Movie Review: SOLO A Star Wars Story

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solo a star wars storyLucasfilm / Disney
2018
PG-13

“So, what’s your name, anyways?”
“Rrraaawwgghhhyyy.”
“You’re gonna need a nickname, ’cause I ain’t saying that every time.”

The second release in Disney’s supplemental films in the Star Wars universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story delves into the back story of everyone’s favorite intergalactic scoundrel with a heart of mythra, Han Solo. While there was the Han Solo trilogy of books that was regulated to the Legacy non-cannon section since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, that didn’t stop Disney from delving into the past and giving us an official canon back story for Han — how he met Chewie, got into smuggling, and came across that little space boat called the Millennium Falcon.

Having been released a mere six months after The Last Jedi, I think that contributed to the lack of enthusiasm with the release of Solo. There wasn’t as much of a buzz, and preview reports were lackluster at best. Also, there may have been something about the change of directors midway through that could have been part of it. I have to admit, I wasn’t really all that jazzed to watch it myself, and my fellow partner in crime, Nex, kept referring to it as the “Ill-Advised Star Wars Movie”. Regardless, I watched Solo, along with the other Exalted Geeks (recording the podcast about it here), and so let’s get to my thoughts on the movie. But first, as always, the Rundown (spoilers ahead):

We open on the planet of Corellia, where a young Han is livin’ the Dickens style street urchin life, stealing shiny things for a giant worm alien gang leader. This is the day that he and his love interest named Qi’ra make their escape from the gang to get off of the planet to a better life; only, it doesn’t exactly go as plan, as Qi’ra gets recaptured, while Han manages to get off of the planet, but at the expense of joining up with the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet. Fast forward to three years later, and we find that Han and the military aren’t exactly a great fit, as he’s been downgraded to the infantry, and while on one of them Imperial conquests of a planet, Han tries to hook up with a bunch of criminals posing as infantry soldiers, but is then thrown into a pit to be fed to a beast of some sort. Of course, by the law of plot conveniences, this “beast” turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and after a bit of a rocky start, they bond by working together to escape. They catch a ride off of the planet by the same batch of criminals Han ran into earlier, because one of the members — the one with the big neon I’M GOING TO DIE FIRST blinking on his forehead — took a shine to their moxie. Or whatever. After a heist to steal a shipment of a super hyperspace fuel called coaxium goes south due to the interference of SPACE PIRATES!, the crime lord who hired the group to steal the stuff decides to let them try and make it up to him, by taking raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel, and assigns his top lieutenant, who turns out to be Qi’ra, to tag along and make sure nothing goes wrong this time. Or, you know, death. So, they hire the guy with the fastest ship in the galaxy, which turns out to be some guy named Lando Calrissian (I’m sure he’ll be of no consequence later in the series), who pilots a certain heavily modified YT-1300 Corellian light freighter he calls the Millennium Falcon. After a bunch of chest-puffing between Han and Lando, they take off for Kessel, where they pick up the raw (and highly unstable, I should add, otherwise there wouldn’t be much tension and drama involved) coaxium, all the while causing a riot and freeing a bunch of Wookiee slaves and triggering a droid uprising. Han manages to make the jump in 12-ish parsecs through the Maw and gets the shipment safely to the planet Savareen to process the coaxium. Then the SPACE PIRATES! show up, say they really aren’t the bad guys in this movie, and then Solo tries to do the right thing by confronting the crime lord. There’s a bit of cross/double cross going on, the crime boss dies and then Han takes off while Qi’ra decides she’d rather be the new crime boss and stuff. Then Han wins the Millinnium Falcon from Lando, and he and Chewie flies off to join up with some gangster on the planet Tatooine. The end.

So, overall, while I feel that Solo wasn’t exactly necessary as a movie, it was still pretty good. There were plenty of cheesy bits in there — how Han got his last name, an inverse of the “I love you / I know” exchange, and a surprise cameo that seemed a tad shoehorned in. Also, did we really need a social justice warrior droid, or implied human/droid sex? Did they really contribute to the story, here? But, I digress (I look forward to all of your comments and emails)…

Alden Enrenreich does a decent job portraying the younger Han. But Donald Glover is the best one here as Lando, channeling his inner Billy Dee Williams, convincing me he’s gonna break out a Colt 45 at a moment’s notice.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable distraction but not exactly essential watching. It’s a good matinée flick, and I’ll probably watch this again sometime when the DVD gets released.

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Movie Review: MOTEL HELL

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motel hellUnited Artists
1980
R

“I’m the biggest hypocrite of them all. My meats…I used preservatives.”

Well, here we are. One of the pantheon of legendary cult favorite horror movies that I knew, as a fan of horror flicks, I was required to watch. Hotel Hell was one of those titles that I remembered always seeing on the shelves at the old Applause Video store whenever my family would make the weekly pilgrimage to Fremont, Nebraska in the 1980s, in the Horror section, the box artwork hypnotizing me with the two smiling leads on the cover, somehow conveying a nice balance between friendly and inviting with complete insanity. It simultaneously intrigued me and repulsed me at the same time. Which meant, I so wanted to watch this movie. Of course, at that age, that wasn’t going to happen, as there was no way I was going to convince my parents to rent it. It was always some obscure live action Disney movie or something we would end up getting.

Anyway, long story short, I recently finally gotten around to watching Motel Hell by way of the Amazon streaming service. Having done so, and knowing what kind of cult following this thing has, did I like this? Would my younger tween self have liked this had my parents consented to let me watch it? Well, let’s get to the rundown, and then let’s see if I’m able to ‘splain m’self.

The titular Motel Hell is actually Motel Hello, only the neon light “O” is on the fritz, and keeps blinking out. It’s an out-of-the-way cozy place that’s owned by Farmer Vincent, who is known all over the 30-mile radius for his extremely tasty meat snacks. Along with his sister Ida, they take care of their customers as well as keep up with the meat production. The secret to his famous smoked meats is a blend of pork, which he raises himself organically (or so he says), and also some humans that he can trap from the road that passes by the place. One night, while doing just that, he snags a biker and his girlfriend, knocking both of them out. The biker went into his “human garden” hidden on his farm; the girlfriend gets told her boyfriend died, and so she develops Stockholm Syndrome and begins helping out on the farm. This causes a bit of a rift when a bizarre love triangle between the new girl, who has fallen in love with Farmer Vincent (eeeew), Ida, who doesn’t want to share her older brother (eeeeew) and the younger brother, who’s also the local sheriff, who has the hots for the new girl but is unreciprocated (SEE: in love w/ Farmer Vincent…eeeeew). Things come to a head (no pun intended) when the humans in the Human Garden manage to escape and attack the family, which leads to a chainsaw showdown at the end.

After watching this movie, going in with minimal knowledge of it beyond a couple of hick folks make meat snacks out of people (which always elicits a cry of “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!” from me, regardless of who’s around to hear it), I emerged from this experience…well, not a changed man, per se, but I now understand why Motel Hell is held in such high regard. It’s a black comedy about back road cannibals that isn’t exactly the best one of this sub-sub genre — movies like Parents and the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre would come out later in the decade and prove to be far more effective — but it has a kind of laid-back charm that casts aside the whole political commentary side of things, and just gives us an off-beat story that’s chock full of WTF moments (those swingers, a rock band called Ivan and the Terribles, and the one and only Wolfman Jack as a local televangelist) but also a kind of charm to it, as well as the lo-fi effects kills on and off screen.

Overall, I found Motel Hell quite enjoyable on that campy fun level. It’s not the best one, and you get the impression that the writer and director could have pushed the limits just a bit, but were maybe afraid to do so halfway through the production. But, Motel Hell also is far from the worst one of the bunch. It’s available on the Amazon Prime Streaming, which is how I watched it, but however you take in your movie watchin’ experience, I would urge you to check out Motel Hell at least once.

Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Darn Floor ~ Big Bite

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daniel amos darn floor big biteDANIEL AMOS
Darn Floor ~ Big Bite
Alarma
1987

The eight studio release for Daniel Amos – and also the final release of theirs in the 1980s – Darn Floor ~ Big Bite finds the band’s music going back to a more guitar-driven sound. The title, of course, is famously derived from an incident with Koko the gorilla, who was trained to understand limited amounts of American sign language. After an earthquake, Koko reacted by signing, “Darn darn floor bad bite. Trouble trouble.” So, the band used this as a way to highlight mankind’s oft-inadequate attempts to describe God.*

That previous bit of information is always included in pretty much every review I’ve read on this album; however, my friend Terry Glenn was the first one to inform me of this, and was far more entertaining in the delivery. Anyway…

The album starts with the song “Return Of The Beat Menace”, which seems to be it’s angriest song on the record. Not “angry” as in “loud and grating”, but more to do with the lyrics married with the more driven pace and guitar hook of the song. Like they had a bit of something to say about certain criticisms being lobbied at them. Or something. It’s a good song to kick things off, regardless. “Strange Animals” takes things back to a normal – for Daniel Amos, anyway – pace with a nice jangle pop hook; the title track “Darn Floor~Big Bite” is a bit darker, but has a good bass hook at the beginning before it settles into a nice groove; “Earth Household” continues things with a slower pace, one of those not quote a ballad, but with a dark, kinda Peter Gabriel style going on; “Safty Net” picks things up with a faster, punkish pace and an Elvis Costello kind of hook and an interesting guitar riff; “Pictures Of The Gone World” is upbeat yet melancholy, with a waltz beat and a more avant gard style; “Divine Instant” is more of a psychedelic, slide guitar, kind of Chris Issac style song; “Half Light, Epoch, And Phase” guitar style reminiscent of The Edge from U2; “The Unattainable Earth” has a nice psychadelic, dreamy hook with a good guitar progression; and “The Shape Of Air” ends the album with a lush, psychadelic ballad, not too bad there.

Overall, I found Darn Floor~Big Bite to be a very good, very multi-textured and very smart collection of gutiar-based alternative rock put out by a band that, by now, you would expect nothing less from, regardless of how modified they make their moniker. Listening to this was a pleasure, and probably one of my top favorites from Daniel Amos. I really do prefer the guitar based stuff rather than the keyboard and synth based stuff, but they never seem to disappoint no matter what they do. Recommended.

[* = while it doesn’t pertain to the album itself, I did play this in its entirety the night I learned of the recent death of Koko…rest in peace, pretty girl]

Book Review: BRIEF CASES (The Dresden Files)

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brief cases dresden filesJim Butcher
ACE
2018

It’s been three years since the last book in the Dresden Files series was released. Three long years without our favorite Chicago-based wizard detective to experience exciting supernatural wackiness vicariously through. Fortunately, there’s been a recent publication of another short story collection by Jim Butcher, something that will tide me over until the next book in the series comes out. Loves me some Dresden Files.

Anyway, yeah, Brief Cases was recently released through ACE Books, collecting several short stories that Butcher wrote for other publications, plus one that was only released on this collection, if I have my information correct. Let’s dive in and see what we got, shall we?

  • “A Fistful Of Warlocks”

We take a trip back to the Wild West of the 1800s, where the warden Anastasia Luccio rides into the town of Dodge City, hot on the heels of a warlock, and teams up with a deputy sherif named Wyatt Erp to take on the warlock’s posse and their zombie horde.

  • “B Is For Bigfoot”

Harry Dresden takes a case from a Bigfoot named Strength of a River in His Shoulders (River Shoulders for short) to check up on his son, who goes to school in Chicago. The kid might be being picked on by bullies; only, it turns out to be more than that.

  • “AAAA Wizardry”

Dresden regales a class of young wardens in training with a tale of when he took on a case involving a boogeyman to illustrate the five “A”s of wizardly investigation.

  • “I Was A Teenage Bigfoot”

Once again, Dresden takes a case from River Shoulders, this time to check up on his son — who is now a teenager and attending a private school — and find out why he’s sick. On account of, the son of Bigfoot shouldn’t be getting sick, let alone lain out in the infirmary. It might be black magic afoot…but you’d never guess for what ends.

  • “Curses”

Dresden is hired to try and get a curse put on Wrigley Field in 1945 lifted so the Cubs can actually win for once, darn it. This takes him deep in the realm of the Tylwyth Teg, to speak to the caster of the curse. Who knew the creatures of folklore were big baseball fans?

  • “Even Hand”

A story told from the point of view of John Marcone, the Chicago crime lord that’s a perpetual thorn in Dresden’s side. Here, Marcone is best upon by a rather nasty member of the Fomor — Cantrev Lord Mag — who’s there to collect a baby that was stolen by the White Court’s human servant Justine. Things go boom.

  • “Bigfoot On Campus”

One last case from River Shoulders, and this time he wants Dresden to check in on his now college-age son due to a premonition of danger. Which may hold some water, as Dresden discovers that the kid is dating the daughter of a White Court vampire.

  • “Bombshells

Told from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, from her post-wizard apprentice days, due to Dresden still being considered dead at this point; she takes a mission to infiltrate a Swartves stronghold to rescue Dresden’s half-brother Thomas Raith; only, she discovers things aren’t as cut and dried as they seem. To be fair, they never are.

  • “Cold Case”

Another one from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, this time as the newly-minted Lady of the Winter Court. She is charged with collecting a long-overdue tribute from the Miksani. After arriving at the small Alaskan seaport, she discovers the reason why they’ve been so tardy, and teams up with the young Warden Ramirez to get things back in order.

  • “Jury Duty”

Harry Dresden is summoned to jury duty in the case of a former bodyguard for a crime boss accused of the murder of a man one year prior. It seems fairly cut and dried only Dresden has that inkling that something’s not quite right. So he goes investigating, along with one of his werewolf friends. Wackiness ensues.

  • “Day One”

A story told from the perspective of everyone’s favorite polka-loving, Sword of Faith-wielding mortician, Waldo Butters; this one concerns Butters’ first case as a newly-minted Knight of the Cross, which involves a rogue baku that’s feeding off the fear of the children in a hospital ward.

  • “Zoo Day”

The final story in this collection has Dresden taking his ten-year-old daughter Maggie and his dog (and current guardian of Maggie) Mouse on a daddy/daughter/doggie day at the zoo to look at some animals. This one takes turns with the point of views, starting with Dresden, who encounters a young warlock; Maggie, where she faces off with some nasty haunts that are possessing other kids at the zoo; and finally Mouse, where he meets a dark figure from his past. Also, there’s french fries.

Of the stories in this collection, I believe I enjoyed “A Fistful Of Warlocks”, the three involving Bigfoot and his half-human, half-bigfoot son (especially the “Bigfoot On Campus”, as things really go boom there), and “Zoo Day”, as we not only get a good story involving Dresden trying to be something he’s not accustomed to — being a father — but also the three points of view, one being the ironically named Mouse. That was great, there.

Mind you, all the rest of the stories contained are all top-notch, containing the quality type of action, mystery and humor that comes with this series, only contained in easily digestible bite-sized pieces. I’m afraid I went through my Kindle edition of this a bit too fast, as per usual. It was that kind of engrossing. Recommended.

Music Review: TAKING THE HEAD OF GOLIATH – Taking The Head Of Goliath

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taking the head of goliathTAKING THE HEAD OF GOLIATH
Taking The Head Of Goliath
Rottweiler Records
2018

Since teasing us with a live EP last year, the big expectation for this year was more or less the release of Taking The Head Of Goliath’s first proper studio recording. Also released on the Rottweiler Records label, their self-titled EP was released very recently, and being the dutiful metalhead that I am, I immediately purchased the download, and loaded it up in my media player to give it a listen or two. Or five. You know, to see if the wait and the hype was worth it.

My answer to that last part is GREAT GOOGLY-MOOGLY, this is freaking awesome.

After starting off with a brief kind of ambient instrumental named “Of Sin And Death”, which is mostly keys, synths and some percussion, the EP really rips into your earholes with “Oblivious Into Oblivion”, a straight-forward oldschool gutchurning Death Metal cut that sets to tone with what to expect. “The Expulsion Of Putrid Illusion” is face-blasting grinding with a great riff, while “Trenches” has a good groove with a start-n-stop rhythm going before settling into the standard Death Metal awesomeness. “This Present Darkness” — not a cover of the Deliverance song, in case you’re wondering (but you would know that already if you had the live EP) — is another straight-forward, grinding cut with a blasting brutal riff; “Audacity To Inspire” has kind of a deathcore riff going, then settles into a good hook; the final cut, “Unearthed / Iniquity’s End”, is a cover of the Crimson Thorn classic, ending the EP on a very high note.

Overall, Taking The Head Of Goliath is a brief yet very satisfying blast of much-needed heavy-duty Death Metal. I wouldn’t really call this Crimson Thorn 2.0, as there are some strives to get their own identity, but this does fill in a gap that was left when Crimson Thorn went on hiatus. Taking The Head Of Goliath has cemented me as a fan of the group. This release is highly recommended.

Movie Review: ANT MAN AND THE WASP

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ant man and the waspMarvel / Disney
2018
PG-13

“You can do it. You can do anything. You’re the world’s greatest grandma.”

The third Marvel-based movie for this year (I’m counting Deadpool 2, even though it wasn’t a Disney-generated Marvel movie), and this one is a sequel to 2015’s Ant Man.

While I surprisingly enjoyed the first Ant Man, it still was what you would call a stand-alone, almost filler type of movie that Marvel put out. And while the response was positive, and the inclusion of the character in Captain America: Civil War was supremely satisfying, the sequel wasn’t exactly something I was counting down the days to go watch. Still, I was looking forward to watching this with the Exalted Geeks. We did so on the Sunday after it opened, instead of the Saturday, which is our normal modus operandi for doing these; the reason being is that everyone was at the Shakespeare On The Green in Omaha that Saturday, so we just shifted to Sunday. Anyway…

After a flashback involving the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, getting lost into the Quantum Realm while taking down a nuclear missile, we come across the former second Ant Man, Scott Lang, having some bonding time with his daughter at his place of residence. He’s been on house arrest since the events in Captain America: Civil War, and is nearing the end of his sentence indoors. Then one afternoon, he has a dream where he was Janet van Dyne playing hide-and-seek with her daughter, and so he leaves a message on Hank Pym’s phone, which leads to Scott getting kidnapped by Pym and Hope van Dyne to help triangulate the location of Janet so they can mount a rescue mission. Only, there’s the issue of Scott’s house arrest and the possibility of him spending 20 more years in the slammer if he’s caught, as well as both a black market tech dealer and this phase-shifting thief that goes by Ghost that’s making things a bit more complicated with the rescue mission.

Ant Man And The Wasp was a very enjoyable movie, with the standard breathtaking action bits, some mind-blowing sequences in the Quantum Realm, and just the right amount of comedy mixed in at the right places. The scenes between Scott Lang and his daughter was touching and quite believable, with Scott trying to explain why doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially when it seems his loved ones always get punished as well. The inclusion of Laurence Fishburne was fantastic, as he could fill the part of someone who would conceivably go toe-to-toe against the likes of Hank Pym. Of course, the best scene in the entire movie goes to the interrogation of Luis, a favorite of mine since the first Ant Man movie. Every scene he’s in is gold. Pure gold. He needs to be in the upcoming Avengers movie next May, if he wasn’t one of the casualties of Thanos’ elimination of half of the universe’s population, that is.

Overall, Ant Man And The Wasp was a highly enjoyable comic book action flick. It doesn’t add to the overall grand arc that Marvel has been building for the past ten years, but it’s a nice brick in the wall. Recommended for a matinée, at least.

Music Review: ATOMIC OPERA – For Madmen Only

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atomic opera for madmen onlyATOMIC OPERA
For Madmen Only
Giant Records
1994

Sometime in the early 1990s, from the same state that spawned King’s X and the Galactic Cowboys, came the band Atomic Opera. Over the years, I knew of the band, yes, seeing their releases in record shops and the music sections in the big box type stores throughout the years. But, I never really checked them out, despite the accolade they were getting from musician friends of mine. So, one afternoon recently, while doing some used CD hunting, I came across Atomic Opera’s debut release from 1994, For Madmen Only. So I bought it. Then I listened to it.

Why did no one tell me about this album? Especially back in 1994, when good, heavy hard rock with metal undertones part of the whole Grunge era was dying out along with their patron Saint Kurt Cobain.

It’s important that I bring up the whole Grunge aspect, here. Because, while taking in For Madmen Only, I was struck by the fact that, while Atomic Opera shared the same progressive style as King’s X and the Galactic Cowboys — tight, Beatle-esque harmonies, complex yet catchy melodies and hooks — the music on this release seems to draw heavily from the Facelift-era Alice In Chains and Louder Than Love-era Soundgarden — and hits you with a good foundation of thick, heavy guitar riffs and brooding pacing on most of the cuts.

The two standout cuts for me are the opener “Joyride”, which features a very heavy, thick guitar hook and a driving pace, and “War Drum”, which bit more progressive with a Holy Water-era Bad Company vibe going on. But really, the entire album itself is just a solid, track after track collection of heavy hard rock with a bit of a progressive streak. Songs like “Justice”, “Achille’s Heel”, “I Know Better”, “All Fall Down”, and “Blackness” feature some of the heaviest guitars I’ve heard, melded with some tight harmonies and set to a brooding but straight-forward pace, with vocals that complement the sound without resorting to a shiny production varnish. “December” is about as close you’re going to get to a power ballad, but it’s definitely not the run-of-the-mill radio friendly sappy variety. The final two tracks, “This Side Of The Rainbow” and “New Dreams” lean a bit to the psychedelic side of things, but still maintain that heavier vibe, with “New Dreams” being its longest and proggiest cut on the album.

Overall, For Madmen Only was a very pleasant discovery, getting some good, quality hard rock that wasn’t just a clone of the modern rock style that was clogging the airwaves of rock radio at the time. To think I’m just now discovering this after all this time. For those fans of the Galactic Cowboys’ Machine Fish and Long Way Back To The Moon releases, check this one out most definitely.

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