Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unending...Er, Unexpected Journey

Let's get right to it....

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not a good film. It's not a disaster, but it's just not a good film. You may enjoy it for various reasons, and it may satisfy your personal needs and whims. I do not begrudge you that experience, but it is not a good movie.

It's a quintessential example of how to take a simple, direct, compelling and fun story, and bury it under the weight of connection to other stories that it really has precious little to do with. Peter Jackson's film is so busy trying to show you every, single facet of Middle-Earth and it's mythology that the story of J.R.R. Tolkein's homebody hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is drowned out by details and story elements that Tolkein wisely left to Appendices and The Similarion.

I have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I enjoyed the trilogy, but personally found The Hobbit a bit precious and twee. However, I do understand a respect the world that Tolkein created. I understand the depth of lore and history that Mr. Tolkein dreamed up that give his stories a taste of realism. However, what Tolkein understood, and Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro clearly do not, is that history and lore should be there to illuminate a story, rather than being part of it.

If you are a Tolkeinite, and view Jackson's films as fodder for a checklist of elements from Tolkein's books, you'll probably be in heaven. I understand that for a portion of the devoted fanbase, seeing Radagast the brown and his sled pulled by rabbits is VASTLY exciting. Watching Galandriel, Saruman, Elrond and Gandalf discuss the rise of the Necromancer (i.e. Sauron) and impending danger to Middle-Earth is pretty much crack.

It just doesn't belong in this movie.

The harsh truth is that this stuff has absolutely nothing to do with Bilbo's journey with Thorin Oakenshield and the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain to confront Smaug the dragon. Worse than that, the general audience is left feeling like the major players in the story they are supposedly here to enjoy are paper-thin and under-baked. Bilbo is damn near a cypher in this film, with only one speech, almost two-and-a-half hours into the damn thing, to finally give him some motivation. Thorin? Plays out like a less-interesting, shorter clone of Aragorn. The rest of the dwarves are less characters, and more collections of prosthetic make-up (Tolkein's rhyming names help not at all). In Jackson's rabid attempt to make this story epic enough to justify a nine-hour (when all is said and done) running time, that he forgot to make us give a damn about the small story, and the characters, at the center of it.

Oh, yes, yes, Bilbo does manage to steal The One Ring out from under the nose of Gollum (a smashing scene, I'll grant), but none of the characters in The Hobbit understand the import of what has happened. One of the major problems here is that Jackson and crew seem intent on making damn sure the audience understands the macrocosmic importance of what's happening, but the characters, just due to how they react in The Lord of the Rings, can't, EVER, understand it.

The greatest sin, however, is simply this; watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn't any fun. At all. You're either trying to remember who each character is, or wondering why you should care. It feels like a history lecture by a professor who is deeply in love with what he's talking about, but so self-involved about it that he can't just tell the story, and make you involved with it.

Our lead character - I think Peter Jackson forgot.
This first film already felt nine hours long. Even with the 34 endings of The Return of the King, I was never bored. Embarrassed, maybe, but not bored. An Unexpected Journey trumps that with 3 or 4 openings. Including a return by Ian Holm as the older Bilbo, and Elijah Wood as Frodo, that only serves to remind you of much better movies that you realize, as the running time trudges onward, this film will never live up to.

I'm not going to sit here and lie, I'll be seeing the other two films. If nothing else, I want to see the dragon. I've also got little bad to say about the performances, everybody plays what they're asked to by this sub-par adaptation well enough. The film itself is also quite pretty, if overindulgent (who'd EVER guess that) in the New Zealand travelogue imagery. Why one shot, or even two, of the tiny men running in front of mountains, when we could have five? There are things here that are worthwhile.

It's just muddled. Muddled to the point where the story that's supposedly being told here, The Hobbit, gets sidelined and lost. If you want to argue that it's not just telling The Hobbit, but also "untold tales of Middle-Earth," or whatever. Then it's just a TERRIBLE script that doesn't have any idea what it's trying to be, or how to tell that story effectively to an audience who isn't clutching a copy of The Similarion for reference.

All I want is a home-video cut, akin to the much-lauded "Extended Editions" of The Lord of the Rings, but, instead, shorter. A "Just The Hobbit" cut.  My guess is, about 30 minutes of this 2:45 film would survive.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Little Pre-Christmas Snark

My buddy Dave F and I use to make fun of all the movies in the 90's, because every pitch (I'm guilty myself - he made fun of me a lot) started with "Ok, these guys are COPS!..."

Now, every pitch starts with "It's a zombie apocalypse!...."

I miss the 90's.

The Walking Dead is renewed for a 4th season...and I am so apathetic, I can't even describe it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Is It Time to Stop Chasing Perfection?

I even had promo photos - Thanks, Les Kerrigan!
I put out my last CD of music in 2007, when I was 36 years old (Jesus!). That was almost six years ago. I have been working on this next set of tunes since.

Well, not since day one, but you get the picture.

I have, right now, about eight or nine songs in various stages of development. Some have lyrics, some don't. Some still need to be tweaked, arrangement-wise. Some are "finished. " I have two acoustic numbers that, by all rights, should be finished and mixed by now. There is no reason they shouldn't be. I've got a glut of stuff that I should have more developed, but isn't.

It's ridiculous. It really is. I've come up with every excuse in the book, and some are even valid (I have been very busy, acting-wise, in the last few years). Most of them really aren't. How many times have I bitched about the drum machine, and wished for a different option?

Well, I went and looked at some electronic kits, and just came to the conclusion that I don't have the room to deal with a full kit of any stripe. Plus, how long was it going to take me to get up to speed on drumming? Right now Dave F. is just laughing at me, and saying "forever."

So, I feel stuck with "Dr. Rythum," for the time being. Is that really such an impediment? Is it REALLY?! No. Frankly, I should just learn how to program the Goddamn thing. If I can mix in a few less-rote drum bits with the standard patters (which have been my lifebood), maybe I can get more of the feel I want. I don't need Moon or Bonham, but...Jesus, the thing doesn't even have a pre-set for riding the hi-hat.

I think I can program that.

Still, it's all bullshit, right? I need to move forward. I cannot sit on my thumbs and wait for everything to be perfect.

Because it's never gonna be.

I have pretty decent equipment, and I can good quality recordings. Perfect, however? Never happen. I need to embrace that. I need to just play from the gut, get the shit recorded, and let people hear it. They may hate it, a lot of people hated the last couple of batches of stuff.

Do it. Finish it.

A Good Day For....

Jesus, what a day.

Rehearsal last night. Frustrating. I am feeling a bit at sea, and unable to get a grip on what the show needs from my character. Or, seemingly, execute all.

Tried playing some guitar last night when I got home, realized I'm in a position where it's probably best to burn the ships, again. Erase everything and start from scratch. I need to get focused and work out each of these tracks...again. I think this is good stuff, I just need to figure it out.

So, square one.

In that end, put the headphones on to try to find proper fuzztone for what I'm thinking. Utter disaster. Damn amp.

Managed to lock CByrd out, and couldn't hear her calling, due to the headphones.

Went to bed. Couldn't sleep last night, as my hacking/cough/plague decided to return and wake me up.

Then got up to hot water.

Did not complete my full Wednesday morning workout.

Gray day...snow coming.


A Good Day for the Blues
by Storyville

Sometimes you fly so high
You can't find a place to land
Got money in the bank
A drink in your hand
When the love gets low
Someone's gonna lose

Cause our love is driftin,
and it's a good day for the blues

When you shuffle your cards
You always have a winning hand
When luck is on the run
You never have to take a stand
When the chips get low
You know you're gonna have to choose

Cause our love is driftin,
and it's a good day for the blues

It's a good day, for Bobby Blue Bland
For the thrill isn't gone, Magic Sam
Whatever it takes, I do what I can do
To bridge this river that flows from me to you

Our love is driftin,
and it's a good day for the blues
Whatever it takes, I do what I can do
To bridge this river that flows from me to you

Our love is driftin,
and it's a good day for the blues

Our love is driftin,
and it's a good day for the blues

Our love is driftin,
and it's a good day for the blues

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oh, Instagram

Note: I do not use Instagram. I have not read their new terms of service, nor do I care to.

So, Instagram can sell your pictures. Pictures that they are hosting on their servers for you, for free. Who've allowed you to do this for quite a while, and, y'know, have a right to generate some income for the service they are absolutely, without question, providing (it's a stupid service, but everybody thought it was "so cool," so kudos, Instagram). And everyone's SOOOOOO shocked.

First off. You put your crappy pictures of you and your friends showing each other your butt cracks while doing shots of Everclear on the top of the water tower on Instagram. Because you just needed all of your friends to know what a jackass you are. Those one hundred and fifty pictures of your cat that you felt you wanted to makes sure your nephew saw? Yep. You posted them.

You also posted these things to pretty much the entire internet. There is no way around that. It's time to get real cozy with the idea that one you digitize your precious things...nobody gives a shit if it's "yours:" anymore. At that point, "private" is a joke. Nobody cares if you might, possibly, want to make a little money off it, or if you might object to someone else taking your intellectual property and make a tidy profit off it.

Does that bother you? Hmmm- sounds familiar.

Sucks when the shoe's on the other foot, huh? Maybe the folks that got your picture from Instagram might pay you for another one, huh? Maybe?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Yes, I Am Sad...

...and I have nothing but love and prayers for those children, and their families. Nothing in the world I can say will make it better, or changed what happened.

That said, something else needs to be said:

I say this not to be callous, although I'm sure the accusation will come. Bad things happen. Bad things have always happened, and will always happen. We just happen to live in a world where bad things get splattered on our computer and TV screens in 10 seconds, rather than hours later. It gives us a false sense of personal connection, and personal stakes, in something that really isn't about us, at all.

I am not "outraged." I am saddened. I am not taking this horrible act as a personal affront. It's simply because it really has nothing to do with me. It has to do with those people, those children, those parents, and if I were to try to make it about my feelings, or my issues, would be, frankly, disgusting.

This is a moment when I know how utterly and completely stupid social media is. How useless it really is at "communication." How happy some people are to jump up on their soapboxes and pontificate in the most useless and self-aggrandizing ways. Especially when it's a Facebook post, for example, almost literally defines the idea of preaching to the choir.

The blood is in the water, and the sharks can smell it, they're gonna keep tearing at the body until it's ripped to shreds, and pat themselves on the back for it. Take a tragic moment and make it about them. They can't even give it a day to let it just be about the victims.

To all the parents I know who tweeted or posted that they were going to hug their kids extra hard tonight. Bless you, and know that you focused on what was important in a moment like this. You are the best of us. I hope the whole world would read your posts, and skip over the lectures, speeches and sermons.

Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day

I'm really into Led Zeppelin right now.

Like, REALLY into Led Zeppelin.

Maybe Jimmy Page cast a spell on me.

I've written about Zeppelin before. How I feel like they represent the best and the worst of 70's rock. I feel like much of their recorded live work is a little too indulgent for it's own good, while their studio work just defines the idea of a great hard rock band. I recently picked up the Led Zeppelin DVD, and it's a great set, with lots of great live footage, but it still has these moments when I find myself thinking "get back to the song." Yeah, I like a good long-form jam from time to time, and I can dig a focused drum solo, but I dunno.

When Led Zeppelin reunited (replacing fallen drummer John Bonham with his son, Jason) in 2007 to play one night at the O2 Arena in London, at a tribute concert for Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, twenty million people submitted for the lottery to get eighteen thousand tickets. Rumors abounded that this gig might be the first step to a full-out reunion tour of the world, but Zep fans sensed (rightly, as it turned out) that this might be it. The last chance to catch Led Zeppelin live, or even an only chance.

The word that came from London after that evening, from the lucky few that witnessed it, was that Zeppelin had managed the impossible. Especially after lackluster reunion appearances at Live Aid (with Phil Collins not quite making the grade on drums) and the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Jason Bonham had brought the magic back to the stage for a powerful two hour show.

Well, if this Celebration Day set is an accurate depiction of what happened that night, and nobody's saying it isn't, they did. I'm not going to say they were as good as they were in their heyday. I don't honestly know, this is the only full, beginning to end, Led Zeppelin show I've seen on video, and I've certainly never seen them in person.

What Celebration Day represents is a rock-solid performance that any band, especially one that hadn't played together for nineteen years, ought to be proud of. Yeah, there's down-tuning to accommodate Plant's voice...but Robert Plant was 59 years old when this show was performed. No, he can't hit those notes anymore, but neither can the majority of men in their 20's. He sounds great, honestly. I feel like his voice gets stronger during the show. The opening number, "Good Times Bad Times," worried me a bit, just because Jason Bonham was laying in a LOT of backing vocals (much more obviously than the recorded version). By the time they got to "Kashmir," near the end of the set, Plant was on fire.

Page is clearly VERY happy throughout the show, which makes sense, because I think he wanted this for a very long time. I'm sure he wanted more of it, too, but it wasn't to be (I'll get to that). His playing is solid, much better than the footage of the "heroin years" I've seen. That said...Page is a little sloppy. Not a criticism, at all, that's part of who Jimmy Page is, and how he plays the guitar. He's not Steve Vai, and never will be. He plays with feel, and the feeling you get is absolute joy to be on stage with Zeppelin again.

John Paul Jones, what can you say? "The quiet one." Here's were you really find the precision. I've heard reviews that comment that he looks "nervous." Yeah, guys, he always looked that way. Concentration, that's what I see. His playing is really immaculate, "Trampled Under Foot" is an absolute highlight, and undeniably driven by Jonesy. The guy is the secret weapon of the band's whole sound.

Young Mr. Bonham (a laugh in itself, the guy's 5 years older than me) acquits himself very well. I have read that he was very embarrassed by his performance at the Atlantic 40th Anniversary show, and had something to prove. He proved it, as far as I'm concerned.

It's just, hands down, a great two hours of rock on an epic scale. Maybe you don't like that. I do, so I'm kind of in heaven with it. There's nothing embarrassing about this performance, or the package

Really, my only question is; why did it take them five years to release it?

I have the four-disk CD/CD/Blu-Ray/DVD set. The audio version is on the two CDs. The concert film is on the Blu-Ray, and the special features are on the DVD. I have to admit, I felt the special features a bit lackluster. Basically it's a vintage news report (used in the intro of the concert), and then a collection of BBC reports about the concert. In addition we get rehearsal footage, which is essentially the whole show played on a soundstage somewhere for management and roadies, I'd guess. It's interesting, if not revelatory, in making clear how hard these guys worked to make sure this would not be another misfire.

*I will note that I stopped watching the rehearsal footage after a couple of songs, and have not revisited it yet. Maybe something cool and very different happens, but I would guess no.

As to criticisms? There are some songs I would've liked to hear, say, "Immigrant Song," but apparently Plant put the kibosh on anything that was too "metal." The rumor was that he didn't even want to play "Stairway to Heaven," but was talked into it. I think part of the real joy here is knowing that Plant was so reticent, and seeing how great he is. How engaged he is in the performance, and how engaging he is. I know he's past his prime, but he is a magnetic frontman.

As to the aftermath. I think that Plant was right to walk away from any further touring/recording. I know it was difficult for the other three, who apparently auditioned the likes of Myles Kennedy and Steven Tyler to step in. Still, I think Plant knew they had achieved something that night in the O2, and that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make it happen over and over again. That it was better to go out in triumph than to risk a slide into mediocrity, or worse. Plus, I just don't think his heart's in this kind of music anymore, what with his more folk-and-roots influenced recent work. God bless the man for sticking to his convictions and not taking the cash for something he, deep down, would've had to fake.

Honestly, the show happened, and I have this record of it, and that's enough.


Favorite Tracks:
  • For Your Life
  • Nobody's Fault But Mine
  • Kashmir
  • Whole Lotta' Love

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Thing About Star Trek

I am a HUGE Star Trek fan. I have loved it for years, from rushing home from school every afternoon to catch reruns at 4:00 PM from Channel 2 in Denver, to the whoops of excitement when The Next Generation premiered. I drifted away during the runs of Voyager and Enterprise, as far as appointment viewing, but I never lost interest. The movies were big events growing up. My (few) High School friends and I would make pilgrimages to the multiplex to see if Spock was really coming back to life, or how the crew was going to atone for their mutiny.

Star Wars was defining, but Star Trek was pervasive. There was so much of it, and it seemed able to embrace everything. Comedy episodes, high drama, full-out action spectacle. I guess I never expected it to be any one thing, because it seemed able to be anything. It seemed almost the ultimate example of the Vulcan IDIC, "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations." The fact that, by some luck, the casts of the different versions have been more impressive than not helps, of course. How many franchises can sport top notch work from William Shatner AND Patrick Stewart?

I guess it was in 2007 sometime when I first heard that J.J. Abrams was going to make a new Trek film. It didn't take long for the word to get out that this would be a "reboot" of the franchise, with new actors in the iconic roles from the Original Series. It seemed so strange...James T. Kirk played by someone other than Shatner? A Spock who wasn't Leonard Nimoy? A difficult task at best, and impossible at worse.

When the film came out in 2009, after a delay, no less (always a bad sign), I was excited, but also somewhat worried. How could these actors, no matter how good they were, manage to replicate the chemistry of the original cast? Even if history had proven that group of actors to be just as fallible, and susceptible to bickering and jealousy, as any other group of actors working together.

When I saw it...I loved it.

Yes, it was slicker and faster. The cast was younger, although not by much, Pine was only 6 years younger than Shatner was when he fist played Kirk, and Quinto only 3 years younger than Nimoy. Maybe you could even say "prettier," which has become some sort of problem (like the original cast wasn't attractive). Yet, they began to interact, and I saw the characters, and the relationships I was familiar with. To a fault, the new cast were able to take the elements of the original performances, make them their own, and re-emerge with something I could truly enjoy.

I also loved that, by using time-travel, Abrams, and his writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, found a way to honor EVERYTHING that had come before, while at the same time cutting themselves free of all continuity. By setting their film, their Star Trek franchise, in an explicitly alternate timeline they could change anything without "destroying" the continuity that is, frankly, probably too damn important to many fans. Even their most vocal critics would have to admit it's a pretty damn elegant screenwriting solution to a thorny issue.(Compare it to the ham-handed Prometheus script, for example, trying to build a direct connection to Alien, but also trying to distance itself so as not to impede creative freedom at the same time. What a mess.)

Not everyone felt that way. Claiming that Abrams "dumbed down" Trek. Was not respectful to Gene Roddenberry's original vision. Was working to turn Trek into a wiz-bang Star Wars clone. The endless griping about lens flares. That one seemed so silly. Never in my life have I heard so many fanboys focus on something so meaningless in the grand scheme. Griping about an off-the-cuff comment like "not your father's Star Trek" (which I don't think was even in an official document), as being disrespectful and insulting.

All of this has been re-awoken recently as trailers for the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness (not my favorite title - too puny) has hit screens, and the endless arguments over what villain Benedict Cumberbatch is playing. Honestly, I hope he's not Khan. I'd be OK if he's Gary Mitchell. I'm intrigued as hell if he's Robert April. Ultimately, however, I just want another go-around with these actors in these roles, in a compelling story. I've actually come to the point where I don't care. I'm content to wait for the film to open

Oh, I'll still read the speculation and reports, of course, but if we don't get any more solid info...I'm OK with that.

From where I'm sitting, Abrams' Star Trek was more faithful to the original series than any of the following Star Trek television efforts. The movies fared better, with one major exception, but I'll get to that. I think that the reason for that can be traced back to "The Great Bird" himself, Gene Roddenberry. I think Gene came up with a tremendous idea, and with a bunch of other people, notably producer Gene L. Coon, he crafted a sci-fi adventure series that managed to touch on deeper issues in a allegorical way. The emphasis however, was always on the adventure. You knew, week-in, week-out, Kirk was going to end up punching somebody, and usually bedding a leggy blonde guest star.

The idea was to create something exciting, and stick in some depth at the edges and in the subtext. Yes, yes, the original pilot, "The Cage," with Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, was much more "cerebral" (but still ended with Pike threatening to break an alien's neck with his bare hands), and the network requested a "do-over" with more action. Giving us "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and Captain James T. Kirk.

Was the show about a better future society? A society with no war, no hunger and no racism? Of course it was. Abrams' version still is. A near-utopian society that turns to the stars for challenge since they've overcome all their internal societal problems? Yep. So is Abrams version.

However, something happened over the years between when the original series went off the air in 69, and when Roddenberry guided Star Trek: The Motion Picture to cinemas. This utopian vision of society became more and more of a selling point for Trekkers, and Roddenberry himself. When that vaguely snide local TV news reporter showed up and Star*Con '86 to do the inevitable interview with the overweight guy in the ill-fitting Kirk uniform, fandom (and Roddenberry) didn't want to say that they like the show because Jim Kirk kicks ass and bags all the chicks, or because Spock's cool logic is fairly erotic.

That makes us sound like the maturity-challenged mouth-breathers that reporter is expecting to see. No, it's a positive vision of the future, and a blueprint for a working future society of universal equality, respect and peace. A show that is about allegory to expose the ills of society that we grapple with now. Ills our heroes are beyond, but can help others struggle through.

Now, I am not, in any way, saying that those messages aren't there. They most certainly are, and that's what makes the show more than what, say, Lost in Space was (great show, to be sure, but it's goals were much more simplistic). That said, if we're all honest, that's not why we started tuning in. It's not why we love the characters.

The most glaring example of what I'm talking about is Star Trek: The Motion Picture, itself. The film has it's charms, and a few nice character beats. However, it's abundantly clear that, rather than the two-fisted sci-fi adventure the series was, Roddenberry was trying to reach for 2001: A Space Odyssey territory. I remember seeing the film for the first time, and being absolutely thrilled by the introduction of the Enterprise, herself. The rest of the film sort of just happened. Wonderful concepts and ideas, but I was not very engaged by the story itself.

Let me ask you, should the introduction of the Enterprise be the MOST exciting and emotional moment in a Star Trek film? A highlight of the film, especially after all that time? Of course. THE highlight? No.

Roddenberry, from that film forward, had lost the plot on his creation. One need only look to his (largely ignored) memos to filmmakers regarding the sequels. Claiming that Starfleet wasn't a military organization? Are you kidding? I am not claiming that Gene didn't continue to have good ideas, but one need only look to The Next Generation to see that his thoughts on what Star Trek was had swung hard away from the "boy's own adventure" trappings of the original series.

Is that bad? not inherently. Next Generation is terrific in large chunks, and has it's weak, even abysmal, episodes, like any series. It's also, in many ways "my" Star Trek. The one I was there for at the beginning, and that means a lot to me. It's special to me, but anybody can see that something changed, dramatically, between Roddenberry creating the original series, and creating The Next Generation.

It all comes back to the idea of this future world Gene imagined, and he, along with others, executed. I believe that because of primary importance to Gene, and it does fundamentally change what those later series are. The original series production team seemed intent that the crew would be us, and immediately identifiable as modern humanity, living in a world that encouraged and allowed our best natures to thrive. The crew of The Next Generation lose that, to lesser or greater extent, by becoming the "enlightened" version of humanity. Instead of showing us how the best of humanity would react in dramatic situations, with Kirk reacting as a modern man with the best intentions (often, admittedly, making questionable choices in the process), quite often Picard would be framed as a teacher, lecturing some less-evolved species in "how we used to be."

There was never any discernible friction among the crew of the Enterprise-D. This change was pretty obvious, so much so that every following Trek Series, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, tried varying ways to bring conflict back into the main cast relationships.The creatives understood that part of what made the original series so beloved was that the cast were identifiably "modern man," rather than some ultra-enlightened future humanity. Heck, the attempt was made on Next Generation, itself, ejecting Gates McFadden's Dr. Crusher for one season, and bringing in Diana Muldaur's McCoy-clone (yeah, I said it)  Dr. Pulaski.

The entire thrust of Next Generation pushed toward non-violent, diplomatic and intellectual problem solving, rather than the tried and true Kirk solution of blowing something up. That's neither good, no bad, as I've said, I have a love of Picard and crew, but it did change something at the core of what Trek was. I referred to Next Generation as "my soap opera," whereas the original series was a full-out action-adventure show.

This is where I can't go with the critics who claim Abrams and his team "dumbed-down" Star Trek. In hindsight, I can critique the film for many things, but that's not one of them. There was a "big idea" being explored, much as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was about "how we face death/age?" Abrams film was about "how do we embrace life/destiny/adulthood?" The "big idea" doesn't have to be racism, or war-mongering, or overpopulation, or any number of other social ills. It can be a "big idea" about the nature of being human. I'll freely admit that the Joseph Campbell/hero myth angle isn't terribly original, in fact it isn't at all.

One of my friends has put forth that Trek always works better as a TV show than movies. I can't argue with that. There's always more room to play with more philosophical ideas when you have 23-to-25 hours of episodes to play with, whereas a 2-hour movie, especially when the expectation is for an action-adventure, needs to be pretty propulsive.

Yes, it doesn't make a lot of sense for the Enterprise to have been built on the ground. Yes, "red matter" is ludicrous (but so is the Genesis device, or any number of other technologies the franchise has presented, honestly). I'm no fan of the bridge of the Enterprise looking like something bought at the Apple Store. Like pretty much any film, you can accept the elements it presents, or not.

But the movie is fun to watch, and identifiable as Star Trek. Identifiable as Star Trek was originally, an action-adventure with characters who feel immediate and we can relate to, and embracing a positive vision of the future of humanity among the stars. I think Drew McWeeny puts it best on page two of this report on visiting the production offices of Star Trek Into Darkness, talking about his son's immediate embracing of Trek after watching Abrams' original film:
 And when he and I talk about the Mars rover or go to the Planetarium or play with the star maps app on my phone sitting outside in our front yard, the enthusiasm he has for the idea of space and what it could contain is fueled in no small part by his belief in "Star Trek."  He sees a time in our future where we have gotten our shit together and we have shaken loose of the planet in a very real way.  We're not there yet, and we'll never get there if we don't re-inspire kids to want to go.  We need a next generation of astronauts, and if you talk to people who really did work in or around the space program, there are a whooooole lot of "Star Trek" fans in there.  It helps, but only if that's part of the equation.  I know that my first fascination with the show came from that notion of exploring the larger universe and meeting new races every week. Anything that encourages that sort of dreaming about exploration and expansion is okay by me.
That, right there is the best of what Star Trek can do, and has done, from the beginning, and that is unchanged. Honestly, I think a good chunk of these reactions are based on fear and nostalgia. The idea that Shatner IS Kirk, that the original Enterprise should always look like what Bob Justman designed in the 60's, inside and out. Much like many Star Wars fans won't accept that, to kids today, it's more about Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan than Harrison Ford's Han Solo, Trek fans need to accept that things change. To be happy that the franchise is still identifiable, and, in my humble opinion, more energized, fun, and unpredictable than it has been in a long time.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ranking Spielberg

I ran across this article on Vulture, and I thought it was asinine. Just a ridiculous ranking. How could you put Close Encounters of the Third Kind so low? How could The Lost World not be in last place?!?!?

So I made my own list.

I should note, the top three are virtually a tie for me (as are many of these films). That said, I do feel like Close Encounters is his best film. I also am ranking relatively recent films on gut instinct. It's hard to tell how I'll feel about Lincoln in five years, but right now I feel like it's a strong addition to the filmography.

It also struck me that I really only consider 3 of his films "poor," the three above those (Always, The Terminal and Sugarland Express) fall into the "diverting but leave no major impression" category. Above those six are all films I like, and in many cases outright love. Be it the deeply flawed, but interesting, experiment of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, or the pure energy of War of the Worlds. All are worth watching, but 22 and above have at least touches of genius.

1 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
2 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
3 Jaws (1975)
4 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
5 Schindler’s List (1993)
6 Munich (2005)
7 Saving Private Ryan (1998)
8 Jurassic Park (1993)
9 Empire of the Sun (1987)
10 Minority Report (2002)
11 Catch Me If You Can (2002)
12 Lincoln (2012)
13 Duel (1971)
14 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
15 The Color Purple (1985)
16 1941 (1979)
17 War Horse (2011)
18 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
19 The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
20 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
21 War of the Worlds (2005)
22 A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
23 Always (1989)
24 The Terminal (2004)
25 The Sugarland Express (1974)
26 Hook (1991)
27 Amistad (1997)
28 The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Names I'm Sick of Hearing in Fanboy Conversation

Fans are just woefully predictable.

I mean WOEFULLY predictable. Every decade, or so, some entertainer or creator rises in the esteem of fanboy circles, and is held up as CAN DO NO WRONG." Then, without fail,, within 5 or 6 years, they make a wrong move, and they become AN UTTER HACK.

Take Peter Jackson. Riding so high after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then, after King Kong and The Lovely Bones, it became clear that he was just as human as anyone else. Even moreso in the realm of sentimentality and falling overly in love with his work. You can see it begin with the unending denouement of The Return of the King, and spillover into uncontrollable with his sloppy version of King Kong. A film that didn't need to be three hours long in the first place, and certainly didn't need an extended version (I, personally, find it hilarious that Universal have never bothered to release this version on Blu-Ray).

Jackson stood revealed as a filmmaker who just didn't know when to quit. Who didn't seem to understand, at all, the concept of brevity. That image was justified, and compounded, when the announcement that his upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit, originally planned as two films, would be three. The first is two hours and forty-five minutes long.

Still, The Hobbit is a slight book. A friend recently pointed out you can read the entire book in six hours, and Jackson is likely producing a nine hour adaptation. Why? Money is an obvious answer. I have no doubt that some of this decision lies with the studio, who smell three big moneymakers instead of two. Still, it's Jackson returning to the world of J.R.R. Tolkein, he should be able to wield some clout, if he felt this wasn't the best idea.

It's not like I'm finding many people to defend him on this. No one I speak to seems to think The Hobbit should be three films, some big fans of the book pointing out that the Rankin-Bass animated version of the tale from 1977 very nicely condensed the story to less than an hour and a half. I also feel like the excitement about the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was greater a year ago than now, with the release a little more than a month away. It was like the more people saw, the less exciting it seemed.

Now, of course I'm going to see it. I expect to enjoy it. I enjoyed all of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I will say right now, the only film of that series that is TRULY brilliant, for it's entirety, is The Fellowship of the Ring. The others have moments (the scenes of Theoden on the battlefield in Return of the King offset the pain in my ass as, but don't sustain the pacing or storytelling the way the first film did.

There was a time, in 1999, when George Lucas could do not wrong. When it was inconceivable that The Phantom Menace might not be the greatest movie of all time. That was a given, and no one doubted it.

After the film came out....

Now, I'm not so harsh on Episode I, or any of the prequels. I like them, but I get that many don't. I also have a very clear view on why people revile it so much; because they came to believe that a specific person, Lucas, was infallible. Then they felt "betrayed" because it turns out he was just human, like the rest of us. The fact that many felt it was a "betrayal," mind you, says more about fanboy mentality than the actual film.

Ditto for Jackson. King Kong is reviled in certain quarters, and worse, forgotten in others. We'll see how The Hobbit ultimately fairs. I wonder if Jackson isn't going to face his own "prequel moment" in the next few months. The elements in play are awfully, awfully similar.

Which is just prelude to my we're in the Joss Whedon era. He was beloved for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (neither of which I can stand), rose into the realm of the "wronged genius" for the Firefly/Serenity (which I love with the burning passion of a thousand suns) misadventure, then proved himself a mainstream crowdpleaser with Marvel's The Avengers. Well and good, and great for a writer and creator I do admire.

However, we've reached the "overblown genius" period here. Marvel's The Avengers isn't "the greatest superhero movie ever made," I'm sorry, but it's not. "The greatest" of something, in my book, will transcend the genre in some way. I LOVE The Avengers, I saw it four times in theatres, bought the Blu-Ray on the first day, and I enjoy it every time I watch it.

Christopher Nolan's Bat-films, as an example, decimate it as cinema. The Avengers, hell all the Marvel films, are artfully constructed commerce. Nolan's Batman trilogy is highly commercial art. Honestly, Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger comes closer to transcending the genre than The Avengers. You'd also have to put Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie in that basket.

I say again...that doesn't mean The Avengers is bad, nor am I trying to ramp up some sort of "Nolan is better than Whedon" thing. They are two very different kinds of films, with very different goals. I am not suggesting that The Avengers is a failure, at all, just that it's not the end-all, be-all that some would have you believe. This is also not Whedon's problem. He's doing the job Marvel paid him for, crafting exceptional entertainment, and having a great time doing it. I think he's great, but he's also not the god of creatives that some have positioned him as. He's not the guy that can do anything, and will make anything perfect by being involved with it.

No. One. Is.

Let me say that again: No. One. Is.

So, my teeth grind every, single time, I hear this "they need to bring in Whedon to write/direct _____" thing. The latest, of course, being the final trilogy of the Star Wars saga, announced with Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm. As if Joss sprinkled magic dust out of his anus that, if we all just BELIEVE enough, will make everything brilliant.

It's right up there with this insane idea that Firefly/Serenity will come back, no matter how much the principals have told us it's not, somehow. (Let's be clear, "I'd love to do it again," doesn't mean, "I'd upend all my other professional commitments to do it again," or "I am working actively to try to get money for it.") If it did come back, I'd definitely watch it, probably enjoy it, but you just know a (undoubtedly loudmouthed) portion of the audience would be pissed that it "ruined" what came before. Some people already feel that way about the Serenity film.

So, frankly, what makes my teeth grind in relation to this deification of Mr. Whedon. Because I know that. within a decade, the worm will turn, he'll make something that people won't like, or feel let down by, and then I'll be inundated by overly-emphatic fanboys bitching about how he "raped their childhood," or something equally offensive and stupid. My money for the moment it happens would probably be on the Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog sequel, if it ever actually gets made. If it doesn't, I'll consider Joss more of a genius for dodging the bullet.

I can hear the Whedonites right now, "Joss would NEVER let that happen." Right. Keep telling yourself that, binky. Everybody slips, and everybody, eventually, loses their mainline to the zeitgeist. Your insistence on his infallibility is what's going to make it happen.

Ultimately, what bothers me the most is that not one of these guys deserves this. Not Whedon, not Jackson, and not Lucas. Each of them have given us, literally, hours of  entertainment and imagination. They've fed our souls and minds. When they fall so hard, it's almost never because what they've created is as horrible as the the insane outrage, outrage over the fact that they "let you down" by not living up to your over-inflated expectations of them, that is heaped upon them.

The simple answer is to stop acting like one guy is the panacea that is going to make all of your fanboy dreams come true. Start being willing to experience new things and new ideas, rather than just wanting more and more of the same things that made you giddy as a ten year old. We resent anything that changes, because we're so damn scared to do it ourselves. We spend so much time trying to retard our own growth, and stay children, we start to resent those who actually do change over the years. For the better? For the worse? Not for me to judge, except with my ticket dollars, and none of us have stopped ponying those up.

The other name....Nathan Fillion. Love him, think he's a wonderful actor and a charming presence. Sick to death of hearing fanboys trumpeting his name for every, single character that might, ever be made into a film. Sure, I'd like to see him get out of the increasingly woeful Castle, watching the producers flog his fanbase with cheap "easter eggs," and silly references to better shows. That said, he doesn't "have" to play Ant-Man, Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Green Lantern, Nathan Drake, or any of the other myriad claims I've seen made in the fan press. I LOVE the guy's work, if he did end up playing one of those characters, it'd be cool, but putting it on the internet isn't going to make it happen. It's time to stop acting like it will.

Now, if Whedon wanted to adapt the Brian Daley Han Solo books, with Fillion....Hmmmm.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Sword - Apocryphon

The Sword is a fast climber, for me. Their last album, 2010's Warp Riders, was my favorite album of  that year. I love that album, I think it is damn near perfect. It took the doomy-Black Sabbath style metal of their first two albums, and injected some Thin Lizzy style classic rock. I absolutely love that album.

The Texas four piece is back two years later with Apocryphon. I was a little sad that the band had moved back more toward the Sabbath-type sound. That said, the songwriting on this record is tremendous. The band has grown into a riff machine. There is cool stuff all over this album, and while there may be no moment of pure, glorious rock craftsmanship like "Night City" on Warp Riders, the experience is sonically exhilarating.

This is, simply put, a solid selection of songs. There is no filler here, and it's nice to see J.D. Cronise continuing to develop as a vocalist. The lyrics are still the sci-fi/fantasy hokum that we love this band for, but Cronise has really grown from the early records, where his vocal delivery was adequate, but clearly the weakest think in their arsenal. He, quite honestly, may be turning into one of my absolutely favorite current vocalists.

The musicianship is tight and powerful, Cronise and Kyle Shutt have really perfected their dual-guitar style, and I'm absolutely in love with how Bryan Richie plays bass. Jimmy Vela is the newest member, on drums, and, while I miss the way original drummer Trivett Wingo pounded the skins, Vela absolutely fits the formula the band has perfected.

What's nice about the songwriting here, as opposed to the earlier albums, Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth, and I have to guess this is because of the successful jaunt into more of a classic hard rock sound on Warp Riders, is that the band seems very comfortable to lay back from the songs. The first two albums were rather consistently heavy, there might be slower, lyrical passages as an intro, but then when the band got going, they were GOING. There seems lees need for that here, they've proved they can be heavy, and they've proved they can be melodic, now they're clearly finding (and quite successfully) ways to let those things coexist.

The title track, in particular, is just a masterpiece. Starting with what almost sounds like Atari video game sound effects, and then ripping out with some of my favorite lyrics in a long time.

Darkness and light entwine
Everything is all the time
All around you points align
Everything is all the time

It's really nice to see a hard rock/metal band that actually seems to be trying to evolve, to add elements to their music, without losing the qualities that made them cool in the first place. Too often, it seems like bands go completely off the rails, or they seem perpetually stuck making the same record over and over again. IF their first four albums are a good indicator, The Sword will not have this problem.

Favorite Tracks:
Cloak of Feathers
Dying Earth
Hawks & Serpents

As an additional note: There is a deluxe version of the album available that includes four live versions of songs off previous albums, as well as a really fun cover of ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses." Totally worth it, in my opinion.

More on The Sword later, as I'll be seeing them at The Double Door tomorrow night.

The Delicate Balance of Dealing With Reviews

I have a very schizophrenic relationship with reviews.

I don't really hang much on them, and, as I've said, I am much more interested in the opinions of general audience members than anything else. I do believe there is often a disconnect between many critical responses, and the layman's. Not always, to be sure, but I do think that if people are flocking to see a show (or a movie, or read a book, or whatever) that is widely panned, the problem isn't necessarily the public's taste, or lack thereof.

But I do read reviews. I puzzle over them, consider any arguments I feel are valid, and dismiss any I find to be unfair or just obtuse. Sometimes, I am hurt by them, sometimes emboldened, and sometimes just downright confused. You can't change your choices because some critic for "" thinks you yell too much, but you can consider choices you might make in the future.

I find that I learn things, even from the most negative reviews, if they come from a place of thoughtfulness. If the critic approaches the work with an openness. They may lose it completely as the show progresses, that is one-hundred percent fair, but you can always tell when that happens. There's a clarity in how they will describe where you lost them that you can learn much from.

You can also never forget that there are critics, and whole publications, who have determined, before they ever enter the theatre, if the show will be "good" or not. Is it the latest show from the current "hot" director? Is it a company who traditionally caters to an "older" audience? Is it a Neil Simon play? Or perhaps the latest "hot" playwright? You'll spot these right away. They're either gushing, embarrassingly gushing, or nitpicky about things that are, in the overall scheme, unimportant, or the best that can be accomplished on that production level, but easy to point out and mock.

That said...I absolutely reject the idea, that I have heard in many a dressing room, that critics are, essentially, a de facto arm of the theatre's promotional department. They do not owe you a good review "to encourage people to go to the theatre." They owe the public an honest, and, I believe, thoughtful, reaction to they show they saw, period.

Also, NEVER forget that it's just some person's opinion.

As you may have guessed, I am taking a walk back through reviews of Frankenstein, and my performance in it. I make no bones about the fact that I put a lot of myself into the show, and some people just did not "get" it. I tried to give everything I had, every show, and I paid the price, physically especially. So, I will admit, the first few reviews out of the gate were fairly critical, and they shook me.

At the end of the day, I think it was good. I needed to break myself out of cocoon of self-indulgence I feel like I'd started to build around myself and my performance. I was twisting myself in knots, because I wanted to be "good." I wanted to be impressive.

What this taught me is to relish when the critical reaction to my work is all over the map. When some critics dismiss your work, while others embrace it eloquently. It's a visceral reminder that not everything is for everyone, and that trying to be that is a recipe for luke-warm water.

Ultimately, the reviews were all over the map. I was honestly amused by the sheer variety of reactions. Some people wanted more rage (as if The Creature is some sort of 19th century version of The Hulk), while others seemed to feel I was just wandering around bellowing the whole time. Who knows? Perhaps my performance varied that much from night to night. Perhaps that's the curse of playing such an iconic role, everyone had their own creature in their mind before I ever rose from the slab.

It doesn't matter. It. Does. Not. Matter.

The simple fact is, the lions share of my notices were positive, if not outright glowing. I have nothing to complain about in the grand scheme. I certainly did not have to deal with some of the out-of-line comments that were directed at other members of our cast. Honest criticism is fair, comparing an actor to a Muppet is just being a dick for the sake of it.

All I know is this; I loved doing this show. I loved playing this role. I loved this cast and this script. I feel strong and justified in the choices I made and the performance I gave. Was this a perfect production? Probably not, because that simply does not exist. I wanted as many people to see it as possible, and I am honored by every person that did.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I Shall Seek Out The Northernmost Extremity of the Globe...

...where no light shall shine on the sight of me, and there, I shall die.

One Hundred and Six hours of rehearsal.

Twenty-Two performances

Twenty hours putting on make-up

Fifteen hours taking off make-up

Two Hundred and Twenty temporary tattoos

Ten hours of fight call

Fourty-Four Ibuprofen tablets.

One package coughdrops

Nine dead characters

One strange performance where the stage monitor apparently stared playing the soundtrack of a porn movie.

Eight actors who impressed and inspired even in my darkest moments

One Stage Manager who handled a lot, and still managed to give a beat-up creature a ride home

One Director who gave us the chance, and trusted us all the way

Thank you to the cast; Ed Krystosek, Sandy Elias, David Fink, Evan Johnson, Lindsey Falls, Jennifer T. Grubb,Catherine Gillsepie, Daniel Pass, and Eustace Allen.

Thank you to our designers; Ian Anthony, Devin Caroll, Tom Kieffer, Robert Kuper, David Yondorf, and Ray Toler

Thank you to our Stage Manager; Norine McGrath

Than you to our Director; Terry McCabe

I'll miss the show, I'll miss the people, and I'll miss The Creature, but I'm ready to be away from the make-up, and the toll the role took on me, physically.

Bless you all, and thank you all.


I am completely ashamed of myself that I forgot to mention our lovely playwright Bo List, who crafted a lovely adaptation of Shelly's novel. Thank you for the words, good sir.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Darth Mickey

We say things are gonna "break the internet in half" a lot, but few things really do. Yesterday, it happened, unexpectedly, and I'm still trying to suss out how I honestly feel about it.

The Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm Ltd. for 4.05 billion dollars. Disney now owns Star Wars and it's related characters, although I believe Fox still owns Episode IV: A New Hope, as a film (they paid for it, Lucas kept the sequel rights and characters, and financed the rest himself). Disney is jumping head-first into the Star Wars business, with Episodes VII, IIX and IX (from a reportedly detailed Lucas outline) tenatively announced for 2015, 2017 and 2019. The plan is also for a Star Wars-related film "every 2 or 3 years" after that.

The Mouse now also owns Indiana Jones, as well, but the legal entanglements with Paramount Pictures apparently have put any development there on the back burner. Too bad, I think an Indy animated show would be more exciting than, say, another Star Wars cartoon.

On one hand, I am shocked that Lucas, who proudly operated Lucasfilm without studio support (he's probably the most successful indy film producer in the world, technically) would up and turn the keys over to one of the largest corporate entities in the world. His criticism of Hollywood studios for having lost creative thought, due to their ownership by various conglomerates, is legendary. He seemed to relish the freedom that his success bought him, even, at times, from his most rabid fan base.

On the other, I bet George is happy as a clam right now. Let's be really honest here, running Lucasfilm for the last few years must've been a real pain in the ass. First you have the fanbase itself, who keeps begging for more, and then bitches incessantly when they get it. Not to mention that Red Tails, a non-Star Wars, non-Indy passion project that he's been working on for years, crashed and burned at the box office. There was much talk after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was released that Lucas would return to more personal projects, "art" films, and things like Red Tails.

The fanbase, however, was never gonna let that happen. Oh, yeah, the fan community gave much lip-service to "I can't wait to see what George will do," but really, nobody cared if it didn't have Boba Fett in it. No matter how much they professed to HATE the Prequels, the 1980's claim of a nine-part Skywalker family saga was always been thrown in his face. No matter how much disappointment surrounded Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, there's continual calls for another Indy film. It's a complete no-win situation for him.

Why put yourself through that? Now he can retire. Turn the business over to Kathleen Kennedy (great choice - hard to imagine that this titan of film business was Steven Spielberg's assistant), and the folks at Disney, and let them take the heat. "Here's the plot, have at it. Call if you have questions."

I've often said that Star Wars fans, or at least the vocal contingent, are a bunch of whining losers. Far too caught up in their own visions of what Star Wars should be to actually enjoy the thing. Too aggrieved over a perceived slight to just embrace the joy and fun that this series, and Lucas, have given them.

The reaction to the sale reflects it...for YEARS I've heard "just turn it over to someone else, George, and it'll be great again!" That is, essentially, what this sale is, and yet, now we have "he sold my childhood!!" (which is better than that asinine "raped" crap, I suppose). Personally, I just think anybody who says that is a little too consumed by their childhood. This coming from a man who collects action figures and dolls.

Me? Look, I'm not all that happy to see Disney take up another property that they can turn into a "branding engine," as they have with Marvel Comics and The Muppets. I have many problems with details of how they've worked those properties, but no one can say they haven't done well by them. It's hard to argue with success.

As to the prospects of the final trilogy being realized, I am cautiously optimistic. I really won't get excited until some talent is attached. I am very glad Lucas is plotting. I can nitpick the Prequels to death (I prefer not to, and just enjoy them), but the overall plots were not the issue. George understands his themes and how they should play out. He's not a great writer (he knows this), so I'm interested in who's brought in to put meat on the bones.

Who will direct? This could go any number of ways. Disney is just as apt to find a cheap film school graduate (not necessarily a bad thing) as to reach out to established directors. If I can throw in my two Andrew Stanton. Yes, I know John Carter lost a boatload of money, but that was the fault of Disney marketing, not the film, and certainly not Stanton. That film had the sweep, scope, style, humor and speed that a Star Wars film needs. Your guy is right there.

I will also say this...Somebody better have already reached out to Mark Hamill. Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford would be cool to see, as well, but I also think that, thematically, Han and Leia are not intrinsically needed for moving the story of the Skywalker Jedi forward. Luke is. I also think Fisher and Ford are less than enthused about the idea of going back to those roles. we know Ford isn't, and Fisher seems truly retired from acting.

Here's the other important thing that our raving fanbase better get a grip on real quick: The Expanded Universe material from the various novels/video games/role playing products....NO NOT MATTER. I suspect George may've mined some interesting bits (such as naming the capitol planet Coruscant for the Prequels) for his outline, the ultimate screenwriters may as well, but it's time to accept that anything that wasn't in a movie, or Lucasfilm TV NOT cannon.

They are not going to make the Thrawn trilogy, you are not going to see three films that say "Story by Timothy Zhan." I'd love to see Mara Jade, too, but, thematically, Luke will serve the Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon role in a third trilogy...having a wife would be odd. The Solo children may be the leads, and they may be named Jaina, Jacen and Anakin, but to expect everything to paly out EXACTLY as you expect is to doom yourself to disappointment.

Fan art by Tom Hodges - Calm down
I suspect that there will be much fanbase consternation over this issue. Probably outright hatred. That's silly, this is as it should be. You cannot constrain a creative team because Chewbacca died in such-and-such a novel. Star Trek fans have been living with it for years, get used to it. Maybe we'll all learn to just enjoy the story, and not try to make it mean more than it does.

I'll leave you with something I'm REALLY excited about. I'm betting a Star Wars theme park on the Disney World property in Florida just in time for the 40th anniversary in 2017. Hell, they gave Cars their own corner of California Adventure, you can't tell me a Star Wars Land wouldn't be VASTLY more lucrative. That's five years from now, which may seem quite quick, but look at it this way: they kept this sale, which must've been ongoing for months, completely under wraps. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the plans weren't already underway.

That's so much cooler than a Marvel vs. Star Wars video game, in my book.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Guitar

I played for a little bit Wednesday night. 

God, it felt good. I felt like I could play, that I could make the thing sound any way I wanted. That I could make it scream and sigh as I wished.

That doesn't always happen. There's plenty of times you just sit there with this dead thing in your hands, trying will your fingers, and it, to do something, anything remotely like what you hear in your head. Sometimes, it's all you can do to not smash the damn thing against the wall. 

I love acting. I do. I love the fulfillment of throwing myself, whole hearted, into a story, a person who I give my body to. Taking the experiences and tossing them back to the audience, and getting back from them again. Not that that always happens, but...when it does....

But I want to play more. I want to play regularly. I want to create music. I want to make these songs I have in my pocket fuller, stronger. I want to jam with Pauly C. 

I need it. 

Listening to The Sword's Apocryphon almost non-stop since Tuesday, and it's awesome. I hope to have a review up next week.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Argo and Sweet Bird of Youth

Hello friends. Been a while. I apologize for my lack of blog entries. Life has filled up with about a million things in the past few weeks, and I have felt somewhat overwhelmed. I'm gonna try to be more consistent moving forward.

Got to see Argo last week, and, for my money, it more than lives up to the hype. Ben Affleck has, once again, proven himself to be one of the most talented new directors in the business. He's done it by embracing (and never more so than in Argo) a 70's-style ascetic. He tells stories, and allows the art and craft to be in how well, and how economically, he tells them. I tell you, when the 70's Warner Brothers logo was used to begin this film, I was over the moon.

I'm, going forward, not going to spend a lot of time on plots here. You can easily find out the plot of Argo, if you wish to, and I (perhaps egotistically) feel that my thoughts on the subject are more interesting than rehashing the storyline. Argo is the true story of a CIA operation to rescue a small group of Americans from Iran during the hostage crisis, by disguising them as a sic-fi film crew.

The story is compelling and it's astounding that such an audacious plan was put into play. Yes, it's clear that many of the third act twists and turns are likely augmented in order to ramp up tension and build to a satisfying climax. It's not unexpected, and with the sheer quality of filmmaking on display, not unwelcome. The groundwork that is established, the reportedly very accurate early scenes, give Affleck all the room in the world to stick the landing as a truly satisfying thriller. .

The cast is terrific, top to bottom. Alan Arkin and John Goodman are clearly having the time of their lives sending up every Hollywood cliche in the book. The scenes between them and Affleck, setting up the cover story for the operation, are pure gold. Affleck, too, just nails his central role. It's not flashy, it's a quiet, contemplative performance, and a reminder of why he became a star.

The simple fact is that I loved this film, and fully expect to see it nominated for Best Picture. It just simply is a terrific, old-style Hollywood thriller smart, funny, and fulfilling. It'll keep you on the edge of your seat, and not insult your intelligence.

It's a must-see.

Also saw Sweet Bird of Youth at the Goodman on Sunday.

I'm a Tennessee Williams fan, but Sweet Bird is a play that has, in the main, escaped me. I don't recall ever having read or seen this show before Sunday night. So I was not overly expecting anything, except a Tennessee Williams play. On that level, it delivered, with a suitably southern charm covering a dark underbelly, and some sharp one-liners and turns of the phrase.

However, David Cromer's production didn't score completely, for me. Some of the performances are lovely, I found Diane Lane wonderfully fun (and thankfully less take-your-breath-away gorgeous than on the Goodman's poster - which seemed wrong - the character is more worn-down than the image suggested) as Princess Kosmonopolis, and most of the supporting cast was top notch.

What I didn't like was some of the technical wiz-bang that Cromer employed. I felt that many of these bold technical choices, while I admired the audacious creativity, weren't adding up to a cohesive vision. With a ginormous live projection of Ms. Lane's face as she read lines facing out a window, as well as several other characters at various times in the show. It's a choice that worked better at some points than others, but also was not used enough to feel organic to the production.

We also had a third act set that rotated, and rotated, and rotated. The set became the show, and Finn Wittrock's Chance Wayne was lost, which is really a crime because that character is the driving force of the show. The third act is about him losing control of the web of lies and tall tales he's built around himself, and finding out that he's just a gigolo. Cromer's production, it's about a big rotating set, and a camera light that occasionally blinds the audience. Chance may be losing control, the choice may be to symbolize him becoming lost, but the audience is losing him, too.

I was especially perplexed by the odd video footage of incredibly fit men diving that was projected on the curtain between the two scenes of the first act. The imagery has a strange, soft core porn feel (which makes some sense, as it's covering a sexual encounter), but the convention never returns for the rest of the show.

The less said about the moment where turning on a lamp switches the set from (apparently) broad daylight instantly to dusk, the better. I spent probably five minutes, not paying attention to what was happening on stage, but trying to figure out why that happened.

I also felt like Finn Wittrock is a fine actor in a role that I think he's not quite right for. Chance Wayne is said, in the script, to be 29. Wittrock, whatever age he actually is, looks about 24, and a very clean, beautiful 24. I found myself thinking that we should see more of the cracks in his beauty. There's a desperation in Chance's actions that doesn't seem as motivated if he's still as beautiful as Wittrock, clearly, is.

I know that Paul Newman originated this role, and that image came to me a lot (completely unfair to Wittrock, I fully admit). Newman was beautiful, but he also had rough edges, he was worn down. Perhaps the idea that it's more Chance's fear of his decline than his actual decline, but that didn't really come across, either. It's a problem that I can't really lay at Wittrock's feet, he plays the moments well, I suspect that I'd find him to be absolutely lovely in the part a few years down the road.

I was also less than enthralled with William's final speech from Chance. It's one of those moments where the playwright feels the need to have a character explain to you how you should, ultimately, feel and react to them. Always troubling for me, because it speaks of a playwright who didn't trust the actor to get the point across.

The show is worth seeing, for the performances, and a layman audience might just let the odd visual choices just wash over as spectacle. I fully admit, as a practitioner, I likely think about this stuff way too much.