Monday, December 26, 2016

I Fill My Free Time Reading Other People’s "Rogue One" Blogs

OK, not really. But I figure this is the most fun a fan can have each time a Star Wars movie is released. You know, reading up on fan theories, hidden eggs in the flick, “connecting the dots” between interviews with cast and crew, seeing the links with past movies, books, etc.

This isn’t so much an overdue review as much as it is a backing of the consensus that has developed around “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

It’s hard to keep up with the latest theorized and essentially confirmed tie-ins from “Rogue One” (I’ll do my best to spare you clear spoilers): 

*That Supreme Leader Snoke DID cross paths here with Darth Vader.

*There are references to characters and ships from “Star Wars Rebels.” (Well, one character crossover is very clear.)

*The Kyber crystals date back to pre-script treatment for “A New Hope.”

*The Force REALLY HAS been one with the entire rebellion and the entire rebellion has really been one with The Force.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It all provides hours of thrills for fans whose imaginations are broadened by this expanding Star Wars universe (expanding, finally, on the big screen). 

Star Wars has made me cry three times now: 

*The very end of “Return of the Jedi” when I was age 9 and I truly thought it was - back then - the end of the Star Wars saga. 

*A few tears shed in the end of “Rogue One.” The rebels’ sacrifice is fully realized and it’s a breathtaking, dark affair.

*Jar Jar Binks. Because Jar Jar’s appearance essentially symbolizes nearly all of George Lucas’ miscalculations in the prequels.

“Rogue One” is hope, that this enlarging “Star Wars” cinematic universe will only get even better. It will gives more engrossing characters, incredible worlds, engaging scenes of adventure, romance and drama, and fantastic action set pieces.

Was “Rogue One’s” script sublime? No. By no means did it contain the boredom and clunkiness of Lucas’ writing for the prequels. Nor was it a straight call-back to Episode IV or The Force Awakens. 

And yes, Vox, it is a war movie. Because “Star Wars” is about warfare against the backdrop of glorious, strange worlds. Perhaps unlike past SW flicks, “Rogue One” explores the moral complexity of the Rebel Alliance - that the rebels are practically terrorists who do more than they’re willing to admit for a “greater good.”  

Could there have been stronger character development? Sure. But you could say that for most movies. 

All in all, there’s a tremendous story - the end of which we knew already. But how we get there is thrilling and urgent with a dash of disconsolation thrown in. With its expected - and unexpected connections - to other “Star Wars” iterations, it’s a wonderful addition to the SW cinematic family. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Movies That Are Christmas Movies (Even Though Some of You Feel Otherwise)

During the holiday season, you can only see “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and “Miracle on 34th Street” so many times. 

That’s where quirkiness, creativity and an open mind come into play. You know well there are many flicks that don’t fall into the traditional “Christmas” or holiday film category.

Yet, these are Christmas movies. They are set during the holiday season. Some may even have redeeming quality or two.
So, get some wassail or “special” hot cocoa (you may need plenty of it to really enjoy these holiday classics), relax and let all this cinematic awesomeness take you over. 

If you think about it, Warner Bros., Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus and Joe Dante were geniuses. Imagine it’s 1984 (I was, umm, youngish). Over the summer, you see this crazy semi-horror comedy about the cutish creature who, in a sense, births nasty little havoc-creating monsters. 
The gremlins take over a small town close to Christmas. You laugh, you cringe, you throw up your hands and say “What in the heck?”
You’re a kid back then. All you want is Gizmo, the mogwai. Darn, he doesn’t actually exist (as far as we know), but you can get him for…wait for it…Christmas! From Ward’s or JC Penney or Sears. Or Toys R’Us. Genius marketing. 

Die Hard
On the face of it, Die Hard launched the modern action movie genre. There have been many imitators…a one-person army against a bunch of baddies. But nothing tops the original Die Hard, for its sheer thrills, drama, dazzling action, and some humor with one-liners thrown in for good measure.
But more than that, it’s a Christmas movie. I mean, c’mon, terrorists take over a Los Angeles office high-rise during a company’s holiday party? Everyone is in the giving spirit. The world is introduced to the great Alan Rickman (rest in peace, sir). We get Bruce Willis, action movie hero. We get Run-DMC’s Christmas song to start, Sammy Cahn singing “Let It Snow” before the end credits roll. What more do you want?
Honorable mention: Die Hard 2 (also set during Christmas in DC. )

Once again, imagine yourself in 1984. George Orwell’s “1984” has been made into a movie, which - frankly speaking - was boring. Then imagine you’re Terry Gilliam and want to envision a futuristic totalitarian society in a wild way. 
“Brazil” is it. Don’t ask about the title. Just. Don’t. Instead, just watch a movie with such amazing, daring vision. The plot? Well, it’s a little hard to explain, but it is set during Christmas. Or what’s left of it in this society. 
It plays like a bleak drama, but it’s chock full of dark humor and socio-political satire. You’ll never think of an imagined dictatorship in the same way again.

Night of the Comet
I honestly can’t call Night of the Comet a straight-up horror/sci-fi flick. Sure, it starts with the return of a comet that apparently contributed to the dinosaurs’ demise. But the comet is returning to pass Earth - in one night before Christmas. And mankind is pretty much finished.
All you have left are survivors played by the likes of Kelli Maroney, Catherine Mary Stewart and Robert Beltran, wondering what may come next. 
(Confession: I had the hots for Maroney and Stewart in the 80s. Ok, back to the blog.)
Anyways, it’s a fun lower budget flick that so fits its time and setting: mid-1980s L.A. Like my other mentioned movies, “Night of the Comet has its share of dark humor and satire. For me at this point, it’s all about the 80s nostalgia. 

Lethal Weapon
Before he tackled a somewhat more anti-traditional Christmas movie, “Scrooged,” Richard Donner directed Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in this action-errr, comedy franchise starter. But it has nice blend of action, humor and drama…all set before CHRISTMAS.

Trading Places
John Landis has been one of my favorite directors, mainly for his use of dark humor in a film that may not be seen as strictly slapstick comedy. “The Blues Brothers” was such an example. So is “Trading Places.” Eddie Murphy’s movie career was beginning. Dan Ackroyd was taking off. It was, simply, a perfect comedy SET DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON.

More honorable mention: Black Christmas; Silent Night, Deadly Night, Bad Santa, Krampus, All Through the House

I didn’t mention Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Home Alone, etc., because it’s naturally assumed these are Christmas-y flicks. Anyways, check these out if you haven’t already. With plenty of wassail.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Playoff college football, or pretending is fun!

Let’s face it — 2016 sucks. Except for the Cubs and Cowboys winning. But let’s wrap it up on a fun note, with my growing tradition. 

As the NCAA has come up with its third edition of a four-team Division I football playoff, it’s that time to imagine a 16-team tournament.

I know, we’ve heard the arguments against practically any playoff. That bowl traditions are dismantled. Student-athletes wouldn’t be able to focus on finals. Schools would lose money. But consider that tournaments haven’t hurt FCS or Division II or III or NAIA schools.

So, fire up those imaginations. Let’s play pretend. Start with automatic champions from FBS (Football Championship Series) conferences -- regular-season champs and championship game victors.

In the instance of co-champions, that conference would determine who gets essentially an automatic FBS bid. From 10 conferences, this year get 12 automatic bids. Average the current computer rankings, and those of Associated Press and coaches polls. Concentrate on schools that get the most place votes, prioritize, and reach a final aggregate Top 25 poll. Top-ranked FBS independents would be considered, of course.

A final 2016 FBS aggregate poll would look like this:

1) Alabama (SEC champion)
2) Clemson (ACC champion)
3) Ohio State 
4) Washington (Pac-12 champion)
5) Penn State (Big 10 champ)
6) Michigan
7) Oklahoma (Big 12 champ)
8) Wisconsin
9) USC
10) Florida State
11) Colorado
12) West Virginia
13) Oklahoma State
14) Western Michigan (MAC champ)
15) Louisville
16) Stanford
17) Auburn
18) Florida
19) Virginia Tech
20) LSU
21) Utah
22) Iowa
23) Pittsburgh
24) Nebraska
25) Temple (AAC champ)

Unranked conference champions
Western Kentucky (Conference USA champion)
San Diego State (Mountain West champion)
Appalachian State (Sun Belt champion)

Ultimately, FBS automatic bids would go to Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State, Oklahoma, Western Michigan, Temple, Western Kentucky, San Diego State, Appalachian State, 

Then look at the next set of highest ranked schools in the aggregate poll. They receive at-large bids: Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, USC, Florida State, Colorado

The final FBS tournament seedings would be in a 16 vs. 1, 15 vs. 2, 14, vs. 3, etc. format. Accordingly, they are: 

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Ohio State
4. Washington
5. Penn State
6. Michigan
7. Oklahoma
8. Wisconsin
9. USC
10. Florida State
11. Colorado
12. Western Michigan
13. Temple
14. Western Kentucky
15. San Diego State
16. Appalachian State

Take a look at the oldest, popular, most lucrative, traditional bowls. Provide some regional interest where established or geographic rivalries may exist. Make those bowls the new FBS playoff matches. And yes, virtually all will be broadcast on ESPN its seemingly hundreds of channels.

Imagine the increased interest from fans, especially for those bowl games that sometimes do not get sold out. Imagine the ratings. Imagine these bowls having truly something at stake — a chance to advance to play for a championship. Just like most other playoffs/tournaments elsewhere on Earth do. Imagine that.

How about dates for these awesome matches? The “younger”-ish/less lucrative bowls would serve essentially as quarterfinals on various days from mid to late December. Using the seeding format — 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, 3 vs. 14, 4 vs. 13, 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, and 8 vs. 9 — this is how this plays out in 2016:

Tuesday, Dec. 13
San Diego State vs. Clemson– Motel 6 Catcus (formerly Copper, Insight, Buffalo Wild Wings); Tempe

Wednesday, Dec. 14
Western Michigan vs. Penn State-- Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus (formerly Tangerine, Capital One); Orlando
Temple vs. Washington-- National Funding (who?) Holiday; San Diego

Thursday, Dec. 15
Western Kentucky vs. Ohio State -- Outback (formerly Hall of Fame); Tampa
Colorado vs. Michigan -- Valero Alamo;

Friday, Dec. 16
Florida State vs. Oklahoma -- AutoZone Liberty; Memphis
USC vs. Wisconsin -– Camping World Independence; Shreveport

Saturday, Dec. 17
Appalachian State vs. Alabama -- TaxSlayer (formerly Gator - c’mon, just call it Gator again); Jacksonville

Probable winners?
Clemson, Western Michigan (upset special!), Washington, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State (throws in wrench), Wisconsin, Alabama

Ohio State
Florida State
Western Michigan

Then let’s go for highest vs. lowest surviving seeds for contests in the following week's semifinal bowls. Regional attractions can remain a factor where a match-up lands:

Wednesday, Dec. 21
Wisconsin v. Ohio State -- Hyundai Sun; El Paso

Friday, Dec. 23
Western Michigan v. Alabama -- Goodyear Cotton; Dallas

Saturday, Dec. 24
Florida State v. Clemson — Chick-fil-A Peach; Atlanta
Michigan v. Washington -- Northwestern Mutual Rose Bowl, Pasadena

Probable winners?
Michigan, Wisconsin (shock?), Alabama, Clemson

Final Four of sorts/Friday, Dec. 30 (featuring surviving seeds, low vs. high

Wisconsin v. Alabama – BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl, Tempe
Michigan v. Clemson— Orange Bowl, Miami

Probable winners?
Alabama, Michigan

Championship game, Monday, Jan. 9
Michigan v. Alabama– Allstate Sugar; New Orleans

Sure, a variation of this may end up this way regardless in the present four-team system. But the fun is to let it all play out. What’s wrong with that?