Star Wars: Catalyst – Review

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The Death Star has always been a fascinating subject in Star Wars lore and it’s history just as intriguing. With additions to the story by Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Rebels, the full account has been waiting to be told, until now. Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel chronicles the development of the Death Star from The Clone Wars to the upcoming film Rogue One. Author James Luceno masterfully connects the dots, while setting up the characters that will inhabit the movie and the seeds of rebellion in the galaxy that will spawn a new hope.

The Greater Good

One of the most interesting aspects of Catalyst is the ways in which this phrase and idea is used by characters in the book to rationalize everything they are doing. Galen Erso, the main theoretical scientist behind the study of kyber crystals continually has this as his mantra, ignoring any voice inside or outside himself that would warn him about the dangers of his research. He willingly blinds himself to so much throughout the story, believing the false narratives fed to him by Orsen Krennic, head of the Special Weapons Division for the Empire, that allow him to continue his research. Krennic has told Erso that the project is meant to find a way to bring affordable and renewable power to the Empire. It brings to mind Malcolm in Jurassic Park when he says, “…but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Erso becomes so enamored with the prospect of the knowledge that he can uncover and the power that he can hopefully unleash for the benefit of the beings of the galaxy, that he doesn’t even stop to consider how his findings may be perverted for other uses. Science never happens in a vaccum.

At the same time the Empire is lying to the scientists working on project Celestial Power, about their true objective, it’s also hiding from the galaxy it’s true intentions towards “Legacy” planets. These are planets that have been supposedly set aside as sanctuaries for preservation from industrialization, like galactic national parks. Yet the Empire employs the same tactics Palpatine did during the Clone Wars, setting up the planets, making it look as though they are arming themselves, giving the Empire licence to step in an annex them. The Empire then strip mines these planets for their precious ores and metals for “the greater good”, aka the building of the secret space station known as the Death Star.  Catalyst is a reminder of the horrors that have been done in the name of “the greater good” and the slippery slope that kind of logic is.  

The remainder of the review can be found over at The Star Wars Report.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Review

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In 1926 a former Hogwarts student, Newt Scamander travels to New York with a case full of magical creatures only to find himself pulled into the strange world of magic in the United States, which is very different than Britain. The Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) is embroiled in a situation that threatens the safety of the wizarding community as well as the No-Majs (Muggles). It also jeopardizes the International Statute of Secrecy, risking the exposure of the wizarding world in America. Newt and his beasts may be just the thing needed to help bring to light the true forces at work.

Us vs Them

The Magical community has been hidden from the rest of the world since 1692 when the  International Confederation of Wizards enacted the International Statute of Secrecy to protect itself from Muggles or No-Majs. In America it has created an even stricter divide between the two worlds as witches and wizards are forbidden to marry non-magic folk. It’s created a sense of superiority in the magical community which Tina clearly show when she says to Newt, “Why would I want to marry him?”, pointing at Jacob, a No-Maj that has unwittingly become entangled in the wizarding world. The No-Maj world is no better. Mary Lou Barebone who runs an orphanage and the New Salem Philanthropic Society, works to indoctrinate the children she “cares” for and the people of New York of the dangers go witches and wizards in their midst. There is a real sense of tension that is palpable as each side cloisters in it’s group, spreading fear of the other.

fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-dan-fogler-alison-sudol-600x400The movie, in subtle ways, slowly undermines this idea of Us vs Them through the character of Jacob. In America, a No-Maj is immediately obliviated (a memory charm) so that they do not remember what they have seen of the wizarding community, yet circumstances in the film make that impossible. Jacob and Newt form a friendship, learn from one another as they share their worlds. Jacob also has a major impact on Tina and Queenie Goldstein who, for the first time in their lives, get to spend significant time with someone from the “other side”. It’s beautiful to see the fear of the unknown vanish as communication leads to the awareness that they’re not that different. In the real world where this happens every day, the message is clear, true knowledge of the “other” side only comes though interaction, communication and an open mind.

Stewardship

Newt loves the magical creatures of the world, the ones that people have discounted or worse, hunted down because of fear and misunderstanding. His main goal in studying, recording and publishing his book is to educate the magical community about the importance of these creatures, their benefits and to encourage their safeguarding. It’s interesting to see how the themes from the magical vs non-magical communities parallel with the magical community’s interaction with magical beasts. When fear, misinformation and lack of education drive people, the consequences to ourselves and the world around us can be devastating. The film, in both places, drives home the importance of cultivating a climate of learning, education and stewardship.

The Movie

This is the first of five movies in the Fantastic Beasts series, written specifically for the screen by J.K. Rowling. There is a really strength to this since there are no books to compare it to leaving the audience free to enjoy the film for it’s own sake. The movie does a good job of laying the foundations for the world of wizardry in this time period as well as what’s to come in the series. The cast is outstanding, with the relationship between Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski being a true highlight. James Newton Howard’s score is good, even if it never reached the heights of Williams and the production value, character design and world building is, well, magical. The film nicely begins it’s journey to telling the history of the Harry Potter universe that we got hints of in the previous series, making it a wonderful addition and expansion to the world, yet, at the same time, it stands on it’s own. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is rated 4 out of five Bowtruckles.

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Doctor Strange – Review

doctor_strange_imax_posterThis review contains Spoilers.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us many types of heroes. There are men in super suits, a boy bitten by a radioactive spider, a man irradiated by gamma rays, a being brought to life by an infinity stone, a norse god, a former Soviet super spy and a guy that’s really good with a bow, plus a girl that’s been made, in-human. Yet in all of this there has been something missing, something that’s a little esoteric and outside reality and this year Marvel fills that void with it’s newest hero, Doctor Strange.

Perfect Fit

Doctor Stephen Strange is the quintessential man of the 21st century. He’s a materialist that believes there is nothing outside his five senses that he or science cannot explain. He’s arrogant and a complete narcissist, incapable of having anything in his life be more important than himself and to top it off he takes no accountability for the actions that lead him to loosing everything; because paying attention to your phone on a windy road while it’s raining is someone else’s fault. The beauty of the film is how he will be confronted by his beliefs and way of life and find it lacking.

All There is

The dominate view in the modern, scientific world is that there is nothing beyond the five senses that cannot or will not be explained by science. The idea of a soul or anything beyond the material is rejected. Strange is firmly in this camp until he finds himself broken from the accident, unable to heal himself though his intellect and medicine. At the end of his rope, he finds hope in another way. The Ancient One literally opens his mind to whole new realms, dimensions, plains of existence and shows just how little he truly know about the nature of reality. Watching him learn how just how inadequate he is brings to mind Isaiah 55: 8-9,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Strange must unlearn what he has learned about the universe, in fact Mordo who first finds him and brings him to The Ancient One tells him, “Forget everything that you think you know.”

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Letting Go

During his training, Strange struggles to let go of his feelings of inadequacy because of his disfigured hands, leading him to have difficulty with even the simplest magic. The Ancient One tells him that to find the power he must surrender control before he can gain it back. The idea is ridiculous to him and his “modern” sensibilities, but it mirrors Jesus’ words in Matthew 10, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Who’s Number One

One of the most important moments in the film is an interaction with Strange and The Ancient One. Strange has begun to excel in his magical studies but his arrogance as a doctor transfers itself to arrogance as a sorcerer until he is challenged to think differently.

The Ancient One: Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.

Dr. Stephen Strange: Which is?

The Ancient One: It’s not about you.

It’s an incredible scene that speaks to the biblical idea seen from the beginning of time, that it’s not about us it’s about something much bigger. Watching Strange learn his lesson as he confronts Dormammu, who he has lock in an eternal time loop to save earth, is perfect. Strange is willing to spend beyond eternity, dying over and over again, if that’s what it takes to ensure the safety of the planet. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Strange has finally been able to let go of his arrogance and narcism, realizing that there are more important things that just himself.

The Movie

With all of the praise for the themes, one would assume that the rest of the movie is just as good, but it’s only partially the case. Sadly, the villain suffers the “Marvel Syndrome” which is, a villain that’s not all that interesting or dynamic. And unfortunately this also the case with our main protagonist. Doctor Strange is an arrogant jerk, very similar to Tony Stark and his turn in the movie, while thematically well done is not as impactful as it should be. In the end it seems to easy and the turn lacks any sense of depth that one would expect. The movie gets lost in the kaleidoscope visuals, forgetting that the real story is the characters, leaving the viewer feeling cheated. Doctor Strange feels less like it’s title would suggest and more like another formulaic Marvel origin story.

Luckily Benedict Cumberbatch was cast and immediately has the charisma needed to carry the movie, without him, the lack of depth would be detrimental. All together, the cast is solid with Tilda Swinton, as The Ancient One, the true stand out, even though she does live  beyond this film (which is a loss to the series). The music is good, Michael Giacchino has created one of the more memorable themes in the MCU. All together the movie is thematically wonderful yet suffers from rushed character development and more focus on empty CGI spectacle than heart. Doctor Strange is rate 3.5 out of 5 levitating capes. 

 

Ahsoka – Review

tsc-s23-th-square-1440In 2008 Star Wars fans were introduced to a brand new character that no one expected, Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, Ahsoka. She immediately polarized the fan community and it took years for some people to warm up to her. Fast forward to March 7th, 2014 where she walked away from the Jedi order in the last broadcast episode of The Clone Wars, breaking fans hearts but also relieving them as they knew Ahsoka lived. Now, with her fate in the balance once again, fans can’t get enough Ahsoka and they’ve got a new book to keep us satiated.

In this supplemental episode of The 602 Club host Matthew Rushing is joined by fellow Jedi Masters Bruce Gibson and John Mills to talk about the new Star Wars book, Ahsoka. We first discuss the Lando casting, our expectations coming into the book, the end of Ahsoka’s world, interludes, becoming something else, the Imperial way, stormtroopers of clones, kyber crystals, Inquisitors, a failing order and our ratings.

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Star Wars: Rogue One – Trailer

r1_payoff_1sht_v6_lgSet between the time of the Prequels and firmly in the “Dark Times” of Imperial rule, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tells the daring tale of how the Death Star plans got in to the Rebellion’s hands in Star Wars. Blending the feel of The Clone Wars, Rebels and Star Wars, this could be the best Star Wars movie since Revenge of the Sith!

The movie stars Felicity Jones of The Theory of Everything, Mads Mikkelsen of Casino Royale, Ben Mendelsohn of The Dark Knight Rises, Forest Whitaker of The Last King of Scotland and Alan Tudyk of Firefly. The release date is December 16th, 2016.

Make sure you check out the Star Wars: A 602 Club Collection on iTunes for more great Star Wars reviews and conversation as well as Aggressive Negotiations: A Star Wars Podcast.


 


 

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The Hollars – Review

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Life is so unpredictable and the choices we make are made with so little information, yet they can lead to the most unexpected things. The Hollars, John Krazinski’s new film, is all about life in its messy, glorious joys and sorrows. The story revolves around John Hollar, who is recalled home when his mother is diagnosed with a brain tumor. He is quickly dragged back into his utterly flawed family, a pursuant ex-girlfriend and the need to juggle the pregnant girlfriend he left back in New York. What follows is a poignant reminder of just how important living life to the fullest can be.

The Struggle of Manhood

I really like the way the movie deals with the issue of manhood and how hard it is to live up to society’s expectations as well as our own. John Hollar is in a job he’s not proud of, with a dream of being a graphic novelist, yet he feels inadequate for the task of completing his book. On top of that, he’s left feeling like he’s a failure in the eyes of his girlfriend. She comes from a wealthy family and he knows he can never provide the kind of life she’s accustomed to.

Don Hollar is John’s dad. He’s spent his life running a plumbing business that is now falling apart. The pain for him, as his life’s work crumbles and the love of his life is in the hospital, threatens to crush what’s left of this sensitive soul.

Ron Hollar, John’s brother, is by all accounts the black sheep of the family. Divorced and forced to live in his parents’ basement because he’s out of work, he’s wrestling with the consequences of his life decisions. It was he that wanted the divorce a few years ago, but now he’s realizing the mistake he made and how much he wishes he could go back.

Each one of these men portrays a different aspect of manhood and just how hard it can be to navigate. Feelings of inadequacy drive men to do many things–pull away from those they love, search for greener pastures or just give up. Each Hollar man in the movie has to find the courage to move forward in the choices he’s made. John finds a way to fully commit to his girlfriend Rebecca, Ron must face the consequences of breaking up his family and Don must find the strength to deal with his business and his wife’s illness. In each situation true manhood shines when responsibility is taken for where their decisions have led them but also when they realize that manhood does not require you to walk though life alone.

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A Few Quick Things 

As a quick aside, the marriage of Don and Sally Hollar is just beautiful. Both young when they married, they might have gone on to do other things, yet they honor one another in the commitment they made to each other. And they show true sacrificial love towards the other, being the rock each other needs in the worst of times. They are far from perfect in their marriage, but they are inspirational.

Another quick aside. Ron’s ex-wife Stacey is seeing the new youth pastor at the church. Now, many times the “Christian” character in the film is there to be the butt of jokes, but here, he’s actually everything you’d want him to be. He’s kind to Ron, looking to actually help him. He steps in after Ron has been arrested in the movie and “rescues” him from the police. He does not force his beliefs on Ron, but gives him a sounding board and helping hand. It’s always a pleasant surprise when Christians in movies are portrayed in a positive light.

Conclusion

The Hollars is one of those rare films that comes along, in the midst of towering blockbusters, to remind you of the power of a well-told story. I recommend you go seek this one out and enjoy the simple pleasures of explosion-free cinema.

The Magnificent Seven – Review

mag7_926x1460The 21st century has seen a serious lack of westerns in theaters as they have gone out of style in favor of superhero films. So, who better to bring back the swagger than Antoine Fuqua, director of films like Training Day. This remake of the 1960’s movie stars Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm, Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday, Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne, Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, a Mexican, Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen and Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue, the film’s villain. What follows is a tale of good vs. evil in a western that’s more progressive and just down right fun.

Bad Religion

The movie begins with Bartholomew Bogue terrorizing Rose City in the town church as the city had gathered to discuss what to do about his threats. He marches into the meeting, flanked by gunmen, and proceeds to preach his twisted version of religion. To him, America, capitalism and God go together, and to oppose him is to oppose all three of those things. It’s a distorted corruption of religion for the benefit of one man. It’s nothing new.

What makes the movie different than most is the way in which it counters the perversion of religion by showing true faith at work. In the center of Rose City stands the church, and because the pastor there is a man who firmly stands with the people of that city, the church is a beacon of hope. The pastor is willing to lay down his life for the people in the town, to help buy back their freedom. It’s a beautiful picture of faith in action.

There is one more nice dichotomy at work between these two world views. As Bartholomew Bogue makes his speech in the church, he talks about how the gold he is mining outside the town is the true meaning of life. In fact, it’s the thing that the townspeople will live for as well as their children. Yet, midway though the film, after the first wave of Bogue’s men have been driven from the town, there are a few nights of normalcy. The preacher talks to Sam Chisolm and thanks him for bringing back this simple pleasure to the people, if only for a moment. Life is so much more than gold in the bank–the true riches are the small moments between people that happen every day. Lastly, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne lives out John 15:13 as he mentions to the rest of the seven that there is no place he would rather be than in the service of others with men he respects.

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Phoenix Rising

Sam Chisolm and Goodnight Robicheaux have one of the most interesting relationships in the movie. Sam, a black man, saved Goodnight, a Rebel soldier from a group of Yankees who were going to beat him to death. Sam explains his reason to Goodnight by saying, “The war is over for us”. By the time of the movie, Sam and Goodnight are fast friends and they have this saying between then, “What we lost in the fire, we find in the ashes”. It is a timely reminder that after the wars we fight, we have to move on, learn the lessons of the past and work to rebuild, together, something better out of those ashes. There can be beauty from ashes, but it always takes work to make it so.

Conclusion

The Magnificent Seven is fun, but it also has some interesting things to say along the way. While not perfect, it’s a reminder that the western still has a place today and here’s to hoping that we get more. The movie is rated 4 out of 5 stars.