[Movies/SciFi] Star Wars – A New Hope (40th Anniversary)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie “A New Hope” (that will become Episode IV). I was -2 years when it came (likely a Type II oocyte hidden in a follicle) but it was my first Star Wars I had watched.
Imagine being a teenager or a kid and watching the original trailer:

I still remember how I had to fight with my sibling to share the TV on a Sunday night, as its airing was simultaneous to another movie, zapping to its channel during commercial breaks. It was love at first sight! Aliens, spaceships, lasers (pew! pew!), great villain (Darth Vader aka Dark Vador in French), the famous Tie fighters roar (Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrsshhhh!!!!).

It also started the rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek. Historically, Star Wars surely took a lot from Star Trek “The Original Series” in terms of space technology and phasers. But Lucas also took a lot from action movies, from cape and swords movies (you can replace the lightsabers with regular swords, set the Death Star as a fortress and voila!), from Western movies (the Tatooine and Mos Eisley cantina surely reminds a good ol’ dirty saloon, you can replace Solo and Greedo with a Colt or a Smith & Wesson revolver and still achieve the same outcome), from war movies (the final battle of Yavin, you could almost put this into the biplane dogfights of World War I and have Darth Vader posing as Red Barron).

If Trek and Wars movies were into a ring for a death match, Wars would win easily. Wars also set the standard very high, putting Trek in a very difficult situation. Just see Star Trek: The Motion Picture and just put the popcorn aside. It is slow. Very sloooooooooow (did I say how much I hated the uniforms in that Trek movie?).

Maybe the great thing about Wars is its opening, with John Williams mythical opening credit theme (that was then used as a welcome hymn in “V” to greet the first delegation of aliens landing on Earth to collaborate with Earthlings) followed by the “must-have” scrolling text that serves us as a ramp into the action.

Then Boom! You see the Tantive IV being blasted, overflown by the Star destroyer. Bang, straight into the action, with the rebels preparing to be boarded by the Galactic Empire. How this cannot be awesome witnessing that with a kid? All sugar-coated by the remarkable work of John Williams and the London Symphonic Orchestra that blends the visual action with the percussions. Thats how you get kids into classical music!

There comes Lord Vader, this huge and dark figure, breathing through without a word watching the causalities lying around all over the place. Comes in the famous Leia scene and the escape pod. The first action moment of Darth Vader is marking any kids, the deep voice of James Earl Jones with the physique of David Prowse. Here we are. A badass and ruthless villain, all shrouded in mystery and strength.

Then comes the arrival in Tatooine (from the Tunisian town of Tataouine, Tunisia) and the encounter with the Jawas that make it accessible to the kids and introduce us to Luke Skywalker.

Follows up the introduction to Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Chewbacca……the rest is history. A very tight and neat cuts that makes the narrative exemplary with little room for dead periods, bringing up the action as a roller-coaster without overkilling it.

Not even forgetting to mention the presence of Peter Cushing posing as Moff Tarkin and rival to Darth Vader, reminiscent of the rivalry of World War 2 movies between the Wehrmacht and the SS division. This is not innocent, as the Galactic Empire takes a lot of inspiration of Nazi Germany by its ruthless to achieve victory and homogeny at any cost.

Star Wars launched the first concept of merchandising, tying a whole toy line with the movie, setting probably the first massive toy collectionite in the galaxy. It is so engrained in the culture that almost anybody knows “Star Wars” without even watching the movie.
It surely inspired “Battlestar Galactica” TV series and James Bond “Moonraker”. It even was used as a codename for one of the most ambitious if not ridiculous Cold War operations aimed to put in orbit satellites with lasers to counter any threat from USSR.
It even had its “disco” soundtrack by Meco (oh man, it sounds so cheesy now!):

It sets up the spoof-movie “Spaceballs”, even inspired some local knock-off from Italian and Turkish movie producers like “Starcrash” (introducing a young ‘Hoff)

Or “Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam” aka “Turkish Star Wars”

And many mores….

Star Wars became an icon of a whole GenX culture (just see the Star Wars special episodes of “Family Guy” or “Robot Chicken”).
You cannot undo something that cannot be undone and Star Wars is one of these movies you can keep watching over and over again without feeling the boredom of watching them as it almost feel fresh despite knowing every single scenes.

“May The Force Be With You”

 

 

 

 

 

[SciFi/Star Trek] Star Trek The Motion Picture – Daft Punk Tron Legacy Audio Cut

If you are a Trekkie, you know the big debate about Star Trek: The Motion Picture (TMP). It was released about the same time than Star Wars: A New Hope and when you come from Star Wars, TMP appears slow….very slow…….and also kitsch. Very kitsch. I am still try to understand how, 40 years later, they had made the decision on the Starfleet costumes (some ugly PJs that should have never seen light, even back in the 70s).

Now something interesting came that week, someone has the genius idea to blend TMP, cut into the extra-fat and plugged in “Tron Legacy” soundtrack. Oh boy, I really loved that sequel to “Tron” with the remarkable work of Hans Zimmer and Daft Punk, through their MOOG synthesizers, giving this primal electronic sounds that as synthetic is can carry some of the deepest emotions. The photography was sleek, it was well directed and was giving a major upgrade to “Tron”.  Just look back at the famous Light Cycle scene how the video and the audio blended perfectly:

Suddenly, TMP becomes a new movie and really makes me think if there was some very clever cut, with a re-designed soundtrack, could become much more watchable. It also now revived my interest in “Tron: Legacy” and I really hope Disney decides to get “Tron3” from the back-burner.

 

[Movies/SciFi] Turbo Kid (80%)

Sometimes a good surprise can await you around the corner. This was the case of “Turbo Kid”, as it popped as a suggestion on my digital service.
Turbo Kid is a French-Canadian movie written and directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Not much famous actors in the cast except with the exception of Michael Ironside (known for his role as Ham Tyler in the original “V” series).
“Turbo Kid” is not totally new to me, as the first iteration known as “T for Turbo” was the prototype for it and frankly it created a huge buzz:

It rightfully made a loud buzz by its VHS feeling of an 80’s post-nuke movie, a kind of genre I have been bottle-fed thanks to the Italian moviemaker. All the ingredients were already in: the post-nuke wasteland, the abandoned quarrel, the Bontempi synthesizers, the cheap gore effect, and the BMX ride. Even the inspiration of the “Cannon Pictures” gives this huge nostalgic vibe.

The plot is fairly simple but fairly fun. The plot takes place in a post-nuke 1997, in a quarrel posing as a wasteland. Water is scarce and became a precious commodity. In a complete anarchy, the law of the jungle prevails: the survival of the fittest.
“The Kid”, the main protagonist, lives on scavenging on his BMX bike and fomenting revenge to Zeus (played by Michael Ironside), as Zeus killed his mom in front of him. Taking courage from reading “Turbo Rider”, a comic book.
One day, the Kid finds Apple, an android girl that quickly becomes attached to him. This only starts the trouble once Apple get kidnapped by Zeus and fleeing from his minions, the Kid ends up in an abandoned vehicle and finds the remain of a certain “Turbo Rider”….

The movie is not aiming very high but it hits hard on the GenXers like me. You could almost believe you have seen this movie as a kid, as the feeling is so genuine to 80’s Sci-Fi B-movies, especially Italian post-nukes: They were cheap, the plot was quite often cheesy. But oh gosh they were great and fun to watch!

Here is the official trailer, you can catch the full movie on Netflix:

[SciFi/StarWars] Carrie Fisher 1956-2016

Damn you 2016! I wished I did not have to write down this eulogy when the news broke on Friday afternoon. I knew the pathophysiology of a massive heart attack! I knew the consequence of a myocardial infarction! I knew the risk of cerebral ischemia following cardiac arrest! Yet, as report of her condition was stabilized and kept into ICU, I had hope that she will be back on track, that she will have suffered no cerebral damage, that she will be back on her feet and continue to animate TV shows and comic-cons with her joy, her sarcasms and her “bring it on!” attitude that percolated through Princess Leia performance.
Carrie epitomized the princess of space-opera: a princess that shoot on target better than any stormtrooper, a princess that kept quiet even under the torture, a princess that did not mind to set back on track space pirates, smugglers and scoundrels, a princess that stood on her mission until the last minute ensuring every single staff under her command was safely escaped, a princess that stood up to her love and went all over the galaxy to find him back, a princess that raised a whole generation of boys (dont look at me like this, I know you also share this snarky look on Leia’s bikini costume) into early puberty and girls into an iconoclasm of the “fairy-tale princesses” to become “kick-ass princesses”. Carrie brought so much that even one my daughter has her name inspired by the name of the Organa princess.
But little knew, and I knew little, about what Carrie has been going through during all these years. In all her majesty and highness, she put words and a friendly face on mental health, reminding everyone the true cost of living with bipolar depression and its toll by seeking addictive behavior. She taught us how mental illness is not some caprices, some imaginary disease to seek attention or some condition that you simply “get over it”.
Carrie also posed as a remarkable script doctor, making sure dialogues were properly in place and without hesitation correcting them (there is a floating script of TESB Star Destroyer scene with her comments all over that made this peculiar sequence unique).
I had hope she will survive her condition, but no one on Earth can tell you if you can survive or not. I can tell you the statistics, the odds of survivals, the risk factors but no one can tell if you will survive and recover.
Farewell, your Highness 😦

[Sci-Fi/Star Wars] Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (85%)

Last week came Rogue One, the first movie inspired by Star Wars that is set aside the series canon, kind of a free electron bridging the gaps between two episodes. Big expectations, risk of big disappointment but also big hopes marked that 12-months waiting period between Episode VII that was fairly good and Episode VIII due to theaters by the end of 2017.
After some conflicting schedules and weather increments that restrained me to watch it upon its release day, I was able to catch it up and watch it although not in the best condition (this is why you should never try to book a seat at the last minute!). Here is my review and feedback.

**********************ENTERING THE SPOILERS ALERT ZONE******************

My first big disappointment was the opening sequence. It starts with the classical sentence “A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away”. You expect to hear John Williams opening theme and the classical Star Wars followed by the yellow scrolling abstract setting the tone of this part. Nope, you are just into action straight out from the Hyperspace.
It starts with a descent into the planet Lah’mu, filmed in Icelandic location near Myrdalssandur. Thats give a very dense gray and black tones that sets the tone of this movie: it will be dark and gloomy.
It introduces us to Galen (Madds Mikkelsen, the brain behind the Death Star), Lyra (Valene Kane, Galen’s wife), and Jyn (Felicity Jones, daughter of Galen and Lyra and one key element of the Rogue One team). As Jyn plays, Orson Krennic (head of the Imperial Weapons Development program, played by Ben Mendelssohn) arrive with his praetorian black Stormtroopers. You have to admit, the black color makes the stormtroopers look rad! Jyn flees upon her father’s order into a secret hideout, only to be saved by Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whittaker).
I am not very familiar with Saw Gerrera (except his armor looks a lot like a Fallout T-51 power armor) because I kept myself away from the expanded Star Wars Universe and the animated series such as Clone Wars (with the exception of the seasons covering the timelines between Episode II and Episode III) and Star Wars Rebels. However, if you have followed the animated series, you should be familiar with the series.
Then I found things got messed up. We get introduced to the other part of the skeleton crew that will form the Rogue One team without any logical sequence and it will take a good 30 minutes before you can connect the dots together.
First, we are introduced to Bodhi Rook (played by Riz Ahmed), a defected Imperial pilot, that comes into the Jedha planet and taken to Gerrera by one of Gerrera’s henchman. Suddenly we are transported into another story and another location and introduced to Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) and introduced to adult Jyn (15 years separates the attack on Lah’Mu and the present time), let rotting in an Imperial detention center.
Jyn got freed by Cassian, allowing us to get introduced to K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial robot that have a good sense of sarcasm and humor (something a bit similar to Futurama’s Blender, but with a less explicit mouth). Following her release, Jyn is brought to Yavin IV and bring us back to the original Star Wars lore. This was the first big bluff to see Mon Mothma, a remarkable copycat copy of the original Caroline Blakinston (Return of the Jedi) this time played by Genevieve O’Reilly. Also the surprising presence of Bail Organa gives this little easter egg that helps binding between the prequels (I,II and III) and the original trilogy. It is a nice one but also create one of the many conundrums in Star Wars logic. He is on Yavin IV almost the full period of the movie and almost like a stupid move go to die vaporized on Alderaan. Such little details like this are the same one that undermined this movie.
During this meeting, Mon Mothma instruct Cassian and Jyn to get in contact with Gerrera in Jedha, as Gerrera (leader of a guerrilla fighting off the presence of Imperial troops in Jedha) is hostile to anyone trying to get in touch with him. As a sidetone Cassian is also briefed that his next mission will consist of killing Galen. This is an interesting development in the story arc. The Rebel Alliance was always presented as a faction with a certain sanctity, killing only stormtroopers and Imperial forces by necessity during battles. This mission sounds more like an extrajudicial killing and smears on the white sheet that the Rebel Alliance draped in the original trilogy. This is also emphasized later in the expedition on Jedha with the terrorism act committed on an Imperial convoy in Jedha (from Gerrera’s liberation guerrilla) resulting not only in several civilian casualties but also in the ultimate collective punishment. These two aspects are highly echoing the Syrian conflict in which propaganda from both sides of the conflict are trying to minimize their atrocities in their quest for victory, only resulting in civilians (taken in the middle of the cross-fire) to pay the heaviest price of all: complete destruction. The destruction of Jedha by the Death Star is also highly symbolic of the abusive superpowers forces to bow down their enemies by targeting their civilian populations: American (WW2 German carpet bombing of major cities like Hamburg, Berlin or Dresden; Vietnam), Russian (carpet bombing of Chechnya’s Grozny; Syria’s Aleppo), German (Paris bombing during the 1870 war; WW1’s Somme and Northeastern France bombing; Spain’s Guernica campaign; WW2’s London bombing campaign…..).
As Jyn meets finally her former savior (Gerrera), we finally get the crystallization and reach finally a semblance of narrative after a hodgepodge series of sequences that resulted in a very messy and chaotic introduction to Rogue One team. As this point, we have a skeleton crew of what I would call misfits but completely dedicated members: Jyn, Cassian,  K-2SO, Bodhi, Chirrup Imwe (played by Donnie Wen, a blind monk-warrior strongly believing in the force) and Baze Malbus (played by Jiang Wen,  mercenary harboring a laser Gatling and Imre BFF).
This encounter is only short-lived as Krennic decides to test-fire the Death Star on Jedha.
This was some mind-blowing sequence in the movie: first, it was an impressive moment to see Peter Cushing raised back from the dead thanks to modern CGI (it also shows how we are coming far from The Matrix Reloaded Playstationesque VFX). It was also some “shock and awe” moment to see the Death Star blowing up the planet in a death that was slow and painful: unlike the immediate blow of Alderaan as depicted in Episode IV, it is slow enough (maybe a good 10-15 mins) to have the population assist to their own death without any chance to escape it. Suddenly, the memorable quote from Obi-Wan Kenobi before the arrival in the Alderaan system takes its true meaning. However, this also creates another conundrum as Alderaan explosion does not make sense anymore. This is where an update of this scene can significantly gain in its impact. The silly moment is certainly Gerrera standing in the collapsing Jedha although he could have fled. Facing death in Sci-Fi movies is the hallmark of spaceship captains, not some revolutionaries.
The movie then take us to us to Eadu in which Cassian is appointed to kill Galen but also highlights on the logistical mess that the Rebel Alliance (and often most rebel groups and resistance) is. It is one of the darkest and gloomiest sequence (also marked by the photography) by several aspects: Krennic’s cold-blood execution of engineers following Galen’s leak to rebels, the death of Galen in Jyn’s hand allowing only few second to reunite with Jyn after 15 years before dying in her arms.
The end of the second third of the movie is marked by a sequence full of references: a volcano planet (Mustafar?) that holds a dark Sith castle, a bacta tank (TESB anyone?) with a severely malmed individual in it. It brings Darth Vader in a short sequence, just teasing for the final sequence.
The final third of the movie is made to recover the Death Star plan located on Scarif planet (filmed in the Maldives island), a paradise planet that will become an apocalyptic hell. It is one of the greatest battles that I even see: First it points out the lack of the Rebel Alliance readiness to fight off the Empire. Second it demonstrate that the Rebel Alliance lacks any maturity in the decision-making and leadership, a feature that undermine many failed revolutions. Third, it combines both the Episode’s V battle of Hoth (with a strong feeling of the D-Day Normandy assault as depicted in the “The Longest Day” ) and episode’s VI galactic battle of Endor. Fourth, this battle concluded in a “bad ending” scenario. No Naboo fest, No Endor fest, no ceremony…….None of the Rogue One members survive, with Jyn and Cassian’s seeing their own fate unfolding with the explosion of the planet, displayed by a giant atomic mushroom that vaporize them. Finally, we have a sneak peek of Darth Vader coming in full rage, slashing through rebels in a Tantive-like vessel as never seen before. We are lead to speculate that this is the same vessels than Princess Leia but only figure out that it was a diversion as an escape shuttle jump to hyperspace to give the information to Princess Leia. This is also a side of the movie that was disturbing: a CGI Carrie Fisher rejuvenated by 40 years, making the direct link to Episode IV.
This is also creating a major conundrum in the canon: we have another feeling of incoherency that marked the first third part of the movie. It felt Leia just dropped in as a convenience. It also raises the credibility of the Rebel Alliance to face the Galactic Empire immediately after being smashed on Scarif.
Overall, Rogue One is way better that any prelogy chapters. It has some good vibes of the Empires Strikes Back but still not reach A New Hope. It somehow looks better  than Return of the Jedi but fare below a New Hope. Also if you are fond of the Jedi mythos (I honestly does not give a care about the Jedi/Sith mumbo-jumbo in general), you will be disappointed. But if you want to see great Sci-Fi features (aliens, spaceships and lasers) you will be in heaven.

[Comics/Movies/Mangas/Videogames] Ama-Con 2016 #AMAcon16

Today was the first day of the Amarillo Comic-Con (#AMAcon16) also known as Ama-Con 2016. What makes that comic-con special? It is held and organized by the Amarillo Public Library. Who said that a public library has to be bored? I found this is a very nice way to have kids interested to read, to read anything because reading matter. Comics, mangas or novels, reading is best. It is also bringing some fun in Yellow City and it is a great getaway for the kids and have them pose with their favorite heroes cosplayed by motivated persons that spend a good amount of time and skills to get their costume sets. Some are super-impressive and I have to admit I felt a bit jealous to see how some folks are talented in costume crafting.

A nice thing about the Ama-Con is you have different sessions ongoing, between wandering around booths and buying some stuff (yeah I finally put my hand on some Saint Seiya stuff, I purchased a Mexican knock-off of Sirento Siren for those who knows from the Poseidon saga) but there were also some retrogaming tables with TVs and consoles plugged in (personal attack: I was fairly disappointed by the absence of any SEGA machines. SEGA does what Nintendon’t), coloring workshops and also some projections.
I attended two projections between the two busy days.
The first one (and the most heart wrenching) was the documentary “Thank you for playing” by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall retracing the story behind the game “That Dragon, Cancer“created by Amy and Ryan Green, parents of Joel, an one-year old child suffering from a pediatric brain tumor. It was definitely emotional because of my point of view as a scientist and my exposure to brain tumors via some collaborations.
It is hard to watch it because you know as a father and as a scientist  what does it means and what are the odds of beating off that disease. The documentary is like an adventure game, where you have a quest, faces dead-ends and decision-making. I will spoil the game but I will not play it because I fear I could not tolerate the story. You see, the author explains that we see video games as an escape pod of our daily lives. But as I feel from the author, it helped the Dad in it to cope with his son condition and use this vector as a catharsis for his emotions and feelings. It is an example of how video games have been matured and are now more than just simply leisure activity but can help put words and actions into emotions and maybe help other parents deal with the same situation.
The second one was more cheerful (but also shortened up, due to some technical glitches) was a documentary about “Cosplay: building a secret identity“. This documentary was filming and following persons that make a living out of their hobbies and their talent in cosplaying. I am a very novice in the field but you had apparently some big names in the field and have some cameos like Grant Imahara (Mythbusters) describing his idea of cosplay, but also other average people showing their passions and dedications. One of them was this mommy cosplayer that has been cosplaying as Miranda from Mass Effect 2. Honestly, it was fairly impressive to see “an amateur” being able to reproduce a virtual costume into reality.
It is simply amazing to see how many have being doing it purely from a “self-taught” and didactic point of view, without attending any art schools of having a B.A. and still almost play equals with seasoned and trained persons that make this for a living.
In my culture, being a nerd is considered taboo and almost a sign of mental disorder. You are expected to show virility and a form of machoism in your daily life. If you are still nurturing any form of culture (taste of music, hobbies…..), you are considered as immature and not-serious.
Yet, I feel my nerdiness is part of my social fabric, as part of being a scientist. Seeing how the cosplay is a well-accepted hobby in the US, with kids and grown-ups alike, even grown-grown-ups having a skin in the game, being a sort of relieving activity. This weekend I finally decided to take the dive in, building my first cosplay with my modest means and my blatant lack of handcrafting skills.
I have uploaded some pictures I have taken during the two days of the convention. I am not an expert, all where taken with my iPhone in a snap, asking the interested persons if they would not mind a picture taken.

[Movies] Gunnar Hansen (1947-2015)

Today is a sad day for the horror community. Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen left us today. For me he is the iconic “Leatherface” villain, the guy with the chainsaw that made “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” unique and disturbing,
You have to watch the first introductory sequence in which he bludgeoned his first victim, bring the convulsive body inside the backroom and slammed shut the door. Craziness at its best, no other actors brought the credibility and the disturbance of “Leatherface” as good as him.
RIP “Leatherface” 😦