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War for the Planet of the Apes – Review

war-for-planet-of-the-apes-poster-5Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on the film.

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I’ll admit, in 2011 when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released, I was a sceptic. Honestly, the trailers did nothing for me, leaving me unimpressed and unmotivated to see the movie in the theater. So I didn’t. I ended up seeing the movie on a whim with some friends, at home, because we had heard so many people raving about it. It won us all over, so much so that after it was over we turned on the original Planet of the Apes because we were so enthused by what we had just seen. Fast forward to 2017 and the last film in the trilogy has been released, War for the Planet of the Apes, completing the saga and leaving me with the same desire, to watch the original to connect the dots.

Mercy

The movie begins with humans attacking an ape base. The apes are able to repel the invaders and Caesar sends four captives back to the human colonel as a peace offering. His message is simple, allow us the woods and the fighting can end. Sadly, there is no mercy in the Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson, only hate and hubris. The Colonel cannot let the apes live, cannot show mercy. He’s driven by fear, fear of the virus, apes and even himself.

There is a moment between Caesar and the Colonel when Caesar has been captured and the Colonel explains his rationale for what he’s doing. Humanity has begun changing again. The Simian flu virus has begun to evolve and it’s leaving humans unable to speak. It’s unclear whether it’s truly affecting their reasoning as well, but the Colonel has no mercy on them, even his own son. He willingly sacrifices his own son and anyone else that is caught with this virus to try to protect the rest of humanity. He speaks of learning from history but his actions shows he clearly hasn’t, as his first reaction with these humans as well as the apes is to just kill what he is afraid of or doesn’t understand.

Caesar finds himself mirroring the Colonel and Koba (from the previous 2 films). As man and specifically the Colonel, continue to take more and more from him, he finds it harder to let go of his own hate and show forgiveness and mercy. Yet, there is a moment in the film, where he’s faced with a similar situation as the Colonel, does he leave his son to die to save the rest of the apes, or does he find another way? He chooses the love of his son and all the other ape children over the “smarter” call. Caesar embodies the idea that the right thing is the right thing to do, even if it’s the hardest thing.

Even after all this, Caesar cannot let go of his hate for the Colonel, so with all his people making their way to safety, he seeks revenge, one last time. What he finds is poetic justice, the Colonel has succumb to the enhanced virus. It takes all Caesar’s will and mercy to not pull the trigger and just walk away. It’s a powerful moment. Caesar let’s go of his hate and thirst for vengeance. It brings to mind Deuteronomy where the Lord says, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution…”. Here the vengeance is swift and sure, as man’s hubris and god-playing are rewarded with a destructive avalanche and a virus, robbing them of their faculties.

The Unwanted  

war-planet-of-apes-novaOne of the most beautiful messages of the film comes from the mute girl Nova, that Maurice adopts after the apes kill her caretaker that has tried to kill them. This unwanted girl has the updated Simian virus and Caesar would leave her to die (as would the Colonel), yet Maurice shows compassion and love for her. Yes, she is mute, but just because she cannot speak, does not mean she has no value. So many children are lost today because they are unwanted or their parents are told they will be born with a debilitating disease. Nova, because of Maurice’s mercy turns out to be instrumental in saving not just Caesar but the rest of the apes. She might not be able to speak, but her mind is still sharp allowing her to learning sign language from the apes. All humans, born and unborn, sick, infirm or strong and viral, have dignity and the right to life. As with Nova, who might they turn out to be if given the chance to live?

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:13-16

The unwanted, the unloved, the accident, the sick, they are all made the same, in the image of God and who have we lost, simply because they were unwanted?

It is also a powerful reminder of our relationship in relation to God. As the Apostle Paul puts in the Book of Romans,

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

We were once enemies of God, yet he shows us mercy and grace, that in our most rebellious and unloveable, he offers forgiveness and reconciliation. A reflection of our closeness to God is our reaction to the most unwanted. Our capacity for mercy, increases as our understanding of our need for it from God expands. For God, no one is unwanted.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. john 3:16 & 17

The Movie

This movie has so many other themes I could talk about, but honestly, just go see it. It’s a triumph of filmmaking. The effects are some of the best ever seen on screen. There was never a moment I didn’t believe what was happening. The music was moving and perfectly matched to the film. War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect conclusion to one of the best film trilogies in years. It’s rated 5 out of 5 Bad Apes.

The Wonder Woman/Man of Steel/Batman v Superman Connection

wwsmWonder Woman has hit the ground running since it came out and has only continued to pick up steam. The reviews have put it in the top 1% of superhero movies and it just had the fourth largest 3rd weekend for a superhero movie behind The Avengers, The Dark Knight and Spider-man.

I’ve seen Wonder Woman four times now and I am surprised that more has not been written about how it’s so similar to Man of Steel. The themes in both movies, for both characters are very similar, what is different is the two characters themselves and their circumstances growing up.

Norman Lao said it best on my Facebook so I will quote him here.

“I think the biggest difference between Clark and Diana are the ways they were raised. Clark was an alien raised by humans who worried what “mankind” would do if they ever discovered his secret. The Kents, knowing full well that mankind is in fact laced with a rich history of paranoia and violence towards not only each other, but that which they fear – especially proof of alien existence – i.e. Kal El, makes them, and especially Jonathan, very wary of how they raise and educate Clark until he needs to reveal himself. Diana on the other hand was raised as a warrior amongst other warriors – training and honing herself to defend the world against and the inevitable return of evil without any exposure the gray and ambiguous nature of good and evil and the spaces in between. I think this is where she actually has the advantage over Clark because she has been raised with extreme and concrete definitions of “good” and “evil. She knows and believes what is right and wrong. These are the fundamental differences in the storytelling and what I believe succeed very well in their respective films.”

Even though Diana and Clark are raised in different circumstances, the lessons they learn are not that different. What is most interesting about them is the ways in which watching the sacrifice of a loved one affects their actions forever. Clark watches his father die in a tornado. Now so much has been said about this scene but the best thing I have read on it comes from The Fanboy Perspective.

dghfgfd1hgdftIn the context of Man of Steel, Jonathan’s death is all about sacrifice, not only Jonathan’s sacrifice but it was also setting up Clark’s sacrifice later on in Man of Steel. Clark learning limitations to his powers mattered little in Man of Steel because he wasn’t so incredibly overpowered to begin with, but to learn about sacrifice and selflessness was paramount for the narrative and development for this version of Superman. Clark sacrificed himself, at least according to Jonathan, for the Earth and in the end Superman sacrificed Krypton and the future of his own kin, for us, for Earth.

The fact that Clark could had done A, B or C in the tornado scene is what made this scene so powerful, that it was a conscious decision by Jonathan and that his death was not a fluke of destiny ie a heart attack. Jonathan’s willing sacrifice basically made the man of steel who he is and who he will become, Earth’s greatest champion. Because let’s face it, when Clark finally becomes Superman, he sacrifices himself for us 100%, and I think Jonathan gave him the courage to do that. Jonathan taught Clark his most defining lesson through his own death and I think that’s rather poetic.

Clark sacrificing himself and his life on Earth for the safety of Earth when Zod first showed up demanding Kal El present himself to them, ‘or else’ is powerful, the only way Clark could protect Martha was by volunteering to leave her behind forever. Superman destroying the world engine on what was very likely a suicide mission. Superman destroying the scout ship and the genesis chamber, which was Krypton’s only chance at living again, and Superman ultimately killing Zod, the last of his brethren. It was all about sacrifice. That’s what Jonathan’s death taught Clark, sacrifice and selflessness, and I think that is the absolute epitome of Superman, and what he represents.

Jonathan’s death scene was the underlying pulse of the entire movie and remains Kal El’s moral compass, long after he’s gone. Sacrifice is what Man of Steel was all about in the end. Superman sacrificing himself, his people and Krypton for us, the shamelessly ungrateful humans. Now I think that’s some powerful storytelling right there. Very few comic book movies even attempt to imbue the sort of heart and internal fortitude that Man of Steel did with Superman.

I also take issue with the popular usage of the word ‘Tornadocide’, that word implies that Jonathan had a suicidal intent when he went back for the family dog, he clearly did not want to die. Jonathan had every intention of coming back to his wife and son but the circumstances quickly changed and Jonathan was forced to make a monumental decision in what was literally, a second. Jonathan had explained to Clark before that there were bigger things at stake than their own lives and in that moment, Jonathan had to decide if he had the courage of his convictions, and he did.

wonder-woman-trailer-image-46Now, this scene for Clark is pivotal for his growth as a character and why he will act the way he does later on and Diana has her moment. Ares almost has Diana. He’s almost convinced her that mankind does not deserve her or is worthy of her protection. Like Zod (who’s name is a lot like God), offered Clark the opportunity to remake the world for the Kryptonian people, Ares offers Diana the same choice, to join him and recreate paradise. What happens in that moment, as Diana, tank raised over her head, ready to bring it down on the worst of humanity, she remembers Steve’s sacrifice.

Remembering Steve make the choice to put the lives of his enemies above himself as well as his friends changes Diana forever. She chooses to believe in the truth about humanity, there is a great darkness within them, yet there is also the ability to transcend that darkness though self-sacrificial love. The word agape in Greek means, “selfless love of one person for another” and that is the love with which Diana fights in the name of. She, like Steve, puts herself on the line, even for those that don’t deserve it.

This not only mirrors Man of Steel, but also Clark’s decision in Batman v Superman. Clark willingly chooses humanity and Earth. He says this is his world and he willingly sacrifices himself for it, even though, as we we have seen, half the world is either afraid of him or worse hates him. Sacrifice is the DC Comics mantra in it’s films and each film has been building on this theme. Loving sacrifice is the hallmark of the truest heroes. At the end of Wonder Woman, Diana emails Bruce, thanking him for bringing back Steve to her, but it’s bigger than that. Remember, Diana has taken a step back from suiting up as a hero. She’s been working from the shadows to inspire humanity. What Bruce has reminded Diana of is the lesson Steve taught her so many years ago and that Clark reenforced not that long ago, loving sacrifice is the best way to inspire love and change in others. So at the end of Wonder Woman, we see her go off, to join Bruce as a team, to help stand between evil and the world. The age of heroes has come again.

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Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories episodes about Wonder Woman. For more on Man of Steel, check out The 602 Club #15 and for more on Batman v Superman check out The 602 Club #74 and S20.

Wonder Woman – Review

C-38A4SXkAAVYkz.jpg-largeThis review does contain Spoilers. Listen to The 602 Club episode as well!

For over 75 years, Wonder Woman has thrilled fans in spectacular fashion, through comics, television shows and cartoons. Yet there was one place were she had still not broken though, the big screen. In 2016 she joined the rest of the DC Comics trinity, Batman and Superman in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman, teasing her history in the world and setting up her first solo film.

Story

Diana of Themyscira grows up under the watchful protection of her mother Hippolyta who’s one goal is to keep her daughter safe. To do so, she forbids her daughter from learning how to fight, as well as keeping from her, her true lineage. Diana was not sculpted out of clay and bought to life by Zeus, she is actually a living weapon that Hippolyta and Zeus came together to create as a last defense against Ares, if he should ever return.

Diana and General Antiope (Hippolyta’s sister) have different ideas, they secretly begin Diana’s training and when Hippolyta finds out, Antiope is finally able to convince her sister that it’s the right thing to do. It turns out to be a wise decision as WWI and Steve Trevor accidentally stumble upon Themyscira, leading Diana to embrace who she is to stop Ares once and for all.

Responsibility

Hippolyta does not want her daughter to leave Themyscira. For one thing, if she does, she can never return and secondly, she’s worried about her safety. She asks her daughter not to go, to which Diana replies, “Who will I be if I stay?”.  It may be the seminole question of our day; “Who are we if we shirk our responsibility in the face of evil?”. Diana must make the decision on what kind of person she wants to be. Steve Trevor helps her see the two options in a conversation they have. He tells her that his dad always said their are two options for anyone, do nothing or do something. He says he’s already tried doing nothing and that’s clearly not the answer.

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” What evils are perpetrated while men and women sit on the sidelines? The most innocent and helpless among us suffer and die while we stick our heads in the social media sand, pretending our outrage helps, when in reality it’s meaningless. Diana and Steve stand against that, they will fight and die for what they know is right, even if no one else around them will.

wonder-woman-embargo-lift-image-full-236508A Time to Fight, A Time to Love

Diana and Steve are able to bring a notebook he stole from one of the villains, Doctor Isabel Maru (Doctor Poison), back to the British, who he is working with. Even though the book clearly lays out the plans for an unstoppable gas, that could kill millions, the men in charge insist that the armistice with Germany is of paramount importance and that the men on the front are expendable in the name of peace. Diana is livid at the thought of men who are willing to sit in rooms, hundreds of miles away from the front, and treat the lives of their men so cavalierly. She and Steve can see the clear and present danger that this breakthrough in poison gas technology could mean for the world if is not destroyed. There is a time to fight and a time for peace and knowing which is which takes wisdom. It also takes courage to stand up and lead the fight, even when it’s not the popular course, but the right one regardless.

As the movie comes to the final confrontation between Ares and Diana, Ares tries to make her see the unworthiness of man. Hippolyta told Diana before she left Themyscira that mankind did not deserve her. As Diana ventures into man’s world she finds it an ugly place that is rife with more greys than she expected. Ares continues to press this idea that man does not deserve her protection, yet it’s something that Steve says and does that helps encourage Diana to do the right thing. Steve is well aware that man does not deserve Diana, but he tells her that maybe it not about what they deserve, but what she believes. Mankind is clearly not good, but they can be. Steve willingly gives up his life to save millions. Though all her experiences, Diana can see that mankind has the potential for good and that it’s though her love of Steve that she is able to see that spark in all men. She chooses to love men and defend them, even though they are unworthy and complete undeserving. Diana and Steve live out the greatest love there is, being willing to give up their lives for others. Diana is a hero that fights for love and to bring peace, to help show mankind a better way. Even in the face of the overwhelming evil man is capable of, she bestows grace and love in place of judgement. She’s the better angel of our nature, encouraging us to stand up for what is right, even if it’s not easy or popular.

Chris-Pine-and-Gal-Gadot-in-Wonder-Woman

The Movie

Gal Gadot is a star. She sells every moment of this film. She has a wonderful, childlike innocence that is needed to bring this character, raised in paradise to life. Diana’s transformation from innocence to a fuller understanding of the real world is powerful and moving. The chemistry she has with Chris Pine is fantastic. They are the heart and soul of this movie and luckily they do not disappoint.

The fight scenes in the movie are incredible. Many superhero movies these days seem to have similar types of set pieces, but Wonder Woman does a marvelous job of making her fighting style feel fresh, leaving you silently fist-pumping in your seat. Even the more CGI-heavy battle at the end has enough emotion built into it, to make you care about what’s happening.

One final note, Patty Jenkins direction is excellent. This woman needs to be given a sequel, as well as more movies to direct. She understands clearly how to make a superhero movie feel serious and fun all at the same time and that’s not always easy to do.

Wonder Women is the first major female superhero to be given her own movie (yes I discount Catwoman and Elektra as they are more side characters) and it’s a triumph. The film is serious in tone, but with laughs aplenty. It’s the movie we all hoped for and deserve. Wonder Woman is rated 4 and half out of 5 stars.

The State of Luke Skywalker

This blob was originally posted on NJOE.com years ago and I just came across it in my old documents. Thought I would post it here as nostalgic Star Wars reading.

anewhope“For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire.”

The Jedi had been a force of peace and justice. As Mace Windu says, they were keepers of the peace – not soldiers. They stood the test of time and conflict and helped shape the galaxy; then war came. The Jedi were thrown into a role that they did not belong to. They were forced into morally compromising situations and made to choose the lesser of two evils. The Clone Wars created a cloud, along with the dark side of the Force, to ensnare the Jedi into become soldiers, not keepers of the peace. As war went on, it claimed many Jedi and not just their lives, it began to eat at the heart of the Order. They lost sight of what was truly important and became slaves to a failed government, instead of following the Force. In the end, as history shows, all were lost but two (there may be more that George has not reveled yet). Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda bridged that divide to raise up a new Jedi Knight to restore peace and justice to the galaxy.

Luke Skywalker has been questioned of late. His characterization is said to be off; it is said that he is no longer that “farm-boy” that we all know and love. He seems cooler and less willing to trust and look for the good in people. Is this the case and is it really uncharacteristic?

Luke has not had an easy life. His aunt and uncle murdered, his hand cut off by his Sith father, and almost electrocuted to death by The Emperor. His training was woefully short as a Jedi, he fell to the dark side for a while… and then there is an endless list of super weapons, warlords, madmen and women that he had to face, Sith, kidnappings of family members, the loss of many loves, the loss of close friends, the death of his youngest nephew, the loss of his oldest nephew turned Sith who was taken down by his niece, and the death of his wife to his nephew-turned-Sith. All of this is surrounded by, and couched in, over 40 years of unrest and war with one group after another. All while trying to find the New Jedi Order’s place in the New Republic/Galactic Alliance. This man is lucky to be alive, let alone sane.

War, as can be seen in the days of Kenobi and Yoda, had a wearing, gnawing effect on the Jedi. Attachments to governments instead of the will of the Force also led to misplaced loyalty and, in the end, devastation of the Order. The Jedi had failed to live for the Force, instead fighting and dying for the status-quo. It was only through Kenobi and Yoda, sitting under the tutelage of Qui-Gon and 20 years of contemplation, that they could see the error of their ways and begin to work their way back to The Jedi Code:

                      “There is no emotion, there is peace.

                   There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

                      There is no passion, there is serenity.

                      There is no death, there is the Force.”

Luke has been battered by the galaxy. Yes, he was that optimistic farm-boy and still is in some ways. Yet, as the years have gone by, he has changed. He is more reserved and cautious. His desire to trust everyone has gotten him into trouble more times than he can count, so he has tempered it with wisdom and discretion. A person cannot be expected to be the same after more than 40 years of conflict, war and death. Just because Luke is a Jedi does not mean he is immune to the pain and anguish that the galaxy has to offer. If Luke was still just as naïve and wet-behind-the-ears as he was in the films, he would be the worst written character ever. But the Luke of Return of the Jedi is much more mature than just a few short years ago. His experiences molded him and honed his character, and they continue to do so throughout the books (even if he does get a little whiny now and again).

Caedus_EAA lot of fans were very disappointed in Luke’s refusal to try to redeem Jacen, feeling that it was out of character for him. And yet Luke does try to reach Jacen and get him to see the error of his ways, but it is too late in the end. Jacen is too far gone. Jacen chose to believe that only he could save the universe and only he could truly understand what must be done. It is the height of arrogance and pride to believe that only you can do something. It is written, “Pride comes before disaster, and arrogance before a fall.” Jacen is guilty of this fault and it led him to becoming unreachable. He became lost in his reason and blind to anything but his own power and will to change the “future.”

Luke is not beyond fault here, though. He should have been more involved in Jacen’s life, especially after his ordeal with Vergere. Luke was woefully negligent in allowing Jacen to just leave for five years, unsupervised, to wander the galaxy and collect Force knowledge.  Dexter Jettster said it best: “I should think that you Jedi would have more respect for the difference between knowledge and wisdom.” Luke’s greatest mistake was not being there to temper what Jacen learned, to teach him with the wisdom that comes from experience and the guidelines of the New Jedi Order’s code,

Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy.

Jedi use their powers to defend and to protect.

Jedi respect all life, in any form.

Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.

Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.

Knowledge that is molded by nothing is dangerous.

VestaraAnother major complaint leveled at Luke was his mistrust and (some say) mistreatment of Vestara Khai. They point out that Luke saved Vader from the dark side, so why could he not have some faith that Vestara could perhaps follow on that same path. Darth Vader is a very different person. He was not raised evil or Sith – he was a boy, a kind and gentle boy who “….knows nothing of greed.” It is this that makes The Phantom Menace so important. It lays the foundation for why Anakin could be turned in Return of the Jedi – he was never fully evil to begin with. The same argument can be made with Kyp Durron. Again he was not evil, but possessed by evil and made to do terrible things.

Vestara is a very different character than these two. She is raised her whole life to be a Sith, to live according to their code and cherish their values. A lifetime of teaching is not easily, if ever, undone. Unlike Vader, which Luke can sense good in, Vestara can never truly be read by Luke. Her core being is concealed in the web of lies that she spins and truly believes. Yes she loves Ben in her own way, and is attracted to certain aspects of the Jedi way of life, yet she is never able to let go of her attachment to the Sith way of thinking.  In the end, her very way of thinking is antithetical to the Jedi code. She is unwilling to sacrifice her attachments and, in true Sith fashion, is willing to give up vital information to save herself instead of lay down her life for others. So, is it cold and unfeeling for Luke to be wary of someone like this, especially when his own son is involved? Has Luke not just had his nephew fall to the dark side and seen the repercussions of that on his son, his wife and the galaxy? How could Luke be anything but cautious and circumspect of this Sith teenager? This is not callous, it is wisdom born of over 40 years of hard learned lessons.

There are many things that Luke needs to change and he has many mistakes to try and rectify. The first is being tied to a government. Luke has already begun down this path; he has removed the Order from Coruscant and set it up elsewhere. This is a wise move and it detaches the Jedi from the government in a good way, enabling them to focus on the Force and not the political machinations that are always swirling about. What is right is too big to be attached to any one form of government.

The second issue is the lack of training structure in the New Jedi Order. This was one of the things that the old Order did well. It had a very regimented and thorough program to train Jedi and guide them in the wisdom of the Force. Luke needs to be more hands-on in the shaping and training of the Jedi, as do the other masters. Good training and wise teaching are essential in raising up strong future Jedi. As can be seen throughout all of the Star Wars timelines, knowledge and power without wisdom has deadly consequences for the galaxy.

There is also the issue of Luke holding fast to these visions of the “future.” Yoda said, “Always in motion is the future.” Luke should be careful to not hold fast to these visions as gospel and instead be looking to the Force and focusing on the here and now. Being preoccupied with the future has never worked out well for the Jedi – just ask Zayne Carrick. The biggest problem with knowing the future, though, is that Luke is being forced down a certain path because of the Legacy comics, creating a huge problem in allowing the story to feel organic or true to this axiom of Yoda’s.

Luke_ghostThe last thing to mention (even though there are many more) is that Luke needs a timeout. Like Obi-Wan and Yoda, Luke is in need of some space to contemplate his actions and the effect that he has had on the universe. He needs to be able to reevaluate the course of the New Jedi Order and rethink his role in it. All of the conflicts and wars have left Luke very little time to do any this and he has had the weight of the galaxy riding on his shoulders for far too long. There are many foes that are still lurking in the shadows and to face them, Luke needs a gut check. Who is he? Who has he become? What can he learn from his successes and, more importantly, his failures? Where has he gone wrong in the first place? Has he lost too much of his optimism in light of the ever encroaching darkness? Here’s to hoping that the authors of Luke’s future will give him the time to rest and take it all in. If a person always has to react to a new crisis without the time to process the last, they can never truly learn and grow. If given this time Luke may be able to become an even better Jedi and man for the galaxy; so lets give the man a break and let him go pick up some power converters or a good cup of caf at Cafbucks.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

guardians_of_the_galaxy_vol_two_new_poster3Don’t miss The 602 Club episode!

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Marvel is a machine. It’s been pumping out hits (with the occasional miss) since Iron Man in 2008. This summer is no exception as the ever popular Guardians of the Galaxy are back in Vol. 2. The first movie was cotton candy, summer fun, so the question is, can this second film find more depth than the first? Luckily, it does.

Family 

Guardians of the Galaxy was about a group of misfits finding family together and Volume 2 is a continuation of that theme. The concept of the the Guardians as family is challenged in this movie as both Peter and Gamora have to deal with prior or blood relatives. Peter finally comes face to face with his father and as Luke found out in The Empire Strikes Back, knowing who your father is, is not always the best thing. Peter’s story mirrors much of Luke’s as he must choose between ruling the galaxy with his father or saving it as a Guardian. He also finds that he may always have had what he was looking for right in front of him.

Peter’s dad is a Celestial, basically a god, who has lived for millions of years and in that time learned to create worlds. Being alone for so long, he found a way to create a physical form and travel the stars, looking for companionship and love. This is how he met Peter’s mother. Ego, the name of Peter’s dad, decides to turn his back on love and embrace a “higher” calling, to expand the universe, remaking worlds in his image.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-kurt-russell-chris-prattEgo has spent millennia trying to create progeny that can assist him in his quest to remake the galaxy and Peter is the first child to share his abilities. He’s no longer alone, but it’s not truly family that he is after, it’s just power. He’s come to see himself as above all other life, since he’s immortal, at least as long as his essence is kept alive at the core of the planet he’s constructed. He has divorced himself from the family of beings in the galaxy, placing himself on a higher plane because of his immortality, which enables him to rationalize exterminating whomever and whatever, since comparatively they are inferior. It’s a reminder that the moment people being to see themselves as better than others, it usually leads to marginalization or at it’s worst, extermination.

Gamora and Nebula finally get something to do in this film! They get the opportunity to deal with what has driven them apart and left them at each others throats for so long. They come to terms with the ways in which Thanos drove a wedge between them, used them and realize that they are actually on the same side. Forgiveness is given and it’s a beautiful scene in the movie. It was great to see them really give these actors a storyline to dig into.

The Movie

This movie is not as slickly put together as the first, it does not seem to flow quite as well as the original, but it has more depth and that makes up for it. It’s nice to have the characters go deeper into themselves. It’s still a little cliche, but it feels stronger and more resonant as a film. Because of these things it’s rated 4 out of 5 Baby Groot dances.

PS

Don’t forget to review and rate The 602 Club on Apple Podcasts for your chance to win some incredible, exclusive Guardians of the Galaxy swag (pictured here)! guardians

Thrawn – Review

thrawn12f-2-webThis review originally appeared at The Star Wars Report.

It is said that to create a compelling villain an author must make them sympathetic in some way. Villains never see themselves as such, as with the rest of us, they believe they are doing the right thing. Timothy Zahn, in his new book Thrawn, has given us just that; a villain that believes he’s doing what he must to save his people and possibly the galaxy itself from an evil worse that the Empire. Thrawn is a masterpiece in subverting the readers expectations, especially in light of Star Wars Rebels. Many readers will come in expecting the ruthless, cold and calculating character they know from the show, yet that is only one side of the multifaceted Chiss. Zahn has created the most nuanced Imperial to date allowing readers a both, insider and outsider’s look at the Empire.

Breaking the Mold

One of the true highlights of the book is this theme. Both Thrawn and Arihnda Pryce (who fans will recognize as the Governor of Lothal in Star Wars Rebels) must overcome the prejudices of the Empire throughout the story. The Empire is one of the most elitist and xenophobic places you will read about in literature. The Core systems in the galaxy have very little regard for aliens or people from the Outer Rim or beyond. Each of these characters has at least one of these strikes against them and Thrawn has both. Thrawn and Arihnda must overcome these prejudices. They never feel sorry for themselves or blame the system they are apart of, they simply overcome the obstacles in their own way, though determination, hard work and in Arihnda’s case, foul play.

It’s actually incredible to watch Thrawn continually prove his naysayers wrong and obliterate their preconceptions about him, time and time again. He uses all of his talents and skills to his advantage, making himself invaluable to the Emperor and the Imperial Navy. Strange to think one could learn a valuable life lesson from Thrawn, but he never allows anyone else to define his worth, value or to be held back from completing his objectives. Of course, full disclosure, Thrawn is not a perfect role model, but this was a great theme to see play out in the book.

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The Story

Thrawn is an expansive novel that covers a lot of time. It also allows us to get that look inside the Empire, but from the outsider’s perspective. Because Thrawn is not human, he does not always see things the same way and this sheds light on much of the corruption in the Empire as well as the inefficiencies. The story does a good job of sucking the reader in and created a subtle enough character with Thrawn that you are on his side during the book.

Zahn also creates, for this book, a new person to be at Thrawn’s side, his name is Eli Vanto. Think of him as the Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock. This is a really fascinating character that, by the end of the book you’ll be begging Zahn for more.

As is mentioned above, the story features Arihnda Pryce. The book is set up to parallel her rise to power and Thrawn’s, seeing the different ways they overcome the obstacles to get where we see them in Rebels. She is not to be trifled with and her story is every bit as interesting as the title character. There are many familiar faces in the book, that fans would come to expect from a story tied in with Star Wars Rebels as Yularan, Grand Moff Tarkin, the Emperor and a few more are sprinkled in .

Conclusion

This review is not meant to be expansive and in many areas I wanted to be vague because it’s a book that just needs to be read and experience. Zahn has done exactly what I hoped for and written the definitive, canon book of Thrawn. It ranks up there with the very best of the new canon and is rated 5 out of 5 turbo laser blasts.

This review was completed using a copy of Thrawn provided by Del Rey.

The Cave

 

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I was talking to one of my favorite people the other day, Kesseljunkie (He’s my podcast partner on Aggressive Negotiations: A Star Wars Podcast as well as a myriad episodes of The 602 Club). As we so frequently do, we were discussing movies, specifically the DC films and the latest Justice League trailer and it brought something to mind.

There is a scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke is being trained by Yoda and he asks about a place that seems cold. Yoda says it is a domain of evil and that Luke must go in. Luke asks, “What’s in there?” to which Yoda responds, “Only what you take with you.”.

This got me thinking about how movies and movie theaters are a lot like that cave on Dagobah. Whenever we step into a theater to see a movie or que one up on Netflix we are not going in blind, we bring with us a plethora of preconceptions, experiences and prejudices into that cave that act as weapons for or against the movie which impact the film. Now, unlike Luke, there are certain “weapons” that are impossible for us to completely get rid of when we enter the cave. We cannot discard our prior experiences, but we can curtail out preconceptions and our prejudices, if we are self aware enough to know what they are. The reason this is important is because what we get out of a movie and whether or not we enjoy it greatly depend upon our own point of view. To put it another way, it greatly depends on what we bring with us into the theater.

The reason this struck a cord for me was the way in which this seems to directly apply to the geek culture that I am apart of. Every franchise has it’s diehard followers that will defend anything that comes out of that franchise no matter what it is. Then there are others that will seemingly hate everything a certain franchise does, just because it’s from that franchise. It’s par for the course in the 21st century where everything is one extreme or another and there seems to be no middle ground for anything. Hyperbole is the language of the day, films, tv shows, politicians and everything else all seem to be either the worst or the best thing ever.

Again referencing the conversation in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke asks “But how am I to know the good side from the bad?” and Yoda replies, “You will know. When you are calm, at peace.” We live not only in a world drowning in hyperbole but it’s accentuated by an eternal hype machine. So I want suggest a different path, like the Bendu in the recent Star Wars Rebels season and chose the way of the middle. We must unlearn what we have learned as we walk into the cave. Approach every movie on it’s own merits. As Yoda says, we should clear out minds of our expectations, preconceptions and presuppositions and allow the film to wash over us, absorbing what it’s trying to say and do first. If we get out of a movie, only what we bring to it, then it seems important for us to not enter with a bad attitude in the first place. The neutrality of the middle allows us to, I think, truly judge a film better.

For me personally, this has worked out thusly. I do my utmost to approach every movie on it’s own. I do my best not to prejudge too much on trailers, since many times trailers can be so misleading. I find it best to go in always hoping the movie will be good and allowing the finished product to speak for itself. It’s hard work disarming the weapons I can bring to bare, like previous films in a series, thoughts on a direct or actor, my own prejudices. I’ve found it to be a much more rewarding experience with movies, tv shows and even books to look at it without those weapons. It’s made it easier for me to see and understand the themes, character motivations and what each work is trying to say, which in turn allows me appreciate it more.

Now, does this mean I like everything? Of course not. But it does even help there, because when I don’t like something, this process allows me to be constructively critical about why and what I feel made something not work. With the self awareness that comes from trying to disarm all the weapons I might bring with me into the cave enables me to be, I think, more fair to the film, show our book and not resort to hyperbole, but break it down in a more constructive and valuable way. In the end, almost every movie, book or tv show is not going to be the best or worst thing ever and finding out the muddle in the middle is most of the fun.