Peg’s Picks – July 26, 2017

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My mother (fan favorite Peggy Lee) recently retired and has a lot more time on her hands to listen to podcasts, so I’ve decided to curate a list of three specific episodes per week for her a listen to with a brief description to accompany them.  This is specifically made with her in mind, however, feel free to listen through I’m sure there will be interesting content for everyone, especially new listeners of podcasts.  Links are provided below for convenience however, you can also find these shows and episodes anywhere you consume podcasts.

This week we have three shows that I have not covered before on this blog.  The first is an NPR podcast entitled the “Ted Radio Hour”.  The host, Guy Raz, invites TED speakers to the show to dive deeper into the talks they gave.  Often times it allows for more context on a subject and answers questions that the talk may initially raise.  I found that I enjoy this podcast because it is essentially a relaxed speaker expanding on a big idea that in many cases I had never heard of.

The episode is called:

Prevention

This episode focuses on the idea of prevention in many of its forms.  Each speaker has a different lens to view the idea of preventing the perceived issue.  I don’t listen to this podcast as regularly as I used to, however, when this came on in my auto play list I found myself struggling to turn it off.

Hidden Brain is another NPR podcast that along the same lines of the Ted Radio Hour dives deeper into brilliant minds and big ideas.  The show will say it “reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.”  However, I believe at its core this is a show about the science behind ideas we are curious about.  By ideas we’re curious about, I mean all of them, not only the science based ones.

The episode I’m recommending is called:

Summer Melt

This episode covers the phenomenon of “Summer Melt” which is when college students, (typically 1st generation college students) have completed all of their tasks to get into school however they don’t quite make it because of last minute issues.  This episode talks about what one school did to stop that.

Finally, I am recommending a podcast that has effectively become a mini series as it was canceled after only one season.  This is a Gimlet podcast entitled “Undone.”  Undone plays with the idea that stories in the news after they have been completed do not actually end.  This is to say that the story itself is only the tip of the iceberg and for the most part after it has been reported stories continue to move on beyond their perceived end.

This episode is called:

The Deacons

This episode covers the “Deacons for Defense and Justice”.  I love this episode because it dispels the idea that black folks have always attempted to fight for justice in a nonviolent way.  While this episode (nor I) advocate for violence when fighting for justice, this episode brings to light the idea of active resistance vs. passive resistance.  This was an eye opening episode that I would recommend to anyone.

Feel free to find me on Twitter or Instagram (@ohitsbigron) and let me know what you think of these recommendations, and check out the podcasts on the ohitsbigron studios network here, and here.

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War for the Planet of the Apes

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Some may have forgotten already but this iteration of “Planet of the Apes” is the second major studio reboot for the franchise.  Forgotten of course referencing the 2001 reboot starring Mark Walberg and directed by Tim Burton.  The newest reboot of the franchise began in 2011 and has been popular among moviegoing audiences and critics alike.  Andy Serkis has shone in the motion capture lead role as the Caesar, a genetically altered ape who is leading a revolution of apes on an earth whose human population has been decimated by a virus.  Much of the success of these films have to do with making an effort to understand the apes themselves and how/why they are motivated to build their own society apart from humans.  This is done meticulously, first by showing how Caesar’s understanding of humans is complicated in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”.  Then it is further deepened in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” by displaying the importance of building a peaceful society apart from the humans.  Humans, who seem to be intent on survival at any cost, which could result in the death of many apes and/or the demise of their own fragile remaining society.  These films are built on ideas about the cost of survival versus functional society and how that plays out when those ideas are in opposition.  These films have been consistent in their storytelling which explains why they continue to do well.

A few words about War for the Planet of the Apes:

  1. Slow – The movie opens with a battle scene that is pretty intense viewing.  However, after the initial skirmishes, much of the first hour of the film plods along a little more deliberately than I would have hoped.  While the excellent acting of Andy Serkis shines through the CGI rendering of Caesar, the choice to make the movie more deliberate to me does so at the cost of what I believe the movie was selling. If indeed the movie intended to sell the final showdown for the fate of the earth’s superior inhabitants.  On some level the movie accomplished this showdown, however, a large portion of the movie is spent studying the in depth emotion that is conveyed through Caesar’s face.  This makes much of the beginning of the film a bit of an emotional odyssey.
  2. Emotional to a fault – Speaking of emotional, this film ratchets up the stakes in that regard.  At times I was left feeling a little emotionally raw as at one point it seemed as if the Apes and particularly Caesar were never going to catch a break.  I also believe that walking into this movie believing that I would be watching a chess match showdown between human and ape placed me in the wrong frame of mind for the deeply emotional journey I received.  There are many quiet moments, many deep exchanges, long glances, etc that take the place of actual dialogue, which would work well to establish this journey.  However, for a movie that seemed to tout war being at its core, it would seem that war (while being set against a backdrop of a type of war) was more metaphor than actuality.  It would seem this was more of an emotional war than a physical one.
  3. Bad use of woody harrelson – Woody Harrelson depicts “The Colonel” who is in the film as the primary antagonist to the Apes as well as the key to answering some of the audience’s questions about halfway through the film.  Since the film unfolds as a mystery in the beginning by the time we get a full glimpse of Woody Harrelson he is there to fill all the gaps in the story for us, and to provide an obstacle before the Apes can get to their ultimate goal.  To me, this seemed like it could have been executed more effectively, as Woody Harrelson has the capability and range to have provided more nuance in this role.
  4. No character development for the humans – While all of “The Colonel”‘s backstory is revealed in one monologue, none of the other humans are given this courtesy.  This makes for very one-dimensional villains.  While on some level you may be able to sympathize with “the colonel” given his story, it was very hard for me to understand his followers and why they would engage in such cruelty that didn’t seem to be based on the desperation of survival as they were intending.  The idea that the humans are in a situation where they have no choice but to fight the apes is understandable, however without getting a full idea of the world that the humans themselves live in, it was hard for me to feel anything besides irrational hatred for them.
  5. Ceases world building – Much of this movie (and the series) is spent with the Apes and their view of the world.  This tight view of what is supposed to be a worldwide conflict makes the “planet” advertising to me a bit of a red herring.  Perhaps the idea of an ape “planet” was meant to just be a nod to the original films, however, all of the three movies are entrenched in one particular area of the planet.  This makes the whole idea of a worldwide plague seem a little more far fetched than I believe the creators of the series intended.  If we’re spending all of the time with the Apes and learning about the world only from them and one or two other human encampments, it makes it difficult to zoom out in my mind what survival on this “planet of apes” looks like.

I believe my last point is really why I ultimately didn’t like this movie much to the contrary of most movie goers.  I expected to see a world built out that that shows how the apes went from a forest in CA to across the planet and didn’t quite get that in this film.  This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t go see this movie as I believe it does bring to an emotional conclusion this specific tale of one ape’s view of the world from Rise to War. This makes the film gratifying in that respect I suppose.  However, do not make the mistake of thinking you are going to see apes wage all out war against humans.  Bring your kids, it’s safe for most.  2.99 of 5 stars.

Alien Covenant

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Alien Covenant is the second film in the prequel Alien series and the 6th film considered to be a part of the original canon of Alien films.  (This is a direct reference to the now defunct Alien vs Predator series which licenses the use of the Xenomorphs from the original films, I should also state that Aliens have also been in comic books and various other media ventures so the property itself has been very profitable.)  The continuation of the series picks up after the events of Prometheus which saw the film return to its original suspense/mystery roots.  This shift allowed for new questions to be asked and answered of the original series as well as make use of modern advances in film technology to build the world to be visually stunning.  Prometheus did well at the box office setting up director Ridley Scott nicely for his plan to make multiple prequels and sequels.  Alien Covenant picks up about 10 or 11 years after the events of Prometheus and follows the attempted colonization of the planet Origae-6.  This film seeks to add further depth to the Alien Universe and continue telling the origin story of the Xenomorphs and their creators the “Engineers”.

A few words about Alien:  Covenant:

  1. Characters are flat – There is not much character development at all in this installment of Alien.  While the characters have an assumed backstory, exposition that is explicitly stated in the movie does little to provide depth to the characters themselves.  It does not help that in many cases the characters are making stock horror movie decisions, such as always choosing to split up rather than work together.  At one point in the movie, the idea of them continuously splitting up becomes a little comical as one character will be found dead, and the remaining characters still assign separate tasks for each other to complete.  The setups for Alien carnage comes off a little convenient.
  2. Not many Xenomorphs – In this movie while the Xenomorphs (traditional Alien creatures from these films) are prominently displayed, at times their presence did not feel necessary.  The central conflict involved them, however, they were not the central villain.  This made seeing them feel a little empty or one note.  In many cases, it seemed as if they only showed up to ratchet up the immediate tension rather than because they were a necessity to the story.
  3. Two much fassbender – It is not a spoiler to say that Michael Fassbender plays two roles in this movie.  While his acting is solid and interesting to watch, at one point he’s doing scenes with both characters together.  These scenes were at least a little bit overwrought.  I found myself wondering what the ultimate purpose of these scenes were and don’t ever know that it was revealed.  Seeing him “mentor” himself came off hokier than I believe it was intended to be.
  4. Not much real story development – Prometheus introduces the characters of the “engineer” or the beings that humans suspect created them.  In Alien Covenant, the engineers have a brief moment but their story is not really expanded upon.  The questions raised about them in Prometheus seemed to be discarded in order to create a different movie.
  5. Visually Appealing – Much like Prometheus the use of wide shots in this movie did much to establish the contrast between the small humans exploring the vast universe.  Many of the shots are breathtaking on the big screen, which in this format does a great job of making the viewer feel small as well.

Overall, this movie did very many traditional “Alien” things.  There are Xenomorphs, space tension, action, air locks, acid blood, running, screaming and dying.  However, this film eventually ends up just being another installment of Xenomorphs killing humans.  While the reasoning for the existence of Xenomorphs is a little clearer, the film ultimate does little to expand the mythology of the Alien universe.  I would still love to see a movie that does more to expand this backstory, much like Prometheus began to do.  This is a solid summer movie, but ultimately I left the theater feeling like something was missing.  Do not bring your kids.  2.5 of 5 stars.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the 15th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the third film in the third phase of the same.  The first installment of Guardians takes the viewers on a journey far beyond earth and sets the larger stage for what is to come in the MCU.  Before the first film debuted there was much doubt to the success of the movie due to its use of lesser known characters in the MCU.  However, the hilarious use of witty banter among the protagonists and the well-executed trope of the “ragtag group of misfits” somehow thrown into extraordinary circumstances with extraordinary expectations played well for audiences worldwide.  The first Guardians film set the bar high for future installments and created much anticipation for the second film.

A few words about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2:

  1. Tries too hard to be funny at times – Right out of the gate Guardians 2 seemed intent on doubling down on the humor that endears itself to the audience in the first installment.  However in this installment, while funny on its own, there was a noticeable shift in a number of jokes per scene.  While the first installment felt very natural with jokes flowing at the pace of the film, Guardians 2 seemed at times to stop the action or story to tell jokes that at many times felt as if they went on a bit too long.
  2. Lots of character development – In this movie each of the Guardians gets a deeper look into why they are the person (or tree, or raccoon, or other species) that they are.  For the most part, this was done pretty well with explaining the motivations behind each of the characters.  However, this made the movie;
  3. Extremely emotional – There were times in this film where it felt as if the audience was being forced into an emotional cheese grater.  There were several instances in which again the film felt like it stopped to make a very specific emotional point about one of the characters.  This was at the very least a bit heavy handed and at most emotionally manipulative.
  4. Fun and engaging action – The action sequences were very well executed.  Specifically, there is one involving Rocket that was very entertaining to watch and another involving Yondu (Michael Rooker with a functional mohawk) that was mesmerizing as well.  The larger action set pieces were also done very well, watching this film in 3D was very rewarding as the editing made full use of the medium.  (this coming from a critic who despises 3D and feels its use is mostly gimmicky)
  5. Felt very disconnected from the MCU – There is a total of five end credit and mid-credits scenes and only two of them did any work to tie this film to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Other than those scenes this film felt almost entirely self-contained and outside of the MCU.  There are still about four films between this one and Avengers:  Infinity War and while we know who the main villain of that film will be (Thanos) it still remains to be seen how the Guardians will mesh with the heroes of the other films.  This didn’t hurt the film itself however it did make this seem a little more like a lot of side plot rather than an important part of the main story.  (also there is a point in the film where the main villain is destroying earth and it seemed at the bare minimum a little odd that there would be no Avengers interested in helping to stop this)
  6. Terrible main plot reveal – When the main villain reveals their ultimate plot to destroy much of the galaxy it is done in kind of a crass way.  Revealing any more than that would be a spoiler but suffice it to say it felt at the very least a bit “Maury” -esque.  (I welcome anyone who wants to unpack this further to contact me on twitter or fb)

Overall the film was not bad.  I would say another solid entry in the MCU (whilst not necessary being a strongly connected unit of the MCU) with great action sequences and still remained funny (at times to a fault)  The audience loved Baby Groot (albeit it seemed there was more of him than was needed) and there is much visually to enjoy while watching this film.  You can bring your kids, but it is a bit long as I sat next to a kid who got very antsy during the second hour.  3 of 5 stars.

 

Time Well Spent Episode 06 – Breve Part 2

Please enjoy Episode 6 of the Time Well Spent with Ronald podcast.

Also, check out the work of the creator of our outro music Michael Korte in #GAGA4RENT

Get Out

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Jordan Peele has made his directorial debut in the low-budget thriller Get Out.  Peele has been playing with the idea of race since writing and starring in sketches with the other half of his comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key on their Comedy Central show “Key and Peele”.  Much of Peele’s work on the show dealt with themes of race seasoned and punctuated with humor.  Many of the sketches themselves were often parodies of other genres of movies and television, and some of the more successful sketches included commentary on race set against a horror backdrop.  It would make sense that Peele’s first foray into filmmaking would be an allegorical tale of a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time.

A few words about “Get Out”;

  1. Excellent writing –  From beginning to end this movie has a solid and straightforward plot that is executed well using the dialogue.  In the first act of the film it could be easy to dismiss some of the dialogue as hokey or stilted, however, as the film continues it becomes clear that these are all connected to the ultimate ideas presented in the film.  Thinking through much of the dialogue after the film ends is much like looking at pieces to a puzzle and enjoying them far more as part of a whole than as individual pieces.  Also, the building of tension through dialogue is well executed, as the film continues the general sense of unease from meeting a family paired with that family being of another race is multiplied by the idea that there is “something else” going on the entire time.
  2. Excellent acting – The veteran actors in this film do a wonderful job of helping to build the tension either through solid execution of dialogue or by lending their ‘acting gravitas’.  Having some steady hands do some of the acting seemed to add to the legitimacy of the film, however, this does not account for the excellent jobs done in drama and comedy by Daniel Kaluuya and Lil Rel Howery.  Kaluuya is believable in his role of the “black everyman”.  As a black guy watching the film, I felt like much of his responses to what was happening around him were natural and even in some cases were exactly my responses in the same situations.  Kaluuya was able to seamlessly transition from “guy in a regular situation” to “guy reacting to an extraordinary situation” relatively quickly.  He is easy to watch and his seriousness plays well against the comedic relief of Lil Rel Howery.  The interesting part of watching Howery’s performance is that it does not fade as the film continues as these roles in horror/thriller films often do.  Conversely, there is also a tendency for this type of role to be overdone to the point that it overshadows the original point and tone of the film.  Peele is able to direct Howery’s performance in such a way that it is enjoyable and cuts the tension in the film, while also serving as an audience foil and realistic commentary on what is happening on screen.  There are also some solid performances from Alison Williams who does an excellent job of being the “clueless girlfriend” and Lakeith Stanfield whose part is also a welcome addition to the film.  All the performances in the film are solid in their own regard but weaving them all together is done with great care by Peele.
  3. Compelling subject matter – As a black man who loves film, this film may have been tailor made for my demographic.  That being said much of the subject matter immediately hit home for me.  Early in the film Kaluuya’s character asks Williams’ character “Did you tell them that I’m black?”  This question captures exactly the point of this film.  There is nuance here with every interaction between Kaluuya and this new environment he is introduced to.  For much of the first act of the film, I found myself in awe of how well the dynamic between the main characters is portrayed as well as the smaller interactions between Kaluuya’s character and the parents, Kaluuya’s character and the house servants, and Kaluuya’s character and the townspeople.  I found myself saying “that exact scenario has happened to me”.  This demonstrated a clear grasp of the subject matter by Peele, as well as an excellent sense of the space he was working in.  He successfully made a film in white space that fully maintains a solid idea of blackness interacting with whiteness in white space.

This film has few flaws.  None really worthy of mentioning.  That being said it is not necessarily a film for everyone.  Some jump scares early in the film, but nothing that would be considered real terror.  (unless you consider the existential terror of trying to exist in white space terrifying, as some do)  Leave the kids at home.  4.75 of 5 stars.

Time Well Spent Episode 05 – Breve

Please enjoy episode 4 of Time Well Spent with Ronald.

Also, check out the work of the creator of our outro music Michael Korte in #GAGA4RENT