Friday, October 6, 2017

States I've gone running in - updated!


Create Your Own Visited States Map


After my short visit to Boulder earlier this week, I got to cross Colorado off my list of states in which I've gone running. It was a short 4 mile easy run around town and parts of the campus. It's actually surprising that it took me so long to mark Colorado, but apparently I haven't visit since before 2011 (other than connecting through DIA).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Saw "Rogue One"; where does it rank in the Star Wars pantheon?

I finally got around to watching "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" on Blu-ray and liked it a lot. So where does it rank in the Star Wars movie pantheon in my opinion?

For the purposes of this ranking, I'm not including the Clone Wars or Rebels series, only the theatrically released movies - the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and "The Force Awakens."

[Obviously, spoilers to follow....]

8. (tie) "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones"

I don't think the disregard with which I hold these two entries is unusual. Each offered a pretty intricate lightsabre duel and not much else. I have to confess that I've never watched the entirety of "Attack of the Clones," so I guess it's possible it's worse than "The Phantom Menace," but it's hard to see how that would be possible. And while it's hard to choose who was worse as Anakin, Jake Lloyd or Hayden Christensen.

6. "Revenge of the Sith"

Still pretty bad; Palpatine's seduction of Anakin to the dark side never really made much sense, and too many of the big fight scenes just seemed ridiculous - can you remain that close to hot lava without dying from the heat?!? The big transformation of Anakin into Darth Vader, where he howls "Nooooooo!!!!!" made me laugh out loud. One should not be laughing at Darth Vader....

5. "Return of the Jedi"

I still like the opening Jabba the Hut sequence even though it's objectively silly. The scenes with Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor were pretty good, but the movie is marred by the Ewoks. I've ranted about this before - how a bunch of teddy bears defeated armored Stormtroopers boggles the mind. Not to mention that the space attack scenes are just a copy of  "A New Hope." And Luke and Leia as siblings - that could not have been part of the original plan, or else those kisses in "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back" indicate a perverse mindset.

4. "The Force Awakens"

I think this movie benefits from being so much better than the prequel trilogy, but it's really just a mash-up of "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back." It was slickly produced, and John Boyega was quite charming as Finn. Daisy Ridley was perfectly fine as Rey, but flawless in a robotic and boring way. I do like how it shows that it's easy to complain about the Empire (as the Rebels did in the original trilogy), but running the galaxy isn't so easy. I mean, a mere 30 years after the defeat of the Empire, the Rebels did such a bad job that they're once again an insurgent force, while the First Order has amassed the resources to build Starkiller Planet!

3. "A New Hope"

It started everything, it was amazing in 1977, but it hasn't aged all that well. And all the tinkering that George Lucas did with it only made it worse. Need I point to anything beyond Han Solo's dodging a laser blast from point-blank range...?

2. "The Empire Strikes Back"

I still think this is pretty good, but there are cracks in my admiration of it. It annoys me to no end that Darth Vader tells the Emperor "if the son of Skywalker will not join us, he will die," when the natural way of saying that would be "if my son will not join us, he will die." Of course, that would take away the shock value later on, but still, it's a bit of cheating. I can accept the superdense asteroid field (even though in reality, there would have been so many collisions that the asteroids would have been reduced to a ring), but how does a giant space worm live in vacuum? What does it breathe? What does it eat? There can't be that many ships that fly into that particular asteroid.

1. "Rogue One"

I'll admit that I love "Mission Impossible" type stories, so "Rogue One" naturally appeals to me. But compare the tension generated in this mission versus the shield assault in "Return of the Jedi," and you see the difference between sacrifice, competence, and excitement, versus clownish quasi-parody. What's remarkable about "Rogue One" is that we know how it will turn out, and yet it holds attention. The middle was a little slow, but the last third is fantastic. And unlike the other movies, with a couple of exceptions, there's real sacrifice - the rebels more or less know it's a mission that few, if any, of them will survive, and they're right. The moment when the wave of death washes over Jyn and Cassian was exceptionally well-done. And then, there's that Darth Vader scene! Vader is terrifying in this movie, as he should be! Too often in the original trilogy, he was just a bully, coming in after the fighting was over to torture a hapless Rebel soldier, or "firing" incompetent Imperial officers. But that end sequence showed how devastating Vader could be....

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Quick thoughts on new fall shows from Fox, CW, and NBC

I blogged about the upcoming new ABC shows that caught my attention here, and the CBS ones here. Fox, CW, and NBC have just enough combined to put together in one post....

NBC

The Brave


 

This looks like another fairly generic military-action drama, possibly indistinguishable from CBS's "Navy SEALs." This one does have Anne Heche as the civilian leader of the unit, and Mike Vogel (last seen in CBS's "Under the Dome") as the team leader. Nothing in particular jumps out, but I'm always up for giving action shows a chance.

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders



I remember the Menendez brothers! The main reason I'm considering watching this is FX did such a fantastic job with the O.J. Simpson mini-series that maybe this story, which had its share of lurid details, will prove similarly engrossing.


FOX

Boo, "24: Legacy" has been canceled/won't be renewed, though may be (another) reboot down the line. Well, I can't blame Fox. I thought it was okay, but ranked against the other seasons of "24," it would be near the bottom. Anyway, I won't hold it against Fox.

The Gifted

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe, mutant types, okay, I'm in. But try not to be as boring as the first season of "Agents of SHIELD" was, okay?


The Orville


 

This looks kind of funny. I just wonder if there's enough there to last, oh, even a season? I remember this old sci-fi parody called "Quark" that aired in 1978. It was really funny at first, but you can only make fun of "Star Trek" for so long.


CW

Valor



This looks kind of interesting, with a "what happened that night?" mystery to be unfolded over the course of the season. Unfortunately, if I were to bet on shows likely to bomb with the audience, I would pick this one. Dense, serialized mythologies with multiple timelines and viewpoints don't seem to do well. Even ABC's "Quantico," which started off as a strong performer in season 1, had cancellation-worthy ratings in season 2.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Quick thoughts on CBS' new fall shows

I started previewing the new fall pilots that caught my eye with those on ABC, and now it's CBS's turn. I'll say upfront that none of the following shows really excite me, so as far as CBS is concerned, I'm mostly grateful that it's bringing back "Survivor" and "Hawaii 5-0."

SEAL Team

 

I'm a sucker for action-adventure shows, so I'll give this a try. It does remind me very much of the 1990 flick Navy SEALs, which is a good news/bad news sort of comparison. That movie had some decent action set pieces, but it was a commercial and critical flop, and I have a feeling this show will be too. It could also be like "The Unit," which had a decent run (4 seasons) in the previous decade. It's not a good sign that I stopped watching the trailer halfway through, though.

Star Trek: Discovery



I don't have CBS All Access, so I won't be watching this show, but otherwise I'd give it a try. The production values look good (although that's been true ever since "Star Trek: Next Generation" debuted 30 years ago), and of course having an Asian captain is a plus in my view. On the other hand, the last two Star Trek series didn't appeal to me, so I'm probably not missing out on much. (I gather this will also be available on Netflix later on. I don't get Netflix. I don't think this show would spur me to sign up, but if I do subscribe for the Marvel shows, I'd consider this a bonus.)

SWAT


I haven't heard much buzz at all about this show. The trailer highlights the tension between the police department and the inner city community, with a new SWAT commander who's torn between his African-American roots and his profession. I don't know about this one. Fox's Shots Fired tried to mine this kind of community tension storyline this season and did not score good ratings. This looks like it has more action, though.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Quick thoughts on some of the ABC shows coming this fall

TV by the Numbers has a helpful post with embedded trailers for the new pilots that ABC has ordered and put into the fall schedule. I watched the ones that looked interesting to me, and here are my thoughts:

The Inhumans



The trailer doesn't show anything, but I'm a sucker for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Inhumans have been embedded into the story DNA of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a few seasons now, so I'm already invested.


Ten Days in the Valley



This stars Kyra Sedgewick as a single mom who's a writer for a TV cop show. Her daughter gets kidnapped, and somehow life starts imitating art - as in, the storylines that she's writing. I think I'm going to give this a pass. The trailer - at least, as much as I watched before deciding it's not for me - is pretty grim, and I don't think I want to sign on for a serial where the main storyline is "where's my child?" I mean, I did for the Ashley Judd-vehicle Missing, which turned out to be pretty good, but that ended well because the show lasted only half a season and tied up the main storyline. If Ten Days in the Valley is a hit, it'll get renewed.... I guess it's possible the writers will come up with a new hook for a second season, but it's still a pass.


The Crossing


 

This looks pretty weird. Bodies wash up on the shore, and 47 of them are alive. It appears that they are from the future(?). It kind of reminds of the Sci-Fi Channel series The 4400, which I liked a lot, so I'm willing to give this a try. As with all high-concept serialized dramas from ABC, however, one must factor in the risk of a strong start dragged down by too many out of control storylines - FlashForward is the prime offender in this category, but V, Lost, and others suggest it's a trend.


Deception


 

I'm normally not so much into crime of the week procedurals (Hawaii 5-0 being a notable exception, but that's more for the island scenery and the character banter than the actual mysteries), but this entry in the civilian with special skills helps law enforcement as a special consultant category looks polished. The civilian with special skills is an illusionist, making this sound like Castle with David Copperfield instead of Richard Castle. Well, I like watching magic acts, so I'll give this a try.


For the People



From Shonda Rhimes, this show pits fresh new Assistant U.S. Attorneys against fresh new Federal Public Defenders. Rhimes-produced shows are batting .500 for me - I like Scandal and (the canceled) The Catch, while I've never watched Grey's Anatomy and I quit How to Get Away with Murder after the pilot episode. .500 isn't a bad average for TV shows, but I tend not to like law related shows, especially ones that take themselves too seriously, so I think this is a pass for me.

***

I'll continue to give quick and dirty thoughts on the new pilots for the other networks.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Albus Dumbledore may be the greatest wizard but he's a pretty bad headmaster of Hogwarts

I've read all the Harry Potter books before, though not in a long time. Lately, I've been listening to the audiobooks (Jim Dale narration), mostly while running, and things have jumped out at me. One point is that Albus Dumbledore may be the greatest wizard of all time, but as a headmaster, he's pretty bad. (Kind of reminds me of Spock's criticism of Kirk's driving: "Captain, you are an excellent starship commander. But as a taxi driver, you leave much to be desired.")

As Headmaster, Dumbledore is in charge of staffing at Hogwarts. (Rita Skeever states that in her article on Hagrid's lineage in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and while Skeever is a sleazy journalist, there's no indication that she reports falsely.) Let's consider Dumbledore's hires:

1. Quirrel (Defense Against Dark Arts): He isn't a particularly bad instructor, once you put aside the possession by Lord Voldemort, but he doesn't seem terribly effective either. By itself, this wouldn't be a strong indictment against Dumbledore, but it's only the beginning.

2. Gilderoy Lockhart (Defense Against Dark Arts): The usually perceptive Hermione gets taken in at first by Lockhart's "charm," but it should have been obvious that he was a fraud. Indeed, any reasonable interview should have weeded him out - just have the guy do a mock teaching session!

3. Remus Lupin (Defense Against Dark Arts): Lupin was more or less the BEST teacher that Harry Potter's group ever had at Hogwarts. He knew the material, he taught effectively, and he was extremely compassionate and understanding. True, he was also a werewolf, and when unmasked, he resigned. But why did Dumbledore accept the resignation? In Goblet of Fire, he refused to accept Hagrid's resignation, so he certainly could have done the same with Lupin's. And he should have, given that Lupin's reason for resigning was that the Hogwart parents wouldn't have tolerated their children's being taught by a werewolf. In other words, bigotry. I guess Hogwarts does not have a Wizards with Disabilities Act....

4. Rubeus Hagrid (Care and Feeding of Magical Creatures): Was Hagrid even qualified to teach? He was kicked out of Hogwarts in his third year. Strange the lengths that Dumbledore went to in order to keep Hagrid employed, and yet he wouldn't lift a finger to stop Lupin from resigning. Anyway, Hagrid seems pretty incompetent as a teacher, yet he remains on the faculty.

5. Sybil Trelawney (Divination): Up until Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she had made a grand total of one prediction that came true. During Azkaban, she made a second. While in a trance. What's astounding is that Dumbledore knows that Trelawney is a fraud; he's the one who tells Harry that her trance-prediction about Voldermore's servant (Wormtail) was the second ever correct one. Why did Dumbledore continue to waste the time of so many students by allowing Trelawney to keep teaching Divination?

6. Severus Snape (Potions): Ah, finally, Snape. How in good conscience can Dumbledore keep on the faculty such a bully who cheats by consistently discrimination against Gryffindor by taking away points while not doing so when Slytherins engage in the same or worse conduct? Yeah, he's great at potions and he bravely played double agent, while means Snape is a great patriot, but as a teacher, he's pretty bad.


You tell me - how did Dumbledore keep his job for so long?

Monday, May 8, 2017

ABC's "Once Upon a Time" - time to let it go?

For the past six years, ABC's "Once Upon a Time" has largely been my favorite network TV show. If I really had to choose, I think I would rank it ahead of "Hawaii 5-0," "Survivor," and "Scandal." As for "24," it's only had two short seasons ("Legacy" this year and "Live Another Day" in 2014), so it would be hard to count it as a full competitor.

At one time, "OUaT" was one of ABC's stronger shows, regularly winning its timeslot, but it's tumbled badly in the last couple of years. Last night's episode finished last in its time slot, something that's happened a lot this year. As a result, "OUaT" has been a bubble show all year - not doing so poorly as to be an obvious cancellation, but not doing well enough to be an obvious renewal either.

Still, the prediction sites that I check have consistently put "OUaT" in the "likely renewal" category. It's a veteran show, so there may be a desire to give it a final season to tie up all the loose ends. Plus, Disney owns ABC, and it's able to use "OUaT" to promote all kinds of Disney characters (such as part 1 of Season 4, which brought Frozen into Storybrooke).

Today's news is that star Jennifer Morrison declined an invitation to return as a regular if there is a season 7. On top of that is the news that if there is a Season 7, it will be something of a reboot with only part of the cast. The last time I remember something like this happening was the last season of "The Practice," in which half of the cast was fired, and James Spader and Rhona Mitra were brought in. I guess you might call that a success, since it led to the spin-off series "Boston Legal," but it certainly didn't do much for "The Practice."

"OUaT" is an ensemble show, but Morrison's character (Emma Swan) has been the central one. The series started with Swan in the real world, being brought into Storybrooke by the 10 year old boy who turns out to be the son whom she gave up for adoption, and the whole first season arc revolved around her gradually coming to believe that there is magic, that her parents are Snow White and Prince Charming, and that her son Henry's stepmother is the Evil Queen. I can certainly see the show without her, but I'm reluctantly coming to the view that if the Season 6 finale really is going to finish the main storyline, it's probably best to end the show. For example, I miss "Justified" and believe it could have gone on for another season or two, but better that it ended a season too early than one too late. (I watched "The X-Files" to the end of its original run, but man, those last two or three seasons were not good....)