Return of the Prequel (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review)

Let me tell you a story from when I was a young lad. A story that always reminds me of the past, but not because it is of my own past, but because it is a story of another history, one of long ago and far away.

I first really and truly watched Star Wars when I was eleven years old. At Christmas time, no less. But I was actually exposed to it in would be one of many common experiences of my childhood. My dad was in the living room on a weekend evening  and I strolled in to find him just in the midst of a Star Wars marathon. I sat down and was enthralled immediately.

An odd kid looking to escape from the doldrums of youth. I had found one of my many happy places. Then again, as I mentioned, the next Christmas I found a box set of Star Wars under the tree with my name on it.

Thus began a lifetime of fandom.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed
Director: Gareth Edwards
released on blu-ray April 4, 2017
********* 9/10

IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, Audience Score 88%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Gareth Edwards is a fairly young director. At age 41 he has directed only three major films. The first was Monsters, an independently made science fiction feature, followed up by the 2014 Godzilla remake, and now, the first of the Star Wars anthology films – Rogue One.

Rogue One is the original Star Wars fan film. It hits all the major heartstrings, while providing enough visual interest to feel different than the the original trilogy – a future that has already happened.

Now, I’m going to do my best not to retell the whole plot of Rogue One, because I think that this story deserves to be seen first rather then read. But I will give you a brief overview out of consideration for what this movie does.

Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) has hidden his family away from the Empire. One day Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) arrives to get assistance in completing the Death Star. In the process Galen’s wife Lyra is killed, Galen is captured, while daughter Jyn escapes and is taken to safety by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Jump forward fifteen years, and Empire cargo pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) has defected, and smuggled a message from Galen to Saw… One that will set forward the next three films in the main Star Wars story. During this story we see adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) meet fellow rebels Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), and Jedha temple monks Chirrut Imwe () and Baze Malbus ().

Cassian is on a mission to kill Galen, and prevent the Death Star from being completed, while Jyn wants to get Bodhi to the Alliance to prove her fathers worth. Because of this conflict Krennic does everything he can to tie up loose ends, destroying cities, killing members of the Empire and Rebel Alliance alike, even gaining the attention of Lord Vader.

In one of the most epic wartime sequences ever, we witness The Battle of Scarif, where the Alliance fights to gain essential intel on the Death Star. There are heavy losses on both sides, but in the end the Rebels gain a victory and set up the beginning of A New Hope – mere moments later.


This is a movie for the fans, made by someone who is a fan of the Star Wars mythology. With direct tie-ins to Episodes I, II, II, IV, and the animated series Rebels, Rogue One is Star Wars. Which probably seems vague, but what I mean is that it is so clearly miming the 1977 Star Wars film, before it became Episode IV, that it can’t help but make us happy. Because it looks new but retains that retro future aesthetic we’ve come to love.

Pros: The fast pacing and limited interactions we get with each character only further demonstrate the impact of war on life, appearing at once fully, and then suddenly gone. It expands upon the universe in a very satisfactory way.

Cons: After the bleakness and the hard won battle are over, you have to wonder if you really experienced anything new at all. Plus where is the charm? Also, I didn’t like Vaders red eyes, like at all.

Runtime: 2 hours 13 minutes

Points of Interest: The Rebel base at Yavin IV features the same kinds of cardboard cutout ships that the original movie did back in 1977. The is the first Star Wars movie to not mention the name of Skywalker in it.

Rogue One is a mad dash to the finish action-adventure film, and one where we know how it all ends. But it’s in the journey that we get to enjoy new characters like Chirrut and Baze, and witness Saw Gerrara as he fits into the mix, as a sort of de-powered Darth Vader.

theories Summarized

In light of my recent Cross Talk episode wherein we discussed movie Easter eggs, I would like to point out that this film is absolutely riddled with them – and some cameos too! Now to be clear, that doesn’t mean that I want to spoil the rest of my review by pointing them all out, but yes, R2-D2 and C-3PO do make a very brief appearance.

Is Rogue One perfect? No, but I can gladly admit that it holds true to canon, is entertaining, and if you are a fan, like the vast majority of the world is at this point, you’ll enjoy it too.


Family Matters (The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody review)

Families are weird. And almost everyone thinks they have the weirdest of all, but let me assure you, they’re dead wrong.

These guys are the weirdest.




The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody
released February 13, 2017
********* 9/10

The Flaming Lips are an American rock band that loves their alternative, experimental, post-punk, psychedelic style, and I don’t expect them to give it up anytime soon.

Also, I’m just going to throw this out there, because I’m quite confident that it’s true. When I hear the songs on this album I can’t help but hear that distinctive Gorillaz sound intermingled in there, which makes me ponder upon the past for a minute or two… The Flaming Lips have been around for the better part of 3 decades, first forming in 1983, right? And Gorillaz only came to be in 1998, a definitive fifteen years later. So they have to have been influenced by The Flaming Lips right?

Which tells you something about me. This is my first Flaming Lips album.

I mean, I know about them. I’ve been fortunate enough to know they’ve made fourteen studio length albums in their career, but I never picked them up, mostly because I wasn’t too sure whether I’d like their sound.

It’s always the surprise albums that take your breath away.

What starts as a rather slow foray into the the fantasy world of castles, unicorns, wizards, frogs, et al. slowly becomes a backdrop for a message about the resurgence of hope. This is because Oczy Mlody, roughly translates to “eyes of the young,” from a Polish phrase these guys found. It makes sense given present company.

Over recent years Miley Cyrus has become something of an unofficial muse for The Flaming Lips. They even helped produce a twenty-three track album called Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz with her back in 2015. So it’s fitting that the old solidify the reputation of the young, and the young provide energy and relevance for the old. Best exemplified in closer track, We A Family, it is here that we get to witness some serious leg stretching on the part of The Flaming Lips.

As a track, it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the album, but is also the best part of it. It serves as an anthem of love, but it also ties all of us together into one big happy metaphor family.

Some of my other favourite tracks are The Castle, a perfect semblance of all that is sow and somber on this album, which is most of it. For instance, James Earl Jones delivers a monologue on unicorns in There Should Be Unicorns. It’s one of the saddest and loneliest space operas I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

I don’t care that Metacritic scored it as a 6.9, most of those reviewers missed the mark here. This is a slowburn which only gets warmer and brighter upon subsequent listens, this I can be sure of.


The Flaming Lips have been experimenting for years, and I wish I had seen them for the loving weirdos they are so much earlier in my art career. Because I would have fit right in with them. And now they’ve managed to make me appreciate Miley Cyrus as the weird sister I never thought I wanted. Through the eyes of the young we are reborn. A beautiful melody indeed. But that’s just a theory right?


Chick Chickadee, Chick Chickadee, Chick Chick Cheree (The Family Tree series)

Sharing is caring.

At least that’s what the old adage says.

It’s an indication that you are choosing to share something, whether physical or otherwise. But recognizing that you care about the person enough to volunteer something to them, to willingly give without hoping of receiving anything back in return, but knowing that when that feeling is reciprocated, it is all the sweeter of a bond.

That’s probably why my mom pushes us so hard to participate in the family Secret Santa gift exchange we hold each Christmas eve. The intention of the exchange is to draw a name and then make something for another family member on a limited budget. I think the reason she enjoys it so much is that it’s important to her that we do something special for each other, its how she shows love and also the way she feels the most love from others.

It took me a lot of years to realize that fact about her.

Commercial VS Personal

Which is why today I’m going to share one of my most dearly held theories with you.

The theory that there are only really two kinds of art to be made out in the wilderness.

Art that is primarily focused on it’s message or which comes direct from the author, and sometimes  is known as fine art.

The alternative, and this is not a bad thing… is art that is primarily focused on realizing another’s vision and which is paid for by another party upfront, also known as a commission or commercial art.

You see dear readers, you can either make art with the intention of getting paid first or about making a statement first, but you cannot do both. And it is possible for both components to be satisfied, but whatever path you choose will determine the pace of which each component is nurtured first and most. In other words, you can be a successful artist which path you choose, but it takes time to grow that tree.

Kickstart My He(art)

Which is why I made the choice long, long ago, that all of my art would have intention first and be about making a sale second. That was my decision to make, and mine alone, but every creative thing I have made since that decision has been far more rewarding for me and has led to some fantastic opportunities in other areas of my life.

It’s where I came up with the phrase “start with heart, then you’ll make art”

And now the tie-in.

I started this post writing about our family Secret Santa tradition because in 2016 I finally got an opportunity to fulfill a wish for my mom. To build a tree which would support her chickadee drawings that I made for her over six years ago. My mom loves chickadees and the last time I drew her name for Secret Santa, I made a group of them to represent our family.

So over the course of a few weeks this past December, and with a little luck, I was able to sneak into my parents house, borrow her chickadee drawings and determine how best to construct a tree for them.20161213_194924


After I measured everything, I quickly determined that this project wasn’t going to be done in time no matter what I did. You see dear readers, by deciding what to do with the tree, I had effectively created a theme and an artist statement to go along with it, which made the project incomplete no matter how I resolved it.

The Family Tree

As I later wrote down in a handwritten card to my mother, this tree now represents her and the chickadees on it are her immediate family.

My dad, my two brothers, my sister, myself, and now my brother’s fiancee. So the project may be complete, and yet, it isn’t. As each of the children grow and potentially come into relationships, we’ll add more chickadees to the tree for her to support and love. And as grandchildren show up, there will be even more chickadees to fill that tree. A testament to her strong roots and protective branches, nurturing us with the leaves and berries that grow up and outward.


So as you can clearly see, and as I have already mentioned, this is a project that while now completed, really has no end in sight, but the intention makes it all the more meaningful. And on top of that, as you are beginning to see, all of my artwork is related to conceptions of identity self-imposed, self-reflective, self-directed, etc.

I hope that this post has inspired you for yet another week out there in the wilderness, creative cuties. I’m out of theories for now. I’ll see you on Sunday with an interview preview, featuring a friend of mine named Byron.


Origami That’s Fun And Easy (Kubo and the Two Strings review)

Sometimes a movie does something new, using something old, and reminds you why you love the format so damn much. That’s what this weeks’ movie review is all about, duality, memories and recognizing the importance of story.

It’s kind of baffling that I would get so excited about a good story, but it really is integral in any art form.




Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei
Director: Travis Knight
released on blu-ray November 22, 2016
********** 10/10


IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, Audience Score 87%
The Guardian: *****/*****


Travis Knight is an American animator, producer and known for his work as lead animator for Laika Entertainment. And now he is known for directing Kubo and the Two Strings, which is his directorial debut.

Since 2005, Knight has been essential to the stop motion animation of the Laika team, wearing several hats and contributing to both CGI and stop-motion animation for its productions. Namely feature length films such as Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. He also serves as a member of Laika’s board and was recently nominated for Best Animated Feature on his work for The Boxtrolls.

But what do I think, you ask? Well, this is an amazing film dear readers. Brilliantly animated, with excellent voice acting, and an original story.

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed boy who lives with his sick mother, Sariatu (Charlize Theron), in a cave atop a mountain. He tells stories to the local villagers by magically invigorating origami through his three string shamisen. His favourite story is about a warrior named Hanzo who goes on a quest to fight the Moon King. Kubo must head home before sunset each day or her Sisters (Rooney Mara) and his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) will come for his remaining eye.

One day, Kubo attempts to communicate with his father, the deceased Hanzo… Nothing happens and he becomes angry, staying out past sunset. Sariatu’s Sisters arrive and attack Kubo, but his mother defends him, and impassions him to find Hanzo’s armour. When Kubo awakens the next day he learns that his little wooden monkey charm has been given life by his mother’s magic. Monkey tells him that his mother is dead and that he needs to move to survive. One of Kubo’s origami has come to life in the form of a little Hanzo, and during the quest they find an amnesiac named Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a cursed samurai apprentice of Hanzo’s that has taken the form of a beetle. He offers his services to Hanzo’s son.

The first leg of the quest has the three battling a giant skeleton for the sword unbreakable. Next, Kubo uses magic to create a boat of leaves and the expedition sails across Long Lake for the breastplate impenetrable. Beetle and Kubo dive in to retrieve the breastplate. One of the Sisters attacks and Monkey manages to defeat her, but is badly wounded in the process. Kubo realizes Monkey is his mother reincarnated.

Monkey reveals that originally she and her sisters were meant to kill Hanzo, but she fell in love with him, which incensed her family. Kubo dreams and is greeted by Raiden, a blind old man who shows him the location of the helmet invulnerable, the final piece of armor. They head to his father’s damaged fortress, but are ambushed by the remaining Sister, she reveals Beetle is Hanzo, whom the cursed. Beetle is killed, and Monkey sacrifices herself. Two strings of the shamisen are broken in the process Kubo learns his village’s bell is the helmet, breaking the last string and flying back home.

He takes the helmet, but Raiden appears, now the Moon King. He wants Kubo to become blind and immortal like him. Kubo refuses and fights the Moon King, but loses badly. Shedding the armor and re-stringing his shamisen, Kubo uses its magic to recruit the spirits of the deceased villagers, proving memories are more powerful. The spirits shield him engulf Raiden in their magic. The Moon King is defeated, becomes human, and has no memories of his past. The remaining villagers and Kubo create a positive new identity for him. Kubo then communes with his parents spirits and sets their lanterns afloat.

Pros: The themes of spirit, memories, and death are strong, delivered with great emotional care. The animation slowly pulls you into this story, and once you are there it’s impossible not to appreciate the depth of characterization and inspiring message.

Cons: If you like your narrative delivered to you in direct terms, quickly establishing roles and character arcs, this film will not serve it up to you on a silver platter.

Runtime:  1 hour 41 minutes

Points of Interest: The boat sequence took 19 months to shoot, and the entire film consists of at least 145.000 photographs turned into a stop-motion film. The two strings of the film’s title is a theme of duality featured throughout: Mother and father. Night and day. Life and death. Creativity and destruction.

It’s refreshing to see an animated family film that features a prominent and mystical quality to it. A film that prefers to be driven by narrative first and then demand for visual quality, and as a consequence achieve something rare in cinema. An engaging story that pretty much any age group could enjoy thoroughly, but you have to be prepared to listen to it.

Let’s consider something for a second. Have you ever seen origami used so effectively in an animation that is about stories within stories? Kubo is a storyteller that uses song, performance and paper to make stories. That he and his cast of characters are made of the same materials is a point not to be trivialized, these forms can be understand by any age group or culture for that matter. And it makes the use of magic seem that much more significant. I loved this movie, and I hope you take the time to go see it for yourself creative cuties. I’m out of theories for now, but rest assured, I’ll be back tomorrow with something about what’s coming.


Jennifer Lawrence In Winter’s Bone (Star Trek Beyond review)

When you finally receive your geek badge, it’s a wondrous thing. And with it comes all the trappings of geekdom – insider knowledge, scrutiny of any associated media, and a sense of family.

Artists which are capable of tapping into that pulse usually produce the most interesting content, though not always perfect, for sure. But much closer to what that specific crowd is really after than a run of the mill director. That’s where the magic happens.




Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin,  Sofia Boutella
Director: Justin Lin
released on blu-ray November 1, 2016
******* 7/10


IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, Audience Score 82%
The Guardian: ***/*****


Justin Lin is a Taiwanese American director who is best known for his work on The Fast and the Furious franchise (movies 3–6), Better Luck Tomorrow, and now Star Trek Beyond. He is also known for his work on television shows like Community and True Detective. But I bet you didn’t know that the character of Han was ripped right out of Better Luck Tomorrow and dropped directly into The Fast and the Furious franchise – Which means that they are in a shared universe.

Another interesting tid bit, Lin’s second feature film Annapolis, shared stars Tyrese Gibson and Jordana Brewster, who are also staples in The Fast and the Furious franchise.

I mention these things because Star Trek Beyond happens to be a continuation in another series of films, one with a rich history of both film and television iterations. In other words, while Lin had a major hand in shaping The Fast and the Furious films, Star Trek has been up and running without him for quite a while now. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Consider for a second that Beyond is written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, the thirteenth film entry. And Pegg is also currently portraying Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the rebooted series.

Pegg had mentioned on several occasions that he and Jung worked with the fans to help flesh out the story of this film and that Beyond wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for the support of Star Trek supporters. Additionally, the film is dedicated to the memory of Anton Yelchin, who portrayed Chekov in these new films, and who died a month prior to the film’s release. As well, original cast member Leonard Nimoy, was given a dedication, as he also featured in the reboots, but unfortunately died during pre-production of this film.

This says a lot of Lin’s ability to bolster a fan base and work with the actors to foster a family environment.

So what about the movie though? Well, I’ll get right to the point, in the spirit of Beyond’s own directness. This movie is fun, straightforward, and showcases a better chemistry amongst it cast of youthful star trekkers than we saw in the previous two films. I will say this though, the plot isn’t nearly as interesting as I would have hoped.

Effectively, the film starts with the USS Enterprise taking a break at the 3 year mark of their 5 year journey. Kirk wants to be promoted to Vice Admiral and turn his captain seat over to Spock, while Spock and Uhura are on the rocks. We later find out that this is because he has recently discovered that his counter-part Ambassador Spock has died and he wants to leave for the small Romulan colony and help repopulate his species. Then a survivor from a spaceship appears and the Enterprise is assigned to bring in other survivors. It turns out to be a trap. The ship is attacked, the majority of the crew abandons ship, and the bridge crew are stranded on a planet called Altamid. It turns out a warlord named Krall is at the centre of this and he wants to destroy the Federation.

I won’t reveal the plot twist, but I will say this, it is very reminiscent of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. And for that reason, it loses some points with me.

Pros: It embraces the spirit of the original series, focusing on it’s cast of characters, costuming, and terminology to set a stage similar to how the TV show felt, albeit longer and with much better special effects.

Cons: If you take away the action sequences, fighting, and CGI, you’ll quickly notice how much this feels like a TV episode of Star Trek, and then the plot becomes more of an issue.

Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes

Points of Interest: Starbase Yorktown is a reference to the original name of the starship in Roddenberry’s first drafts of the TV show script. Alice Eve who played Dr. Carol Marcus in Star Trek: Into Darkness is surprisingly missing from this film and no mention is made of her, though she was part of the 5 year voyage. Kirk makes a toast to absent friends at the end of the film and we quickly see the shot move to  Anton Yelchin.

I really enjoyed this movie but it’s important to consider it in the scope of the Star Trek universe. For those who liked the two most recent J.J. Abrams movies, it might be harder to take this one in, and for those who enjoy older Star Trek, it might make you nostalgic for another television series. But overall, this film sits well within the canon.

Simon Pegg told this cute little anecdote about new character Jahlah (Sofia Boutella). They had originally intended to create this strong independent female character stranded on the planet of Altamid. But they couldn’t land on a name, so they just inserted Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone into the script. Over time this kept getting shortened, but a name wasn’t chosen. It finally got to the point that J-Law was being said aloud and it was agreed that Jahlah was the right name.

It’s decisions like this that Star Trek fans get a kick out of, and why the franchise is much beloved. Those easter eggs make all the difference, and the universe created a little more more nuanced. Justin Lin gets that, and I hope you do too. But that’s just a theory.