Theatre Thursday 5/4/17 - May the Fourth be with you!

Here are some of my thoughts about the new Disney Star Wars Cinematic Universe. The DSWCU? What makes me entitled to an opinion on this particular subject, you might ask. I have only read a few of the current Star Wars books. But I’ve repeatedly seen Episodes I-VII and Rogue One. I watch the Star Wars Rebels cartoon (Disney XD). I binged Clone Wars (Netflix). I watch Jedi Council (Youtube) and sometimes other Star Wars shows on the interwebs. I don’t read the comics, although eventually I might. I don’t play any of games, and eventually I probably won’t. So I possess more knowledge than most and a lot less than some on these particular topics. That, plus I’m a person, with an opinion. And it is also an opinion that is formulated and structured. Being a person alone entitles the having of an opinion and I think that formatting and structuring of the opinion entitles me to share it. Whether you ultimately agree or disagree is up to you, that’s how opinions work. But, either way, this is my opinion:

People say that someone can still enjoy the Star Wars films without the knowledge of the books. I know that it seems impossible that people might say something that’s not true, but I don’t think that’s true. Ok, I guess one could “enjoy” them, but that doesn’t mean those films couldn’t be better. Anyone can “enjoy” anything subjectively depending on how they choose to frame things. But when a sports team wins a championship in a given sport they don’t retire from competition all together after. They still try to improve for the next season. I think that the current desire to avoid politics theatrically in Star Wars actually confuses the theatrical audience. That’s right, I think Star Wars is missing more politics! What sort of lunatic, heretic, other -tic, would say such a thing? Me. I would. Read Bloodline and Catalyst and then contemplate whether they contain information that could have benefited The Force Awakens and Rogue One. 

While both films accomplished one goal - large box office returns (ok, and the goal to return a general feel of Star Wars, that too) - they fell short in another main goal which is to explain why. Not major cliffhangers, in the case of The Force Awakens particularly, that pave the path to the next film in ticket stubs. I understand the strategy of keeping those things out. Intentional designs to encourage future debate and continued relevance. However, there was other information. Information that I only discovered in the books that I did find extremely useful. I read Bloodline after I watched the Force Awakens and I read Catalyst before I saw Rogue One.

Lets start with Catalyst. Catalyst is a book that explains some of the characters and their histories leading up to Rogue One. Rogue One just starts with Galen Erso and Lyra Erso and Orson Krennic heatedly disagreeing on the Orso’s moisture farm? Galen and Lyra’s daughter, Jyn, is hiding. How would anyone who hasn’t read Catalyst understand the dynamics of those relationships? They wouldn’t. Basically the entire Catalyst book explores that relationship. How Galen and Krennic were old friends. And how Lyra fit into their past. And how Krennic took advantage of Galen’s mental acuity for his own gain. And how Saw Gerrera gained relevance for them. Why is this supposed genius, Galen Erso, on a moisture farm to begin with? Basically everything that gets brushed over in the first third or earlier of the film is explained much more adequately in Catalyst. The political realities of real life and the meaning of family in the context of the Empire and the Rebellion. 

Oh, actually, speaking of family, in Rebels, they are exploring how the Rebel Alliance came to be. That’s an even better example of how these disparate ideas can meld together in real time. The Ghost is at the attack on Scariff, Chopper rolls through the rebel base, and they call for General Syndulla over the loud speaker. All the elements provide a small treat for the avid fan without detracting from the experience of the casual observer.

Now The Force Awakens. Rey’s parentage, who’s Snoke, where’s Luke? All legitimate tools designed to entice conversation. But what is this First Order thing? What is the Resistance? Why do we care beyond film making conventions telling us to? Just feeling how we’re told is a pretty First Order/Empire way to approach things. And now what’s the situation with Han and Leia? And then we briefly see some people on Hosnian Prime. But what is Hosnian Prime? We don’t know that. We’ve never seen that place before. And who are these people that we've never actually met? Why care about them at all? Upon first viewing I didn’t know about much of this. Unfortunately this lack of knowledge simply led me to apathy. Not necessarily an emotion you want to inspire in your audience. Or, what about Lor San Tekka? Or the Church of the Force? That sounds awesome. Who is that guy? What is the Church of the Force? Or what are the Knights of Ren…? There was some cool action, and hitting stuff, and flying around in The Force Awakens but more than nostalgia could have fed my hungry eyes. I read Bloodline and could not believe the deep and rich context provided. It doesn't answer the later questions but it touches on many of the former. I was blown away when reading. If even a modicum of similar service would have been paid to these missing story elements in The Force Awakens I would have had a much better, fuller, clearer, understanding of the entire context. 

These stories incorporate a political context. They just do! It’s a part of their DNA. Any far ranging tale does, and a galaxy is a fairly broad subject. Republics, senates, empire, rebellion, resistance. Maybe even more than something else, these subjects necessitate a political explanation. It’s not possible to adequately portray the events of the movies while avoiding political discourse.

The producers of these films understandably felt burned by the large negative reaction to the prequels. They associated that reaction, in my mind for worse, to the inordinate amount of politics present in those films. But instead of aiming for a middle ground, they aimed at purging politics from the new films. I see that purge as a detriment. In my mind, Catalyst should have been incorporated further into the earlier parts of Rogue One. And in my mind, the story of Bloodline should have comprised most of The Force Awakens. Gun-shy-ness, when it relates to political topics, hurts the films and in turn hurts the fans. The pendulum has swung too far back in the other direction. It’s not currently in danger to diminish my enthusiasm for these stories, because the intensity of my interest, but it is a pendulum.

Theatre Thursday 5/19/16

“You should watch ____. It’s great. You would love it.” I often hear this about a tv show. They are known and popular because people continue watching them and because they are great and because they do love them. But there’s only so much time in the day and there's just too much great stuff to watch. It would require more than an actual full time job’s worth of time dedicated to watching to watch everything “great.” 

But, here’s the thing. See there’s this show, Mr. Robot, and it’s great. You would probably love it. If you have a chance you should watch it. It airs on USA during the summer time. It’s purposely inspired by a particular movie from my teen years (I don’t want to say which because I feel it might reveal too much, and I put your well-being at a premium).

The show deals with a lot of seemingly very relevant issues in the current world like technology and democracy and corporate culture and mental illness and terrorism etc. Basically it’s very relevant. You would love it. It’s great. You should watch it. In preparation for your already guaranteed interest here’s the season two trailer and also an interview with the show’s creator and show runner, Sam Esmail. But because you’re made of time you should probably watch the first season before listening or watching, otherwise you’ll know what movie it resembles (which is somewhat obvious in the watching of the actual show as well so you'll probably figure it out anyway).

(Updated: August 2017 Link to video no longer works but at least now it won't spoil it!)

So, with that important information provided, I will also inform of a hiatus for me from updating this particular blog for awhile. I may do a separate blog for a period of time dedicated to more personal things (we shall see) under this same domain (because I already have this domain). Stay tuned!

Theatre Thursday 5/12/16

Before Brie Larson won the Oscar for Best Actress in “Room,” she still acted. It wasn’t a sudden impulse and then, boom - academy award. That would be pretty cool (about as cool as Daisy Ridley's first studio film being "The Force Awakens" which is true)! 

I don’t know her entire filmography like some IMDb stalking weirdo. But I do know that Brie Larson appeared in the film, “Short Term 12,” before she won the Oscar. 

I saw that film on Netflix a few years ago and remember thinking, ‘ooh, that was pretty good.’ Since she took home her Oscar I’ve revisited the film, specifically observing Larson's performance. Over time my like of the film grew. She may have provided an even better performance in “Short Term 12” than she did in “Room.” It was relatable and touching. Of course neither situation was particularly relatable on a broad scale (at least for me) but, on a human one, both were. Still, I think I enjoyed “Short Term 12” a little more. 

So, if the task to hand out acting awards fell to me, well if it fell to me I’ld probably give some others and everything might be a little different…, but if the task of handing out acting awards fell to me I would exchange Brie Larson's. She'd get it for “Short Term 12” instead of “Room.”

short term 12 movie poster

Theatre Thursday 5/5/16 (Cinco de Mayo!!!)

A parade on TV. (snore) Fireworks! (woohoo) Ha, now you’re off balance. So I’m going to suggest something in between. A book. Hopefully my recommendation moves it more towards fireworks, unless you’re a dog. Dogs don’t generally like fireworks. So if you’re a dog, then not like fireworks, like a treat. But if you’re a dog how can you read? Woof, woof. Bark. Woof. Ok, sorry. Back to the book. See you’re already pining for a book recommendation.

Everyone and anyone, you, should read “Ready Player One.” It's not some brick of esoteric literature. It is page turning fun. While everyone should, you especially should if you like 80’s pop-culture or early video games or future philosophy.

And now, because others felt the same way, a movie is being made from the book. When I read the book I could easily picture it theatrically. And guess who is directing that movie? Ok, I’ll tell you, it’s Steven Spielberg. Yes, Steven MF’n Spielberg (I doubt that’s actually his middle name, I just wanted to emphasize him cause he’s awesome). Steven Spielberg is signed on to direct with a host of interesting actors.

I might be getting overly excited but that’s just because it’s exciting. This has all the makings of an epic classic. In Spielbergian vernacular maybe ET meets Minority Report? With an 80s pop-culture flare and great actors? I’m down. While “Bridge of Spies” played well to 70 and 80 year olds hopefully this aims to capture a younger demographic. I'm ready.

Theatre Thursday 4/28/16

On average I probably go to the movies once every month or two. I see a lot more, I just don’t GO see them. I realize that for some that’s still a lot and for others that’s a paltry amount. As Popeye would declare, “I am what I am.”

So, in accordance with my habits, when a movie peaks my interest I must determine whether to go see it in a theatre or wait until I can see it at home? I already know that I will see it, but “should I stay or should I go,” becomes the question.

Big, epic blockbusters and other grand stories demand they be experienced, not just viewed. But most other films, especially those with a more manageable scale, screen adequately in the confines of the house, not necessitating the significant expenditure that theatre viewing entails.

Every once in awhile a movie walking the line between viewing experiences comes out. It questions whether I am willing to sacrifice the additional cost in exchange for quicker viewing.

This particular case is not an epic summer blockbuster as far as I can tell. It’s a slightly more intimate story than that. No space ships or aliens or giant explosions (I think). The movie is called, “The Nice Guys.” It stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. That might seem an odd pairing, but the trailers along with their Oscar presentation and the marketing attest to their chemistry as well as their capability for humor. 

Additionally, Shane Black directs. Shane Black is responsible for one of my (semi-) recent favorite films, “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.” If the feeling of “The Nice Guys” proves in anyway similar to “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” and the trailers indicate it does, I anticipate enjoying it. How I go about enjoying it is still up for debate. 

A private eye investigates the apparent suicide of a fading porn star in 1970s Los Angeles and uncovers a conspiracy.

A private eye investigates the apparent suicide of a fading porn star in 1970s Los Angeles and uncovers a conspiracy.

Theatre Thursday 4/21/16

We, as a society, are quickly descending down a hole of streaming content. In some ways the eager gorging makes sense. For the most part, past show times and content were dictated to us. Options dramatically increased as cable networks and premium channels grew out of network TV. Compared to now, where entire seasons drop all at once, we still had fairly limited choices. Now, in our brave new world, only self-control stands between us and the hefty stream of material at our finger tips. Turns out that human beings aren’t necessarily that great at self-control.

Binge watching or bingeing integrates a term that already implies excess. We reflexively derisively refer to it, recognizing the negative potential that so much so quickly entails. The problem isn’t necessarily in the provider. It’s amazing and wonderful that so much high quality content can arrive all at once. The problem lies in the viewer’s self-discipline. We determine, for better or worse, our own fate.

For certain shows I really miss the longer opportunity to digest material. I liked reading well-thought out material and hearing well formulated opinions.

I’m basing most of my opinions on experiences with moderate to heavy use of Netflix, very light use of Amazon Prime, and living American life. Based on those experiences I would suggest, surprise surprise to those who know me, adopting a middle ground. “Everything in moderation, even moderation - Oscar Wilde (I think).”

I believe a season should only drop 1/2 at a time. In essence it would just end up createng two shorter seasons in one, but with the opportunity for season long story arcs to span the length. This approach could even potentially start only in the second season once response is established and gauged. In my view this method would allow both the service to advertise more while also allowing the viewer a little more time to digest. I know the era of the full single episode recaps no longer exists but this way, partial season recaps could issue along with an additional opportunity for speculation. Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu could advertise season 2.5 or 3.5 while also allowing additonal time for the audience to really chew on the material. 

I know, for me specifically, I benefit greatly from an extended chance to rehash material. Part of the benefit to everyone involved is making it more memorable - which I would assume platforms would want (?). In fact, there have even been whole movies that escaped my memory partially because they were never reiterated to me. A mediocre movie may contribute to my lack of recollection as well as no reiteration but the risk of non-success should have factored in well before the reiteration stage. In fact none of the potential negatives that already exist with the production of content really change much. The only thing that really changes is that the opportunity for discussion and advertising and marketing increases with some additional paticience from the audience. 

In reality, a person would have a difficult time viewing an entire season of something in one sitting (and while I know they do, I don’t really want to encourage it). It’s called bingeing for a reason and just as I don't see excessive consumption of drugs as a plus I don’t see excessive consumption of media content as a plus either.

I think the way I propose providing content still allows for large intake but the intake is slightly regulated by circumstance. And that regulation allows for the content to play a more prevelant role in life. Additionally, each episode takes on more importance and must therefore be better because it comprises a larger proportion of the segment from which it came. Self-discipline it seems doesn’t have too much of a downside.

Unfortunately, what I suggest will never happen. Something being “bad for people” won’t necessarily discourage anyone. If one platform decides to limit content a competitor will release all at once and consumers, thinking that bigger must be better, more is always preferable to less, won’t take the time to consider the nuances. In the American fashion, they will simmply choose to have more sooner and the marketplace will eliminate the more deliberate option. Of course, in the same way, any one addicted to a drug is going to choose more of that drug over health. It’s the same here.

In the end providers just listen to the viewers. If the viewers signify a desire for a more thoughtful delivery then maybe the providers won’t feel obligated to quickly spew it all out at once.

Theatre Thursday 4/14/16

Theatre Thursday 4/14/16

April 14, 2016 in Theatre Thursday

Sometimes escalated hopes for some product ends up biting you because it increases expectations and, then, when that thing fails to meet those expectations, your disappointment actually increases. The problem is that I enjoy a little speculation and hopefully contemplate the future. So I often can’t help it, or, maybe more specifically, choose not to help speculating thereby increasing expectations with things that draw my interest.

When the film Suicide Squad was announced I didn’t really have much interest or excitement for it. Like Deadpool, I had no prior attachment to the material so nothing to connect me or draw me in. That means that my interest completely relied, and relies, upon the marketing and advertising. Deadpool had one of the best marketing campaigns ever. It went from a film about something I had never heard of and didn’t care about to something I saw in the theatre. I rarely go to the theatre so that marketing campaign succeeded in turning my nothing into something. That’s really what a good marketing campaign should do.

I try to watch some Collider Videos about movies on Youtube when I can. The people who appear on there were swayed to strong support by Deadpool's marketing output. The Collider crew's emphatically positive interpretation translated to me and my own expectations for the film. Eventually it equaled me seeing the film and dragging my wife along.

Now, Suicide Squad’s marketing isn’t to the Deadpool level at all (although nothing ever has been), but it’s still pretty good. The extent is really two very well done trailers that have greatly increased my interest in seeing the movie. It went from something I had never heard of to something I will probably go to the theatre to see. Sound familiar? My expectations continue to grow as the movie’s release approaches. Hopefully my now loftier expectations will not be disappointed. Check out the latest output for Suicide Squad below:

Theatre Thursday 4/7/16

Theatre Thursday 4/7/16

April 7, 2016 in Theatre Thursday

A few weeks ago I went to the dentist. The presumed fairly mundane task escalated in my mind to high philosophical conundrums flowing from comic book based TV. As the technician cleaned my teeth he inquired whether I had watched the most recent season of Daredevil on Netflix. I had not seen most, yet. I had started it but not progressed deeply. Tastefully consuming rather than excessively binging. As I lay back in the chair, sharp metal tools in my mouth, he went on to express his understanding and eventual support for the Punisher’s character. Learning the story of the Punisher helped persuade him. Given the situation, I lacked the ability to express any type of question. Nodding and gargled mumbling amounted to the extent of my response.

There’s a scene in Season 2 of Daredevil between Daredevil and the Punisher where they discuss and defend their own philosophies, with Daredevil chained to a brick chimney. It’s not the typical setting for an ethical debate or any debate at all. I don’t think I’m spoiling too much by the revelation. The gist of it is already in the trailer. But you don’t really need to have Netflix or even watch the show to understand.

The Punisher kills. Often gruesomely. Mercilessly. Coldly. Almost mechanically. Yet as you learn his back story he’s almost sympathetic. He only kills the “deserving.”

Alternatively, Daredevil refuses to kill. While he internally battles the decision he ultimately sees even the tiniest possibility of redemption in almost everyone. His mantra involves letting the legal system mete out the appropriate punishment.

Undeniably, one person choosing to “punish” evil doers, especially someone so good at it, appeals. But, bestowing such ultimate power on any one person also implies almost infallibility. What if they punish with death and are wrong? Whoops? It’s difficult for a corpse to respond to, “my bad.”

So, while in theory a punisher inflicting death on the “bad” sounds great, in reality it necessitates a tremendous level of faith in one person that I certainly don’t possess. To me it also means zero possibility of redemption (unless the redeemable should also suffer death but that’s a different debate). I don’t find absolutes very appealing.

Take another example from popular culture, Darth Vader (or I guess it would be Anikan Skywalker) saved his son, Luke, from death in Return of the Jedi. I realize that it’s both fictional and mostly unexamined in the film, but Darth Vader was one bad dude. And the point of examining fictional scenarios, like Return of the Jedi or Daredevil, is that they aid in examining and settling real life (IRL) points of view.

I’m NOT saying not to punish bad people. What I am saying is stop them, stop their bad actions, and let society determine the appropriate punishment rather than one individual. Also, killing implies zero positive potential in a person (again if you care about redeem-ability at all). Having been a living person I understand how one moment can differ from the next. Sure it’s fine for society to respond to an action, I’m just saying that a response short of death allows more for fallibility, a common and overwhelmingly present characteristic in all human people.

The dental technician even stated how his opinion of the Punisher changed after learning more. But, applying the Punisher’s mentality would not afford him the opportunity to learn more. As so eloquently put by a former POTUS, the decision is up to the “decider.” Here the decision is life or death. Immediately, in the squeeze of a trigger, life or death. No chance or opportunity to learn about the past or the reasoning. The Punisher’s backstory holds no water.

As a human person, one who believes in at least the possibility of personal evolution and change, I think that I share Daredevil’s perspective in the debate.

Theatre Thursday 3/31/16

Theatre Thursday 3/31/16

March 31, 2016 in Theatre Thursday

Piggy backing off of yesterday's mention of Youtube's Collider Videos, every week Collider hosts a show called "Jedi Council." Incase the "Jedi" didn't give it away, the show’s about Star Wars. I don't know why I began watching the show to begin with but, once I did, I was hooked. SciFi heroin.

Until I began watching the show I considered myself a latent Star Wars fan. I had seen all the movies, I read a book once as a kid, but I never really got that into it. I never even owned a toy and toys signify a mental attempt to inhabit the world. 

I liked Star Trek a great deal, I watched all the shows, I read multiple books, and I owned many toys. I even decorated my Christmas tree with ornaments related to the franchise. I was a step short of attending conventions only because I also have a dominating frugal streak that creates a problem with justifying the expense. That and I'm not overly emotive or really a "convention"al person. I enjoy observing as much as I enjoy participating. But that's neither here nor there. The point is, that I was not, am not, the convention type. But, while I could entertain the idea of some sort of Star Trek convention, even long ago, I couldn't even comprehend the idea of ever attending any type of Star Wars one.

My attitude changed though after I began to watch “Jedi Council.” I watched people I could relate to, people I enjoyed hearing, display actual knowledge. They were fans but they were inclusive too. They didn't exhibit any of an "us vs them" mentality. Their affection for the topic infected me and it awoke my own interest. In some super cheesy way, just as the force awoke in the films, the force awoke within me as well.

Watching the show poured gasoline on my spark of interest. Although I still wouldn’t consider myself a diehard fan by any stretch, I would consider myself a legitimate fan now. 

Heck, based on their vehement recommendations I’ve even watched all of a series, "Star Wars Rebels" on Disney XD. I’m such a legit fan I watch a cartoon Disney show AND THEN I watch a recap of that cartoon back on Collider. Nerd alert! But now I also think, “cool guy alert” too because I could see others unabashedly liking what they liked. They were cool with them and I'm cool with me!