Category Archives: Movies/TV Shows

The Movie “Silence” was Painfully Boring

Silence theatrical release poster

I went with a friend to see the movie Silence.  It looked good and seemed interesting in the previews, and has good reviews online, but to me , it was really slow and boring.



The plot revolves around two Catholic Priests from Portugal in the early half of the 17th century who embark on a trek to Japan to find their missing comrade, and to further missionize the island during a time a great suppression of the religion by the Tokugawa shogunate.

With such subject matter you might think this would be an epic masterpiece of, but instead it was just undynamic and uninspired.  The characters seemed flat and undeveloped, and there was virtually no action at all.  Good movies tend to have peaks and valleys. This was all valleys. The subject matter was pretty heavy, with the persecution of Christians in Japan during the early half of the 17th century, but I didn’t sense any real depth to the story or characters and comic relief was almost non-existent. That’s just the production side.

I also felt like it portrayed Buddhism as a sinister, despondent cult with no redeemable doctrine. While it emphasized the atrocities committed by the Japanese government against the Christians, portraying Christianity as if it would deliver the people from such abuse, it ignored that at the exact same time in Europe the witch-burnings and torture and killings of heretics was at its height. So, not only did I find the movie boring, I felt like it insulted my intelligence.



If you’re interested in watching Silence because you hope to see representations of feudal Japanese society and samurai customs you’ll be disappointed as there is virtually no culture portrayed in this film.

While watching it I felt like director Martin Scorsese and writer Jay Cocks were more interested in creating sympathy and a sense of righteousness for the Jesuit priests than they were in telling a good story.  I can understand why practicing Catholics and other Christians may find the film as providing some form of credibility for their faith, but  I just was not satisfied.

I really found the movie to be uninspired, uninteresting, and unenjoyable. It was painfully boring.



Rogue One: The Best Thing Since The Empire Strikes Back

Rogue One theatrical release poster, wikipedia commons

Like the movie-slacker I am, I waited until Christmas Day to go see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story because I don’t care much for long lines and crowded movie theaters.

I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I saw Episode IV: A New Hope in the theater on its first run. I was three years old.  Like a lot of old school Star Wars fans, I loved A New Hope (which we always just called Star Wars), and found The Empire Strikes Back to be an even better movie. Return of the Jedi was not as good as the others, but provided us with the answers and closure we needed.




Then sixteen years later the prequels happened and my confidence in the franchise was shaken.  After this and Lucas selling the rights to Disney, I was skeptical about Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but it turned out to be a pretty decent reboot from George Lucas’ blunders with episodes I, II, and III.  Then with the announcement of Rogue One, I was certainly full of anticipation but was careful not to have too high expectations.

Well, any concerns I had about the quality of this movie were thoroughly assuaged. Rogue One is a brilliant addition to the Star Wars franchise.

 

It’s Star Wars

Rogue One is a Star Wars story. Unlike the prequels which barely resembled the Star Wars we old-schoolers know and love, and even The Force Awakens to some degree, Rogue One is built from the ground up with the imagery, style and elements of the original trilogy.  There are enough Easter eggs and callbacks to the previous films to plant it firmly in the classic Star Wars universe, but done effectively in a manner that didn’t appear cheap or uninspired.  Rogue One was more Star Wars than I have seen in years.

 

It’s a War Movie

Rogue One is a war movie to its core.  There’s not a lot of mucking about with deep philosophical themes, political intrigue, romance, or building big mysteries to be revealed in later installments. In fact it resolves some questions we had about aspects of the storyline of A New Hope instead.  It’s darker, grittier and more violent than any of those that have come before it.  The ground combat scenes are as intense as those in classic war films such as The Thin Red Line, or Full Metal Jacket.  The space battle scenes are some of the most epic and action-packed of any of the films.

 

A Troubled Alliance

I think a lot of times in the past movies it seemed like the Rebel Alliance was a wholly unified and cooperative effort of revolutionaries with only the galaxy’s best interests at heart.  In Rogue One we get to see a more nuanced rebellion, a complex network of disenfranchised and dysfunctional systems.  We get to see a diverse range of Rebels from senators like Mon Mothma, to radical guerilla fighters, spies of questionable morals, and former imperials.




Darth Vader

The impact of seeing Darth Vader in action again is a quality of the film that can’t be overstated. He doesn’t play a huge role in the story, but it’s a significant one that really makes an impression and builds upon the menacing character we got to know in the original trilogy.

 

A Deeper Perspective on “A New Hope”

Rogue One takes place over a matter of a few days leading up to the opening scene of “A New Hope.” Multiple loose ends are tied and questions answered that had always lingered from the original story.  Perhaps most significantly, the two movies fit together more fluidly than any of the prequels or the original trilogy, or most sequels of any movies.  They almost seem like two acts of the same very long movie.  It’s hard to walk out of Rogue One and not feel compelled to rewatch A New Hope shortly afterward.

 

Cons

No movie is flawless and I’m not such a Star Wars fan boy to not admit flaws when they are present. There are a few criticisms worth mentioning.  To begin with the first thirty minutes or so of the movie is a little too fast-paced with scenes jumping around so much that it seems disjointed.  Fortunately this a rectified and everything becomes clear in the later acts of the film.  While Vader’s scenes are dynamic and dramatic, his suit looks a little off.  The chain that holds his cape around his neck in all the other movies is absent and his helmet doesn’t seem to fit properly as the neckline sticks out in front of the chest plate too much.  It’s a bit distracting and seems inauthentic but it’s the rest of Vader’s scenes are so great it hardly matters.  Michael Giacchino’s musical score isn’t quite up to par with John Williams’ masterpieces in the previous films, but it doesn’t detract from the movie in the least.

 

In many ways Rogue One is the Star Wars movie I have always wanted, but I got the Skywalker prequels instead.  Rogue One is well out of the league of the prequels.  It’s more intense than The Force Awakens, and a better all-around production than Return of the Jedi.  To me, it’s the best movie since The Empire Strikes Back.




It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: No Happy Endings

With situations that are simply outrageous and characters that are despicably endearing, “Sunny” is quite possibly the funniest show on television.

The show features “the gang,” consisting of Dennis, Dee, Mac, Charlie, and Frank who operate Paddy’s Pub, an Irish bar in downtown Philadelphia—once rated “the worst bar in Philly.”  Paddy’s seems to not have much of a clientele, and whenever it starts to see any level of success, “the gang” finds a way to ruin it within 28 minutes.

“The gang” is a vile concoction of alcoholic and virtually sociopathic personalities, unethical, ignorant, and narcissistic.  The main cast includes these five well developed characters:



Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton) started off the series as the player, completely in love with himself. His highest aspiration in life is to have as much sex with as many women as possible, and he was originally pretty good at it. He devised a system for getting laid called the D.E.N.N.I.S. System, each letter representing a step in the seduction process which he tries to pass on to the other men in the gang.  As the seasons progress though, Dennis becomes more unhinged, deranged and obsessed with his image that women become less susceptible to his charms and more creeped out instead. We find that the popularity he supposedly enjoyed in his youth existed mostly in his imagination.  By season 10 it becomes evident that Dennis is really starting to crack up.

Dee Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson), the fraternal twin sister of Dennis is the awkward girl who still hasn’t grown into herself.  She still has unfulfilled dreams of being an actress and comedian, a theme which makes for several mishaps along the course of the series. She’s rude to her customers, and can’t seem to get involved with a man who doesn’t have a myriad of problems without screwing it up. As the series progresses, Dee is shown to be quite verbally abusive to her lovers, and she becomes even more delusional about her star qualities. The gang treats her like garbage, unconcerned with her thoughts or problems and she is proclaimed at one point by Mack to be “the useless chick” of the gang.

“Mac,” Ronald McDonald (Rob McElhenney)— Early in the series Mac is essentially a wannabe meathead and fitness poseur obsessed with building body-mass and admiring men’s physiques. He pretends to be a skilled athlete and martial artist, but proves time and again to have fewer skills than anyone else.  From the beginning he displays a religious pose that becomes more important to him as the series progresses, although it is clear he has a fairly superficial understanding of the doctrines of his faith. In the first season there is enough evidence to question if Mac is fully comfortable with his sexuality and as time goes by it becomes more and more obvious that he is struggling with some homosexual tendencies which with his religious convictions reveals a rather conflicted personality. His father is a convicted drug dealer

Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day) is the moron amongst the idiots.  Other than being a partner in Paddy’s Pub, he has nothing going for him, so the gang made him the pub’s janitor.  An almost illiterate slob, Charlie is often opining over and sometimes stalking the coffee shop waitress introduced in the first episode. As it turns out, Charlie is a naturally skilled musician responsible for writing some of the series’ most popular songs like “Dayman.” While Charlie is apparently the  least put together member of the gang, as his character develops we find out that he is in many ways the foundation that holds the entire enterprise together, though he never receives any recognition from any of his friends.



Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito) is Dennis’ and Dee’s stepfather and possibly the biological father of Charlie.  A former high-power corporate CEO turned lousy con-man, he first appears in season 2 and scams his way into partial ownership of the Pub.  Frank is financially independent from past business dealings, and embezzles money from Paddy’s Pub. Perhaps the most depraved character on Sunny, Frank is determined to see just how weird he can get with the last remaining year of his life.  He moves into Charlie’s apartment and the two develop a strange bromance. Being independently wealthy from his business years, Frank is the financer for the gangs many schemes which allows for some rather pricey adventures.

 

The gang is remarkable in that the members always manage to make the wrong decision, ethically and economically in every situation.  In one episode Dee and Mac try to raise a baby they found in a dumpster.  Another time Dennis and Dee purposely become addicted to crack in order to qualify for welfare.  They destroy an immigrant family’s house by trying to perform an “extreme home makeover” after becoming inspired by the book “the Secret.”

In “The Gang Exploits a Miracle” Frank leads the gang into trying to profit from a restroom water stain that resembles the Virgin Mary.  This episode introduces one of the most dynamic side characters, Rickety Cricket (David Hornsby). Cricket is an old acquaintance from high school who enters the pub as an ordained Catholic Priest, to investigate the “miracle.”  In short order his life is ruined by his unrequited love of Dee, driving him into a life of homelessness.

The gang has also attracted the attention of a local lawyer, whom after experiencing first-hand their deceitful and shameless behavior has taken to occasionally making sport out of litigating against them.

In It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the standard sitcom structure doesn’t apply. The classic format calls for 20something minutes of mishaps, and satire that will all be wrapped up in the end with the lives of the main cast back to normal and okay.  At the end of each episode, the gang usually receives the karmic retribution they have earned, or at least they lose everything for which they were aiming.  No matter how bad the outcome, it’s difficult to feel sorry for any of them.

There are no happy endings in “Sunny,” just hilarious unfortunate consequences.



Bar Rescue? More Like Bar Boot Camp.

(Originally published in 2012 on GodDrinksBeer.com)

Bar Rescue, at the time of this writing is two seasons deep, and moving toward a third. Airing on Spike TV, this “reality” show is currently one of my favorites.  If you have any interest in the bar and nightclub business this series is definitely worth watching.

Bar Rescue stars Jon Taffer, an industry big-shot who specializes in turning failing bars into lucrative establishments. At the beginning of each episode he sends one of his assistants into the featured bar to assess just how bad off it really is.  After getting a feel for the place they leave and return to meet with Taffer, and deliver their report.  At this point Taffer enters the bar with both barrels blazing, and quite often all hell breaks loose.



It’s a reality show so I’m certain the drama is scripted to one degree or another, but in most episodes it’s pretty clear that there is genuine dysfunction at hand.  Usually the bars are in pretty rough shape, but some are especially terrible. In the majority of cases the problem lies in a lazy or poorly educated management, and slack employees. This results not just in poor products and service, but sometimes in the most disgusting working conditions.  This show has exposed filth that really makes a person wonder what is going on behind the scenes of a lot of struggling bars and pubs you might have a drink or dine in.

A lot of the episodes deal with poor or ridiculous branding.  From just plain stupid names like “Swanky Bubbles,” or the poorly located “Piratz Tavern,” or just bad ideas all around like the “Blue Frog 22” which was decorated with children’s games, Taffer often has to rebuild the bar’s brand from the ground up.  This often includes retraining the staff and management, renaming and remodeling each bar. To back him up, Taffer brings in the support he needs, particularly mixologists, and chefs.

Critics of the show knock Taffer for his loud, in-your-face style. He often confronts owners, employees and even the occasional unruly costumer with the tact and sophistication of a drill sergeant. Taffer has a limited amount of time for each project and sometimes, like boot camp it is important to make a heavy impact, and break the cadet down just before building them back up.  It doesn’t do much good to passively explain what changes need to be made if the root problems in an enterprise have not been addressed and conquered.  Of course a lot of this done for ratings and drama attracts viewers.



In most cases the bar is renamed and completely rebranded, and by the end of each episode it is clear that the new or revitalized original theme has made a significant and lucrative leap forward. Most of the rescued bar-owners keep to Taffer’s advice and continue to see increased profits.  A few reject his changes and then later “decline to comment” on their current profitability.

Bar Rescue is a good show, especially for a “reality” series.  From understanding a bit about marketing toward the local demographics, utilizing the environment as a guide to branding, and the importance of consistency, anyone considering the bar or restaurant business can pick up a lot of good tidbits of wisdom from Jon Taffer by watching.



The Walking Dead – More than Just Zombies

Honestly, I don’t care much for zombies or zombie movies. I’ve always found them to be a little juvenile. Most Zombie films always seem like a trite rip-off of Night of the Living Dead. Well, AMC’s series The Walking Dead, although not particularly original in its title is anything but a generic zombie story.  Actually, I think it’s pretty damned good.




In the interest of full disclosure, I only began watching the show halfway through the second season and I never read the comic book series off of which it is based.  I was aware of the show, but as I said I don’t care much for zombies, and I figured it was just a long drawn-out rehashing of that god-awful movie 28 Days Later.  One night however, I was bored and decided to give it viewing.  I was hooked from the very first episode I watched. After that, I made it a mission to backtrack and catch up with all the episodes I had missed.

While I don’t like zombies (can I say that enough?), I have always been a fan of post-apocalyptic themes.  There is just something that fascinates me about a devastated world, sparsely populated with rag-tag bands of survivalists fighting to reestablish some sense of civilization, fighting against roving gangs of marauders, monsters or aliens … whatever, in an increasingly neo-tribal, neo-medieval environment – and THAT is what The Walking Dead does right – so much that the zombies don’t even bother me.

The characters in The Walking Dead are very well developed, and the social dynamics of the main band of survivors are intense and believable. There is everything from sexual dynamics, racial tension, and marital problems. It is filled with action, adventure, drama, a bit of romance (but not too much mushy stuff), tragedy and just the right amount of gore without going overboard.  There is not a flat or one-dimensional character in the series, at least not one that sticks around for very long. And that could serve as a warning to new viewers – be careful which characters you get attached to. They might not last very long.




The story basically follows Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia, whom after being shot in the line of duty wakes up in a hospital to a world populated by the cannibalistic living dead. He hooks up with a band of survivors, reuniting with his wife and son, and eventually finds himself thrust into a precarious leadership position. He begins the series as a down-home, mild-mannered, all-American family man. Then after many months of fighting zombies, marauders, back-stabbers, and watching his friends and loved-ones killed and “turned,” he begins to descend into a rather dark place. Even he is disturbed by his transformation.

The Walking Dead is a great series. In the end however, it is not about the zombies.  It’s really about people, humanity, love and cooperation.  It’s about being pushed to the breaking point and keeping it together. After society has completely broken down what’s important is more than just mere survival. It’s about finding a sense of meaning in a world of chaos. It’s about creating normalcy in an environment that is anything but normal. Each episode leaves you eagerly awaiting the next. And me personally, it leaves me pondering: “How would I have handled that?”