It’s too Long!

For a long time, I was not a binge watcher. Binge eater? Yes. But when it came to TV series, I was a one at a time kind of guy. In the past few years, all that has changed; I must be losing my capacity for patience as I get older. I now look forward to an evening dedicated to one particular show. And I make sure I have plenty of snacks.

Considering how “Netflix and chill” has become the new national motto, it slightly surprises me that there are those that complain about the length of movies these days. This subject comes up now and then on Twitter; which explains a lot.

Every now and then, I watch Turner Classic Movies, and when I do, I sometimes join the discussion on #TCMParty. A few months ago, some people said that they couldn’t watch Doctor Zhivago, because they had to get up early the next morning. Others refused to watch because the film was “too long.” That’s okay–to each their own. The other night, someone claimed that both Lawrence of Arabia, and Bridge on the River Kwai were “sickeningly long.” Well… You are entitled to that opinion.

I believe that a great three hour film feels shorter than a crappy ninety minute movie. But, how long is too long? If Lawrence of Arabia was made today, it would be in two parts; which is something else a lot of people like to complain about. I’m sure that the story could betold in half of the film’s 228 minute running time, but it would not be the same.

If Albert Einstein taught us anything, it’s that time is relative. The Insider lasts 157 minutes, but it doesn’t feel like it, since the film is well paced. One thing I have noticed about a lot of action films made in the past few years is that there is a bit of a lull that occurs just after the big scene that takes place around the one hour mark. Why is that? I have no clue. I don’t know if it’s a writing thing or a me thing. It’s entirely possible it’s there so people won’t miss anything when they go out for more popcorn.

Star Wars: Princess Leia (trade paperback)

I wasn’t planning on diving into the Marval Star Wars comics until a bit later in the year, but I had a Walmart gift card, and I didn’t need socks. I also purchased two young reader novels, and a new blu-ray player, since I killed my previous one watching the Star Wars movies.

The Princess Leia trade paperback is a collection of the five issue series. The story starts with the medal ceremony after the Battle of Yavin. A number of Rebels, especially those from her home planet, feel that Leia is more than a bit cold and unfeeling. It seems to them that the destruction of Alderaan means little to her.

Not to go off on a tangent, but everyone grieves differently. This is just me speculating, but as the last remaining high-ranking official of Alderaan, and as a leader of the Rebellion, she probably felt that she shouldn’t lose her composure in public. If Leia became emotional, it might cause some to question her decisions, and that is the last thing a leader needs. Of course, I do realize that I am talking about a fictional character.

After the ceremony, Leia meets a fellow Alderaanian named Evaan. Together, they go on a mission to find as many remaining Alderaanians as they can, because the Empire is hunting them down.

It’s a good idea for a story, but it feels a bit rushed. I think another issue or two was needed in order to flesh things out. It works well as a comic, but I feel the story may have been better served as a young reader novel.

If you are a fan of Leia, (and who isn’t) I think you will enjoy the trade paperback, since it provides character development; and you can never learn too much about the Star Wars galaxy. Or can you?

Star Wars: Princess Leia trade paperback–written by Mark Waid; art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, and Jordie Bellaire

Spotlight

I went to see Spotlight on my birthday. Why? It’s been that kind of year, and I wasn’t in the mood for a light-hearted romp about a bear. Plus, I had no interest in Norm of the North.

Spotlight is based on the true story of a team of Boston Globe reporters who blew the steeple off the Catholic Churches cover up of a number of pedophiles in their ranks. As with most stories about true events, the outcome is widely known. It’s up to the director, in this case, Tom McCarthy, to make an engaging movie about the journey. On that front–he succeeded.

Spotlight is very much an ensemble film. The actors with the biggest parts were Mark Ruffalo who played Michael Rezendes, and Michael Keaton as Walter “Robby” Robinson. Rounding out the main cast are: Brian d’Arcy James, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery. I was not familiar with James, and after a quick Google search, I discovered that he is mainly a stage actor. I hope he makes more films, because I thought he very good.

The closest thing to a “Deep Throat”-type character in Spotlight is Richard Sipe, played by Richard Jenkins. Sipe is psychologist who interviewed over the phone on a few occassions, in order to give the reporters insight into to investigation. Sipe has experience in treating priests, and according to his calculations, about six percent of them are pedophiles. After some quick math, the number in Boston is determined to be ninety. The Spotlight team did some digging, and came up with eighty-seven names. Damn.

Spotlight has won some awards, and is nominated in a number of Oscar catagories. The truth is: none of that is important. If by seeing this film, one person speaks out–that is reward enough.

Star Wars: Before the Awakening

I’m not fooling anyone when I browse through the Star Wars books in the young readers section of Barnes & Noble. At least it’s not as creepy as when I am perusing the young adult novels (or maybe it’s worse). Maybe I should stick to Amazon.

I refer to Before the Awakening as a “prelude” and not a “prequel,” since the latter has negative connotations to Star Wars fans. The book is divided into three parts: Finn, Rey, and Poe. As with Smuggler’s Run, author Greg Rucka proves that he gets what makes for a great Star Wars story. These stories feel true to the characters. While they aren’t necessary to one’s enjoyment of The Force Awakens, the stories do add a bit of backstory, which helps to explain some of their actions and motivations.

Before the Awakening starts with Finn; or should I say FN-2187? I won’t divulge spoilers, but I will say that we get to see Finn interact with his fellow Stormtroopers, and Captain Phasma. Let’s just say that his decision to leave the First Order wasn’t a spur of the moment call. And, in a way, it explains why FN-2187 had an almost immediate bond with Poe Dameron.

I don’t know how to describe Rey’s story without spoiling it. It’s beautifully written, and gives a bit of insight into her day to day life, and her interactions with others. Let’s just say that she is a far better person than I am.

The Poe story is the perfect bookend to Finn’s, and counterpoint to Rey’s. It’s not a spoiler to say that Poe’s mother was a pilot for the Rebellion, and his father was part of the ground forces on the forest moon of Endor. Poe’s father once said that he hoped that everything the Rebellion fought for wasn’t in vain. If The Force Awakens is any indication–it may have been.

This is the section of the book where we get some insight into the political goings on in the New Republic. I hope more novels and comics explore this subject. I can understand why some may be wary of Star Wars politics, but if it is done well, it can be interesting.

If you have read Smuggler’s Run, you are familiar with Lieutenant Ematt. Well, now he is a major. It’s a bit odd that he hasn’t risen that much higher in rank over the past four decades, when Han and Lando were made generals straight off the bat. Ematt isn’t name-checked in The Force Awakens movie, but according to the novelization, he’s the guy who says, “It’s another Death Star!” You see? It’s all connected.

Poe Dameron is getting his own comic, and I am looking forward to reading about his adventures. That is, if they are as exciting as the one in Before the Awakening. As for Finn and Rey, this book gave me pretty much all I need to know. Well, maybe not everything. You have to save some stuff for the films.

The Force Awakens (novel)

I bought a copy of the novelization of The Force Awakens last week. Unlike the rest of the world, I did not receive a review copy. Yeah, I know: Boo frickin’ hoo. I got the Barnes & Noble edition because it includes picures! I was worried they would be sold out by the time I got there, (much like Best Buy and the steelbook versions of Marvel films) but there were six copies left on the display at the front of the store. Yay! It wasn’t until I arrived back home that I realized it was a second edition. What!? Those things must be selling like hotcakes. Or should I say like Unkar Plutt’s portion packs?

I can hear some of you asking, “Who in their right mind would want to read the novelization of a movie?” The answer is simple: Nerds. Another answer is that The Force Awakens is not yet available on blu-ray. A third answer is that there may be some people who cannot see the film in a theatre, for whatever reason, and they will borrow it from their local public library.

The novelization of The Force Awakens was written by Alan Dean Foster, who also wrote the Star Wars novels The Approaching Storm, and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Some have criticized Foster’s writing style, saying he made full use of Thesaurus.com. I didn’t find it as disconcerting as some, but I am not a pedant. As someone with conspicuous verbal tics and crutches, I find the thesaurus to be an ultraconvenient instrument.

It’s one thing to turn a novel into a film; and another to reverse engineer the process. It’s not like Foster transcribed the script and added prose–but I guess he kind of did. When I read a book, I often picture the events in my head. If the novel is turned into a movie, it is interesting to see if the images on screen live up to my imagination. By now, millions of people have see The Force Awakens, and it’s Foster’s responsibility to describe the events as we saw them. I think he did a very good job. By that I mean he didn’t overdo it.

I don’t know if Foster was working from an early draft of the script and/or saw a rough cut of The Force Awakens, since there are scenes in the novel that weren’t in the film. The same thing happened in 1977 when the Marvel Comics adaptation of Star Wars included the Jabba the Hutt scene.

I have no idea if any of the stuff that is the novel will be included as deleted scenes when The Force Awakens is released on blu-ray. Then again, some of the new or changed parts in the novel may fall under the heading of “artistic license.” Either way–it’s all canon. Except for what isn’t.

Making Peace with the Star Wars Prequels: Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith is regarded by many as the least objectionable of the Star Wars prequels, but that’s a bit like saying the sushi bar is your best lunch option at the flea market food court. With the original trilogy, I wondered how the story would end; with the prequels I knew it would end with Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader. In a way, The Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones are like Gotham, and Revenge of the Sith is like Batman Begins–but only kinda sorta.

In my post about Attack of the Clones, I discussed George Lucas’ “overuse” of CGI and how if the film was good, nobody would care. If you look at the original trilogy, some of the stop-motion animation looks a bit wonky, but since it’s “real,” it does exude a kind of charm.

There were a few times during the prequels when I thought the CGI wasn’t quite up to par. I don’t remember how I felt about the CGI when I saw the films in the theatre, because I have repressed those memories. Looking at them now on blu-ray, some scenes do stand out in a bad way, but I have to keep telling myself that the technology improves with almost every film that is made.

One scene that sticks out is in Revenge of the Sith. When Obi-Wan and Anakin are floating along down the river of lava on Mustafar, it looks like something from a Disney movie that was made in the late Seventies or early Eighties. The worst idea (CGI-wise) was to have all the Clone Troopers be computer generated. In retrospect, they look like they stepped off the set of The Clone Wars animated series.

Speaking of The Clone Wars: I have heard a lot of good stuff about it. I watched a random episode here and there over the years, and I thought it had its merits. One of these days, I will get around to watching it. It may be just what I need.

Making Peace with the Star Wars Prequels: Attack of the Clones

For a lot of people, Attack of the Clones is the worst of the Star Wars prequels. I can understand this line of thinking because I too felt this way for a while. In my head, The Phantom Menace was boring, and Attack of the Clones was bad–to put it bluntly.

One of the biggest criticisms of the prequels is that George Lucas relied too heavily on CGI. If you have watched any of the behind the scenes features, you will have noticed that the actors spent a lot of time in “green rooms;” for lack of a better term. There were also model shots, but not enough to satisfy some of us.

What is kind of funny is that Avatar used a crapload of CGI, yet most talk about its use in positive terms. The same goes for the trailer for Disney’s latest version of The Jungle Book, which was filmed entirely on a soundstage in Los Angeles.

I think if the Star Wars prequels had been good, the overuse of CGI would be a minor issue. That being said, there are those who look to find fault in everything With the prequels, it’s not that hard. I still say that Lucas should have had someone like a Lawrence Kasdan give the scripts a once-over in order to fine tune the dialogue . . . And most everything else.

The chase scene that takes place above Coruscant is not nearly as thrilling as it should be. I’m not saying that it has to be as exciting as the car chases in Ronin, but it didn’t have to be so emotionally flat. Maybe Lucas should have brought in John Frankenheimer to direct that scene. And the podrace in The Phantom Menace. No, I’m not joking.

I will say this in defense of Attack of the Clones: I love Kamino. I cannot decide if I like Kamino more than Hoth; but The Empire Strikes Back is the better film. If I were to rank my favorite scenes in the first six movies, I would put the Battle of Hoth at number one. Two would be the Great Pit of Carkoon; and third would be Obi-Wan visits Kamino.

Although we don’t get to see a lot of the planet, what we do see is beautiful. This is George Lucas hitting on all cylinders. In the Star Wars films we have seen desert planets, and ice planets; but an ocean planet is such a brilliant idea that I am at a loss for words. Almost.

To top it all off, it was raining when Obi-Wan arrived. Rain is something we had not previously seen in the Star Wars galaxy. That was such a cool idea.

I think Ewan McGregor made the most with what he was given during the Kamino scene. He is a great actor, and he is one of the things that make the prequels bearable.

Obi-Wan’s detective work throughout Attack of the Clones is great, in my opinion. Okay, the 50s-style diner does seem out of place, but out of all the prequel’s faults, that is a minor one. I enjoyed it when Obi-Wan interrupted a class being taught by Yoda. It was a cute scene, and made good use of the younglings.

On to Kamino: Just pay close attention to Obi-Wan when he is discussing the clone project with Prime Minister Lama Su. Lama Su assumes that Obi-Wan is there to check on the progress. Obi-Wan realizes this, and goes along. McGregor plays it perfectly; you can see on his face all the thoughts that are racing through his brain. Yes, I do know that this is called “acting,” but that particular set of skills was underutilized in the prequels.