Star Wars: The Force Awakens — a look at the trailer

Just a few days after the first trailer for Jurassic World dropped, we get this: the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is the first true Star Wars sequel directed by JJ (I love me some lens flare) Abrams. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Wheeee! I'm finally free!  Woo-hoo!

Wheeee! I’m finally free! Woo-hoo!

^ This little guy looks like Beach Ball Artoo. I have to admit that I’m intrigued to see what the story is behind this, if there is one. If nothing else, it should make for an interesting action figure.

You, know, this elevator music still sucks....

You, know, this elevator music still sucks….

^ We get our first look at the new Stormtroopers. If you’re wondering how they’re new, just take a closer look at their “faces”.

Car keys, car keys, where'd I leave the damn car keys...!

Car keys, car keys, where’d I leave the damn car keys…!

^ Our first look at actress Daisy Ridley as she’s starting up her transport.

Hope I can beat the traffic at Mos Eisley!

Hope I can beat the traffic at Mos Eisley!

^ And she rides off. I love how the folks in Star Wars never have to worry about flat tires.

Red Leader to Gold Leader, we've begun our attack run on the Game Of Thrones cast!

Red Leader to Gold Leader, we’ve begun our attack run on the Game Of Thrones cast!

^ And brand new, redesigned X-Wing fighters are attacking…somebody.

I shall now begin the holy crusade to cut down these trees. We Sith Lords HATE trees....

I shall now begin the holy crusade to cut down these trees. We Sith Lords HATE trees….

^ And then there’s THIS guy…. Looks like they shot this in the snow-covered woods around my house. Come to think of it, I DID see a dude in the woods with a light saber recently…say, you don’t think….

Seriously, I really like the new light saber design. It evokes a broad sword version of the classic light saber. Very cool.

What the hell kind of air traffic control is this?!

What the hell kind of air traffic control is this?!

The Falcon is back, and we also get the rousing Star Wars theme, and I can’t wait to see this, now. By the way, the Falcon has a new radar dish, and it looks a little like a bow tie.

I’m really psyched to see this one. Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in December, 2015. Here’s the trailer:

One For The Money — a book review

There's nothing like cuddling up with a big paperback.  Small paperbacks are good, too. So are Kindles. The ebook reader, not the firewood.

There’s nothing like cuddling up with a big paperback. Small paperbacks are good, too. So are Kindles. The ebook reader, not the firewood.

I saw the movie, One For The Money, starring Katherine Heigl, a while ago, and enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t a hit–far from it, the flick’s low box office gross seemingly ended Heigl’s theatrical film career (she’s back on TV with a new series as of this writing). But I liked the movie so much that when I saw the book at a marked down price in the store, I couldn’t resist the urge.

I really enjoyed the novel, which is the first in a series depicting Stephanie Plum, a 30 year old former lingerie buyer for a department store who loses her job. In seeking to keep the bill collectors at bay, Stephanie really gets desperate: she gets a job as a bounty hunter with her cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds business.

As can be expected, Stephanie is in over her head, and the author, Janet Evanovich, does a great job at showing Stephanie muddling through her crash-course training in becoming a bounty hunter–all while keeping her a sympathetic character. Evanovich also handles action sequences very well, but the entire book has a nice, breezy tone that makes you want to stay with it.

Something else the book does very well–and what the film fails miserably at–is capturing the fabled ‘Jersey Attitude’ that the Garden State is known for. I may have been born in New York City, but I was raised in New Jersey, and I recognize this ‘Jersey Attitude’ in Evanovich’s tome, which rings true. One For The Money, the book, effectively conveys the street-wise toughness of Stephanie and her fellow Trenton citizens. Both tough and tender, funny and scary, One For The Money is a great opening book for a series that I wouldn’t mind continuing to read.

The Jurassic World Trailer

Universal Studios released the first full trailer for Jurassic World, their reboot of the Jurassic Park series. Steven Spielberg didn’t direct, but he did executive produce this one.

Does King Kong know they borrowed his gate?

Does King Kong know they borrowed his gate?

They cleaned up the main gate, and even fixed the name so that, instead of Jurassic Park, it now reads Jurassic World. Looks like they also did away with the Ford Explorers, with everybody riding in a monorail-type train now–which should make it easier for them to become a dinosaur smorgasbord. Just peel open the train to get at the tasty little treats inside!

What do you think, honey, should we try the rides, or just go get eaten by the dinos right now?

What do you think, honey, should we try the rides, or just go get eaten by the dinos right now?

And the park looks like it’s finally open! A multitude of people are seen enjoying the pleasures of Jurassic World…shortly before they become permanent residents. I swear, once I saw these folks, my first thought was: Christ, they’re all doomed! They might as well be red-shirts in a Star Trek episode.

We got a flat tire? In this thing? How?

We got a flat tire? In this thing? How?

And I want one of these things. And I don’t mean as a model kit (although that would be nice), but for real! I want to drive this through the woods. Wait until the deer and the groundhogs see me in this gizmo.

Oh Bruce, how the mighty have fallen....

Oh Bruce, how the mighty have fallen….

And it looks like we might be getting some aquatic dinos this time out. Jurassic Park meets Jaws? Count me in!

All in all, even though this film really wasn’t on my radar, I’ve wound up getting pumped by this trailer. I even got a chill when I heard the piano slowly playing the JP theme. I’m looking forward to seeing it, now. Jurassic World will be released in June of 2015. Here’s the full trailer:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — a review

Ape not kill ape! Ape take legal action instead!

Ape not kill ape! Ape take legal action instead!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes advances the story begun in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes in so many ways than just in terms of the storyline. Directed by Matt Reeves, who did the superb found-footage monster movie Cloverfield and Let Me In, the American remake of Let The Right One In, Dawn takes place ten years after a plague has wiped out the majority of the human race, leaving only scattered patches of humanity alive here and there. One such group lives in the ruins of what once was San Francisco, struggling to keep their community alive by sending a scouting party into the wilderness to find and revive a dam. With the San Francisco community running out of fuel for power, the dam will be a viable source to keep their infrastructure going indefinitely.

You really think I look like Daryl from the Walking Dead?  Dude, you the man...no, ape, you're the ape!

You really think I look like Daryl from the Walking Dead? Dude, you the man…no, ape, you’re the ape!

But the scouting party, led by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Keri Russell (The Americans) runs into an ape civilization that has prospered under the rule of Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord Of The Rings), the ape that led his fellow simians into the safety of the woods at the end of Rise. And here is where the problems really begin. Dawn is really a remake of Battle For The Planet Of The Apes (1973), which was a pretty cheesy sequel in the original POTA series where Apes battled radiation-scarred humans who lived in the blasted remains of a ruined city like horror movie ghouls. With Rise wisely removing the atomic war back story completely, Dawn doesn’t have to deal with the silliness of mutant humans.

I'm really a soviet spy, but let's keep that between us, ok?

I’m really a soviet spy, but let’s keep that between us, ok?

Instead, we get a much more realistically done story with the humans struggling to rebuild their world after it’s been ravaged by a plague. Instead of a radiation-blasted wasteland, the San Francisco cityscape is largely overgrown with vines and other assorted plant life, reminding a viewer of the series Life After People. Reeves is careful not to make either the human or apes out to be cartoonish blowhards by building up the conflict through careful characterization, making you care for the people (as well as the apes) on both sides when the you-know-what finally hits the fan.

We few, we happy few, we merry band of apes....

We few, we happy few, we merry band of apes….

The CGI effects on the apes is extraordinary. Despite the fact that several of the main ape characters are chimps, you always know who they are through the nuanced performances given by Serkis and the other actors. And yes, they are just as much actors as Clarke, Russell and the other humans in the film, thanks to the technology that captures their performance and conveys it in CG form. This is a revolutionary technology that is finally coming into its own, and the talented people behind it–both the actors and technicians–really deserve whatever recognition they get for it. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is that rare sequel that’s even better than the first film. It confidently propels the story forward while leaving you wanting more. Bring on the next flick! –SF

My scratch-built/kit-bashed Klingon Ship

Back about six or seven years ago, I decided to take the plunge into scratch-building model kits with this ship.

Klingon warship, circa mid 22nd century.

Klingon warship, circa mid 22nd century.

The main body is a plastic pill bottle, the neck was taken from parts from a 1/48 fighter (I think it was the transmission).

The base was also scratch-built

The base was also scratch-built

The front hull, along with the main engines and the superstructure on top of the main body were all scratch-built by me.

Apoxie sculpt was used here, as well as some bits and pieces from the parts box.

Apoxie sculpt was used here, as well as some bits and pieces from the parts box.

I was trying to create an early version of the Klingon warship that might have been seen in Star Trek: Enterprise. It looks a little rough–I would now use something other than a bottle because it was made of soft plastic–but it still holds up nicely.

Steer clear of the exhaust!

Steer clear of the exhaust!

And that big red impulse drive engine on the back? That’s a cap from a deodorant container. Always use whatever you got on hand!

Qapla' man!

Qapla’ man!

Insurgent and Allegiant — a review

There would be more books, but they ran out of words ending in 'gent'.

There would be more books, but they ran out of words ending in ‘gent’.

When I reviewed the first book, Divergent, I wasn’t too impressed with it and didn’t think I would be reading the two sequel novels. But then something interesting happened.

My town got a library! Woot!

Yes, miracles of miracles, in this day and age of people reading e-books and throwing away print books (or so the hype would have you believe), an honest to goodness library actually opened less than two miles from my little house.

When I checked it out, I saw they had Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. And while I didn’t want to shell out anymore cash to read them, I certainly didn’t mind reading the two sequel books, Insurgent and Allegiant, for free. Thanks, library!

The problem I had with the first book, Divergent, was the lack of information about the world outside of Chicago, the closed-in city that our young heroine, Tris, must make her way through. Well, this is finally answered in the sequel novels, especially in the third book, Allegiant.

The story transforms nicely from the usual sappy Young Adult three way romance into a more thoughtful science fiction premise that examines how members of a society are controlled. But the second and third books feel very stretched out, with too many scenes of Tris just moping around, depressed about one problem or another.

I get the feeling that if they just cut out all the soap opera, this would have made for a great one-shot novel. Roth can spin a good story; she’s not afraid to be a daring writer and can create extremely sympathetic characters whom you root for, but there’s the need in the publishing world for the three part trilogy, because it sells more books.

The result of this need for trilogies–which I think is more the fault of the industry overall than the writer–are stories that run too long, that feel padded out with unnecessary scenes. I would normally hope that the film versions would cut the extra fat from the story, but I’ve just heard that the film version of Allegiant, the final book, will be expanded to two films.

Looks like padding out the story isn’t just a problem with the publishing industry….

Guardians of the Galaxy — a review

Wait a sec...is that thing supposed to stick out like that?

Wait a sec…is that thing supposed to stick out like that?

Right at the point where Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love” kicks in on the soundtrack of Guardians Of The Galaxy was when I sarcastically thought: ‘Oh, here we go….’ After a dramatic opening scene set in a hospital where the young Starlord, aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), witnesses the death of his mother, only to run outside and get kidnapped by aliens (man…poor little guy!), we cut to twenty six years later, where we see the adult Quill rummaging through the ruins of a temple complex on an alien planet in a scene that recalls Raiders of the Lost Ark, Stargate, and Star Wars. It’s only when Redbone’s ode to super seventies soft rock begins playing that the pop culture references designed to ensnare the audience were finally complete.

Take back what you said about the Rosemary's Baby remake! Damn it, you take it back RIGHT NOW!

Take back what you said about the Rosemary’s Baby remake! Damn it, you take it back RIGHT NOW!

This is manipulative film making at its finest; the film reels in as many age groups as possible in the very first scene, which still manages to introduce the main character and villains through slick action set pieces. Based on an obscure comic that Marvel published in the 1980s (I never even heard of the comic until I first heard about this movie being made), Guardians of the Galaxy was co-written and directed by James Gunn, who rose through the filmmaking ranks as a smart writer (The Specials, the Dawn Of The Dead remake) before directing his own quick-witted films (Slither). And he was really the perfect choice for Guardians, because it’s very funny and enjoyable, despite being derivative as hell.

No more of this 'the girl who waited' bullshit. I'm coming for you, Doctor!

No more of this ‘the girl who waited’ bullshit. I’m coming for you, Doctor!

Armed with his own cool spaceship, Starlord is like a funnier, hipper Han Solo–a badass armed with just as many pop references as weapons (and who reminds me a lot of John Crichton in Farscape). When he gets saddled with a new crew aboard his ship, including a talking raccoon and a giant walking tree that keeps repeating the same sappy thing over and over (“I am Groot!”), Guardians then tries to create the family dynamic of Firefly, Joss Whedon’s superb, cancelled-before-its-time series about a group of outer space misfits who’re just trying to make it in the ’verse. But while Guardians may lack the heart and soul that Firefly had, it more than makes up for it in sheer fun.

I am...oh, well, you know....

I am…oh, well, you know….

Yes, it’s a carefully designed blockbuster that’s been stamped out by the Merry Marvel Movie factory, with a plot that feels like it’s been lifted from The Avengers (with bad guys that look like warmed over villains from the Chronicles of Riddick), but what the hell, I had a blast. Bradley Cooper does a great job at voicing the talking Raccoon, and Pratt is engaging as the lead. Gunn fills his film with many genuinely funny moments, such as Starlord unexpectedly surprising the completely stunned main villain with a dance-off. Guardians of the Galaxy is a much needed, light-hearted SF ride, albeit one that dissipates soon after you see it. If you’re looking for an enjoyable piece of fluff popcorn movie, and don’t mind the obvious mass audience manipulation, then this is the ticket. –SF


The Halloween Bug

It's Halloween every day for me.

It’s Halloween every day for me.

It was warm today (well, it was 56 degrees, but that was still warmer than it’s been the past week). And when I went out to take the garbage over to the transfer station, I saw this bug on the side of my house. He was black and orange! A Halloween bug! Too bad Halloween’s over, but maybe he’ll come back in time for next year’s celebration.

Snowpiercer — A Review

Things were never this hard in a Captain America movie...

Things were never this hard in a Captain America movie…

Snowpiercer refers to the large train that plows through the deep snow and ice of a world that’s been frozen over. Earth has been turned into a large ice cube, thanks to efforts to stop global warming that worked way too well. You could say they’ve overcompensated in a big way, killing off the human race in the artic blast that overwhelmed the planet, save for a sliver of the population that lives in the super train. Powered by a perpetual-motion engine, Snowpiercer is constantly running along a track system that spans the world. Joon-ho Bong (The Host) directs this science fiction treat about a man who leads an uprising against the class system that arises aboard the Snowpiercer.

Everybody better fasten their seat belts, 'cause it's gonna be a bumpy ride!

Everybody better fasten their seat belts, ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

Chris Evans, Captain America himself, does a great job performing in a far more darker fantasy movie than the Marvel Movies he’s been seen in these past few years. His Curtis character arises from the darkness of the tail end of the train to try and lead the people towards the light of freedom. We’ve seen movies like this before, such as the mealy-mouthed and predictable Elysium, where Matt Damon leads a rebellion against the upper class who were literally ‘upper’ in that they were in a space station. But while Damon’s character became a savior basically to save his own skin, Curtis’s motivations are more pure.

We have so many things to show you.

We have so many things to show you.

The regime that rules the Snowpiercer at the front of the train is extremely brutal; they mete out severe punishment for the slightest of infractions, while taking selected children away from their families in the tail end of the train for mysterious reasons. Going up against this bunch, actually putting his own life on the line in the vicious fight, makes Curtis a far better protagonist to root for. And while one may wonder why the filmmakers chose a constantly moving train as their setting, keep in mind that the film is based on a graphic novel, and that Snowpiercer–both the train, as well as the movie–makes for a much better setting for this type of story.

Oh, c'mon, a little oligarchy never hurt anybody!

Oh, c’mon, a little oligarchy never hurt anybody!

Why? Well, it’s no secret that Snowpiercer, the train, is a metaphor for our society in general. And given the class warfare that erupts on board between rich and poor; the powerful against the powerless, one wonders if a train was chosen as a perverse nod to Atlas Shrugged, in which the main protagonist of that book is a railroad tycoon. And given the dire situation the poor people reside in aboard this particular train, what choice do they have but to rise up and fight? And good for them. But here’s where it gets interesting: what happens next? What happens after the revolution?

Oh yeah, a society commanded by the rich is so much fun...if you're rich....

Oh yeah, a society commanded by the rich is so much fun…if you’re rich….

This was a question that the too-timid Elysium completely ignored in favor of a rock-em, sock-em action set-piece in its ending. I won’t give away the ending here, but I really admired Snowpiercer because it attempted to answer these daunting final questions in its last few scenes. Don’t get me wrong, Snowpiercer is an adrenaline-filled action film that roars off at an unrelenting pace right from the get-go, but the fact that it also manages to raise so many questions and thoughts about power and how it’s applied in a society makes it a must-see. –SF