The Force Awakens, reawakening my love for Star Wars

I saw it.

I had my doubts. After the prequels, we all did. After hearing it was sold to Disney, I got a bit excited, but then Abrams made ‘Into Darkness’ and… well, we know how that one went.

I feared a senseless, impossible to follow plot. I feared endless battle and fight scenes that had no consequence or reason. I feared being bashed over the head with nostalgia, and I feared the new characters would be just bit parts while grandma and grandpa hobbled around saving the day.

But there is no need to worry. The Force Awakens is better than the prequels. It could even be on par with the original trilogy. It’s that good.

It of course, had some problems, like any movie, but lets start out with what it did right.

For starters… it was an actual movie! Unlike the prequels, it had a plot I could understand, and characters who’s motivations stayed consistent throughout the story. Even if they were simple motivations, they were there. This is already a giant leap beyond the prequels, and beyond many action movies today, whose directors seem more and more to be happy with their movies being basically a series of non-sequitur action scenes.

Next, it wasn’t ‘too much’. I won’t say it was toned down, because it was definitely action packed and exciting, but, the action had consequence. You CARED what happened. It was more than just flashing lights on the screen. When there is a million ships covering every inch of the screen and thousands of guys with glowing swords flipping all over the place, and I don’t know who any of them are or why I should care who dies… then I don’t care. The Force Awakens kept me clear on who was doing what, and why–and who was in trouble–the whole time.

The Nostalgia was subtle, and not overdone, tiring or irritating. It was done lovingly, as if by a true fan, by someone who understands WHY people loved Star Wars. Not some blind executive thinking ‘hmm, people like those aliens and ships… shove those into every inch of the screen, then they’ll REALLY love it!’

The sets were creative, and interesting to look at. The desert where we start, full of dead ships being slowly torn apart by scavengers, is a great example of someone actually trying to create their own world and ideas, instead of just copy-pasting from the originals. There are a few other really great locations in this movie but I’ll avoid spoilers.

The new characters were great. They had personalities, they had their own characteristics. I know, I’m describing what makes a character a character, but it seems so hard for Hollywood to get these days. Take the prequels for example. One of my favorite movie review sites, redlettermedia.com, in their famous review of The Phantom Menace, asked people to simply describe the characters in Episode One… and it’s very hard. When you have an empty shell of a character with no desires or goals or fears or anything, all you can describe is their costume. Watch this video to see what I mean. The part I’m talking about starts at 6:40.

I did however, have some problems with the character arcs in The Force Awakens. It seems the characters completed their arcs instantly, with no effort. They go from weak to strong, for example, with no training or struggle. They go from wanting to run away, to returning to help fight… with nothing spurring their decision, no epiphany or lesson. They just… change.

But in the end, I still remember them, I still like them, and I’m wanting to watch them more!

My last complaint is that Solo and Chewie got way too much screen time, and were really a distraction from the new characters. Watching a 70 year old Ford running around shooting at aliens was almost sad, and I would really have preferred if he had been there as a wise advisor, letting the new kids know whats up–like an Obi-Wan figure–instead of running around doing crazy action moves and saving the day.

But these are small complaints in an overall great movie. I am excited for the next one, and will probably watch this one again before it’s out of the theaters!

I am so happy to be enjoying a Star Wars film again. I never thought I would experience that excitement and curiosity and drama again, but I have, and it’s great.

And, I think this could finally beat Mad Max to be my favorite movie of the year!

Heroes without guns

Another mass shooting today, and the debate rages on. What do we do about it?

Every time this happens (which is almost literally every day) there are the same arguments, and in the past I’ve always ignored it, not wanting to get into debates with people who’s minds aren’t going to change. But I’ve decided to add my voice to the crowd now, at least so I can feel like I’m doing anything at all.

The evidence is right in our face. Look at Europe, look at Australia. Less guns clearly and unarguably equals less crime and violence, but people here in America refuse to accept it and thus, refuse to vote sensible, reasonable restrictions and regulations into place.

The belief is that the real culprit is actually the few gun regulations we do have, that if only people could carry guns everywhere, there would be a goodguy with a gun to shoot the badguys before they can do any harm.

This is such a childish way to view the world, that at first I thought it was rhetoric, but, I think people in America really believe this. They honestly and sincerely believe that there are good people at the scenes of these shootings, who just wished they could have saved the day, but couldn’t because their guns were at home locked in a safe because of these crazy regulations.

And it’s not their fault that they have this view of the world, it’s ours.

The problem is with our culture, and it is our fault as writers, directors, actors, and creators. It is us, who have rammed it into the brains of everyone who has ever watched a TV show or movie or read a crime novel or mystery–the hero solves their problems with a gun.

We need to change our culture before we can change our laws. When every day of their life, people watching TV or movies see the enemy thwarted by Joe Hero, who scoops up a gun at the last minute to shoot the villain in the head, how can they help but imagine such scenarios in the real world? How can they help but think, ‘if only a hero was there with a gun, just like in all the movies and stories and shows I watch.’ How can they help but think that what paltry gun control we do have, is only holding all those heroes back?

If we want our laws to change, then we need the perspective of the people to change. And that is, in part, up to us, as creators of entertainment. We need less movies and stories where every problem is solved by shooting it or blowing it up, and then any guilt or psychological after effects are just shrugged off the morning after. We need more stories that show the futility of an arms race, and the danger of a weapon in the wrong hands. And the repercussions of actually using that weapon, even if it is to save yourself or someone else.

Maybe if the next generation could grow up in a world where only the villain would try to shoot anyone–or even want to own a weapon–and heroes avoided deadly weapons and resisted until they were absolutely forced to use them, and then suffered consequences afterward. Then maybe we’d have a chance to get our gun problem under control.

So if you’re a writer, like me, don’t give your heroes guns anymore. Don’t have them kill people in ‘cool’ ways then shrug it off. Because that shouldn’t be something heroes do. It shouldn’t be something to look up to.

Let’s have some  heroes without guns for once.

 

 

 

Jessica Jones, the hero TV needed

Disclaimer: I do not read comics or care about super hero movies or shows in general, and had never heard of Jessica Jones before this show. 

Jessica Jones is another brilliant Netflix original. It’s a dark, exciting, interesting show about a private investigator with a painful past, and a sociopath who can control minds.

But–it’s actually about a woman who’s parents were killed in a car crash when she was young, who grew up in a foster home, who has never been close to anyone but her foster sister in her whole life, and constantly alienates herself from anyone she meets. And a man who holds onto a grudge from his childhood like it’s a life preserver and uses people like objects, living in a delusional world where they want him to do what he’s doing to them and where they like or even love him.

It’s a show about people, not powers. About characters, not costumes.

In fact, there are no costumes in the show. No ridiculous, forced reasoning for why the character would wear a costume, no awkward, forced ‘gee what should my super name be?’ scene, except a humorous one where Jessica is rolling her eyes at the entire idea. Even the villain, ‘Kilgrave’ gets mocked for his pseudonym. (Come on, kill grave? Why not murdercorpse?)

And guess what? In a shocking and refreshing twist, Jessica is not a piece of flesh, but a human woman who wears clothing that human women wear! There is not one scene with cleavage or leg. There is no forced excuses for her to get into a swimsuit or dress up in some lingerie to go ‘undercover’ or whatever, and again, no ridiculous costume (which is always 10 times more ridiculous for woman heroes).

And when I call Jessica a ‘hero’, I suppose I should just say protagonist. Because, although she can be said to be heroic, she is not a ‘hero’ in the way the word has come to mean in these blockbuster comic movies. She is not trying to save the world. She is trying to save herself, and the few people she cares about. In fact, that the world is not at stake is another refreshing difference in this show. The story stays focused on the characters and their immediate surroundings. It’s not ‘if I don’t stop Kilgrave, he’ll destroy the world!’ it’s ‘If I don’t stop Kilgrave, he’ll torture and kill me and my friends.’ Which is way more identifiable and scary.

I can just imagine, if this was made into one of those movies we see in the theaters every six months these days, Kilgrave would be waltzing into the White house, and making the president get on his knees, then the camera would pan out dramatically while he laughs a villain’s laugh. Instead we get a brilliant, human performance–a disturbing, damaged human, yes, but not a caricature. Not a mustache twirling cliche.

David Tennant as the villain in this is amazing. I was worried he would be too likable, but no, he is not in the least. He is a creepy, yet believable person. Because the way he talks and the things he says are all too familiar, from rapists, rape apologists, and other abusers and manipulators in our society today. But beneath it all you can see that he is a frightened child throwing a fit when he can’t have what he wants, and such power in the hands of a person like that, is nothing short of terrifying.

There is so much good about this show, I just can’t recommend it enough. It is an adult show, so don’t let the Marvel logo fool you. It is all adult themes, and there is some gruesome violence. But the story too is adult. In that it is developed and mature and thoughtful and deep and interesting and poignant and all the things so many of these flash-bang comic movies and shows are not.

Watch it!

 

Alien worlds in our own backyard

I watched this TED talk the other day and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It is exciting to think of so much unknown still in our world, even if I myself will likely never do any of the discovering.

There are millions of miles of unexplored caves beneath us. Untouched by humanity. What kinds of creatures might we find in these isolated environments? What strange evolutionary paths might they have taken?

Knowing that we don’t have to leave our planet to find the unknown is inspiring, and in another life I could imagine myself snooping through caves looking for strange creatures. Such adventures are not nearly as inaccessible for the average person as space exploration is.

Check out the video, and maybe go check out a cave!

Word A Day: Antipharmic

Time for another word, lets see what the old dice roll has for us today:

Antipharmic

 Definition: Antidotal; alexipharmi

Seems like I get a lot of ‘a’ words. I wonder if there are more ‘a’ words than other words in the English language, maybe something like Benford’s law, but for letters.

This is another truly new word for me, and though I can see the definition means antidotal, such as a cure to poison, it made me think of people who are anti-pharmaceutical, such as people who believe that vacations will kill you, or people who think doctors are evil.

I think no matter how far we advance, or how great education becomes, there will always be conspiracy theorists, and science deniers. Their numbers may shrink, but they’ll always be there.

It is just a part of being human, I think, to want to come up with reasons for the horrible things that happen in life and the world, other than ‘sometimes bad things happen to good people’. Small groups of people deny the holocaust, thinking it was too horrible to be real. A few people think the 9/11 attacks were faked or rigged somehow, because they are just too awful to process. And some people who get sick think that maybe the doctors or the medicine itself is causing the disease, because they need to find some villain other than nature to blame.

These people will always exist, I’m sure, but my hope is that in the future they will have a less harmful effect on the rest of society.

Maybe in the future the most crazy fringe group will be people who think the common cold is spread by the government to keep us down.

Wouldn’t that be nice!

Dead Snow

I watched this zombie movie on Halloween and was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting a stupid gorefest with maybe a couple laughs, and what I got was actually a well crafted monster movie.

One thing that a lot of these type movies don’t understand is that if you play your hand too early, the audience is gunna be bored for the rest of the movie. This one does it right by having a slow buildup, and making you wait until nearly an hour into the movie to get a clear picture of what is going on.

This may make the film sound boring, but it definitely is not. It builds up, letting you get to know the characters, and when the action hits it hits hard and fast.

In case you didn’t already know, this movie is about Nazi zombies in the woods. Your typical ‘college students go to a cabin to die’ story, but it somehow felt fresh. Maybe because it was so well written and well paced for a movie of this kind. Do be warned though, it is in Norwegian, with English subtitles.

There were some very clear nods to the Evil Dead movies, but this is definitely its own film. I enjoyed it a lot, and I laughed and cringed more than a few times.

If you like zombies, comedy horror, and lots of blood, you’re gunna have a good time!