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Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Star Wars

I don't think there has ever been such a massive blockbuster as this since... The Phantom Menace. I would like to do movie reviews for my blog and I will do so today, but I will also delve a bit deeper into it and talk generally about Star Wars and how it has affected my life.

So if you want a short review, here it is: it's a Star Wars movie. A real one. Anyone who has watched Star Wars understands what I mean when I say a real one. It's a 4/5 rating from me.* Take a bow, Lawrence Kasdan.

If you want to read something more personal, and a bit more of a deep, meaty, anal-sis on the movie and the franchise, read on. 

Off to a good start already, eh?
Fair warning, the blog is called The Red Ramble. If you don't like long, rambling posts...

So I watched Star Wars VII. I really wanted to say that it was the most disappointing thing since my son, but it wasn't, really. a few minutes into the movie I realised that this is actually the first time that I've watched Star Wars in the cinema.

You see, I wasn't born yet when the original trilogy kicked off. My first experience of Star Wars was when I was five, six years old I think, and I watched it on VHS, and I was too poor to afford to watch the prequel trilogy on the big screen. I watched poor quality bootleg VCDs of em instead.There's just something about Star Wars that fascinates everyone, and I don't think anyone has ever really been able to put their finger on why.

Let the Force sleep, you fucks! Five more minutes won't kill it!
Well, Star Wars is just a good story, really. RedLetterMedia's Mr Plinkett sums it well - it's about a young farmboy who goes on an adventure and defeats an evil space empire with his weird LGBT friends. 

You know, a good old-fashioned story? No gimmicks, no frills. There's also an innocent charm to the movies, which makes them timeless. The first two films, A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, are pure movie magic. The third one, well... we'll get to that.

I have ever only had two pieces of Star Wars merchandise. A little toy AT-AT, and a plastic model of the Battle of Hoth. I cherish them fondly, but I've never sought out Star Wars toys, even as a child. The aforementioned two were gifts.

I've always stayed away from Star Wars products and I suppose I've never been able to articulate why until I got older. Put bluntly, Star Wars products are terribly whorish. You know what I'm talking about. You can get anything in a Star Wars themed package, this has been true for years. From sexy halloween costumes to a Darth Vader mask.

To me, the wonderment, joy and innocence of the first two Star Wars movies often butts heads with the franchise's massive product line. On one hand you got this great science fantasy adventure and after you turn the movie off, you're slapped right in the fucking face with a huge dose of cynical cash-grab products.

Now, if you like the Star Wars merchandise, I'm happy for you, it's just not my thing. In my opinion however, they just don't sit well. Return of the Jedi, the third film of the franchise was good, but the cynical, pandering element was starting to show a bit. I feel a bit of an asshole saying this because Return of the Jedi is actually my favorite of all seven movies, but shit, it has problems. Nothing's perfect.


Or rather, not everything can be Empire Strikes Back.

You want to know what isn't Empire Strikes Back? The prequel trilogy. I was very excited about the prequels, and as a young boy, I enjoyed them very much. But something felt off. It didn't feel... well, it didn't feel like Star Wars.

I couldn't find out what was wrong until I matured around my 20s, and then I hated them. They were what I hated about Star Wars merchandise. Whorish, forced, and pretty fucking terrible. 

The Empire Strikes Back remains the strongest of the Star Wars movies. A 5/5.
With that out of the way I suppose we should talk about the new movie a bit. So uh, spoilers beyond this point.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

You complain about spoilers after this point, you can go fuck yourself. 

Just in case you forgot what this post is about.
So there I was, watching the Star Wars for the first time in the cinema. The screen lit up. "A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away..." Then the scrolling text...

I have to admit, I teared up a bit. Things from your childhood can cut your pretty deep like that. It's the Star Wars everybody, Star Wars' is back. It felt like watching the first Star Wars for the first time. That feeling that you're on the edge of something momentous.

Okay, that was the same feeling I felt when I was watching the Phantom Menace for the first time. The grown up part of my brain did remind me of that a few seconds later, yeah. Anyway, the film starts, and it's the most Star Wars thing ever.

Star Wars has always been famous for their opening shots. This one is right up there with A New Hope's. The spectre of the Empire looming over a planet or a moon or whatever. I was smiling at that point.

And then Stormtroopers attack. And then someone hides a thing in a droid, called BB8, which I hate. I thought it looked stupid. BB8 did win me over later though, with his adorable antics, so whatever, you win, movie.

This time...

Anyway, back to someone putting things in droids. My smile faded a bit at that. I realised what I was looking at now. See, the original trilogy is all about wonderment, innocence, adventure. The prequel trilogy was  full of cynicism, incoherence, and nonsense. 

Star Wars VII achieves total balance with both aspects. Hear me out here. Let's face it: we didn't need a seventh Star Wars movie. The last movie didn't leave a good taste in the mouth and really we as an audience should know better than to feed the machine.

But props to the marketing crew - this is probably the most hyped movie of all time. Advertising and marketing students should really study the hype work on this film.

Return of the Jedi finished things well chronologically. Darth Vader was redeemed, Han Solo was saved, The evil empire was defeated. Good. Walk away now. The story is over. But NOPE, Nobody can leave anything alone anymore

So after the shitstorm that was the prequels, how were they going to treat this cash cow? Well, they tried slapping fans with two hour ads for toys and various product - worked swimmingly commercially but the PR front was a shambles.

The Luke - Vader confrontation made this movie worth it.
So okay, let's write a proper Star Wars story, and then lets slap some cynical fan service that will sell toys. This was very apparent within the first ten minutes of the film. They did the Star Wars thing, and then they slapped us with an almost beat-for-beat story of A New Hope. Carrot, stick. Now buy the BB8 toy you stupid fucks.

That's what the movie felt like to me. It's a good movie, lets not take that away from it. But every time a pointless scene cuts in - with no significance to the plot but with heavy significance to long time fans, it feels like a punch to the gut. I would say it's very manipulative.

Here's another example. I really like the introduction of Rey. She's in a Star Destroyer and then she slides down the dunes, and there's zero background music. It really sells you the notion that this is an alien world.
Star Wars VII was very much like Star Wars IV

Then they cut to a wide shot of the dunes with moisture evaporators and I think two suns.

Pow.

We made it a point that this wasn't Tatooine but here, have some Tatooine fanservice anyway! There's another big one when Finn accidentally turns on the fucking space chessboard. For fuck's sake. Enough with the fucking nostalgia trips already.

Make your own iconic moments, god damn it.

That said... it's still a good movie, stupid fanservice notwithstanding. You get a clear idea on character motivations and you do feel for the characters. There was a cute thing that I didn't expect from this movie though. Rey was giving directions to BB8 about avoiding quicksand.

Then Finn and Poe's TIE fighter lands on it. Cute! The scene was set up before time, it didn't just happen. Cool. There are very very good action scenes that establish character and character development. There is a very effective scene between Finn and Poe in the TIE fighter that is both meaningful on an emotional level and a thematic level, all done in a very short time while they're dogfighting in space.

It's no prequel film, guys. It's still very, very good.

Not Red Leader.
But allow me to talk more about things that I didn't like about the film. Because being a nitpicky asshole on the Internet is fun!

The 'Light' Side

I always hated the Expanded Universe for this bullshit. Yeah, there's a Dark Side, so there must be a Light Side, right?

I'm going to politely disagree here. The Force is called The Force because it is essentially everything in balance. Life creates it, makes it grow. It's in everyone and everything. The Force is inherently neutral and balanced. It is harmony over dominion.

The Force is the whole thing. It's not part of a whole. It is the whole. If it was one half, killing the bad guys would disturb the balance. Even the Emperor senses disturbances in The Force. The Dark Side is not one side of The Force, hence there is no 'Light Side'. The Dark Side is just a perversion of The Force. It is dominion over harmony.

But nope now Disney has jumped into the Light Side nonsense with two feet. Eh, whatever, it's just a movie. It's just an excuse for me to bitch about things.

The Villains

I'm a big fan of Gwendoline Christie. I really like her as Brienne of Tarth, and I thought her in the role as Phasma was interesting, and I actually liked the character, it looked cool, and it was menacing, almost like Boba Fett.

Her acting wasn't flat, but by the end of the movie, her character was.
The only thing of note that she does is getting thrown down a thrash compactor. HER ONLY REASON FOR EXISTENCE WAS TO MAKE A REFERENCE TO A NEW HOPE.

Also she's on Game of Thrones and casting an actress from that series gives you instant nerd cred.

I understand General Hux's character. The Galactic Empire is modelled after Nazi Germany, and General Hux giving the big speech on the new Death Star fit the mold perfectly. He's no Grand Moff Tarkin or General Veers, though. They had more nuance than Hux's only dimension - shouting.

Kylo Ren is a big fucking pussy. And this really just.. 

Well, it doesn't make for a great antagonist. He just comes up as a massive fucking child rather than as this indomitable antagonist.

When your antagonist is basically a bitch, it robs the tension away from the film.

Black Leader

The only little reference I ever wanted from this movie was the "all wings, check in" scene.

Fuck you, movie!

And while we're on that train..

Where are the bombers?

Visually, the Death Star battle in this film is superior to A New Hope's. But it carries little substance. In A New Hope they had a whole plan using the Y-Wings to bomb the Death Star. The Y-Wings were the Rebellion's bomber craft.

Luke's heroism stems from him taking up the task of the bombers because everyone was being picked off. Luke stepped up, used The Force, and got shit done. 

But nope, in this film apparently both sides forgot to bring their bombers. (I thought there would be TIE bombers when the Stormtroopers called for an airstrike on Jakku, didn't happen). All dogfights start to look the same after a while and I found myself getting bored at times.

Kylo Ren's Lightsaber

You know, I don't mind it. I thought the design wasn't the best and lacked substance, but I think it justified itself in that one scene where Kylo Ren uses the hilt to injure Finn. This is very Sithy. The Emperor used lightning bolts to torture Luke. Kylo Ren does something similar here. Inflicting pain is an act of dominance and dominance is the hallmark of the Dark Side. Works! Good job, JJ!

Plot Convenience


Kylo Ren interrogates Rey simply to show the audience that Rey is strong in The Force. Hey idiots! You do have mind probes right? You don't wanna take this from A New Hope too? You might as well, god damn it, you took the fucking moisture evaporators!

Also in an earlier scene Han Solo tells Finn to keep the blaster. TEN MINUTES LATER HE SAYS HE HAS NO WEAPON.

But how else were they going to have a lightsaber battle?

For fuck's sake.

C3P0's Red Hand

They just changed the color of one hand so they could sell a different looking C3P0 toy, all right?

Afterword

I do realise that I am being very hard on certain parts of the movie but I would like to stress that this movie really isn't bad. I've chosen to home in on the cynical parts of the movie because it's something that has always bothered me with Star Wars. The one hand has this grand epic adventure with a lot of heart, the other is a commercial monster than wants nothing but your money.

For the most part, The Force Awakens makes up for the previous three films we were subjected to.

And it's still a damn sight better than the garbage Star Trek remakes....








*Ratings Score Explained: 1 - Terrible Movie, do not watch. Will make you angry.
2 - Bad Movie, do not watch.
3 - OK Movie - Watch if you have nothing better to do.
4 - Good Movie
5 - You Should Probably Watch This Once in Your Life, It's Pretty Perfect.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Initiate Operation Anfield... again.

Back in the old Red Ramble, I wrote at least two posts about the future of Liverpool FC, the football team I support. Both times, they have been during the arrival of a new manager - the return of King Kenny Dalglish and then a relative unknown in Brendan Rodgers. 

On both occasions, it has been on a hopeful note. At the time of writing, King Kenny lead the team to two cup finals, winning one of them. His return to the throne however proved to be a false dawn, prompting the arrival of Brendan Rodgers from Swansea.

The new boss unleashed a stunning barrage of attacking football in his second season, taking us to 2nd. Unfortunately for us, this stunning barrage of attacking football was equaled by what I'm sure most of us supporters can comfortably call fucking terrible defending.

"If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing." 
-Bill Shankly

 The American owners Tom Werner and John Henry, understandably frustrated at having to bear witness to their team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, began to ponder life without Rodgers, and on October 4 this year, decided, rightly or wrongly (Liverpool were only 6 points behind the league leaders Manchester City at the time) - to pull the trigger.

Liverpool fans are used to walking through storms with their head up high, and four days later welcomed a suitably blood-and-thunder 'heavy metal football' manager famous for his energetic and winning personality, electric gegenpressing style and a big fighting heart.

Insert Americans and soccer joke here
Enter Jurgen Klopp.

Well er, not really. Much has been said about his time in Mainz, and taking the Champions League by storm in Dortmund. We can draw parallels with Shankly and Dalglish and Rafa all we want, the facts remain that the only good reply to such talk is time and results, so let us leave it at that.

But I suppose there is something to talk about the growing cult of Klopp, however. This has been, to my memory, the most excited the Kop has ever been at the signing of a manager.

The club has fed this, quite personally, in a very embarrassing way.

“There is no one anywhere in the world at any stage who is any bigger or any better than this football club.”
-Kenny Dalglish

There is unfortunately - no two ways about this. Liverpool FC has fallen behind. Both to rivals new and old. Manchester United has overtaken us as the most successful English team in terms of league titles won, though we may (and will!) cling to the fact that no other English team has won five European Cups, Manchester's other footballing giant has at long last arisen from the abyss, joining Chelsea as relative newcomers to the title fight, something Liverpool has only seriously managed to achieve twice in the span of a decade, 2008-09 and 14-15.

The other footballing powers are also beginning to gather strength. Tottenham Hotspur seemed eternally on the brink of establishing itself as a top four side, and teams like Southampton, Everton, and Swansea may well join in the party - the Premier League has never been stronger. Spain may boast that they possess the two greatest teams on the planet, but England has the better claim to the most competitive league on earth.

Maybe signing Charlie Adam wasn't a good idea..
Back to Liverpool. There are many factors to the steady (some would argue that the word 'drastic' would be more appropriate) decline of the club and this newfound fan anxiety. The ruinous ownership of Hicks and Gillett, nearly putting the club into administration, was a major contributing factor - you simply do not challenge for trophies when your best players are sold to the highest bidder and the money is not reinvested back into the club - contrary to popular belief, you don't make more with less. You make less with less.

Werner and Henry, while benevolent owners who want to see the club succeed, were woefully inexperienced in the dealings of football. Preferring a moneyball approach to signing players, using statistics, age, and resale value as transfer priorities, they have proven to be at best naive, at worst, willfully ignorant of how football works. Successful passing rates, headers won, and potential counts for nothing in the face of tactics and sheer footballing spirit. Numbers are nice, but as ever, the only statistic that counts in football is the scoreline.

Abandoning the moneyball approach, the club targeted bona fide talents - Mohamad Salah, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez and Juan Cuadrado among them - only to lose them to rival clubs, mostly due to a failure to negotiate a favorable transfer / contract fee. 

I hesitate to fault the owners further. By all means, they are looking to care for the club to the best of their ability, spending responsibly while strengthening the club's financial hand. The spectre of administration should never again darken the Shankly Gates.

For many of us, the club's prestige as the leading team in England, both domestically and on the continent, seems to be disintegrating before our eyes, and the inconsistent league performances, bad signings and the diminished allure in attracting top players drives us insane. No, we say - this situation may be okay for a Spurs or a Newcastle, but we are Liverpool, eighteen league titles, five european cups, etc etc, you know the rest.

I can imagine this feeling is magnified a hundredfold for the folks actually alive to see Liverpool's glory days. Being left in the dark, despite the entreaties of the club anthem, must be frightening indeed.

And so when Jurgen Klopp comes along, young, dashing, geggenpressing and high voltage heavy metal football on the menu, many of us cannot but help grasp the news and cry out that the golden sky at the end of the storm has indeed cometh.

This frenzied exaltation can't be healthy, for the fans or the manager or the team. Disappointment can be crushing, but all of us dare to hope. I will not tell fellow fans to calm down especially when the team seems to have found lost confidence and have been at their very best defensively in quite a while. 

Where Mr Klopp will take us nobody will quite know until the ride's over. But I'm sure, after sporadic spells under the golden sky, we are all longing for the sweet silver song of the lark.  

Let's just not get too carried away, guys..






Thursday, 5 November 2015

Hey look, I can do it too!

So this is my blog. I used to have one by the same name a few years back but was convinced nobody cared, so I deleted it. Apparently some people did care, and after seeing many friends get into (and return to) blogging, I decided that I could probably have another go at it.

Internet: giving everyone the chance to be a hack.

This blog will contain many inane writings by me and other people dumb enough to guest post here. Mainly I will center this space for my opinions on things simple, complex, and  pointless. Like the new Star Wars trilogy I would also like to talk about movies, books, video games, and when I can get a decent camera, even cakes. 

I like cakes.

I devoted an entire paragraph just to say I like cakes. I also went back to this post to edit in a picture of a cake after posting this because why not.

So I guess I should introduce myself by talking about myself but I'll just talk about the things I like and don't like in various forms of media and let the reader form their own impressions. Because I'm lazy and I think you need to put images and links in a blog, I think.

I read it somewhere on the Internet so it must be true.

So..

I LIEK..

Also lets just make up a rule that intentional misspellings are colored orange. Because on the whole, why the fuck not.

Music

I like all sorts of things. The general rule is that it has to sound good. I'm listening to a song by Sonata Arctica as I write this. While I don't really like the stuff they put on radios these days, I consider Macklemore's Thrift Shop to be one of my favorites. I like Lonely Island, they're pretty great most of the time.



At risk of being called a hipster, my current favorites are actually really really old, and I bet you've never heard of them. This song is up there with the rest. I like things that are good, basically. Oh also anything by Cake has always been good.

I like Cake.

Books

FITE ME FGGT
The Silmarillion is pretty much my favorite book by Tolkien. It's pretty hardcore and is essentially a grimoire of badassitude and awesomeness. Terry Pratchett is my favorite writer of all time and I will consider myself fortunate to be half the writer he was. Science-fiction god Dan Abnett is also pretty high up my list of favorite authors, and I follow the Horus Heresy series as close as my wallet and
sanity allows.

Classics are great. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli is something I enjoy. I've also recently finished Louisa May Alcott's book - Little Women, which is a nice, warm fuzzy read. I consider Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas to be something close to my heart.

Film, TV, and Internet Shows

My top three favorite films are probably Pulp Fiction, Apocalypse Now, and The Godfather. Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese are the directors I seem to like most. Probably because I love foul language. (FUCK YEAR)

As far as TV shows go, I like the HBO stuff. Rome is great. The Wire similarly so. Boardwalk Empire is pretty good. I am currently watching the mass murder and randomly appearing stag extravaganza that is Hannibal, which is er, delicious.

I don't have much patience for internet shows and webseries though. But I subscribe and am a big fan of RedLetterMedia. I do keep half an eye on TeamFourStar and If the Emperor had a Text-to-Speech Device.


Video Games

I play video games all the time. When I'm not goofing off on the Internet while listening to music, or watching TV or movies, I play video games. I even play video games while doing the aforementioned things. Video games are great. Greater than cake. And you know how much I like cake.

I like cake.

I really enjoy 80 Days and recently have been trying my hand at Planetbase. My favorite game of all time however is MechWarrior 4: Vengeance because if you don't like giant robots shooting each other then you're wasting my time.

DISLIKE

You are encouraged to read this aloud as loud as you can.


Music

At risk of sounding very pretentious - I have to say I'm not a fan of what the mainstream radio broadcasts. Personally I think it's all a bunch of baboon noises. You can only listen to so many hollow songs about dancing and party until your brain says you're done. 

It's all about dat self preservation folks. I don't want my cause of death to read: "death by ear garbage".

I'd rather it say: "death by cake".

I like cake

Books

I find novelizations adapted from other media to be obnoxious. Particularly if its just made to explain the incomprehensible shit you watched on the screen two weeks ago. I'm sorry, if you took the time to write a whole book to explain your movie or video game then your movie or video game has failed.

Star Wars Expanded Universe stuff are generally terrible and I dislike them. I consider Wolfheart of the Warcraft series and Nemesis of the Horus Heresy series to be the worst books I have ever read. I hate them so much I wrote about it on my blog.

Fuck YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuu

Film, TV, and Internet Shows

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
You know what bad shows don't deserve anything so I'm not going to bother Pointless sequels, remakes, prequels, reimaginings are on the whole something I don't like on my screen. In terms of TV shows, I outright disdain Arrow and have a love-hate relationship with the Big Bang Theory, which I think I will write about one of these days.

I'm smart enough not to give bad internet shows the time of day.



Video Games

I like video games. I don't like certain concepts in the industry though. Pay to win is a terrible thing. DLC, while sometimes a force of good, has become an excuse for developers to create half made games and sell the remainder at stupid prices.

I find Dota 2 and the whole culture surrounding it highly obnoxious, and I have no time for console gaming beyond the PS2. Mostly because I remain unimpressed at what the generations after that had to offer.

The gaming industry now is also more cynical, and I find that a bad thing. I understand great games demand to be expanded into a franchise, but you know. Maybe not turn it into a cash-grab?

I like cake.




You'll see more posts in this blog soon I hope. Bye for now.