Road Trip 2015

School vacation week was this week. This year we decided to take a trip back down to the Maryland/Virginia area to visit family. We hadn’t been there in four years. It gave us the chance to catch up with family and a few old friends. 

We started in Frederick, got the chance to both chill at my mother’s house and walk around the historic section of Frederick. On the side of one building is a pretty nifty mural of a man looking out an open window. We ducked into an antique market where there were, among other things, endless jars of old silverware. 

After a few days we headed to Virginia, staying just over the line from Washington DC. From there we got to catch a Nats game one day, and revisit the National Zoo the next. Took the Metro both times, which was an absolute madhouse after the ballgame let out. The zoo had some great exhibits we hadn’t seen before, especially now that they’ve opened the Asian Trails section. This exhibit gives the Asian elephants a lot more room to roam than I remember them having the last time. 

In addition, I got the chance to play my father’s new Martin guitar, which has an amazing sound. 

All told, lots of fun was had by all. Observe the proof:

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Thoughts On The New Star Wars Trailer

My wife suggested I start this post with the following disclaimer:

If you don’t want anyone to harsh your Star Wars mellow, do not read on.

Still there? Good.

Yesterday, a number of people I know lost their minds. You see, at a Star Wars Celebration yesterday, JJ Abrams and company revealed a new teaser trailer for the next Star Wars film.

And the crowd went wild.

I, however, did not.

First, let’s go to the videotape:

Okay, now you’ve seen it. And yes, it looks snazzy and polished and action filled and ohbytheway did you notice Han and Chewie? That was, naturally, what sent the crowd at the celebration over the edge.

So why am I not all tingly inside, along with everyone else? Why am I filled with more excitement over the trailers for the new Mad Max film than I am Star Wars? Have you seen the trailer for the new Mad Max movie?

Sidebar:

Okay, had to get that out of the way.

The truth is, the Star Wars trailers don’t show us anything yet to be excited about. We have a number of new characters, none of whom we have any emotional attachment to. Contrast that with the trailer for The Phantom Menace, where we saw images of old favorites from a different era. In TPM trailer, we get glimpses of Anakin and Obi-Wan, characters we have deep deep connections with. In the new trailer we have glimpses of Rey and Finn. To which you have to ask yourself, “Who?”

To be fair, we do get a glimpse of Han and Chewie at the end, with Han saying, “Chewie, we’re home.” But that’s it. That doesn’t show is anything. In TPM trailers we get to see Anakin and Obi-Wan doing stuff, racing across the desert, using lightsabers, being introduced to each other, rather than a elderly Han waxing philosophical. It’s true we see the Millennium Falcon being chased by a TIE Fighter and flying into the superstructure of the Death Star wrecked starship, but is Han flying it? Perhaps not, given that he and his now 240 year old fur ball friend appear to be coming home to the Falcon itself.

kylo-renAnother aspect that’s generated endless speculation is just who is this Kylo Ren, the apparent villain of the film. We’ve now seen a masked visage and we’ve previously seen an improbable lightsaber, but little else. As far as trailers go, he’s been boring. Boring to watch, boring to look upon. Contrast that with the coolest looking and ultimately mostDarth_Maul_profile boring villain in the pantheon of Star Wars movies, Darth Maul. He looked like the devil himself, and turned out to have one line in TPM. With nothing to ground us as to why we should invest emotional energy into this character, he was the Sith equivalent of a special effect without a storyline: a pretty boring thing.

Some folks have gone gaga over the image from the opening shot of the trailer, namely a Star Destroyer beached and half buried in the sands of the desert world Tattooine Jakku. (Why we need a different desert world I’m not sure. There are doubtlessly more than one in the galaxy, but maybe the need will be revealed in the film.) It’s a cool image, I’ll give you that. Almost as cool as this one from one of the now discarded former canon jedi seach close upof Star Wars literature. Yes, that’s a wrecked Millennium Falcon crashed on (if memory serves) Kessel.

Okay, that’s perhaps enough badmouthing for now. Because I don’t want to come across as a total geeked-out asshole. If I’m being truthful with myself, I really am looking forward to seeing the new film. I grew up with Star Wars and was the quintessential geek about it when I was younger. But if I keep in the truthful vein, I, like millions of other fans, was extremely disappointed at the new trilogy. All of the magic and mysticism that made the first three so enjoyable had vanished in the new three. Yet, before anyone knew how underwhelming they would eventually be, there were trailers that made all of us self proclaimed nerds wet our pants. Sadly, as a friend recently pointed out, often times the trailers for movies exceed the movies themselves.

I’m hopeful about the new three. But for reasons other than the trailer. I’m hopeful because Lawrence Kasdan worked on the script. I’m hopeful because JJ Abrams is good at rebooting things. I’m hopeful because he won’t be continuing after this one, which, if you’ve seen Star Trek: Into Darkness, you’ll likely agree that’s a good thing. I’m hopeful because Lucas, who should have known better when he made the new trilogy but clearly didn’t, isn’t really involved in this new movie.

Time will tell.

In the meanwhile, let’s go for a ride down Fury Road and say hello to this handsome fellow:

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Movie Review: “Furious Seven”

furious 7I actually made it out of the house to see a movie last week. This is a pretty rare occurrence since I have a pretty active home life and, quite frankly, most movies that come out I’m only passingly interested in. Certainly not enough to spend $12 to see them.

So, you may ask, why did I waste hard earned money of Furious Seven?

As Mallory once proclaimed regarding Mt Everest: “Because it is there”.

(Also, a friend asked me to go see it with her husband so that she wouldn’t have to.)

Before we even begin, let’s level set some expectations. This is not high cinema. No one expects it to be. If you go into this anticipating Gone With The Wind on wheels, you’re going to be unbelievably disappointed. This is B-movie popcorn fair, period. As such, it hits all the right notes.

Everything about Furious Seven is overblown and overdone. The opening sequence (some minor spoilers follow) featuring Jonathan Statham as Deckard Shaw sets the stage for the rest of the film. The film opens with him talking to his younger brother who has been put in the hospital by Vin Diesel’s F&F crew (see the sixth installment for the details).  As the camera begins to pull back and we see the state of the hospital, we gain a dawning understanding that the chaos that Shaw is capable of delivering. Even as parts of the hospital fall down around him, he remains completely unscathed. It’s the kind of over the top opening that sets the character up as a villain to be feared and reckoned with, while simultaneously letting us know that this film is going to be nothing short of over ridiculous, with each sequence trying to top the sequence before it.

By and large, the movie is full of this level of absurdity. The car chases are physics-defying. The dialogue is so cliché that you come to expect it, and that any dialogue that doesn’t fit into what is essentially a movie comic book feels out of place. The fight sequences are bone shattering, without any bones actually being shattered. The sound effects when The Rock hits Statham should have its own sound effects bubble. THWOK! KAPOW! (The best fight sequence in the movie actually belongs to Michelle Rodriguez, who is forced into a mano-e-mano with Ronda Rousey.) The finally sequence requires the most suspension of disbelief I’ve needed in the past decade. How is it that Shaw, the F&F crew, and an out of control terrorist, played by Djimon Hounsou (he seems to be playing a lot of villains recently) can destroy most of downtown LA and I only counted three cop cars before the final fight was over?

But this is why we go to these movies. We don’t go to see reality. We go to be entertained, and as such, Furious Seven is one of the most entertaining films you’ll see all year. Well, at least until the next Avengers movie.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gray cloud hanging over the movie, and my guess as to why it’s made a bo-billion dollars in the first few weeks: Paul Walker.

Walker’s death was a shocking blow to this franchise and its players, all of whom had grown very close. His death sent Michelle Rodriguez into self-destructive nosedive she has only recently pulled up from. The curious are flocking to this movie to see how they finished it without him. I was no exception to the curiosity. The verdict: seamless. The vast majority of the principal photography must have been complete at the time of his death, with body doubles (played by his surviving brothers) filling in occasionally. The end sequence is particularly affecting, scripted as if a decision had been made to write Walker out of the film franchise prior to his death. It ends up being a fitting coda for his involvement in the series.

In short, this movie is nothing but silly fun. If that’s what you’re looking for this April, look no further.

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