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.

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The Orville— first impressions

Orville 2When it debuted, there was a good bit of publicity about the science fiction comedy, The Orville, starring (and produced by) Seth McFarlane. And there are not a lot of shows to compare it to, so I understand why writers had some problems describing it.

Visually, this television show looks much like a feature film, such as the rebooted Star Trek, although it relies on CGI a bit more than an upscale effort like The Force Awakens, and the special effects don’t take center stage in as many scenesThe score, in particular, reminds Trek savvy viewers of the first Star Trek feature film, and certain scenes in the pilot also pay homage to that film. Other Trek elements include the use of shuttle craft to get back and forth from ship to ship (no transporters, however) and FTL travel is accomplished via a “quantum” drive rather than Trek’s warp drive. The uniforms are almost cartoon versions of military uniforms, but the color codes for different divisions again looks a bit like Trek.

The first half of the pilot strives very hard to set the comedic tone of the series, and that almost kept me from finishing it. Such lines as “Can I have a soda on the bridge?” or “Can I wear shorts to work?” from bridge officers are supposed to be funny, but these arbitrary requests seem out of place. Once the crew encounters some baddies and come together to accomplice some goals, the drama and the comedy mesh a bit better. My favorite space faring comedy is still Galaxy Quest, but it never took itself seriously, which The Orville seems to want to do, at least occasionally.

I’ve not seen all of the available episodes, but I will probably take another look, as hubby and I have only one episode left of Dark Matter, which is the best television space opera we’ve seen in quite a while. As for quality, my initial impression is that The Orville has a bigger budget, but the recently cancelled Dark Matter has a far better premise and better acting. A quick check over at Rotten Tomatoes gives DM a 79% fresh rating, but TO only gets 19%. Ouch! There are more episodes of The Orville to come, so we’ll have to wait and see if it gets any better.

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.

The Temporary Agent— review and commentary

Recently, I read the Kindle version of The Temporary Agent by Daniel Judson. While well-written, this novel didn’t grab me and keep my attention. One of the reasons that I (or most folks) read fiction is to get involved with some characters who are embroiled in conflict to see how those characters manage, thus entertaining me and providing some catharsis as well.

In The Temporary Agent, the opening scene has the reader immediately seeing that this is a novel of death and dire straits. “Cahill was no stranger to suffering…but the night he lost Erica was without a doubt the longest of his life.” This novel has really short chapters, and the first five comprise Part One where the exposition and action swiftly intertwine, and I was really getting interested. Then came Part Two, which changes the point of view character and the pace of the story. As the next fifty five chapters unfold (yes, that’s a lot of chapters) the pace does pick up, but the second POV character, who turns out to be the titular character, is not as interesting as the guy in part one. So…that is a huge flaw. Basically, the author grabbed me in part one, but let go of his grip in parts two, three, and four. Again, the novel is well-written with lots of interesting details and plenty of action, but I just didn’t care as much about the characters that came after those in the first part. And, for the reader to be really interested, the main characters have to be multi- dimensional and engaging, and it helps a lot of the secondary ones are fleshed out, too.

Fans of espionage novels, military action, or crime fiction will probably enjoy The Temporary Agent. While I did finish it, I kept thinking that it would have been a better story if the POV had stayed with Mr. Cahill and his lost love, Erica.

Dark Matter— review and commentary

Dark Matter from FBFor the most part, the SyFy channel has seemed more like the “Horror channel” to me. So many of their original works seemed to rely either on horror or even fantasy that I seldom watched it, back when we were cable subscribers. However, the series Dark Matter: Season 1 [Blu-ray] (which I’ve been binge watching lately) is certainly an exception to that. Here is a series which blends elements of hard and soft science fiction writing, plus some really good acting and nifty special effects, into an entertaining and occasionally thought provoking original science fiction series.

The initial premise is a fabulous launching point: Six people wake up from stasis pods on a ship, and none of them remembers their respective pasts. Action ensues almost immediately, as the ship’s android viciously attacks. Once the android is sorted out, then this motley crew sets about sorting out who they are and what the mission of this ship might be. All of the cast members do a good job with their parts, but Melissa O’Neil is particularly watchable as her “Two” character quickly becomes the center of this strong ensemble.

Each episode helps unravel the mysteries, while bringing in new characters and situations. As the series unfolds, most of the characters learn of unsavory bits in their past lives, which affects how they interact with each other and the characters they meet as they travel though space. Hard science fiction elements (the science part) include the technology of stasis, of artificial intelligence, faster than light space travel, and genetic engineering. Softer science fiction elements (the emotional and social aspects of technology) include how the characters react to their collective amnesia, how they interact with other cultures, the ethics of certain criminal activities, and how the politics of their time and space play out.

Among the players of this futuristic universe are large corporations, mostly depicted as being at war with each other. Government is largely a pawn of the corporations. Science fiction grand master Robert A. Heinlein played with similar themes in his novel, Friday, which also dealt with genetic engineering and the ethical dilemmas which accompany it. Science fiction requires good writing, as “fiction” is part of the term, and the writers of Dark Matter seldom disappoint. If there is a weakness, some of the space travel effects are a bit cheesy compared to modern movie making, but hey, it is a television show!

Science fiction is mythology for modern man. (I’d love to take credit for that, but I got the idea from reading about science fiction and mythology, including The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)  There is much to like in the series Dark Matter, which is on currently on the SyFy channel, as well as via streaming services and on DVD. I highly recommend it.

Hidden Figures— review and commentary

I’m not much of a numbers person, but I know those who are, and I do admire “nerds.” The film (now on DVD) based on the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race is about space exploration, history, race relations in America, and math. I’m glad the filmmakers concentrated on the first three, because I got lost pretty quickly with the equation solved in the exposition.

I’ve always been a fan of clever titles. (I wrote Once Upon a Dirtball, you know.) Hidden Figures is a perfect title, because it conveys that this is a film about math and mathematicians, some of whom were “colored” and therefore not to be taken seriously by society, but, the script makes it plain that these brilliant minds were critical to NASA’s success.

The cast is outstanding, if a bit too good looking for the fifties and early sixties. The script is even better. Some of the lines in the film are no doubt fictionalized, but the prickly encounters between Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson and their white co-workers probably did happen. One of my favorite parts in the film is when John Glenn refuses to fly until Katherine checks over the calculations necessary for bringing his capsule back safely. However, in reading about Katherine Goble Johnson’s contributions to NASA, she calls it all “team work.”

When doing a “based on real events” known to the audience, such as we all know John Glenn made it back to earth safely, maintaining suspense can be tricky. By telling the story behind the scenes, those problems are mostly eliminated. Even the climactic scenes are handled with skill as the nation pauses to watch what happens with the flight of Freedom 7.

Whether or not you are a fan of science, technology, engineering or math, I think you’ll find Hidden Figures a great way to spend an evening. As of this post, the film got 93% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. And, I don’t always agree with that site, I certainly enjoyed this film. Rent it or buy it!

Supergirl— Television’s best female superhero?


Super hero flicks are hot these days, and I’ve been catching up on episodes of Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist in the title role. The series began on CBS and then jumped to something called the CW. Overall, I’m impressed with this series, although it is clearly made for television and the effects sometimes show that. After recently seeing Wonder Woman on the big screen, this yarn pales a bit. Still, Supergirl offers super hero stories to a stay at home audience. (I am viewing it via Netflix.)

Here’s the “good” stuff: Melissa Benoist is a fabulous casting choice. She looks the part, and she can pull off the “little ole me” part of Kara Danvers (Supergirl’s day job character) very well. Although the scripts are not great, she gives it her all, and both Kara and Supergirl are likable. Indeed, casting is one of the strong suites of this show. The supporting cast is pretty good overall. My favorite character in the supporting cast, media mogul Cat Grant, portrayed by Calista Flockhart, didn’t make it to the second season, and that is regrettable. There were apparently some issues with the filming location, which changed when the series moved to the CW, and Flockhart was no longer available. Others are still giving Supergirl/Kara Danvers support, including the super cute Jeremy Jordan as Winn Shott, Mehcad Brooks as a grown up James (Jimmy) Olsen, and Chyler Leigh as adopted sister, Alex Danvers. I rather liked the tie ins with Super Man in the first couple of episodes of season two.

Here’s the “whatever” stuff: The scripts seem lifted from Justice League comics. For fans of comic books, these plots are probably welcome. For me, sometimes I just can’t really get into them. The effects range from pretty awesome to pretty boring, but nothing looks ridiculous. By and large the costumes look good, but nothing stands out as amazing. The same can be said for the sets and use of locations, which are good enough for television.

Here’s the “bad” stuff: The dialogue can be really basic, and the plots tend to repeat too often. The whole “DEO” organization is just too convenient as a means of parading weird looking villains out for Supergirl to fight each episode. Sometimes, the writers should change it up and have a “man against nature” conflict, instead of “one alien against another” every episode.

Still, for viewers who want a female superhero, Supergirl fills the bill. Take a look, if you haven’t already tuned in to this made for television series.