A review of Solo

solo cast

Here’s a thoughtful review of Solo—A Star Wars Story from Forbes. I saw the movie recently, and I agree with the author— this film is far better than most folks seem to think it is.

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The 13th— a documentary on Netflix

13thRecently, hubby and I watched the biopic Lincoln on Netflix, which is about the civil war president’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed. That’s a fine film, indeed, but it isn’t nearly as good nor as timely as this documentary on the social problems associated with a phrase within the amendment which prohibits slavery: “except as a punishment for crime.” This documentary makes a well documented case for how America has used that phrase against various populations.

The film isn’t as hard to watch as it might be, but for anyone who loves America, it is sobering. Many nations have struggled to put the past behind them: Modern Germans certainly tend to not view the Holocaust as part of their heritage, but it is. Slavery is America’s historical black eye. However, from the Jim Crow era to the civil rights movement to modern times, The 13th shows how prison has become the new plantation.

Older Americans will remember the black and white images of protest marches in the 60s meeting with hostile police, but younger ones may be shocked. However, Americans of every age may be shocked by the private prison contracts that require that prisons remain filled to capacity. Can this actually be true in the “land of the free and the home of the brave”? Yes, it can, and it is true.

Years and years ago, I had a friend whose son committed a crime. He was certainly guilty and did deserve some punishment. For whatever reasons, the judge “threw the book” at this young man, and he spent many years in prison. His mother told me about the various ways that the state punishes the family. A simple phone call from prison must be made “collect” and the charges are exorbitant. She also told me how glad her son was when he was allowed to perform work details. Prisoners gladly work for pennies, just to alleviate boredom, and that’s where the phrase “except as punishment for a crime” comes in. Across this nation, prisoners work and their products are sold for a profit. I used to believe the phrase “made in U.S.A.” but I don’t anymore, because that nifty pair of jeans may have been sewn in a prison.

If you haven’t seen The 13th, you should. Yes, it is troubling, but it should be.

Lost in Space— good at last?

LostPerhaps I am one of the few of my generation who have actually read that classic novel, The Swiss Family Robinson. For its time, it was a good book, with lots of details about how the intrepid family managed to survive on a deserted island after their ship broke apart. That story was a straight up man vs. nature conflict, and man won, big-time. Not only did they survive, but they thrived in their new home.

During the 1960s, with the United States government locked in a “space race” against their rivals, The Soviet Union, mankind began to look toward the rest of the universe as a new frontier. Network television carried each space launch, and before long, their entertainment divisions looked to capitalize on the trend. In 1966, NBC had a space based science fiction drama, Star Trek, which was not especially successful at the time, but during syndication and through successful spin off series and movies, it became a cultural icon. CBS chose Lost in Space, very loosely based on the classic novel. This set of Robinsons were also in a battle to survive, and this story which might have had a better premise than Trek, (as well as legitimate television star power in June Lockhart and Angela Cartwright) but its execution left a lot to be desired. For whatever reasons, Star Trek‘s writers and producers took their journey through space seriously, while Lost in Space became more and more comic.

During the 1990s, there was a big budget film version of Lost in Space, which, again, had the right story to be successful, but was, for the most part, not. When I heard that Netflix had decided to give the story a third outing, I was skeptical. The first version of this series was almost a joke, while the second just never held my interest.

My family is currently halfway through the first season of the Netflix version, and by and large, we are impressed. The special effects rival mid-level movie efforts. The cast is good, featuring Molly Parker (who has had recent work in House of Cards and Deadwood) as a much more empowered version of Maureen Robinson. Each iteration of Lost in Space has used a dual conflict, where the family must struggle to survive (man vs. nature) and deal with a deceptive fellow traveler  (Dr. Smith) thus adding man vs. man conflicts. Wow, Parker Posey’s female Dr. Smith is perhaps the most villainous villain yet.

For anyone who remembers the tacky Robby the Robot screeching, “Danger, Will Robinson,” and being totally unimpressed, I think the third try might be a charm. The robot is certainly not a joke, and the rest of the cast and writers are putting forth a rip roaring series. Give it a try.

Longmire— a satisfying drama with a Western setting

Longmire
Longmire on Netflix

One of my friends who recently “cut the cord” stated that her first binge-watch was the A&E turned Netflix original, Longmire. This show is a blend of modern western with the traditional detective yarn. While most episodes do stand alone, there are some story arcs that make more sense when the viewer starts at the beginning. The titular character, Walt Longmire is brought to life by Robert Taylor. His sidekick, Henry Standing Bear is portrayed by the multitalented Lou Diamond Phillips, and his chief deputy is ably played by Battlestar Galactica veteran Katee Sackoff. The rest of the cast is also quite good, but I especially enjoyed the villain, Jacob Nighthorse, played by former soap heartthrob, A Martinez.

As the series opens, Sheriff Longmire is struggling with the loss of his wife. His small group of deputies, including new hire Vic Morelli, need him to answer his phone and show up, which he has apparently only done sporadically for a while. A murder, combined with the competition from another candidate for sheriff gets Walt back on the job. Viewers are treated to the unfolding of Walt as a complex person as well as a talented lawman. The scenery and camera work are just as entertaining as the acting, and I agree with my friend. As long as Netflix offers entertainment of this quality, there is no real reason to sign up for cable tv.

Longmire the television series is based on the books Craig Johnson, and I’m going to have to check out one of those.

Hacksaw Ridge— great film for Veteran’s Day

HacksawposterAmericans are prone to labeling lots of events as “horrible” or “tragic” or as a “crisis.” But most of those same events pale in comparison with the battles of the last really big war, World War II. Perhaps no aspect of that war was more horrible, tragic, or terrifying than what happened in the Pacific theatre. While most of the folks who survived those days are no longer alive, so their stories might soon disappear, it is important to know what happened there. However, many are reluctant to talk about it. One of my uncles, now deceased, fought at Okinawa. He never spoke of it. Never.

Hacksaw Ridge is a film that depicts the horror of that engagement, one of many battles that are far beyond anything that current Americans can imagine. This movie is based on the real life heroics of Desmond Doss, a man who would not touch a gun. His motives for joining the army, and for not wanting to touch a weapon, form the exposition of the film.

(spoilers)

There is quite a bit of suspense in this film, even before Doss goes to war, because his unconventional beliefs baffled the officers who had to deal with those during basic training. However, Doss is victorious in his struggle to serve as a combat medic. Then the film skips his service in the Philippines and Guam (where he earned the Bronze Star) but the movie makers do depict his service on the Island of Okinawa. Doss was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving the lives of 75 soldiers during the battle on Hacksaw Ridge.

The story is important for a variety of reasons, but in a nation that is in danger of losing its cultural identity, remembering the bravery and sacrifices of the veterans who fought for American ideals in past wars is perhaps the most important reason to view this movie. It is also, however, a story of personal conviction. The sub plot of Doss’s courtship of his wife provides some romance, too. This movie, although very violent, is a worthy one to watch.

Other great movies for Veteran’s Day might include Patton, which stars George C. Scott as the legendary WWII general, or Saving Private Ryan, which does a great job of showing the carnage of D-Day.

Regardless, Americans need to immerse themselves in the history of our nation so that the service of veterans can be fully appreciated. Only then can we put our current “horror” and “tragedy” and “crisis” moments into proper perspective.

Cord Cutting is getting better— but more expensive

TVHubby and I haven’t had cable in more than a decade, and we’ve been with without DirecTV for a while now. Instead, we have watched Netflix streaming (including the DVD feature) and Hulu. Then, there’s YouTube, which gets better and better, but those ads are oh, so annoying. A service that we seldom used at first, Amazon Prime, is getting better, and they are offering something quite interesting: channels ala carte. You can take a look at that here:

Join Amazon Channels Free Trial

My favorite service, still, is Netflix, but as original programming supplants purchased programing, I’m liking it less. Since we are fans of college football, I have been buying a subscription to SlingTV each fall. While it too is getting better, Sling has ads and a plethora of “infomercials” that can be watched on demand. Yep, I paid $40 for the full package, and I get the opportunity to watch ads, short and long. And, this year I keep seeing “your event is blacked out.” The on demand offerings seem quite arbitrary, as sometimes there are multiple episodes available, but on other days there are fewer. Needless to say, if this continues, I won’t even give Sling its seasonal run in the future.

Netflix is about $29 per month (for a family plan + DVDs), Hulu is $9 per month, and Sling is $40. Amazon offers benefits beyond streaming, so let’s add another $5 to the total. That makes $83 per month for online entertainment; each service overlaps a bit, yet each offers something unique. YouTube, HBOgo, CBS all-access, and others would love to have some monthly moola, so clearly there needs to be one service that provides everything (cable + DVR?) Disney has been teasing two different services in the future, one for entertainment and one for sports. If they do, the fracturing of the entertainment empire will probably get worse.

Right now, cord cutting is more and more in vogue, but one of the big players needs to add live sports. Whichever one can manage that will win enough customers to have more buying clout with networks. I’m not a gambler by nature, but I’d pick Amazon to win, Netflix to place, and Hulu to show.

Beauty and the Beast— on DVD

Beauty
Perhaps you are like me—I was interested in the latest Disney cartoon classic to live action reboot, but not enough to plunk down the money to see it in the movie cinema. So, you waited, or might still be waiting. Worth seeing? Yes or no?

Maybe. Sorry, but that is my best answer, having rented Beauty and the Beast (2017)  recently. I remember watching the animated one (on VHS!) with family members, and I thought then that it was state of the art for that style of animation. It still is, I would think. But, Pixar type technologies have, for the most part, left traditional animation of feature films in the dust of entertainment history. So, to bring this film to a new generation, Disney decided to do a combination of live action and modern CGI for the beast.

This film is very, very true to the original. Fans of the music will have no gripes, and the sets are simply amazing. The live action part of the new movie is darned good, but it is so faithful to the previous effort that it seems just a bit too “cartoony” if that makes any sense. For instance, I enjoyed the CGI teapot much more than the live actress. The same is true for most of the characters. The CGI beast, however, was just a bit to phony looking, so I liked the prince better.

If any actors stand out in the new film, my picks are Luke Evans who plays Gaston to the hilt, even if he isn’t really “as big as a barge” as the lyrics state, and Kevin Kline as Maurice, who makes the father seem eccentric enough to need his daughter to take up for him. Emma Watson does a very good job as Belle, although I don’t think she looks the part. If the credits didn’t name Ewan McGregor as Lumière, then I don’t think I would have known him, although I’ve always admired his work. Those who have stated that Disney only made this film to make money are correct, but Disney is a corporation whose main mission is to make money for its share holders, so that is not exactly a valid criticism.

So, back to the original question. Should you see it? Sure, why not? But, I must say, if I wanted to share it with children, I’d go for the original, which is still available: Beauty and the Beast: 25th Anniversary Edition.