Tag Archives: Star Wars

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: An Apology to a World Long Lost

I owe an apology.

In fact, I owe a few. The biggest one I will get to in due time, but I owe one to all of you, my loyal (or casual, perhaps even stumbling upon this site for the first time) readers. A few years ago I got caught up in nostalgia and praised too highly something that I normally am quite demanding on: a movie. Specifically, I am referring to 2015, a roller coaster year for me personally that saw me come to terms with a great many things regarding myself, my relationships with others, and my appreciation of art. These are reasons why I behaved the way I did then; not excuses. Many of us were – and clearly still are – swept up in the tide of nostalgia that reboots, rehashes, and long-awaited sequels provided for us in the cinema, but this is no justification for my actions either. Now, to be clear, I do not dislike Jurassic World, the 2015 release that marked the fourth film in the vaunted dinosaur-centric series. I called it one of my favorite movies of that year, after all. I realized at its release that it was a derivative film that hearkened back to the original in a manner that often exploited our nostalgia, and I was okay with this because damn it I wanted more dinosaurs! It didn’t matter that they didn’t have feathers now, nor did it matter that the most well developed character was a velociraptor and the rest were bland at best. I got my dose of dinosaurs again, and it was a grand, old time at the popcorn palace. I saw Jurassic World three times in theaters, which pales in comparison to the five times I saw Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens that year (always with different people too!). However, while both were derivative of their original film and capitalized on the success of their predecessors, The Force Awakens offered us lovable new characters who fit right in alongside our established favorites. We are all right with the notion that these are the people who will carry our beloved franchise into new stories. I do not make apologies when I say that Star Wars succeeded at this with their latest saga film, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. I’ve spoken more on this matter, and probably will again, but the important thing is that Star Wars took things in a new direction with new characters and delivered a well-crafted story that does not call back to the original films as its most previous film did.  The Last Jedi listened to Fleetwood Mac and went its own way. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom fucked around within itself like Fleetwood Mac and has steered the series off a cliff, and not even Chris Pratt with a gun and gusto can offer much support in saving it as it sinks.

I will not provide spoilers for the latest dino-spectacle, nor will I demand you stay away from it. You are your own person, after all, and perhaps you will like it. For me though, Fallen Kingdom really fell in a manner that is disrespectful of the original Jurassic Park. To be fair, this is hardly the first disappointment of a dinosaur sequel in the franchise – in fact, none of the films that have followed the 1993 original have delivered the goods the way it did. Nevertheless, none of the sequels have lost their way as this latest one did. Jurassic Park III is a more coherent movie than this latest despite all of its flaws – of which it has many, and it should not be forgiven for simply being less underwhelming than Fallen Kingdom. Still, there is something to say about simplicity. The original film is astoundingly basic in its concept: there is a park with dinosaurs that needs a test run clearance in order to open. From there, we add on the wonder of “Wow! Real dinosaurs!” Steven Spielberg offers heaps of fantastic wonder in so many of his movies, but perhaps none so pure as in Jurassic Park. There is a moment in Fallen Kingdom where Bryce Dallas Howard, who at least gets boots this time, asks Chris Pratt if he remembers the amazing joy he felt the first time he saw a dinosaur. It, like so many other instances is a chance for that movie to take off, but it just keeps bogging itself down in an abundance of activity. Too much happens in two hours for us to ever connect with the characters or the cliche-laden plot. Unlike the first Jurassic Park where Spielberg lets scenes stew to bring home the point at the heart of the story, beyond all the dinosaurs and colorful cast of characters and incredible scientific advancements that all feel so real, what he really wants us to experience is the moral of the story: we should not play God.

That’s it. At its core, Jurassic Park is a lesson in not meddling with nature, for just because you have awesome technological power to create new life, you do not have the means to control that new life. It’s a prehistoric retelling of Frankenstein of sorts; a cautionary tale for all would-be creators. As Ian Malcolm states in that first film, “But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I realize that the story has moved on from that initial theme, yet none have extensively explored anything other than what amounts to a rehash of it.

It would also help if we got less of timely Rexy, the Tyrannosaurus rex from the first movie who has continued her role of deus rex machina through three films now. It was amazing on the first go round (I even declared her grand finale entrance to be my favorite Spielberg movie climax moment), yet her appearances in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom are a little too convenient. It’s no surprise anymore when she shows up just the good guys need saving or a bad guy needs to be stopped.

Ultimately, 25 years later, Jurassic Park is a enduring classic because it does more with less; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom does less with more. The muddled plot and shallow characters will not do it any favors in preserving it in the cinematic halls of time, and its most gracious fate very well may be to fall into extinction.

Now while I have not and will not provide any spoilers for Fallen Kingdom in this post, I will offer up some good videos on the series, some of which do delve into spoils territory, so I will mark those accordingly, and encourage you to watch them (especially if you’re in charge of the next Jurassic Park movie):

Non-spoils: “Jurassic Park – Using Theme to Craft Character”

Spoils: “The Problem with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

“Pressing the Dinosaur Button – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” – a unique take on how to fix a big problem in Fallen Kingdom

“Serious Questions -Jurassic Park Franchise” – for fun

Finally, my most sincere apologies to… The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I declared Jurassic World to be the best sequel in the franchise after I saw it, and stuck with that for too long. Again, I do still enjoy Jurassic World, and it certainly stands above Jurassic Park III and its own latest sequel. Nonetheless, I have kept what was rightfully yours on its shelf for too long. I now declare, that while it is not a perfect film by any stretch either, that The Lost World: Jurassic Park is the best Jurassic Park movie after the original. It is much maligned for being inferior to its predecessor, but let’s look at what it does right and original and give it the at fewest one thumbs up it deserves. You want more Goldblum? Check. You want intriguing new characters to join him? Check. You want more classic Spielberg suspense in sequences like trailer hanging off the cliff? Checkity check. You want Spielberg to provide awesome introductions to the established players like the T-rex and raptors while simultaneously introducing new ones like the pachycephalosaurus? You better believe check! You want Pete Postlewaite as a big game hunter bored with a lack of challenges seeking to hunt the greatest quarry that ever grace the world in the T-rex? Checkarino! Finally, do you want more of dinosaurs? Then you have come to the right place. Welcome to Jurassic Park…’s off-site dinosaur breeding island. And then San Diego.

For more on this, I encourage you to check out Filmjoy (formerly Movies with Mikey) for a more extensive defense of this still solid movie:

Thanks for reading! Be sure to come on back next week for more fun!

Go Brazil!

Alex

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The Movie Man

Today we’re going to get into pyro-processing and molten salt reactors and their use in nuclear energy. Check it out!

Holy shit! George Lucas! Oh hey, Happy birthday to you, George Lucas! The much maligned multi-billionaire (the criticism seems less harsh when you consider his considerable wealth) turns 74 today. Best known for creating some of the most popular film franchises in history – and subsequently ruining them – Lucas has been a master of the entertainment industry who helped to shape the movie making experience unlike any other. His vision for story often far exceeded the limitations of the most modern technology which most filmmakers would have made due with the best that they could, but Lucas is not most filmmakers. Today, I will write about the man behind some of the most formative films in current pop culture and how the course of his life brought him to where he is today.

George Walton Lucas Jr. did not have childhood aspirations to be a filmmaker. His pursuit of passion was fast moving cars. He loved to watch them, he loved to drive them, and he loved to race them. When Lucas was 18, he was ringing out one of his tricked out rides when he was struck by another driver and rolled over. The serious accident almost claimed his life, and he spent his recovery time reading up on the storytelling process. After high school, Lucas attended Modesto Junior College and later the University of Southern California where he further studied aspects of story and filmmaking. As I previously discussed in “Skywalkin’ Blues”, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces is the encapsulation of the monomythic hero in classic story. George Lucas read this book and used it as an outline for an idea he had that would become Star Wars, but before that he also turned his attention toward technical capabilities.

George Lucas is part of a group of directors and producers who are considered to be the New Wave in Hollywood. During the late-60s through the 1980s, Lucas and others such as Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Lawrence Kasdan, Philip Kaufman, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch to name a select few (all will be mentioned in this piece), helped initiate the new era in Hollywood to refresh and remix the old and increasingly decrepit tropes of aging cinema. Lucas’ skills behind the camera that he helped to hone by filming fast car races (he still stayed involved in his passion even after the accident) were being noticed, and helped him win an award for a film he made as a graduate student at USC called Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. Upon completing school, he co-founded film studio American Zoetrope with friend and colleague Francis Ford Coppola (see! there’s one!). The aim of the studio was to have greater artistic freedom in filmmaking to avoid being stifled by the traditional Hollywood studio executives. Lucas used the platform to turn his student film into a larger film THX 1138 (the THX sound recording/mixing company is a branch of Lucasfilm that became independent and takes its name from this movie), and while it commercially did not do well, he had enough to form his own company: Lucasfilm, Ltd.

Lucasfilm’s first film was American Graffiti which clearly drew upon Lucas’ familiarity of hot rod racing teenagers. Furthermore, it was a success! Both commercially and critically, American Graffitti allowed Lucas to set off onto his next planned project to make a Flash Gordon movie. Unfortunately, the inability to secure the rights to Flash Gordon prevented this, but even more fortunately, Lucas had an ace in the hole that throughout his life helped him to become not just a billionaire, but one of the richest men alive. Of course, I am talking about Star Wars, and seeing as how I have talked about the entire Star Wars saga numerous times, I am going to gloss over it here (at least until we get to the 1990s). The one thing I will point out here, is Lucas formed another couple of companies amid production of the first Star Wars film. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) was created in 1975, and has since been the leaders of technical effects. In essence, they are the creators of your movie dreams making just about every monster, mechanical machination, and eventually much of the CGI effects seen in films (with many thanks to eventual partner Pixar). Also open for business in 1975 was Sprocket Systems, which would later be called Skywalker Sound. Basically, the visual magic that ILM created was given its buzz, hum, or whir by these sound maestros. Both of these companies were so new to the industry, that when Star Wars was being celebrated at the Academy Awards show, they gave an honorary sound effects Oscar to Ben Burtt because the categories for sound effects weren’t invented yet! Suffice it to say, Lucas ended the 1970s an extremely wealthy man who could make any creative project he wanted thanks to his Star Wars moolah, and the amazing team of effects personnel at his studio’s partner effects studios.

In 1980, his team churned out the greatest sequel ever made with The Empire Strikes Back, a film predominantly penned by Lawrence Kasdan (that’s two!). Kasdan would also help Lucas on his next trilogy turned more than three, the Indiana Jones series. Kasdan wrote the screenplay to Raiders of the Lost Ark based on a story from Lucas and Philip Kaufman (three!). As is well known, Harrison Ford was a star in both franchises, but the amazing archeologist’s adventures allowed friends Lucas and Steven Spielberg (all right, you get the idea; I already said they’ll all come up again) to work together. This was the plan again for Lucas’ third Star Wars movie, but did not come to fruition – the general consensus being that Speilberg was unable to contractually because Lucas had left the Directors Guild of America. Whatever the case may be, Lucas then turned to David Lynch after seeing his film Eraserhead (it’s a David Lynch movie all right), but this did not come to be either.

Not everything Lucas made was a smash though (cough, Howard the Duck!). In fact, most of his projects outside of Star Wars and Indiana Jones were not well received. Still, he did manage some key wins outside of the galaxy far, far away and the Nazi-punching whip-wielder. Lucas was involved in LabyrinthThe Land Before TimeThe Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and even got to work with idol Akira Kurosawa on Kagemusha.

Of course, today, Lucas is typically labeled a shell of his former creative self who has tarnished his own grand projects. He has become a caricature of a man who comes into too much power, just in this case it pertains to creative entertainment properties.

This is obviously in reaction to Lucas returning to filmmaking by returning to Star Wars, first with the re-release of his original trilogy with some major alterations, then with the release of his prequel trilogy that most fans of the original were not crazy about. Lucas actually started a debate over the control that creators should have over their own work once it becomes such a large part of the culture. On the one hand, I am a huge Star Wars fan who loves the stories as they originally were produced and I do not like any tinkering with them, even to fix their flaws. But just put yourself into George Lucas’ flannel shirt and consider that you have some major movies out there that you didn’t have the technology (even with the astounding tech your companies helped create) at the time to make the way you wanted. Now you do, and you have the money to make those changes. Who has the right to stop you? It’s a more complicated answer than anyone would like, but let’s not forget Lucas’ feelings on the matter. I am aware that I am asking you not to be mean to a billionaire who I have been plenty mean to in the past and will again be in the future, but hopefully this piece will help you realize that once he was a boy seeking to have an adventure of his own and ended up achieving massive success which in turn led to his own downfall in the eyes of so many who once loved him. Makes you appreciate the primary story of the prequels a bit more, doesn’t it?

Thanks for reading and watching! If you’d like to learn more about Lucas, there is no shortage of materials to explore the man behind so many of our most beloved myths of the movieplex. I can recommend his interesting episode of the show Prophets of Science Fiction that details some of Lucas’ life and how his ideas for the Star Wars universe inspired countless people to venture further into their own interests in science, filmmaking, storytelling, inventing, etc. The show was a series produced and presented by Ridley Scott, who rightfully states that he owes his career to Lucas and his dogged push to achieve his film vision for his most famous series because without the Alderaan shattering success of Star Wars, Scott would have never gotten the chance to direct Alien and Blade Runner.

Make sure to pursue your dreams like a young George Lucas, and make sure to run back here in less than 12 parsecs (or just by next week) for more stellar fun.

May the Fourteenth Force be with You,

Alex

Oh, wait! Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! I almost forgot about Martin Scorsese! Just like the Academy, I overlooked an astounding director, and when he finally won for The Departed in 2007, his buddies Coppola, Spielberg, and Lucas were there to present it to him, with a bit that was tongue in cheek at the expense of George:

Congrats Marty, and fuck you Coppola and Spielberg! (not really; I love you guys!) But come on! George is richer than both of you! Who’s laughing now!?

Skywalkin’ Blues

This is not going to go the way you think.

I am a tremendous Star Wars fan. Frank(Oz)ly, it’s rare to meet someone who is a fan of the series who is not extremely passionate about it. For me, the Star Wars saga is the greatest story I have ever experienced. Yes, I know about the prequels, and honestly, while I don’t love them or blinded defend terrible facets of them, I certainly don’t hate them and even find much of what they serve to be quite entertaining. Even in the  original trilogy films, which for most Star Wars fans are almost critically untouchable, are scenes that are flawed or downright silly, but I love them even more for this. Okay, I cringe every time I watch Leia kiss Luke and see him revel in it in The Empire Strikes Back, but it hardly sinks the film for me. That is still my second all-time favorite movie behind only Jaws, another film that is hardly perfect, but is so to me.

Nevertheless, my opinion as a Star Wars nerd is not the highlight of today’s focus, but rather a justification of a certain expertise if you will. Time has passed, and criticism from myself and others has been digested, and now I have some things to say regarding the latest, and perhaps most immediately and globally controversial of all Star Wars films: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. Specifically, I will be addressing my take on the most significant aspect of the movie: the characterization of Luke Skywalker.

Allow me to again call upon my experience as a Force fanatic to say that my personal favorite character in any story in any media, whether it be film, book, television, radio, etc., is Luke Skywalker. I attribute this to many of the same reasons I love the Star Wars saga. For one, I saw these movies at an early age and they made an indelible impression on me (the same is true of Jaws). Like so many others over the decades, first seeing Star Wars in theaters was life-changing. My dad took me to see the release of the Special Editions (versions of Star Wars films with plenty of justified criticism) back in 1997, and I was blown away. No other movie looked like Star Wars, and nothing has looked like it since. Not just from a technical standpoint, but from a story and character level. Thanks to a great cast of characters (played by a great cast of actors) thrust into the space-based adventures of good versus evil, we the world over have been treated to an amazing trio of films that redefined how films were made in almost every way. None of this should sound new as countless people have heard about and experienced Star Wars in a similar way, and I would wager that many have also latched onto Luke Skywalker in much the same way as I did. It makes sense to, as Luke is the modern epitome of the monomythic hero, or the guy who goes on the big adventure in the storytelling structure know as the hero’s journey. Popularized by mythologist Joseph Campbell, and altered and updated by many, including Dan Harmon with his Story Circle, the Hero’s Journey is a general outline of how a story’s protagonist gets his/her adventure rolling and changes as a result of it. Campbell explained this in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which after Star Wars was released had a newly designed cover with Luke Skywalker pictured among carvings and paintings of mythological heroes. It is based on classical storytelling from some of the earliest iterations of mythology and rolls the common themes in myths from across the world into one set called the monomyth. The original 1977 Star Wars followed this formula perhaps more apparently than any other film to date with fresh farmboy Luke Skywalker at its crux as – to borrow a term from Altered Carbon – the sleeve through which we, the audience observer, experience the story.

I believe that this is the primary reason why people, especially the most devoted Star Wars fans, had difficulty grappling with what was going on with Luke in The Last Jedi. Now, as should be obvious to anyone who has read this far, I will be getting into spoiler territory from here on out, so continuing to read assumes that you have already watched The Last Jedi. But, c’mon, who hasn’t by now?

Now that you have been warned, allow me to start off this dive into what’s going on with Luke by weighing some opposing views of his role in The Last Jedi. First, we have a well crafted video essay from one of my faves, Nerd Soup, the thesis of which may seem right on or harsh depending on your opinion.

As Beau Oliver likes to frequently reiterate on Nerd Soup’s many Star Wars related videos, nobody hates Star Wars like Star Wars fans. Now, of course he does not hate Star Wars, and certainly did not hate The Last Jedi, a point he makes quite clear in this video. In fact, I find his argument to be far and away the best of the bunch I offer up to you in this post, and I agree with what he says. However, I also agree with much of what the next two guys say as well.

Some good analysis that reminds us that Luke is a human who makes mistakes and has struggles, something that should be apparent in the best protagonists, be they good, bad, or ugly. In The Last  Jedi this is most obvious when a concerned uncle peers into his nephew’s darkening dreams (there’s no way that I’m going to make that sound not weird). Basically, Luke checks Ben’s text messages and freaks. He normally would not have done such a thing, but his sister’s son was acting really shady, and he decided he needed to take a quick peek to make sure it wasn’t drugs or something. When it becomes clear that the situation is out of hand more than he could have imagined, he makes a brief, but big bad call. For more on all this, let’s look to the video recommended in the last one.

Some fathier – er,  further good points for the film. For one that I particularly liked, Finn finds his groove as a Rebel. His storyline was the weakest part of the film and I’ll never be in love with it, but working with a great new character in Rose, and the always excellent Benecio del Toro plus BB-8 is going to win back some points. In all fairness, this storyline had the most cut from it before the final release, so there was a little more meat on those bones once. Regardless, the result is that Finn, who is still on the run from the fearsome First Order he knows the ruthlessness of better than anyone, finally makes the decision to fight for something more than his own skin and Rey’s.

Similarly, The Last Jedi shows us character growth in the other new crew members like Poe learning to be a leader and realizing sometimes you’ve got to lose the battle to win the war (Holdo totally should have told him and everyone else of her plan though). Rose goes from a mechanic working on the sidelines who gets starstruck by seeing Finn, to a badass on the frontlines working alongside him while also helping to teach him more about how the galaxy works and why the Resistance matters. Most prominently of all, Rey gets some schooling in what the Force truly is (I’ll talk more on this later), why it’s not entirely black and white, a crash course in trusting too much, and a harsh dose of reality regarding your heroes.

This final point is what makes and breaks The Last Jedi. As is the case with the entire film from start to finish, we have our expectations thrown back in our faces. Expecting a “can you hear me now?” schtick to open the movie? You sure weren’t. Did you call Leia and the other leaders getting blown into space in the first third of the film? Probably not. Did you think Luke was going to walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order? In all fairness, he pointed out how crazy it was to think this would ever occur when he asked it aloud. In all further fairness though, he later did this. But did you see him projecting his image from lightyears away to offer closure to his sister, escape to her comrades, and the ultimate “how you like me now?” to his nephew? Furthermore, did you expect him to die?

Expectations rarely come to fruition in our favorite films, especially Star Wars (watch  one of my absolute favorite YouTubers/film critics, Filmjoy – formerly Movies with Mikey – serve up some stellar stuff in his two-part series “How We See Star Wars” if you have not already for more on this). Look at how George Lucas expected so much more out of his initial movie in the series. He desired better effects, better acting, better support from the studio (yeah, all this), but the only thing that lived up to his lofty expectations, and actually far exceeded them was the incredible score from the amazing John Williams. This is the only constant that we can and should expect from movies in the Star Wars saga. The music will be excellent – the greatest ever among any film scores – as long as John Williams is composing it; all other bets are off. With that being said, allow me to get into the nitty gritty of my take on The Last Jedi‘s portrayal of Luke Skywalker, and remember what he told you in the film and I told you at the start.

This is not going to go the way you think.

Mark Hamill is a true professional. He was understandably not crazy about his character’s tonal shift and the finality of this role, but he set that aside and brought his A-game to every scene. Director Rian Johnson asked a lot of Hamill, and he got way more than he could have anticipated because Hamill recognized that his desires were not as important as making something great. Included in the bonus features of The Last Jedi is a documentary, The Director and the Jedi, that chronicles the making of the film with an emphasis on Johnson and Hamill’s relationship. We see Mark Hamill explain how he told Johnson that he disagreed totally with the direction of the character… but that he would do everything he could to give the best performance to bring Johnson’s vision of the character to life.

I would also recommend that you watch another bonus feature (I’m just generally assuming that everyone purchased the same steelbook that I did) called The Balance of the Force (which is shorter at around 10 minutes) where Rian Johnson explains that the Force is not a superpower, and he wanted to remind everyone of this fact while simultaneously presenting a new generation of fans with the realization of what the Force really is. To reiterate for the sake of not simply assuming all know, it is an energy that is created by and connects all living things. Channeling this energy is what allows Jedi and Sith and others to enhance their amazing abilities, but it does not magically bestow those abilities onto a select few. At least that is how it is supposed to work. As Mikey recently expressed in his two-part “How We See Star Wars”, there is a major canonical issue that spoils so much of the mystique of the Force: midichlorians. Check out his segment on The Phantom Menace here, and take a surprised trip down memory lane to realize how many people straight up loved this movie when it came out. (Props to the music intros to each film with a song that was prominent during the release of each.) As Mikey points out, the explanation that midichlorians make people sensitive to the Force – the all-living-things-are-connected energy that is felt by all and manufactured by all – is a problem. No longer, do we have the aspiration that we could be the next Luke Skywalker, for our fate with the Force is determined by bacteria in our blood or some such nonsense. Fortunately, this notion has generally been cast aside by one of the unexpected resolutions regarding Rey’s parentage being nothing special. If Rey is not from one of the dynastic Force-sensitive bloodlines we know of, and neither is that boy we meet on Canto Bight, then genetically-inherited midichlorians, like size, matter not where the Force is concerned.

Now that that is addressed, let’s consider a reason why Rian Johnson did not want Luke walking out in the flesh to face the First Order and Kylo Ren: it would open up a need for him to have a superpower. If Luke went to Crait (the salty sit-in for Hoth) why wouldn’t he just push aside the gorilla walkers with a wave of his hand? Sure, he probably is not the most agile swordsman anymore compared to Kylo Ren, but why duel him directly when you could fling him around the way Snoke was doing with Rey? The story could not have Luke confront Ren and his regime in person because he would be too much for them to handle and we would wonder why he could not simply handle them if he did not, but we would not be entertained if he did. It’s the Superman paradox of how do you make Superman interesting and relatable if he’s unbeatable both physically and emotionally. We need to see Luke’s humanity and his continued growth in order to care for him (and to have a ninth movie that isn’t just him mowing down the bad guys with ease).

Let’s look at Luke in each orig trig film according to Mikey from his great videos. He shows a snippet from each movie with a caption.

Star Wars: “Look at this precious boy”

The Empire Strikes Back:”Look at this struggling boy”

Return of the Jedi: “Owns entire Hot Topic catalog”

We need something different from older, weary Luke in The Last Jedi. But where to go from the Skywalker kid who grew up to save the galaxy? The classical hero has finished his quest; how does he grow up more? How does he even begin another quest without repeating his earlier adventure beat by beat? The solution is in updating his archetype.

In my post from last week, “Hit Me!”, I expanded upon similar scenes between Batman and the Joker in the 1989 Batman and 2008 The Dark Knight films after watching Just Write and his adorable Canadianly way of saying “out” in his videos “What Kind of a Hero is Batman?”. In the two-part series (which my YouTube faves are big on lately), he elaborates on how Batman has the unique distinction of having represented six of the main character archetypes over his many characterizations. Batman is a comic book character, so it is no surprise that he has seen a shift in style over the decades, but it is a testament to a character to be able to fit in more than one mold for the sake of his stories. Batman is my favorite comic book character thanks partly to this chameleonic ability, but mostly I am a fan of his time spent as a tragic hero, which Just Write goes into a good degree of detail of in his first video. He explains how the tragic hero must be relatable and not all powerful (using Superman as a foil example), but also has to be the reason for his own undoing. The moment at which Batman experiences his fall, his hamartia, in The Dark Knight is the scene I covered last week with the Joker staring down the barrel of a street with Batman rocketing toward him on his Batpod. Batman swerves, and sets in motion his fall from grace and more deaths, including the woman he loves, because he cannot bring himself to kill. Did Batman mean for this to happen? Certainly not. Should he be blamed for not killing the Joker? No. However, it cannot be ignored that his refusal to take down a man who has been a monster in his city perpetuates the events that unfold as a result of his inaction.

Similarly, Luke must have a hamartia in order for the Star Wars saga to grow beyond itself. This was set up in The Force Awakens as the instance where Ben Solo rebelled against his uncle, left him for dead, destroyed his temple and followers, and absconded with those loyal to him to don the moniker Kylo Ren. It comes as a shock to us to see a moment where an older Luke panics and contemplates, however briefly, murdering his nephew. Beau Oliver brought up the point that Luke has seemingly less of a connection to Ben Solo his nephew than to Darth Vader when he learns he is his father which makes their interaction and this moment come out of nowhere for us observers in the audience. I definitely don’t disagree with this, and I doubt that it will ever sit well with me as a huge fan of Luke from the orig trig, but it is worth noting that we do not see what leads up to this probably due to time and directorial desire to keep us in the dark. Rian Johson not only upended all of our predictions and expectations, but he crafted Luke as a tragic hero in a way that aided Rey’s arc as well. Rey, and the rest of us, discover that our hero is man after all. We’ve seen the great work that Luke has done, and we expect that ship to keep right on sailing without stopping, but that is not how life works, and Luke’s troubles with Ben create a new set of troubles to tackle, but he hung his helmet up a long time ago. We and Rey together realize how hard it is to see your heroes as anything but once they reach the level of legend.

Yet Luke’s story does not end entirely in tragedy. His shift into a tragic hero serves as a revival of his classical hero. Rey arrives with a call to action, but he refuses. Nevertless, with the help of an old mentor (in the greatest Yoda scene in the entire saga), Luke is provided with the push and guidance he needs to return to his sister and friends before confronting the new threat in a novel way, and receiving his reward of peace through that purpose to become one with the Force. His last act amplifies his status as a legend at a time when the galaxy needs it most, and provides the call to adventure that the heroes of tomorrow will answer.

The Last Jedi is not a perfect movie, and its characterization of Luke Skywalker is not perfect either, but it will endure for its effort to strike out in a new direction and burn the conventions of the past in order to reawaken the greatness we saw in the beginning of this magnificent series while continuing to make its own path throughout the galaxy far, far away.

Props again to Mark Hamill, the consummate professional and humorous presence who always excels at being honest and bringing joy to people. He may not be awash in film credits like his costar Harrison Ford, but his roles in his body of work is solid (something that honestly cannot always be said of Ford). Thanks to his talent, work ethic, and the happiness he brings, Mark Hamill is one of my favorite actors. He recently received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with some nice, heartfelt speeches of appreciation from Ford and George Lucas. Hamill himself thanked his fans for their support on a fantastic ride that has taken him “from Jedi to Joker and back again”. It is understandable why people love his characters so much when the man himself is so loveable. No matter what your feelings on The Last Jedi and the final hurrah of his most popular character, you’ve gotta love the man behind the lightsaber no matter who you are.

Thanks for reading and watching! Be sure to revenge- uh, sorry, return back here next week when I’ll take a closer look at the latest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees officially being christened in this Saturday April 14. As always, you can keep in touch with me at monotrememadness@gmail.com.

May the Force be with you,

Alex

Rey’s the Stakes

Friday marks the return of the space fantasy that captivates our wonder better than any other film has managed, and for good reasons. Star Wars is its own universe beyond the galaxy within the films. Few forms of fiction have been dived into as much, and even fewer have had the marketable success that Star Wars can boast. The sound, visual and practical effects are amazing. Even today, with James Cameron-tech churning out new waves of impressively realistic computer imaging, the original Star Wars trilogy’s effects are the mastermark of quality in cinema. However, the most endearing aspect of the Star Wars films is the characters. Their interactions, their ideals in the daunting shadow of adversity, their growth and development (or devolution) over time – we keep coming back to that galaxy far, far away because of the people and wookies and droids we know and love and the new faces they form bonds with. Each trilogy has a central character that the story circles around through whom we experience the worlds around them. For the original trilogy this is Luke, and no matter how much George tries to convince everyone that he prequels did this with Anakin, it’s Obi-Wan who truly fulfills the role. This time around the fate of everyone and everything is still linked to those two, but is firmly dependent upon the actions of the most mysterious character we have experienced in the series to date: Rey.

As Rey goes, so goes the series. From the narrative standpoint, her decisions and struggle to find her place in the dark and light will shape the course of the story. From the fan standpoint, her development as a vulnerable character with some mysteries uncovered through soul-searching and battle is necessary to keep us riding along. Will she keep crushing all obstacles in her path? In the long run hopefully, but for right now ideally we will see some of the First Order striking back (in an original way).

One thing is for sure, and that is that we need to see more from each character without getting too much about them, lest the the conclusive film in the trilogy lack this. From the trailers it seems that the likes of Finn, Phasma, and Kylo Ren will be delved into deeper, but what about our favorite scavenger? Will we learn who she is? Perhaps the daughter of Luke Skywalker who was saved by Kylo Ren during his assault on Luke’s Jedi Temple; or maybe a granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi from a secret lover of his; or maybe a clone genetically modified from Emperor Palpatine… or she could be a regular resident of Jakku.

Whomever she is, Rey’s study of the Force and her own inner self will determine the direction of the journey we take this time around. I for one, can’t wait!

Thanks for reading! If you see the movie, please keep your Last Jedi excitement to yourself among friends, family, and coworkers until they have also watched it and you have something common to discuss.

Merry Star Wars,

Alex

Queen of the Princesses

Farewell Miss Fisher. You are already missed.

From the first moment we got a look at those cinnamon buns on the side of your head, the world loved you. I see no reason to stop admiring your courage and honesty now. You will be remembered forever thanks to a stellar performance in a film role that nobody else could have played, in a movie franchise that is universally larger than any other. And you owned every minute you were in it. However, your career spanned far beyond the reaches of that galaxy far, far away, and you had success with other films, both before and behind the camera. You became a renowned writer, penning novels and screenplays, and always infusing them with the truth you knew too painfully well. Yet despite all the hardships you endured and inflicted upon yourself, you kept smiling. I think the only tear that you would have shed regarding your death is that your beloved mother’s followed it so quickly.

We have shed many tears for you both, and we wish the best for your daughter. I cannot imagine what she is going through, but knowing that she was raised by you gives me comfort that she is as optimistic, and perhaps she even has thrown up her hands and shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, fuck,” and laughed aloud her rotten luck as you would.

I never met you, and I guess I never will know you through any other means than what I have already been presented with, but I trust that your candor in every interview I have witnessed or read is enough for me to respect you to the point that I feel sad to have lost you, but not despondent, because why should I be? You taught me better than that.

billie-lourd-carrie-fisher-debbie-reynolds-sag-awards


One of my highlight songs from my annual list of must-hears that I published last week is Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind”. I included it because of its ability to capture the emotions one feels toward a notable person they love who is gone now, despite not ever having met, or sometimes lived during the same time as that person. Carrie Fisher was first introduced to generations who existed long before I did, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, made her mark even earlier, yet I greatly appreciate their contributions to entertainment. The first major role for both of them were terrific performances in two of the most justifiably revered films ever made. Many more shining moments in cinema were to follow… as were many less glorious happenings. Carrie Fisher was born into such a circumstance, with her father leaving her mother for her best friend. Her parents divorced when she was just two years old. She never finished school. She had many partners, but was married only once for less than a year to Paul Simon. Yes, that Paul Simon – did you think the better half of Simon and Garfunkel was out of her league? Buddy, Carrie Fisher was in a league of her own. Not the movie, but she did star with Tom Hanks once, as his wife in The ‘Burbs, one of my favorite comedies that deserves a look. She would have certainly fit in a movie like A League of Their Own, but she already had done so much to inspire women. Carrie Fisher was Princess Leia, and no one else will ever be, not even a CGI representation shoehorned into the last minute of a movie. As Leia, she commanded the respect of everyone else. The most heroic of heroes and baddest of bad guys all learned that she was a force to be reckoned with, and so did everyone watching. As a kid, I never understood why our culture is so male-driven because my favorite movie growing up showed me that women could be the heroes too. The Star Wars films have always done a great job at this, and Carrie Fisher taking charge as Princess Leia is the reason why. Not a big reason, the reason. The franchise’s success is hinged so much upon her nailing her role. Everyone else fits within an archetype – as a video I hope you’ll watch later explains – but Princess Leia shatters hers. She is not a damsel in distress, but a firm, strong, and caring person who excels at organizing a group of downtrodden people in a mission of hope for a better world in every world. She needs to be solid for everything else to work, and for four films across four decades, she has been. Even at the start of The Force Awakens, the first two human characters we meet mention how much they revere Leia. She’s still got it!

As a result, Carrie Fisher has been a role model not just for women, but for us all. She always had a smile on her face even when talking about a rough patch in her life. She could have told others to look at only her achievements, like Star Wars, The Blues BrothersWhen Harry Met SallyHannah and Her Sisters, and so on. Instead, she made her failures into achievements. She wrote a semi-autobiographical novel that she turned into a screenplay that became a Meryl Streep movie. She was upfront about her struggles with drugs and addiction. She opened up about her bipolar disorder and encouraged others suffering the same to not give up, but live more fully. She was always true to herself and to us all. Don’t shy away from your mistakes; don’t get lost in them either.

Goodbye, Carrie Fisher. I will miss you.

There are a lot of tribute articles and videos out there, but these three touched me the most. The first is an article that Star Wars co-star Mark Hamill wrote about their friendship. I particularly like him comparing Carrie to Auntie Mame.

HelloGreedo “Carrie Fisher – You Will Be Missed”


Star Wars Explained “In Memory of Carrie Fisher”


One of those fiercely candid moments they are talking about occured recently on The Graham Norton Show.

I won’t say that that metal bikini made a man out of me when I was eight years old, but Carrie Fisher’s garb on Jabba’s sail barge in Return of the Jedi is what introduced me to a new kind of visual excitement, and that’s not nothing. Everyone remembers (at least buried deep down in their psyche) the person who first elicited their sexuality. Chock that up to the list of reasons why Carrie Fisher meant so much to me.

Thanks for reading, and I apologize for the vomit on your keyboard. Please send any questions, comments, and suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Corellian cruise your way back here next week for something hopefully less sad. Come on, 2017, we really need you to not kill as many people as last year.

May the Force be with You,

Alex

Love and Science: A Match Made in the Creative Cosmos

Every once in a while I am reminded that love is the strongest emotional force in the universe (or multiverse; can’t discount that possibility especially with today’s focus), and one way that this is frequently presented is in film. Okay, it is so frequently presented in film that it essentially bashes us over the head with this message to the point that we almost ignore it. We hear so often that love is grand that we take it for granted. Love = Awesome is not a meaningful conclusion when diluted by the constant exclamation of this by every waking soul.

And yet… still I am reminded of what an unbelievably brilliant thing/feeling/power/whatever love is. Most recently I was reminded after a weekend with friends where I started off seeing the joy in my companions’ eyes as the night began. I truly realized what it all meant though as their pain, strain, anger, frustration, and fatigue started to emerge. Long story short, I returned to my area’s annual German-American Festival with the same and additional company as I went to it with last year when I had too much liquid fun and spent an unplanned night at a friend’s house. This year the plan was for me and others to stay at that friend’s house so that we could more completely and responsible enjoy the drunken debauchery, but I strayed from this plan. Fear not, I did not foolishly and irresponsibly drive home under the influence, but I did drive home. At the festival, we met some other friends and associates and as the group I came with made for the exit, I remained with another group I did not care as much about pretending to be far more intoxicated than I was in the hopes of unearthing an earthshaking revelation because a man deserves to know when the woman next to him is in the second trimester of her pregnancy with his child and still hasn’t shared this information with him. My brevity is hardly that, but by this point you are probably more intrigued by the ballad of my weekend.

I never fished out a confession (though the seed is planted and a question will be asked soon), although I did manage to piss off all of my friends I talked to that night, except the gay guys who did wonders for my self-esteem – thank you, Jeremy, I realize now that I am super cute! Everyone else left with some justified sourness towards me though:

  • My friends whose place I parked at were angry I was not going to stay with them and concerned I would get drunk and drive my car.
  • My friend who is still recovering from her decade-long only relationship ending a few months ago was sad that I shirked off her drunken advances and ignored our other friends’ pleas to stay at their house.
  • My friend who could not come until much later that I assumed would not come actually did by which point my phone had died leading to a number of confused, unanswered, and ultimately angry texts wondering where I was and why I wasn’t responding.
  • My coworker was certainly less than amused that I poured her boyfriend a continuous flow of Dunkel and questions as to why she was only drinking water and Gatorade.

In the end, I left alone and got physically lost in addition to the emotional and familial disconnect I was feeling. I did not have the use of the technological device that allows me to more easily navigate the map of my social life, as well as the physical path back to my car. I actually walked up and down the same street multiple times and passed by the one I needed to take a couple times before I got my bearings and got to my car. I left an empty pitcher and a written thank you at my friends’ door, but I should have left an apology for my separation and deception.

You’re probably feeling deceived by me now considering the title doesn’t point to an outpouring of emotion from my weekend excursion; that I’m just as bad as those fuckers who title Cracked videos. The point of this all, besides being healthy expression for me, is that I was again reminded of the power of love. Not by a fun, positive encounter, not by a movie, and not by Huey Lewis and the News, but by an occasion that saw me disappoint people who love me. The responses were all different, yet similar, and painful to endure. I coped, not by seeking these people out to mend our newly arisen issues, but by looking back to that screen that has shown me time and time again that love is the bestest. Solace was specifically brought to me from a friend I’ve never met, but I think you should check out his stuff because I really like what he does. His name is Mikey, and he likes movies.

Wonderfully critical in all the right and entertaining ways, Mikey nails the underlying themes that we miss in both blockbuster and obscure movies. Okay, yeah, he calls Donald (John Lithgow’s character) Cooper’s (Matthew McConaughey) father when he is in fact his father-in-law, but that’s as cosmically small a gripe as my annoyance with my friends who said they’d join the fray Saturday and stayed home. My admiration for Christopher Nolan’s brilliant space-based exploration of the end of humanity and one of the most beautiful father-daughter relationships ever put into story has been made clear in the past, but I’ve never discussed the critical point that is the role of love in this film. And I won’t because, again, Mikey nailed it. Suffice it to say, love is necessary in our every action, and science – something else I have not hidden my admiration for – is no exception. While we must remain objective when conducting study, we cannot become completely closed off as to why we are doing it. Love, passion, regard for one aspect of the pursuit of knowledge or another; we must  keep these in mind as well, careful never to be swayed too strongly by any, but always aware of the role they play. Gravity may be one of the most powerful physical force, but love is, as I said, the most powerful emotional force in the cosmos. Sure, they are places where gravity is not as strong, and love is not as present, but those are examples of areas where there is a lack of the respective force compared to others.

Mikey’s latest looks at cinema is the Interstellar video I included, but he has many others, including the first episode of his show I ever watched, which featured my favorite movie of last year:

Thanks for reading. Be sure to check out Movies with Mikey on his channel Chainsawsuit Original, and be sure to come back here next Monday for more fun of all sorts. I can be reached at monotrememadness@gmail.com in the meantime. Stay scientific, and may there always be love in your heart.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light,

Alex

Cinem-America the Beautiful

In celebration of the United States’ 240th birthday, I have opted to once again utilize my love of film to comprise a list of the best movies that feature the name of my country in the title. This list is obviously representative of my own opinions and tastes, and is taken from films that I have seen, so if you don’t see your favorite “American” movie on here, then I probably have yet to watch it. The films are not ranked, but are listed in order of release. Enjoy!

An American in Paris (1951) – Gene Kelly is delightful as always as Jerry, the titular American in Paris. He is a GI who stuck around in the City of Light after WWII to paint scenes of the beautiful city. There he is the apple of the eye of Milo, an heiress who is more than happy to advance his art career in exchange for his affection, but he soon is smitten by a lovely French lady named Lise, played by Leslie Caron in her debut film role. Yet why stop at a love triangle? Lise is engaged to Henri, a singer, and another complication for Jerry’s pursuit of true love. This film won Best Picture and five other Oscars in 1952, thanks in large part to its climactic and bold 17 minute ballet that closes out the film without a word of dialogue. Ironically, the first film on our list never twirls its toes in America.

American Graffiti (1973) – Everyone knows George Lucas created the Star Wars universe and changed filmmaking forever with the beginnings of his space saga in 1977, but did you know that he grew up a hotrod aficionado and wanted to be a racecar driver and not a filmmaker? His interests in space and fantasy spectacle came after he was recovering in bed after nearly dying in a nasty car wreck as a teenager. While he is certainly better known now for his sweeping and swashbuckling adventure tales (not to mention for losing his touch at continuing to create these), Lucas’ love of racing and teenage perspective at impending adulthood are marvelously captured in his breakout success, American Graffiti. This film also featured breakout roles for Richard Dreyfuss and somewhat more grown up Ron Howard, as well a cameo appearance from legendary DJ Wolfman Jack and a critical bit role for Harrison Ford.

An American Werewolf in London (1981) – Another America movie that takes place entirely in a European nation. What gives? I’ll let it slide for John Landis, who was already an accomplished comedy director with the successes of Animal House and The Blues Brothers under his belt when he took on horror in his own unique way. Make no mistake, this movie is genuinely scary  when it wants to be, especially thanks to esteemed make-up and monster artist Rick Baker whose work on the transformation scene continues to stand the test of time. Landis throws plenty of sardonic laughs in throughout to perfectly balance the film between horror and comedy. One fun and subtle way he does this is with the soundtrack, which features a selection of songs that all have the word “moon” in the title. Taking a bunch of something with one common word in the title? Now there’s an idea, John. I’m so grateful for it, I think I’ll feature another of your features.

Coming to America (1988) – This time Landis is back completely to comedy, and he has one of the best to work with in Eddie Murphy who plays an African prince of the fictional country of Zamunda named Akeem. His parents, played by James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair (who would be king and queen again six years later as the voices of Mufasa and Sarabi in The Lion King) want him to marry a woman they have picked out for him, but he wants to marry someone he finds on his own and who can love him for more than being a prince. Thus, he and his friend Semmi, played by Arsenio Hall, set off to Queens, New York to search for a queen. Where else would you go? This coming of age tale is highlighted by the sweet search for true love and the yet unbroken innocence of Akeem.

American History X (1998) – This is a far different coming of age story. The Vinyards are a frustrated family filled with contempt toward people of color. Derek (Edward Norton) is a neo-Nazi who spends three years in prison and comes to realize the hypocrisy of his hatred. He returns on parole a changed man hoping to turn his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong – the one true John Connor from Terminator 2) away from the same mistakes he has made. A brutally realistic look at the way of life among white supremacists that sadly still resonates today.

American Pie (1999) – Let’s get back to some more funny coming of age films, or in this case, cumming. The first of a trilogy plus one, American Pie was the late-90s signature teenagers-looking-to-lose-their-virginity movie. Sure, it’s overly raunchy at times, but it did make a lasting impression on cinema and slang (MILF!). What I particularly love is that each of the four guys who vow to lose their virginity by prom night reach the night of reckoning with a newfound perspective of why it is not important that they shed their sexual inexperience yet to grow. And as great as Sean William Scott’s Stifler is, Eugene Levy’s hilariously over-helpful yet caring portrayal as Jim’s dad is what kept these movies going.

American Beauty (1999) – A beauty of a film from a directorial and cinematographically standpoint, not to mention Kevin Spacey has a terrific turn as Lester Burnham who finally reaches his “enough of this shit” point in the midst of a midlife crisis set off and centered around his unhealthy admiration for his daughter’s friend played by Mena Suvari, who clearly kept busy as the apple of many eyes in 1999. In fact, she and John Cho, who was also in this and American Pie, are the only actors in two films with “American” in the title in the same year.

American Psycho (2000)You like Huey Lewis and the News? Funny that the guy playing one of the most infamous film psychos as the new Joker is brutally murdered by Batman. Oh, and if you liked that, then try this on for size. Don’t mess with Huey Lewis.

Team America: World Police (2004) -Leave it to Trey Parker and Matt Stone to critique American over-patriotism with a musical starring marionettes and totally fucking nail it! Their break-through-the-bullshit humor is brilliantly represented in crude jokes and one of the wildest sex scenes ever filmed, and especially in the great songs that do everything from humanize Kim Jong-il to shit on Ben Affleck. The most well remembered tune is one you’ll hear a lot today.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Respectively my second and third favorite movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) behind only The Avengers, these sequels far excel the fairly lackluster first Captain America movie by bringing the character and stories into the modern day to tackle real world issues of political corruption, the ethics and limits of surveillance and safety, and the accountability of destruction and death of innocents caused by well-intended actions.

Thanks for reading! Stay safe with your Fourth of July celebration, and be sure to return next week for more fun! As always, send questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com.

USA!

Alex