SPORTS | The Minneapolis Miracle

Just watching this on a loop:

 

 

Advertisements

SPORTS | This Feels Different

In 2014, I made a rather ill-advised prediction: that one of Minnesota’s four major men’s sports teams would win a championship within the next 4 years. Since then we’ve seen the Minnesota Lynx win some WNBA championships and become a real dynasty (appearing in the finals 6 times and winning 4 championships since 2011!), but there had been little movement for the Vikings, Timberwolves, Twins and Wild.

But ladies and gentlemen,

“I come back to you now … at the turn of the tide.”

Yes, the past year has featured some very exciting developments for the big four Minnesota teams. With time winding down for my prediction to come true, how are we looking? Let’s take a quick run around the Minnesota sports landscape for some updates.

Minnesota Wild

For a while it looked like the Wild were our best hope for a championship. The “Skate-riots” (a play on Patriots) were a budding NHL super team that would surely deliver some deep playoff runs and maybe even an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. Well, the hype-train got switched to a much slower track and the buzz surrounding this team has turned into a murmur at best. They’re in the midst of a middling season again now and it would seem that our hopes for a Cup are not going to be realized this year without a significant turnaround. And that’s the extent of my attention on this team.

Minnesota Twins

Going into the 2017 season, a rebuild was underway. The Twins got some new front office voices and shopped some of their talent while betting on the futures of some great young players. It was the right thing to do after a disastrous 2016 season. Then something peculiar happened – this iteration of the Twins turned out to be good! Despite some lingering pitching trouble, the young players like Byron Buxton ascended to incredible heights and veterans bounced back from rough 2016 seasons. They even made it to the Wild Card play-in game, where they lost to the Yankees. Still, it was a completely unexpected success story of a season, giving hope that the retooled front office had a plan that would work rather quickly. Was the season a blip on the radar or an actual first step towards relevance? Next season will help answer that question. Could the Twins win it all in 2018? The odds are definitely not in their favor, but the future is a lot brighter than it was a year ago.

Minnesota Timberwolves

I wrote last year about the furious, win-now moves that Tom Thibodeau enacted in the off season. Bringing in a super star like Jimmy Butler and some grizzled veterans like Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford signaled that Thibs wasn’t ready to concede the next few years to the Warriors and Cavs. He thought his young guys just needed some more positive peer pressure to buy into his master system. So far, the season has proved that the plan can work at least in the short term. The Wolves are sitting in the 4th spot in the tough Western Conference and it seems almost assured that their long, long playoff drought will finally end this season. That in and of itself is a huge success for this franchise. But Thibs certainly won’t be satisfied with a playoff berth and a first round exit. He believes that this team can contend for a title and soon.

Based on the season so far, it’s clear that they are still a work in progress. They’ve dropped games to lowly opponents from time to time and streaky shooting and foul trouble have hampered Wiggins and Towns. Injuries have also be a bit of a problem in this young season. Still, as the team gradually begins to see Butler as their centerpiece, they will only get better. I see them reaching the playoffs (for the first time in TWELVE YEARS!) as a 4 or 5 seed and winning their first round series. From there, the rest of the West might be too tough to break through without an injury on the other side. I’m not predicting a Finals appearance this year, but it’s certainly on the table for 2-3 seasons from now.

Which brings me to the actual best hope for nailing my prediction by the end of 2018:

Minnesota Vikings

As a Vikings fan, I’m always ready for the other shoe to drop. This franchise, for whatever reason, has a way of dangling some hope out there and then knocking the wind out of you with a lead pipe to the gut when you finally decide to reach out for it. But this season feels different.

The team opened the season with a masterful win over the Saints led by Sam Bradford, the player we acquired at great cost last season after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic, non-contact knee injury in training camp. Bradford looked ready to pick up where he left off last year with pinpoint accuracy in his passes and no mistakes. Plus, rookie running back Dalvin Cook carved up the Saints and looked like a rookie of the year candidate. But it didn’t take long for the Vikings to slowly reach for the pipe in their back pocket. Bradford’s knee became a problem and he hit the IR, leaving the team in the care of technically 3rd string QB Case Keenum. Then Dalvin Cook tore his ACL on a non-contact play in a week 4 loss to the Lions at home.

But this season just feels different!

The Vikings didn’t crumble under the weight of these problems like they did last year. Case Keenum put together the best season of his career, doing his best Bradford impression with accurate passes and few mistakes, plus mobility that Bradford only dreams of. The re-tooled offensive line played extremely well and WR Adam Thielen broke out in a big way. And then there’s the defense, which is probably the best unit front-to-back that we’ve ever seen in Minnesota. The Vikings rang up a 13-3 record and earned a first round bye in the playoffs along with the Eagles (who became very vulnerable when star QB Carson Wentz tore his ACL late in the season).

And it just so happens that the Super Bowl is in Minneapolis this year.

Something about this season just feels different!

The Vikings defense is the best in the game, from the line to the safeties. The offense is coolly efficient with a thunder/lightning RB combo, smart and athletic WRs and a QB on a hot streak. The fact that the Super Bowl is in their home stadium is just another incentive to get there and make history.

So I refuse to be the Minnesota sports fan who can’t enjoy the success because he’s bracing himself for a hit to the stomach.

These are not the 1998 Vikings (Gary Anderson missed FG at home against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game). These are not the 2001 Vikings (41-0 loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game). These are not the 2009 Vikings (Favre interception / 12 men penalty against Saints in the NFC Championship Game). These are not the 2015 Vikings (Blair Walsh missed easy FG against the Seahawks at TCF Bank Stadium in the Wild Round).

In the words of Kylo Ren:

These are the 2017 Vikings!

And they just might be headed to Valhalla.

august_24__2016_at_0124pm__instagram

Top Albums of 2017 – Part 2

EOTY 2017 Albums

10. Elbow | Little Fictions

I wish more people listened to Elbow. Guy Garvey’s voice is so unique and their textures are always very interesting. This album is a great addition to their already great discography.

9. LCD Soundsystem | American Dream

LCD Soundsystem famously broke up back in 2014, but then James Murphy discovered he had more he wanted to say through the band. So they reunited and released a killer album with some more great LCD SS tunes. And it’s 69 minutes long. Yeah, he had more to say alright.

8. Mogwai | Every Country’s Sun

I’ve been a Mogwai fan for awhile and listened to each of their albums as they came out. This one is a great throwback to the hard guitar rock of their early 00’s albums. Plus, it gets a boost because I saw them live this year at First Ave and they were spectacular.

7. St. Vincent | MASSEDUCTION

Annie Clark is back with a bawdy, modern pop album that is clearly her most personal work yet. The songs are complex compositions of excess and simplicity. From a disjointed song about pills to a sad ballad about a burned out friend on Christmas, Clark doesn’t shy away from her demons.

6. Grandaddy | Last Place

Gone for 11 years, Grandaddy reunited this year to release this album. It’s like they never left! This album is a wonderful gem that tackles issues of love lost and moving forward.

5. The XX | I See You

I love The XX and this album might be the culmination of their sound. A crystallization of the dreams of the first two albums. Jamie XX brings his sampling acumen into play and gives the songs a dance edge that really works for them. On Hold is a highlight for me.

4. Hammock | Mysterium

Hammock’s albums always make my lists. This is another lush and beautiful entry in their catalog, inspired by the death of a family friend. This is a requiem and it’s amazing.

3. Sufjan Stevens, et al | Planetarium

A few years in the making, this album is a recorded version of a live show that Sufjan Stevens and friends performed awhile back. It’s a concept album based on the solar system and features lyrics by Sufjan. It’s a little overstuff, but has some really lovely passages. I have given it plenty of spins this year.

2. The Clientele | Music for the Age of Miracles

Yet another band returned from hiatus when The Clientele release their first album in 7 years. They picked up right where they left off with beautiful, hushed songs of wonder and an impressionistic view of the world. I’m so glad they are back.

1. Slowdive | Slowdive

 

The mother of all comebacks! Slowdive released their first album since 1995’s Pygmalion this year and it might just be their best album ever. The songs are perfect, the voices are amazing and the shoegaze sound is completely intact. I fell in love with this album on the very first listen and went back to it many times this year. Long live Slowdive!

Top Albums of 2017 – Part 1

EOTY 2017 Albums

25. Bjork | Utopia

Bjork is back! This is a romantic, almost giddy album of “being in love” songs. And it’s pretty great.

24. Phoenix | Ti Amo

Phoenix makes really great dancey album and this latest one doesn’t fail in that respect either. A great collection of quick hitting tunes clocking in at a brisk 36 minutes.

23. Beck | Colors

My favorite Beck albums are Sea Change and Morning Phase, the sad ones. So this album is good, not great in my mind. I love, love the song Dreams. The rest is just not my cup of tea.

22. Spoon | Hot Thoughts

It’s been three years since Spoon’s last album, so it’s pretty great to have another quality release from these guys. They just have a great style and attitude to their music.

21. Iron & Wine | Beast Epic

Sam Beam got back to what made Iron & Wine great right out of the gate: beautiful acoustic songs on a small scale. It’s a great little album.

20. The National | Sleep Well Beast

This is a great guitar album, which is becoming a rarity these days. Lots to love on the latest from Matt Berninger and company.

19. Feist | Pleasure

Feist has been on a 6 year hiatus of sorts, so when this album was announced I was really happy that she was recording again. It’s a sad album that feels very personal.

18. Wolf Alice | Visions of a Life

I loved Wolf Alice’s first album. Here they get a little more experimental, eschewing a cohesive album style in favor of trying some new sounds. Dreampop, punk and 80’s pop are all here. Not everything works, but I love Don’t Delete the Kisses so much.

17. Stars | There is No Love in Fluorescent Light

Stars is such a great band and this is probably their best album in the last 6 years. It’s danceable and happy with a ting of sadness underneath, which is pretty much the band’s calling card.

16. The New Pornographers | Whiteout Conditions

The NP are back with their best album in years! Great harmonies, prickly lyrics and fun arrangements featuring synths and hooks. Carl Newman and Neko Case are awesome.

15. Mew | Visuals

For some reason I keep expecting Mew to break up since they’ve undergone some personnel changes in the last few years. But Visuals shows that they still have some edge and some new ideas.

14. Derek Webb | Fingers Crossed

I need to write up some long-form thoughts on this release. It’s musically gorgeous and lyrically heartbreaking. Derek loves writing riddles and letting people untangle them. Here, he pulls no punches as he articulates his loss of faith and love. Beautiful art out of shocking pain.

13. Slow Meadow | Costero

It’s another beautiful release from Slow Meadow, full of ambient keys and strings that are tilted towards classical music. I have spun this many times while walking or reading.

12. Broken Social Scene | Hug of Thunder

How about a comeback from a 7 year hiatus with maybe your best album ever? That’s what BSS just did. Hug of Thunder is a wonderful group effort that is equal parts political record and friendly jam session.

11. Julien Baker | Turn Out the Lights

Julien Baker is turning into a pretty great voice in the music scene. Her Elliott Smith-style approach is so lovely and her personal, emotive lyrics are sung with such passion you can’t help but start to feel her feelings with her.

Top Films of 2017

EOTY 2017 Film

As in years past, I didn’t watch a ton of movies. I have a long list of 2017 films that I really need to see and many of those will probably end up on this list. The movies that I did go out to the theater to see were the big genre movies that I’d been anticipating: comic book and sci-fi movies. So I’m intentionally leaving this “top ten” list short so I can save room for the movies I haven’t seen that I anticipate may gain entry once I’ve seen them. I’ll add my watchlist at the bottom of the post and you can tell me which ones I should prioritize.

7. The Lego Batman Movie

Forget Ben Affleck, Will Arnett is great as the titular character in this hilarious movie. It’s a lighter take on The Dark Knight that we haven’t seen since Adam West and Burt Ward were running around in the 60’s. It pokes fun at the long history of the character and also has a warm heart under the wild action. I loved it.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

A great second entry to the series that focuses on fathers, biological and figurative.

Read my full review here.

5. Thor: Ragnarok

Taika Waititi was hired to direct a 3rd Thor movie after the 2nd one largely failed to land with audiences. Waititi’s comedic sensibilities were on full display here as the movie was almost a parody of itself while also propelling the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward. The action was goofy fun and the side characters were all great. The villain Hela was perfectly portrayed by Cate Blanchett. I hope she’s back for Infinity War! I had a great time with this movie.

4. Wonder Woman

I consider Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to be a complete debacle. But it did introduce Wonder Woman to the film universe and she was the best part of that movie. In her solo film, things only got better. The story was great, the action was amazing and the heart was warm. Chris Pine was perfect as the hotshot pilot who quickly took a backseat to the more-powerful Diana and sacrificed himself for victory. Great, great movie. Then it was basically back to business as usual for Justice League. *sigh*

3. Spiderman: Homecoming

This may be the first Spider-Man movie to actually get Peter Parker perfectly. By making it all about a smart high-school clown who gets in way over his head, it connected with the audience in a way many of these comic book movies never do. It was warm, super funny and full of action. The plot device of making the villain also his crush’s dad made for some really great scenes. Tom Holland is so great in this and I love seeing Martin Starr getting work in Hollywood. Freaks and Geeks forever!

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I don’t have much more to say on this one. It’s great and I want to rewatch it again as soon as possible.

1. Logan

Logan was crushingly good. I wish we got more comic book movies like that, that break down the genre into it’s sparest parts and create a story for adults. The themes of failure, death, fatherhood and masculinity were very well done. In some ways, Logan was being Luke Skywalker before The Last Jedi came out. He’s a once-powerful hero who has seen so much pain and loss that he want to retreat and live out his days away from the action. But when the need is great and things get personal, he is forced decide what his place is in the conflict that he’s partly to blame for creating. Hugh Jackman is amazing here and so is Patrick Stewart. It’s a visceral, violent neo-Western packaged as an X-Men movie. I hope that Disney’s acquisition of the film rights to the X-Men won’t quash future movies like this one. In an epoch when comic book movies come out almost monthly, we need these unique deconstructions to mix up the formula and demonstrate what kind of stories can be told if you tear up the templates.


My Movie Watchlist

Here are some movies that I am looking forward to seeing that I just haven’t gotten to yet. Any suggestions for what I should put at the top of the list?

  • Baby Driver
  • War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Coco
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Alien: Covenant
  • John Wick: Chapter 2
  • The Shape of Water
  • It Comes at Night
  • Okja
  • Kong: Skull Island
  • Dunkirk (how have I not seen this yet?!)
  • IT
  • The Lost City of Z
  • The Big Sick

Top Television of 2017

EOTY 2017 TV

Television continues to be a haven for creative minds to flex their muscles and craft some very compelling narratives. It was honestly hard to rank the shows I’ve enjoyed this year and I left a few off that were quite good. But here’s my list.

10. GLOW (Netflix)

I was surprised by this show. It’s super fun, a little campy and has a lot of heart to it. It’s a great drama with some great performances from the ensemble cast. Lots of complicated characters that your really start to like and root for in the end. And Mark Maron was really, really good.

9. Game of Thrones (HBO)

Oh Game of Thrones, you vexed me this year. Last season was so, so good as the show moved beyond the storylines of the source material and capitalized on the freedom that afforded them. This year, it seemed like they might not know how to land the plane on such a short runway. There were some great visual spectacles, but some creative choices felt really contrived and implausible, like the characters forgot who they were for awhile. Don’t let us down, GoT!

8. Last Man on Earth (Fox)

This show continues to be a totally absurd joy to behold. They continue to slowly tease out some of the PTSD elements of surviving the apocalypse while also letting these insane people bounce off each other in increasingly bizarre ways. I love it.

7. Better Call Saul (AMC)

The definition of slow-burn drama, Better Call Saul paid off some of the 2-years-in-the-making stories this season in some really gripping episodes. I don’t really like courtroom dramas and this season had some scenes that had me on the edge of my seat.

6. Legion (FX)

Noah Hawley brought us the Fargo TV show on FX a few years ago and now he brought us a bonkers show about a 3rd rate X-Men character. This show had its ups and downs, but the highs were so, so good. This show can be anything: horror, action, heist, comedy, Wes-Andersonian drama, anything. Great casting and a wild villain made it a great first season. More please!

5. American Vandal (Netflix)

My wife and I watched a episode of American Vandal on a whim and we were both immediately drawn in by this crazy thing. On its face, it’s a parody of Making a Murderer, Serial and The Jinx but with phallic graffiti, yet it’s really a lot deeper than that. As the show goes on, we laugh and shake our heads at these high schoolers taking the crime so, so seriously. In the end, there’s a real heart to the show and a theme of truth and identity that is fascinating. Recommended.

4. Narcos (Netflix)

Narcos is Netflix’s not-so-secret weapon show. The fact that it’s bilingual makes it have a board appeal to audiences around the world. The fact that it’s a great show to boot is amazing. After the demise of the main character of the first two seasons, the show is forced to pivot to new foes and new heroes in season 3. As such, it turns the spotlight on some “little guys” in the drug war and makes itself really, really interesting. The drug war didn’t end with Escobar, it just transformed into something even harder to nail down.

3. Stranger Things (Netflix)

Stranger Things is back and it is still great! The characters are awesome and the new, bigger story is great. I have a few issues with the plotting (and with episode 8’s detour), but I still have so much love for this series and it’s characters. See my bigger review for more thoughts. 

2. The Good Place (NBC)

The Good Place is so, so good. If you haven’t watched season 1, I can’t recommend it enough. For a comedy with lots of visual and verbal humor, it poses a lot of philosophical questions and lets them linger. After the finale of season 1 changed everything, season 2 became a surprising examination morality and eternity. The whole cast is amazing and makes the headiness of the show extremely fun and approachable.

1. Mindhunter (Netflix)

Mindhunter was apparently made with people like me in mind. I love David Fincher’s films and Zodiac is one of my favorites. Fincher produced this series and the directors tore pages out of his directors handbook to craft it. The acting is superb and the prickly nature of the story only serves to amplify the tension as you watch. Oh, and Cameron Britton’s turn as serial killer Ed Kemper was chilling in its execution. It’s a slow, slow burn of a show that gets under your skin. And it’s a great workplace drama. There really are agents who have to live in the world of horrific murder and then go home to their families at night and try to disengage from their work. This show humanizes these people and forces us to consider the possibility that people who seek out this work may be more like their suspects and prisoners than they are willing to admit. In a way, it comes closer than any show has to filling the Mad Men shaped hole in the TV landscape. Best show of the year.


Honorable Mentions

  • Master of None (Netflix) – just missed the cut
  • Fargo (FX) – a slightly less compelling season that usual
  • Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access) – a bit messy, but interesting modern take on Trek
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 – The Return (Netflix) – some good episodes, some forgettable ones
  • Silicon Valley and Veep (HBO) – spun their creative wheels a bit this year
  • The OA (Netflix) – weird and addictive
  • The Orville (Fox) – way more enjoyable than it should be. In a lot of ways it’s the more Roddenberry-esque Star Trek show
  • The Walking Dead (AMC) – having a tough time keeping it together, maybe Rick should die soon
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) – another good season
  • Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime) – we’re about halfway through and really enjoying this one

FILM REVIEW | Star Wars – The Last Jedi [spoilers]

You know how bands that are about 5 years into their careers often release a double album? And you know how those double albums are rarely good all the way through, featuring enough good songs to fill 1 regular album and then a bunch of stuff that is pretty unnecessary? I mean, the good songs are often very, very good; it’s just that the not-good songs are very, very forgettable or outright bad. Why do bands feel like they need to put all that on the album and expand the run time to accommodate them? Couldn’t they edit it a bit? It’s because they personally feel very good about what they’ve done on all the songs and they have a vision that they all just belong together in one big collection. We’ve seen it time and time again.

And this creative gluttony is definitely not confined to the musical world. Filmmakers are probably even more prone to this. We often see tent pole genre films ballooning up towards the 3 hour mark just to fit all the plot in. Heck, we’ve seen a trend for big series to split their final entry into two parts, creating a literal double album of content (and doubling profits for the studios in the process). And that’s kind how I felt about my 1st viewing of The Last Jedi. A lot to like, even love! The good things are very, very good, but I could have done without a few of the lesser tracks in favor of a more streamlined approach. Maybe a bit like The White Album, which features some of the best songs The Beatles ever made while also featuring a few that most people don’t mind skipping.

That’s really my only criticism of this movie and honestly it is fading the more I mull the film over in my mind. This movie is built for discussion. So with that, let’s take the deep dive.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE


Background

When Disney bought Lucasfilm, hired JJ Abrams and released The Force Awakens, fans were overjoyed that a new Star Wars film existed that wasn’t the prequels! We recognized that it was a glorified remake of A New Hope, but we didn’t care all that much because it was wildly entertaining and the casting was a revelation. Still, as the movie sunk further into our brains, many realized that we really wanted the story to advance a bit more and show us some new things, not just play cool covers of the franchise’s greatest hits.

Since then, the Star Wars “brass” has hired some great directors to make new Star Wars movies, only to swoop in later and make changes. They “helped” Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) reshoot / retool Rogue One, they hired/fired Josh Trank (Chronicle) for a Boba Fett movie (and canceled it), they hired/fired Lord & Miller (The Lego Movie) for the Han Solo film (bringing in Ron Howard instead) and hired/fired Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) for Episode IX (bringing back JJ Abrams instead). It seems that the Lucasfilm brain trust (Kathleen Kennedy specifically) and Disney wanted to have it both ways: visionary and talented young directors who will stick to Lucasfilm’s established formulas and story ideas. Some guys couldn’t handle that and were summarily dismissed in favor of more known quantities (echoes of Edgar Wright’s time on Ant-Man for Marvel Studios). In the midst of swirling industry rumors surrounding these movements, the interwebs were silent about Rian Johnson’s work on The Last Jedi, and that was probably a good thing, indicating that everyone was very happy with what he was building. Then, a month before release, Lucasfilm announced that Johnson would soon be creating an adjacent Star Wars trilogy all his own! Clearly they liked what this guy was doing, but what did that mean? It turns out it meant that they wanted someone to push the story forward in very unexpected ways and propel the uncoupling process from the original trilogy forward. Basically it’s the opposite of what people thought they were angling for.

Plot

Let’s start with the plot of the movie. We pick up right where The Force Awakens left off. After Starkiller Base was destroyed by the resistance, the First Order is in hot pursuit of the small convoy to get revenge and wipe out their forces once and for all. The opening action scene is reminiscent of Rogue One – a real space battle with Poe Dameron leading the charge from some awesome looking bomber ships. It’s great.

Rey, meanwhile, was tasked with getting Luke Skywalker back into the action. He’s a legendary, superheroic figure that everyone in the resistance believes will win the war for them. Surprise: Luke wants nothing to do with galactic conflict anymore. In fact, he’s had it up to here with the Jedi and the Force altogether! This is a fascinating turn for the character that’s hard to grapple with at first. Luke, after all, was the pinnacle hero of the original franchise! Once it becomes more clear what caused him to retreat to a hermitage, we’re a little more understanding (or at least I am). Luke starts to train Rey in the ways of the Jedi and sees the power that she already possesses.

And then Luke sees that Rey is connected with Kylo through the Force. They are communicating telepathically across space. These scenes are so well done and are truly one of the best things in the movie.

When Rey leaves to confront Kylo, Luke is livid enough to make moves to burn the Force tree and the Jedi texts. And that’s when force-ghost Yoda appears and counsels Luke just like old times. Yes, the tree still burns, but Yoda says Rey has what she needs (hint hint).

As all that’s happening, the resistance is stuck in a 20mph car chase with the First Order. They can’t jump to light speed because that would use up all their fuel and the First Order can track them somehow and follow and blast them. But maybe, just maybe, they could break the tracker on the Star Destroyer and then jump away cleanly! Finn and a new character named Rose take a small ship and jump away to a casino world to attempt to hire a code-breaker to help them get through the Star Destroyer’s defenses and…. yeah… it doesn’t matter. This whole plot point was vestigial in my mind. And the slow chase seemed like a bit of a plot contrivance. More on that later.

In the meantime, Leia is in a coma after almost getting killed and the vice-admiral Holdo takes over, but Poe doesn’t like her choices. Soon he tries to force some action through mutiny. This stuff all seemed like it could have been avoided with a closed-door conversation about the plan of action and Poe’s place in it. Clearly Holdo believes that the tracking thing could be the work of a spy rather than advanced tech, so she needs to keep the plan on a need to know basis, but Poe might be one of those people who needs to know! Anyway, Holdo is a good guy and the soundless scene of her light speeding into the First Order Dreadnaught ship was breathtakingly good.

And now the best scene in the movie: the throne room scene. Kylo brings Rey to Snoke and she’s tempted to the Dark Side. She resists and then Kylo rises up, kills Snoke and fights his guards side-by-side with Rey. The battle is a visual feast! And Kylo and Rey fighting together! But Kylo still wants Rey to join him as he’s now in charge.  Kylo has doubled down on the dark side and is now the Big Bad in the films. Woah.

It is shocking that Snoke was dispatched like this. There was a lot of digital ink spilled over Snoke’s origins! Was he Darth Plaugeis? Was he Mace Windu? Was he some animated series character?  Rian Johnson forces us to accept that those things don’t matter. Snoke was a big bad guy and now he’s dead. This was always about Kylo Ren more than it was about Snoke. Move on, fanboys. Gutsy call by Rian Johnson!

Battle_of_Crait.jpg

We finish with the big battle on Crait, a beautiful “salt planet” that reminds us of the battle on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. The visuals of the white salt with blood red soil underneath were gorgeous. In the end, Skywalker finally appears and Kylo is obsessed with killing him, which allows the rebels to escape out the back door with Rey’s help. The twist, of course, is that Luke isn’t really there. He’s projecting from his island, creating a diversion and saying farewell to Leia. The exertion of projecting takes its toll and Luke finally fades out, alone but content that the story and the cause doesn’t depend on him.

So the rebel forces are severely reduced in number, but Leia says they have everything they need to continue the fight.

And then the coda, where were circle back to some random slave kids from the casino planet playing with home made Luke Skywalker action figures and recounting the legends. When the boy is sent out to sweep the barn, he casually pulls the broom to his hand with the Force and gazes up at the stars, brandishing the handle like a lightsaber. I love it.

Characters

One of the best aspects of The Force Awakens was the casting. All the new core characters were extremely well cast, full of crackling gravitas on screen. They were young, diverse and compelling. While that film went to great lengths to give the old guard of Han and Leia some screen time, it was the newcomers that truly stole the show.

In The Last Jedi, Luke returns to action and is given a great arc. There were many who wondered if Mark Hamill had simply been out of the game too long. After the original trilogy, Hamill pivoted to doing a lot of voice over work and dutifully participated in the convention circuit. When he got the call to come back for some new movies, he didn’t have too much going on that would prevent him from rejoining the rebellion. But could he still act on screen? The answer is a resounding “YES”! Hamill is great in this as the wounded and reclusive Luke Skywalker.

Leia is also great in this movie. Carrie Fisher’s final performance of the character is funny, nuanced and earnest. Space Mary Poppins scene aside , she was a stabilizing and tough presence for the resistance band.

Rey and Kylo are the heart and soul of this film. Their scenes are so, so good. Their chemistry is undeniable and their characters complement each other so well. It’s revealed that Rey’s parents were nobodies, drunks who sold her for booze money. Kylo is really Ben Solo, from the most famous force-using family in the galaxy! They are opposite ends of the spectrum in every sense, which makes them a really great conflict to watch.

Finn and Rose, umm, they didn’t really have much to do. I like their characters for the most part, but it just seemed like the plot didn’t do them enough justice. I thought Finn really should have died on Crait, sacrificing himself for the rebels and finally growing up enough to no flee from his fears. Instead, he’s saved to maybe wander around in the next film too. Still, I love John Boyega, I just wish the writers gave him an interesting plotline!

Poe Dameron too just seemed a bit frustrating from time to time. I get that he’s hotheaded and impulsive (“Let’s go blow stuff up!”), but his foolish zeal wore thin after awhile. Hasn’t he been at this long enough that he knows it’s not always about blasting things from his X-wing?

Likes

So there were so many things I liked. As other have said, this is clearly the best looking Star Wars movie yet. Rian Johnson knows how to use color and style to craft a memorable canvas for his story. The deep red colors of the throne room and Crait were a welcome addition to the standard Star Wars color palette.

The characters, as I said, were great – especially Kylo, Rey and Luke.

The movie was a lot jokier that I thought it would be. Sometimes it was jarring how goofy and physical the humor was, but it helped lighten what would otherwise have been a very heavy movie.

The space action … oh man the space action. So good.

I also liked the direction they took the story. So much of the current “backlash” seems to be centered on the way they spun Star Wars in a different direction than many expected. I love that and I think it made the themes of the movie a lot deeper.

Dislikes

The entire Finn and Rose mission to Canto Bight was a tough detour during the movie. They went to hire a rogue codebreaker, got caught, found a second rate codebreaker instead, freed some abused animals, got betrayed by the codebreaker and none of it mattered in the end at all. Sure, they were the ones who encountered the slave kids who show up in the end. So was that whole plan just to set up that coda? Was the Force handing them failure to set up a greater victory?

Or, more likely, was it to explore another corner of the galaxy far, far away and point out that “the 1%” exist there too. These people are profiting from the Star Wars, dealing weapons and supplies to both sides and living in luxury as a result. A little heavy handed political commentary, but oblique enough to not be too annoying. Still, this plot thread made the movie 30 minutes longer than it needed to be in my opinion.

Also, I’m still not sold on Admiral Leia surviving in the vacuum of space and then flying back into the ship and surviving. I appreciate that she’s a force user and that’s great. I just thought that scene came off as very corny to me.

Themes

There were a lot of big themes in this movie that I thought were pretty profound.

The first theme is how failures can often teach us more than successes can. Yoda is the one who points this out to Luke.

“The greatest teacher, failure is.” Yoda to Luke

We see failures happening all over the place and the characters having to deal with the fallout from them. Finn and Rose’s mission fails. Hux fails hilariously and all the time. Poe’s ideas are shouted down and he fails as well. And of course Luke’s failure with Ben Solo is what sent him spiraling into isolation and set the whole new trilogy in motion.

Not to mention the difficult realization that the entire original trilogy ended with a glorious victory on Endor that ultimately failed to make a lasting difference in the galaxy! Han and Leia’s marriage failed. Leia’s new Republic failed.

Failures have huge consequences that can end up negative or positive in the end. In this case, trusting the Force is what really matters, something that can be a great allegory for God.

In fact, the version of the Force that we see here is much more like the God of the Bible than other entries in the canon. The Force is a character here, not just a mysterious energy field that can be manipulated. It’s not tied to a bloodline, it chooses people regardless of their race or station – much like God in the New Testament spreads his covenant promises to all races and not just the family of Abraham! Rey is a nobody, says Kylo, who doesn’t have a place in this story. Still, the Force has called to her and gifted her with great power and strength that she didn’t earn. And in the end, the Force is doing it again with a nobody slave kid on Canto Bight. The people aren’t the story, they aren’t the ones winning these fights. Luke’s arc ends with him and his friends realizing that he isn’t actually the superhero that will win the war with his mere presence. For Luke, that’s a freeing thing and he passes on, secure in the idea that his legacy lives on because the Force lives on.

And finally the idea of the “balance of the Force” makes more sense than ever. When Anakin appears way back in The Phantom Menace, the Jedi all wonder if he’s the chosen one who will bring balance to the Force (whatever that means). In reality, his fall to the Dark Side tips the balance far away from the light. Perhaps the Jedi had been strong for so long that the balance that was needed was actually a correction to the Dark? Then Luke rises up to challenge Vader and the Emperor. Then Snoke and Kylo take power and Rey rises up as Kylo’s reciprocal. The Force itself is willing a balance into existence when it is required! It’s a complicated, uncomfortable picture of what the Force is really all about. I kind of love it.

The theme of hope has always been very important in Star Wars. There is hope when the odds are stacked against our heroes. There is hope for fallen characters to return to the light. In The Last Jedi, hope isn’t a person (Luke, Rey, Leia, etc) but an actual faith that good will survive and ultimately win over evil. Maybe not today, but eventually. When Finn’s kamikaze attempt is thwarted by Rose, she delivers a powerful line:

“That’s how we’re gonna win, not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” – Rose Tico

Masterful. The resistance is back to being a rebellion and is reduced to a force small enough to fit on the Millennium Falcon, but they have faith that they will win because they will continue to prioritize saving those they love over killing those they hate. That’s also what Vice Admiral Holdo was arguing to Poe in the 2nd act. She wanted to get the people to safety rather than risk everyone’s lives by mounting a desperate attack with little hope of victory. And that’s where Rey and Kylo differ in their philosophies as well.

“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.” – Kylo Ren

Kylo hates his past because it hurt him, so he wants desperately to kill his father, his mentor, his new master. He wants to remake the universe in his own pained image. Rey wants to seek the wisdom of her elders but isn’t afraid to point out their flaws as she strives for peace. She wants to save Kylo because she does have compassion for him, her enemy.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Jesus in Matthew 44:43-45

As the rebels say in the end, their light will become a spark that will become a fire that will burn evil to the ground.

Conclusion

The Last Jedi is an overly-long, complicated movie with big ideas and a beautiful subtext on the difference between light and darkness. It widens the horizons of the franchise in great ways, daring to imagine that the Force is even more mysterious than we all thought and that the story is bigger than the characters we love. The story is bigger than the characters we love. 

I’m very curious to see where the franchise goes from here and I’m very pleased that they have adjusted course away from the “play the hits” franchise reboot. I think this is a movie that will actually improve with repeated viewings, which is a very rare thing for blockbusters these days.

Thanks for the great movie, Rian.

Fatherhood and Stranger Things

tvrd4owqkanqlgj1ga6b

As I finished the second season of Stranger Things on Netflix, I began processing the season as a whole. So many things set this season apart from the first season. There were more characters (probably too many more), more adversaries, more stakes and (for better or worse) more locations. As the show expanded its scope to keep the story moving, some of what made season 1 great was minimized slightly. Still, one thing that stood out to me as a man and as a father was the theme of fatherhood. It might not be the first theme that comes to mind when you think about Stranger Things, but it’s definitely a big one. The question of what makes a good father is all over the place and I started to realize that the juxtaposition of Biological Fathers vs. Father Figures was quite profound and it extended back to the first season as well. Let’s take a look at the characters and the idea of fatherhood throughout Stranger Things.

Spoilers for both seasons of Stranger Things follow!


Biological Fathers

When you start to take stock of the biological fathers in Stranger Things, you realize that almost all of them are very distant and uncaring if they are present at all.

Ted Wheeler

Ted is Mike and Nancy’s dad. He’s still married to their mom, Karen, but he’s portrayed an oblivious buffoon to all the drama and tragedy that’s affecting his family. The extent of his wading into the family affairs is to chide “Language!” when Nancy swears in frustration at the dinner table. As the family literally unravels around him, Karen sarcastically says she hopes he’s enjoying the chicken. Ted’s response?

Ted is an example of a man who’s disengaged from his family and the fact that cosmic horror is infiltrating his children and home doesn’t spur him to action. He’s only concerned with his work and his newspaper. In season two, both of his older children are gone for what seems like days and no care is given. Also in season two, there’s a scene in the final episode (that’s played for some laughs) where Karen is taking a romantic bath alone with a paperback romance novel when the doorbell rings. Ted is asleep in his easy chair and doesn’t hear it or Karen’s pleas for him to get it. She ends up coming down in a robe to find Billy with his shirt unbuttoned asking after his sister. He flirts with her and she demurely entertains it as her husband snoozes in the den. Though it’s a slightly goofy scene, it’s really another portrayal of how Ted’s laziness is a huge threat to their marriage and family.

Lonnie Byers

Lonnie is Will and Jonathan’s dad, Joyce’s ex-husband. Before the events of season 1, Joyce and Lonnie got divorced and Lonnie moved to Indianapolis. When Will goes missing, Joyce and Hopper figure he might be with Lonnie, but all their phone calls are ignored. Jonathan goes to Indianapolis to see if Will is there and Lonnie shows little care for his missing son. He eventually shows up in Hawkins when there is the possibility that money could be paid out for Will’s “death” by falling in the quarry. Lonnie is selfish, uncaring, cold and absent from his family’s life.

Neil Hargrove

Neil is Billy’s biological dad, seen in one episode of season 2. Neil is married to Max’s mom, creating a blended family that’s new to Hawkins. When we first meet Billy and Max, they are on their own with Billy in charge of Max. When the parents finally return from a trip, Neil and his wife realize that Max is not home and Billy doesn’t know or care where she is. Neil is furious with Billy and hits him, demanding he take responsibility for Max and locate her. It becomes clear that Billy’s violent and wild tendencies are a direct result of his father’s verbal and physical abuse. The few minutes that Neil is on the screen are intense and sad as we see a domineering and violent father who has created a toxic relationship with his son that is spilling out into the rest of their family and beyond.  When Billy is a “substitute father” for Max early in season 2, he reflects all these things to her and cultivates the same fear-based relationship that exists between him and his father.

So the biological fathers don’t have much screen time overall in the series. When they are part of the story, they’re depicting traits that a common flaws of fatherhood in the real world – laziness, self-absorption, neglect, abandonment and violence.


Father Figures

What about the non-biological father figures? In almost every case, the father figures of Stranger Things are much more positive characters, embodying good fatherhood traits and displaying great character.

But there’s one huge exception that we’ll look at first.

Dr. Martin Brenner

The main human villain of season 1 is Dr. Brenner. He’s the architect of the study that essentially kidnapped and abused Eleven for years. Over the course of her captivity and study, he encourages her to call him “Papa”, which she does throughout the series. He casts himself as a protector for her even as he spearheads her abuse. He doesn’t truly care about her, he cares about furthering his own agenda. He uses her. It’s another common complaint that parents in general often “use” their children for their own selfish motives in various ways. This is just a grossly exaggerated example of what that kind of perversion of fatherhood looks like.

Mr Clarke

Scott Clarke is a minor recurring character, but one who influences Mike, Will, Dustin and Lucas immensely. He’s the nerdy science teacher who is basically a hero to the boys when we first meet them. He’s funny and approachable. He clearly appeals to the more nerdy personalities of these boys and has encouraged them in their interests and learning. He sparks their imaginations with his science lessons and radio equipment. When the boys need help understanding “The Upside Down”, they go to Mr. Clarke, who illustrates the theories of other dimensions to them – patiently entertaining what he believes to be a flight of fancy. He’s intelligent, resourceful, caring and friendly – traits of a great father.

Steve Harrington

In season 1, Steve is a guy that most fans of the show didn’t want Nancy to date. She was supposed to be with Jonathan, right? Steve even smashed Jonathan’s camera. Still, he grew into a part of the team and someone we rooted for. In season two, Steve grew even more. After breaking up with Nancy and getting bullied by Billy, he was a sad sack until Dustin needed his help. None of his friends were around and Dustin needed someone to contain the creature with him. Soon, Steve and Dustin were a charming and unlikely pairing that had great chemistry. Dustin lives with his mom and his dad is out of the picture. Through their interactions, Dustin begins to look up to Steve and ask him for advice. Steve eventually opens up a bit and shares with Dustin, counseling him on the finer points of wooing girls and getting his hair to look cool. He helps the kids with their big plan and takes some literal punches defending them from Billy. In the end, it’s Steve dropping Dustin off at the dance with a final pep-talk and encouragement. Steve proves to be a worthy father figure to Dustin in a myriad of ways.

Bob Newby

Bob is a new character for season 2 and is dating Joyce Byers. He’s a clerk at Radio Shack and is a vanilla goofball with a heart of gold. It’s obvious right away that he adores Joyce and is really serious about being part of the Byers family (even though he doesn’t know all the details of their ordeal from the previous year). Jonathan and Will aren’t too sure about him at first, but Bob continually reaches out to them. Soon, Will is again oppressed by the Upside Down monsters and Bob is right there with Joyce trying to help deal with it. In the end, Bob is stuck in the Hawkins Lab building with them as the monsters run wild, killing dozens. To get out, someone with technical skill needs to reach the control room and unlock the doors. Hopper volunteers, but Bob is the one with the tech skills. He frees everyone from the building and almost escapes himself when the monsters catch him and devour him. Bob is tender, loving, selfless and ultimately sacrificial for those he loves. He does a great job of embodying the traits of a good father and husband though he was technically neither.

Chief Jim Hopper

Hopper is one of the central characters of the show. His back story tells us that he was once married and had a daughter. His daughter tragically died of cancer as a child, which led to a divorce with his wife. This broken man returns to his childhood town and lives an unhealthy life of drinking, smoking and one-night stands. That’s where we find him in season 1 as Will’s disappearance forces him to sober up. His paternal instincts clearly drive him here as he throws himself into the case and the lives of these children. He fights for them, protects them and sacrifices for them throughout the whole series. When season 2 rolls around, we find that Hopper and Eleven have formed a makeshift family. He’s caring for her as a father cares for a daughter. They laugh and play together, but also butt heads when he puts her safety as a top priority even when she is stronger than he is. In the end of the season, it’s the two of them against the evil monster and we conclude with Hopper holding a birth certificate for Jane Hopper. He is her legal father and also fills the father figure role to many of the boys in the cast.


The “Daddy Issues” trope can often be overplayed in Hollywood, yet the reason it’s used so often is that it is effective. We are hardwired, created to want to know our fathers. While the role of mothers is of utmost importance as well and shouldn’t be minimized, it’s clear that children need good male role models in their lives and often suffer greatly without them.

In Stranger Things, we’re presented with many examples and invited to parse out the character traits of these men and wrestle with their roles. There are many men who embody the traits of bad fathers and many who do the opposite. The reality is that all of us fathers are prone to all of these traits at different times and in different measures. There are no perfect fathers.

But there is a perfect Father. God the Father is the perfect embodiment of all these good fatherly traits. He’s patient, approachable, intelligent, caring, defending, helpful, gives good counsel, tender, fights for us, sacrifices for us and laughs with us. He’s also never selfish, abusive, absent, uncaring, disengaged, lazy or cruel. He created us, he loves us, he gave his only Son up to death for us and he pursues us when we’re lost.

When we’re confronted with good and bad examples of father archetypes and “daddy issues” in movies and TV shows, we can how those examples up against the Bible’s descriptions of our Heavenly Father. We can rejoice at the good examples and say “Our Father in heaven is like that with his children, only way more so!” And we can mourn at the bad examples, saying “I know there are fathers like that, sometimes it’s even me, but I’m so glad that God is never, ever like that with his children.”

Where else have you seen depictions of fathers that made you think about the nature of our heavenly Father? 

The Future of The Future – Star Trek: Phase 4

The Star Trek franchise is near and dear to my heart. In the early 90’s, I fancied myself a super-fan. I voraciously consumed episodes of the television series, I repeatedly watched the films, I collected all sorts of Trek-themed stuff (but especially action figures) and even went to a Star Trek convention with my dad (not in costume, thankfully). If you think about it, Star Trek had a “cinematic universe” going before Marvel ever fired up their money-making engine. Really, the mid 80’s to mid 90’s was the franchise’s heyday. But the studio heads overplayed their hand, as often happens, and burned out their fanbase with over-saturation and diminished quality. By the time Star Trek: Enterprise reached TV screens, many of even the most ardent fans rejected it. And then, the parent company that owned Trek split into two separate entities and each took part of the franchise with them. Now the rights to Star Trek films are owned by one corporation and the rights to Star Trek television series are owned by a different corporation. And this legal knot set the stage for the recent developments in the franchise and complicated things for the fans who remember the good old days. The franchise turned 50 last year, so what does the future look like anyway?


FILMS

Once the rights to Trek were split up between two parent companies, it was probably a good idea to let the franchise rest a bit before figuring out what to do with it. Among the fans, it was widely believe that Star Trek really belonged on television. That’s where it had all started, that where you could do the kind of sci-fi/social commentary that creator Gene Roddenberry had held so dear. But with the failure of Enterprise still hanging in the air, CBS Television was reluctant to invest in a risk like that. Viacom/Paramount (who owns the movie rights) was also risk-averse, but then JJ Abrams showed up with an interest in re-booting the Trek universe. And when JJ Abrams shows interest, you back up the money truck. So Abrams made three films: two very good ones with a mediocre (to be kind) film in the middle.

I, for one, like a lot about these films. The first film was a great introduction to a very young Kirk, something we had never seen before in Star Trek canon. It spun some interesting techobabble about why these stories are happening and how they relate to the original universe of films and TV. It brought back Leonard Nimoy!

Abrams returned to direct the sequel, which went off the rails a bit. For one thing, they insisted on trying to misdirect the audience about the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain character, which didn’t go over well when the truth was revealed. Even Abrams admitted that it was a mistake to go that route. Furthermore, they stooped to a gratuitous underwear scene for a female character, they parodied a touchstone moment from the original film series and used “magic” technology to tie up loose ends. It had some cool moments and the plot was fine at the core, but they just tried to get too cute with it or something.

A third film was planned, but Abrams would not direct (he was called away to reboot another sci-fi franchise). Star Trek Beyond, under the direction of Justin Lin, was far from perfect, but it did much better at using the cast well and crafting a plot that felt much more like an episode of the original series. Sadly, the film under-performed at the box office and threw the whole future of the film series up in the air.

Now, Star Trek fans are notoriously hard to please. The common complaint with these movies was that they were too action oriented and not enough like the TV series, which tackled philosophical questions and used sci-fi stories to comment on current cultural and political ideas. War, racism, humanity itself, etc. These were all examined in interesting ways on TV screens through the lens of a diverse crew of space explorers. What fans often forget is that there’s always been a fundamental difference between the TV series and the film series. Star Trek films have always been bigger, more action-oriented affairs with some ideology thrown in too. In fact, the films that almost everyone considers the best are very action heavy (Wrath of Khan and First Contact) with one fan favorite being a comedic curveball (The Voyage Home). The new films do a good job capturing the spirit of the original MOVIES and don’t worry too much about trying to be a TV show on the big screen. Plus, the recasting of iconic characters is mostly impossible, but they did a great job finding young actors to reprise these roles. The new movies are good.

Still, the crabby fans and the lower financial returns leave the film series in a state of limbo today. A fourth film has been talked about and an reappearance of Chris Hemsworth has been teased, but nothing is certain. The longer they wait, the harder it will be to get this film off the ground. Hemsworth is busy with Marvel movies and Zoe Saldana (who is great as Uhura) is tied up with Marvel AND with the planned series of Avatar sequels (blah). This are only going to get more complicated. If they’re going to continue this series, they need to get their act together.

I thought Star Trek Beyond was great and I really want to see another film with this crew. But I fear that the next step the studio will take to blow it up and try something new again. In the shadow of the new Star Wars universe movies and the continuing Marvel juggernaut, they can’t let a franchise like this lie fallow for too long, can they?


“TELEVISION”

As the film franchise sputtered a bit, the fans grew more and more adamant: “We want Star Trek on TV! That’s where it belongs!” Soon, there were rumblings that CBS was actually putting a new series together called Star Trek: Discovery that would premiere in time for the 50th anniversary in the fall of 2016! They even dropped a teaser trailer in July 2016!

Then the wild rollercoaster ride began.

There was joy and fear from the fans as they wondered what form this new show would take and who would run it. CBS said it would be an online-only show. Netflix? No, a proprietary CBS service no one had heard of (in the US, Netflix abroad). Just as fans struggled with the implications of that, it was announced that the celebrated Bryan Fuller would run the show! Great news! Then the premiere was pushed to January ’17 and then Fuller quit and the premiere was delayed yet again. It was becoming increasingly clear that this production was very, very troubled.

Finally, just last month, the first real trailer emerged:

 

So we’re finally seeing this new vision of the future of the franchise. It’s all very, very cryptic to begin with, but a few things are pretty clear:

  • There’s a female lead and more female representation overall, which is a good thing.
  • The cast is more diverse, which is a good thing and has always been part of the fabric of Roddenberry’s vision.
  • Star Wars and the Abrams-verse movies are being heavily borrowed from for the design and look of the show.

So depending on how you feel about those 3 things, your opinion on the trailer will vary. I think it looks very promising. I think what I’m most excited about for the show is the fact that it will be a “peak TV” version of the Trek universe. We’ll get a single storyline for the season, which will allow for some world-building and some good drama and character development.  The creators have already dropped a few clues about those things. Plus, they’ve said that the 15 episodes will be split into 2 mini-seasons as some prestige shows have done lately. I like it. As rocky as the production has been, I’m cautiously optimistic and will be excited to see the show.

The future of the franchise is still being written and this show will play a very large role in what that future looks like. The film franchise may well depend on how this show is received. Even though the two prongs of the franchise are split right now, you can bet the producers are Paramount will gauge the fan response to the show and project the value of continuing the film series based on that data. Only one thing is certain: the next year will be a very interesting time for the Star Trek franchise as a whole.


The first episode of Star Trek: Discovery is set to premiere on CBS and CBS All Access (in the US) on September 24, 2017.

SPORTS | The New Wolves Order is Officially Here

NBA Draft Night 2017 didn’t take long to get crazy. There had already been a trade atop the draft with the 76ers and Celtics swapping top three picks. All week there were rumblings that more moves were coming and that top shelf talent like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Indiana’s Paul George would be changing jerseys. Then a major chip fell:

My Wolves splashed! As far back as last year’s draft there were rumors that Chicago and Minnesota were close to pulling the trigger on a trade like this. It took a full year, but it finally came to pass. Coach Thibs stole one of his former players from the Bulls and handed over some building blocks in a “win now” move. And the NBA is sent spinning again.

The Wolves were streaky last year, but showed definite signs of improvement. Drafting Kris Dunn threw the future of Ricky Rubio into question, but Rubio had one of his best seasons ever. Meanwhile, Dunn struggled mightily in his limited minutes (while 3rd PG Tyus Jones showed some real flash at times). Wiggins and Towns were solid all year and Lavine was showing some breakout potential before he tore his ACL. What the team was really missing was a veteran scorer who could also provide some legit defensive play. Thibs seemed convinced that Jimmy Butler was that missing piece, but surely the Bulls would demand a king’s ransom for him, right? It was always somewhat assumed that Wiggins plus parts was the asking price. Still, when the trade was finally announced, it was the 7 pick/Lavine/Dunn for Butler. No Wiggins! I was a little worried as that deal started popping up on Twitter. But then it came out that the Bulls’ 16th pick was also part of the deal and everything changed. This was a lopsided deal in favor of the Wolves.

Here’s the thing about the NBA in 2017: the Golden State Warrior exist. In the ’14-’15 season, they won it all. In the ’15-’16 season, the Warriors posted a best-ever 73-9 regular season record, but ultimately collapsed in the Finals to LeBron James and the Cavs. After that failure, they added Kevin Durant – one of the top 3 players in the NBA – and gave up very little to get him. From that moment, it was almost assumed they would win the title in ’16-’17 – and they did, losing only 1 playoff game in the process.

All of that led up to this off season where teams needed to decide how they were going to compete with one of the most dominant NBA teams ever. How do you beat a super team? With another super team? The Cavs are clearly the next best team, having three extremely good players in James/Irving/Love, but they just got beat. So do they add another all star? Actually, they started by firing their GM. Not a good look. How about the Celtics? They were angling for Jimmy Butler, but lost out. Will they add a big chip like Paul George? The Spurs? Will they move Lamarcus Aldridge and try to add a piece? That’s not really their style, is it? Who else even has a prayer?

What’s really fascinating to me is how teams decide if they should try to win now against teams like the Warriors and Cavs or if they should quietly build a young core and time it to explode as the Warriors and Cavs are aging out. The problem is that some teams might feel like their young core could compete now with a little help and then they might mortgage part of their future to take their shot now against an almost unbeatable superteam. The question boils down to this: how much do you believe in your young stars? For Coach Thibs – he believes.

By all accounts, as the dust settles a bit, the Wolves should be a near-lock to end their playoff drought next season (the longest active playoff drought in the league). That alone is exciting. But Coach Thibs wouldn’t have made this deal if he didn’t think this group could actually challenge in the West at some point in the next few years. He’s cutting the fuse on this bomb and accelerating the timetable. It’s a bold move, but when you’re giving up the 7th draft pick in a year when there are 6 players considered sure things plus an underwhelming PG and an injured sparkplug guard – you don’t hesitate.

I’ll surely miss Zach Lavine. He was a great player and a great guy. I’ll be rooting for him to splash in Chicago. That’s the one bittersweet part of this deal for me.

But I’m excited about the future of the Timberwolves with Butler on board along with Towns and Wiggins! It’s been a long road since Garnett/Spreewell/Casell lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in 2004. We’ve suffered through a LOT of tough times.  We’ve watched Al Jefferson and Kevin Love move through as our franchise stars without reaching the playoffs. We’ve endured David Kahn’s incompetence (which cost us Steph Curry). We’ve celebrated Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders returning to the franchise and then mourned the Flip’s death and seen KG retire in a huff. Has it all been building to this moment?

I sure hope so. I can’t wait for next season!