Movie Review: Lightyear (2022)


Title: Lightyear
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Director: Angus MacLane
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Lightyear is a spinoff that likely didn’t need to exist, but as a fan of Pixar animation and the Toy Story movies in particular, I feel duty-bound to watch it.  Personally, I’d rather see a movie about the lives of the puppets on the 1950s Sheriff Woody TV show.  At any rate, Lightyear offers nods to what we know about the toy Buzz Lightyear, but the action-movie character Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) has a story that’s largely unique.  In fact, the movie Buzz Lightyear’s story is so unique it’s hard to believe the premise that this was the movie that Andy watched in 1995.  This is a small thing though, because the movie with 2022 sensibilities is more interesting than if they tried to make it a retro-1995 type of media.

The story focuses on Lightyear serving as a Space Ranger on a exploration vehicle that due to his own error gets stranded on an inhospitable planet.  Lightyear serves as a test pilot for a new hyperdrive but due to time dilation when he returns from every one of his four minute flights, four years have passed for his companions on the planet.  Buzz sees his commander and close friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) age, marry, have children and grandchildren, and ultimately die.  Upon returning from his final, successful test flight he finds the planet under attack by robots, and must team up with a ragtag crew including Alisha’s granddaughter Izze (Keke Palmer), the cowardly Mo (Taika Waititi), the elderly convict Darby (Dale Soules), and his delightful robotic cat companion Sox (Peter Sohn) to defeat the evil robots.

Lightyear is charming, funny, action-filled, and has a certain weirdness that justifies its existence as a movie.  On the other hand, it suffers in comparison to the Toy Story series.  It feels like a cash grab and yet it probably would’ve done better artistically and commercially as its own original story as opposed to being a spinoff to something else.  All that being said, this is a fine film and I’m sure many families and children will enjoy it.

Rating: ***

TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)


Title Obi-Wan Kenobi
Release Date: 2022
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner:  Deborah Chow
Episodes: 6
Production Company:  Lucasfilm
Summary/Review:

The Star Wars franchise has a way of defying my expectations for good or for ill.  There are some things I eagerly anticipated seeing that ended up being rather bad (The Phantom Menace, The Rise of Skywalker).  Then there are things that I originally questioned why they needed to be made that turned out to be among the best Star Wars works ever (Rogue One, The Mandalorian).

When I heard there would be a show about Obi-Wan Kenobi set between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars, I didn’t really think that there was any good story to be told during that time.  Then the news that Hayden Christensen was cast to return as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, I wondered what the point was since he’d be behind a mask and voiced by James Earl Jones.  Well, all of my questions were answered to my satisfaction and beyond in this series that really delves into some of the most compelling characters in the Star Wars universe.

For all the flaws of the prequels, it did have some talented actors with Ewan McGregor among this best.  This show allows McGregor to flourish as he portrays the Jedi master dealing with guilt and isolation as he’s separated himself from the Force while watching over they young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely).  Christensen, who was criminally underserved by the poor scripts in the prequel, gets to show off his acting chops as well.  Newcomer Moses Ingram appears as Reva Sevander, a Force-sensitive Inquisitor working for the Empire to hunt down Jedi, also does a great job.

Of course, the best part of this series was a huge surprise and I’m going to hide it below the trailer in case you’ve read this far but don’t want to see spoilers.

Continue reading “TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)”

Book Review: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki


Author: Ryka Aoki
Title: Light From Uncommon Stars
Narrator: Cindy Kay
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio, 2021
Summary/Review:

Shizuka Satomi is a world-renown violin instructor who has made a deal with a demon to trade the souls of 7 violin prodigies for success.  She has one more soul to collect and has returned home to Southern California to find a likely candidate.

Lan Tran is a starship captain who has escaped a galactic war with her family, and now operate a doughnut shop as their cover.

Katrina Nguyen is a teenage transgender girl who has run away to Los Angeles from her abusive family and supports herself making YouTube videos.  She also plays the violin.

Somehow not only are all these characters in the same novel, but their interactions create a heartfelt human story that transcends genres. Shizuka and Lan meet, share their strange histories, and strike up a romance. And of course, Shizuka takes on Katrina as her student, and yet treats her with such tenderness that it’s hard to believe she plans to sell Katrina’s soul to the Devil.

And that only scratches the surface of the brilliant, warm, funny, and creative novel!

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Time After Time (1979)


Title: Time After Time
Release Date: September 28, 1979
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Production Company: Orion Pictures
Summary/Review:

Time After Time is one of those movies I always liked as a child when it was frequently shown on tv. I was wondering how well it would hold up and I’m pleasantly surprised that it does.  The movie tells the story of 19th century author and futurist H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) inventing an actual time machine.  When showing off the machine to a party of fellow intellectuals, it is revealed that one of his guests is actually Jack the Ripper (David Warner).

The Ripper steals the time machine, and Wells follows him into the future arriving in San Francisco in 1970.  To Wells’ horror, the future is not the utopia he dreamed of but a place where the scale of violence is such that Jack claims he’s an “amateur.” While attempting to track down Jack the Ripper and prevent more murders, Wells forms a romantic relationship with bank employee Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen).

The movie does a really great job of blending together several genres – time travel science fiction, fish-out-of-water comedy, romance, and crime thriller.  Like a lot of time travel stories there are plot elements that don’t hold up to much scrutiny, but can be easily hand-waved away. This movie also has a great font of quirky trivia associated with it, such as:

  • Director/screenwriter Nicholas Meyer also wrote the script for another movie where time travelers arrive in present-day San Francisco, have a lot of fish-out-of-water comic experiences, and one of the time travelers forms a romantic relationship with a contemporary woman who ends up joining the time traveler.  That movie, of course, is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
  • Mary Steenburgen appeared in yet another movie where she falls in love with a time traveler and leaves to go with him, Back to the Future III.
  • Speaking about the Back to the Future franchise, the date on which Marty arrives in the past is November 5, which is that same date that H.G. Wells arrives in San Francisco.
  • Finally, Cyndi Lauper saw the title of this film in TV Guide and used it to write one of her classic ballads.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2021

Other Books Read By The Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Lesser Evil completes the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy of books that deal with our favorite Chiss military tactician’s early career. Thrawn must defend the Chiss Ascendency from dangerous outside threats as well as civil war breaking out among the ruling families. Jixtus, an agent of a mysterious people called the Grysk Hegemony, was behind the attacks on the Chiss described in the earlier books, but now is ready to face Thrawn in battle.  Thrawn must ally with an alien race and work against his own military, political, and family leaders to find a way to defend the Ascendancy against the more powerful Grysky warships.

The great thing about Zahn’s books is that they long ago stopped being about just Thrawn.  There are a rich collection of characters her including Thrawn’s mentor General Ar’alani, ship captain Samakro (who Marc Thompson voices to sound like Jack Nicholson), the young “sky-walker” or ship’s navigator Che’ri and her caregiver Thalias (both of whom have Force sensitivity which is key to the plot), an alien navigator-for-hire named Qilori (drink everytime that Qilore’s winglets twitch!), and in flashbacks, Thrawn’s friend Thrass who has the political acumen that Thrawn lacks.  I confess that I lose track of the many characters and plots, but nevertheless I do find it incredibly engaging to read.  And the book ends perfectly setting up the events at the beginning of Thrawn.

Rating: ****

 

Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)


Title: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Release Date: March 25, 2022
Director: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Production Company: AGBO | Ley Line Entertainment | IAC Films | Year of the Rat
Summary/Review:

I haven’t seen a ton of Michelle Yeoh’s work but I’m always impressed by her and I’m pleased to see her in this movie that is already being hailed as one of the best of the year.  It feels particularly groundbreaking to have a science fiction/action/comedy blockbuster center on a middle-aged Chinese immigrant woman who’s basically having a mid-life crisis.  Evelyn (Yeoh) is seeing her marriage to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, most famous as the child star of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) crumble, her relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) strained, and her relationship with her father Gong Gong (James Hong), recently arrived from China, was never particularly good in the first place.  On top of this, the family laundromat business is failing and under an audit by the IRS.

When the family go to meet with IRS inspector Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis, who I didn’t even recognize until I saw her name in the credits), strange things begin to happen.  Evelyn learns that she is a significant figure in the multiverse and has to use the talents from the parallel universe versions of herself to fight a grave threat to all of existence.  I don’t want to give away many details of this movie, but it is a story that works on many levels: a family drama, an absurdist comedy, an existentialist debate, and a martial arts action film.  Somehow this is a movie where the lowbrow humor of fight involving butt plugs can exist side by side with a scene in which a couple of rocks can make me want to cry.

I’m not going to say anything more, but I believe Everything Everywhere All At Once has earned all the praise it is getting and if you haven’t seen it, make plans to see it now!

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Free Guy (2021)


Title: Free Guy
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Director: Shawn Levy
Production Company: Berlanti Productions | 21 Laps Entertainment | Maximum Effort | Lit Entertainment Group | TSG Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) doesn’t know that he lives in a video game as a non-playing character (NPC), and seems content with living in a city where violent crime is routine.  The game, Free City, is a product from the company of melomaniac Antwan (Taika Waititi).  Game developer Millie (Jodie Comer) enters the game to seek out her source code that she believes Antwan stole from her, sometimes with the help of her former partner Keys (Joe Keery of Stranger Things fame). Meeting Millie prompts Guy to become more self-aware and evolve as an artificial life form, prompting a revolution among the NPCs.

I won’t go too much more into the plot as it’s one of those plots that gets too convoluted and doesn’t make much sense if you think of it too much.  The premise of this movie reminds me of The LEGO Movie and The Truman Show, but not so much that it doesn’t stand on its own. The real point of this movie is to see the charming Ryan Reynolds do action, comedy, and romance which he does well, and it features enough fun gags to make it worth the watch.   I was also interested in seeing Free Guy because I remember when it was being filmed in Boston.  Boston looks good as a video game setting and it was especially unnerving to see familiar Boston landscapes disintegrating in one scene.

Rating:***

Comics Review: Star Wars (2020- )


Title:  The Destiny Path
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: November 10, 2020
Writer(s): Charles Soule
Penciller(s): Jesús Saiz
Letterer(s): Clayton Cowles

Star Wars comics picks up from the previous run with stories set after The Empire Strikes Back. If you always assumed that Boba Fett immediately delivered Han Solo frozen in carbonite to Jabba the Hutt, you will also surprised that there were some challenges on his journey.  Also, Luke, Leia, and Lando return to Cloud City (under Imperial control), each looking for something. I kind of felt that unlike the earlier comics series where the stories seemed to be probable adventures of our favorite Rebels between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, that this is more of an attempt to retcon Star Wars.  But we shall see where it goes next.


Title:  Operation Starlight
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: April 6, 2021[
Writer(s): Charles Soule
Penciller(s): Ramon Rosanas, Jan Bazaldua
Letterer(s): Clayton Cowles

The Rebel Alliance is scattered across the galaxy and can’t communicate without being discovered by the Empire.  The solution may be found in an ancient droid and Lando’s henchman Lobot!  The series also introduces and interesting new antagonist in Imperial Commander Ellian Zahra, although I suppose her days are numbered since she never appears in Return of the Jedi. This is another good but not great Star Wars comics collection.


 

Title:  War of the Bounty Hunters
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: December 28, 2021[
Writer(s): Charles Soule
Penciller(s): Ramon Rosanas,
Letterer(s): Clayton Cowles

This Star Wars story kind of feels like something I would’ve come up with my Kenner action figures as a kid.  What if frozen Han Solo is stolen and is involved a big game of keepaway among Boba Fett, the Rebel Alliance, the Hutts, Qi’ra and the Crimson Dawn, and the Imperials lead by Darth Vader himself.  It’s the ultimate ludicrous crossover story, but kind of fun in a way.

Movie Review: Fantastic Planet (1973)


Title: Fantastic Planet
Release Date: 11 May 1973
Director: René Laloux
Production Company: Les Films Armorial | Ceskoslovenský Filmexport
Summary/Review:

Fantastic Planet is an animated film that seems made for late-night showings to an audience stoned of its gourd.  The movie is set and the planet Ygam where the dominant species are  the giant, blue, humanoid Traags.  They share the planet with the descendants of humans from Earth who are known as Oms.  Some Oms are kept as pets by Traags, but most live in the wild and are considered vermin to be exterminated by the Traags.

The story focuses on an Om named Terr who is adopted as an infant by a young Traag named Tiwa.  He is able to escape with her instructional headset and use it to share Traag knowledge with the colonies of wild Oms.  Using this knowledge, the Oms are able to begin to fight back and attempt to leave the planet.  The movie can be read as a metaphor for many things – racism, genocide, animal rights, or even the forces of nature.  The movie felt longer than its 71 minute run time and has a disappointing deus ex machina resolution, so this is less of a socio-political message and more of just a journey into the weird.

The pencil-sketch animation style reminded me of something I saw on children’s shows in the 1970s such as the “Pinball Number Count” on Sesame Street. The fanciful settings and the jazz funk fusion music are eerily similar.  I give it points for its visual imagination and funky grooves, but not much else.

Rating: ***