Category Archives: Movies

Spider-Man: Reboots are Boring

Spider Man!I grabbed The Amazing Spider-Man at the library the other day and finally got around to watching it. It came out last summer and is a reboot of the Spider-Man series. For those not in the know (i.e., me) it stars Andrew Garfield (who?) instead of Tobey Maguire. Basically swapping one geek for another (Garfield had a role in The Social Network playing the techie geek who got screwed out of Facebook).

I’m not a big fan of Spider-Man, but it’s another super hero movie and those can be fun.

Instead it was tired. It was the same story we saw in 2002’s Spider-Man, same origin story, same speech from his uncle about responsibility (though they were very careful not to use the oft-quoted line “with great power comes great responsibility”), same New Yorkers that came to Spider-Man’s rescue at a critical moment (a bit of post-9/11 over-reaction back in 2002, at least this time it had a motivation rooted in the story).

I know Hollywood is in love with the remake, that it’s easy box office money and sometimes that can be fun. Sometimes you do need to dust off something that was done a long time ago and revisit it for a new generation with new effects and a different spin. But a mere decade later? With practically the same approach?

Meh.

I love stories. But why do we have to keep telling the same ones over and over again? At least take the story somewhere new. Sing a new song. Explore some new territory. Make a new myth. I get tired of reading my kids the same story over and over again, and I get tired of watching the same movie over and over again, even if it’s in a slightly new skin.

And yes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is now filming, to come out in 2014.

Star Wars: Watching the Prequels

In the last two weeks Lexi has watched all three of the Star Wars prequels.

The good news? She didn’t like Episode III (who does?).

The bad news? She liked Jar Jar Binks.

You win, some you lose some. I guess. Lexi became a Star Wars fan last year when she watched the original trilogy with me. It seems the defining question of our generation is in what order will you let your kids watch Star Wars? Though it’s more a question of fandom. I’ve never met a Star Wars fan who wanted their kids to watch the prequels first. My nephew watched the prequels first (and as of last year had no idea who Luke Skywalker was!), but my sister-in-law is no Star Wars fan.

As much as I dislike the prequels, it is fun watching them with my kids. Just entering the Star Wars universe with them is enjoyable, even if I groan every time Jar Jar speaks while both Lexi and Milo bust a gut. For all the failings of the prequels, it’s still Star Wars. The music still crescendos just right even if the kid on screen can’t act (in all fairness, Luke was pretty whiny in Episode IV). While I’m leery of what Disney will do with a new batch of Star Wars, I’m also excited to see more of it in the theater again.

Sidebar: There could be a thousand lessons of what not to do from the prequels, but one thing I realized from this recent watching is I wish the light saber battles would get sane again. In the original trilogy they were pretty basic sword fighting. But with the prequels basic sword fighting was too old school and we had all kinds of ridiculously choreographed fight scenes. It got to the point where you couldn’t even tell what was happening. And it got non-sensical: In one scene in Episode III Count Dooku (I still laugh at that name) is fighting Obi-wan and Anakin with a single light saber. How is it that two light sabers can’t beat one? Never mind the lava-hopping ridiculousness of Obi-wan and Anakin’s showdown that comes down to who has the higher ground. It makes their final showdown in Episode IV look like a geriatric duel. Light saber battles are pretty sweet, but I hope in the new movies we can go back to sane light saber fights and not try to come up with zanier choreography.

Another thing that I love about the originals (and is only now standing out to me in contract to the prequels) is Luke’s insistence that there’s still good in his father. Those lines have become so commonplace that it’s hard to recognize how controversial they are. The scary, evil bad guy who chokes people from across the room, seemingly for fun, somehow has good buried under that creepy mask? Not only does Luke insist on it, he lays his life down to prove it. And he’s right!  A hero who throws down his weapon and refuses to fight? A villain who can be redeemed? I don’t think I’ve ever considered that Star Wars delivers a pacifist message, but there it is.

The best news from watching the prequels? Lexi’s favorite episode is the original. All is right with the world.

And a few fun links that always come up when I talk Star Wars:

Ownership vs. Subscription Economy

I’ve realized lately the entertainment industry is undergoing a pretty radical shift.

Duh.

OK, so this isn’t ground-breaking territory. But I’m seeing the implications in my daily life much more than I have before.

So there are a few ways to get entertainment content, which vary slightly depending on medium:

  • Experience – You go somewhere and you experience your entertainment. This happens primarily with music and movies. You go somewhere and either watch a movie or see a concert. You’re paying for a one-time experience. I suppose this method has pre-dated all technology.
  • Broadcast – The entertainment is free, but you have to watch ads. This is the commercial-supported model of TV and radio. Again, you’re only getting a one-time experience.
  • Ownership – As media has become cheaper and smaller, ownership has become a relatively recent option. You can purchase your entertainment in your preferred medium and enjoy it as long as you like.
  • Subscription – This is the newest model championed by Netflix and Hulu Plus for movies/TV and Spotify for music, among others. You pay a monthly fee and get access to a nearly endless archive of on-demand music, TV and movies.

Continue reading Ownership vs. Subscription Economy

Let’s Watch More Star Wars!

That’s what Lexi exclaimed when the credits for Return of the Jedi rolled. It makes a father proud.

We’ve been watching the Star Wars series the last few weeks. It happened by accident. I felt like watching a movie in the basement with the fire going and I decided it’d be Star Wars. I’ve always wanted to watch these movies with my kids, but Lexi is still freaked out about the bad guys in Disney princess movies and if she can’t handle a weird, cartoony sea witch, she’d be no match for Darth Vader. My earliest movie going experience is watching Vader through my hands. The intensity can be pretty scary for a little kid.

So I didn’t expect Lexi to sit down with me and watch the first Star Wars movie. I didn’t expect Milo to sit around either. But they did. They missed parts here and there and I think that helped to break up the intensity, but we watched Star Wars together. There was much hiding under blankets and even a teary goodnight with thoughts of the Rancor, but no matter how many times I suggested we shut it off if it was too scary, they refused.

It helped that Princess Leia is mentioned in the opening crawl of A New Hope. Suddenly it became a princess movie and Lexi was hooked.

And no, there was no consideration of starting with the prequels. That’s not even a question. Though as Lexi talked about watching more Star Wars, I did reluctantly tell her about the prequels. Of course we don’t own them and I’m not rushing out to get them, so she’s safe for now. Besides, I don’t think she’s ready for the intensity of Anakin going bad. Not that she even knows who Anakin is: “Who’s that guy with the thing on his face?” (Darth Vader) “Is that guy Luke’s brother?” (Han Solo) “Where’s the princess?” (during a scene where Han & Leia kiss) “Where’s that Empire guy?” (The Emperor) “Hey! We have a Lego of him! (Yoda).

Though though they did love the Ewoks (Milo: “Look at the teddy bear!”) and Milo thought it was hilarious when the Ewok steals the speeder and spins upside down. Lexi also pointed and laughed during the celebration scene when the Ewoks use stormtrooper helmets as drums (which is frightfully morbid when you think about it). Both of which reminded me how much these movies were made for kids with the necessary humor built in to relieve the tension. I also couldn’t help but feel smug when Lexi was confused by the scenes of galactic celebration that George Lucas added to the end of Return of the Jedi. You shouldn’t muck with a good thing, George.

If you can’t already tell, these movies are deeply ingrained in my psyche and I’m thrilled to finally share them with my kids. I never thought it’d be in such a random, slipshod fashion, but it works. Sometimes it’s better to let these moments sneak up on you.

 

Revisiting Star Wars

Over Christmas break my 4-year-old nephew was watching Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and I sat down to watch some of it (after all, Star Wars is a family affair). The next day Spike TV was showing the originals and I caught parts of Return of the Jedi.

“Who’s that guy?” Ari asked when Luke Skywalker strode onto the screen. My nephew had never seen the original trilogy, only the prequels. Sacrilege!

All of which transported me back to the wonderful world of Star Wars. The other day I borrowed Revenge of the Sith from the library since I don’t remember watching it since it came out in theaters. And as if watching Attack of the Clones again wasn’t bad enough, Revenge of the Sith was painful.

Apparently I enjoyed it despite its inconsistencies the first time around, but now the lack of a sensible plot and unbelievable character motivations was just too much. If you really want to revel in the Star Wars prequel bashing, check out the profanity-laden reviews by Harry Plinkett (I’m serious about profanity-laden. They’re beyond inappropriate in spots as well, so be warned).

In some ways it feels good to have someone else point out the inconsistencies and show me why the prequels always feel so flat. My biggest complaint has to be the over-use of digital effects. You’d think George Lucas would have learned his lesson with Jar Jar Binks, but oh no, he introduces General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith, a digital character with no weight whatsoever. Who is this guy? Why do we care? He’s like a lame version of Darth Vader, more machine than man, but the Emperor is still tinkering with proportions and this one is too much machine.

And it goes well beyond characters. Almost every scene in the prequels is on a green screen. Nothing is real. It all looks and feels fake. Sure, the matte paintings in the originals weren’t perfect either, but that’s why they were used sparingly. Lucas turns to digital backdrops in every scene of the prequels.

For a current comparison I think the digital effects of Transformers are just as fake, but the backgrounds and action are real. When a Decepticon slices a city bus in half, Michael Bay cut a real bus in  half, so at least the destruction looks real even if the alien robot doesn’t. In the prequels we don’t get so much as a model, we get digital everything. Lame.

I could go on and on but three paragraphs is already too much. I still love the original Star Wars movies, but I think the prequels will forever stand as an example of the downfall of excess.

But let’s end on a positive note. Perhaps my favorite writing about Star Wars is this piece that explains the inconsistencies by imagining R2-D2 and Chewbacca as integral leaders in the rebellion. That’s awesome.

Post-Apocalyptic Double Header

So yesterday I splurged and blew some Christmas money on a post-apocalypitc double header. I went to see The Book of Eli in the afternoon and The Road in the evening, both post-apocalyptic movies released recently. I enjoyed both of them, but I’m also a sucker for post-apoc (let’s just shorten that, shall we? I spell it wrong every time I have to type it out).

If you’re interested, The Road is based on the bleak Cormac McCarthy novel and is, well, bleak. Like most post-apoc, it has a thread of hope, though hope in The Road is the thinnest bit of thread. On a scientific level I also have issues with the nature of the apocalypse (what killed all the animals, insects and plant life but not the people?). But that also makes it that much more bleak. The Book of Eli is more your typical post-apoc based on a mysterious wanderer with a mission. In this case Denzel Washington is trying to safe-guard the last known copy of the Bible. It an interesting premise to pair with a sword-wielding assassin guy who’s hand-chopping skill earns the movie an R-rating. You’d think those audiences wouldn’t have much crossover.

The Book of Eli does a nice job summarizing one of the aspects of post-apoc that I always find fascinating:

“We had more than we needed,” Eli says, remembering what life was like pre-apoc. “We had no idea what was precious and what wasn’t. We threw things away that people kill each other for now.”

That’s why I find post-apoc so fascinating. It strips away all the junk of life and forces us to realize what’s important. In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti we get a glimpse of life in a post-apocalypse state. We got an update from the organization my church supports in Haiti that several hundred people spent each night in a soccer field near the church praying, singing and sharing meals.

When the end of all things comes, only what truly matters is left.

Adoption is not Horror

You may have heard about a creepy new horror flick from Warner Bros. called Orphan. I’m not a fan of horror flicks in general, but this one seemed kind of dumb and insensitive. Really? An adopted child is going to be your psycho villain?

I’m not off the wall outraged at this. Just because Jason wears a hockey mask in Friday the 13th doesn’t mean hockey players should be up in arms. But still. When you take an innocent child, even worse an orphan, with no parents to love and protect them, and make that unprotected group the center of your evil plot line… well, that may not be evil itself, but it’s not doing orphans any good.

Tom Davis is encouraging people to respond to this film with their own stories of how orphans have changed their lives. Stories to counter the creepy trailer where parents adopt a child only to discover how scary that kid can be and how their family becomes threatened from an adopted child (the movie’s tagline: “There’s something wrong with Esther”). I’m trying not to take that personally and realize it’s just a movie, but yikes. Sheesh, let’s promote some misconcpetions about adoption, shall we?

Tom launched the Orphans Deserve Better campaign where you can share your stories of how orphans have changed your life (like  this one from a mother of three). They have a much better tagline: “There’s something wrong with millions of children having no family.” I love that this is all about a positive response. Let’s not rag on Warner Bros. (I’ve yet to see the word boycott thrown around), instead let’s focus on the positive.

I love it. You can’t read anything I do online without realizing how Milo has changed my life. My favorite story might be the way Milo and Lexi go to sleep. They share a room and at first we thought they’d wake each other up and it’d be a horrible mess. But Milo actually goes to sleep better when Lexi stands at his crib and talks to him, the two laughing and giggling, sometimes shrieking, long after bedtime. It lasts half an hour, sometimes 45 minutes, and then the two drift off to sleep. The strict parent in me wants to step in and yell and tell them to go to sleep, but they do eventually, so I let it go. Milo seems to sleep better this way. The same thing is starting to happen in the morning when they wake up. I haven’t heard Milo crying in the morning for a few days now. Instead it’s all giggles. That’s awesome. (Right now Lexi is repeating “Eth-io-pia!” and Milo is laughing.)

And if you want further proof of how a child can change your life, look no further than the Palmer family, who uprooted their four children to move from Oklahoma to Uganda to finalize the adoption of the newest member of their family. They have an incredible story. Just recently they shared the tragic story of a child recently adopted by a Uganda family who soon died in a terrible accident. It’s a heart-breaking story. But beneath the pain and horror (there’s a real horror story for you) there is a measure of hope. That child, Jonathan, was loved. Even though his life was cut horribly short, he died with a family.

Harry Potter & The Half-Hearted Movie

OK, need to get this off my chest. Here comes the fan-boy movie rant, complete with spoilers and incoherence. You might want to just move along.

We went to see the new Harry Potter flick last night, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. As the sixth and penultimate book, this one had a tricky position: Needing to tell its own story but also set things up for the finale. I thought the book did that pretty well, though it was packed with flashbacks and lacking in action. At least until the last quarter of the book when things pick up like gangbusters. Like all the Potter books, turning that into a movie is no easy task.

Continue reading Harry Potter & The Half-Hearted Movie

The Movie Taken & Human Trafficking

I landed a review gig this week for the movie Taken. I was more excited about the opportunity for paying work and didn’t care much what movie it was. I hadn’t heard anything about the flick, and the basic premise of a man tracking down his abducted daughter didn’t sound all that appealing (predictable much?).

But as the credits rolled I cried.

This is the third time I remember crying in the movie theater (care to guess what other movies prompted waterworks?). I readily admit that I cry more easily since becoming a parent and I don’t see many movies in the theater, but it’s still a rare reaction.

It wasn’t so much the movie that moved me, but a simple realization. The movie is about an ex-CIA agent who tracks down the men who abducted his daughter in order to sell her in the slave trade. I realized that most victims of human trafficking don’t have Liam Neeson to go all CIA operative on their captors. They have nobody. There is no rescue filled with tears of joy. There is no happy reunion.

That is the reality of human trafficking. And it’s in your backyard: less than two years ago there was a human trafficking bust about a mile from my house.

If you want to do something about it, the International Justice Mission and One Voice to End Slavery are a good places to start.

Reactions to the Movie Waitress: Abuse & Marriage

I watched the movie Waitress this afternoon, primarily because it stars Nathan Fillion (I like him in just about whatever he’s in: Serenity/Firefly, Buffy, the short-lived Drive and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, among others). The movie was good, though it bothered me on two points. The basic story is a pie-making waitress gets pregnant, which ruins her plans to leave her abusive husband and prompts an affair. Despite that downer of a summary, it actually had funny moments (Andy Griffith’s character rocks).

Where are the Good Fictional Marriages?
First, is it possible to see positive marriage relationships portrayed in TV or movies? Maybe it was the trailers before the movie that featured multiple flicks about failing marriages, but this seems like a recurring theme. I realize life isn’t Leave it to Beaver and difficult, failing and failed relationships need to be portrayed; and I realize this isn’t a new theme; and I feel like a fundamentalist fuddy-duddy for complaining about it—but I just wish we could see more movies/TV shows about marital relationships that worked. I know they exist, I just feel like they’re endangered according to the entertainment world.

Continue reading Reactions to the Movie Waitress: Abuse & Marriage