Friday, January 15, 2016

Toaster's Ramblings - New Year Edition (Part 1)

Here we are at another new year (halfway through it's first month) and geez, I had planned to post something during December. Life just gets busy... and I get lazy. I'm entitled to be lazy sometimes considering the three and a half year old I have to keep track of is like a never ending hurricane of destruction. I guess I will take this time to have a glance back at some of 2015 before looking ahead to this year and what lie ahead.

From where I'm sitting, 2015 was not a great year for music. I had high hopes for some albums that didn't pan out, such as Blur's first new studio album in over a decade. I ended up not even buying it. It was mostly unremarkable to me. Sad, because they were one of my favorites in the 90's. The musical highlights for me were Veruca Salt's first new album in almost two decades, The Prodigy's sonic assault known as "The Day is My Enemy," Modest Mouse's new album (which was pretty good, not great), and Muse's best album in a while.

Television brought us many endings to shows that I and TivoGirl loved such as Parenthood and Parks & Recreation. However, we got some new stuff like the excellent I Zombie, Amazon's promising The Man in the High Castle as well as those Netflix Marvel shows Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Hell, those two set the bar really high. I'm not sure how Luke Cage is going to live up to them.

I've already talked a lot about the movies that debuted last year, which many of them were quite good. I will talk about the last two movies I saw in 2015: Mockingjay part 2 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I will try to keep this spoiler free.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 2 finally brought to an end the child killing adventures of everyone's favorite Donald Sutherland ruled dystopia. Overall I liked it, but there were things that didn't work for me, some having been exclusive to the film and others coming straight from the source material. First, why are their C.H.U.D.s living under the capitol? My understanding was that Katniss' group that was infiltrating the capitol never went into the sewers in the book. It was just so fucked up and out of nowhere! Do we just file that under additional weird genetic monsters like giant super deadly wasps and killer dog creatures with people's faces?

Also, and this is a bit of a spoiler... a still partly brainwashed and homicidal Peeta is a last minute add-on to Katniss' group, which is revealed to be a plot to have her martyred and not be a threat to Coin's usurping command of Panem once the rebellion overthrows President Snow. So, Katniss and her allies in the group know this. At one point Peeta tries to kill Katniss. One of the other soldiers tries to pull him off of her and Peeta kills the guy. Yet the group continues to take Peeta with them. Uh, no. You put a bullet in his head and move on. This is war and Peeta has just made your group weaker and is a continued liability. I know we are all supposed to love Peeta, but no. Shoot him.

I will also say that the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman seems to have changed the end of the story a bit. My understanding (having not read the books) is that Hoffman's character isn't that nice of a guy in the books and led to the ending being a bit more bittersweet than the one in the movie. Given that this was Hoffman's final performance, they probably wanted him to be shown in a kinder light. The ending is pretty much the same but I think it was a little too happy... but that's just me.

Moving on to Star Wars: The Force Awakens... it was damn good. Abrams recaptured the magic of the original trilogy and avoided the pitfalls of the prequels. I enjoyed all of the new characters, there was a lot of good action and humor. It actually managed to live up to the hype. However, The Force Awakens wasn't perfect. I have three main complaints about the movie, but I can only go into two of them here to keep away those dreaded spoilers.

The first problem that I have is that they don't really go into the First Order, the reorganized remains of the Empire, very well. We know they are a threat, but it is never established how big of one they are. Are they just a bunch of assholes causing trouble in space? Do they possess territory? Are they an actual threat to the New Republic and if so, how are they a threat? It isn't super necessary to know, but it would have been nice to gauge how bad the bad guys were going in.

The original trilogy had the benefit of the Empire being the established evil force, something that is commonplace in pop culture. They held the power and treated people like crap, so we instantly feel for the underdogs. In this new Star Wars, it seems like the First Order are trying to gain power that the supposed good guys already hold. It makes it harder to get behind the Resistance right away as they too are explained well enough to know how powerful they are. The best explanation I heard was that the First Order were like ISIS on our world and the world powers are funding forces like the Kurdish forces and some of the Syrian rebels to fight ISIS on their behalf.

The other problem I have is one that has been brought up many times... that The Force Awakens borrows too heavily from A New Hope. Some say it is so bad it's almost a remake. I won't go quite that far, but so much of the overall plot follows key points of the original Star Wars that it bothers me a little. In an effort to distance this new film and overall franchise from the widely panned Prequels, it almost seems like Abrams and Disney decided to go for a "sure thing" and more or less copy the formula of the film that started it all.

This bothers me because I don't want this new trilogy to be a by the numbers story that closely mirrors Episodes 4-6. I don't want whatever Episode VIII will be called to be a rehashing of the plot of The Empire Strikes Back. I expect the second film to be darker and raise the stakes, but every key moment of that film should not be emulated. Already is seems hard for that to happen based on how we leave things in The Force Awakens (no spoilers).

I am hoping the next two installments in the saga are more unique. If they are, it won't bother me so much that Episode VII has so many similarities; it will seem more like a rebirth,  like the cycle starting anew. Like I said, I really liked the new Star Wars, as most people seem to have and none of my complaints really tainted the film for me. In fact, I think I may have liked it even more the second time I saw it! It also makes me really excited for this year's Rogue One and Episode VIII in May of 2017 (though I wouldn't be surprised if the movie was pushed back since they haven't started production yet).

That's it for this part. The next part I will bring up what I expect and hope for in this new year as well as some plans for stuff on this blog. Until then, Stay Strange.

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