A Good Day, Not a Dark Day, for Film

I still look forward to seeing Patrick Read Johnson’s feature 5-25-77 about his personal experience visiting Industrial Light and Magic, seeing a preview of Star Wars, and anticipating the official release day when others would get to know what he did, that cinema may have changed.  I reject the theory or accusation put forward by Peter Buskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and other sources blaming Jaws or Star Wars for a “blockbuster mentality” that killed brief golden era of the late Sixties and into the Seventies (Raging Bull being a 1980 film).  The theory goes that without Star Wars (released on 32 screens apparently, or at least under 40, with Fox coercing some exhibitors into accepting it or not getting to book The Other Side of Midnight which they wanted) there would be no hard cut to Hollywood only wanting big tent pole movies.  That spin overlooks the fact that a) Everything from Gone with the Wind to Abbott and Costello movies were moneymaking ventures, b) smaller movies and underdogs and sleeper hits as well as darker themes were still being made long beyond May of 1977, c) corporations from the oil, soda pop, and wine cooler industries were taking over the studios in the Eighties, and d) whatever artistic merit Apocalypse Now or Heaven’s Gate and various other films might have had the indulgence of directors frightened a lot of money people and the era where Pauline Kael for example elevated directors (even perhaps over-rated ones like Altman, sorry) was over.  Not because of Star Wars.

First generation Star Wars fans (according to a former Disney executive who disclosed this in a radio interview and lit up youtube recently) are considered by the current regime of Lucasfilm – particularly Kathleen Kennedy – part of a disposable demographic:  fifty-year-old white males.  So instead, the effort it so attempt to lure a new built in audience that frankly doesn’t exist.  My own ilk loves the Original Trilogy and likes The Mandalorian as a close approximation of the tone.  By 1997 we were complaining of changes made in the Special Edition releases, which were further tweaked for VHS, and then for DVDs and finally for Blu Ray and then Disney + adding Greedo’s line, “McKlunkey.”  1999 was also declared a death of Star Wars because The Phantom Menace was a dramatic mess with elements like Jar Jar that played only to children and lowered the score card for Star Wars as a series.  Under Disney, there was raised expectations, followed by mixed feelings, and for many of us a heart-breaking problem with leadership and priorities.  The newer films look slick and have a generally snappy pace but are also burdened by Kathleen Kennedy’s misguided ideology.  “If you don’t like Luke Skywalker, stay away from running Star Wars, please,” would have been great advice before it was too late.

Shaft (2019) honors its brand in terms of tone and continuity, even more than the 2000 iteration John Singleton did.  It could cast a critical and sarcastic eye on the safe space generation without apology.  Too bad the movie did not make much money.  There are so few examples of a follow-up not just being used as a counterfeit and a front for the transitory moods of the moment.

When you see Poltergeist (1982), you take for granted Beatrice Straight as an academic at a university and a parapsychologist.  When you see The Andromeda Strain (1971) you accept Katie Reid as a scientists, and in Dreamscape we accept Kate Capshaw as a scientist.  We might withhold benefit of the doubt from Denise Richards as nuclear scientist Dr.  Christmas Jones in 1999’s Bond offering The World is Not Enough but not because of her gender.  But when Paul Feig made a big deal about inspiring little girls to become scientists because of his remake of Ghostbusters in 2016, it was a head-scratcher.  Ostensibly progressive ideas did not begin current year.  My generation grew up watching Norman Lear sit-coms, as well as Mary Tyler Moore and the MASH series.  We don’t have to be lectured on liberal think by the radicalized extremes of the day.  Feigbusters might inspire little girls to become con artists exploiting a belief in ghosts, or to be a transit worker who just wants to hang out with supposed scientists.  Having fancier equipment to “kill” ghosts and more proton streams, and being able to do cartwheels while zapping ghosts doesn’t make for a better movie.  Sony and anyone associated with that movie, as well as talk show hosts, played up a gaslighting of fans for whom a stigma was invented.  A few years later, as we anticipate Jason Reitman’s reinstatement of the original continuity and ignoring the attempted reboot, the sour grapes are now coming from the other end of the spectrum.  Good.  I wish only the best for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, as the new movie is called.   Even if it has been pushed to next March instead of this summer due to Coronavirus.  One hopeful theory bandied about is that the next wave of cinema will stop patting itself on the head for its messaging and just make better movies that put story and character over side-shade and ciphers that insult the audience.

Star Wars was a practical essay on cinema that had preceded it, greater than the sum of its parts, and just fun to watch.  It also served as a primer for its components and inspirations.  We might not sit through every black and white Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers serial, but we may give a chance to The Hidden Fortress or The Dam Busters, whether or not those movies play as well for young people of today as they did for George Lucas.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was also a visual essay summarizing the development of cinema and the best if can offer, coming from the fanboy whimsy of Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan and the best director in the world, Steven Spielberg.  Tarantino’s films like Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and Django Unchained for example are also a culmination of one person’s broad exposure to and love of movies.  It is all about the love of movies and the transmission of that either overtly or subtly to the audience.

Right now the best way to watch the original trilogy is the De-specialized editions, which I believe may only be available as torrents. Had the bonus discs of the original trilogy been full DVD quality when they were made available with the second release of the Special Editions, we might have been satisfied to have that apparently laserdisc sourced version and not a low pixel dub that was designed to steer us toward playing the special editions.  Both Star Wars (later A New Hope) and Return of the Jedi have May 25 as the anniversary of release.  The Empire Strikes Back was May 17, 1980.

I like both iterations of the animated Clones Wars shows, and Rebels had some quite good episodes. Even though Revenge of the Sith is the least weak of the prequels, I have no feeling for that trilogy.  And the more I learn about the fix being in for the Disney era and how many things might have been so much better if, say, Dave Filoni had been put in charge of Lucasfilm instead of Kennedy, it makes the heart sink. People say Kennedy knows the “business” part of the job…. yet, once your source of movie funding is Disney and you only have to get your budgets from that one place just how much “business” acumen do you need?

Star Wars was like a drug and I kept going the the cinema as a regular habit attempting to chase the dragon of whatever magic I had felt from those films from 1977 to 1983.  The rest of cinema benefited from that because I saw most movies through the Eighties and Nineties at the height of my film going, and I could be the 13 year old going to On Golden Pond or 14 year old going to see Sophie’s Choice. Liking Star Wars did not limit anyone’s taste or interest but goosed a faith in the craft and an appreciation for anything well done.

 

 

 

 

 

Too Many Cooks, I.Q. and Merit

Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media’s Half in the Bag youtube review series has pronounced that anyone who loved Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker must have a low I.Q..  So just putting those cards on the table so you can take my opinions with a grain of salt factoring in my intellectual limitations as estimated by Harry S. Plinkett himself.

Some viewers may be impervious to the aesthetic and energy of a movie, and may not be able to get past a story revision where a space station that was atomized at the end of 1983’s Return of the Jedi – turned into embers with a concussion ring added in the 1997 special edition – had a section of it survive and land. Some of us will not accept the idea that The Emperor Palpatine who was thrown down a shaft and further killed in the above mentioned explosion somehow returns having been a busy bee for thirty years amassing an implausible and cost prohibitive new armada.  No matter how much people enjoy the actor, as negative reviews often admit, we know too well from leaks about script revisions and reshoots and actors being deleted that this was not the original plan.

We may wonder what Rey’s originally intended backstory was, back when the new villain Snoke was supposed to survive to appear in all three episodes of the new trilogy. Were we only supposed to HEAR about who created Snoke and who might have been the grandfather of Rey? And have people been overly delighted by the idea of Rey as the patron saint of Participation Awards? There are some who feel the democratization of the Force illustrated in The Last Jedi (and a deleted Maz Kanata scene in The Force Awakens) is a good thing for society to ponder.  You too can make things float with your mind powers!! Just concentrate and you can do it. Those who feel this way might be especially let down to learn that Rey has biological lineage tying her to a powerful force user. She has been called a Mary Sue because her aptitudes and abilities don’t appear to come from struggle or training.  Some of those issues are retroactively dealt with as she learns the ancient Jedi texts and gets some formal training.  The outrage from critics who liked Rian Johnson’s entry The Last Jedi may come from the popular belief that not only is there no Meritocracy (a structure designed by white straight males to shut out other “voices”) but that there is in fact no such thing as merit.

For all its faults, The Rise of Skywalker is a better film than The Last Jedi and it is about as good as The Force Awakens. The Disney era offers objectively better feature films than the prequel era.  But the areas where they are flawed expose too much of the creative process and political push and pull between creatives and executives.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe the official word and posted recollections of Lucasfilm or youtubers quoting sources.  There are enough plausible dots to connect.

The Force Awakens had a production disruption when a door on the full scale Millennium Falcon was accidentally closed on Harrison Ford’s leg. While he took time off to recover, and Disney collected insurance, the time was used for Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams to do some rewrites.  Among them was answering Oscar Issac’s request that his character Poe Dameron not die. So had there been an outline for JJ’s planned Trilogy, there would not be much of any substance for his character to do down the line. In The Last Jedi he is demoted and sidelines, lectured, and given one redeeming moment of intuition. In The Rise of Skywalker he does something called Hyperdrive skimming, which should not be done, meets an old flame to establish his heterosexuality, and basically does nothing as if he may has well have died as in the original script of Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Rogue One is a one-off prequel (which will have its own Disney+ prequel) following the daughter of the original designer of the Death Star.  It finds its narrative legs in the second half as a heist film.  Scenes of Darth Vader steal the show.  It has heart for the father-daughter relationship, and even has a blind semi-Jedi played by Donnie Yen who may or may not have a love relationship with his sighted male side-kick. This movie was directed by Gareth Edwards who went from the impressive and subtle Monsters to Godzilla to this Star Wars film and has no further credits on imdb since 2016. He has kept quiet about Lucasfilm bringing in Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy officially to rewrite the script and unofficially to direct some new scenes or reshoots. Directing a Star Wars feature should have launched Edwards.  Maybe it broke him. It brought Peter Cushing back from the dead with CGI and also showed a digital 19 year old Princess Leia on movie screens a couple of weeks before the heart attack. Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy immediately reassured people that CGI would not be used to bring her back in the final film.

The Last Jedi displays Rian Johnson’s formidable direction but also tangents in storytelling to the casino planet that eat up running time and cause familiarity to breed contempt for new characters Finn and Rose.  Finn’s “former stormtrooper” had the most promising premise to build on, but instead Rose treats him as a suspected “deserter” of the volunteer Resistance when he tries to use a pod in order to find and alert his friend Rey. When Carrie Fisher died before a planned set of reshoots could be done, this caused people to look at the finished film with an expectation that Princess Leia would be killed off.  Some moments have unearned poignancy because the actress had passed. There is plenty of entertainment to be had in the film but it antagonized have of the presumed built in fanbase by inter-cutting between three sets of women talking down to men, and the fact that in order to contrive those relationships the male characters had to be dumbed down or worse. The flashbacks of Luke creeping to his nephew’s quarters with intent to kill him and the general depiction of Luke as surly and cynical seemed to exist only on the whim of Rian’s typing and the blessing of a Lucasfilm Story Group appointed by Kathleen Kennedy whose membership has been exhaustively explored by youtubers looking into their backgrounds and credits and finding only woke ideology and presumably a third or fourth wave feminism that was to be interjected beyond any other consideration (ie: storytelling skill). And yet, Leia starts by slapping Poe literally in the face when demoting him and by the end says, “Why are you looking at me?  Follow him.”  The high-handed Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) doesn’t even discuss or consider placing a robot on her flagship to pilot it instead of sacrificing herself by crashing into the bad guys, so how intelligent was she after all.  Luke Skywalker as the unenlightened Grinch for most of the movie, retroactively darkened so that Rey seems like the glowing beam her name suggests, finally does deter the last stages of an attack by the First Order and his nephew in a character arc (back to something resembling the character we knew) that seems contrived by the implausible mental state he was introduced in. So any ideology brandished early in the film to alienate the fanbase gets flipped. No story progress is made with the main characters. Yoda wants Luke to think the Jedi texts are destroyed, so he zaps the tree where they had been stored with lightning. Why he needs Luke to think the texts are destroyed is not explained. The legacy of this movie is that Rian Johnson engaged many disgruntled audience members on Twitter and perpetuated the idea that to reject his movie or its characters is to be a sexist, a bigot, or a Trump supporter.  This radicalized a loose group of audience members called The Fandom Menace who mostly rant on youtube and share spoilers.

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3452021/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t30

Solo: A Star Wars Story is instructive in terms of breaking down audience reaction and how it is that a decent Star Wars movie can lose money at the box office. Was its failure due to a May release when the “traditional” May releases of Star Wars films were only every three years from 1977 to 1983 and then after a gap from 1999 to 2005 ? Lucasfilm had stumbled into giving families a new tradition of Christmas Star Wars which Bob Iger could have perpetuated by holding onto Solo six more months to keep a year between films. Was the box office disappointment also due to disgruntled activist Star Wars enraged by The Last Jedi and the looming threat of Rian Johnson potentially being still employed for further Star Wars movies despite stirring bad blood on Twitter?  Some people had hoped Anthony Ingruber who played a young Harrison Ford in Age of Adeline thanks to impressions he posted on youtube would be chosen to play Han Solo. Lawrence Kasdan had apparently signed on to this project before The Force Awakens, asking only that his son Jon also write on it. His name was a promise of authenticity.  The script would be a plus.  The most likely turning point might have been the hiring of Lord and Miller as the directors. There had been a brief Millennium Falcon cameo in The Lego Movie, which seems to be the only connection. Had anyone vetted them, it might seem strange to hire improv wranglers who made 22 Jump Street for a movie where following the script might be essential.  They went overtime daily, and one would expect the producer would see those reports and the additional expense incurred by indulging in improvisation. Here is where there is a difference of opinion among fans.  Those who are wrong believe that firing Lord and Miller and hiring Ron Howard to take over and reshoot much of it was the mistake.  Those who are informed and correct will say that hiring Lord and Miller and not having communicated as to their working process or intentions was the problem.  Ron Howard made the film as good as it could be.  In addition to those avoidable problems, a leading question by someone at a Q and A over-analyzing a flip line of dialogue in the trailer, like Lando calling Han “baby” as a jazz person might call everyone babe, caused Jon Kasdan to give the somewhat forced answer that it is okay to view Lando as pansexual and that he might have something going on with his female-voiced robot L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). His father Lawrence shrugged that off as maybe meaning nothing, but the younger Kasdan seemed more concerned about woke signalling. The trouble with that is that it only appeals to those who are not likely to see a Star Wars movie anyway and it is a misstep that alienated older fans incensed that after two movies and three novels and also comics that gave no indication of Lando being anything other than heterosexual now someone was ret-conning him with characteristics that might not be as much of a draw. Some had said that nobody ever asked for a young Han Solo movie.  Well, many people of Generation X did want one.  In the early Eighties there had been three novels by Brian Daley who had adapted the Original Trilogy to radio for NPR and a trilogy of Lando novels by L. Neil Smith which Jon Kasdan is aware of because he refers to them as Lando records his memoirs. There were three Han Solo novels in the late Nineties by Ann Crispen and various other novels like Scoundrels or Millennium Falcon.  There was demand.

The Rise of Skywalker is more fun than it should be.  It also has moving moments and grace notes that are quite worthy of the name Star Wars.  Despite all sorts of leaks via Midnight’s Edge, Doomcock, and World Class Bullshitters, among others there were still some surprises and there were moments that I might intellectually reject but emotionally and unconsciously accept or delight in.  Scenes interpreted as having occurred in space are shown in context to happen inside the atmosphere. Threepio is not turned into a battle droid.  Someone just draped Chewie’s ammo belt onto him. There has been active spoiling and a push to turn people away from even checking out this movie, purely out of rage for Disney Lucasfilm and the Disney Trilogy especially, despite the acceptance of Disney + series The Mandalorian and the child that is referred to as “Baby Yoda.”  The ideology championed by Kathleen Kennedy and Rian Johnson especially may have been designed to alienate the original built in audience. But there are some younger disgruntled fans who say they would have preferred these new films to just recast Han, Luke, Leia and Lando with younger actors and adapt some of the books.  The books that are now considered non-canon and “Legends” do have stronger stories, but the excitement of the new trilogy was to see the legacy cast members return.  The potential disappointment has been in how they were used. Luke became a destination in VII more than a role, then an antagonist for most of VIII, and a ghost in IX that actually at least feels more like the Luke we remember. Mark Hamill was given a bonus to say nothing about the minimal screen time he would have in Episode VII.  And he was candid about his objections to the changes made by Rian to Luke in VIII. He had to walk those remarks back in the meantime, but clearly he was as frustrated as the core fanbase that Luke, Han and Leia never has so much as a coffee together in VII or even the tail end of one small mission while all the characters and cast were still alive.

Did everyone want to make the same movies? Was there a lack of oversight by Kathleen Kennedy, or was it just her priority to make sure people were politically falling in line and the daily reports on filming didn’t have to be monitored and the directors carefully chosen?  JJ himself was the one who hired a female second unit director for The Rise of Skywalker. It seems that if someone doesn’t love a particular intellectual property or series films and perhaps looks down on the core demographic it traditionally appeals to then getting that right becomes less important than using it as a vessel or delivery device for social programming.  I like Rey and I think this last film is entertaining, so I’ll take the fun and the feels where I find them and frankly overlook the messy stuff.  Maybe half an hour was trimmed from the beginning. Maybe that is why the pacing is too fast for some. I had no problem following it and shrugged off the sillier stuff.  I was pleased by the lack of woke scolding and obnoxious posturing.  The film has also revealed critics to often be 100% motivated by perceived politics of a film and not whether it is well done.  I do hope this movie does well but at the same time I have no interest in seeing what “original” and “unconnected” new films carry the Star Wars brand in years ahead.  The belief of Disney Lucasfilm seems to be that once the baggage of nostalgia for the original characters of what they call the “Skywalker Trilogy” then they will be free to explore anything they like.  The trouble is that they have tarnished the one thing they cared about: the brand.

They had a license to print money but they reached too far for ideology.  I cant just blame Kennedy, since it took a lot of enabling to make a movie miss the mark.  It is scary to think how many films and TV shows on many levels put woke posturing ahead of screenwriting and directing skill.  You can be on the left, but not far enough to the left.  It is too bad that learning those lessons (assuming they can be leaned) came at the expense of a true extension of Star Wars.  But the one thing I agree with Red Letter Media about is that no matter how flawed the new films are they do not make the Prequel Trilogy look good.  The Prequels, especially Episode I and II, are pretty bad.  I will most likely see The Rise of Skywalker again in the cinema and eventually get the Blu Ray, even if that means I have a low I.Q.

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Straw

Anticipating the release of The Rise of Skywalker, Episode IX of Star Wars, this might be the right time to join the chorus and have a last rant.

Before The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson had been quoted as saying that he didn’t write in isolation but bounced ideas off of something called the Lucasfilm Story Group. I thought wow, they must be the cream of the dramaturgical crop to be in that circle of experts! We could speculate about some great writers that might be consulting there.  In the aftermath of The Last Jedi, Star Wars fans went on a mission to expose each member and examine the credits and education of each Story Group hired by Kathleen Kennedy.

Like  JJ Abrams’ wife Katie McGrath who went on to found the TimesUp movement on the heels of MeToo blowing up, Kathleen Kennedy is driven by identity politics.  In a movie like Lincoln or Schindler’s List, a social message is so central to the story that there needs to be no labored imposition of it.  Looking at something like Star Wars, is someone is not genuinely a fan of it and looks down on the genre at all, it might be seen as nothing more than a delivery device.

At no other time in the history of cinema has it been easier to find out what the core built-in audience for a brand wants to see.  By 2012, the bitter aftertaste of the Prequel trilogy meant that Star Wars fans could see room for improvement and the possibility of a fresh take if George Lucas was not 100% in control and jaded about his creation.  All Disney had to do was get the main characters back together.  The worst thing to do would be to sideline or disrespect them and taint the Original Trilogy.

Let’s look at intentions and whether the logic works.

They wanted to lure audiences with the possibility of getting the band back together. Mark Hamill was paid a bonus to say nothing about how drastically Luke Skywalker was sidelined in The Force Awakens, being a destination more than an active participant.

Harrison Ford’s career as a leading man had a lot of longevity, so his agreement to play Han Solo again opened the door to certain mischief. They would want Chewbacca to be in the movie, which is fine. Chewie died in a much publicized Lucasfilm-approved novel called Vector Prime, being on a planet when it exploded, around the time Han would have been 55.  This opened the door to totally abandoning over a hundred previously approved novels and beyond that also comics that were now branded Legends instead of canon.  Many fans, especially post-Last Jedi, would prefer to consider those novels as representing what “really happened” after Return of the Jedi as seen in 1983.  Some remember the old Marvel comics run that somewhat extended the story, and most refer to Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy.

What we got had the priority of setting up a few new heroes for the future, propped up by the classic Star Wars characters.  Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose Tico, and Kylo Ren were functional enough ciphers and the actors are talented but the writing – thanks largely to the priorities of the Lucasfilm Story Group – ring false.

Finn was raised as a storm trooper and chose humanity and abandoned the First Order, but The Last Jedi portrays his character as if he is an all-round deserter.  This partially through Rose Tico a mechanic who takes it upon herself to spend her hours loitering around escape pods looking for people to stun and drag to to the brig – including a known Resistance hero surely outranking her.  And for this, she is allowed to tag along on a mission.  The whole way, she is the person in the know about the meeting point Canto Bight and informing Finn about where he is wrong and sending them on a wild goose chase or two. She has to be in power and leading because TimesUpMeTooGirlPower.

Princess Leia / General Leia Organa says no to a magnetic bombing run Poe wants to do, so Poe switches off his intercom…. thus making sure he can’t hear her, but why the hell doesn’t the GENERAL have direct communication on the open line to all of the fleet, including the BOMBERS she could call off?

After Poe’s demotion, and aiding a covert mission that fails, and finally leading a mutiny, Leia asks people why they are looking at her and “Follow him.” Which confuses the woke narrative a bit.   Admiral Holdo decides that only she should be left in the rebel flagship, which is known to be a flagship and a one way trip whether she thought of ramming initially or not.  How brilliant is she that she couldn’t pick a droid to sacrifice itself? Rose Tico the mechanic who likes to zap war heroes considers saving the Fartiers (Neverending Story type horses) from the abusing racetrack by helping set them free gets onto a ship with Finn and leaves them in the fields to be easily rounded up again and brought back to their stables.

General Leia is sidelined by recuperation from FLOATING IN SPACE without oxygen.  Her replacement is Vice Admiral Holo, and one would think there would be great comedic potential if a great leader had to be replaced by an incompetent one but that can’t happen because she ALSO has to appear to know better than Poe and keep him in his subordinate place as a male.

Finn is reduced to pining for Rey, ostensibly concerned for her safety but – especially in this universe – isn’t she capable of looking out for herself?

Rey gets to be the enlightened and optimistic, right, and sympathetic one compared to Luke Skywalker’s ret con as a grumpy old Jedi gone to seed.  This is the most disappointing change to Star Wars.   IT ONLY went that way because Rey can’t be mansplained (what we used to call trained) by a white old male.  Master, schmashter. It strains credibility on the script level by finally having Luke (once his force connection is restored) collapse a shelter using “force-push” technique only to have Rey chase him down and fight until he lands on his back supposedly helpless and lets Rey stick her (formerly his) light-saber in his face to pin him down. He could use the very same force-push to flip the saber from Rey’s hand and then suspend her upside down. Instead he gives us his side of the most useless backstory about himself and his nephew.

If he thinks Ben Solo (Kylo) is going to turn to the Dark Side, WHY CREEP to his bedside in the night with a light-saber ready to kill him? Why not ask his mother, Leia, to go talk to him?

And no mention of what uproar happened politically when Luke and Leia’s parentage (Darth Vader) was outed ? There is a Disney-era novel called Bloodline that covers that, but they couldn’t be bothered to make that a pivotal point in the movies.  It makes sense if Ben distrusts his parents and his uncle for keeping a big secret from him.  But if it makes sense, it could not belong.

So there is much to account for.  The woke Lucasfilm Story Group, their boss Kathleen Kennedy, and Rian Johnson especially but also JJ Abrams.  When Lawrence Kasdan was co-writing The Force Awakens, at least the Han Solo material had humor and focus and felt like Star Wars.  And that movie at least flowed, even though it had its own share of head-scratchers and questions never to be answered.

And now they say retroactively that Luke trained Leia in the force and swordsmanship before the events of these new movies.  Okay, fine.  But we know it was not the plan all along because in The Force Awakens Leia refers to Luke as “a Jedi” when talking to Han. That might have been an opportunity to give SOME hint that she is also one.  Maybe Luke is a “better” or “lesser” jedi than her.  But even THEN, I’m sorry but I can’t buy even a Jedi waking up in the vacuum of space and force-pulling herself to safety.

I don’t know if the Sage – or what’s left of it – can force pull itself to safety now.  Too many of the most ardent fans already see Star Wars in a vacuum.  That is to say that – other than the unaltered Original Trilogy – it sucks.

 

 

 

 

A Handy Guide to Hating Me

A Handy Guide for Hating Me

 

Why wait to dismiss all the things we agree on because you haven’t found the one issue or sub-issue that marks me as “the enemy” ? Here are some positions or observations I have that have been triggering or provocative in case you want to get the jump on dismissing my input out of hand due to my obvious “evil.”

 

Religion: Raised Roman Catholic and Star Wars fan. Worked in a Catholic parish a block from home approximately from age 13 to 18 as a sacristan opening and locking the church, folding bulletins and putting out the wine and wafers for mass. Rarely go to church but still retain Catholic hang-ups.

 

Trump: Used to be boring enough that I would zip past his interviews on Letterman, but now he has graduated to dangerous. He and his team are 100% garbage.

 

Doug Ford: Ontario’s Trump. Hate him.

 

Trudeau: I wish he followed through on his election reform to get rid of First Past the Post, and cracked down on environmental policy and renewable energy while getting away from pipeline projects. But while I voted NDP I otherwise like Justin and would like to see him continue even with room for improvement. After 11 years of Harper there needs to be a moratorium on conservative Prime Ministers and Trudeau may have more of a chance than the NDP option Nationally.

 

Mel Gibson: I like to see him acting in movies and most of all directing them. Total respect for his craft. On his personal issues, people need to get their facts straight first. Robyn Moore Gibson is the ex-wife of Mel who by all accounts is a wonderful person and who even testified in court on Mel’s behalf as a character witness to state that he had never been violent in all their years of marriage. This was the court case where his ex-girlfriend and baby mama (to Lucia) and composer of generic house music Oksana Grigorieva who recorded (and is responsible for allowing to be released to RadarOnline) Mel’s phone rants. When Joe Eszterhas (the Basic Instinct writer who looks like a biker) decided to take his little kid to Mel Gibson’s island and report that he had not done work on the screenplay he was hired for, did he expect that they were not going to hear some yelling and ranting from him? And is that why his innocent son brought a recording device? While, I enjoy some of he writing, Joe is a dick. As for what Mel said in his rants, I have no theory other than the one-person audience to whom he is talking and the likelihood that she uses derogatory terms herself. Whoopie Goldberg, Robert Downey Jr., Darlene Love, Danny Glover, George Miller, Robert De Nero, Jodie Foster and Richard Donner are those who defended Mel as a person and friend even if they can’t break down the actual words used and chalk it up to a function of his medication for bipolar disorder or lack thereof. It is also worth noting that when he announced The Passion of the Christ and nobody had even read the script he already had haters piling on. The film’s release resulted in zero anti-Semitic incidents and zero apology from the doomsayers. It also made a lot of money, which further annoyed those who had turned it down. While Mel’s next movie Apocalypto was in post production, a Rabi and others lobbied for Disney to shelve it because they were frustrated that The Passion had been a success. The pressure was the context under which Mel accepted a drink of tequila and fell off the wagon and got behind the wheel of a car. The drunk driving was the worst of it and thankfully nobody was hurt, but this record was expunged because arresting officers allowed the police report full of his rants about his current persecution get released to TMZ. This rightfully caused some blowback for the police involved, but nothing compared to the ammunition it gave to Mel’s haters. If he was noted as rambling, “Jews cause the wars of the world,” he might have meant, “Jews remade War of the Worlds.” I don’t know, but I remember playwright Brad Fraser unfriending me on Facebook for defending Mel. When I got through explaining how telling the story of The Passion is not inherently anti-Semitic any more than being Catholic is, he then revealed that his real opposition to Mel and enjoyment of his downfall was Mel’s irritation at a press conference where someone absurdly asked if he was gay. Some took issue with King Longshanks throwing his son’s gay lover out a window in Braveheart, and may fan the flames of the anti-Semitic angle because it is easier to enrage people. The fenestration scene from Braveheart got laughs. I liked the commemorative rant plates skit Billy Dee Williams did on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and some youtube videos using the rants in Ransom re-edits, but I was happy to see Mel nominated for Hacksaw Ridge and back in movies. As much as I liked Mad Max: Fury Road I admit I would have preferred elderly Mel to follow through. All he had to do was drive and be strapped to a mast for most of that movie.

 

Woody Allen: 27 features, a few shorts and a TV series have been directed by Woody since the break up with Mia Farrow in 1992 during Husbands and Wives over the affair with Soon Yi and Mia’s vengeful and vindictive manufacture of child abuse charges in which she used her daughter Dylan to lie for her – a strain that has caused real harm to Dylan well into her thirties. I believe Moses Farrow, and I come to this by fearlessly reading the accounts and the fact-checking articles by Robert B. Weide. Any serious broadcaster with reach, including Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gale King, should have read in full and contemplated the writings of Robert Weide on the matter before jumping onto the bandwaggon following the onset of the #MeToo movement. The Woody-Mia-Dylan conflict is not a case that should be held up as an example if your goal is to ensure that society listens to accusers. That case is bound to fall apart on scrutiny and hurt the benefit of the doubt that one wishes a serious abuse accusation to be greeted. Even those who engage on-line in casual debates need to read through the Weide articles, which are called open letters to Ronan Farrow (who himself as a serious journalist has also apparently ignored).

There is no doubt that Ronan has had a positive impact overall in many investigations but he has this one huge blind spot: his mother.

 

https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-woody-allen-allegations-not-so-fast

 

https://ronanfarrowletter.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/qa-with-dylan-farrow/

 

https://ronanfarrowletter.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/moses-farrow-speaks-out/

 

This link actually contains hotlinks to several other articles on the topic:

 

http://woodyallenmoblynching.com/2018/02/25/robert-weide-woody-allen-innocence/

 

In summary, the narrative I believe is that Mia Farrow messed up Dylan by drawing her into her separation with Woody and using her as a weapon by inventing an abuse the circumstances of which have been refuted point for point in terms of logistics and contradiction. To assert this is not “blaming the victim” or making any sweeping statements about abuse or victims. It is an assessment of one case, and a bizarre one at that. I don’t especially respect the lemmings who have come out and expressed regret for acting in Woody Allen movies. Ellen Page can regret To Rome with Love because it is one of Woody’s weaker movies. But she would be wrong to assume that Dylan and Mia are right and that Moses, Woody and Soon-Yi are wrong.

I respect Dianne Keaton and Alec Baldwin for defending Woody when so many actors have jumped onto the bandwagon of #believeher blanket judgement.

 

Alec Baldwin: The one good thing that came from the Trump era is that it gave Alec something to make a high profile splash after a brief period where he lost a talk show deal as a result of being videotaped calling a paparazzi who had stalked his family and picked through his trash a (paraphrased) “Fu*king British Cigarette!!” If anything, I have respected his outrage against paparazzi and ambush journalism and I reject the idea that there is a contract that says being a public figure or entertaining means unwanted attention must be accepted. There are plenty of common targets for gossip magazines who have not benefitted in their careers from such focus. I don’t have to agree with every opinion of Mr. Baldwin to enjoy many of the films and TV shows he has done (30 Rock, Mission: Impossible Fallout). Image rights and audio rights should have to be secured in a release waiver which would make paparazzi pests less common.

 

Star Wars: I prefer the Original Trilogy (1977-1983) before the 1997 special editions changes (for which 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back is the least compromised) and before the 2004 DVD version or the further changes on Blu Ray a few years later. I did not care for the Prequel Trilogy, which was not the same tone or balance of jeopardy and humor and which did not have a strong enough narrative overall. That trilogy starts off just for children with Jar Jar in The Phantom Menace and ends with a fire, lava and mutilation of its PG-13 Revenge of the Sith. I like the Disney era which some outspoken fans and former-fans are up in arms over because they see it as being too progressive and because producer Kathleen Kennedy had said some things in public like, “The force is female” and “I don’t owe anything to the original white male fans of Star Wars” which of course they found inflammatory. It is odd that some who are most critical of the current Disney era of Lucasfilm defend the objectively inferior cinema of the Prequel Trilogy. Padme should not have died in III, which contradicts adult Leia’s memory of her mother in Return of the Jedi. I agree with many complaints about the Disney era even if my conclusion (acceptance) is different. Why can’t Luke Force-push Rey when she aims the lightsaber at him?  And I have to thank the “Fandom Menace” activists who looked into exactly who comprised the “Lucasfilm story group” that Rian Johnson bounced ideas off of.  I had imagined maybe Timothy Zahn and other writers who know their Star Wars would have that distinction, or maybe the finest dramaturges. But it was quite loaded with SJW motivated people with thin resumes. Guidance in storytelling that comes from those sensibilities is bound to throw things out of whack and land with a thud as it did for so many.  I am curious to see how Lando Calrissian is used in IX and happy for Billy Dee Williams. Wonder how Luke is worked back into the story and I’m guarded about how footage of Princess Leia will be repurposed after the death of Carrie Fisher.  They will get my money but I understand the boycotters like Doomcock who say #WithoutRespectWeReject when it comes to Disney product.

Movie Directors: I have no concern whatsoever about the gender or ethnicity of a movie director, only that the person is actually conceiving the shots – the psychology of the frame itself and the displacement impact of a cut and how those are chosen. The director ideally directs the attention of the audience. If it is true that, “once the screenplay is ready and the casting is appropriate Ninety percent of the director’s job is done” then all discussion of direction should take those elements as read and only concentrate on that remaining ten percent which makes at least as much difference as an extra chromosome. If the director leaves the use of the frame to the cinematographer, the cinematographer is a de facto co-director and I don’t celebrate that kind of dynamic. I have infuriated people because I have utmost respect for Robert Zemeckis and I am critical or dismissive of Robert Altman. I don’t like an improvisational hodge-podge. I like a deliberate use of the camera.   I respect what might be called the storyboard sketch approach, so that thought is put into how shots follow each other or echo each other throughout a movie.

 

Abortion: There are people I care about who have had abortions and I have not rubbed their noses in my opinions but they know I am not the person to ask for a ride home from the clinic. I am against the criminalization of abortion because in pragmatic terms it can not be enforced evenly – rich people would still find access and poor would not. The promise of “stopping” abortions is a carrot used by conservative politicians to play on emotion of their base voters but there is little they can do to prevent it. They can only pull punk moves like closing a clinic because it does not meet physical specs of a hospital in terms of hallway width. But people are catching onto those sneaky moves as well. Having said that, as much as I do not want to be the person trying to police people and make sure they go full term with each pregnancy I don’t spin-doctor abortion itself to make it more palatable. To me it is “magical thinking” to say that a life only becomes human or “quick” when the umbilical cord is cut or when the baby breathes oxygen instead of amniotic fluid. It is not – in my view – magical at all to say that when that spark of zinc happens as the 23 chromosomes from the sperm is deposited into the 23 chromosomes of the ovum and the start of a 26 chromosomes life begins that this is the process of becoming and that the same process continues if it attaches to the uterus and grows into adulthood.   Giving birth is a brave action for a mother and some do not survive childbirth, so I can’t condone forcing anyone to go through this process but I admit that I admire it and I would be lying if I said that I admired abortion.

 

Alfred Hitchcock: I admire his process of visualizing a scene in advance, and this is the approach I most respect as “real” cinema direction. People may diminish his name because in the modern era his behavior with Tipi Hedron on The Birds and Marnie has more attention. A TV movie The Girl with Tobey Jones and Sienna Miller explored this dark side of his character during that period of his life. Hedron attended his funeral and continues to give him proper respect as a director despite his inexcusable and dangerous decisions. What he contributed to film language is essential and may be overlooked in the rush to dismiss those with character flaws.

 

 

Frank Capra: The Name Above the Title and The Catastrophe of Success are two books worth reading, in that order, about Capra. The latter is partly an evaluation of the former and speculates as to how much of Capra’s recollections were exaggerated. Regardless of his politics as a somewhat conservative populist with corny endings, his movies were well done. I do not know fully what his working relationship was with cinematographer Joe Walker but Capra’s earliest storyboarded short film The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House has a discriminating choice of shot. Although he came from writing, his visual sense was authentic. As for content, people might be critical of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and it was poorly received by certain insider press at the time but the idea of the “Taylor Machine” enforcing a rigged situation in Washington DC rings true today. But the key is how he used the frame and the cut with personality that punctuated scenes and kept his choices on point.

 

Roman Polanski: I can take or leave some of his movies, which tend to be slower paced. Ever since I was a child in elementary grades we knew the joke, “Roman Polanski cruises in a school bus.” I did not know he survived the holocaust when his parents did not. And it was a while before I learned that his pregnant spouse Sharon Tate was killed by the Manson family. But even learning the details of the rape he committed upon a 13 year old girl I see it in context as atrocity breeds atrocity in shaping and staining a human mind. His insight into evil and moral failing might inform some of his better works as a director. Carnage, Death and the Maiden, Chinatown, The Tennant, The Ninth Gate, The Ghost Writer, and to an extent Repulsion – various movies of his that I actually liked I will continue to enjoy regardless of his indefensible use of that girl who has since forgiven him even if legal activists have not. I thought Frantic was boring and slow back in the eighties and somehow have it on DVD but have not re-watched it as yet. Harrison Ford starred in it and had the dubious honor of accepting Polanski’s Oscar for the Piano years later, so an admirable person can appreciate the man as a director and not define him entirely by is personal failings.

 

Rape and Terrorism: These are two subjects often argued about on social media despite the fact that neither side in a debate will be in favor of either crime. One cannot condone rape or terrorism, and we hope to never have these horrors visited upon those we love or ourselves. And yet there are sub-issues in which people can argue to a point where they forget that the other person is also not in favor of these acts. People have an all-or-nothing sensibility sometimes which is not constructive to adult, sane discussion. I remember the term, “without passion or prejudice” as an advisory for jurists. People tend to throw that out. If I defend a parent saying that a daughter should dress warmly or conservatively, I will be accused of “slut shaming.” If I say here is a photo of Brock Turner, don’t go to the late night party with him or accept any drinks beside a dumpster because he is the Stanford rapist, again I might be accused of putting the responsibility on the prospective victim.   But I would then also argue that to say to the rapist, “don’t rape anyone” would be a joke. Nobody has to be told not to rape. And fear of being caught does not stop people with a behavior control disorder. People do have to practice defensive driving and defensive living. It is wrong for a terrorist to release a gas valve into a public area. It is also wrong for someone who has been advised of this to insist on lighting a match for a cigarette because it is his/her right. People do have to look out for each other. It is fine to say that yes the rapist or terrorist is the problem but are there ways to moderate behavior to reduce their success rate? Do you continue shopping, flying, dating in the same patterns because “otherwise the terrorist/rapist wins” or do you attempt to participate in keeping the odds of safety in your favor to an extent? These are reasonable questions I might ask if I want to get my head bitten off on social media.

 

Guns. I like the Australian ban solution and would like to see this in North America. At the same time I do not want guns banned from movies because the best movies usually have guns in one form or another. I also object to ambushing of Tom Selleck by Rosie O’Donnell or Charlton Heston by Michael Moore, even if their intentions for the right reasons or the big picture. It tends to diminish the seriousness of the matter and make it hypocritical. I could not scold Selleck for liking guns when I spent so much of my youth watching Magnum P.I. and celebrating when he shot that bad guy after asking, “Did you see the sunrise this morning?” (Because his friend Mack had said he was going to see the sunrise before the bad guy killed him.) Such is the complexity of the gun debate. No doubt that too many crazy and sad people have access to them and people are not held responsible enough who decide to keep or sell them when they end up being used for violence.

 

Why.  What if the reason so many white males have gone on shooting sprees is that simply any action creates an equal opposite reaction? What if progress itself agitates the unbalanced and alienated mind? December 6, 1989 14 young women, engineering students around my age, at Polytechnique wawere shot dead by a gunman whose manifesto or suicide note blamed women for his failure.   At Colmbine ten years later, two young men who felt alienated and insulted and called gay by classmates ordered some firearms and shot up the school. The internet and social media definitely accelerates this. As does the wave of outrage culture and ine infiltration of SJW language into the vernacular since 2014. Every action, however well intended, creates an equal opposite reaction. I remember a friend of a friend first using the “word” mansplain on me on Facebook around 2014 – among other shade throwing and insult – and I can fully understand the desire to kill because of it.

There are some reprehensible and abusive people who wrap themselves in white knight armor and virtue signal constantly without actually having ethics.

 

LBGTQ2S issues: In favor of allowing same sex marriage rights and the wedding cakes that they entail. Absolutely need to put a stop to policies in the world that allow formally or tacitly the execution or murder of LBGT people, including the concentration camp that was reported to exist in Chechnya. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41645281 And at the same time, despite a strong stance against bullies in any form, I will laugh at humor that points out the adjustment and awkwardness of interaction between people who have an aversion to something in the other’s life. I don’t see a problem with language that is called “othering” because people do place themselves in their own categories. While I recognize that it would be upsetting for some people to hear an early Eighties routine from Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, I can still watch it for nostalgia and find it free of the caution and falseness of most modern entertainment. In my own writing, I do not see any group as being in a permanently critic-proofed victim category. A character who identifies as gay or LBGTQ should be allowed to be unsympathetic or a villain or errant in some other way and not bound to be the wise guru that straight people ask for advice. As reasonable as that sounds, there are some who consider any verbal argument lost by a gay character to be “punching down” and I am against this. I can understand writers avoiding diversity if they are going to have to inherit unwanted co-writers enforcing codes reminiscent of the Hays Code that was enforced from 1930 to 1968 – a shockingly long stretch. http://www.artsreformation.com/a001/hays-code.html

When you watch DVD extras for The Silence of the Lambs or Basic Instinct you learn of how GLAAD really went after those productions and tried to shut them down and protested the movies. Years later, no doubt the activists of today are embarrassed by those actions. People wanted the antihero Michael Douglas played in the noir thriller Basic Instinct to say the equivalent of, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” upon discussing his girlfriend’s bisexual past. When Jerry Seinfeld had an episode using that line and running it into the ground, we should be able to assume that the enforced quote is now exposed as perfunctory virtue signaling.

 

Do the Right Thing: Although Mookie is later seen still delivering pizza for Sal in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer, I don’t think he is necessarily wrong. I blame Buggin’ Out for all of the disaster that happens, for Radio Raheem and the pizzaria. The right thing of the title, for me, is not putting black celebrities onto the wall to appease Buggin’ Out — who does a double take at the wall as if he has just noticed it after eating in the shop since he was a kid. I expect to see Chinese decor in a Chinese restaurant and Italian trappings in a Pizza shop. Sal should be allowed to put up whatever photos he wants. A store is like an embassy in whatever area it is set up.

Sal made a mistake in letting Buggin’ Out and Raheem into the shop after hours. He should not have bashed the radio but they also should not have been provoking the situation. As for the police brutality, nothing has changed since 1989. When the title is spoken in the movie, the “Mayor” tells Mookie, “Always do the right thing.” Mookie says, “That’s it? Got it.” and he moves on.

 

Dexter: I have read the comic books and all eight Jeff Lindsay novels. I like the Early Cuts animations and I have the complete series on DVD. It should be viewed in chronological order but I rate the seasons in quality as follows: Fourth Season, Second, First, Fifth, Sixth, Third, Seventh, Eighth. I’m critical of the Assistant D.A. being allowed to know so much when Dexter’s sister had been close to the Ice Truck Killer and a the Bay Harbor Butcher suspect had been working at the same precinct. I’m critical of Deb’s later belief that she had a romantic attachment to Dexter, something that rings false like a quip someone made in the writer’s room that someone else thought should pay off. It only undermined her character. If they do a follow up, I hope Dexter who is logging in Oregon will track a killer along the Oregon trail and that Deb will be his new conscience. I have no idea how Hannah and Harrison can be reunited with him without it seeming contrived. Unless Hannah has been following news about murders in Oregon and looking for a pattern and deciding to risk return to the States from Argentina where Harrison might have already begun building a life. Maybe Dexter hears about a former Nazi or rogue priest and other criminals being poisoned in Argentina and knows Hannah is still around and maybe he has a second goal on the Oregon trail of crossing the bridge at the end into Canada and taking a flight from there. I’d like Michael C. Hall to have a shot at playing Batman, but then I’d like him to give Dexter a satisfying wrap-up.

 

Controversial Movie Preferences:

 

2010: The Year We Make Contact is a better film than 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

Genndy Tartakovsky is talented but Andrei Tarkovsky sucks.

 

Ghostbusters should have remained in continuity and not remade. The 2016 Paul Feig remake pats itself on the head for showing “women scientists” despite Beatrice Straight having played a credible academic and scientist in Poltergeist two years before the popular Ghostbusters came out. I’m happy and hopeful to learn that Jason Reitman is returning Ghostbusters to the original iteration and continuity with a 2020 movie. I actually like the fact that he is not especially committed politically, because knee-jerk ideology plays poorly in movies.

 

These are the issues that leap to mind at the moment.

 

Also:

 

I’m introverted

 

I like to avoid wading through crowds if I can.

 

I have Jawsphobia but continue buying the movie.

 

I think of myself as a writer-director but not a producer, which may turn off a

producer who prefers directors to take some of the producing burden.

Ironically, I end up often having to do things a producer should do, i the absence of one, and my movies are limited in resources because of that.

 

I don’t play games. Video or mind games. “I’m not your puzzle to solve,” says Sally Allbright in When Harry Met Sally. And that is a good stance. I don’t like solving puzzles when direct, clear, effective communication tells me how important a message is. I would not want to be so needy as to run around asking people if I have stepped on their toes. I’d rather say in advance what I hope to do and see it through.

 

I write this kind of blog to clear the clutter from my head and put it into someone else’s head.