Monthly Archives: November 2012

Coming Soon to a Galaxy Far Far Away

So the Star Wars thing happened. Even if you aren’t a nerd you know what I’m talking about, and chances are you know it’s a big deal. How are fans reacting? Well… it’s complicated. It would be pointless to try and survey the full spectrum of of responses, as improbably vast as the mythology it’s attached to, so instead I’m going to try and articulate my own reaction and put it in context with what others have said.

First off, the acquisition itself. Like it or not, merchandising has always been the powerhouse strength of the franchise. The Kenner action figures of your misspent childhood and the ironic Cafepress t-shirt of your misspent adulthood are linked together in supporting art through the forces of capitalism. Merchandising ‘made’ Star Wars, and nobody merchandises like Disney.

What will this terrible  convergence wright though? Thing is, Disney is increasingly a diverse entertainment company looking to appeal to demographics from the cradle to the grave, so fears of “cheapening” or “kid-ifying” Star Wars are largely unfounded (in so much as Star Wars was ever a “mature” franchise in the first place). Moreover, Disney seems to have realized that franchises are most profitable when they appeal equally to general audiences and hardcore fans. There was much hand wringing a few years ago when Disney acquired Marvel in a similar fashion. You know what they gave us though? The Avengers. Let me repeat that for emphasis. The Avengers. The most ambitious fanboy dream project ever, something no one would have even believed feasible a decade ago, let alone the highest grossing film of all time, came equal parts from the House of Ideas and the House of Mouse. Then there’s Wreck-It Ralph. A movie aimed at kids way too young to get all the references, cameos, and shout outs to old video games in it, but still possessed of enough narrative gravity to keep older audiences engaged.

This brings us around to the thing itself though. Episode VII. Which is happening. Just saying the words seems heavy and portentous. What will it contain? Fans will be quick to point out that there is a wealth of material in the “Expanded Universe” dealing with the time period post-Return of the Jedi. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t really hold out hope for these works to be used or even really referenced. For one, the time frame for the ages of the central characters doesn’t really fit with the ages of the actors who played them (presuming the original cast would even return). Moreover, the actual quality of the material in question is honestly kind of variable. Some is great, for certain. Some would make you long for The Phantom Menace though. Finally, at the end of the day they’re just not canon. Not really. Star Wars has always been pretty cavalier with it’s own legitimate catechisms, let alone the glut of what could at best be called apocrypha.

Many fans will be turned off by this. Fans who are projecting the same unfulfillable expectations onto these films they did onto the prequels a decade ago. Relax though, guys. Like it or not retcons are a part of fandom, and believe it or not they aren’t always bad. Anybody here a Star Trek fan? Of course you are. Anybody like the Klingons? Sure you do. What you probably like about the Klingons is their portrayal from the Next Generation onward, with the whole space-viking-samurai thing going on. Did you know they weren’t always written that way though? Although not discussed much onscreen in the original series, the background culture of Klingons as written in magazines and official guides was almost totally different from what fans are today familiar with. That’s okay too, because honestly the “new” background is better. Star Trek is a really good example of our discussion in general. Prior to three years ago Trek was almost an ex-franchise. Being strangled to death by its own bloated continuity without room to grow and lacking in a real sense of currency. The new film was a radical departure and a serious gamble, but one which has effectively resurrected the brand. All these things are today true of Star Wars as well. It desperately needs something new, truly new, and sometimes the only to do that is by clearing away the old.

At this point I’m pretty much over this whole argument of artistic purity. Reboots, remakes, and sequels are not inherently bad. Would you say of a broadway stage revival “Why bother when the original was so good?”

Throughout our history art has been in a perpetual state of reinterpretation and reinvention. Everything old is new again and enriches us all the more for it. To even the staunchest naysayer I ask: aren’t you the least bit excited? In your blackest fan-heart aren’t you the teensiest bit stoked? Did you even think a feeling like that was possible five years ago? we are not so jaded that we don’t ‘want’ this to be good, and honestly I think we are more likely than not to get exactly that.

Until next time, the force will be with you… Always…

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The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide to Chick Flicks – Episode 1

In honor of Election Day +1… I give you something totally apolitical! This has been on the back burner for a while scribbled out in my notebook. I’m just really bad about sitting down and transcribing. Enjoy!

Ignoring for a moment the needlessly gendered language of the term “chick flick,” namely the implication that only humans with a double X chromosome can enjoy a good romance, let’s talk about the genre.

Let’s face it, they’re mostly shit. Written by the out of touch, produced and directed by the clueless, then acted by the plastic and consumed by masses hungry for reaffirmation of safe mores. This is true of most cinema regardless, but for some reason film romance always seems particularly hackneyed. I’ll be upfront, this isn’t some “best of” romance list. There are plenty of good romance movies that still just don’t do it for me (The Notebook may be objectively good, but I also objectively hate it). Rather, this is a convenient reference for those cozy movie nights when you feel like being thoughtful ‘and’ brilliant. These are movies to scratch that romantic itch (not an STD I swear) without needing to tune out or turn off. This is also a far cry from an exhaustive list. If there’s something you think should be on here, let me know! I’ll check it out. Similarly, if you didn’t like one of my movies on the list, let me know and I’ll punch you in the sacral chakra offer a mostly sincere apology. Now, follow me if you would…

Casablanca

The granddaddy of them all. Don’t roll your eyes at me young man! Casablanca is probably the most famous movie you’ve never watched. It’s considered one of the great romantic movies of all time, and it deserves the praise. There’s nothing gushy or saccharine about it. If anything, it’s tragic. A love story about hardened, adult decisions. It’s also got shooting, gangsters, spies, dudes in fezzes, and best of all, Nazis. This movie was made before Pearl Harbor, and it’s pretty much about how we needed to kick Hitler’s ass at a time when that wasn’t a winning proposition. By the time it’s over, you’ll want to kick his dead ass too. This scene alone…

Besides that, it’s also got that rapid fire acerbic dialog that you only seem to find in period pictures. Humphrey Bogart and Claude Raines spar with old fashioned machismo that’s really just a treat to watch. Something else you might notice with keen observation, Casablanca is pretty much the source of every pop culture reference ever. You will hear so many lines that have been quoted over and over without ever knowing where they came from and watch so many scenes that have been parodied, homaged, or referenced in a hundred other works. There is nothing about this movie that is bad, and as a “chick flick” goes you can’t really do better.

The Decoy Bride

At its heart this is the well-worn story of the small town girl and the city boy. What’s different about this one? Well first off it’s in Scotland…

That’s a bigger sell than it sounds like at first. An American actress and her Scottish writer fiance are desperately attempting to marry away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi, escaping to the rural Isle of Hegg. When the paparazzi track them down though the bride to be goes AWOL, leading her desperate entourage to stage a fake wedding to draw off the reporters. A local girl with her own share of relationship baggage is recruited to stand in for missing bride, and things really only spiral downhill from there. The subjects of our star-crossed shenanigans are played by David Tennant (better known most from Doctor Who) and Kelly Macdonald (of recent success as the heroine of Pixar’s Brave). They have great chemistry and it’s just a lot of fun to see two cult favorites hamming it up in an indy jaunt. Really the whole cast are standouts though. Supporting performances by Alice Eve, Federico Castelluccio, and Dylan Moran really make the whole thing stand out as a joyful and uncommonly heartwarming experience. If either you or your significant have a thing for humor from across the pond (and what American doesn’t?), this is a “chick flick” for you.

Saving Face

This is probably the most off beat entry on this list, but it’s not just one of my favorite romantic movies, it’s one of my favorite movies period. Describing the pitch is always difficult, but here’s my best attempt. Michelle Krusiec plays Wilhemina, a young, successful Chinese-American woman constantly fending off the attempts of her widowed mother, portrayed by storied actress Joan Chen, to set her up with men. This is because she is a lesbian, still a complicated subject in the conservative community she comes from. Her efforts at dodging this minefield are complicated by a new love interest Vivian, played by Lynn Chen and who also happens to be her boss’s daughter. Still more wrinkles are introduced when Wil’s mother shows up on her doorstep, having been ostracized by the community for becoming mysteriously pregnant! Her mother refuses to talk about the baby or its father, leaving Wil to deal with her mercurial and increasingly hormonal mother while concealing her relationship with Vivian. As if it even needed to be said, hijinks ensue.

The characters are very much trapped between worlds, and the dialog alternates rapidly between English and subtitled Mandarin. I might be biased in that I can actually understand some of the Chinese being spoken, which makes it that much funnier, but everyone I’ve introduced to it has loved it so I can’t imagine the language barrier is that significant.

I don’t know if it really conforms to all the traditional definitions of a “chick flick,” but it’s definitely a great romantic comedy. It’s hilarious, sweet, and even a little insightful. Order some Asian food this Friday and curl up on the couch for this one.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

We’re going to round this out with a good tear-jerker. There will be tissues needed, so I’d suggest having them handy. Don’t give me that stoic crap. Those saline ducts work just as well as every other homo sapiens’.

The thing that really separates it from the pack is… well it’s in the title. Time travel. Eric Bana’s protagonist is unstuck in time, prone to unpredictable temporal shifts, leading to him effectively living the events of his life out of order. It’s an interesting concept to watch play out, particularly as they take care to make sure that all events pretty much line up. As the title might suggest though, this isn’t really his story. The real pathos comes from Rachel McAdams as his titular soul mate who has to ‘deal’ with his constant entrances into and exits from her life. It’s easy to empathize with their conflicts and struggles, the seemingly fantastical impetus thinly disguising cues familiar to anyone who has ever failed at a relationship. Also, it’s sad. Like, really really sad. In a way though it still comes across as strangely cathartic after the credits have rolled and you’ve written off your stock of kleenex. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, either by the drama or by the fascinating plot devices.

So concludes this our first expedition into the harrowing realm of “cinema you and your Y chromosome aren’t supposed to enjoy.” Hopefully it’s been an informative little detour. Feel free to respond in the comment section with your own suggestions and recommendations.

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