Friday, January 29, 2016

"The Terrible Old Man" (a book review post)

"The Terrible Old Man" might be the most normal of Lovecraft's stories, the most "normal" one I've read, anyway. Which is not to say that it's not a horror story, but it's not a weird, tentacled monster horror story.

This is going to be all spoilery, by the way, because the short story is quite short, and there's no way to talk about what I want to talk about without giving it away. But you should still read it because 1. it's short, and 2. it's that good.

I'm not saying that Lovecraft invented this type of story, but this is certainly the earliest example that I know I've read of this type, the type where the perpetrators become the victims.


There's an old man, an ex-sea captain, who lives alone and is rumored to have vast stores of treasures. Or something. No one really knows because the old guy keeps to himself and everyone is afraid of him. But, then, three new guys arrive into town, hear about the guy, and decide that they will rob the old man. They'll torture the location of the hidden treasure out of him if they have to.

Except one of the guys, the driver, isn't too keen on the torture part, so he tells his two buddies to go easy on the old guy. And that's the last he sees of them as they head to the house and he waits in the car. Not long after, he hears screams coming from inside the house and assumes it's the old guy... until he finds the old guy staring at him from the gate with a wicked grin on his face.

Seriously, go read it.

Now, one of the things I read about this story is that it's a prime example of Lovecraft's racism... wait! What?
I'm sorry; I just don't see it.
Yes, the men from out of town are "foreigners" in that they are not from the small town where everyone knows about the terrible old man. You have to outsiders come in who don't know any better. I think you have to read awfully deep between the lines to turn this into some kind of warning to outsiders to stay out.

Or maybe I just don't know enough about Lovecraft.
However, not knowing more than I do, I say this is a really great read.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Voyage of Temptation" (Ep. 2.13)

-- Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

In this episode is politics. Sort of. At least, that's the backdrop to the story. Satine has to go to Coruscant to affirm that she is staying neutral in the war despite the actions of the Mandalorian terrorist group, Death Watch. Death Watch, of course, doesn't want her to go. In Star Wars, that means you send an assassin.

Or assassin droids, as in this case. Freaky looking spider assassin droids. That have baby spider assassin droids inside them. If you have arachnophobia, this is not the episode for you. I mean, I have no issue with spiders at all -- I'm the designated "take the spider outside" person in our home -- but this episode kind of made my skin crawl.

There are a couple of things we learn in this episode:
1. Obi-Wan and Satine have come down on opposite sides in regards to the Separatists. Obi-Wan is a general and fully invested in defeating the Separatists. Satine is a pacifist and the head of a group of systems that want to stay neutral. To say that they don't see eye to eye is an understatement.
2. Obi-Wan and Satine have a past. Which is all I'm going to say because you should just watch it yourselves. What I will say is that this situation provides an interesting contrast to Anakin's.

In conjunction with the previous episode, this story arc elevates in importance even more. The details we find out about Mandalore along with Obi-Wan's backstory make this one of the most essential arcs in the series. I would say that it's "must see" for any Star Wars fan.

"Senators, I presume you're acquainted with the collection of half truths and hyperbole known as Ob-Wan Kenobi."

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Big Short (a movie review post)

I think when you hear about a movie being made about the financial collapse of the housing market, you don't think "funny." That's certainly not what I thought. So I figured this was going to be a serious "doom and gloom" kind of movie, but I wanted to see it because it's about the guys (well, one guy, really) who saw the bubble and knew it was going to pop. You hear about the people who saw it coming, but you don't really hear about them, if you know what I mean. They get brushed off as doomsayers who just happened to be right this time but not because they were right but because they were lucky. After all, no one could have seen the coming of the collapse of the housing market, right?

Honestly, Steve Carell was enough to make me want to see it, but it's a subject I have interest in. And I like Gosling, too. I'm not a fan of Bale, but I do concede that he's a good, possibly great, actor, so I could get let his presence slide. And, um, I had actually forgotten that Brad Pitt was in it at all. I do like him, so that would have been a plus... if I had remembered.

Then the movie turned out to be a comedy! A dark comedy, granted, but a comedy nonetheless. I suppose I could have known that before going in, but I don't like to know too much about a movie before seeing it and the fact that this is a comedy in no way takes away from the movie or the subject matter. Humor may have been the best vehicle for a movie like this, in fact.

Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, the actual guy who saw the housing bubble and knew it was going to burst. I'm not going to get into all of that or what happened because you can watch the movie or do the research to find that stuff out, and you should because it's interesting and somewhat fascinating. That he saw the bubble was not "luck" or a good guess or anything like that; it was an ability to look at the data and know what it means, something most (nearly all) people are incapable of. So, yeah, of course it sounded ludicrous when he suggested that the housing market was going to collapse. Also, he was trying to make money off of it but not because he was trying to make money off of it. No, I'm not going to try to explain that. Also, Bale was incredible as Burry. Like I said, he's a good, possibly great, actor whether I like him or not.

Brad Pitt was also cast somewhat against character and, since I had forgotten that he was in the movie at all, it was halfway through or something before I even realized it was him. It was one of those "oh!" moments: Oh! That's Brad Pitt! And, well, if someone like Brad Pitt can make me not even recognize him, you have to know that it's a good performance.

Carell was playing more to character, kind of an angry Michael Scott kind of guy, but he was really good and fit the part perfectly. He's actually the guy you end up having the most connection with because he's in this investment business but really hates everything about it. He hates all of the corruption and deceit and greed but, yet, there he is. So, yeah, at first, when he and his group figure out about shorting the housing market (they'll explain that to you in the movie), it's about the money but, as he finds more out about what's going on, for him, it's really about hurting the banks. Carell is actually great in the role and makes you really feel for the character.

Speaking of the movie explaining things, that stuff is awesome. They actually stop the action of the movie to have celebrities explain concepts, like the bit with Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining whatever she was explaining (I don't remember what anyone explained, now, so that has nothing to do with Robbie in the bubble bath). Those bits were pretty brilliant; the one with the chef and, um, whomever was with him was probably the best one.

And, oh, yeah, Gosling is good, too, though he didn't really do anything that you wouldn't expect of Gosling, so hos performance doesn't really stand out to me. It's the kind of thing you'd expect of Ryan Reynolds, but Gosling does a lot of that kind of thing, too.

All in all a really great movie, as good as Spotlight, really, which fills me with conflict, because I want Spotlight for best picture, but The Big Short, though a different kind of film completely, is equally as good. I wouldn't want to have to pick between the two as to which one is actually the "better" movie.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Star Wars: A Discussion (Episode VII)

My first 3D movie was way back in 1983, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. I can't say I thought much of it. What I remember is the movie being pretty terrible and the 3D being blatant. What I mean by blatant is scenes where something comes right out at you for no other purpose than coming right out at you to show off the 3Dness of the movie. That's not always a bad thing, but it usually is. Probably the only significant thing about this movie is that it was Molly Ringwald's first "big" movie, right before Sixteen Candles. It did not make me ever want to see another movie in 3D, though.

That was a thing I pretty much succeeded at. At least, I can't think of any other 3D movies I saw through the rest of the 80s. It lasted all the way up to U2 3D, which came out in 2007 in Real 3D. The U2 concert movie was the first to use the Real 3D technology and, frankly, it was amazing. At times, it felt like you were in the arena, the show was so immersive. And that's probably about as close as I'll ever get to seeing U2 in concert, so I was glad to have seen the movie in the theater.

Of course, it was quickly followed by other movies using the technology: Journey to the Center of the Earth, Coraline, and who knows what else since 3D quickly became a "thing" and Real 3D faded into the sea of new digital 3D technology. However, I was hooked. Unlike the old red/green 3D thing, the new 3D stuff, when done well, could make you feel almost like you were in the scene.

However, it didn't take long for theaters to raise the prices on the 3D shows high enough to make them not worth it. Not when you have a family of five, at any rate. So, except for special exceptions, we don't do 3D movies anymore. One of those exceptions was the re-release of The Phantom Menace in 3D but, rather than talk about that here, I'll direct you to my review of that.

In relation to The Phantom Menace, I have to say that I was upset when Disney called a halt to the 3D conversion of the other Star Wars movies. Star Wars was made for 3D. The Force Awakens just reinforces that. So, yes, we went to see Episode VII in 3D. I think that's the first 3D movie I've seen since we saw Episode I in 3D back then in 2012. The 3D experience of Force Awakens was amazing.

It's not because there are things flying at you and being blatantly 3D in your face, either. I actually don't remember anything like that in the movie. With Force, it's all about the environment and how much more rich and interesting it becomes in 3D. The 3D actually allows you to see more of what's in the movie, like steam being released from the Falcon after it lands, than you can see on the flat surface of the 2D presentation. It was... impressive.

Which is not to say that the 3D is perfect. There are still issues when a character is in the foreground but not completely onscreen. That can give a sort of warped appearance as the character is both coming out of the screen at you and being framed in by the wall. But those instances are few. I suppose until movies are actually holographic VR presentations, there will be some issues, but The Force Awakens is the best 3D I've ever seen. Not that I've been watching much 3D but, as I said, but, still...

The short of it is that, if you have opportunity, you should check this one out in 3D. It's worth it. And I hope Disney resumes the conversion of the other five Star Wars movies into 3D. Just... well... I want to see the trench run in 3D. That would be amazing!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Clone Wars -- "The Mandalore Plot" (Ep. 2.12)

-- If you ignore the past, you jeopardize the future.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

I'm not sure if I can say this is my favorite season two story arc or not, but it is one of my favorite arcs from Clone Wars overall, which I can say because it's one of the ones I remembered best before starting to watch the series again (for this thing that The Armchair Squid and I are doing). This arc has more than a few very memorable, and important, characters/concepts/things that it introduces.

Let's deal with the obvious one first:
"The Mandalore Plot" takes us to the planet Mandalore, a place every kid who got one of those early Boba Fett figures back in 1979/80 wanted to go. Face it, Boba Fett may still be the coolest character ever to come out of Star Wars, and they really never gave us anything to go on for decades. When they finally did, it was in the person of Jango Fett, and they still told us nothing. But "The Mandalore Plot" finally gives us some background.

For one thing, the episode reveals that the Mandalorians, or at least the warriors who wore the armor, had a longstanding animosity with the Jedi. I think the implication there is that their armor suits were developed specifically to counter the Jedi, which would explain why Obi-Wan has so much trouble with Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones. And, actually, again in this episode of The Clone Wars.

Another thing we get to see is the darksaber, an ancient Jedi weapon stolen by the Mandalorians long ago.
The darksaber is a cool weapon and works similarly to a lightsaber. The series never provides much background on what it is or where it came from or anything like that, but it does turn up in later episodes.

And then there's Satine. Satine is an important character for reasons I'm not going to go into yet: They'd be spoilery. However, I will say one thing: I find it completely amusing that they named the character Satine, the name of Nicole Kidman's character in Moulin Rouge. That's a hint, by the way, but that's all I'm going to say. Well, other than that she'll be back.

Oh, and the introduction of Death Watch. That's a thing, too.

Mostly, The Clone Wars doesn't contain this kind of world building. It does occasionally, but it's generally focused on characters or showing us places we've already been or creating an interesting side note that only exists for an episode or two. This arc, though, seems very foundational to me because of the depth it gives us for Boba Fett's background. You know at some point Disney is going to get around to doing a Boba Fett movie, so I would expect that at least some of this stuff from these episodes will come into play again.

Personally, I'd love to see the darksaber make it to the big screen.

"We'll have to stand and fight or, in your case, just stand."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Star Wars: A Discussion (Episode VI)

One of the big questions around my house (mostly from my daughter because she loves R2-D2) leading up to The Force Awakens was, "Why is there a new droid?" It's a fair question but one I mostly had to shrug at when she would ask it. My wife, though, gave the cynical (but probably accurate) answer of "merchandising."

However, after seeing the movie, I think the impetus lies elsewhere. This is how I imagine it going:

Abrams: We have a problem.
Disney: What's that?
Abrams: I gotta go fast.
Disney: We, um, don't know what you mean.
Abrams: That's okay; I don't either. But this movie is going to be fast! Lots of running.
Disney: Yeah, so?
Abrams: Bro, R2 is slow. He can't keep up with all the action I'm gonna throw! I need a droid we won't have to tow. It's gotta go fast!
Disney stares at Abrams for several long minutes. Abrams is virtually vibrating in his seat.
Disney: So what you're saying is that you want a new droid?
Huey Lewis music suddenly wafts through the air with the words, "I want a new droid. One that does what it should. One that won't make me feel too slow, one that'll help my livelihood." It suddenly stops and Disney smiles.
Disney: Oh! You want a new droid! A fast droid! Yes! We'll make you a new droid.
Abrams: Great! Awesome! I gotta go fast!

Yeah, that's kind of how it goes in my head. Abrams gets a droid that can roll and bounce along on the ground with Rey and Finn as they run like crazy and Disney gets a brand new cute droid to merchandise the hell out of.

And, well, that worked. Yes, my daughter loves R2 but, now, she also loves BB-8. "He's so cute!"

But, you know, BB-8 is a fine addition to the movies. He rather subverts R2's  observational role but, hey!, Disney has subverted many things with their whole "making a movie for the fans" thing. He, the droid, was fun, and that's what counts, right?

However, not all of what made it into The Force Awakens works so well as BB-8, Starkiller Base, for instance. Setting aside the fact that this is part of the whole repetitive story issue (but seriously! again?), how does this even work? It's like they forgot to think the whole thing through (but at least it's not as bad as "red matter" (because, really, "red matter" was the best you could come up with, Abrams?)). I can be okay with them building a Death Star inside of a planet, but there are... let's call them inconsistencies:
1. Starkiller Base destroys the Hosnian system. Where did it get the energy for that blast? You're not going to convince that it "came loaded with one shot already available." Sure, as my wife pointed out, maybe it was a binary star system, but that doesn't ring true to me. It still had an atmosphere and plant life on the surface, so it hadn't come from some other system first. It had to be still in its home system.
2. The Star Wars database says that the beam from Starkiller Base travels through hyperspace, which explains how it gets to Hosnian Prime so quickly. But, if it's travelling through hyperspace, why can we see it? Come on guys; that's just not cool. Don't break the rules just because you want everyone to watch the beam go by and be all "oooh..." at it.

Oh, and see, I had to go to the Star Wars database to find that out about the beam going through hyperspace (because prior to looking, I was miffed that the beam shot across the galaxy in seconds), which is something something that irks me. I shouldn't need to go looking outside the movie for explanations of things inside the movie. Like the thing with Ren's lightsaber and why it's built that way (because there's an actual reason beyond it looking cool). That's one thing Lucas did very well: He gave us all the information we needed within the movies. And you might say that knowing why Ren's lightsaber looking the way it does (and I mean the flame-like appearance of the blade, not the cross-hilt) is not necessary, but an aberration like that popping up after six movies of lightsabers not looking like that begs the question. I shouldn't need to go out of the movie to find "why?"

And, yes, maybe that info will come in backstory in the next movie. Who knows. If that was the only thing, it wouldn't bother me, but that's just a prime example of a lot of things in this movie where Disney put the information in some other medium so that you have to buy a book or a comic book or whatever to find out. Irksome. And damaging to the integrity of the movie.

The other big problem I have with the movie is that everyone knows everything right away all the time. It's very un-Star Wars. I mean, the search for the droids by the Empire in A New Hope is part of what gave the early part of the movie its tension. But in this one, everyone knows that BB-8 is BB-8 as soon as they see it, and the First Order just shows up. But, you know, gotta go fast! It's not restricted to the First Order, though; it's everyone all the time. Rey and Finn steal the Falcon: Han shows up. [I'm sorry; there's no good explanation for that.] Then both rival gangs show up. Not to mention the Resistance showing up to take down the First Order when they're attacking Maz's place. There's just too much everyone knowing everything and/or coincidence.

And don't even get me started on the whole "map to Luke Skywalker" thing. Why is there a map to a person? And how exactly is that bit of the galaxy "uncharted" when it clearly fits within a map of the entire charted galaxy. Oh, wait... I said don't get me started. Oops.

So, yeah, I like the movie, but I'm not in love with it the way I am with the rest of Star Wars. Not right now. I'm sure it will grow on me but, right now, it's like the one kid who is constantly getting into everything and you keep having to say "stoooop!" to. You love the kid, but you just wish s/he would go away for a while and quit making noise. And, yes, darnit! I want to go see it again.

Next: 3D!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Star Wars: A Discussion (Episode V)

Okay, so, now we get to it. How do I really feel about The Force Awakens?
The answer is probably way more complicated than it ought to be, but it is what it is.
So let's start with the good...
Oh! There will be spoilers. Probably a lot of them.
Just sayin'.
[As it turns out, all but one spoiler has been pushed to the next post.]

It's a good movie. A very good movie. I say that not as an evaluation of actually quality but in its ability to make me want to watch it again. [I've seen it three times and want to see it again.] And, hey, it's Star Wars. It's full of action, non-stop action, in fact. The special effects are amazing, as you would expect.

Probably, the best thing about the movie is Adam Driver. It was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser for me when he got cast, though less of one when I found out it was as the villain. He has an interesting intensity about him, and it worked really well as Kylo Ren. He's able to do a lot with his voice and gave a much more nuanced performance than anyone in a Star Wars movie other than, perhaps, Ewan McGregor. Plus, his height made his stalking-walk very effective.

Finn and Rey are great additions.

I think it must be difficult to convey emotion while wearing stormtrooper armor, but John Boyega manages it. He is equal parts enthusiasm and naivete... well, when he's not being freaked out by what's going on around him, that is. I liked his performance, and I like the character.

Rey is great. She is now both my daughter's and my wife's favorite character in Star Wars (okay, well, my daughter may still like both R2 and BB-8 better) AND she is my oldest son's favorite character. Yes, even more than Luke Skywalker (though my son has been a devoted follower of the Empire for years, now, anyway). Daisy Ridley is good in the role.

The Force Awakens is actually as close you can probably get to the "perfect" fan movie for Star Wars. Except not for actual fans in the actual meaning of the word. Most people who call themselves a "fan" of something don't actually mean that; what they mean is that they like the thing. Actual fans invest themselves into the thing they're a fan of, hence the origin of the word from "fanatic." So, sense everyone gets to be a fan these days just for liking a thing, this movie is perfect. It's perfect for all of those people who saw the movies in the theater almost 40 years ago and thought it was great but, then, didn't think about Star Wars anymore until the prequels came out, which they hated, because what they wanted was another experience like A New Hope. The Phantom Menace was not that experience, but The Force Awakens is.

The Force Awakens achieves this by being almost the exact same movie. Except faster and more intense. This is a point of conflict for me. On the one hand, it is a fun movie but, then, I have to ask, "What's the point?" Of course, I know the point: Disney wanted to make a buttload of money, and they have succeeded admirably. But, seriously, from a story standpoint, why tell the same story again? From that perspective, I sort of feel gypped, because I already watched the one where they have to take down the shields so that they can destroy the giant planet-killing machine.

Which brings me, obliquely, to the major issue I have with Force: It feels like a movie about Star Wars but not quite like it is actually Star Wars. Honestly, effectively, that's what it is. The Force Awakens is a piece of officially sanctioned fan fiction. The fact that movie moves so quickly contributes to this feeling. So, while the non-stop action is attractive to the larger audience, the non-stop action also rushes past any feeling of being Star Wars. It does not "feel the Force." Ever. It's the lack of originality that really does it. The movie feels most like the kind of story a kid would make up to use his action figures with and destroy an EVEN BIGGER AND MORE POWERFUL Death Star. (Okay, there was your spoiler.)

Don't get me wrong; this doesn't make it a bad movie. It's an Abrams movie, and Abrams knows how to do big action and all of that. And fast. Very fast. So it's good. And fun. A good and fun bit of fan fiction that Disney has made into actual Star Wars canon. Maybe that's not a bad thing. I don't really know. All I know is that I wish Disney had actually held true to Lucas' story like they said they were going to do when all of this began. But, well, you can't stop them from following the scent of money, I suppose. Clearly, they have taken the "quicker, easier, more seductive" path.

Next post we'll talk about BB-8 and why he exists.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Lightsaber Lost" (Ep. 2.11)

-- Easy isn't always simple.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Sometimes I think there is too much emphasis on the importance of the lightsaber in Star Wars; after all, Darth Vader deflected blaster bolts with his hand. It seems to me that the lightsaber should fall as a distant second to the Force. But, then, Vader is extremely powerful and, maybe, the lightsaber is that important to your "average" Jedi. Certainly, "your lightsaber is your life" seems to be an everyday teaching of the Jedi, one even Anakin ascribed to.

So it comes as no surprise when Ahsoka is dismayed at the loss of her lightsaber to a pickpocket during what should have been a simple mission. It's also not surprising that she doesn't want Anakin to find out.

She enlists the aid of ancient Jedi Tera Sinube. I mean ancient in the way your great-grandfather is ancient and will suddenly just be asleep at odd moments but, yet, do things that will constantly amaze you. To say that he's slow moving is an understatement. The episode becomes an exercise in patience for Ahsoka.

Which, in the end, is the point.

Ahsoka is fairly frantic over the loss of her 'saber and her anxiety interferes with her ability to focus and concentrate. Tera's lesson to her is, basically, "Calm down. Take your time." It's a hard lesson for Ahsoka to learn and not one she's going to get from Anakin, the resident hothead of the Jedi, but she does seem to get it.

There's also a bit of intrigue.

It's a good, solid episode. A good one-shot for people who aren't closely following the series as it doesn't involve needing to know anything that isn't provided within the episode itself. And, hey, it's always fun to get to meet other Jedi.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Star Wars: A Discussion (Episode IV)

I suppose we're up to the place where we finally start talking about The Force Awakens, but this still isn't a review. Not, yet, anyway.

If you've read the previous posts in this series, it will come as no surprise to you that the lead up to The Force Awakens was a big deal in my household. We had our tickets not long after they started pre-selling them, so something like a month in advance. My oldest son, who is working on a suit of stormtrooper armor so that he can join the 501st, spent the last year pouring over every tiny little detail released about the movie and engaging in all kinds of theories about it.

I pretty much constantly had to tell him not to tell me the stuff he was finding out online, because I wanted to go into the movie with as little knowledge as possible about it. I already knew more than I wanted to know about the general premise of the story because of all of the Star Wars lore I accumulated back in the 90s before Lucas announced that he was going to make the prequels.

My younger son fell somewhere in between us. He wasn't searching out information, but he wasn't opposed to being told things, either.

It's an interesting thing watching an event draw closer for someone who has been highly anticipating it. See, although my oldest son saw all of the prequels in the theater, he didn't really remember doing that. He was only three for Phantom Menace and, although he was old enough to remember going to see Revenge at the theater, all he really remembered of that was all of the people in costume while we were waiting in line to get in. His memories were all about the movies themselves because he'd seen them so many times on DVD; he had no real memories of the experience of going to see them.

That's not like me, I remember the experience of going to see A New Hope the first time I went to see it. I remember everything about it, including how badly I needed to go to the bathroom and being unwilling to do that because I was so enraptured by the movie. But, then, it was a full year before I got to see it again, so I really had to hold onto that one memory very tightly. And I did, too.

Yes, those were the years before, even, VHS players.

But it hasn't been like that with my kids. Their lives have been full of Star Wars pretty much from the start, so all three of them were very much looking forward to going to see a new Star Wars movie while being old enough to be able to remember the experience of going to do that, my oldest son most of all. You could see the tension growing in him as we got closer, especially in that last week. He was both excited and scared, scared that it wouldn't be as good as he hoped.

He's the reason I saw it twice on "opening" night, Thursday, December 17. We already had our tickets for the 7:00 show, but, back at the end of the summer, he picked up a job at a movie theater. They were doing an actual midnight showing for the employees, and he could bring two people: that was me and his brother. Let me just say: Midnight is not a kind time when you got up at 5:00am. Even for Star Wars.

So... We all went to the 7:00 show, and we all really liked it, but... Okay, so, my wife and my daughter just straight up liked the movie. Enough for them to want to see it a second time (which we did, making my third) and for my daughter to want, now, to go see it again. Neither of them are much into re-watching movies. After coming out of the first showing, my sons and I all felt like we needed to see it again before being able to properly evaluate it. Which is not to say that there were any doubts about likability. But the movie is fast. It's really non-stop action, like a roller coaster, which I'm sure is what Disney was striving for, and there's no time during the movie to ever stop and think about what you're seeing.

That was actually what I said to my wife when we came out of the theater, my only mark against it on that initial viewing: It was too fast. That one thing distracted from the Star Wars-ness of the film, much like the new Doctor Who series is also too fast. Don't get me wrong, I really like the new Doctor Who series and David Tennant comes in at second on my favorite Doctor list (though Capaldi is really excellent, too, and has the potential to hit #2), but, sometimes (frequently), I miss the thoughtfulness of the older shows. I miss that problems were solved by thinking, not by running around (the running is a big deal in the new series). [Part of what I like about Capaldi is that he has brought back some of the thoughtfulness.]

There is a lot of running in The Force Awakens.

Okay, so, what I'm going to say right now is that I like the movie. A lot. But it still only comes in at 4 of 7 of the Star Wars movies, maybe 5 of 7. One of the top 3 is one of the prequels. Next post, we'll talk about why.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Star Wars: A Discussion (Episode III)

No, we're not actually up to The Force Awakens, yet. Don't worry; we'll get there.

When my oldest son was not quite two, my wife gave me the boxed (VHS) set of Special Edition for Christmas. My son was not a TV watcher; I mean, we didn't even have TV (still don't). He wasn't (yet) a video watcher either. He wasn't even two and we didn't really have any videos for him to sit and watch. When I put A New Hope in to watch it, it didn't occur to either of us (my wife and me) that he would pay any attention to it. But he did.

He sat down and was mesmerized by it and, when it was over and he got up, he was someone different. He was Luke Skywalker. I'm being serious. He got up and immediately began running around the house as if he was Luke. It was, quite frankly, amazing. By the time we'd watched the full trilogy, the transformation was complete.

Amusing story time:
Those of you with kids will know that two-year-olds aren't the best talkers in the world. Well, ours started saying "fuck" to us. That, also, was amazing and a surprise, because we couldn't figure out where he'd heard it, since we didn't use that kind of language around him. But he'd run into the kitchen and yell "fuck!" and run out again and, really, just leave us bemused. So, one day, he and I were at Target together going through the toys (because I was still collecting Star Wars stuff at the time and, actually, the kid was starting his own collection, too). As we went down one of the aisles, he began yelling "fuck! fuck!" over and over again. People were looking and I was, frankly, embarrassed. I was trying to shush him and sped up to get off the aisle then, as we rounded the corner at the end, he started pointing, too, and stating "fuck!" even more emphatically. And, so, I looked to see what he was pointing at: an endcap display of Millennium Falcons. The "fuck!" That was all he could say of it. It was one of those "oh" moments and it all made sense.

Still incredibly embarrassing, though, because you can't go to everyone and explain to them that your two-year-old is not really swearing, as if they'd believe you anyway, right?

My oldest son was old enough to see The Phantom Menace in the theater when it came out, though he doesn't remember it -- he was only three, after all -- but my second son was released right in the middle of the trilogy. Oh, um, I mean, he was born during the midst of the prequels. He was a great baby, and we could take him to any movie with us, and he would sleep right through it. We couldn't take our oldest son to many movies, because all he wanted to do was get up and walk around. Star Wars was an exception. But, for the first year of his life, we took the second child to all of our movies with us, including Pearl Harbor, which we were sure was going to wake him up it was so loud, but he slept right through it. That lasted right up until May of 2002.

Don't get me wrong, Attack of the Clones was fine. He didn't sleep through it, but he also didn't fuss. What we didn't know was that our one year and change baby was watching the movie. How do we know? Well, sometime after the release of Clones, my wife and I had gone to see some movie that wasn't Star Wars. I don't remember what movie it was, but it was a date movie, and we took the younger boy with us because he had always been fine in movies. Not this time, though.

No, for that movie (whatever it was), he started crying and fussing almost as soon as the movie started. It was unprecedented.

So I did what any good person should do and I took my son out of the theater leaving my wife to watch our date movie alone. I wandered around the theater for a while holding him. When he finally calmed down, we tried going back to the theater but, almost as soon as I sat down next to my wife, he started back up again. After a couple of times of that, I gave up on going back in and had decided to just stand around in the hallway until the movie was over... except that Attack of the Clones was showing in the theater across the hall, so I decided to go just inside the door to see if I could watch a bit of that.

And this is where it gets interesting because my son, my son who was just over a year old, sat up to watch the movie. He almost instantly became totally engrossed in it. But it's hard to tell things with babies since they can't actually communicate with you, so I decided to experiment with him. Yes, I did an experiment with kid. I walked back to the movie I was supposed to be seeing where he immediately got upset again. Then, I went back to Clones where he started watching again. I went into every other movie in that hall, about half a dozen, and he got upset in every one of them. Attack of the Clones was the only movie he would watch. So, well, we sat down and finished the movie, and he sat quietly and watched the whole thing. By the time it was over, I only had to wait for my wife for about 10 minutes.

For the record, that was the last time we took him to the movies with us. Well, until Revenge of the Sith came out, at any rate.

I don't have any stories like that about my daughter, but she is as fully immersed as the boys at this point. She loves R2-D2, Wicket, and BB-8.
Incidentally, they are watching Return of the Jedi as I finish this up. My wife and I have been out, and they were watching it when we got home. That's the way our house is.

Next post, we'll start into The Force Awakens.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Clone Wars -- "The Deserter" (Ep. 2.10)

-- It is the quest for honor that makes one honorable.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

"The Deserter" finds Obi-Wan hot on the trail of Grievous from the previous episode. Yeah, Obi-Wan and Grievous have a particular animosity for each other, and Kenobi really (I mean really) wants to -- well, I'd say he wants to capture Grievous, but I don't think it much matters to Obi-Wan at this point. Dead is as good as alive -- beat the virtual snot out of Grievous.

But that's not really what this episode is about. Obi-Wan's pursuit of Grievous is just the backdrop to the actual story, which is a further exploration of the differentiation of the clones. During the search for Grievous, Captain Rex comes across a clone who had deserted from the army some years prior, long enough ago to have young children with his twi'lek wife. Rex assumes that the man is a coward.

Of course, the story is more complicated than that, and the deserter proves his bravery when his farm is attacked by a squadron of commando droids. The whole thing shows Rex that things aren't always what they seem, but it's also a lesson on personal choice as Rex realizes that he chooses to be in the army. It's not a default state for him but an active choice.

There's plenty of action in the episode, but it's the philosophical nature of it that makes it enticing. The episodes that get into the nature of the clones, especially the ones that have to do with how they view themselves, are always worth watching. This one is no exception.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Star Wars: A Discussion (Episode II)

Star Wars fans of my generation (and older) tend to have an inordinate dislike of the prequels. I blame the fans. "But how can it be their fault for not liking the movies?" you might ask. "Isn't it Lucas' fault for not making something that the fans would like?" Well, no, it's not Lucas' fault. It's the fault of fans for, basically, assuming ownership of something that doesn't belong to them. Unwarranted expectations will get you every time.

I want to go back to something I said in my last post, that thing about how I never quit on Star Wars. I think this is a significant point. See, I was there when Zahn's books came out, so to speak. I bought them in hardback. Because I was into comic books, I have first printings of the Dark Empire series from Dark Horse. For a while, I was reading all of the Star Wars novels for no other reason than that they were Star Wars, and I think reading them taught me a lesson.

See, some of them... well, some of them sucked. And sucked hard. In fact, I'll just say it: Kevin Anderson's Jedi Academy trilogy was so awful that not only will I never read anything else by Anderson, but they broke me from reading anymore Star Wars novels. The lesson was not that some things that "are" Star Wars won't be good; it was about expectations. I somehow expected that these things would be great just because they were set in  the Star Wars universe. Well, I didn't really expect that, not in my head, but on some emotional level that is what I expected.

Of course, what I wanted was to be taken back to that feeling I had when I was seven when that star destroyer first "passed over my head" and made me see the world in a way I had never seen it before. But you can't have that feeling again. You can't go back to seven and experience that thing in that same way ever again. You can't have your eyes opened for the first time more than once. That can be a hard thing to learn, but Kevin Anderson beat it into me with his horrid books.

So it was that when Lucas announced the prequels I determined to have no expectations. Or as little as possible, at any rate. I knew these weren't going to be the same movies. I knew the time period they were going to be set in, and I knew what they were about. My goal was twofold: to avoid finding out stuff about the movie beforehand (because I had known absolutely nothing about Star Wars when I was seven and my grandmother took me to see it) and to not have expectations. I already knew where expectations would get me.

Which is not to say that I was not excited. I was right there with everyone else camping out for tickets for the opening midnight show of The Phantom Menace and camping again to get in so as not to have to sit in the front corner of the theater.

Also, I was in no way disappointed with The Phantom Menace. Not even with Jar Jar. He's funny. He makes me laugh. And my kids like him.

I want to make a point here: I was seven when I first saw Star Wars. I was a kid. I'm not saying that I loved Star Wars because I was a kid, but, essentially, Star Wars was a movie for young people, not for adults. There were toys because the target audience was kids. When I went into Phantom Menace, I wanted to go in with as much of that as possible. I wanted to see it with eyes that were fresh and young and with no preconceptions. Part of that was looking at it through the lens of my kids. Well, just one kid, at the time, but each of my kids has loved Jar Jar as they have come into contact with him. Lucas said Jar Jar was a character in the movie specifically for kids, and, from that standpoint, he totally works. So, really, the problem with the Jar Jar-haters is not actually Jar Jar, it's the people who hate him. And, you know what, it shows your age and your unwillingness to be a kid again, as you were when you first saw Star Wars.

And that takes me back to my opening statement: the problem with the prequels is "the fans," the original fans.
It's the truth, and you should just get over yourselves. You don't own Star Wars and Lucas doesn't owe you anything. Didn't owe you anything.
And, actually, you, all of you, should be ashamed of yourselves, because it's because of you that Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney.
/end rant

Yes, I like the prequels. Love them, even. Sure, in my list of Star Wars movies, they are not my favorite, but one of them does come in at #3, and they are Star Wars, so even the one at #6 is way ahead of most every other movie out there.

That being said, there is one problem I have with the prequels: the death of Padme during childbirth. The problem is, as it worked out, that kind of had to be the way that happened but it doesn't fit the previous narrative of Leia having gone with her mother when the twins were split up at birth, and it doesn't fit with Leia's memories of her mother from when she was a young child. So, see, despite the fact that I can see that it Padme's death is necessary from a story perspective, it doesn't work for me because of my own expectation that she should have taken Leia away and raised her in hiding for several years before her death.

But that's it. That one thing is the only issue I have with the prequels.

I don't want to get into anything about how I feel about The Force Awakens, right now, but, regardless of that, I wish that Lucas was the one making them. Just as I wanted to see his story for the prequels, I wanted to see his story for the sequel trilogy, too. As it turns out, despite what Disney said they would do (which was to follow Lucas' original story), according to Lucas, they have strayed from that, and that disappoints me.

But more on that later.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Star Wars: A Discussion (Episode I)

This is not a review; that will come later.

Those of you who know me at all or who have been following for a while probably know (ought to know) that I went to see The Force Awakens at the earliest possible showing. What that turned into was seeing it twice on "opening day," which was not, actually, opening day, because it was the day before opening day. Fortunately one of those showings was at 7:00 because the main thing I learned is that I am definitely getting too old for midnight shows, which the second viewing was. I also learned that my boys have nowhere near the stamina I did at their ages as both of them also struggled with the midnight viewing. Up until a few years ago, midnight shows where commonplace in my movie viewing repertoire.

All of which is, of course, beside the point other than the fact that when I said to my sons, "I'm getting too old for this sort of thing," as we were leaving the theater (at 2:30am!), they didn't get it. Yes, I was disappointed.

I want to provide some context for the upcoming review and the things I say about Force Awakens before I actually get to talking about that movie.

I have always said that Star Wars changed my life, and I mean that in a very literal sense. Even as a teenager looking back at my childhood, I could see the point where Star Wars came into my childhood and changed my path. Before Star Wars, everything was dinosaurs and cowboys and Indians. Everything changed when I seven. I was one person entering the theater and someone else when I came out. To again borrow the words of Ben Kenobi, I'd taken my first step into a larger world.

Star Wars never faded from my life, though it faded from the world around me. My Star Wars toys decorated my room all the way through the 80s, long after everyone had forgotten Return of the Jedi, and into the 90s just waiting for the resurgence that happened with the release of Zahn's Star Wars novels and the Dark Empire comic book series from Dark Horse in the early 90s. Needless to say, I was elated when Lucas announced the special edition versions of the movies.

And I remained elated after I saw them.

Let me be clear, I am not a part of the "Han shot first" crowd. I am from the "Han shot" era. That was it. Han shot. The whole argument over Han shooting first annoys me to no end. That being said, I have no issue with Lucas adding in the thing with Greedo shooting. It doesn't destroy my childhood or the movie or, even, damage them. I get it. Star Wars became a thing that's much bigger than Lucas ever imagined it would be and making Han a better role model for kids is something I can understand.

There was only one thing they added to the special editions that I didn't like, the scream by Luke as he dropped into the shaft in Cloud City after the duel with Vader, and they later took that back out.

And then there were the prequels...
Let's make that next post, shall we?