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Review: Night of Fashion in Binghamton, NY

By Michael Vass | May 12, 2015

Credit: Royal Pearl Productions

It was billed as a night of entertainment, and those that were in attendance on May 9, 2015 got exactly that in spades. The Night of Fashion event, put on jointly by JusJamstar and SimplyMe Boutique, was an attempt to provide residents of Binghamton and the Southern Tier a taste of the spectacle that is Fashion Week in New York City. This came with a bonus of song, dance, and even dinner. For $20 a ticket for VIP admission (which included the dinner and an open bar) a movie just paled in comparison.

To be fair, the Night of Fashion event had mixed moments. There was more to be enjoyed as a sum total, but the review would be false if the problems of the event were overlooked just because the companies involved are relatively new and growing. Even so, there is no question that attendees got their money’s worth. It also must be mentioned that this review is based on just about half the event – more on why in a moment. First, let’s address the few short-comings of the event.

Fashion show, Binghamton NY

The event was billed to start, at the American Legion Post 80, at 6pm for VIP and general admission. At 6:30pm, when I arrived, guest were still arriving but the dinner had been delayed. Not an unusual situation as every event has some hiccup. Eventually attendees would be notified that dinner would be served at the intermission of the show. The problem was that there was never a formal announcement of this fact. In fact, the delay lasted 1 hour, with the event starting at 8pm. Once the show started, MC Riz did her best to engage the crowd. Throughout the night she segued and pantomimed, and generally kept the attention of the audience focused on her and not the fact that the event, which was scheduled to last 2 hours, was actually taking double the time.

The format of the event was MC Riz introducing 2 performances followed by a fashion line, and repeat. For the scheduled length of the event it would have seemed implied that this meant each performer might have 5 minutes before moving on. That was not the case here. Instead performers were on stage for multiple acts, some for an extended amount of time. In comparison, the fashion lines were displayed on a relatively consistent 10 minute timeframe. The disparity gave the event more of a talent show feel than that of fashion.

Once the intermission started, at 10pm – an hour later than the entire event was supposed to have lasted – I had to depart. I did return later that evening to check in on the festivities for a bit. The event ended after midnight, fully 6 hours after the first guests arrived. Which is fine as it was a full night of entertainment, but not what was promoted.

Given that each of the above had the potential to kill the night. But much to the credit of the performers and the team of people working behind the scenes, the audience never balked. The show, once started, never felt like it was dragging, or a performance overlong. For any negative that can be pointed out (and many an event I have attended in my life have had far more and worse) the one thing that I kept noticing was that the event was entertaining. The audience wasn’t just getting their money’s worth, they were getting more. If anything, ultimately the biggest problem for the event (if it could be called that) was that the production team was striving to give attendees a full-on gala at a budget price – and they succeeded in doing just that.

The singers were new and upcoming faces that mostly provided original material. They were excited and dedicated. Each performer sought to win over the audience. MC Riz did her best to rev up the audience before and after each entered or exited the stage. The comic was blue, but energizing. There was even a spoken word recital – something that is rare in any event with a mix of entertainment styles. Night of Fashion was a rich mixture of things that all in the audience could and did enjoy.

And then there was the fashion. The following videos are just 3 of the 6 fashion lines displayed during the show. Not shown are the lines of shoes, evening-wear and lingerie. The models were a mix of not just the classic model type, but also models with real world bodies. It’s a pleasure to see a fashion show that features clothing that your girlfriend, or wife, or friend might be able to wear. Clothing that look good not just on a mannequin but on a woman that you can see walking down the street. The reaction to each clothing line was met by enthusiasm and excitement by the audience.

Fashion Line 1

Fashion Line 2

Swimsuit fashion

Credit: Royal Pearl Productions

All in all the Night of Fashion event, by JusJamstar and SimplyMe Boutique was a rewarding experience. Considering that both companies are women-owned small businesses that were only recently created, the potential for growth is a much needed and empowering message to men and women throughout the Southern Tier. Adding to this is the fact that the performers and models are predominantly locally based, a key feature for JusJamstar president Jesula Saintus.

Ms. Saintus shared the following with me in an interview after the event,

“It’s awesome to know so many in Binghamton are working for their dream. The only way people can survive is to work together. That’s what JusJamstar does.”

JusJamstar can be contacted via Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jusjamstar

SimplyMe Boutique, that provided all the clothing in the 6 fashion lines, can be contacted at http:facebook.com/simplymeboutiq . Their store is located at 192 Main St, Binghamton, NY 13905

** Photos are by Royal Pearl Productions – http://royalpearlproductions.blogspot.com/ **

Credit: Royal Pearl Productions

Credit: Royal Pearl Productions

Credit: Royal Pearl Productions

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When Spike Lee came to town

By Michael Vass | February 19, 2015

On February 19, 2015, famed film director Spike Lee came to Binghamton University to speak for a scheduled 2 hours in an open to the public event. The event was free, held at the Binghamton University Events Center. It was billed as a talk which would then be followed by a question and answer period.

Credit: www.tommedvedich.com

Image as found at www.tommedvedich.com

At the outset, cameras of any sort were not allowed at the event. Like most who attended cell phones were on hand and active when Mr. Lee took the stage. One of the first words after introducing himself to the audience of some 225+ in attendance, Mr. Lee requested that all cell phones to be turned off and the ringers shut off as well. It seemed like Mr. Lee had the intention to share his personal thoughts and insights with the audience, and I honestly considered not writing about the event at all. But then Mr. Lee stated that the audience shouldn’t worry as they would all be able to make it home to see Empire. Such a statement, at the beginning of an event tends to foreshadow what will happen next.

Mr. Lee then spent the better part of a half hour introducing himself to us. He spoke about growing up in Brooklyn. He spoke about how he was introduced to his first camera. He talked about how he spent the summer of 1977 filming the blackout and looting and the explosion of Disco throughout the city. He even touched upon how he was inspired to create his first film for his classmates and how that experience moved him, focused his attention and allowed him to be able to strive for a goal of a career that he loved, and not just jobs that paid well.

But for all of the sharing, the talk seemed just shy of breaking into a serious reveal of who Spike Lee is and what motivates him. Perhaps it was because of the fact that of the 3000 anticipated to attend the event by the Press & Sun newspaper, the turnout was maybe 1/10 that amount. Perhaps it was the cold winter weather, which could have sapped some of his vigor for the evening. Or it may have been that even though Mr. Lee started the night by explaining that he is likely most known for controversial and race related films yet he has done some 30 films to date – covering topics as diverse as heist films (Inside Man), to Crime Thriller (son of Sam), to a remake of the South Korean cult film Oldboy. Still, with that said Mr. Lee spent the better part of the night speaking about race, connecting it to almost ever part of what he had to say and most answers to questions he gave. There was a fair portion of Mr. Lee’s political views as well. Again, even with these topics, it seemed that nothing beyond the surface was really scratched.

I would love to tell you about the motivations Mr. Lee has had for various films he has made, but he never shared that. He did state that he felt that there needs to be more imagery on people of color and women, in movies and television, and that he felt part of his purpose was to tell truthful stories of and with these people. But how that feeling lead to She’s Gotta Have It, or School Daze, or even Malcolm X I don’t know.

I know that Mr. Lee believes that there are a host of talented directors, actors, and actresses of color out there. He believes that Hollywood and television need to broaden the chances for these actors to show the talent and skill they possess. Mr. Lee shared a litany of actors and actresses whose first film role was in one of his films – something he has tried to do in every film he has made.

I now also know that Mr. Lee believes in hard work as being critical for success. He explained how he sees, to an extent, that the youth of today are too used to instant gratification. That success must be striven for and earned if it is to occur at all – no matter the color of skin of the individual.

I wish I could say that I know far more about Mr. Lee, but I can’t. I wish I knew more about the television show Mr. Lee is trying to get launched but he didn’t explain anything about it. I wish I knew more about how he raised money for his first film, or how that was different than his experience funding a film with Kickstarter, but he never delved into that. I personally wanted to ask about if there was any film that he could make, on any topic, without question on getting funding, what would that film be about and why? But Mr. Lee seemed content in taking questions primarily from the reserved seats in the audience, skimming over answers to the questions given to him, and touching on his personal political views (which I certainly would have loved to hear far less about).

In the end, Mr. Lee spent some 65 minutes out of an expected 120 minutes with the people and students of Binghamton. Mr. Lee noted that it was late and he had a long drive to make in the cold – something that may be true of any number of the members of the audience above the average age of a BU student. Then I remembered that Empire was on tonight, and Mr. Lee stated he was a fan of the show. Too bad I was a fan of many of his films, and not of his politics or most of his views on race in America.

I would like to say that anyone who missed the Spike Lee event at Binghamton University tonight missed something special, but I cannot. Maybe there was a personal or family issue that had him distracted. Maybe he expected a larger audience like those he has had at colleges he has spoken at since 1988. It could have just been an off night, we are all just human. But I can only comment on the brief time I shared with Spike Lee. Hopefully, one day I may get an answer to the questions that were left half answered or unsaid, but in Binghamton, NY tonight was not that day.

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From a terrible waste to selfies, what are we saying to the youth?

By Michael Vass | February 17, 2015

President Obama recently released a series of “selfie” photos to promote his vision of health care (commonly known as Obamacare). These images, criticized by some for being a degradation of the office of the President, brought up a thought few have touched on over the years. What are we telling the minority youth of America?

As a child of the 1970′s, there were messages being delivered to my generation. Ads and television commercials that called for specific action from the youth. Many who grew up in the 70′s and 80′s may recall the “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” commercial and several similar ads.

These Public Service Announcements (PSA) were a direct and unsubtle call to action on public television. They were a direct response to the gains via the Civil Rights movement made in the 60′s, and the sacrifices of several generations. The understanding was that without education, the Black (and as an extension all minorities) community would falter. That without active participation, the social gains of the 60′s would fade away opening the door to history repeating itself.

The effect of the Civil Rights movement, and the highly effective PSA television commercials, was to spur education. In 1960 the percentage of high school graduates was 43.2% for Whites and 20.1% for Blacks (no Census data [table 263] was available for other minorities until 1970). In the 1970′s that percentage increased to 54.5% for Whites and 31.4% for Blacks – data for Hispanics was initiated at 32.1%. The increase for Blacks was an improvement by more than half in a single decade. By 1980 the figures resulted in graduation levels of 68.8% for Whites, 51.2% Black, and 44% for Hispanics. In 1990 there was growth in graduation from high schools of 79.1% Whites, 66.2% Black, and 50.8% Hispanic – it was also the first year where figures were reported for Asians – 80.4%. In the space of 3 decades, a generation of Americans, the emphasis on education, especially among minorities, had increased the number of graduates by more than 300% for Black Americans, and more than 50% for Hispanics.

As a society this was also seen in a growth in television shows and movies featuring minorities. Not just as background characters, or a single episode supporting character, but as leads. This was most notable with The Cosby Show. A family of successful, intelligent, and upper middle class Black Americans. The spin-off of A Different World further signaled the potential and need for minorities to become educated and excel.

But in the mid-90′s, there was a sea change in the nation. The advent of instantaneous communication via beepers and later cell phones, the emergence and growth of the internet, as well as the change in marketing and attitudes of rap music culminated in a new view towards education and minorities in society.

Movies, and television shows, emphasized the teen and 20-something hero. A character that was singly the smartest and most necessary figure in the universe of that small or silver screen world. Characters like Moesha, who was identified as the source of all knowledge and motivation for that show. Characters that were not highly educated, and lacked any visible determination to achieve the fruits that an education may provide.

At the same time, in rap music, acceptance finally arrived on the heels of gangsta rap. While rap music had evolved into multiple genres and mass appeal, it was still shunned as a fake style of music of its own. Only until rap focused on the negatives of society – drugs, money at any cost, a lack of education, and a glorification of incarceration and a lack of education, was it widely accepted and mass marketed.

In fact, gangsta rap was so heavily commercialized that it grew to dominate and essentially eliminate all other forms of rap music. With that came the media hype of the new rock stars of generations to come. Individuals who couldn’t speak well enough to get a job as the fry guy at a fast food store, with prison records and convictions for violence and drug dealing suddenly became famous instead of infamous. The blurring of the line between fame and infamy would eventually become so severe as to no longer exist anymore.

There is no societal rebuke for a rapper who sold (and in some cases still sells) drugs. Actually drug use has become a somewhat accepted social behavior. There is no penalty for abuse of women in music videos, or in fact in the real world as R. Kelly and Chris Brown have proven. Instead, the appeal of becoming just like one of these individuals has been intensified. Why suffer through long classes, years of study, and hard work in developing a career when effort can be put into just developing a talent (or devising a new marketing angle – i.e. 50 cent, Biz Markie, ect)? Kid Rock was showered with adulation for his crossover appeal, and virtually ignored for his inability to read.

While there are other socioeconomic factors involved, we cannot ignore the impact of what we as a society are showcasing to our children, and especially minority children, everyday. Gone since the 1980′s are the PSA of wasting a mind. In its place we have music videos and pitiful attempts to impart a message like 2008′s Read a Book [a particularly insulting packaging of a serious message].

Some will of course point to the same stats from the Census [table 229], to state that the message of education and self improvement has not been lost. They will point out that Black and Hispanic graduations from high school has continued to grow. By 2000 the percentage grew to 78.5% and 57% respectively. In 2010 the figures were 84.2% for Black Americans and 62.9% for Hispanics.

Still, the improvement over 30 years from 1990 – 2010 was just 18% for Blacks. Hispanics has a mere 12.1% improvement. College graduation over that same period of time grew a paltry 8.5% for Blacks, 4.7% for Hispanics. Since 2005 the graduation figures have all but stagnated.

Somewhere along the line since the mid-90′s, we have collectively given up on not just the American dream, but the concept of education as the key to future success. We have become complacent in accepting drug use and drug dealing as a part of our daily lives. We have abandoned the goal of hard work to attain better for ourselves and our children, and replaced it with a hope of instant stardom (American Idol, et al) and a glorification of poverty (ghettofabulous).

Perhaps worst of all, the shining example for many in the minority community was the election of a Black President. This was something that was impossible 30 years ago. It was widely expected not to occur in the lifetime of those born at the start of the Civil Rights movement. But in 2008, a figure that looked like he could fit the bill appeared and swept the nation with a hope for change.

Now in 2015, the reality that change was too much to hope for from this particular President has reached many. Even die-hard supporters have lost the bravado and luster they maintained as late as 2012. All the while a message is being sent to children and minorities, one that is hardly uplifting.

While serious threats to the nation abound, our President offers selfies. Where open debate and compromise are essential, our President offers Executive Orders and threats. Where support of our allies is required, we offer a 21st century version of singing kumbaya around a political campfire. In many ways, no matter the spin attached or offered after the fact, the message is after all the strife and effort, incompetence is the reward.

On a daily basis we are selling the wrong message to our children, especially if they are minorities. We are so busy trying to ensure how we look and are described is pleasant, that we have effectively ignored improving our surroundings and self. We are so busy defining what words can be used, and by whom, that we are wallowing in the circumstances that promote the use of negative stereotypical terms in the first place. We have not just stagnated, but begun (or debatably already began) to reverse all the gains provided by the Civil Rights movement of the past.

Any society that does not learn from its past is doomed to repeat past mistakes. In the active promotion of shunning education we only hasten the outcome. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and even more tragic is when that mind is unaware of the waste.

What is needed is not the pandering to the instant gratification of the internet. We do not need further indulgence in “selfies” or carefully politically calculated watered down messages during the glorification of bad (and in some cases criminal) behavior. What we need is to simply, and seriously, regain the pride and societal drive for improvement that education can fulfill. Not just as a means of low- to mid-level employment, but in gratifying life-long affirmation of self fulfillment.

But these are my thoughts. I am open to hear your own.

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Movie Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service

By Michael Vass | February 17, 2015

In this film all at once we are thrown into a modern day homage to the 60′s spy films, while keeping a keen eye on current contemporaries. The film is some of the best parts of James Bond’s classic stylish looks, the hyperkinetic action of Jason Borne, and the time sensitivity of Jack Bauer. At the same time, in a rather over the top fashion, the film is quite aware of the outlandish nature of the world that it takes place in. The combination of all these elements work seamlessly in a film that can please spy film fans of all ages. ** Note, the review may contain spoilers though it generally skips most details about the actions in the film **

Kingsman is immediately aware of the nature of the genre it is in. This is about spies, intrigue, and gadgets. But adding to this standard issue, Kingsman throws in a bit of the fish-out-of-water, a touch of class rivalry and bias, and multiple helpings of the outlandish. Of course the film can’t escape its essentially monochrome view of the world (i.e., Valentine and Gazelle are the only people of color really in the film, and all the people of color in the film are, amazingly, bad guys).

We start the film in 1997, establishing that the tech and gadgets, while improbable (get used to hearing this said about the situations in the film), will not be impossible. The back-story is short. Just enough to establish who our heroes are going to be, and why they are in the circumstances the film will find them in.

Jack Davenport features in this part of the story and the second part of the opening storyline. Once again he is used to effect, but like in Pirates of the Caribbean he is once again underuse and little more than a cameo in the film. Equally, Mark Hamill is a short-lived device used to take advantage of Star Wars fans (and any fan of the animated Batman series – you’ll know it when you hear it). Still both actors make good use of the screen time they are allotted and do well enough to have you wish you had seen more of them in the film. We are also introduced to Gazelle as the top villain henchman, and Valentine with a scheme that is at once insane but tinged with just enough fanatical purity to be improbable.

From this point on the film jumps directly into the plot promised by the popular trailers. We meet Taron Egerton as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, and the unfortunate turn of events that have become his life. With a flair for the improbable, we learn of his potential and his dedication to family and friends. The movie also establishes that the exposition and character development will be short, with the payoff of a flashy well edited action sequence that is mostly grounded in reality. It’s a balance that the entire film manages to provide with consistency.

With all the players established at this point, the film moves on to the fish out of water phase. Eggsy is put to the test, along with several peers that are mostly predictable plot pieces. The true friend, the nameless bodies that will fall by the wayside, the prick you just want to hit, ect. While predictable the film does showcase our heroes growth and capabilities with some humor and wit.

At the same time, the film neatly wraps up the loose-end from the start of the film while providing a logical pause in the main story. As Eggsy nears the end of his training, we pick up on the actions of the bad guy – Samuel Jackson as Valentine. In a nod to the over the top villains of the Bond films, Valentine is equal parts crazy, logical in a completely fanatical way, and impossibly connected enough to have a bad guy master plan. Climate change fanatics will likely cycle from love to hate over the evil plot that will affect the world. It is obvious, at multiple points in the film, that the writer and director are not fans of the political far left – which may enhance the fun for some audience members but is brief enough and light enough to avoid offending most other viewers. Still, as evil bosses go in spy films, neither the acting nor the plot of Valentine’s rise above Saturday morning cartoon levels. Each scene of Valentine is a bit tired and thankfully brief.

Up to this point, I have said little about Colin Firth’s main character Harry Hart (also known as Galahad, a tribute to the legend of King Arthur that permeates the film). Essentially Harry is a plot device more than anything else. While his motivations are fleshed out, he is the thing to get the film from one point to another, allowing critical exposition on what is happening in the bad guy plot to be revealed to the audience. With that said, Firth does an excellent job of exuding class and professionalism, with bursts of action that feel smooth and genuine to the character. In fact, one of the best scenes in the film is a fight scene featuring Firth, that is one of the best fights in a movie in several years (up with the Borne Supremacy fight against Desh).

As we enter the 3rd act of the film, the competition of training concludes with a battle of will. Eggsy takes a path that makes perfect sense for a soldier, while Roxy makes the choice more in line with the necessity of a spy. I have not touched on Sophie Cookson’s Roxy until this point as it is really unnecessary. As much as she is shown to be a stronger than usual female character, Roxy is ultimately a background player with little to do. She is the counterbalance to the otherwise all male film, and a justification for the rather gratuitous scene at the end of the film (more on that in a moment). Scenes with Roxy are generally pretty good, she is upbeat and looks good without trying to be a classic sexy woman in a spy film. Even so, there is no real need to discuss her in the review as she really isn’t in the film.

The film thus takes us to the wrap-up of life in the Unwin household, until it doesn’t. But we are supplied with the final motivation our hero needs to make the leap into becoming what the film was obvious in building up to from the beginning. Even so, the predictability of the plot is done well and flows in the confines of the genre.

I have to add that there is one action sequence that is completely out of place with the tone of the film. In fact it is so over-the-top that it cannot help but cause the intended laughter in the audience. This deus ex machina is bald-faced absurd. The film takes it to the extreme both as a means to avoid a NC-17 rating for violence and as an escape from the violence being portrayed. As a bonus, those less left leaning will find a few extra moments of giddy laughter.

The final henchman battle is stylish and well choreographed. There is a bit of CGI that is obvious and unrealistic, even for this film. Given that, Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle plays the heavy quite well, even if her motivations are left to the imagining of the audience. With her defeat, Valentine is dispatched with far too much ease. This of course gives a chance to experience another throwback to the Bond-esque style that obviously inspired the film.

This is where the extremely gratuitous scene is thrown in. It’s a few seconds, but it is unnecessary and dare I say uncomfortable. It really can’t be defended for its inclusion, and the gag was already over so it amounts to nothing more than overkill and eye candy that either the director or the studio felt was essential to a modern spy film.

As the credits role, we are finally given the conclusion to the Unwin family situation in a direct copy to an earlier scene of the film. This final bit of story completes the journey for us and confirms the outcome we knew would happen. It also glances over the repercussions of the evil plot, which is again absurd but this is an action spy film so it really is par for the course.

If you are a fan of spy films, especially James Bond, you will like this film. It brings back a touch of the class and style that more current spy films have discarded in preference of a grittier more real world look. This is a film that I plan to add to my DVD collection when it becomes available. There is no doubt that it will spawn a sequel (fans of Roxy are sure to get to see her more involved in the action), and is structured in a manner that can more logically allow for another Galahad or Lancelot or other spy to focus a feature length film on.

I would give this an 8 out of 10.

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Conjuring plot ideas for Star Wars VII based on revealed names

By Michael Vass | December 13, 2014

A few days ago the names of the characters in the Star Wars VII teaser trailer have been revealed. After thinking about it, and a few of the rumors that have been floated in the past, I am even more underwhelmed than before. Let me explain.

First, I have had no access to any information other than what any fan can find on the internet. Second, I am old enough to be able to say that I have been a fan of Star Wars since the original film came out (though Stephen Colbert has me, and everyone, by 2 weeks at least). Third, I did not like prequels (besides a few of the lightsaber fights) nor the news of Disney’s purchase of the rights – so call me biased if you like.

By now we have all seen the teaser trailer for Star Wars VII. The names of the characters, as they appear in the trailer is as follows:

  • Finn – the Black Storm trooper
  • BB-8 – the droid (on top of the spinning ball – which may in fact be its body)
  • Rey – the woman on the Speeder
  • Poe Dameron – pilot in the X-Wing
  • Kylo Ren – the Sith

    What the trailer and these names seem to imply falls in line with a rumor for the plot of the story for this film. If the rumor is partially correct, then the names kind of make sense. We can extrapolate a few things.

    Starting with Finn. He is either the son/grandson of Lando Calrissian or a new character. Since he does not have a last name, being Lando’s relative is possible (plus the fact that there were no other named Black major characters in the series). Why he would be in a Stormtrooper suit and/or on the run could be that he was spying on the remnants of the Empire.

    Rey is another possible relation of existing characters. Her name means king in Spanish. Instantly we would think she is the daughter of Han and Leia, which is possible since Leia was royalty. But she may be Luke’s daughter, the granddaughter of Darth Vader who also had far more than ordinary rank. Either way she will be on the light-side of the force and have a lightsaber. She will be the Luke of the next 3 chapters.

    Lastly I look at Kylo Ren. If he is a Sith (assuming it is a he) it is unlikely this is his real name.

    Take these things into account with who we know is in the film. Max Von Syndow is a perfect bad guy/political leader type. In fact he is often cast in just such a role. Best of all he is often morally ambiguous if not outright an evil bad guy in most Hollywood films.

    Adam Driver, the only Marine of the cast that I am aware of, could be the Sith. Andy Serkis is king of Motion Capture, so he is some CGI creature – possibly this new generation Chewbacca, but likely just an alien co-lead character of a new race (think of the new toy sales).

    So the story may be something like this:

    Finn was on a long-term deep cover assignment in territory controlled by the remnants of the Empire after the death of the Emperor and victory by the rebels in Episode VI. This may have been suggested by Lando Calrissian, likely a spymaster or head of a trade/pirate guild after the war. During the assignment, Finn came into contact with the head of the smaller Empire forces – Von Syndow.

    Whatever Finn learned or was able to steal (likely plans for another planet threatening weapon that the Empire intends to use for conquest) has him trying to evade Domhnall Gleeson, who is an agent of the Empire and closely connected to Von Syndow. Whatever Finn has is too important to trust to a simple message or delivery system, and spies for the Empire raise questions about delivery via more diplomatic means.

    Finn will likely come upon Serkis, an old rebel fighter in possession of BB-8, who has contacts to a network of former rebels. This will get him in touch with Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and their daughter Rey. Han and Leia will be remiss about trusting Finn or the Republic, having had a falling out with the new government decades ago. Still they will try to use their contacts to help Finn, cause them to be captured as Rey takes the Millennium Falcon to escape as Empire forces have tracked Finn. At the same time, Poe leads a squad of X-Wings to take on the TIE fighters due to the contact from Leia, and is the sole survivor of the battle, gaining the trust of Serkis, Rey, and Finn.

    So far that kind of fits the trailer. It gets a bit more wobbly here…

    Being unable to trust the Republic at this point, with the Empire on their heels, and with knowledge that the Empire’s plan relies on some Force-fueled whatever, they seek out Luke. Luke has gone into hiding due to the distrust of the new Republic government for anything Jedi, especially as the only remaining publicly known Jedi are both related to Darth Vader. The emptiness of being alone and rejected, and the near fall to the dark-side of the Force have left Luke with a less than heroic view of the universe. To redeem himself, and the Jedi, Luke has sought out any remaining Force-users that could be used to revive the Jedi.

    That effort brought Luke into contact with Kylo. Luke is trying to convert this Sith trainee of Darth Vader to the light-side. The results are mixed, thus Kylo still uses a red crystal lightsaber.

    When Rey and friends reach Luke, after much difficulty, they initially think Kylo is their enemy and battle him (Rey has a lightsaber from her mother who trained her). Eventually Luke stops the fight, and learns why they sought him out. Luke instructs his apprentice to travel with Rey and friends to the new Republic headquarters, before the Empire can launch an attack. Luke fears that there is someone guiding Von Syndow that is connected to the dark-side of the Force, and decide to track that person.

    The film culminates with a big battle between the new Republic and new Empire. In the process Han, Leia, et al are freed, though likely wounded (requiring they stay out of future films for the most part, as well as fix the problem in the Republic). Luke faces the new dark Emperor, a clone of the original Emperor who fights Luke and captures him with the intention of making him his right hand just as his father was.

    The film ends with the new Republic withstanding what we learn is the first round of a new war with the Empire, the fate of Luke uncertain, and the allegiance of Kylo unclear.

    Will the film be like this? Probably not a whole lot. Parts of it may be on the mark.

    Luke may well be the new Sith controlling the Empire via Von Syndow. Kylo could be Luke as a Sith. Adam Driver may be his apprentice.

    So that is my extrapolating. Plenty of holes in my construct, and not fully fleshed out. But then again, JJ Abrams is not known for tight scripts. This next episode will likely be fast-paced, lots of action, and sparse on logic or content. It will be a blockbuster for a popcorn audience that will fill seats, raise Disney stock price, sell tons of toys in time for Christmas, and I fear will tread on the hopes of the fanbase.

    Will episode VII be better than the prequels? Assuredly. Will it recapture the awe and imagination that the first trilogy created? No, that’s unlikely. Will it live up to the Hollywood model of CGI for practical effects, super heroines and bumbling male leads? Without question. But there is still time to hope that it will surpass the prequels without just being another hype filled, black-hole in the pockets of fans.

  • Topics: Movie Previews and Reviews, Uncategorized | No Comments »

    2015 Movie Trailer – Wild Card – starring Jason Statham

    By Michael Vass | December 13, 2014

    In modern Hollywood, remakes are not only a constant, but for some actors it is a means of steady work. More and more, Jason Statham is becoming an actor of this ilk. He has already been in 6 feature films that are direct remakes. In 2015, his 7th remake will hit theaters.

    Jason Statham is easily the most successful action star of the new millennium. He has a total of 39 films since 1998 that he has or is scheduled to appear in. Of those, his major successes have been the Transporter and Expendables series. In total, including scheduled films to 2016, Statham has appeared in 25 action films.

    What is of note is that in each of the remakes with Statham, all are remakes of films from the 1970′s. It would seem that Statham has an affinity for that time period. Or directors are drawn to Statham to bring current day action and sensibilities to the unrepentant machismo of the 1970′s films.

    The latest remake, Wild Card, appears to be an unflinching copy of Burt Reynolds’s film Heat (not to be confused with the DeNiro/Pacino heist film of the same name but vastly different plot). This new film has Statham playing a gambling addict/hired muscle exactly the same as Reynolds portrayed. The films are set in Las Vegas. The motivation in the film, and the villain, match up as if cloned.

    So where does the Statham film detract from the original? It wouldn’t be suggested to take any bets on the resolution with the antagonist of the film (though the film has not been seen as yet). Perhaps the only real difference will be if director Simon West (Expendables 2) decides to take the same revisionist tones with this film as he did in the remake of The Mechanic – also starring Statham.

    If the film does follow the trend of most current remakes, and the prior film by director West, then it will be an enjoyable film. The current generation of movie-goers are unlikely to have seen the original film and thus it should be a fresh experience for them. Fans of Burt Reynolds will likely be less impressed, but they would be a minority of the target audience of this film.

    The biggest thing that should be said about this film is that it will not be the action-fest most Statham fans will be hoping for. In fact, unless director West seriously departs from the original screenplay (which seems unlikely based on the movie trailer), this will be a film more dialogue and character driven than kicks or blades. How fans react to Jason Statham as a more dramatic actor may mean future films with less and less action as Statham transitions into more conventional acting roles.

    The result, based on the trailer and the way The Mechanic generally mimicked the theme of the original, is likely another fast paced yet unremarkable trip down memory lane. Perhaps the most original thing about the remake, other than the actual fight scenes with Statham, may be the following: **Potential SPOILER ALERT** Once again it is likely that the original ending will be filmed as a mirror version. **End potential SPOILER**

    Topics: Movie Previews and Reviews | No Comments »

    Neo Scavenger – early access – gameplay and review

    By Michael Vass | November 23, 2014

    There are more than a few gems out in the wold of early access video games. These are video games that may be in the Alpha or Beta stage of development. Games that don’t have the final polish found in the launch of major video game publishers, like Dragon Age: Inquisition, and may have the occasional bug. But these games often prove to be worth the discount of cost and the issues that may be involved. Neo Scavenger, in Beta at this time, proves to be a gem with few flaws, and worth the money.

    Video game - Neo Scavenger

    Neo Scavenger is a video game by Blue Bottle Games, an independent video game publisher. The video game is a turn-based, post-apocalypse, survival game. A unique niche, and a game that may not fit the perceptions gamers might have for the genre of survival.

    Neo Scavenger is not, currently at least, graphically stunning. It’s more of a throwback to the video games of the 1980′s. Graphics more akin to the old pixelated days of Tomb Raider, but not quite that rough. Simple graphics on a 2D hexagonal map with static images. Which may sound unapealing at a time of games like Mass Affect or Star Craft II, but the benefit is the lack of distractioon on the core elements of the game.

    In terms of the soundtrack, it is a bit repetative. Luckily it is also fitting with the gameplay and mostly far enough in the background that a player will likely forget it’s there. Occassionally the track will change to a more base driven theme that will remind the player of the soundtrack and tend to intensify the mood of the game.

    At the core Neo Scavenger is about choices. What would you carry if you have little room to carry anything at all? Where would you go, if you don’t know where you are going? What skills will help you survive challenges you don’t know will occur? It goes on from there. These choices, are what make the game compelling and frustrating at the same time.

    The choices start at the character creation screen. Choices of skills like Electrician, Hiding, Strong, Tough, Botany and more are available for the player. Which is the right choice, or even how they might apply in the game are unknown. Are the skills needed for the early game, mid-game, or end-game? Will any choice help or hurt as the game progresses? Players on the first several tries through will never know.

    I say the first several tries as you can expect to die a few times before things become clear. Hypothermia, starvation, dehydration, are just a few of the things that can kill a character early in a new game. Which says nothing of the random map and supplies that are generated each time a new game is created. Then there are the other things that could kill a game in later stages – like infections and plague.

    But these things add to the challenge, and will likely cause a player to want to go at it again and not make the same mistake twice. Initial triumphs might be a simple as surviving combat, living for a week or more, exploring areas of the map, or even as simple as finding a sleeping bag or pants. The complexity of the game mechanics grows as the player lives longer and learns more about the world they find themselves in. It is an apt translation of the mystery that the character experiences upon waking in a world he does not know, and a past he cannot remember.

    There are flaws though. The character creation does not allow for the image of the character to be altered in any way. He is always a nondescript male, apparently white, with indeterminate weight and height. Games cannot be saved and a new game started. There is only one save available – so any past save is overwritten. The game lacks a tutorial, and may factors that can kill a character are unknown until you die of them.

    The game is highly open-ended. That is that there is no real path to progress, other than a hint early in the game that some may not remember or understand. Another hint appears if a character makes it to the right place in the game, but that is is. How to advance in the game is left to the player overall. There is no skill tree, nor experience to speak of. Characters can learn to do things, either by finding receipes or figuring out how to do things, but there is no indication in-game of when something has be learned for crafting.

    Add to that the fact that the graphics are dull. Combat, once figured out, can be a bit repeatitive. The absolute randomness of supplies can either be a blessing or a curse at any point in the game. All that said, the game is an early access game. Many of these things may change. Then again, they may not.

    Ultimately, for $10 on STEAM, the value and fun of the game exceeds the price paid. This is a game that many fans of turn-based strategy, survival, future apocalypse and even zombies (though the game has mutants instead) may enjoy.

    Rating: 7.5 out of 10

    ** Here are some actual gameplay videos. The video quality is not the best as these video was not captured but recorded. Game graphics are better than shown. ***

    Neo Scavenger game intro – Day 1 ingame

    Neo Scavenger game – Day 1 ingame, part 2

    Neo Scavenger game – Day 2, part 1

    Neo Scavenger video game – Day 2, part 2

    Topics: Video Games | No Comments »

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