Category Archives: Movies

Star Wars The Last Jedi: Post-Movie Thoughts

Last night I went to the opening of Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi.

Star Wars is such an ingrained part of my childhood and life that these movies are just a flood of nostalgia. I love the experience.

We’ve certainly been disappointed with the prequels, but it’s so amazing to see Star Wars back in the theaters and to be so excited about it again. I love it.

Just as I did with The Force Awakens, I want to share my post-movie thoughts.

I often expect these in-the-moment reactions to temper a bit with time. I always admit that I came out of The Phantom Menace loving it. Even the second time. But then reality caught up with nostalgia.

I still love The Force Awakens.  I do think the re-hash of A New Hope, primarily Star Killer Base, was a bit much, but I don’t really care.

So we’ll see where I go with my Last Jedi reactions. Continue reading Star Wars The Last Jedi: Post-Movie Thoughts

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Post-Movie Thoughts

I’ve now seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens twice and I so want to talk about it!

I’ll start out spoiler-free, but then we’ll dive heavy into the spoilers. I’ll warn you when it’s coming in case you want to jump ship.

I don’t even know where to start. Being a writer, I want to craft the perfect essay about this experience. But I also need to process and just get my thoughts down. So this is probably going to be a mess. It’s a blog, not a polished essay.

Spoiler-Free Stuff

Wow. What a great movie.

I’ve seen it twice and I want to go back for more. It was just a super fun thrill ride.

Now I’ve been caught up in Star Wars nostalgia before. I said this in my expectations—it’s Star Wars, and I’ll love the adventure. And I totally did. I’m so wrapped up in the excitement of the moment that I have absolutely no objective judgment.

That’s how I walked out of The Phantom Menace excited. But when the childhood wonder and excitement wore off, objectivity came back and I realized how ridiculous that movie was.

That could maybe happen here, but I doubt it. I need to give it some time for the wonder of the moment to pass. But at this point I’m pretty confident it’s going to be one of my favorite Star Wars movies.

So a few fun (non-spoiler) thoughts about the experience of watching the movie:

  • The first thing I did after seeing the movie ? Stop at Target at 9:50 p.m. to buy Star Wars toys. The merchandising is strong with this one. And I love it!
  • After my dad saw it we spent an hour and a half on the phone talking nothing but Star Wars (OK, we maybe gave five minutes on the Captain America trailer).
  • My screening plan of seeing it before I took my kids worked out really well. The movie is intense and I had to prepare my kids. My almost 10-year-old still hid her face, and my 7-year-old buried his face in my chest a couple times and outright sobbed at one point. We didn’t have to leave the theater, but it was pretty distracting. I was glad I knew what to expect when and didn’t miss anything because I’d already seen it.
  • Unfortunately, I think preparing my kid with a half spoiler made him think that half spoiler wasn’t a real spoiler. So while getting supper at Panera after the movie he’s jumping around with his light saber and tells some stranger that half spoiler. The guy slapped his hands to his ears and says, “No spoilers! No spoilers!” Sorry man. We had another talk about spoilers. 10 minutes later another guy asked us if we’d just seen the movie (OK, we’ve got a light saber in the restaurant and we’re all wearing Star Wars shirts… nerd central), asked if it was another Phantom Menace (“Absolutely not!”) and then quickly said, “OK, don’t tell me anything else” and covered his ears.
  • While preparing the children for the movie, I showed them a picture of the bad guy, Kylo Ren. They had seen the trailers, but these masked men in black can be frightening in a big, loud, dark theater, so I wanted them to see what Kylo Ren looked like before he was big and scary. They took one look at his mask and dubbed him “Kylo Duckface.”
  • At the beginning of the movie I leaned over to my son and read the opening crawl to him. I’ve done that for both kids as we’ve watched all the earlier movies. But doing it in the theater? That was pretty cool. I didn’t expect that to be a moment.
  • One of the first things my daughter asked me this morning was, “Can we go see the Star Wars movie again?” That’s my girl.

Such a great movie-going experience.

Now let’s talk about the actual movie. Which means spoilers.

Continue reading Star Wars The Force Awakens: Post-Movie Thoughts

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Han Solo, Chewie, Rey, BB8 & Finn.The hype has been building up forever, and tonight I’m going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes!

I’m also going tomorrow.

But I’m not a crazy nerd or anything, I’m doing it for my kids. Yeah, that’s it. I’m screening it tonight to make sure there’s nothing too intense for my 7-year-old. Also if the kids do need to step out or ask ten thousand questions, I’ll have seen it once already and (hopefully) won’t be as annoyed by the distractions.

It’s a happy accident that I’ll get to see it twice in 24 hours.

Plus, unlike my dad and brother, I think the best part of seeing a movie like this is seeing it early with the die-hard fans who clap and cheer. Part of the fun of going to the movies is the atmosphere, and you couldn’t ask for better energy than a theater crammed full of excited fans.

My wife and I saw the Hunger Games on opening night, not because we loved the series but because we happened to have a babysitter. The theater was full of teen girls with Catniss braids who were super excited. Made the whole experience more fun. Also saw one of the Potter movies that way, with a crowd full of teens who had grown up on Potter. Way fun.

So anyway, I’ll be there tonight with my nerds. Continue reading Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Returning to Star Wars

I’ve been re-watching Star Wars with the kids in anticipation of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. We finished tonight with Return of the Jedi.

Ah, so good. I loved that movie as a kid. I don’t think I’ve loved it recently, but today I really enjoyed it again. I think the kids enjoyed it too, though they had more fun playing with the box of my 30-year-old Star Wars toys.

What Order?

So the big question was what order to watch the movies in. Prequels first? (Pshhh, nope.) Originals first?

I went with Machete Order—4, 5, 2, 3 and 6 (and you completely skip 1). Good choice. You skip all the useless stuff in number one (Jar Jar, midichlorians, boy Anakin and major characters that never show up again—Qui-Gon and Darth Maul). The only downside is that watching Episode I makes Episode II seem good by comparison. Continue reading Returning to Star Wars

Mad Max Is Just a Movie

I watched Mad Max: Fury Road yesterday and it’s all kinds of ridiculous. Who waits 30 years to continue a franchise? Who makes an entire movie one long car chase? Who threatens a boycott of an an action movie because it’s too feminist?

Mad Max is all kinds of absurd. And it’s awesome.

The best example of its absurdity: Bringing your own theme music along on a chase scene, complete with a rock ‘n roll car, fronted by an insane guitar player who can—wait for it—shoot fire from his guitar.

What?!

Exactly.

That flame-throwing guitar is real, by the way. No CGI involved.

If anyone expected Mad Max to make a lot of sense, you’re in the wrong movie. It’s just a lot of crazy action and some bad ass people.

What is perhaps the most absurd thing about the movie is how everyone is calling it a feminist movie. Yes, there are strong female characters. Yes, Charlize Theron’s character totally overshadows Mad Max. Yes, there’s a crew of old-aged biker chicks with the mantra, “One man, one bullet.” (78-year-old Melissa Jaffer did her own stunts.) And yes, the damsels in distress are pretty well rescuing themselves.

So what?

It’s awesome. It fits perfectly in the post-apocalyptic world to have women reduced to objects and pushed to the point they fight back. Girl power isn’t exactly new in Mad Max. Tina Turner was quite the bad ass in charge. There was even the Warrior Woman in Road Warrior, fighting off the horde to the death.

It’s refreshing to see an action movie that takes women seriously. But do we really need to call it feminist? Can’t we just call it a movie?

The Age of the Movie Saga

We’ve entered the age of the movie saga. Movies no longer come with one or two sequels, instead it’s an entire series. It’s a big shift from when I grew up and makes things interesting for my kids.

My kids don’t watch a ton of TV (we make them earn TV time with optional chores, which means they usually opt to play outside instead), but over spring break we relaxed a little. Knowing the next Avengers movie is coming out soon, I got a pile of DVDs from the library.

Both kids have seen and like the Avengers, but they haven’t watched all the other movies. I hadn’t even seen them all. So over break we watched Captain America 1,  Thor 1 & 2 as well as X-Men 1.

To truly catch the kids up on the Marvel series they’d also have to see Iron Man 1, 2 & 3 (not sure about that… I remember Iron Man 1 being awfully violent for a 6-year-old) and Hulk. Plus the Agents of Shield TV show. Thankfully none of it is required watching—Marvel does a nice job of stringing things loosely together (you could enjoy Avengers without having seen any of the other movies… I had only seen Iron Man 1 & 2 and Thor 1).

When you try to put the entire saga together to date, there are 10 movies: Hulk, Iron Man 1, Iron Man 2, Captain America 1, Thor 1, Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy (so the last one is very loosely connected… but the post-credits scene at the end of Thor 2 shows they are connected, and will be more connected in the future). There are even marathon screenings of all the movies leading up to Avengers 2. At 27 hours, we’ve moved beyond the movie marathon. And it’s only going to grow. Marvel has a roll-out plan into 2019 that will nearly double the number of movies. Continue reading The Age of the Movie Saga

Diversity Is Not Enough

“We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism.” (“Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing”)

In many ways it comes down to white privilege (that phrase can be difficult to digest—this is the best explanation of white privilege I’ve found). The white establishment (i.e., people like me) doesn’t understand what people of color face.

People like me are blind to all the small things that are stacked up against people of color. Each one on its own seems small, but together it creates institutional racism. The result is things like the Noah movie using an all white cast as “stand-ins for all people” because “race doesn’t matter.”

If you don’t see anything wrong with that, that’s white privilege.

If you watched the Noah movie and didn’t think it odd that everyone was white, that’s white privilege.

Or any movie.

As G. Willow Wilson commented, “Where are all the black people in Middle Earth? The answer is ‘In Laketown,’ apparently.” Extras in the Laketown scenes in the second Hobbit movie were the first non-white human characters in the Lord of the Rings movies.

If you think it’s political correct garbage to want racial diversity in a fantasy movie, that’s white privilege.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

It reminds me of the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas where the 9-year-old Bruno is oblivious to the German Holocaust, even though he lives outside the gates of Auschwitz. He befriends a Jewish boy, Shmuel, but is completely unaware of the ostracism and hatred his friend endures.

Bruno is not antisemitic. He’s not even aware of the German propaganda about Jews, and when he hears it he doesn’t believe it. But he’s blind to all the barriers Shmuel faces as a Jew in 1940s Germany.

It’s not an ideal comparison. But it feels familiar. When people don’t understand the need for diversity or insist that we’re beyond racism, it reminds me of Bruno.

Lupita Nyong’o & the Shade of Beauty

I watched the Oscars last night (I know, what?) and was blown away by the poise and energy of the best supporting actress winner Lupita Nyong’o and her role in Twelve Years a Slave. She gave a moving acceptance speech with the line, “No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.”

She’s got quite a story, from nabbing an Oscar on her first film out (check IMDB, Twelve Years a Slave is her movie debut) to the incredible support from her brother Peter (he was her date for the Oscars, landing himself and his enviable hair in Ellen’s famous selfie). She even rocked the Oscar red carpet with that Cinderella dress.

But this wonderful speech she gave at the Black Woman in Hollywood Luncheon hosted by Essence is probably even better. The reality of how skin tone effects young women is something most of us never think about. Lupita’s dark skin plagued her own self worth and perception of beauty, but that perception was something she could rise above and embrace her true beauty:

“You can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful, is compassion, for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty inflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master. But it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit, even after the beauty of her body has faded away.

And so, I hope that my presence on your screens and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey, that you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.”

World War Z: Book vs. Movie

World War ZYesterday I went to see the new Brad Pitt movie World War Z, the adaptation of the novel by Max Brooks, where ‘adaptation’ means they share the same title. Seriously, the only similarities the book and movie share is that they’re both about zombies.

And I’m OK with that. Books are not movies. Movies are not books. Get over it, people.

The Book
I liked World War Z the book. It took an over-done concept (zombies) and looked at it from a world-wide, what happens after zombies take over your town? How does humanity come back? Max Brooks came up with really interesting ideas about how useless modern military technology would be (incapacitating weapons that shred limbs and flesh are useless when only a headshot will stop a zombie). There are all the struggles of post-apocalyptic survival that I love, along with this practical, military approach to zombies.

The only complaint I had about World War Z the book is that it’s presented as a historical retelling of the zombie war. As such, there are no central characters. You get snippets from all over the globe and are introduced to different characters each time, compelling characters, that the book never comes back to. That makes it harder to connect with. It’s a testament to the writing that it’s still so good even without main characters, but it does make the book a little bit harder to love.

The Movie
I went into the movie knowing it was nothing like the book and basically expecting a stupid summer blockbuster. I mean, c’mon: Brad Pitt, adaptation that’s nothing like the book, summer movie, explosions, zombies, reshoots, way over budget? But it turned out to be pretty good.

I think part of the reason why is that it’s fairly simple. Brad Pitt is some hotshot United Nations investigator. After saving his family from the initial uprising, he hops around the world trying to track down the source of the zombies and find a cure. That’s it. There’s no crazy twist, no excessive actions sequences, no complicated plot that doesn’t make sense when you sit back and think about it (Avengers, I love you, but I’m looking at you). It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty straight forward and enjoyable.

It sounds like there was quite a bit of drama creating this movie, including plenty of scrapped scenes and a rewritten ending. But I think for once Hollywood made the right decisions. They moved away from the over-the-top action scene and Rambo-like hero and focused on a simple man working to get back to his family. I think it worked.

It’s certainly not World War Z the book, but it’s a good story.

The Author’s Take
Here’s an interesting video of author Max Brooks talking about the whole books vs. movie deal. I like his realism about the whole process: