Rogue One is a one-hit wonder

24-Dec-16 9:30 AM by
Filed under Potpourri, Star Wars; 2 comments.

This holiday season marks several milestones, including the first standalone Star Wars movie. Rogue One debuted this month and is set immediately before the events of 1977's Episode IV: A New Hope, answering several of the questions raised by that movie. In many ways, Rogue One defies what we've come to expect from a Star Wars movie: there is no opening scroll, no Jedi, and no hope — this is a dark movie, more akin to a war film, and is inappropriate for children. That's all in stark contrast to the lighter fare of the original trilogy, which resulted in Kenner toys being popular Christmas gifts; I would be astonished and mildly horrified if any of Rogue One's cast were found under the tree this year.

For all those differences, I liked Rogue One. It belongs in the Star Wars universe and shows a different side of it, both establishing and emphasizing the enormity of the Empire and the desperation and necessity of the Rebel Alliance. There are plenty of hooks and tie-ins to A New Hope that longtime fans will appreciate — though I can't imagine that anyone not well-versed in Star Wars lore will even understand this "standalone" film.

To that end, I was surprised and disappointed that Rogue One had no apparent bearing on The Force Awakens. Last year's Episode VII raised many questions, and it seemed reasonable that the next Star Wars film to be released would answer some of those questions. After all, this franchise is now being developed by the studio responsible for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which practically requires you see three movies a year; I expected Disney to give us every reason to see every Star Wars film as well. But ultimately, the characters of Rogue One, while well-written and acted, are forgettable — I walked out of the theater not remembering almost anyone's names.

The story is co-written by John Knoll, Photoshop co-creator and ILM special effects maven. I interviewed Knoll nine years ago about the impact TRON had on the evolution and acceptance of computer-generated special effects. Knoll was already an industry luminary a decade ago, but I had no idea he'd go on to earn a writing credit for such a blockbuster film.

While Rogue One expands the Star Wars universe, it doesn't move it forward: the franchise was fine without it, and it's not required viewing for continued enjoyment of the new trilogy. I saw The Force Awakens twice in theaters and then bought the Blu Ray; by comparison, while I much enjoyed Rogue One and recommend it without hesitation to Star Wars fans, I doubt I'll ever see it again.

There are many good holiday movies in theaters this season, of which Rogue One is but one. But even Star Wars can get into the Christmas spirit, as seen by our favorite Wookie singing one of his favorite carols:

That's our obligatory Christmas Eve video — but there's still one more occasion to mark: this month is Showbits' tenth anniversary. It was ten years ago, on December 15, 2006, that the site launched, reviving a message board I'd previously operated on the Syndicomm Online commercial service. It was a member of that board, Peter Watson, who encouraged me to reimagine the bulletin board as a Web 2.0 blog. I chose the WordPress CMS with which to do so — a decision that has profoundly impacted my professional development and career.

While I may no longer blog often on Showbits, WordPress remains a tool I use daily to promote causes I'm passionate about. My thanks to Peter, who remains my friend to this day, for setting me down this path.

Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, and holiday season to all!

Duck Tape TRON

22-Aug-11 9:04 PM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on Duck Tape TRON

This TRON video came out just today and is sure to be a viral hit — so I'm doing my part and sharing it with Showbits readers, my favorite Internet denizens.

Has TRON's light cycle scene ever been so masterfully recreated than by this work of TRON Guy? I met Jay Maynard at ROFLCon a few years ago, and this advertisement for Duck-brand duct tape is the perfect amalgamation of his stereotyped perception and actual personality. Besides, what genius is it to advertise a specific brand of tape? It's like comedian Steven Wright has said: you never see an advertisement for string. All it takes is one ad to put your product ahead of the competition. I'd say Duck Tape just soared well past the other brands on the grid.

(Hat tip to 8 Bit Weapon)

In Brightest Day

17-Jun-11 10:51 AM by
Filed under Trailers; Comments Off on In Brightest Day

This is a day that will be long remembered: the release of a highly anticipated film adaptation of one of the most popular comic books ever.

When I started reading comics in 1996, I was immediately drawn to a superhero I wasn't very familiar with. His abilities and adventures were stunning and made me an instant fan. I've long hoped to see him brought to life by Nathan Fillion, and someone in power must've seen the fan trailer that demonstrated the power of that union, as he's been cast in a direct-to-DVD animated film. But the live action take on this storied character debuts today with an entirely different cast:

Yes, I want to see Green Lantern — but the casting and the reception have both been poor. So I'm psyched to see the perennial favorites from Sesame Street ride the wave of public awareness to promote their upcoming film. The above is one of many misleading trailers that suggest terrible films in alternative genres. Here's the romantic comedy approach:

SImply named The Muppets, the film returns Jim Henson's creations to the silver screen on November 23, 2011.

Pixar's Up Floats to Life

07-Mar-11 3:37 PM by
Filed under Films; Comments Off on Pixar's Up Floats to Life

Pixar films wonderfully meld the familiar with the fantastic: whether it's a childhood spent with favorite toys, or an incredible family that bonds over a shared challenge, the stories create characters and scenarios we recognize and to which we relate.

But what if, instead of taking the realistic and making it magical, we took the fiction and made fact? That's what some engineers were inspired to do after seeing the 2009 film Up. As part of a new National Geographic television series called How Hard Can It Be?, they set out to make a house fly:

If a house is designed to be lightweight enough to fly, then it's not all that surprising that it should be able to fly. That realization does nothing to diminish the smile brought to my face at the sight of an actual house floating across the sky.

(Hat tip to Alexa Lash)

Jake Gyllenhaal's Prince of Persia

27-May-10 11:27 AM by
Filed under Celebrities; Comments Off on Jake Gyllenhaal's Prince of Persia

Tomorrow marks the debut of the film Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, based on a game franchise that originated on the Apple II. Disney's adaptation of the game is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Although Mr. Bruckheimer is commonly related with blockbuster action films, Mr. Gyllenhaal has a more diverse and interesting filmography.

His film debut was a bit part in the AFI's 86th funniest movie of all time, City Slickers, but most people first noticed Mr. Gyllenhaal in his leading roles in the historical tale of October Sky or the bizarre cult hit, Donnie Darko, in which his sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, played his sister. At one time, he was rumored to replace Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man when Mr. Maguire strained his back in Seabiscuit, leaving him unable to perform the stunts of the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. Such a substitution would've put Mr. Gyllenhaal opposite his then-girlfriend, Kirsten Dunst. The resemblance between the two male actors was also a factor that led to them portraying siblings in the 2009 film Brothers. More notably, he is the surviving half of the leading pair from the controversial Brokeback Mountain, though his role in the action film The Day After Tomorrow, was apparently overlooked by Game Informer magazine when they noted that PoP was Mr. Gyllenhaal's first action movie.

An actor of such varying roles has certainly deserved to have made a name for itself. The only question is: which name is that?

What's your favorite Gyllenhaal film, and what are your expectations for Prince of Persia?

(Hat tip to ROFLrazzi)

Reimagining TRON 1.0

21-Apr-10 9:52 AM by
Filed under Films, Trailers; 1 comment.

In the eight months before the release of TRON Legacy, fans are whetting their need for new media by reinterpreting the franchise's origin. TRON, now 28 years old, reflects the era in which it was crafted: crude CGI and evil supercomputers aren't as much en vogue now as they were when both fields were nascent. What if it had been made thirty years later … or earlier?

Trailers have also changed a great deal over the decades, having once been more verbose, lackluster, and narrated, as evidenced by this 1982 preview for TRON:

Now let's take that same source material and recut it into something a bit more exciting:

A drastic improvement, no? The new trailer even runs the same length as the original, showing how much more effectively one can use an equal amount of time. But imagine how disappointed it would be to have been enticed into the theater by such a stunning an action-packed film, only to witness these opening credits:



These credits are designed in the style of Saul Bass, the graphic designer and filmmaker whose credits include North by Northwest, West Side Story, and Love in the Afternoon. As stylistic as TRON itself was, I don't find it's one that meshes well with this colorful intro.

How much of these design aspects can we expect to see in TRON Legacy? Will it be a successor in aesthetic as well as plot? Its first trailer bodes well; it's not long until we'll know conclusively.

(Hat tip to 8 Bit Weapon)

Nothing Fishy about Ponyo

28-Aug-09 10:38 AM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

It's been a good year for animation. Early in 2009, we had the phenomenal Coraline, a technically brilliant stop-motion that provided a chilling horror experience without being inappropriate for its target audience. Later, we received Up, a melancholy but still excellent movie that lives up to the high standard that past Pixar productions have set. Now, we have the wonderful Ponyo, the newest title from the most respected animator in the world today, Hayao Miyazaki.

Ponyo's plot is very heavily influenced on the classic tale of The Little Mermaid. It's a simple tale: the fish, Ponyo, meets a human boy, falls in love, and becomes a human. There are a few complications — Ponyo's father dislikes humanity, Ponyo's transformation upsets the balance of nature — but on the whole, the plot never gets much more complicated than the simple friendship of two children that forms its base.

Ponyo is geared towards smaller children — my 8-year old and 20-month old daughters both greatly enjoyed it — but there's much to be enjoyed by older viewers as well. The animation quality is phenomenal, with a heavy storm providing many especially spectacular moments. Characterization is well done and the film is filled with gentle humor that does not rely on awkwardly inserted pop culture humor like so many lesser animated films use.

The English localization of this originally Japanese movie is respectable. Of all of the voice actors, the only one I had any issues with Liam Neeson, not because he did a bad job but because his voice seemed at odds with his character's appearance. That's the only minor quibble I had; the rest of the cast fits perfectly and does an excellent job with the voices.

All in all, I highly recommend Ponyo to children as well as adults who appreciate beautiful artwork and simple but cute stories. Audiences looking for something darker and deeper like some of Miyazaki's earlier work such as Princess Mononoke may wish to look elsewhere. If you're still not sure, see the trailer after the break.

(more…)

TRON's Legacy Revealed

07-Aug-09 11:38 AM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

While I was hanging with geeks in Kansas City, other geeks were congregating at Comic-Con, a veritable explosion of all things sci-fi. Many exciting announcements and previews came out of the event, not the least of which is a trailer for TRON Legacy, heretofore known as TR2N:

Although this trailer contains original footage, its script is almost identical with that of the proof of concept video released this past fall. In fact, Apple brands this new trailer as a VFX concept test. I've never known a studio to stick so closely to the same demo. Whereas the film was previously scheduled for a 2011 release, we're now looking at December 2010 — so shouldn't we be seeing new scenes, not rehashing old ones?

Regardless of its originality, the above trailer is beautiful and worth watching several times. Accompanying it was the launch of several promotional sites, such as Flynn Lives and Home of TRON. These are just two of many outlets to tide you over until the 1982 film gets the sequel it deserves. Play the game. Read the interview. Watch the RiffTrax.

Whatever your choice, I suspect that in a year, we'll learn that it's not so easy on the other side of the screen.