The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Review

Five Dysfunctions of a TeamI had a copy of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. What delayed me in reading it was the subtitle, A Leadership Fable. I pictured talking animals discussing leadership but it was nothing like that.

While it is a fictional story featuring people who do not exist, it tells the story of a situation and people who could exist. If you were not told upfront that it was a fable, you would assume that the author was telling a true story.

I suppose it is a true story in the way that matters. It tells the story of a new CEO of an organization that has everything it needs to succeed but is sabotaged by a horribly dysfunctional team.

The book is not so much about elaborating the details of the five dysfunctions but is more about presenting a case study of confronting an unhealthy team culture. Even if you immediately forgot the specific five items, you would benefit by being reminded of the need of addressing a poor team environment.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team was not written specifically for a church context. However, it is incredibly relevant. I have been part of some dysfunctional church leadership teams and will admit that I have contributed to the dysfunctions. This book will be a benefit to any pastor or church leader who is seeking to improve the effectiveness of their team.


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The Meg – Review

Shark movies tend to be real classics (Jaws) or really cheesy (almost everything else). How does the recent movie, The Meg, fit in this continuum? Well, I wouldn’t call it a classic but it wasn’t near as cheesy as I expected.

In many ways it is a typical “realistic” science fiction movie. Scientists (and the millionaires that fund them) are fully committed to making the next big discovery and at the same time completely oblivious to the consequences (which always include plenty of innocent deaths).

In this case, scientists have discovered an isolated underwater habitat in the deepest part of the ocean. This area must be explored but unfortunately the sub that is sent is attacked and stranded on the ocean floor. A desperate rescue mission takes place to save the explorers.

Considering the title of the movie, it is no spoiler to say that the sub was attacked by a megalodon shark, a species thought to have been extinct for millions of years. The shark is able to escape its habitat thanks to the activity of the scientists and begins to terrorize the ocean.

The movie was actually pretty good. It was a lot of fun with plenty of action and some humour. One of the things I appreciated was that there was little swearing, no sex and considering it is a shark movie, very little gore.

I also noticed that the movie wasn’t near as predictable as I expected. Things would happen and I would think to myself, “I know what will happen next.” But I was always wrong. I was surprised over and over. In some cases I was actually disappointed that they didn’t do it the traditional way.

The Meg is not the most philosophical movie ever (although there are some ethical dilemmas) but it is an enjoyable movie. We saw it in 3D and our whole family enjoyed it. There are plenty of movies I have thought were a waste of money but this wasn’t one of them.

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Teen Titans Go! To the Movies – Review

I will admit than when my kids first started watching Teen Titans Go! that I cringed. The New Teen Titans was one of the first superhero comics that I collected and I really enjoyed it. Teen Titans Go! seemed to be a mockery of a beloved comic series.

However, after being in the same room as my youngest daughter binge watched Teen Titans Go! I grudgingly began to appreciated the show. I realized that there was some intelligence behind the episodes and that it was full of thoughtful satire. This brings us to their big screen appearance in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.

Teen Titans Go

My daughter was super excited to see the movie but I was skeptical. Their short episodes were fine but a full-length movie? I was not sure.

I will begin by saying that this movie is not life-changing, nor will it affect the culture the way Wonder Woman and Black Panther did. But it was a fun movie and I laughed out loud numerous times. My children absolutely loved it. My one daughter said that after seeing this movie, “Good bye Black Panther as my favourite movie.”

Yes there was some childish humour and some fart jokes but there was more to the movie. It was really a running commentary on the state of superhero movies. There were numerous jabs made at both DC and Marvel movies. I loved it when they called Slade (Deathstroke) Deadpool, since Deadpool was a Marvel knock off of Deathstroke.

Minor Spoiler Alert

One of the funniest parts was a cameo by Stan Lee, who at first didn’t realize that this was a DC movie and not a Marvel movie. It ended up being one of the funniest Stan Lee cameos in any movie.

As a long time comic reader, I enjoyed the running gang about the Challengers of the Unknown, a team that I was familiar with. Then there was Nicholas Cage’s long awaited portrayal of Superman. Many people will not be aware that Cage once almost played Superman in a live action movie.

There were so many references to a wide variety of movies and comics that I could never comment on all of them. For someone like me, it was a good fun time of catching the connections. As a superhero movie, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies definitely wasn’t steak but it was a nice sweet dessert.


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Stranger Things: Season 2 – Review

I really enjoyed the first season of Stranger Things. Not only did I love the story, I was not much older than those kids at that time in the 1980s. I was looking forward to the second season, but didn’t jump into it because I was watching plenty of other shows.

I finally watched the first episode of the second season. It was okay but it didn’t really grab me. In fact it was a couple of months later before I watched the second episode.

However, as the story developed, I got more into it. The 1980s charm was as powerful as ever. But it was more than that. I really enjoyed the story and the character development. I liked the new characters and what they did with the previous characters.

This was especially true with Eleven. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of her side-trip to Chicago. But it all made sense by the end of the season.

I found the final battle with the shadow monster to be quite satisfying. In fact I liked the ending of this season better than the first. And of course things are nicely set up for the third season.

Stranger Things

 


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Luke Cage: Season 2 – Review

I recently watched the second season of Luke Cage on Netflix. I had been disappointed with the first season. I thought that the first season was painfully slow, focused more on highlighting the culture of Harlem than anything else. I also found the villains, Cottonmouth and Diamondback to be rather boring.

I thought the second season was a great improvement over the first. In this season, we have a Luke Cage who is much more comfortable with the role of a hero. The pace was picked up a bit. Although part of the problem is the Netflix pace in general. I’m currently watching Agents of SHIELD and I much prefer the faster pace of that series to the slower pace of all the Marvel Netflix series.

I also liked the villain Bushmaster in this season much better. I call him the villain, even though he is not the real villain of the season. That would require some spoilers. I will say that there were some nice fight scenes between Bushmaster and Luke Cage. It is difficult to find villains than can stand up to Cage but Bushmaster had what it takes.

A highlight of the season was the appearance of Danny Rand. Iron Fist got some mixed reviews but he is actually one of my favourite Netflix Marvel heroes. There was some great chemistry between Luke and Danny. I’m all in favour of a Netflix series featuring both Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

The ending of the season left us in some suspense. Luke was victorious but his victory may be his downfall. We now wait to see if Luke’s character is equal to his strength.

Luke Cage

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Ant-Man and the Wasp – Review

I have to confess that Ant-Man is one of my favourite heroes in the MCU. I was not that fond of him in the comics but he is a breath of fresh air for the MCU. The recent sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, only solidified this.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

What I like about Ant-Man is that he one of the few MCU heroes that I can identify with. He is a normal guy. Think about the original MCU Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye. They are all professionals, people who are brilliant and talent and have it all together. Scott Lang is not that hero. Scott Lang is a hero who is thrown into extraordinary circumstances and thrives only with the strength of character.

But this movie is not just Ant-Man, it is Ant-Man and the Wasp. Hope van Dyne was a major character in the first movie and I was glad that she was able to suit up in the sequel. She is more in line with the traditional MCU hero, but that only highlights the charm of Ant-Man. The relationship between the two was fun to watch.

I can’t say that the villain(s) of this movie were the most interesting in the MCU. Not that they were really bad, just not as well defined as some. But that does not take away from the movie because it is not about the good guys vs the bad guys. It was Scott Lang and his friends vs a bunch of unfortunate circumstances.

My one main complaint was that I hoped to see Bill Foster suit up as Goliath. I hope that happens in the next sequel.

By the way, it is worth waiting for the after-credit scene as it is a major Infinity War tie-in.

Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp was a great addition to the MCU and I very much enjoyed the movie.


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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Review

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I had wanted to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick for some time. I was aware that it was the inspiration for Bladerunner. When I hear about “inspiration,” I think of a fairly loose connection, something like the connection between the book and movie of World War Z.

I was surprised at how closely Bladerunner followed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? There are definitely differences. In the novel, one of the themes is that most animals and even insects have died as the result of radioactive dust. Having an animal contributes to social status. As a result, those who can’t afford a real animal purchase artificial animals, not genetically created animals like the androids/replicants but mechanical animals. Hence the “electric sheep.”

There are also other elements such as empathy machines, a religious system, television entertainers and colonies on other planets. The androids are identified by administering psychological assessments. But in all that, there is the same basic story. A bounty hunter has the job to retire androids. These are androids that have escaped their masters on another planet and have fled to earth.

The novel is very thought-provoking. For example, what is life, and why is it acceptable to kill them? There are also religious questions and reflections about the nature of faith. There is a reason why Dick is considered one of the best science fiction writers. It is a book definitely worth reading.


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Solo – Review

Solo

I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, this one based on a young Han Solo. I went into this movie knowing that it was a big disappointment at the box office. It was bad enough that it is making the studio rethink their plans for future Star Wars movies.

At the same time, everyone I know who saw the movie actually enjoyed it. And so did I. There was always a risk having another actor taking over a role created for a legendary actor like Harrison Ford but Alden Ehrenreich did a great job. He really captured the essence of the character.

The movie is about a young Han Solo getting his start, first hoping to become a pilot and then extending into that of a smuggler and outlaw. We get to experience his first meeting with Chewbacca, which I really that was well done. We also see the beginning of his relationship with Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Glover. Glover did an excellent job as Lando.

I totally enjoyed Solo. In fact, along with Rogue One, it was one of the best of the recent Star Wars movie. Han Solo is one of the best parts of the old Star Wars movies and this movie nicely sets up the story of Han and at the same time uses those qualities to tell a fun story that stands on its own.

If I had one complaint about the movie, it is that it was too dark. I don’t mean too dark in terms of the tone of the story. I mean that I kept wishing that they would turn the lights on. I can see the darkness of the home planet, but things stayed too dark all through the movie.

I understand that the studio was disappointed with the performance. But especially with the revelation of the leader of the Crimson Dawn (which truly shocked me), I hope they do a sequel. I would love to see the continuing adventures of Han Solo and Chewbacca.


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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The first Jurassic Park movie was an important step in the world of science fiction movies. Some of the sequels got kind of tired. But the recent Jurassic Worlds have recaptured the magic or the original and at the same time including the best of cgi.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a great addition to the franchise. One of its strengths is the role of Chris Pratt. He is a great actor whose actors, while always flawed, are still likeable.

I will admit it was somewhat predictable. I saw a lot of the “twists” coming. But that didn’t ruin it. It was still a fun and enjoyable adventure flick.

One of the the things I thought interesting was the concept of the Fallen Kingdom. This means two things. In one way, the fallen kingdom is the Jurassic Park/World. We see the abandoned island, being ravaged by a volcano. The tourists are gone and many of the dinosaurs are close to death.

On the other hand, the fallen kingdom is humanity. Without getting too theological, humanity is fallen. Humanity’s technological potential will always outpace its moral foundation. The mistakes began with the genetic experiments that led to the dinosaurs and continue with the greedy plans in this movie.

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom was a good movie. We brought our kids and they loved it. It had everything they love in a movie.

Jurassic World

 

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Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design – Review

Creation EvolutionOne of the most controversial theological topics is that of human origins and the age of the earth. Christians often hold very tightly to their position and are suspicious of different views. What was the means of creation? How do we understand evolution?

What is most important to know is that there is not one official Christian position on creation and evolution and this is reflected in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. Each of the authors are devout Christians who are attempting to find the proper interpretations of both the Bible and scientific evidence.

The viewpoints represented are young earth creationism, old earth creationism, evolutionary creationism (theistic evolution) and intelligent design. In many ways, intelligent design is the odd man out as it overlaps with many of the other views. Intelligent design does not attempt to interpret Genesis 1-2 but looks for evidence of design within science. However, Stephen Meyer, who writes for ID, does share his views, without attempting to speak for all who hold to an ID position.

One of the greatest needs is for there to be healthy conversation across differing view points. That is part of the aim of the four/five views books and of this volume in particular. It is important to read outside of one’s belief system and to encounter different ideas.

I found this book to be very enjoyable. The one disappointment was Ken Ham’s chapter on young earth creationism and his responses to the other chapters. It was not his views or his evidence that was the problem but his tone. Ham stood out as being the most aggressive toward the other views. Unfortunately I have seen this numerous times among young earth creationists. Other views are seen not as different perspectives but as rejection of biblical truth and treated with contempt. I’m sure that there are young earth creationists that can discuss other views with respect but Ham is not one of them.

I strongly encourage people to read Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design no matter what position you currently hold.


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Thoughts on the Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four

I finally got around to watching the 2015 Fantastic Four movie. The fact that it took this long for me to watch it tells you how bad of a reputation this movie had. This was supposed to be one of the worst superhero movies ever.

The truth is that I didn’t think that it was that bad. It was slow but not horribly so. I thought it was better than the previous version of the Fantastic Four (and I didn’t hate them either). I would say that I even liked this movie better than Iron Man 3 or the Amazing Spider-Man.

There were some things that I didn’t like. Like the previous version of Fantastic Four, I did not like how they portrayed Dr. Doom. I like the original version of Doom as a highly intelligent and devious supervillain in armour and with all sorts of high tech weapons.

I also wished that the Thing would put some shorts on.

To be honest, the Fantastic Four are not the most interesting comic book characters (I mean one of the main members is called Mr. Fantastic!). Sure they have had some good stories over the years, but they are a tough team to do well.

I watched the movie tonight with my son, who had watched it previously. He loved the movie and it kept his attention the second time (which is amazing).

Fantastic Four is not the best superhero movie but it’s not the worst either. I don’t regret watching it.


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Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders – Review

Developing Emotionally Mature LeadersI am a firm believer in discipleship and I see it as being one of the most important parts of my ministry. But I must confess that my natural tendency is to focus on the intellectual side. I feel that if I can just pass on the right information, things will be okay.  However, much more is required.

One of the recent trends us been an emphasis on emotional intelligence. It is one thing for a person to have the knowledge, it is another thing for them to be emotionally mature enough to use that knowledge appropriately. That is where Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders comes in.

This book by Aubrey Malphurs should be required reading for church leaders. Pastors are aware of the importance of developing leaders but emotional intelligence is an area that has been too long neglected.

There is so much that I enjoyed about this book. I had been somewhat aware of emotional intelligence, but Malphurs provides a nice introduction to the development of this area, including the major thinkers. Much of the work in emotional intelligence has been in the secular business world but Malphurs rounds it out by providing a biblical theology of emotions. This provides the needed step for pastors to use emotional intelligence in the church context.

One of the most useful parts of the book is the lengthy appendices. There is everything a leader needs to put into practice the principles developed in he body of the book. I highly recommend Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders.

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Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction – Review

MormonismI have read a number of books in the “A Very Short Introduction” and I always enjoy them. While there are limitations of how much you can get across in such a small format, they are great resources. Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Lyman Bushman is no exception.

Bushman is writing from a Mormon perspective, but this is what I liked about it. I actually found it to be a nice balance between Christian critiques of Mormonism and LDS-sponsored defences of Mormonism. While Bushman does attempt to portray Joseph Smith, Jr. and Mormonism is a positive light, he also doesn’t avoid the difficulties. Where there are problems, he identifies those problems.

I think that Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction could be helpful in having conversations with Mormons. It can’t be accused of being “anti-Mormon” and yet it is a bit more honest about the background and beliefs of Mormons than some of the official LDS publications.

If you are interested in learning more about Mormonism, I would encourage you to include Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction as a part of your research.

 

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Sharing the Good News With Mormons – Review

Sharing the Good News With MormonsI have long been interested in groups that are considered sects or cults, especially those with a connection to Christianity. One of those groups is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormons.

I find Mormonism to be a bit of an enigma. On the one hand, I find their theology to be pretty unwieldy, especially when every president is able to add and subtract from previous beliefs. The original set of beliefs preached by Joseph Smith, Jr. when the Book of Mormon first came out was almost a different religion from the complex system preached by his immediate successor, Brigham Young. Add to that the absence of any archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon and it is hard to understand why people follow Mormonism.

On the other hand, Mormonism is very successful. Not just in the days of Smith and Young but even today, the LDS are doing very well and hold considerable power and influence. Some very intelligent and successful people are devout LDS. How do we navigate through this?

A helpful resource is Sharing the Good News With Mormons: Practical Strategies For Getting the Conversation Started, edited by Eric Johnson and Sean McDowell.

As with any edited volume that includes chapters by many different authors, the quality varies from chapter to chapter. Much of this is based on style, especially on the chapters on evangelism. Some of the strategies came across as more attractive than others, but that says as much about me as it does the authors.

The value of this book is that it covers a wide range of topics surrounding the subject of Mormonism. Each author comes at it from a different perspective, even when they are dealing with the same topics. I appreciated this variety.

While it includes chapters by some scholars, this is not meant to be a scholarly treatment of Mormonism. It is more of a practical help for ordinary Christians to have effective faith conversations with Mormons.

If you are interested in Mormonism and are perhaps already having conversations with Mormons, I recommend Sharing the Good News with Mormons.

 

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Asperger’s From the Inside Out – Review

Asperger's From the Inside OutBefore there was just an Autism Spectrum Disorder, there was also an Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). The simple definition of AS is that it is autism without the language deficits. However, AS has disappeared as a diagnosis and is now a part of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Michael John Carley, the executive director of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership, has written a book called Asperger’s From Inside Out.

Carley has AS, as well as being a father of a son on the ASD. He shares in this book about his experience as a person with AS, as well has stories from people affiliated with GRASP.

AS is often dismissed as “high functioning” autism and therefore having to little to know challenges. The truth is that AS has its own issues and the label of “high functioning” doesn’t reflect the experience of AS.

Asperger’s From the Inside Out, is a great introduction to Asperger’s Syndrome. If you have AS and wonder how you fit with the experience of others or if you have friends or family with AS, this is the book for you.

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Incredibles 2 – Review

It was back in 2004 that Pixar released the Incredibles. I look back at that movie and still hold the opinion that it was one of the best superhero movies of that time. As Pixar released sequels to its Cars, Toy Story and Nemo movies, I kept hoping for an Incredibles sequel. The ongoing answer was that they were waiting for the right story.

The wait was worth it as they got the right story for Incredibles 2. It starts right where the first movie ended, literally. It begins with their battle with the Underminer who appears briefly at the end of the Incredibles. The damage from their battle with that villain only confirms the fear of some that supers are too dangerous and need to remain outlawed.

But one wealthy visionary has another idea. With the help of his technologically-minded sister, he begins the process of rehabilitating supers in the eyes of public, beginning with an intentional presentation of Elastigirl, who is more marketable and less reckless.

This requires Mr. Incredible to stay home and be a house-husband, taking care of their children while his wife gets do the work that he wishes he was doing.

The Incredibles 2 captures all of the charm of the first movie, including returning to the Pixar magic that hasn’t always been there in their latest movies. The action scenes are fun, the family scenes are relatable, there is humour and emotion and the audience cares about the characters.

I love the retro feel to the movie, with the 1960s clothes and cars, as well as the old fashioned superhero themes. Superheroes have aimed to be more gritty and dark over time but the Incredibles brings us back to a much more innocent time. Not to say that it is less realistic, as any parent will identify with their struggles.

If you are looking for good, fun movie that has an uplifting message, I recommend Incredibles 2. Once again, it is one of the best superhero movies.

Incredibles 2

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Avengers: Infinity War – Review

The battle with Thanos has been brewing for years, with Thanos being behind the attack on earth that originally brought the Avengers together. Thanos and the infinity stones have been the threads that have tied together many of the Marvel movies. Infinity War is what we have been waiting for.

The basic premise is that Thanos is gathering together the infinity stones, six gems that have been around since the big bang. With possession of these stones, Thanos (already incredibly powerful) will become unstoppable. It’s up to the good guys to stop him.

Who are the good guys? Pretty much all of the Marvel heroes that have appeared up til now, with the exception of Hawkeye and Ant-Man. This boils down to the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange.

The biggest danger for this movie is that with so many characters, none of them would get the attention that they needed. Really this movie couldn’t have happened until now as the foundation for each character was laid in the previous movies, allowing Infinity War to bring them in for the appropriate role.

This movie is able to juggle all the characters and to keep things interesting. Yes, certain characters have greater roles (I’m talking about you Thor and Doctor Strange), but most of the characters get at least a moment to shine.

One of the strengths of this movie is the portrayal of Thanos. He could have easily been a one dimensional cosmic thug. This was one of the main problem of Steppenwolf in Justice League. But they actually make Thanos a complex villain, someone more than just a weapon of mass destruction. I was quite surprised by how much they developed Thanos as a character.

I also appreciated how this movie was more than just transplanting characters into a totally separate movie. The Guardians of the Galaxy scenes felt like their movies and the Black Panther scenes felt like it was from his movie. They even brought in the lighter tone of the most recent Thor movie.

The term epic is thrown around too often. Movies are called epics just because they have lost of action or exotic locales. Infinity War lives up to the label epic. The thought that came to mind is that this is what would happen if Lord of the Rings was about superheroes. Infinity War is truly epic.

A minor spoiler to say that the movie ends with a major cliffhanger. There is no satisfying conclusion to the story. The end of Infinity War only serves to set up the next chapter in the story. I only hope that it is just as good.

Infinity War

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Timeless: Season 1 – Review

My son got me watching the Timeless series. I had never heard of it but listening in to a few of the episodes that he was watching got me into it. My wife and I went back and watched all the episodes.

The premise of the series is that a time machine has been invented. Unfortunately, the time machine was stolen by a person who is going back in time and is changing history. Thankfully, the first version of the time machine, called the lifeboat, is still around. A small team is using the lifeboat to go back in time to try and stop the changes to history.

In the midst of all this is a secret organization called Rittenhouse. The person who stole the time machine claims that he is attempting to stop Rittenhouse and its evil plans. Unfortunately, he is killing innocent people to accomplish this. This leads to numerous ethical dilemmas.

Two of my favourite things are science fiction and history. Timeless brings both of these together. Not only have I been entertained, I have learned lots about history that I never knew.

I’m really looking forward to watching the second season. Timeless is thoughtful television at its best. Definitely worth checking out.

Timeless

 

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Lost in Space – Review

The old Lost in Space series was a part of my childhood. I didn’t watch the original run as it was cancelled the year I was born. It was not my favourite science fiction show but it was okay. Although I saw the remake Lost in Space movie, I can’t say as it made a big impression on me. I can’t remember if I liked or disliked it.

Lost in Space has recently been remade again as a Netflix series. To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed with the first episode. It gave me some doubts as to whether I wanted to continue to watch it.

I kept with it and I ended up really enjoying the ten episode first season. I thought they hit a nice balance between the innocence and charm of the original series and the complexity and action of modern science fiction.

The basic plot is that earth is in trouble and a plan has been created to establish a colony in Alpha Centauri, consisting of the best of the best. The main ship is called the Resolute, on which are attached Jupiters, much smaller ships in which families dwell. An attack on the Resolute has caused a number of the Jupiters to crash land on a planet that is in neither the Sol or Alpha Centauri systems. The Robinsons encounter other survivors from the Resolute, as well as an alien robot. Their goal is to get back to the Resolute and continue their journey to their new home.

The Robinson family has been updated to reflect modern concepts of family. One daughter is adopted and the parents are estranged. But they still are loyal to the original concept. The actors were able to portray the individual personalities of each family members.

One of my favourite characters is the robot, who as in the original series, has no name. He is radically redesigned for this new series. He reminded me of the redesigned Cylons from the latest Battlestar Galactica series. Much of the season could have been titled, “A boy and his robot.”

Like the robot, another character from the original series brought back is Dr. Smith. This time Dr. Smith is a woman. Sort of. The real Dr. Smith is a man (played by the actor who played Will Robinson in the original series), but a woman steals his identity to get on board one of the Jupiters. There is a real darkness to this Dr. Smith, far more than the original series. Another Battlestar Galactica echo is that this Dr. Smith reminded me of the reimagined Baltar of the recent series. The actress who plays her does a great job of capturing her devious personality.

There were a few plot holes of course, but over all I really enjoyed the new Lost in Space. I liked the acting, the writing, the special effects and the humour. Interestingly, there are only three gun shots in the whole season and yet they were able to keep the action going.

For those concerned, there were a few bits of swearing but nothing bad. I had no problems or concerns watching it with my family.

I sincerely hope that it gets picked up for a second season as Lost in Space was good old fashioned science fiction entertainment.


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Pacific Rim: Uprising – Review

Pacific Rim

I went to see Pacific Rim: Uprising with some interest. I didn’t see the first Pacific Rim movie in the theatre as it looked like a mindless monster movie. I did end up seeing it and thought it was a fun movie. I was more open to seeing the sequel.

The premise for the series of movies is that some giant monsters were coming from another dimension through openings in the Pacific ocean. Humans have responded by creating large robots that are controlled by two people in a mental connection.

At the end of the first movie, the monsters were defeated and the openings closed. But that didn’t end the danger. I won’t spoil anything but the monsters make a reappearance.

I actually enjoyed the sequel more than the original. The plot was more complex than simply monsters vs robots. There were a number of twists and turns and the characters were interesting.

I especially liked the drone robots and how they were used. I thought I knew where they were going with it but was surprised in the end.

It was not the deepest movie but it was fun. Watching monsters rampage through Tokyo brought back great memories of the monster movies of my childhood.

Is Pacific Rim the quality of science fiction like Bladerunner or Alien? No, but it is still far superior to the Transformer movies. I enjoyed Pacific Rim: Uprising as a fun action movie that was entertaining.

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Jessica Jones: Season 2 – Review

I have just finished watching the second season of Jessica Jones. I will confess, as a character, I find Jessica Jones the least likeable of all the Marvel Netflix characters. This is unfortunate as Marvel doesn’t have a lot of strong female superheroes in their shared universe.

Jessica Jones

Having said that, I understand why they portray Jones in this way. She is suffering from PTSD after the trauma of the death of her family at a young age, experiments performed on her, being adopted by a manipulative woman and finally being controlled and raped by Killgrave. Being messed up is understandable.

The good news is that I didn’t find this season as dark as the first. The entire tone of this season was completely different. The bad guy in the first season was very disturbing and it could be argued that there was no bad guy in the second season.

On the bad side, there was too much gratuitous sex in this season. I’m not a prude and I don’t expect every TV show be Sunday school. But there were some scenes that I didn’t think moved the story much and were only there to reach their targeted mature audience. They could have been cut out and would have improved the story.

Spoilers below. If you have not watched this season but expect to, go and read something else on my blog.

Are you still there?

I really liked the character of the Whizzer in the first episode. The Whizzer was featured in the first issue of the Avengers comic book that I ever owned. I hadn’t realized how funny his name sounded until I heard it said out loud. It was too bad he was killed.

It was an interesting twist to have as the main protagonist, Jessica’s mother as a likewise super-powered  who was twice as strong and twice as unstable. I thought the actor who portrayed her did a fantastic job of switching emotions and turning on the rage.

Finally, there was the cliffhanger with Trish. I’m embarrassed to say that I had no idea in the comics that Trish was Hellcat. In this season, we find that Trish is jealous of Jessica’s powers and desperately wishes she had the powers to help people. An interrupted experiment may have given her what she wished.

Overall, this season was better or at least more enjoyable than the first season. I do hope to see Jessica Jones interacting more with Defenders colleagues.


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Avengers: Age of Ultron – Review

Age of Ultron

I finally had the opportunity to see Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is a movie that I have been looking forward to for some time.

The basic plot is that the Avengers have been trying to make the world a better place. Tony Stark, emotionally scarred by the events of the first movie, tries to see the big picture. Hoping to invent himself out of a job, he creates an artificial intelligence named Ultron. Without giving away any spoilers, it does not go well.

What did I think of it?


Movies like this are in a tough position because they tend to be compared to two things, the trailers and the previous movie. As for trailers, they have become so entertaining that it is hard for the actual movie to live up to the hype. In this case, the trailer makes the movie look more exciting than it really is.

I did not enjoy the sequel as much as the first movie. There was something about the timing of the Avengers that made the story flow nicely. Also the humour seemed so natural.
While I enjoyed the story of Age of Ultron, the pacing was not as good and I found myself hoping that things would move along. The humour also seemed forced. While I laughed a number of times, it was just not as natural.

Having said that, there were things that I liked.

  • I liked that Hawkeye had a much better role in this movie.
  • I liked Ultron, even though he was not the stereotypically emotionless killer computer.
  • I liked the twins (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver). It will be natural to compare this Quicksilver to the one in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Although the X-Men version had one of the best superhero scenes ever, this one was very well done.
  • I really liked the Vision. He was one of my favourite Avengers in the comics and I think Marvel did a great job of bringing him to the big screen.
  • Of course there were some pretty awesome battle scenes, with the one between Iron Man and the Hulk being particularly good.
  • I was pleased with the conclusion, which I will not share here.

So I did enjoy Age of Ultron. It was not as good as the first one or even as good as Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was still an enjoyable movie and worth seeing.

Best Quote:
“If you get hurt, hurt back. If you get killed, walk it off.” – Captain America


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Darkest Hour – Review

Darkest HourThere has been a renewal of historical movies related to the Second World War with the success of Dunkirk. One of the recent offering is Darkest Hour, featuring the first part of Winston’s Churchill time as prime minister.

Portraying Winston Churchill would be a challenge for any actor. I though John Lithgow did a great job in the Crown. But Gary Oldman was just as good in the Darkest Hour, in fact Oldman provided a more three dimensional picture of Churchill in his strength and weakness.

Churchill is sometimes put forth almost as a superhuman figure in the way that he rallied the people of Britain. While he was a powerful leader, he had his share of weaknesses. What I appreciated about this movie was that it showed that Churchill was not opposed just by Hitler but by many British politicians. For some, Churchill’s disastrous plans for Gallipoli in the First World War was still fresh.

I wouldn’t say that Darkest Hour had the same power as Dunkirk. They are two very different movies. But Darkest Hour had its moments, one of the best being the scene in the tube.

I recommend Darkest Hour as a good solid movie that presents one of the most crucial times in recent history.

Second World War

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Thor Ragnarok – Review

Ragnarok

I didn’t get a chance to see Thor Ragnarok in the theatre but I was really looking forward to seeing it when it was available for home release.

There was so much that looked good. It had a Thor and Hulk team-up. It had Cate Blanchett and Karl Urban playing the villains. It included a mix of mythology and science fiction. And I knew that it did very well at the theatres.

I will admit that I was quite disappointed once I saw it. The basic storyline was good. I liked the concept of Hela taking over Asgard and Thor needing to return from a distant planet where he was forced to fight as a gladiator.

But it was the execution that was the problem. Ragnarok tried too hard to be funny. I like humour as much as anyone and I understand DC has been criticized for being too dark and Marvel has had success with a lighter tone.

But to me, Ragnarok almost felt more like a parody of superhero movies rather than a superhero movie with touches of humour. I didn’t mind Jeff Goldblum’s humorous portrayal of the Grandmaster. Jeff does that well and the Grandmaster was a new character to the MCU. However, I couldn’t stand the way they did the Hulk. He was fine in the fight with Thor but his characterization outside the fight was annoying.

Plus there were things that needed explanation. Why was the Hulk able to talk like that or remain as the Hulk when not angry? And how was it that the Hulk ended up on the same planet as Hulk?

This will be unpopular, but I actually enjoyed Justice League far more than I enjoyed Thor Ragnarok. Justice League was able to find a much better balance between the action and the jokes.

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Thoughts on the First Season of Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek Discovery

The first season of Star Trek: Discovery has just concluded and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. The only other first season of a Star Trek series that has even come close to being this good was that of Enterprise.

I have heard a number of people describe Discovery as “good science fiction but not good Star Trek.” I would like to take issue with this. I recently watched all of the original series and the animated series and am currently going through Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. My observation is that there is not one thing that makes it “Star Trek.” And if we use the original series as the measure, the first season was good, the second season really good and the third season really bad.

The rest of my post here will include spoilers, so if you have not watched Discovery and if you intend to, you might want to move from this post to Why I Love Star Trek: Discovery.

The series, more than being about the USS Discovery or even the captain of the ship, is really about the character Michael Burnham. Michael, as a young girl, was brought into the family of Sarek, the father of Spock. We follow her adventures, about ten years before the Enterprise’s five year mission under Kirk.

Michael Burnham, although fully human, has Vulcan training and this makes her a formidable leader. She also shares a special mental link with Sarek.

Michael was charged with mutiny, which technically she was guilty of. But she was brought on board the Discovery to help in the war with the Klingons, a war she was involved in starting.

Discovery becomes key to the Federation’s war with the Klingon Empire, as they have a means of travelling far more sophisticated than traditional warp drive.

Much of the season is about this war and it often reminded my of Battlestar Galactica and the war against the Cylons.

Familiar Star Trek characters such as Harry Mudd are reintroduced in some pretty fresh ways. I hated Mudd in the original series but this darker version was quite interesting.

One of the neat storylines that I didn’t see coming was their accidental journey to an alternate universe. This was something introduced in the original series and it was one of my favourite episodes of the original series. This universe has been revisited by a number of Star Trek series.

I quite enjoyed this storyline and there were plenty of twists and turns. One that was a surprise to me was the revelation that the captain of the Discovery was actually from that alternate universe and it had always been his plan to return.

Another important story line was that of Ash Tyler. Tyler was a Starfleet officer who had been captured by the Klingons. The fear for some time was that he was suffering from PTSD, but it was actually much darker. Tyler had actually been turned into a Klingon, including receiving the memories and personality of an important Klingon. I suspect that this is going to be used to help explain the human appearance of some Klingons in the original series.

The final episode of Discovery was amazing. The ending was a cliffhanger that is going to make the break before the second season very difficult to endure. On their way back to Vulcan, they receive a distress call from a starship. It ends up that it is the USS Enterprise under the command of Christopher Pike.

I thought Discovery was excellent space opera. It was so good with well thought out stories and plenty of battle scenes. It always kept me guessing but had a goal toward which the stories were leading.

I’m not all that worried with how this fits with other Star Trek series. There have been ties, especially with Enterprise.

If you enjoy Star Trek or science fiction in general, I encourage you to give Discovery a try.

 

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Black Panther – Review

Black Panther

One of the first Marvel comics I ever owned was a Jack Kirby drawn team-up between Captain America and Black Panther. It was my introduction to the Black Panther character. My first thought was that he seemed to be Batman without a cape.

Last night I saw the Black Panther movie. I enjoyed the character in Captain America: Civil War and so I had high hopes for this movie.

I was not disappointed. It didn’t strictly follow the Marvel formula which was refreshing. There was humour but it was not forced the way it was in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.

One of the things I liked about Black Panther is that it was not a one-man show starring T’Challa. There were other strong supporting characters. Two of my favourites were Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister and M’Baku, leader of the Jabari tribe. This latter character was nicely reimagined from his horrible comic identity as “Man-Ape.”

One of the most interesting parts of the movie was the struggle of conscience. Wakanda is the richest and most technologically advanced country in the world and yet they are surrounded by some of the poorest countries in the world. They have isolated themselves for their own protection, but at what price?

Interestingly, it ends up that both the good guys and bad guys agree that something has to be done. But what? Killmonger wants to arm black people around the world with weapons based on Wakandan technology to overthrow the colonizers (white people). But could there be another way?

Another important part of the movie is about the consequences of our actions. Decisions we make, which might seem reasonable at the time, can have drastic consequences for tomorrow. T’Challa struggles with a decision made by his father and wrestles with what that means for his own decisions as king.

I will admit that I was not all that impressed with the villains. I found Klaue to be annoying and Killmonger not very believable. The good news is that the other characters in the movie are so well developed that it doesn’t really hurt the movie.

The depiction of Wakanda as a society both based on traditional African culture and extremely advanced technology was fascinating. It made me want to see more of it and I hope any sequels also take place in Wakanda and not in the overused New York.

Black Panther works not just as a good action flick (which it is), but as movie that asks important questions. The message doesn’t hit us over the heads but it is there plain and clear.

I really enjoyed Black Panther and it is definitely one of the top Marvel movies.

You can find some background on Black Panther here.

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10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane

I recently rewatched Cloverfield. Watching that movie was a reminder that I had never seen 10 Cloverfield Lane (the sort of sequel). Well it was time to fix that.

I really did not know what to expect. Even though it came out some time ago, I hadn’t read any of the spoilers, so everything was a surprise.

The basic plot is about a young woman who is in a car accident and is then taken to an underground bunker by a survivalist type, played by John Goodman. This survivalist claims that there had been some sort of nuclear or chemical attack and that everyone outside the bunker was dead.

The tension is created by the question of what really happened. Is the survivalist just a paranoid psychotic or a deceptive criminal? The young woman and another young man try to get to the bottom of it.

The audience is left with the same questions. There is some evidence that he is telling the truth and some that he is misleading them. Then there is the question of how this connects to the first Cloverfield movie. I won’t answer that in case you have not seen the movie.

I will say that I really enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane. Like the first movie, it is a fresh approach, not falling into tired old formulas. Although this movie has some of the feel of Stephen Kings, Misery, it really crosses over genres, making it difficult to pin down.

John Goodman does a masterful job as Howard Stambler. He is totally believable in his role, keeping everyone guessing as to his real motives.

For those wondering, there is a connection with the first Cloverfield movies, as well as the later Cloverfield: Paradox. But you will have to watch the movie to find out.

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Wonder – Review

WonderOur family was able to watch Wonder, a movie that we have wanted to see for sometime. The movie is about August “Auggie” Pullman, a boy with a facial deformity. For the first time, he is going to a normal school instead of homeschooling.

The movie is about his experiences, dealing with people’s reactions and trying to sort through who his real friends are. I thought Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson did a fantastic job playing his parents. A a special needs parents, their portrayal rang true.

Auggie goes through a difficult time, including the bullying you would expect. As far I know, our autistic children have not received the same sort of bullying, but we can’t be sure.

What really stood out for me was the depiction of Auggie’s big sister. People often forget the challenges that go with being a sibling of a special needs child. There are added responsibilities plus diminished parental attention. This was one of the best portrayal’s of the struggle of siblings I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Wonder was a, dare I say it, a wonderful movie. It was proof that you can tell a good story without the profanity and sex that normally is part of the equation. It was a great movie apart from the special needs element, with it Wonder was that much better.

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Big Hero 6 – Review

 

Big Hero 6

We recently took the family to see Big Hero 6. What many people probably do not realize is that this is based on a Marvel comic. In fact if you watch carefully, you will see a brief appearance by Stan Lee.

We absolutely loved the movie. The animation was beautiful and the story was engaging. The basic story is about a boy named Hiro who needs to deal with a loss. In this, he is aided by some friends and a medical robot called Baymax.

By far the best character is Baymax. Despite being a robot with no emotions, he has the most entertaining personality of all of them.

That does not sound like a standard superhero movie and it is not. It is better. The moral message of the movie is about dealing with desires for revenge.

Big Hero 6 is the kind of movie that adults and children will enjoy. It is one that we intend on buying when it is released on DVD.

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Guardians of the Galaxy – Review

Guardians of the GalaxyI know that this is a bit late for a review of Guardians of the Galaxy but we just had the opportunity to see it on Sunday.

Although I enjoy the Marvel movies, it does feel as if they are just plugging characters into a formula. That is why I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, it actually stepped outside of the formula.

Part of is it that it was a mixed genre movie. Even if I was not a superhero fan, I would have enjoyed it based on my love of science fiction. It would have worked even without the tie to the comic books (truth is I have never read a comic with the Guardians of the Galaxy).

The main draw, however, was the characters. It is interesting to compare Star Lord with Captain America. Cap couldn’t be anything but a hero. Star Lord has to choose to be heroic. He is a much more realistic character, he is someone we can identify with.

I also loved the character of Drax the Destroyer. As a parent of children with autism, it is nice to see a character who doesn’t get metaphors. Besides, he is just plain funny.

My favourite character is definitely Groot. Besides having some neat powers, he is a very interesting person/being/tree. I enjoyed every scene with him. I would say this is the best role Vin Diesel has ever had. “I am Groot!”

So if you have not had the chance to see Guardians of the Galaxy, go and see it. Even if you do not like the other Marvel movies, this is definitely a movie worth watching.

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Doctor Strange – Review

Doctor Strange

I had the opportunity to see the Doctor Strange movie today. Since it was the day before my birthday, I had the choice of which movie my wife and I would see. Thankfully, my wife also enjoyed Doctor Strange.

First I need to say that I never collected Doctor Strange comics. I was more of a DC guy and the few Marvel titles I collected did not include Doctor Strange. But from what little I know, it seems the movie was fairly faithful to the source material. In fact, the dark dimension with all of its CGI definitely had a Steve Ditko feel.

What are my first thoughts? I must say that it was one of the most visually striking of any superhero movie so far. The special effects were amazing, not just in the quality of the graphics but in the imagination of those who conceived of it. My wife and I generally avoid 3D movies, feeling that most movies don’t take enough advantage of the 3D for it to be worth the extra cash. But Doctor Strange really used it well and it is one of the few movies that I would recommend people see in 3D.
Doctor Strange is basically a story of redemption. Stephen Strange thinks he is looking for healing for his hands but he is really needing healing for his soul. His materialistic worldview is shaken to its core.

Doctor Strange, despite having the temptation to be dark, chooses to embrace the trend of injecting humour into it. While not quite at the Guardians of the Galaxy level, there were some pretty funny moments. In fact one of my favourite characters in the movie is Strange’s cape. You need to see it to understand.

Doctor Strange was a fun and entertaining movie. Benedict Cumberbatch did a fantastic job of portraying both the pompous neurosurgeon and the humbled superhero. If you like superhero movies, this is one is worth seeing.

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Breathe – Review

BreatheLast night I watched the movie Breathe, directed by Andy Serkis. The movie stars Andrew Garfield (Amazing Spider-Man) and Claire Foy (The Crown).

The movie is based on a true story about Robin Cavendish, a young man who was paralyzed from polio. Not only was he paralyzed, but he required a machine to keep him breathing.

When Robin is first struck down with polio, he desires to die. He couldn’t handle the idea of spending the rest of his life like that. The doctors didn’t give him much time either.

However, his wife Diana refuse to give up on him, even when he tries to reject her and their infant son. Eventually, against the doctors’ orders, Diana moves Robin out of the hospital and into their home. This renews hope for Robin and he begins to enjoy life again.

A friend develops a wheelchair that can include his ventilator and allows Robin to experience a mobility that the doctors’ thought was impossible. Instead of keeping this to himself, they work to share this technology with other disabled people.

There was plenty of good things about the movie. Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy did a fantastic job in their roles. The persistent love of Diana for Robin was inspiring. As someone interested in disabilities, I really appreciated the advocacy that Robin and his friends and family did for others with disabilities. The speech that he makes at a disability conference is just as needed today as it was then.

There were some things I didn’t like. There were some negative portrayals of religion. At one point, the paralyzed Robin spits in the face of a priest. The attempted religious responses to his suffering were disappointing. It may be that they reflect Robin’s actual experience, but there are better faith responses to suffering.

I was also disappointed that Robin’s life came to an end through euthanasia. Euthanasia is a complex issue but it in the movie it was represented simply a noble escape from suffering. It was favourably compared to his escape from the hospital and regaining his mobility. Although the movie does present a positive image of disability, it also presents it as something to escape from.

Having said that, there is plenty in Breathe to make us think and reflect on life.

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X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

X-MenI watched X-Men: Apocalypse last night. I had originally wanted to see it in the theatre, but that didn’t work out. Hearing people’s generally negative opinion of the movie, I decided to rent the movie rather than buy it.

After hearing all of the bad things about the movie, I was pleasantly surprised. It really was not that bad. That is not to say it was perfect. I found the first half of the movie to drag a bit. I also was not that impressed with Apocalypse as a villain. I collected X-Factor when it first started and so I read the first appearances of Apocalypse. I didn’t think he was that interesting then and the movie didn’t improve him. I also found the four horsemen to be rather boring. Storm was okay but I was hoping for something interesting with angel, which we didn’t get.

Having said all that, there were good parts to the movie. The 80s nostalgia was fun. The characters of Professor X, Magneto, Mystique, and to a lesser extent Beast, are what really have kept these prequels going. It was also nice to see Nightcrawler, who I really enjoyed in X-Men 2 (even though his appearance here means that his appearance there doesn’t make sense).

Quicksilver was a highlight of this movie (as he was in Days of Future Past). As a huge Rush fan, I loved that he had Rush posters on his bedroom wall and wore a Rush t-shirt throughout the movie. Too bad they didn’t use Rush in the soundtrack. The only disappointment was that his relationship with Magneto was not resolved. Maybe that scene was cut from the theatre version.

X-Men: Apocalypse was a decent movie that is worth watching. I personally think this movie was much better than Deadpool, even though Deadpool blew it away at the box office.

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Bright – Review

There are only so many ways you can do a cop movie with mismatched partners fighting corruption. But Netflix was able to come up with a fresh approach with Bright.

The premise of the movie is that mythological beings such as fairies, elves, centaurs and orcs live along side of humans. They have been around for thousands of years but there are very tense race relations.

Will Smith is a cop with the first orc police officer as his partner. He is not happy with the situation and the orc is not the best cop, although he is honest.

The title of the movie comes from the brights, mostly elves but some humans, who can use magic wants. Anyone other than a bright explodes when they touch a magic wand.

The plot surrounds the adventures of Smith and his orc partner as they are pursued by the police, wicked elves, feds and gangsters. In the midst of this, these two comes to places of self-discovery.

There were some things I didn’t like. There is lots of swearing and some brief nudity. But having said that, it was a fun movie. More than that, it was original. The movie takes fantasy and mythical themes and uses them to address contemporary race conflict.

If you can handle the swearing and if you like both fantasy and cop dramas, you will like Bright.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Review

Last Jedi

In anticipation of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I heard reactions from others that ranged from best Star Wars movie ever to the worst. I would disagree with both reactions.

I enjoyed The Last Jedi. It was visually very well done. The special effects we see in these movies make it hard to go back and watch A New Hope. The fight scenes were amazing, both the individual battles and the space battles. As always, the Millennium Falcon was impressive with its fights and flights.

The story starts off where The Force Awakens ended. Rey had tracked Luke Skywalker and she attempts to get him to return and help the resistance.  At the end of the last movie, the First Order had attempted to destroy the resistance on the planet they were based on. Although they failed in that attempt, they knew where the resistance were and so now they attempt to destroy them with more conventional weapons.

Much of the movie is about Kylo Ren and Rey as they attempt to discover their destiny. Both are strong with the force, dangerously strong. How did Ren become what he became? What will Rey become? The movie investigates these themes.

Just as The Force Awakens echoed A New Hope, The Last Jedi echoes The Empire Strikes Back. That’s not a bad thing as The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best Star Wars movies.

It was a fun and action-packed movie. But it wasn’t perfect. I still found Snoke to be an uninteresting villain. I was hoping to get some background on Snoke, something to explain his origins and motives. But nothing was offered.

I also felt that they tried too hard to insert humour into the movie. At times it felt like they were trying to imitate a Marvel superhero movie. There were some genuine funny moments, but often it seemed forced.

Over all, The Last Jedi was a good movie. No doubt, it is a huge hit. But I will confess that I actually enjoyed Justice League more, even though Justice League is considered a flop.

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Marvel’s The Punisher – Review

Punisher

Having not been impressed with previous attempts at portraying the Punisher, I quite liked the reintroduction of the Punisher in the Daredevil series on Netflix. I was pleased to hear that the Punisher would be getting his own series.

Did I enjoy the series? I’m not sure that joy is the right word. It was quite dark and at times brutal. Of course anything about the Punisher has to be brutal, but it was more than just a liberal use of violence. The Punisher immersed itself in some pretty emotional topics, much of it dealing with the trauma from military service.

I’m a former army chaplain and so I’m tuned into anything to do with PTSD and other trauma. Despite being a superhero (sort of) series, there were aspects that were a bit too realistic.

I didn’t like everything about the first season. It was a bit rambling at times. There were a couple of sex scenes that were more gratuitous than needed to move along the story. Despite expecting the violence, there were a few scenes that were a bit over the topic, making me to want to look away from the screen.

Having said all that, the first season of Punisher was generally well done. I like Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of Frank Castle. He is the best actor yet to play the character. Also in this series is Ben Barnes, who played Prince Caspian in the Narnia movies. Without spoiling anything, he is definitely not Prince Caspian in the Punisher. This series really highlights the range of his acting.

One of my favourite characters in the season is David Lieberman / Micro, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach. I didn’t think I would like the character at first but the development of the character of the episodes was amazing. He was funny and sympathetic and at times, heroic.

The first season of Punisher was very interesting and at no time did I get bored. I wanted to know where things were going and I cared about the characters. If you have not watched it yet, I encourage you to check it out.

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Rogue One – Review

Rogue One

Rogue One has been one of my most anticipated movies in recent times. I love Star Wars, with it being a huge part of my growing up. What I looked forward to about Rogue One was not just that it was set in the Star Wars universe, but it set up A New Hope, the movie I used to know simply as Star Wars. The trailers really seemed to have the feel of the original trilogy.

I was able to see the movie and must say that I have mixed feelings. The story did not make me really feel for the characters. I cared more about the new characters in The Force Awakens than those in Rogue One. I also thought the first half of the movie dragged quite a bit. I was not feeling too positive for a while.

Thankfully, the last half or so improved dramatically. The final battle really felt like Star Wars. It was very well done. There were also some characters that I did like. The droid K-2SO was very entertaining. I also liked Chirrut Îmwe who though blind, could see better than others. I also liked how they brought Grand Moff Tarkin back. Sure, it was easy to see it was CGI, but it was neat.

Rogue One was a good solid science fiction movie, but it wasn’t great. I would actually say I enjoyed The Force Awakens more than Rogue One. It was a good movie and it fills in the blanks of what happened leading up to Episode IV. I’m glad I saw it and would happily watch it again but I hope next Star Wars movies are better.

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Justice League – Review

Justice League

When the Justice League movie was released, I braced myself for the reviews. DC movies have just not found much love with the critics. While I generally have enjoyed the DC movies much more than the critics, their reviews are influential in shaping people’s opinions.

Sure enough, the critics gave Justice League mixed reviews. Many were disappointed. It looked as if the positive response to the Wonder Woman movie was a momentary blip on the standard negative response to DC movies.

Then I saw the Justice League movie.

I really, really enjoyed it. No it was not a deep philosophical reflection that will forever have changed my life but it was a fun superhero adventure that did exactly what I wanted it to. I was entertained.

Why did some people not like it? One of the main problems with DC movies is that they are not Marvel movies. Marvel had the time and opportunity to develop the Marvel formula in which they just had to change the character names, adjust a few parts of the story, bump up the CGI and they had an instant hit.

Whether DC has not found their formula or are not looking for a formula is not known. But there is definitely more diversity in the DC movies in terms of story than in Marvel (with a few recent exceptions).

I know that some others just didn’t get much out of Steppenwolf as a villain. No one had heard of him and he wasn’t super-interesting. But this movie wasn’t about Steppenwolf. Steppenwolf is a stepping stone to the real DC bad guy: Darkseid (who in the comics is Steppenwolf’s nephew).

More than that, Steppenwolf was an excuse to get the team together and he did his job. I really enjoyed the team dynamic. Everyone was different and brought something unique to the team, not just in powers but in personality.

The Flash was a lot of fun. They actually made Aquaman cool, which should give this movie all kinds of bonus points. Wonder Woman is still one of the best parts. I have always liked Ben Affleck’s Batman with his mix of determination and exhaustion. I had my doubts about Cyborg (I’m old school and he’s far from an original member) but this movie gave him a central role and I’m a believer now.

I would say that I enjoyed the chemistry between the members of the Justice League much more than that between the members of the Avengers. This movie was more than just mindless destruction of CGI bad guys, it was a bunch of loners discovering what it means to be a team.

It was a short part of the movie but [BEWARE SPOILERS] there was one part that I really appreciated. It was the Lord of the Rings style battle that defeated Steppenwolf  during his first visit to Earth. The good guys included Amazons, Atlanteans, Humans, Olympians and Green Lanterns! The fan boy in me really loved that one.

Was Justice League perfect? No. But it was fun. I enjoyed watching it and it was far better than I expected.

Plus this was the Justice League. We have wanted something like this for decades. As far as I’m concerned, it was worth the wait.

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Gotham: Season 1 – Review

Gotham
I started watching Gotham quite a while ago. But I must confess that after watching the first three or so episodes, i was not that impressed. I liked the premise of the series but it was not good enough for me to keep watching and so I moved on to watching other series. After hearing from others that the season improved, I returned to it after a break of quite a few months. I’m glad I did as it became one of my favourite comic book TV series.

The series starts with the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents and a young Jim Gordon, who is idealistic and zealous, which brings him into conflict with a corrupt police force. Many of the characters who are familiar from Batman stories are introduced but in ways we may not recognize at first. Selena Kyle (the future Catwoman) is a street kid who witnessed the murder of the Waynes and has a complicated relationship with Bruce. Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin) is a minor but dangerous criminal that slowly moves up the ranks of Gotham’s crime families. Edward Nygma (future Riddler) works in the crime lab with the Gotham police. Harvey Dent (future Two Face) is one of the good guys, who works with Gordon to help clean up Gotham.
Many of the episodes with Gordon and his partner Harvey Dent come across as a traditional police drama with just a dash of comic book fantasy. Others work hard to set up the world that will eventually give birth to Batman. By the middle of the series, I was really hooked on this show and enjoyed it thoroughly. The end of the first season really ramps up the pace, bringing characters such as Kyle and Nygma closer to their future criminal careers.

If I had one complaint, it would be how Gotham portrays mental health. To be fair, part of this is from the nature of the source material in the comics. Most of the criminals are not sent to prison but to Arkham Asylum. Many of the bad guys (and girls) are not just criminal masterminds but people whose mental illness that pushes them into violence. This is promoting a stigma that is not very helpful.

Despite this, for those who like crime dramas, and especially those who like Batman, Gotham is a show that is worth watching.

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Fear the Walking Dead – Review

Fear the Walking DeadI have been a fan of the Walking Dead for some time. Admittedly, I have never read any of the graphic novels. That day will come.

As with many Walking Dead fans, I was excited about the new spinoff/prequel series Fear the Walking Dead.

I got a chance to watch the first season and I really enjoyed it. It did take me a while to connect with the characters as I am very used to Rick & co. and new characters on the original series are mostly mixed with the familiar.

Still, the complex family that makes up the new series did grow on me. My favourite aspect of this show is watching the plague take place. While I loved how they introduced it in the original series, I have often wondered what it was like for those who experienced it more gradually.

Because of the walkers appearing in a semi-normal setting, I actually found this series a bit spookier. A solitary walker on the Walking Dead is a joke but on Fear the Walking Dead, it is a big deal.

I also found it interesting watching society break down, with the military being a snapshot of the bigger problem.

My biggest complaint was that it was far too short. I am definitely looking forward to the second and longer season.

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Thor Revisited

Thor

I recently rewatched the first Thor movie. Thor has always been one of my favourite Marvel characters, probably because I really enjoy mythology. I’m glad that Marvel made Thor a priority for their cinematic universe.

Watching the movie again, with many Marvel movies having been released since then, it was interesting to compare. Thor is definitely not of the quality of the Captain America movies or the first two Iron Man movies (I didn’t care for the third one). At the same time, it is not the worst superhero movie ever made.

The relationship with Jane Foster was rather boring and I’m not disappointed that she won’t be appearing in the third Thor movie. However, the portrayal of Loki more than makes up for any of the other weaknesses of the movie. Loki’s motives are complicated and the audience is both able to sympathize with him and be happy when he is defeated by Thor.

I like the design of Asgard. It had both a mythological and an alien feel to it. There were aspects that really had a Jack Kirby feel to it. Overall, I enjoyed Thor and was happy to watch it again a number of years after my first viewing. It makes me eager to rewatch the second movie and to watch the third.

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Gotham Season 2 – Review

Gotham 

After not being sure about the first couple of episodes of the first season, I have really begun to enjoy Gotham. If you are not familiar with the series, it is about a young Jim Gordon and a younger Bruce Wayne (just after his parents were killed). In many ways, Gotham is to Batman what Smallville was to Superman.

This season is quite a bit different from the first season. There is much more of a sampling of the Batman mythology in terms of characters and villains. I like what they have been doing with them. In this season, we find Edward Nygma’s (Riddler) embrace of his criminal life. One of the main villains in this season is Hugo Strange (don’t call him Doctor Strange). He is in charge of Arkham Asylum and he uses his access to the inmates for his own purpose, one that leads to the birth of familiar supervillains. We also see some of the characters who had died returning to life. As in the comics, dead does not always mean dead.

Azrael is one of the important characters in this season. In the comics he took on the mantle of Batman for a while when Bruce Wayne was incapacitated before taking on the identity of Azrael. In Azrael, we see the first glimpse of a caped man dressed in black performing amazing feats. This is something that Bruce sees as well and is presumably inspired by it.

I really enjoyed season two of Gotham and I’m looking forward to the third season.

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Luke Cage – Review

Luke Cage 

I loved the first two seasons of Daredevil and I thought Jessica Jones was pretty good. Luke Cage was introduced in Jessica Jones and it was natural that I would want to watch his series. I like what Marvel is doing in bringing together these characters to eventually form the Defenders.

I must confess that I watched the first episode of Luke Cage and then stopped watching. Why? They seemed to work too hard to be more “mature” by including some nudity and cranking up the language. I especially struggled with the generous use of the n-word.

Beyond that, I actually found the first episode rather boring. I eventually returned to the series and found the first third or so of the season to be uninteresting. Too much time was being put into giving the audience a sense of the Harlem culture. While that is not bad, after a while I was ready for some action.

The series did begin to improve dramatically. There was no more nudity and the pace picked up. I didn’t care much for the Cottonmouth character but I did like Diamondback as a bad guy.

A few highlights included Shades saying to Diamondback (Willis Stryker), “Whatch you talking about Willis?” I also loved how the flashback to Luke Cage’s origin included him in his original outfit from the comics. That costume was never a good idea.

Overall, I appreciated the development in Luke Cage’s character and his journey to embrace his role as a hero. I look forward to seeing him in the Defenders.

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Logan – Review

In X-Men: Apocalypse, the young Jean Grey makes a comment about the third movie always being the worst. Unfortunately, that was the case for those prequels. However, it is not the case for the solo Wolverine films.

Many people hated the first Wolverine movie, although I enjoyed it. The second one was better but the final instalment, Logan, is the best of the bunch.

Logan is rated R and there is language and plenty of violence. Having seen Deadpool, also rated R, I much prefer Wolverine. Deadpool was just vulgar and crude, while Wolverine was gritty and violent.
Logan takes place in 2029, a time when most mutants are gone. An ailing Logan is caring for an elderly Professor X, who is in even worse shape. A young girl, very much like Logan, is brought into their life. Thus begins a dangerous and unpredictable road trip.

Hugh Jackson does a great job of a tired and sick Wolverine. He does not want to be a hero but his destiny pulls him back in. Laura, the young with Wolverine-like powers, was pretty interesting. Yes it is disturbing to watch a young girl kill a dozen bad guys in a couple of minutes, but this is not meant to be a feel good movie.

I actually thought that Patrick Stewart stole the show. The other X-Men movies with him did not give him much room to show off his skill. This movie gives many sides to Professor X, seeing him both at his most powerful and most human. This is one of the best roles that I have seen from Patrick Stewart.

I don’t know where the X-Men franchise is going but Logan is a satisfying conclusion to the story of Wolverine.

 

Logan
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Iron Fist – Review

Iron Fist

I have been enjoying the various Marvel series that have been appearing on Netflix. I was looking forward to Iron Fist, the final character that will be appearing in the future Defenders series.

But then the Iron Fist reviews started coming out. The “experts” were saying that Iron Fist was really bad.
This took out much of the anticipation that I had about watching the series. But since I really want to see what they will do with the Defenders, I decided to endure the Iron Fist series.

I was pleasantly surprised. Unlike Luke Cage, which I almost gave up on after the first episode, I really enjoyed Iron Fist right from the beginning. All through the season, my wife and I kept looking at each other, asking why people were hating this series.

I would put Iron Fist above both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage and right among both seasons of Daredevil. There was something about the naiveté and innocence of Danny Rand that drew me in. Add to that some awesome kung fu fights and we got a winner. I would describe Iron Fist as a cross between Daredevil and Arrow with a bit of Gotham thrown in.

I also liked that, unlike Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, Danny wanted to use his powers to make a difference. He may have struggled with the exact nature of his calling, but he knew he was to be a force for good.

In addition, the Hand (previously seen in Daredevil) made an interesting foe for Danny. Plus Harold Meachum was an interesting character who was always keeping us guessing as to his true motives. David Wenham sure plays a different character from his Faramir in the Lord of the Rings movies.

So if you are skipping Iron Fist just because some critics hated it, I would encourage you to give it another chance.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

The Guardians of the Galaxy sequel was very high on my list of movies to see this year. The first movie is the best Marvel movie yet made as far as I’m concerned. This created some pretty high hopes. 

I was disappointed.

In many ways, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reminded me of Iron Man 3. They both tried too hard to build on what came before.

One of the things that was great about the first movie is that it was funny.

The sequel tried to crank up the humour but it didn’t work. The first movie was just naturally funny. The sequel came across as forcing humour because of the success of the formula. Some of the jokes were funny. The Mary Poppins reference was great. But the running gags about the unripe fruit and David Hasselhoff got tired quick. 
In addition, the relationship between Gamora and Nebula felt forced. The change in their relationship did not feel like a natural progression.

And then there was a the bad guy. I liked Ronan in the first movie. But I found Ego very uninteresting. I don’t know if it was just his portrayal by Kurt Russell. He just didn’t seem believable as a celestial. It was fun to see a young Kurt Russell in the 1980s but that was it.

There were other things. Drax was one of my favourite characters in the first movie but he was turned into a one dimensional character here. The funeral at the end (I won’t say for who) was drawn out and again did not seem very believable. 
That is not to say that I hated the movie. It was okay, it just fell far short of the first Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie was visually appealing. Sometimes the humour worked. There were fun fight scenes.

But the negatives outweighed the positives as far as I’m concerned. Is it worth watching? Sure. But it definitely won’t make my top ten of Marvel films.

Guardians of the Galaxy
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Wonder Woman – Review

I will confess that traditionally I have been more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan. I will also admit that Marvel has generally done better with the movies than DC. I did enjoy Man of Steel and also liked Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. They weren’t perfect movies but I thought they were a good start for the shared DC universe. Still, I was hoping that Wonder Woman would beat the critic’s trend of hating DC movies.
 

Wonder Woman

I was not disappointed.

While, I don’t always agree with the critics (like I said, I liked BvS and SS), but their praise of Wonder Woman was well founded. It was a really good movie. Not just compared to other DC movies, but even compared to Marvel movies. In terms of Wonder Woman, you could describe this movie as a blend of Thor, Captain America and Black Widow.

 I thought Wonder Woman was one of the best parts of Batman v Superman and her solo movie took that strong start and built upon it. Gal Gadot does a great Wonder Woman and her chemistry with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor worked well.

The pacing, the acting, the fights scenes, the special effects were all good. I especially enjoyed the development of Wonder Woman’s character. She had an innocence about her as she entered man’s world, but she was not weak or stupid.

 The movie also had plenty of funny scenes. I thought Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 tried too hard to be funny but Wonder Woman let the humour flow naturally. My wife and I laughed a lot throughout the movie. Having said that, it’s not a comedy. It does deal with some heavy subjects. But the humour opens the audience for the deeper reflection rather than distracting.

 When I first heard about this movie, I was surprised by the World War One setting. She has traditionally been placed either in World War Two or modern times. But it really worked. I thought her experience in the trenches and no man’s land was powerful.

If I had any criticism, it would be that some of the CGI was rough.

There were times when they switched from Gal Gadot to the CGI Wonder Woman and it was obvious. However, this is not enough to take away from this well done movie.

In Wonder Woman, DC has a really hit. From what I have seen of the Justice League previews, they are trying to continue in this style. If you are thinking about seeing Wonder Woman, I would encourage you to do it.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming – Review

Spider-Man Homecoming

I have fond memories of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. They (especially the first two) were some of the first really good superhero movies. I was less impressed with the Andrew Garfield reboot. Not so much because of him but the stories and villains just didn’t do it for me.

I was excited when I heard Spider-Man was joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I was nervous about another reboot, I was impressed with the new Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. He was one of the best parts of the movie.

This brings us back to Spider-Man: Homecoming. I can honestly say that Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man yet. I loved this movie!

The movie was funny, funny in a natural way the way the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was (but not the second one). I laughed so hard and I think the final moment of the movie is the funniest scene in any superhero movie ever.

But this movie is not a comedy. It is funny because, despite the superpower element, it rings true. Anyone who has been an outcast can resonate with Peter Parker’s experiences.

The interaction with Tony Stark/Iron Man was well done. In fact this was a better Iron Man movie than Iron Man 3! Peter’s desire to be treated like a grown up by Tony was believable.

I also liked Michael Keaton as the Vulture. Keaton helped bring in the age of superhero movies with Batman and it was fun to see him here. He was a believable character as well. Far better than the Lizard and Electro from the Amazing Spider-Man movies.

Overall, Spider-Man was a fun and satisfying superhero flick. It departs enough from the Marvel formula to feel fresh but retains the elements that have made Marvel successful. I look forward to seeing this Spider-Man again in the next Avengers movie.

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War for the Planet of the Apes – Review

War for the Planet of the Apes

One of my favourite science fiction franchises as a child was the Planet of the Apes. I loved the movies and the TV show. It really captured my imagination.

 I have really been enjoying the reboot of the Planet of the Apes (not including the Tim Burton one). They have been able to find the perfect balance of both a moving story and entertaining action.

 The War for the Planet of the Apes hits the target again. This third instalment is a satisfying conclusion to the life of Caesar.

 To be honest, this was not what I expected from the movie. I thought (based on the previews) that it was going to be a massive battle between the humans and the apes. It was nothing so predictable as that.

 What we do find is a fascinating character study of an ape who struggles as both a leader and as someone who loves his family. Having been betrayed by Koba in the last movie, an ape who couldn’t let go of his hatred toward humans, Caesar fears he is going down the same path.

 Warning: Spoiler Alert

One of the main events in this movie concerns the virus that had killed much of the human race. That virus has mutated and is causing some humans to lose the ability to speak.

This is significant as the original Planet of the Apes movie took place in a future where the apes were dominant and humans couldn’t speak and were considered little more than animals. Is this setting things up for another instalment?

This new symptom of the virus is also the spark that ignites the harsh measures by the Colonel who is leading a large group of soldiers.

 There are a number of parallels in this movie to other events. The treatment of the apes by the humans is done in a way to invoke thoughts of the concentration camps of World war Two.

Caesar also comes across as a type of Moses that brings his people to the promised land through the wilderness.

Before you think this movie is too dark, there is some humour. A new ape is introduced, who brings a lighter side to a serious story.

 Is the end for the Plant of the Apes?

While the story ends at a nice place, there is the potential for the future. Caesar’s young son Cornelius is introduced in this movie and he is a character who was important in the original films. There is also the changing state of the humans that looks like what was seen before.

Finally, there is the missing astronauts who were briefly mentioned in the first movie in this trilogy. All the pieces in place to bring us to a story not unlike the original Planet of the Apes movie.

I really enjoyed the War for the Planet of the Apes. It was a good story with good acting. I cared about the characters and liked where the story went. I recommend this movie.

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Thoughts on Star Trek: Season 3

Star Trek

I have been enjoying watching the original Star Trek series from the 1960s. I had thought that I had seen all the episodes but having now concluded the series, I realize that I had not. 

Now that I have watched all three seasons, I can say confidently that the second season was the best. I can also say that the third episode was the worst.

When I was watching the second season, I could not wait to see the next episode.

Watching the third season, it would sometimes be weeks between episodes.

The writing was really uneven. Sometimes they tried too hard and sometimes they didn’t try hard enough. There were a few good episodes but others were painful to watch.

The third season was lucky to have been made as Star Trek was cancelled after the second season. Having watched the third season, I’m not surprised that it didn’t get picked up for the fourth.

Still, Star Trek has a special place in my memories and I at least had nostalgic pleasure watching it. My next step will be watching the animate series. I don’t think I have ever seen episodes from it before.

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Justice League vs Teen Titans – Review

Justice League vs Teen Titans

I had been looking forward to seeing the animated Justice League vs Teen Titans movie. From my comic collecting days, the Justice League and New Teen Titans were some of my favourites.

 I finally had an opportunity to watch it.

This movie reflects the latest DC reboot and so a number of the characters are different than I remember. Cyborg is a member of the Justice League and not the Teen Titans and Batman’s son Damian is the new Robin. Superman’s girlfriend is not Lois Lane but Wonder Woman.

 First the good. It is nicely animated. It just so happened that right after watching this, my son and I watched an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series. We some times take for granted how far animation has come. This movie was beautifully animated.

The nostalgic part of me also appreciated the opening scenes with the Hall of Justice and the attack by the Legion of Doom. Such great nods to the Superfriends of my childhood.

It was logical to use the Titan’s foe Trigon, as he is an enemy who could easily pose a threat to both teams.

 Having said that, I was somewhat disappointed in the movie. First of all, the title is very misleading. It is not really about the Justice League vs Teen Titans at all. The only scene where they fight lasts about twenty seconds.

The movie also seemed to lack heart. I understand that it was really about Damian Wayne learning that he needs others. But the only character development that takes place is with Damian and Raven. But considering the movie uses only a small number of characters from both teams, more could have been done.

This is not limited to this movie but the idea of Cyborg as a member of the Justice League rather than the Teen Titans has always bugged me. I understand that we need a more diverse team in this day and age. But to me, using John Stewart as the Green Lantern makes much better sense.

Justice League vs Teen Titans is not a horrible movie.

For those like myself who are not as familiar with the current DC Universe, it may be difficult to connect. Still it is a beautifully animated and at times fun superhero movie.

But if you want a better Justice League vs Teen Titans story, I recommend this one.

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The Defenders – Review

Marvel’s Defenders are not near as much of a household name as the Avengers. Who are the Defenders? They have had quite the revolving roster. The first Defenders comic I ever bought included Doctor Strange and the Hulk.

Knowing the comics does not really help the audience of the Netflix Defenders. All you need is to have watched the individual series on Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

 

Defenders

 Each of these series have paved the way for the Defenders series. The conflict with the Hand, introduced in Daredevil and Iron Fist, plays a major part in the Defenders.

I was very much looking forward this and I wasn’t disappointed. I thought they did a fantastic job of bringing together, not just the heroes, but the supporting casts from each of the series.

The Defenders are a very different group from the Avengers. No god or war heroes here. These are the working man’s heroes. Even though Danny Rand (Iron Fist) is a billionaire, he didn’t grow up with the money and he comes across as an average guy wanting to do the right thing.

 The story was great and the interaction between the characters was fun. In the comics, Iron Fist and Luke Cage had a comic together. Here, we get to see their friendship developing (even somewhat reluctantly).

One of the things that I appreciated was the theme of longing for eternal life and fear of death. There were all kinds of philosophical reflections between the kung fu fighting.

Being an eight-part series was perfect. Any longer would have been dragging and any shorter would have robbed from the story.

It was a fun series that was some of the best super hero TV I have seen in a while. Definitely worth watching.

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The Man in the High Castle – Review

Man in the High CastleI’m always looking for good and thought-provoking television series. One of the best that I have watched recently is The Man in the High Castle. This is a series that is based on the novel written by Philip K. Dick. I need to say that I have not read the book so I don’t know how closely the television series sticks to the book. 
The basic premise is that the Germans and Japanese (no mention of the Italians) won World War Two instead of the allies. This also means that North America has been invaded and occupied. The Japanese control the west coast, the Germans control the east coast and there is a narrow neutral zone in the middle.

The series takes place in the early 60s, a time when much of what had been the United States has long been under axis control. The show offers a frightening glimpse of what could have been. It is scary to see how in the east, the American Dream is so completely blended with Nazi philosophy.

Within this world is the activity of the resistance. The resistance is not just involved in attacking the Japanese and Germans, they are involved in something more mysterious. 

There are a series of films that are being smuggled across the land. These films offer alternate versions of what could have happened. Some include an end of the war with an allied victory as experienced in our world.

This brings us to the man in the high castle. It is he that is bringing these films together. It is assumed that he is filming them but in reality he is bringing them from parallel world. I know it sounds weird but it works.

In the midst of this is growing tensions between the Japanese and Germans. The Germans are more powerful, having developed the atomic bomb. They had even dropped an atomic bomb on Washington as a part of their invasion. The Germans seem eager to provoke the Japanese into a new conflict and complete their victory and along with it “racial purity.” 

 I so enjoyed this series. I’m very interested in World War Two and this is an entirely new spin. The setting of the early 1960s is very well done and the sets and props are amazing. I was born in the late 60s and can recognize some of what appears here.

The characters are interesting and far from two dimensional. In fact it is difficult to divide people into the good and bad guys. The good guys have their dark parts and the bad guys have their bright moments.

One of the things that I thought was interesting is that the Bible is banned in this world. It makes sense as it is a radical text.

As a pastor, I need to give some warning. There is some swearing, including occasional use of the F-bomb. There is also a little bit of nudity. Don’t think Game of Thrones. I would say in the two seasons that there was perhaps 10-15 seconds of nudity. For some this will take it off the table.

I found the series to be fascinating. 

There is some deep philosophical reflection in the series and plent of wrestling with moral dilemmas.

You may find The Man in the High Castle to be good show to watch. But don’t expect light fluff.

I watched The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime. You can get a free 30 day free trial of Prime. Please note that I’m an affiliate and if you get it, I do earn a fee.

Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial

If you are interested in philosophy, you might be interested in this book:

The Man in the High Castle and Philosophy: Subversive Reports from Another Reality (Popular Culture and Philosophy)

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Star Trek: Discovery Episode One – Review

Star TrekStar Trek has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was actually born during the run of the original Star Trek series.

It has been a long time since we have had a Star Trek television series. I have enjoyed the rebooted Star Trek of J.J. Abrams but have also been hoping for a new television series.

That time hCreate Linkas come with Star Trek Discovery.

I had watched the trailers for the series and the comments on YouTube had been almost unanimously negative. This dampened my excitement a bit. Despite this, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode.

To put things in context, this series takes place about ten years before the original series. I understand that this is set in the Star Trek universe of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, etc. While it would have been nice to have it connected to the recent movies, it does give them some more freedom.

The first episode deals with conflict was the Klingons. The Klingons (along with the Romulans) have been one of my favourite parts of the Star Trek mythology.

One of the first things that people will notice is that the Klingons look different. Not only are they not the humanoid Klingons of the original series, they look much different even than the more recent Worf. I don’t think we should get too worked up about this. Each new chapter of Star Trek has transformed the Klingons and so in this case, change is a part of tradition.

There is nice connection with the greater Star Trek world with the first officer having a connection with Sarek, the father of Spock. I hope that means that Spock will be making an appearance at some point.

Was Discovery perfect? No. But Star Trek also has a tradition of taking some time to find its way. I’ve been trying to rewatch DS9 and am only about six episodes in and am struggling. I find it terribly boring and yet I’m told that it eventually becomes one of the best Star Trek series. Even the legendary Next Generation series was pretty bad in the first season.

I would say that Discovery is much better than TNG or DS9 as it starts. It has echoes of all the Star Trek series, from the original series to the recent movies.

I liked the characters and the stories and it was visually beautiful.

My only disappointment is that only the first episode is free to watch. I would have even been fine with Netflix. But I have no intention of subscribing to a new service to watch the series. I would prefer to buy the season on DVD when it is released.

I will say that I was pleased with the first episode and I’m looking forward to watching the rest.

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The Case for Christ Movie – Review

Case for ChristI have had the opportunity to see The Case for Christ movie and I have been looking forward to sharing my thoughts on it.

I went into this movie with two preconceived ideas. The first was a bit of worry about a Christian movie. Unfortunately, Christian movies have not always had the best reputation when it comes to quality. Things in general have been getting better but there is the concern of what could be.

My other thought was about how much I appreciated the book that this movie was based on. I really enjoyed The Case for Christ book and knew that there was some really good material in there. At the same time, a movie about a journalist interviewing scholars could be a challenge for keeping things interesting.

My concerns were quickly removed as I settled in to watch the movie. The Case for Christ is not an apologetics documentary, it is rather a love story of two people struggling with changing circumstances.

The basic plot is that Lee Strobel is a journalist who is an atheist and he is married to a woman who is an agnostic. Through some circumstances (that I won’t spoil here), his wife comes to faith, leaving Lee in an uncomfortable situation. Religious faith is foolish superstition. How do you have a marriage with such a radical difference in worldview?

Lee is challenged to use his journalist skills to prove that Christianity is false. The focus is on disproving the resurrection of Jesus, because if that falls, all of Christianity crumbles.

Lee begins to interview scholars in numerous areas (Bible, psychology, medicine, etc.) to try and find somme good reasons for not believing in Christianity so that he can convince his wife to abandon her superstition.

Spoiler alert: He fails to find his desired proof and he becomes a Christian.

I don’t want people to think that this movie is about dry discussions on academic subjects. The movie focuses very much on the relationship and the tension that faith has created within it.

One of the other things that I appreciated was that this movie portrays Lee in a painfully honest way. I saw the movie with Lee Strobel in the same theatre and I felt bad for him because there are parts that make him seem like a real jerk. This is not a criticism, it adds to the power of the story.

It was fun to see some well known people like Bill Hybels, Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig portrayed on the big screen. The movie does a great job of catching the feel of the era and it brought back a lot of memories for me.

I highly recommend The Case for Christ movie. But don’t go to the movie by yourself. Invite someone who is still considering the truth claims of Christianity. This movie can easily lead into some natural conversations about faith.

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Hacksaw Ridge – Review

Hacksaw RidgeI finally had the opportunity to watch a movie that I had long wanted to see: Hacksaw Ridge. I must confess that I’m generally a fan of war movies, especially those set during World War Two. However, it was difficult to “enjoy” this movie in that context.

That is not to say that I didn’t like the movie. I thought the story was very powerful, the acting impressive and the movie to be one of the best that I have seen in a long time. I would also say that it is an anti-war film, or at least one that puts the spotlight on the horrors of war.

Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist and pacifist who enlists in the military to be a medic. Doss is happy to participate in the rigours of basic training but refuses to even train with a weapon. This brings him into conflict with his officers.

Ultimately, Doss makes it to combat, participating in the battles at Okinawa, specifically at Hacksaw Ridge. Mel Gibson does not use this as a showcase for military glory but as a means of highlighting the gruesome violence of war. I recently rewatched Saving Private Ryan and it does not begin to compare to Hacksaw Ridge when it comes to graphic battle scenes.

Although I am a Christian, I am not a Seventh Day Adventist. Nor am I a pacifist. But this movie is a moving portrayal of a man with convictions who refuses to back down, even in the face of tremendous pressure. Andrew Garfield does a great job of portraying Doss as a man who on the surface seems simple but is in truth one who has reflected on what he values and is willing to sacrifice comfort for the sake of integrity.

Hugo Weaving does an amazing job as Desmond’s father. Without spoiling anything for those who have not seen the movie, he is a complex man, deeply scarred by his experience in the First World War and is a flawed husband and father. Yet, he is more than that. He is able to choose to rise above his weakness.

I don’t normally like Vince Vaughn as an actor, perhaps because of the movies that he is in. But he does a great job as the sergeant who is in charge of the basic training and who accompanies Doss into combat. He brings some humour that does not disrupt the rest of the story, but rather deepens the relationships among the marines.

If you have not seen Hacksaw Ridge yet, I highly recommend it. It is a powerful story of faith, strength and integrity.

Second World War

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Deadpool – Review

Deadpool

I finally got around to watching Deadpool. My thoughts? That was two hours of my life I will never get back. I’m only thankful that I watched it on Netflix for free and never spent money on it.

Seriously, I just don’t understand why it was such a hit. To be completely honest, I actually enjoyed the most recent Fantastic Four movie more than I did Deadpool.

My only thoughts regarding the success of this movie is that people were amused by its R rating and their willingness to be far cruder than any other comic book movie. It was a novelty.

I will admit that the language and other raunchy parts of the movie made me less likely to appreciate it. But even if it was cleaned up, there really wasn’t much of a story. It was just a bad movie.

I did like Colossus in this movie. He was always one of my favourite X-Men and it is too bad that they did not make much of him in the movies. I thought he was pretty fun here.

I know that they are making a sequel and they will try to make it even cruder. It will also likely be a big hit. I doubt I will enjoy it any more. Hopefully this is not the future of comic book movies.


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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence

Ghost Rider

Last night I finally watched Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence (it was actually my son’s idea). I remember watching the first movie and thinking it was okay but not great. It must have done well enough to allow a sequel.

I found Spirit of Vengence to be one of the worst superhero movies that I have ever watched. It was painful. I did like the appearance of the Ghost Rider and some of the fight scenes were entertaining (although one sided). Also, the scene where the bad guy who supernaturally makes everything rot picking up the Twinkie with no effect was pretty funny. But the rest was rather boring.

I have tried to figure out if it was just a bad movie or if it was just that Nicholas Cage did a poor job. I really did not like his acting. But the storyline seemed rather weak as well. The movie just did not work.

Seriously, those who thought Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad were bad movies, need to go back and revisit this movie!

If you want to watch the movie for free on Netflix, go for it. But I wouldn’t pay money for it.

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Suicide Squad: Second Viewing

Last night I went to see Suicide Squad at the theatre for the second time. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie twice in the theatre and so that says something.

This time I went into it without the excitement of seeing familiar DC characters on the big screen and I also had time to reflect on the negative reviews. But as I rewatched this movie, my thoughts kept going back to: “I just don’t get the hate for this movie.”

Of course it is not a perfect movie. I did not like the Rick Flagg character (even though I liked him in the comics). I thought the scene where Amanda Waller shoots the government employees to be stupid. I think Katana could have been used much more effectively.

But having said all that, it was still a good and solid action movie. Deadshot and Harley Quinn were done very well. I still enjoyed the Joker, and I hope all the recent venting does not mean that Jared Leto is done with this character.

There was just nothing about this movie that requires all of the harsh comments that people have been making. It is a good movie that expands nicely the DCCU and it deserves a sequel. I enjoyed watching it a second time and I’m sure I will watch it again.

Suicide Squad

 


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Suicide Squad – Review

Suicide SquadI went to see Suicide Squad tonight. My initial impression was that I don’t know why everyone was complaining about this movie. It is not near as bad as the critics were making it out to be. I would definitely say that is the best DC shared universe movie yet.

I’m a fan of the Suicide Squad from way back, having collected the original series. So it was great to see Amanda Waller, Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot and the Enchantress on the big screen. I was not disappointed.

I liked the portrayal of Amanda Waller, although she was a bit more ruthless than I remember. Deadshot and Harley Quinn were very well done. I look forward to seeing them again in future movies. I also really enjoyed Killer Croc and Diablo. Captain Boomerang has never been one of my favourite characters, but he was okay here.

My disappointments include Rick Flag. I liked him in the comics and was sad when they killed him off there. In this movie, he was pretty annoying. I was also disappointed by Katana. I like the character, again having collected Batman and the Outsiders from the beginning. But they could have deleted her from the movie and it would have made no difference. If she appears again, I hope they do more with her.

What about the Joker? Poor Jared Leto is doomed to be compared to Heath Ledger. But I thought it was a nice fresh approach to the Joker. There were aspects of previous Jokers in him but some new ideas as well. I liked him and enjoyed the relationship between him and Harley Quinn.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Suicide Squad. It was not perfect. There were some parts that dragged. but it was the best supervillain movie so far. Of course, the only other one is Catwoman, so the standard wasn’t too high. But seriously, it is a good solid comic book movie. I hope there will be a sequel.


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Star Trek Beyond – Review

I have been a Star Trek fan for a long time. I’m actually one of the rare breed of people who like both Star Wars and Star Trek. I grew up watching the original series and I have really been enjoying the reboot.

What did I think of Star Trek Beyond? It was not a life changing movie. It did not bring me to tears or anything. It was not completely original. But it was a good solid sci fi adventure movie. I thought it captured the spirit of Star Trek very well.

The action and fight sequences were well done. The current cast of Star Trek does a fantastic job. It is sad that we have to say goodbye to the actor who portrays Chekhov. I liked the villain in this film and it was a nice twist at the end.

I would say that the destruction of the Enterprise, after having been destroyed in so many Star Trek movies, has lost its shock. Still, this was a minor thing. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I’m happy to hear they are going to make a fourth movie.

I can easily recommend this movie, not just to Star Trek fans, but for all action movie fans.

Star Trek Beyond

 


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Review of Captain America: Civil War

I was able to get out to see Captain America: Civil War yesterday. The short review is I loved it. It was just a lot of fun. Lots of action, lots of laughs and I was not bored.

What did I like about it?

Captain America

Well it was great to see so many heroes, especially those who have been newly introduced into the MCU. The interaction between them, whether fighting together or fighting against each other, was great for any comic book fan.

The introduction of the Black Panther was fantastic. One of the first Marvel comics I ever read was a reprint of a Jack Kirby drawn story of Captain America and Black Panther against Baron Zemo. I liked how they portrayed Black Panther, he was the definition of cool. I look forward to seeing what they do with him.

Then there was Spider-Man. I was not all that excited about a new reboot of Spider-Man, even though I was happy to hear that he was going to be able to interact in the MCU. But I loved this Spider-Man. He is a very fresh take on the character compared to the other cinematic versions. His banter during the battle was a lot of fun. The Star Wars scene was awesome.

We got to see some more of the Vision in this movie. My impression was that they were not sure what to do with him. He should have been able to do more in the battle to stop Team Captain America but they kind of just kept him off screen for much of it.

Ant-Man was great as always. It was nice to see him have a bigger role. (See what I did there?)

I have to say that Captain America: Civil War was a better Avengers movie than Avengers: Age of Ultron. In fact if I have a criticism, it is that this was an Avengers movie more than it was a Captain America movie. Still, it was really good.

This movie begs for a comparison with Batman v Superman. But that is a post for another day…


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