Star Wars: The Last Jedi

poster from movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Review by TJ Lawrence

This movie has plot holes you could fly an X-Wing through, contagious stupidity on the part of some characters, two substantially weaker side plots, and about thirty minutes of unnecessary run time. However, it is also graced with gorgeous cinematography, well-thought-out character development, good acting, and a strong, engaging central plot. The verdict: The Last Jedi doesn’t measure up to expectations in many areas, but makes up for its weaknesses with impressive strengths. It’s flawed but fun and certainly worth at least one watch. 7/10

My personal likes and dislikes about the movie are below.

(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~) *SPOILERS BEGIN HERE!* (~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)

What I liked:

Character development: Poe’s earlier characterization as a reckless pilot influences his decisions throughout the movie, skewing them toward good immediate results with no real thought for the tactical disadvantages of those results. He learns better through Leia’s chastisement for his early-movie sacrifice of the entire bombing fleet and the events that follow. Finn tried to run away from the battle. I was ridiculously disappointed in him until I realized that a) this fits with his characterization from The Force Awakens and b) he redeems himself later. I still think this decision made it a lot harder to sympathize with or root for him as a character, so the results were mixed. Kylo Ren’s internal tug-of-war and his eventual choice of sides fit in perfectly with his character. And don’t even get me started on Luke Skywalker and his heroic sacrifice—I will cry right here on this keyboard, I swear.

Rey, Luke, and Kylo: This plot was the best part of the entire film. The character clashes between Rey and Luke, Rey and Kylo’s Force connection, Rey’s seeming tilt toward the dark side, and Kylo’s absolutely awesome assassination of Snoke/fake turn towards the light…I could go on about this forever. It was amazing. If this plot had been the entire movie, I wouldn’t have complained at all.

Cinematography/Why is everything so pretty: The battle scene on Crait was so beautiful it made me want to go there, except that I didn’t really want to be in the middle of a battle anywhere. I loved the animation of all the animal life except that weird pink cow-thing. The CGI shields around the Resistance cruiser were impressive and laid to rest my consistent quibble—”why can’t I ever see the shields?” Admiral Holdo’s last flight scared me.

What I didn’t like:

Plot holes: If Admiral Holdo had just told Poe what the plan was, the entire last half of the movie could have been avoided. Come on, lady! I expected a little more maturity and rationality from a hero of the Resistance.

Plot-induced stupidity: See plot holes.

(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~) *SPOILERS END HERE!* (~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)

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A Winter Walk

image of froze lake in winter

the lake calls out in the back of my eyes

brutally blue, cupped in hills of gold

fenced with thin pines, fragile in the cold

my legs ached, my ears numbed, and my nose ran

on the water, whitecaps formed and died

I trotted back along the dam

 

the lake calls out in the back of my mind

the foam looked glorious on the cobalt water

my cheeks burned red, the wind cut through my bones

the sunlight broke like fire around the hills

a few tough birds flew, calling harsh and low

I turned around and we all headed home.

 

By TJ Lawrence

Monument Valley 2

MonumentValley2

Monument Valley 2 is a surreal, beautifully interactive work of art, a moving story, and a wonderful experience. Don’t get this if you’re into hardcore puzzles or vast realms of content. Do get this if you’d like a low-stress game that lets you marvel at beautiful vistas of pixels or if you enjoyed the first game.

Monument Valley 2, from ustwo games, has been out for a few months, but I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I played (and reviewed) the first version. That game was interactive, mysterious, immersive, and magical.

I am happy to tell you that Monument Valley 2 is just as good. “Just as good,” though, has some modifiers — an obvious downside of the original Monument Valley was the lack of content. It’s about an hour or two to play through it the first time. Monument Valley 2 has about the same amount of content. Knowing this, I consciously rationed my play to spread the game out over four days. This second game’s gameplay has a distinct lack of challenge to it. The puzzles seem to be there for show. I only remember feeling challenged at three points in the entire game.

Now for the good stuff.

The characters are Ro, her unnamed child, and several ghosts. Ro and her child explore Monument Valley, working together and separately to solve puzzles and discover themselves.

The art is just as wonderful as ever. Beautiful new mechanics, an emphasis on plant life and water, and a consistent theme throughout levels even improve on the original. I don’t really have anything to say about the art that I haven’t said before — magical, minimalistic, surreal, etc., etc. I could not stop playing the game on the first few occasions I started it up — the old familiar “just one more level,” for slightly different reasons. The game was so beautiful I only wanted to see more.

The music is even better than the original game’s. In this game, sounds create an immersive effect that pulls you into the story. At the beginning of the game, text even states that “this game is best played with sound.”

The story is quite a lot more immersive. Simple motions, sounds, and memories included in the game imply a level of emotional depth and attachment that wasn’t so obvious in the first game. This second story is far more open-ended, but it is much, much more relatable. I’m not saying that the first game’s story was bad. It wasn’t. But this one informs the level order, the level design, the characters’ journeys, and your sense of Monument Valley’s history. When compared to this story, the first story seemed like it was written in as an afterthought.

The gameplay mechanics are still easy to understand and use. There’s a pretty cool new ability to draw the sacred geometry that Ro and the child create. It has me incessantly striving to make my geometry even prettier.

I rate this a 4/5, because there is still not enough content. This irritates me deeply. All I really want is more Monument Valley, but even when they released this new game, I didn’t get what seemed like my money’s worth. Four more levels at least, please, and I’ll throw all my money at ustwo games.

history of the entire world, i guess (Video Review)

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This is a crazily informative, wildly hilarious Youtube video by bill wurtz.

In the video, the history of everything, yes, everything, is explained using funny images and graphics. It’s surprisingly accurate on most things. bill wurtz goes through the Big Bang, the theory of evolution, and the development of animals on Earth, then jumps over to humans. He explains how human societies changed to countries and then began fighting with each other, making alliances, inventing cool stuff, etc. It’s all told in a crazy, hilarious, and easy-to-understand manner.

Pros:

The jingles! (AKA: super-funny singsong soundbites)

Accurate history (Whoa, I did not know a quarter of that stuff)

It’s only 19 minutes, 25 seconds long! (How did he fit all of world history into that time? Nobody knows.)

Graphics (Not sophisticated, precisely, but very brightly colored. It’s like a party for your eyes.)

Cons:

WAY too much profanity (Argh, my delicate ears! I really don’t appreciate unnecessary swearing, and that was definitely unnecessary. There’s a cleaned version on Youtube too, and after the first minute and a half of the original, I fled to that one.)

Score: 4/5, for the swears. Too many swears, bill wurtz. I could not deal. If there was no profanity at all, this would be a 5 1/2 out of 5.

Links:

(original) (cleaned) < I recommend cleaned

(his other video History of Japan) (censored History of Japan) < these are about 9 minutes

Classic Music Review – Eye in the Sky

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Eye in the Sky, a song by The Alan Parsons Project, is a relatively simple-sounding piece of music. But when you think about it a little bit more, the poetic, polished lyrics and the otherworldly feeling of the music create something that’s not just a fresh take on a breakup song. The pieces of the song fit together like puzzle pieces to create a beautiful, balanced whole. Eye in the Sky was made with love, talent, and hard work, and that comes through plainly in the music.

Pros:

The lyrics could be a poem on their own (a song is really just a poem set to music, anyway). The words flow into each other neatly and rhythmically. This is a perfect song to daydream to – it doesn’t have a heart-pounding beat or screaming vocals, but it still .

The music catches your attention from the first second of the song. It has a melancholy, slightly ominous tone and is supported by a strong and interesting drumbeat. Electric guitar accents some of the later verses and changes the song enough to keep it just as interesting throughout as it was when it began. The tune is original and cleverly transitions between different sections of the song. There are some subtle but noticeable shifts in the tune that segue smoothly

The vocals are not trying to stand out. That’s a good thing – if they were, the entire track would be focused around vocals, vocals, vocals. As it is, Eye in the Sky emphasizes all the parts of a good song – interesting lyrics, catchy and original music, and polished vocals. The singing is simple and beautiful.

Cons:

Nowadays, everyone’s used to intense, ‘obvious’ music. When you’re used to that kind of music, it might be harder to appreciate the quiet, many-layered mystery of this track. I’ve never really had a problem with it, though.

Just take a few minutes out of your day to listen to Eye in the Sky. Why miss hearing some good, underplayed classic music?

For Those of You Who Didn’t See Totality

Image of total solar eclipse

By TJ Lawrence

When you see the sun through eclipse glasses, you see a flat, pale orange disc. As that sliver slowly disappears behind the moon and the very edge of it vanishes, it flares up in certain spots to make miniscule round circles. The next second, they are gone. You can’t see anything anymore, so the glasses come off.

The average reaction to totality is probably something along the lines of whoa.

The moon is a pitch-black disc; a two-dimensional cutout hanging in the sky. It has an otherworldly, three-dimensional halo – the corona of the sun. It shifts and moves as you watch and lights the sky up like a full moon. The corona flares from within with milky white light, shimmering out against the darkness like the moon is radiating fog.

Everything is dark. It’s night in the middle of the day, and overwhelmingly foreign. Some people have brought their dogs, and they have all curled up and gone to sleep. You look around and see the rosy pink hues of sunset cover the clouds like paint, all the way around the horizon. Everyone else’s heads are tilted up at the sky.

The moon and sun are burning in the dark. Faint stars surround them, and Venus glows a little ways to their right. A cloud moves slightly, and suddenly they are out from behind it, twice as brilliant. The corona undulates. It seems almost opalescent. A portal to another world would look like this.

The brightness on one side of the moon thickens. Many pairs of glasses are simultaneously replaced. The tiny beads reappear, speckles of orange in a semicircle, then flare up in one spot as the sun peeks out from behind the moon. Totality is over, but there’s a little more to see.

Shadow snakes are visible against a pale, flat surface. They appear on a pale-colored asphalt parking lot. They are not exactly as “snaky” as advertised. Instead, they take the form of thin, barely perceptible ripples in the intensity of the light on the blacktop, faint zebra stripes of shadow. They race away from you at the pace of a swift jog for about thirty seconds, then vanish.

It’s been about two minutes, thirty seconds. It’s over.

 

 

*This is exactly what I saw. I was in Kingstree, South Carolina, at a really cool gathering of people from up and down the Eastern Seaboard who had come to see the eclipse. The eclipse was spectacular, they had great food, and we met some nice people. Everyone was a bit worried about the clouds, which covered the partial phases a few times, but we saw almost all of totality through clear skies.

The Joys of NaNoWriMo

 

NaNoWriMo logo

By TJ Lawrence

Now that November is coming up, I’m here to tell you about National Novel Writing Month.  (That’s the NaNoWriMo I referred to above; participants are affectionately called WriMos, and it’s in – you guessed it – November.)

NaNoWriMo is a bit of a challenge.  It requires you to set your own bar high. For adults, 50,000 words in a month is the preset goal.  For people under 18, there is a separate site, where any goal – from just 1,000 words to 100,000 words – can be chosen.  For some, the pressure to reach your goal is stimulating. NaNo definitely encourages commitment.  Commitment to your ideas and your abilities, no matter if you produce a polished novel or 80 double-spaced pages of ‘word vomit’ that you will eventually have to rewrite. (< me)

If you’ve been struggling to write your book/script/fic/etc. on your own, the best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it makes you feel less alone.  There are supportive writers’ chats, places you can get storytelling tips, revision centers… and all of them are full of people who are having problems just like you are.  Wrote your main squad into a corner?  Yeah, somebody else probably stuck them in a lava temple with zombie alligators and forgot the secret exit was blocked.  Just can’t kill someone off? There are dozens of messy, tear-filled posts about dealing with that.  Writer’s block? Every single person on the site has probably been there.  If they already fixed their problem, you can get tips on how to solve your issue.  And if they are still stuck, you may be able to help them, giving you that wonderful, fuzzy good-deed-for-the-day feeling and establishing your ‘blog cred’ as a helpful individual.

NaNoWriMo YWP (the under-18 version) launched a redesigned site in time for November of last year.  It has a cool writing interface that automatically logs your words (make sure to save your work somewhere else too, though) and can bring up writing prompts to get you started for the day.  And you can use the site any month of the year – although November is when the party really gets started.  In addition to help blogs and character workshops, there are also chats about fandoms, roleplays, and additional miscellaneous randomness.  Famous authors (John Green, Lois Lowry, etc.) provide short and extremely encouraging pep talks to keep you going until midnight, Nov. 30.

But NaNoWriMo is just the beginning of your book.  It kick-starts your feeling of accomplishment, of actually getting something done, of creating an entirely new world, character, plot, or whatever you want!  Doing NaNo was worth it for me because I learned to believe in myself and in my imagination.  I will continue writing about Cory and Marie and Dennis and all of my other new characters.  I know who they are, and what they will do, and soon the rest of the world will too.  But the point of NaNoWriMo, for everyone, is that you start.  You try! You are doing it, and there’s no point to hesitation.  After NaNo, you will have more hard work to get through.  But NaNoWriMo lets you know that you can work hard, on time, and create whatever kind of story you put your imagination into.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Young Writers’ Program