disappearance, it's great.
  • 1917 - The gimmick is that the whole film appears to be a single take, which is certainly my kinda gimmick, but it's tough to make the story work in those scenarios. Even Hitchcock struggled with this sort of thing (but then, he's Hitchcock, so the result was still pretty good, if nowhere near his best).
  • Captive State - Indie SF film about an occupied earth, seems like it could be interesting. Divisive reviews though.
  • Richard Jewell - Eastwood is always interesting, so if this is actually still in theaters, I'll get to it eventually. Mid-tier movies that aren't monster successes, like this, have been falling out of theaters so quickly lately though, so I'm not sure if it'll work out...
  • American Factory - I know very little about this other than it's a documentary, presumably about an American Factory.
  • Climax - Gaspar Noé's latest sounds like a plotless, psychadelic fever dream. Not usually my thing, but maybe?
  • The Grizzlies - One of them underdog sports movies, could be fun.
  • Fast Color - Something about a woman with superhuman abilities being hunted and hiding out where they'd least expect, with her family. I dunno, sounds like it could be interesting.
  • Close - Action espionage film starring Noomi Rapace as the Bond/Bourne type? Sure, I'm in...
  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu - I'm just old enough to have missed the general Pokémon craze, so I certainly won't get all the references or in-jokes, but this does strike me as the sort of thing that gets how to translate a video game into a movie (i.e. by changing it completely). Update: I saw it, it's perfectly cromulent, Ryan Reynolds is great and the whole cast is pretty good too.
  • Shaft - I dunno, a sequel to a remake? All three films are named the same thing? A friend recommended it though, so I'll give it a shot.
  • Long Shot - Seems like a winning romantic comedy with charismatic leads. Update: I saw it. It's fine, definitely coasts on Rogan and Theron's charisma moreso than jokes or storytelling, though it's, again, fine.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters - I love the original 1954 Godzilla, but to be honest, almost everything since then has failed to connect with me, though some of them are fun.
  • Satanic Panic - I keep hearing good things about this movie, but it doesn't appear to be available anywhere to watch. If it becomes available, I will watch it!
  • Color Out of Space - I don't think this is actually getting a release until 2020, but it sounds great. Nicolas Cage in an adaptation of an HP Lovecraft story directed by Richard Stanley? This could be amazing... or a total disaster. Early indications, er, indicate the former.
  • Extra Ordinary - This Belgian/Irish flick about a paranormal driving instructor who... you know what, that first bit is all I really need to know. Alas, no idea how to actually watch this movie.
  • Synchronic - Moorhead and Benson's latest directorial effort, that's all I really need to know. Alas, no idea when this will be available to watch (or if it'll be a 2020 release).
Phew, that's a lot of movies, and I almost certainly won't see them all (I mean, even beyond the ones that aren't even out yet), but it'll be an interesting January...

Update 1.5.20: Fuck it, here's some more movies for the Catch-Up, focusing a little more on foreign films because I'm somewhat lacking in that this year:

  • Mike Wallace Is Here - Documentary about famous journalist, could be interesting. Don't think it's top 10 fodder, but you never know. Available on Hulu.
  • Aniara - Swedish Science Fiction flick about a colony ship knocked off course to Mars, could be interesting... Also available on Hulu.
  • Thadam - Indian crime thriller/murder mystery, sounds like it could be really fun. Available on Amazon Prime.
  • Monos - Something about kids on a mountain taking a hostage. I'm skeptical as to whether I'll like this, but will probably give it a shot. Available to rent all over...
  • Luz - German flick about a woman chased by a demon or somesuch. Sounds fun. Available on Shudder.
  • Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made - Not a foreign film, but was recommended to me by a friend. Found footage horror about two kids who try to dig a hole to hell. Sounds like a fabulous idea, kids.
  • 3 Faces - Iranian film directed by Jafar Panahi, doesn't sound like it'd be my thing, but who knows?
  • T-34 - Russian tank movie about a tank crew escaping a WWII prison camp in an old tank, sounds interesting...
So there you have it, lots of movies, some of which I will no doubt not get to...
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The Book Queue

It's been a while since I put up a book queue and I've noticed that I'm scrambling a bit whenever I finish a book and look for something new, so in preparation for Vintage Sci-Fi Month (For the uninitiated, that's when you read "older than you are" science fiction in the month of January), I figured I'd put together a list of stuff to read. Might as well include some more modern SF while I'm at it...
  • To Marry Medusa by Theodore Sturgeon (1958) - Humanity comes face to face with Medusa, a vast hive mind that's swallowed a billion planets. Sounds fun, and Sturgeon is usually a reliable read, so it's a definite for Vintage SF Month...
  • Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan (1977) - I've not read any Hogan, but he's got a reputation as a sorta underrated SF author, so this one about a 50,000 year old humanoid body discovered on the moon sounds like a neat place to start.
  • Berserker by Fred Saberhagen (1967) - A massive weapon from an old galactic war finally reaches human space, sounds like it could be interesting.
  • The Lincoln Hunters by Wilson Tucker (1958) - Time travel about a historian sent back to record a Lincoln speech, but he finds out that he's been sent back twice or somesuch. Sounds interesting.
  • The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard (1932-1933) - I've not actually read any Howard, so I figure it's time to rectify that situation. Not sure if this is the best collection to start with, but it covers the first 13 Conan stories and features some other references, etc... so it seems good enough.
  • Recursion by Blake Crouch (2019) - False Memory Syndrome is when someone inexplicably wakes up with a new set of memories from an alternate life. I've read one other Crouch novel (Dark Matter), which was an enjoyable page turner that eventually put its premise to good SF use. I suspect the same thing here...
  • Randomize by Andy Weir (2019) - Part of a series of short stories written by SF contemporaries, I'll read anything by Andy Weir at this point, so there we are. I don't even know what this is about...
And that should tide me over for January and a decent amount beyond.
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Link Dump

Just the usual twirl through the depths of ye olde internets:
  • The Five Stages of Being Adapted by Martin Scorsese - Interesting article interviewing authors who've had movies adapted from their novels. I particularly liked Dennis Lehane's thoughts on writing for the screen:
    I hate the term “cinematic” when it’s applied to anything besides cinema. I feel like saying, “What it is is perfectly detailed. What it is is giving you the impression of cinema before cinema existed.” Good writing is vivid. Good writing is visual. Good writing makes the brain turn into a film projector. What I would consider “cinematic writing,” and I would disparage it, is writing so it can be made into a film. Just write a script.
    And this bit about the reception of Shutter Island is good too:
    Critically, the response to [Shutter Island] was pretty tepid. I remember A.O. Scott at The New York Times practically had an embolism over it. He hated it so much. I thought it was hilarious. I had a blast reading that review and I would read that out loud to my friends. I know that the general critical response was, “It’s OK, but in the Scorsese lexicon we throw it around the Cape Fear general area.” But the popular response is bigger than anything else I’ve been associated with.

    “Oh, you’re a writer, what do you write?” Like, people expect you to say you’re a copywriter or something like that. I’ll say, “I wrote Mystic River,” and sometimes I get a kind of, “Oh, I think that was a movie.” But I say Shutter Island, everybody goes, “Oh, DiCaprio?” Everybody knows it, so …
    I guess there still are movie stars these days...
  • ‘Parasite’: How This Year’s Wildest, Buzziest, Most Unexpected Breakout Hit Came to Life - This interview with Bong Joon Ho features this insane exchange:
    Would you direct a Marvel movie?
    Bong: I have a personal problem. I respect the creativity that goes into superhero films, but in real life and in movies, I can’t stand people wearing tight-fitting clothes. I’ll never wear something like that, and just seeing someone in tight clothes is mentally difficult. I don’t know where to look, and I feel suffocated. Most superheroes wear tight suits, so I can never direct one. I don’t think anyone will offer the project to me either. If there is a superhero who has a very boxy costume, maybe I can try.
    Now I do kinda want to see him take that on.
  • Sporty - From the #idontknowwhatthefuckisgoingoninthisvideo file. As speculated by the commenters, I'm pretty sure they found the jacket and just had to make something to capitalize on it.
  • Hermit Crabs have an interesting form of cooperative competition:
    As the hermit crab grows in size, it must find a larger shell and abandon the previous one. Several hermit crab species, both terrestrial and marine, have been observed forming a vacancy chain to exchange shells.[8] When an individual crab finds a new empty shell it will leave its own shell and inspect the vacant shell for size. If the shell is found to be too large, the crab goes back to its own shell and then waits by the vacant shell for up to 8 hours. As new crabs arrive they also inspect the shell and, if it is too big, wait with the others, forming a group of up to 20 individuals, holding onto each other in a line from the largest to the smallest crab. As soon as a crab arrives that is the right size for the vacant shell and claims it, leaving its old shell vacant, then all the crabs in the queue swiftly exchange shells in sequence, each one moving up to the next size.
    It's not all rainbows and sunshine ("Hermit crabs often "gang up" on one of their species with what they perceive to be a better shell"), but it's neat when it works out.
  • Captain Picard sings "Let it Snow!" - Some people have a lot of time on their hands.
  • The greatest talk-show entrance of all time - Nicolas Cage on Wogan, 1992.
That's all for now...
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Tasting Notes

Just some quick hits on my media diet of late...

Television

  • Watchmen - I was skeptical; who was really hankering for a sequel to the Watchmen graphic novel? I may be biased because of my general distaste for sequels, but I gave the series a shot, and it's steadily been chipping away at all my reservations about the show. It hits a lot of "prestige TV" notes and starts off by just dropping you into a world that isn't quite familiar (even if you've read the comic book). A lot of it still feels unnecessary, but it's actually quite good and getting better as it goes. Will it continue to pick up steam and end strong? I still have doubts, but this show has earned a place on my increasingly crowded watching schedule.
  • The Mandalorian - I've already posted my initial thoughts on the first two episodes and am genuinely curious to see where it's headed. It's quite good, but it hasn't achieved greatness yet. Still, tons of potential and it's hitting the non-prequel, low-ish stakes, and new character notes that most recent Star Wars has been missing. Baby Yoda is indeed great and cute, and so far, the whole "never taking off the mask" thing hasn't bothered me as much as the show's critics.
  • The Good Place - If you haven't seen this, I highly recommend watching through the conclusion of the first season. Spoilers for what follows! One of the things about the show that you kinda have to buy into is that its vision of the afterlife is, well, kinda dumb. One of the great things about the conclusion of the first season was that there was a really good reason why the afterlife was that dumb - it was all a ruse. They manage to keep up the quality in the second season pretty well, but by the third season, it was definitely running out of steam. Now in its fourth and final season, it's almost completely out of juice. Of course, I still love the show, it's got a high joke density that lands most of time, and the characters are so likable and endearing that I still want to keep watching, but I'm glad this is the final season. It's kinda on hiatus now until it finishes up early next year, but I'm kinda interested in the overarching story again because it's kinda become canon that the system at the heart of the series is flawed and, well, kinda dumb. I have no idea how they're going to resolve that though...

Movies

  • The Irishman - Martin Scorsese's latest epic gangster flick is an unwieldy 3.5 hours long, which is probably at least a half hour too long. Look, I get it, De Niro's character slowly but surely sacrifices everything good in his life for the sake of his mafia friends, who clearly don't care, and it happens bit by bit over the course of decades, such that he doesn't even realize it's happening until it's far too late. The last hour of the film, once he realizes what he's done, is devastating and heartbreaking... I dunno, maybe it needs to be that long in order to get to that place, but pacing matters, and while I was never bored or anything, this didn't quite have the energy that sustains Scorsese's best efforts. As a result, I don't see myself revisiting this the way I do with Goodfellas, Casino, Wolf of Wall Street, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, etc... (geeze, this guy's made a lot of great movies, I could easily list five more that I'd rewatch tonight...) The best mafia movies are able to balance the romantic, attractive side of the life with the darkness and despair that inevitably follows. Goodfellas, in particular, is fantastic at this. The Irishman is more subtle and more calibrated around the darkness and despair, which doesn't exactly make for a pleasant viewing. Anyway, De Niro and Pacino are great, definitely working at a level far above where they've been lately, but the real star is Pesci, who is really fantastic here. Side characters without much time even manage a big impact, like Anna Paquin and Stephen Graham, who are both standouts despite not a ton of time onscreen. Definitely worth a watch and maybe even one of the best of the year; it's actually grown on me in the last few days, so maybe it will continue to expand its influence in my mind as time goes on...
  • Prospect - Neat little SF thriller set on an alien moon, where a teenaged girl and her father are trying to prospect for naturally occurring gems. Naturally, there are competitors and unfriendlies that complicate matters and turn the whole venture into one of survival. There's some heavy reliance on tropes in the worldbuilding, but it gets better as it goes. Interestingly, since the environment on the moon isn't particularly friendly to human life, they spend most of the movie with their space suits and helmets on, something a lot of movies wouldn't bother with, but which adds a bit of verisimilitude that serves the movie well (and the filmmakers seem to view the limitations of this approach as a benefit, rather than just a challenge to be disposed of). Apparently this will be eligible for the Hugo awards, even though it premiered last year - it will be on my ballot.
  • Dolemite Is My Name - When I was younger, my brother and his friends came home one day with a tape from a video rental place. The movie was The Monkey Hustle, starring one Rudy Ray Moore. For some reason, we became obsessed with this dude and watched a bunch of his other movies, including Dolemite. They aren't strictly good in any objective sense, but they've certainly got an energy about them. So this new film, Dolemite Is My Name, is a love letter to Moore and his particular brand of raunchy comedy. It's kind of a biopic, but it focuses pretty narrowly on one portion of Moore's career, so it doesn't fall prey to all the cliches usually associated with the sub-genre, and it's a whole boatload of fun. Eddie Murphy is fantastic, certainly the best thing he's done in, um, decades? Jeeze. Great supporting cast as well, particularly Wesley Snipes. It's a pretty fantastic example of the "I'm pretty sure it didn't happen this way, but who cares because this is really fun!" style movie. Well worth checking out.

Books

  • Delta-V by Daniel Suarez - A billionaire hires a bunch of adventurer/explorer types to man his deep space mission to mine an asteroid; hijinks ensue. Pretty solid SF told in Suarez's breezy style. It scratches the hard SF itch while being pretty entertaining, but it doesn't really approach the true sense of wonder that marks the best of the genre either. Still, I really enjoyed this, quite a bit more than a lot of recent SF that I've read.
  • Zero to One Notes on Start-Ups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters - Peter Thiel is a famous tech entrepreneur who was one of the founders of Paypal. Blake Masters was a Standford grad student who took a class taught by Thiel and eventually came to work with Thiel to publish a book on Thiel's ideas. This post can't really do justice to Thiel's ideas, but he has some interesting thoughts on monopolies, competition, and what he terms "indefinite optimism". It's at its best when he's waxing philosophical on topics like this, though the bits on the nuts and bolts of operating a startup work too (they're just necessarily more mundane). It's actually very short, and could probably use a bit more fleshing out, but lots of food for thought here. As a fan of Science Ficiton, I thought Thiel's framing of the indefinite/definite and pessimism/optimism would make interesting axis for SF - the definite optimism of the golden age yielding to indefinite pessimism of the new wave (maybe not the best description, but the general idea of SF becoming more pessimistic over time is pretty clear), etc... It could be interesting, but it'd be a topic for another post.
  • Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell - By this point, you should already know what you think of Gladwell, and this book most likely won't change your mind. I tend to enjoy his style and think he's good at articulating certain things. For its part, this book seems to me to be a warning of the dangers of being hyper-vigilant. Sure, you might catch a Bernie Madoff earlier on and maybe the police can clean up a crime-ridden neighborhood, but applying that same hyper-vigilantism to other, more trustworthy areas can be disastrous. The book meanders a bit and Gladwell's focus isn't necessarily on hyper-vigilantism, but that was the most relevant piece for me, and you can see it all over the place (i.e. obvious places like politics, but also social media and smaller scale communities, etc...). Again, if you're not a Gladwell fan, this won't change your mind, but if you are, it's solid stuff.

Music

  • Watchmen: Volume 1 and Volume 2 (Music from the HBO Series) - As I was watching the series, I was thinking that the music was great and a little familiar and look at that, it's Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Great stuff, and good background for working...

The Finer Things

  • The Kaedrin Beer Blog is still going, though posting has dropped off quite a bit. Still, we've entered barrel-aged stout season and I'm working my way through BCBS variants (best so far is the Reserve Rye) and the more local, independent Free Will Ralphius variants (so far, the Vanilla and Double Barrel-Aged are the best variants, better than most of last year's for sure).
  • The Annual Egg Nog Tasting this year was of moderate size. Not much to cover that we haven't covered before, but a couple of newish entries this year, including the semi-local Kreider Farms Eggnog (which was my favorite) and Promised Land (which the majority voted as best).
    The 2019 Egg Nog Tasting
    Wawa always places well too, but I think people are so used to it that they just vote for something new and good whenever it's available. In terms of worst-in-show, someone brought eggnog flavored creamer, which was... not good.
And that's all for now folks...
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The 1978 Project: Part II

For the uninitiated, the 1978 project is a deep dive into a specific year in cinema (guess which year!) Now that we're past the Six Weeks of Halloween (which was not without movies qualifying for the 1978 Project), I figure it's time to catch up with some other 1978 movies.
  • China 9, Liberty 37 - A gunfighter is saved from the hangman, but only if he agrees to murder a miner who has refused to sell his land to the railroad company. This is the plot to approximately 40% of all western movies, but coming as it does towards the end of the spaghetti western run, the film is more poetic and reflective than usual. Of course, this also makes it slower moving, but it's clearly far more interested in the characters, which are more fleshed out than you'd expect. Warren Oats plays the miner (and former gunslinger) with a wistful edge and Jenny Agutter does great work as his wife, trapped by circumstance. Fabio Testi certainly looks the part of the young gun, but his accent detracts from an otherwise solid performance. The love triangle that develops between the three isn't exactly breaking new ground either, but the character work adds some sense of distinction. Director Monte Hellman certainly has a keen eye, taking full advantage of the spaghetti western tropes in composing his landscapes and blocking his scenes. If you can find a decent transfer of the film (i.e. not the one on Amazon prime, which is SD and cropped/pan-and-scan), it looks great, almost painterly at times. Pino Donaggio turns in a solid spaghetti-style score too, full of harmonicas and guitars. Ultimately a well made take on a standard western story, the plot doesn't quite sustain itself, but its other qualities make it worthy of a watch. **1/2
  • Days of Heaven - Terrence Malick's elegiac dreamscape defies any real plot description. Oh sure, there's a love triangle, a light critique of labor in the early 20th century, and some grifting schemes, but they're muted at almost every opportunity. Instead, we get 94 minutes of impeccably photographed landscapes and people. Indeed, most of the film was shot using natural light during the "magic hour", an insane decision that lead to a production schedule where they only really filmed for, like, 20 minutes a day. Ennio Morricone's score is also great and fits seamlessly with the film's dreamlike tone.
    Days of Heaven
    The result is gorgeous, of course, but it's in service of fairly pedestrian musings on love, labor, and life. The film is punctuated by a long running narration, which is quite odd. It's not sloppy exposition, which is good, but the line readings aren't particularly inspired either, and it feels like the film is reaching for profundity that isn't really there. Or maybe it is. The film is filled with so much beauty that it's hard not to lose yourself in the landscapes and breathtaking nature photography. The locust sequence in the latter portion of the film is particularly effective, and it presents something visually different from the whole. It's the sort of film that lets you project your own themes on top of the light ones presented, which I suspect is why it has been so well received. I tend to prefer something a little tighter, but if you're going to eschew substance in favor of style, this is the way to do it. **1/2
  • Grease - Australian good girl moves to American and falls in love with a greaser over the summer, but when they unexpectedly wind up attending the same school, worlds will collide, Jerry. Will they overcome peer pressure and their friends' expectations to keep the romance going? I'm not a big fan of musicals, but I can definitely see why this has such a devoted following.
    Grease
    It seems to have come out at the perfect time, riding the wave of 50s nostalgia that ran through the 70s, as well as star-making turns from John Travolta (already on the rise from Saturday Night Fever, this cemented his ascent) and Olivia Newton John. The story is pure fluff, hinting at some darker themes but downright joyful compared to the era's trend of more dour takes on traditional stories. It's cheesy and wholesome at the same time, making it appealing to just about everyone. This sort of thing isn't really for me, but I can appreciate what's going on here well enough. ***
  • Death Force - A trio American soldiers in Vietnam come up with a side hustle of smuggling cocaine in the coffins of Vietnam soldiers killed in action. Two of the soldiers betray the third, shooting him and throwing him overboard. Only he doesn't die... he washes up on some remote Pacific island populated by two imperial Japanese soldiers who have been stranded there since the end of WWII and still think it's their duty to occupy the land (not knowing the war had ended, like, 25 years previous). Anyway, our betrayed hero learns the art of the Samurai from his new Japanese friends, gets rescued, then goes on a rampage with his Samurai sword, taking out every gangster he sees. So yeah, this is a pretty bonkers little exploitation flick. It's not conventionally good, but it's quite entertaining if you get on its wavelength. Obviously low budget, the filmmakers go with the flow and present their limitations almost as if they were some sort of aesthetic choice. The result is perhaps more unintentionally funny than poignant, but it's got a heart in there somewhere. This isn't going to show up on my top 10 or anything, but it's a fun little flick and worth checking out if you enjoy trash. **
  • Coma - A young doctor uncovers a rash of mysterious events at her hospital. A steady stream of relatively healthy patients are coming in for routine surgery and experiencing inexplicable "complications" that result in comas. She becomes obsessed with investigating and exposing the potential conspiracy. This is a sturdy little mid-tier conspiracy thriller adapted by Michael Crichton from a Robin Cook novel. While the story was not written by Crighton, it touches on many of the themes Crighton clearly loves, and he's actually a pretty solid director, able to ratchet up the tension in both obvious and non-obvious ways throughout this film. Geneviève Bujold turns in a great performance as the surgeon turned investigator here, and she clearly drives the entire movie despite the appearance of Michael Douglas as her boyfriend (an early role for him, clearly not the superstar he'd later become, he does well in this supporting role).
    Coma
    While not strictly a horror film, there are several tense sequences (a chase through the hospital in which Bujold hides amongst cadavers is quite effective) and particularly creepy imagery (the coma patient storage facility features some very memorable visuals) that lend the film some genuine scares. Ultimately, we've seen this sort of medical conspiracy before, but this is a good, early example of the trope and while it's not exactly groundbreaking or adventurous cinema, it's a very well executed thriller that's well worth checking out. **1/2
Current tally of 1978 films seen: 43 (20 of which were watched in 2019).
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The Mandalorian

Disney+ launched this week with the expected archives of Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars goodies, but also some new series, including The Mandalorian. It's about a bounty hunter, well, hunting bounties. He looks a lot like Boba Fett, but that's only because Boba Fett wore Mandalorian armor (despite not being a Mandalorian). Still, he's a strong silent type; think Sergio Leone's Man with No Name trilogy of spaghetti westerns, but in space. So far, there's only been two episodes, but some assorted thoughts are below (Spoilers ahoy!):
  • I'm enjoying it. It's not perfect, but there's lots of potential, and we're finally getting new Star Wars that isn't hyper-dependent on what came before. It's true that we get little references and "I recognize that thing" pretty frequently, but they're mostly minor fan-service and the series appears to be making good use of the extended universe beyond characters we know.
  • I guess they've generally decided that the opening crawl is a numbered-entry thing only going forward, but it's weird, I feel like this series (or at least the first episode) could have made good use of it. Dropping into the story the way we did is fine, to be sure, but the opening crawl could have maybe better contextualized things.
  • The series basically had me within 5-10 minutes when it did the whole iris door gag, which I'm not going to spoil, but which was eye opening for sure.
  • Funny that in Empire the whole carbon-freezing process was untested and no one was even sure if a human being would survive, but now it's standard practice for all bounty hunters or something? Darth Vader: great innovator and technology disruptor.
  • Werner Herzog is always welcome and his speech cadence just works in situations like this, but it's a short scene. Hopefully we'll get more of him.
  • The first episode drags a bit in the middle and appears to be almost literally a video game when he first gets to the planet and must figure out how to ride a Blerg. I swear I've played this sequence a hundred times in a hundred different games. The Blergs don't exactly look great either, but they're a small part of the episode.
  • The best part of the episode is the appearance of the IG bounty hunter droid (presumably not IG-88). It's great to see him in action, and there's some humorous bits with him attempting to self-destruct. I was kinda hoping that he'd be a recurring character and that he'd always be triggering his self-destruct mechanism at even the faintest obstacle. This clearly won't happen, but I suspect we'll see other IG droids.
  • The "reveal" at the end is pretty good. I wasn't expecting it, but it's not exactly a surprise either.
  • The second episode is only 33 minutes long, which is interesting. It doesn't really progress the story much, but it's still entertaining, and we learn more about baby-Yoda-alien-thing. It also has a very nice Lone Wolf and Cub vibe that works well.
  • Basically, I'm quite entertained. It mostly meets the needs I set out in my Humble Star Wars Wishlist: It's not a prequel, it's got completely new characters (though it still relies on the worldbuilding of the movies), and so far, it's relatively low stakes. As mentioned above, it's got a lot of potential. I'd love to see some process-dork stuff about bounty hunting, but so far, that's been a bit sparse. The action is reasonably well done and the acting is good, especially given that our hero has not taken off his mask (and probably won't).
  • Disney+ is pretty good so far, but right now it's basically just "The Mandalorian" service, as the other interesting original content doesn't come until next year and the year after. It's great to have most of the MCU movies archived, but it's not like they weren't widely available before. Ditto Star Wars and Pixar. Some of the older Disney animation stuff is cool, but there's some inexplicable stuff too, like what they did to The Simpsons (which is abysmally cropped, but also somehow feels stretched?) All in all, I'm not sure if this service is a keeper or not, but for now, it's decent... I'd probably recommend waiting until the Mandalorian is finished, and binging during the free week or first month or something.
And that covers my initial thoughts. Really interested to see where we go from here...
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Link Dump

Just the usual selection of interesting links from the depths of ye olde internets:
  • The Restrained Genius of a Joe Pesci Performance - Nice profile of Pesci; includes this offhand anecdote that is hysterical:
    After frequently lamenting the typecasting and grind of set life in interviews, he went into semiretirement to focus on jazz (under the pseudonym Joe Doggs), his family and golf. Even Louis C.K. at the height of his pre-scandal fame couldn’t coax Pesci to work with him; instead, Pesci told him that he should quit doing stand-up because he wasn’t funny.
    (emphasis mine) Heh.
  • Being prepared is overrated: start before you feel ready - Just getting started is often the most difficult part.
    Being successful is not about your ability to plan, but your ability to act. There will always be more planning to do, more scenarios to consider. Of course, it would be amazing to feel utterly ready. But the reality is that waiting until you feel ready may mean the opportunity to act has already passed.

    You may make more mistakes at first if you decide to start acting before you feel ready, but the long-term compound effect of learning from these mistakes will get you closer to your goals than any amount of preparation. The illusion of a perfect time to start is holding you back. Anyone who has managed to put their work into the world most likely started before they were ready.
  • History and Guardians of the Galaxy Mashup - It's easy to look at social media and stuff like TikTok and think we're doomed, but then you see stuff like this. Which is silly, to be sure, but still great.
  • Martin Scorsese on Late Night with Conan O'Brien (1996) - Forget about Scorsese on Marvel, check out Scorsese on Cats! Also, I forgot about how weird Conan's show used to be.
  • How They Expect You to React When You get an Amber Alert - Heh.
  • I Built a COMPUTER in Magic: The Gathering - Magic is Turing complete.
And that's all for now...
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