Star Wars Rogue One: A War Drama-Heist Hybrid


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Star Wars is back, and for the first time, with a one-time spinoff that falls outside the 3 movie trilogies (Disney promises more one-time spinoffs, btw). Rogue One is set just before Episode IV and in the film, the rebels seek to steal the Death Star plans in an attempt to destroy the behemoth battle station before it’s able to inflict maximum damage.

Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, the female lead who comes from a hardened and untrustworthy background, yet is recruited by the Rebellion in an attempt to thwart the Empire’s plans to rule the galaxy with an iron fist of terror. From there, she’s joined by a somewhat ragtag team that ultimately comes together to feature quite a bit of onscreen chemistry and charm.

Highlights from the backing cast include characters such as Cassian Andor, a devoted yet very serious Alliance captain played by Diego Luna, Chirrup Imwe, a force-strong blind warrior played by Donnie Yen who provides some comic relief, and K-2SO, a comedically sarcastic and lovable droid voiced by Alan Tudyk.

The film’s main villain is Orson Krennic, an Imperial officer who heads the Empire’s Advanced Weapons Research division. With all the ambition in the galaxy, Krennic is intent upon seeing that he’s recognized by his superiors for his work on the Death Star, albeit he uses Jyn Erso’s father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), to make the most technological advances behind the super weapon possible.

Rogue One neither seems to be a heist movie, nor a full-blown epic war drama, yet appears to represent somewhat of a hybrid between the two genres. It features stunning visual effects, nonstop action (especially during the film’s latter half), and plenty of easter eggs that will delight old school fans who worship the original trilogy.

The acting is great, but due to the fact that the film is a one-off, it may leave some viewers wanting to see even more character development that will likely never happen. The beginning of the film also kicks in with quite a bit of planet hopping that seems a little excessive, and the rebel alliance leaders seem a bit colder and dispirited than is probably warranted. Otherwise, there’s a lot to love and numerous parts of the film that will perhaps pull at your heartstrings. 4/5.

Paying Respects to Prince at Paisley Park – Chanhassen, MN


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When I moved to Minnesota in November of 2013, it didn’t take me long to hear that Prince lived in the area. Occasionally, he’d hold performances and dance parties at his studio and residence in the Twin Cities suburb of Chanhassen, known as “Paisley Park.” I’d always hear about these events on the radio, or even in local publications like City Pages. I’d always meant to go but figured I could the next time around.

Now there’s no next time around, unfortunately. For a man who seemed so private, mysterious, and guarded in the media, it was was a breathe of fresh air that he’d actually opened up his property to anyone who wanted to see him perform, or anyone who simply wanted to dance to some good music played by other artists whom he likely served as a mentor to.

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Upon finding out about Prince’s untimely death on Thursday, I knew I wanted to pay my respects. I’d become a bigger fan once seeing his Super Bowl halftime performance in 2007. I didn’t own every single album (he released a whopping 39 over his career), but for the longest time, I’d rocked out his greatest hits CD in my car. It was a double disc that featured many of his most memorable tracks. Most recently in 2014, I’d bought one of his more recent CDs, Art Official Age.

Visiting Paisley Park on Saturday made me sad, but it was also refreshing. A little girl offered me a marker and said, “do you want to sign it?” She pointed to a poster hanging on the fence, already adorned with fan memorabilia, letters, and purple flowers. As I went to sign it, there was hardly any room to write anything. However, I managed to draw in a tiny little heart. So many fans around the world adored Prince. Simply said, he accomplished more in his 57 years than most of us combined will accomplish. He lived a full life and now he’s gone, but he will live forever through his music. Rest in peace, sweet Prince.

 

 

 

Getting Back Into Drawing…and Blogging


Drawing was something I was very passionate about as a child. I’d do it all the time…at home, on the go, and especially, while I was supposed to be paying attention in school (my grades suffered, but at least I had one of the biggest imaginations around!). Needless to say, as I’ve grown older, I’ve lost the virtue of patience. Yes, drawing takes both patience and dedication. You have to fine-tune your craft and constantly work on it, knowing that if you stop for any extended period, you may just lose all of those skills you’ve worked so hard to attain (well, at least a lot of them…).

I’m now 30 and my attention span is shorter than ever. It’s easy to get caught up in the endless news cycle, the constant buzzing of social media, and the overall craziness of the world today (distractions are more prevalent in my life than they’ve ever been before!). I have to force myself to focus and although sometimes painful, I find that I thoroughly enjoy hobbies if I just sit down and take the time to do them…whether it’s forcing myself to draw, forcing myself to read a book, or even forcing myself to work out. It helps me escape the very negative state of the world today. Even at my age, my imagination gives me hope that there’s something better around the corner. After nearly 2 decades of not drawing, I’ve returned. Here are some Star Wars sketches I’ve completed over the past couple months:

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The Conjuring REVIEW: Decency VS. Demons


The Conjuring REVIEW: Decency VS. the DemonsREVIEW: The Conjuring is the latest saga inspired by the real life experiences of ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, also famously noted for their link to the Amityville Horror. And while the thruthiness here is somewhat questionable (we all know Hollywood is going to up the ante for the big screen, right?), the “inspired by true events” value makes the movie extremely mesmerizing. If you didn’t find yourself Googling “The Conjuring” and researching the true story afterwards, you may have been in the minority.

The film has solid acting, sticks true to the classic horror film format and features a slow build up that makes the film’s final thirty minutes or so that much more exhilarating. In the scare department, the film falls a little short. I didn’t find myself checking under the bed, looking in the closet or over my shoulder once I got home. That being said, I know from other reviews, The Conjuring did scare elsewhere. However, where the film truly succeeds is in the “thriller” category. Shortly before its climax, things are so high paced that you’re left wondering, “will the fight for decency win out in the battle against a demonic force?” Film maker James Wan, also known for films like Saw and Insidious, truly succeeds in showing the strength of the human spirit remaining strong in the face of pure evil, something that’s pretty rare in many horror films. RATING: 3/5

PS. Wondering what the doll from the film really looked like? Check this out: http://firstclasshorror.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/the-conjuring-ew-1.jpg

Saints Fantasy All Stars from 2012


5183526The Saints failed to make the playoffs during the 2012 season – but that doesn’t mean some of the team’s player didn’t help NFL fans’ fantasy football teams win it all. Here’s a look at some of this year’s Saints players who surely made an impact.

  • QB Drew Brees racked up 467.58 fantasy football points for Yahoo! Sports players during the year. Week-to-week, the Saints signal caller remained a reliable start, minus his game at Atlanta during week 13 in which he threw 5 interceptions. His high point, however, came during week 4 when he accounted for 41.84 fantasy points in a loss to Green Bay. Overall, Brees finished the season with 43 TD passes, 19 interceptions and 5,177 yards in the air – also his third season that he’s thrown for 5K yards+.

  • TE Jimmy Graham continued to thrive on big plays in 2012 – racking up a total of 200.7 points during the 2012 campaign. While not as reliable in 2011, Graham could still be counted on – accounting for 33.10 Yahoo! fantasy points in week 10 VS. Atlanta.
  • RB Darren Sproles provided a multitude of fantasy contributions (whether in passing, rushing or specials teams) in 2012 – accounting for a total of 224.90 Yahoo! Fantasy Football points. Every game he was available in, he excelled. At max, he hauled in 27.40 Yahoo! fantasy points during week 2 in an effort against Carolina. His weakest point? 9.75 in week 5’s game against San Diego. From weeks 9 to 11, Sproles was out due to injury.
  • WR Marques Colston: At 6′ 4″, Colston remains one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets in the passing game, especially when it concerns the endzone. During the 2012 campaign, Colston caught 83 passes for 1154 yards and 10 TDs. The effort translated into a total of 221.90 Yahoo! Fantasy football points. During week 5, Colston accounted for 38.60 fantasy points VS San Diego.
  • WR Lance Moore: 2012 was a breakout year for longtime Saints receiver Lance Moore – a year in which he recorded 65 catches for 1041 yards and 6 touchdowns. In Yahoo! Fantasy Football, that translated into 184.85 fantasy points. Moore’s high point came during week 1 when he scored 24.00 Yahoo! Fantasy points.

An Interview with Artist Lafon Willis


Artist LaFon Willis has come a long way since she first started drawing Anime comics during her time in high school nearly a decade ago. She’s found herself delving into a wide range of artistic techniques including painting, charcoal, ceramics and more.

She’s also discovered some of the most frustrating parts of the creation process, along with some of the most intriguing and fun aspects. She’s done all this while learning what it truly means to be satisfied with a finished product.

After recently graduating from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, she plans to continue to evolve as an artist. However, most importantly, she looks forward to some of the biggest challenges that come with the territory.

I recently had the opportunity to interview LaFon and find out what inspires her and how she’s arrived at where she is now.

How did you first get into art?

Around twelfth grade when a friend and I were doing short comics together. They were anime-based comics.

How did you decide, “Hey, this is what I really want to do with my life”?

During that same time I realized that working with my hands and doing things creatively was something I always enjoyed doing. From there, I had a pretty firm idea that art was the career choice I wanted to go with.

Even though, once you get into it and everything, there’s always a doubt in your mind, “Is this really what I want to do? I’m never going to make any money.” But it’s really for the love of the profession and the passion you bring to it.

What do you find that inspires you when you’re creating a piece in the developing process?

History and reading have actually played a huge part.

Does the process work where you read something, you see it in your mind and then you want to formulate it into something visual?

There might be a description of a person or place that I’ve read about. That will spark a multitude of images in my head. The same goes for every time I study history. Architecture, especially roman history has always been a huge inspiration to me.

Any other parts of history you find fascinating?

There are a lot of different parts. Concerning architecture, it’s definitely roman history. However, painting artistically, it’s definitely German expressionism.

How has the creative process evolved for you? As in where you move from a concept towards the visual result?

It’s definitely evolved. When I first started, it was little concepts. There were quite a bit of projects assigned in my early career where I was putting a lot of thought of how it was going to look but I hadn’t applied much concept at that point. I’d be able to set guidelines but not given a whole lot of freedom. As I continued, I was given more freedom so I was able to develop more concepts and ideas. The hardest part once you have the idea is figuring out how you’re going to execute it and get as close to what you see in your mind.

How does a piece you conceive on your own differ from one that’s assigned to you through a commission?

Things I come up with on my own are drastically different from what anyone would commission me to do. I greatly enjoy abstract in paintings. I can appreciate landscapes too but abstracts and backgrounds don’t necessarily have to contain a lot of color. They can be different variations of a variety of colors. From there, you can lay abstract figures over that. I suppose I’m more drawn towards surrealism when it comes to my own work.

Are you allowed a lot of freedom during commissioned work?

Every customer’s different. Some are extremely picky and know exactly what they’re looking for. My goal is to gear my talents towards what they want. Others may give me more freedom and say do whatever you like.

What kind of art technique is your favorite?

I’d say probably drawing. Drawing is what I enjoy the best whether it’s charcoal, pen, or pastel. I’m a very impatient person. It’s whatever expedites the process. I enjoy that I know a little about all types of art. The more drawings I’m able to do with own artwork just leads to more ideas for the next big piece.

What are your favorite art pieces from your own work? Your senior exhibit was based off of a trees/human concept. How did you go about it?

I’ve always drawn this tree-like figure with kind of a human body in it. I can’t honestly tell you why but for some reason, trees kind of look like people in a way. I know that’s not necessarily an original thought but I always loved that idea. Eventually towards the beginning of 2011 I was doing this painting of a tree man thing and it just made me think, “Well, how would this come to be?” So I started thinking about all these different ideas about how a tree human would come into existence. From there, it all developed into a story, Namely, Archer. Actually, I kind of started backwards at the story’s end and then started adding all the parts.

There’s something chilling to that art collection. That’s in addition to the idea that trees can outlast humans by thousands of years.

Right, and that was kind of the feeling I wanted the viewer to have with that series. This is a man/humanoid who destroyed the only thing that mattered in his life. So I wanted to present the feeling that he is completely destroyed by this and that even his release isn’t a release because he will live thousands of years with this burden.

What are some of your favorite art pieces created by others?

Well, over history, it’d definitely be German expressionism, artists like Franz Marc, Otto Mueller, and Otto Dix. Nobody else was doing what those artists were doing at the time. These were the guys whose artwork the Nazis tried to get rid of. The Nazis alluded that their art was degenerate. They really stood out from the Rembrandts and Caravaggios. It was this group of men most of who went through World War I and whose artworks I admire. Their art was kind of depressing but it greatly reflected society at the time.

Do you let your current state of mind influence whatever you’re working on at the time?

I try not to do that and it’s only because if it’s something I feel will turn into a series, then there’s a certain feeling I want for it. So I leave my own feelings at the door. With anything you create, there’s really no way you can do that. I just wont bother working when feeling so influenced by personal emotions. I usually have an idea as to where I want to go with the art before I lay it down permanently. Even though, there’s no way of completely taking emotion out of something that you’re working on.

What are your favorite pieces from the commissioned work you’ve done?

I did a book cover for Bill Davis and Clay Monroe. That was a lot of fun. It involved coming up with a composition of a fantasy creature that doesn’t exist in real life. I really got to use my imagination on that one. I also did a landscape for Jared Svestka. That was a fun painting but mostly because I don’t do a lot of landscapes. It was only about the third landscape I’d done. Anything that’s a challenge or where I can use my imagination is what I really enjoy doing. The more challenging it is, the more I tend to learn.


What is it like when you stand back and reflect on a completed commissioned work and you say, “Hey, I’m not really happy with how this turned out..”?

It’s a personal failure and I offer to redo it if they don’t like it.

What’s the most frustrating part of the art process?

The most frustrating part is when you think you’re finished with a piece, then you stand back and realize everything that’s wrong with it, just seeing every minor detail. Then you have to go back and tweak it. There are also times when you overwork it so much that it looks like a mess. The hardest part is trying to figure out when you’re done and not overworking it.

Heading in the opposite direction, what’s the most fun part of the process?

It’s the entire process, even creating through all the pain it may cause. With everything you create, you tend to learn more about something else.

What’s the most satisfying aspect of displaying the finished product?

Having a finished product is the most satisfying thing you can experience. Even if nobody likes it, it’s still the fact that you made it with your own hands. That’s the most satisfying feeling in the world.

Talk a bit about ceramics. That’s another art area in which you’ve done quite a bit of work in.

I really like all forms of art but I really enjoy ceramics because it’s a three dimensional thing. You can touch it. It’s completely different because paintings are somewhat of an illusion. Ceramics are the real world. When you do a painting, it’s kind of like telling a beautiful lie. You’re making things look like they exist when they really don’t. Pieces of art in ceramics are real. They really do exist. I enjoy making functional objects like cups and bowls or really anything you can actually use. I really enjoy having that ability.

How do you differentiate drawing/painting inanimate objects from the human/organic form?

It’s extremely different. I always enjoy dealing with organic forms as compared to the inorganic. It’s because an organic form is more framed and forgiving. If you don’t draw a straight line on a box, it’s going to look like crap. There’s just so much more you can do with organic.

What do you think sets your work apart and makes it unique?

From what I’ve seen, there’s really no one doing what I’m doing. There are people who’ve drawn elongated figures but not with the same idea behind it. There are people who have used architectural plans in artwork, but they don’t lay elongated figures over floor plans or put them against abstracts, such as is the society series.

How about your future career? What do you see yourself doing? Do you see yourself maybe as a book illustrator or sticking with commission work or what?

I’d be completely happy with any of those. Especially where I could still work on my own things while doing something artistically as a job.

What did you learn in school from working with other students with the same goals of success as you but with such different styles?

I learned a lot of things. I learned that there are a lot of disgruntled professors in all fields of work. For example, if your goal is to become an illustrator, they shun you. But then there are a lot who will help you despite what your own personal goals are. Going to school for art is important because they push you to go beyond your comfort zone. They make you look at things differently. They help you see what does and doesn’t work. They’re there to help you.

Have you learned more in school or from taking on the challenge in your own free time?

Definitely in school. School is a huge asset to being a good artist because anyone in the world can be self-taught. They have a million DVDs out there. When you go to school for it, you’re forced to look at things in a different light. You have to paint things you don’t necessarily want to. However, once you’re done, you realize the reason.

Are there any other pieces of art you’re working on right now that have stood out in your mind?

There are a lot of pieces in the Archer and Society series. There are some I’m planning on reworking just because there are things that fall short of what my expectations are. When it comes to what I can add to them, I’m constantly thinking of different things.

Do you tend to rework concepts as they develop over time?

The Archer series came from a concept and then turned into a painting. All the images I make for it, that’s the concept developing. I wouldn’t necessarily say the concept changes but rather the way I develop the image may change. Every piece I do makes the series stronger.

Do you ever see the Archer series turning into a published book?

That’s the goal. Hopefully I’ll find a writer that will help me bring it to life.

Talk a little about what you’re working on right now. You were recently hired to illustrate a book.

It’s a children’s book about two girls who find an abandoned baby squirrel and they raise it and do all the research. What the writer wants is artwork that’s semi-realistic. It’s not too cartoony. It has realistic proportions but it’s not photorealism. All the images will be painted with acrylic paint.

Talk a bit about evolving in the future as an artist.

You have to constantly evolve. If you’re always working on something, there’s really no way not to do that. There are a few images I’m satisfied with, but there are a lot more I’m unsatisfied with. But the few that I am happy with make me want to keep going.

For more information on LaFon Willis Johnson, visit: http://artbylafon.weebly.com/

Bounty Hunting: Just How Prevalent is it in the NFL?


Okay, so it’s not exactly Star Wars bounty hunting made famous by Boba Fett. It’s probably not even close. But are the New Orleans Saints being made the bad poster boys of a long heralded NFL tradition that most likely spans into plenty of corners of the National Football League? By some indications, that would appear to be the case.

In case you’re not aware of what’s being discussed (I’m sure the Star Wars picture doesn’t help), in an investigation spanning two years, the NFL released a report implicating 22 to 27 players of the New Orleans Saints in a “pay per hit” scandal on Friday. It’s a system that supposedly thrived under now former Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams. Saints defensive players (and even Williams) would throw money into a pool and particular players would be rewarded the cash after carrying out successful game plays including interceptions, fumbles, sacks and so on. Not bad, right? A little extra motivation and plus it makes things fun.

Here’s where it went too far and where the bounty factor comes into play: Players would also receive cash for successfully knocking opponents out of the game. Ouch right?

In a brutally tough league, it should be apparent that the goal of knocking players out of games is a common factor. Remember just this past season when Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said he’d intentionally target Tony Romo’s already mangled ribs in an upcoming divisional match between the Cowboys and Redskins?

But doing it for cash? That’s probably news to many and sounds quite ugly. But the standard practice of performance based pay amongst players appears common throughout the NFL. Former Saints safety Darren Sharper recently admitted such practices were in place when he first entered the league with the Green Bay Packers in the late 1990’s. “It’s something that’s happened since the beginning of time,” Sharper stated when recently being interviewed by the NFL Network (You can watch the full interview here here).

However, Sharper adamantly denied there was ever any intent to purposely hurt opponents. He even pointed towards the absurdity of the idea, stating that potential league fines would far outweigh any payment a player would receive for a knock out hit.

Sharper explained it this way, “No one put a bounty in for hurting guys. It was all about if you make a first interception in this game or if you get a sack, you know, the guys in the locker room would say okay, we’ll put a couple hundred dollars here, a couple hundred dollars there to pay that guy for making a good play during the game.”

Despite Sharper’s denial, Williams himself admitted to breaking the rules although he didn’t specifically refer to the idea of injuring other players (Williams now serves as Defensive Coordinator for the St. Louis Rams). Williams also said he knew the practice was wrong while participating in it.

“I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the ‘pay for performance’ program while I was with the Saints. It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again.” -Former Saints/Current Rams Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams

In the NFL, It Appears to be Common

Meanwhile, player reaction to the practice’s revelation could be described as “unsurprised” to say the least. “I’m not pissed. It’s football,” stated former Vikings Quarterback Brett Favre when discussing the scandal with Peter King of Sports Illustrated. Favre continued, “I don’t think anything less of those guys. Said or unsaid, guys do it anyway. If they can drill you and get you out, they will.” You’ll remember that Favre famously faced the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship game and received a pretty bad ankle injury (although he stayed in the game).

Here’s a look at some other player reactions via Twitter:

“This ‘bounty’ program happens all around the league…not surprising.” -Former Patriots Offensive Lineman Damien Woody

“Why is this a big deal now? Bounties been going on forever. A “Bounty” left me with a torn PCL and LCL in my knee …” -Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawn Merriman

“Roger Goodell says  bounty program involved payments for injuring opposing players. Who was the rat that told” -Former Eagles Cornerback Mark McMillian

“Not a big deal to me, no different than incentives n a contract” -Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco

However, there were those who came down harder on the scandal:

“No place in NFL for bounties. Physical play is an attribute but malicious intent should be removed.” -Jay Feely, Arizona Cardinals placekicker

“Bonuses given to Saints players if they injured opponents and knocked them out of the game. Any coach associated with this should be fired.” -Former Bengals QB Boomer Esiason

Does bounty hunting in the NFL Equate to Cheating?

If you’re thinking that the Saints Lombardi trophy from the 2009 should be revoked, think again: As bad as the bounty issue is, it doesn’t necessarily equate to cheating. Bounty or no bounty, game plans stay the same and players will continue to make hard hits (it’s the nature of the game).

Let’s recall the 2007 incident involving the New England Patriots popularly dubbed “Spygate.” In it, Patriots staff members were found guilty of taping signals by Jets defensive coaches. The incident led to hefty fines from the NFL and the Patriots’ loss of a first round draft pick. How does it differ from the Bounty scandal? Physical injuries weren’t an issue (obviously). However, stealing the Jets’ game plan was. Let’s be clear: Theft of a game plan is cheating. However, hard hits? Not so much. In the end, the Patriots were punished accordingly (as the Saints will be as well).

You can expect the NFL’s punishment upon the Saints to be even harsher. Perhaps even heavier fines, suspensions and the loss of draft choices. Since assuming his post as NFL commissioner in 2006, Roger Goodell has made player safety his top priority.

Let’s be clear: physical injuries in the NFL can ruin careers and effect players’ lives in the longterm. It’s an issue that should be addressed with the utmost seriousness. However, the idea of hard hits is ingrained in the NFL’s culture amongst both players, coaches and fans.  The NFL itself has long glorified hard hits in media produced through NFL Films. Roger Goodell’s challenge is to change the NFL’s culture. It’s quite a big task indeed.

Is making the Saints the bad poster boys of a widespread NFL practice fair? Probably not, but they’re the ones who happened to get caught. Aside from the Saints, other teams that could be implicated in the scandal include the Redskins, Bills and Jaguars (also where Gregg Williams previously served).

What effect if any has the bounty issue had on the Saint’s defensive play over the past three seasons? Did implementing a bounty actually help improve the D-Line? Well within the past couple seasons, the Saints’ defense could be described as anything but “hard hitting,” despite a prolific offense.

Are the Saints doomed in 2012?

Let’s again recall the Patriots in the aftermath of hefty penalties from Spygate: Winning 15 regular season games straight, 2 playoff victories (despite an embarrassing defeat in Super Bowl XLII).

If you happen to be a Saints fan, here’s your best hope: As awkward as it may sound, the organization has a chance to shape up and use adversity from the issue to motivate them for next year. After recently franchising quarterback Drew Brees, the organization should focus on finally getting him a longterm deal, accept whatever penalties it may receive and move on from the past.