Chewie … We’re All Home

If you somehow missed it last week …

In my mind, any concerns about Star Wars: The Force Awakens are now officially put to rest.  I shamelessly hereby abandon all cynicism and firmly place my fan boy hat atop my head.  The above trailer hit all the right chords with me.  This looks like Star Wars.  This sounds like Star Wars.  This is Star Wars.

Who can deny the Darth Vader helmet, the X-Wing and TIE Fighters, the fallen Star Destroyers, and the Stormtrooopers?  Who didn’t rejoice at the roar of the Millennium Falcon, the reverberation of the lightsaber, and the hiss of the TIE Fighters?

Who felt chills at the sound of Luke Skywalker’s voice?

Who flat out teared up at the sight of Han Solo with Chewbacca.

Thank you, J.J. Abrams.  Finally, we are all home.

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst – A Book Review

This is a book unlike anything else I have ever read.

There are two stories within this work.

One is surrealistic and focuses upon a freedom fighter known only as “S.”  He has amnesia, travels upon a mysterious ship full of anomalous sailors, and, through a series of events, battles an evil capitalist while yearning for a woman he does not know, but loves nonetheless.

The other story takes place within the margins of the first, and it is the written exchange in the form of annotations between a university student and an exiled graduate student.  The core of their dialogue occurs through written notes and centers upon the author of the above story, but, as fate would have it, their own lives seem in danger as a result of their investigation and this brings them together.  In order to understand their story, you must realize that they have different handwriting, identify their particular style, and comprehend that different colors of ink represent different time periods in their lives.  Because they apparently read and reread the book several times, you may see a note from them that was actually written near the end of their story.  Yes, it takes some getting used to.

The beautiful thing about this book, besides the notes in the margins, is that there are several artifacts within that correlate to the researchers’ conversations and research.  My favorite, for examples, is a map one of them drew upon a napkin.  There are also postcards, photographs, handwritten notes, even copies of newspaper articles.  In fact, the book itself is made to look like an old library book, complete with water stains and a checkout history.

The only negative thing I have to say is that I didn’t completely understand the stories of the book, which seems to necessitate another read on my part.  I chose to read each page and the margin notes all at once, and perhaps this was a misstep.  My reread will actually result in a third read, because I plan to read the story all the way through, and then go back and read the notes in the margins separately.  This should help distinguish the two tales from each other.  I jumped from one to the other on a page-by-page basis, and I believe this may have weakened my understanding of both.

That being said, S. is an important book because it challenges our notion of what constitutes a book.  In this digital age, print books must do more than they ever have before, and S. certainly seems to utilize a winning strategy.  By including multimedia artifacts that pertain to the book, the story becomes extremely interactive for the reader, making it all the more real.  Of course, the artifacts must seem genuine, which S. accomplishes, but I have to wonder if the average publisher could take on such an expensive venture.

In the end, I greatly enjoyed S., but I think I’ll enjoy it even more upon subsequent rereads.  There’s nothing wrong with revisiting a book, there’s no shame in needing to get closer to a book in order to fully understand it. There’s certainly nothing adverse about art demanding a little more, especially when it gives a little more.


Star Trek – A Movie Review

I suppose I should get his out of the way: I’m not a Kirk and Spock Star Trek guy.  I enjoyed The Next Generation when in high school, but other than that, I wouldn’t call myself a fan.  I certainly never thought much of the previous films.

So with all that being said, J.J. Abrams’ newest addition to the Star Trek mythos delighted me, amazed me, and—dare I say it—even made me a fan.

Within the first five minutes of Star Trek, I experienced more authentic emotion than all of the previous films combined, and it only got better from there.  Although it has a running time of 127 minutes, it felt like I sat in my chair only mere moments.  Star Trek is fast-paced, action-packed, and laden with fantastic special effects.  Moreover, the story actually (for the most part) makes sense and is well-constructed.  The heroes were given ample motivation, and even the villain’s malevolent incentives were integral to the plot (if not always completely understandable).

The best part of Star Trek for me, though, is that each and every major player in the film has charm.  Before Abrams got hold of them, I couldn’t have cared less about any of Kirk’s crew.  But from Chehov to Sulu to Uhura, each and every one of the actors oozed charisma and lured me into investing myself in them.  They are distinctly their own personalities, and they’re a heck of a lot fun to watch in action (especially Simon Pegg as Scotty).

The true victory, however, is that Abrams took two characters who had frankly been done to death and made them fresh, magnetic, and appealing.  I never in a million years thought I’d find Spock and Kirk “cool,” but they are now indubitably just that!

Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk is arrogant, tough, funny, and incredibly compelling.  They were smart to start the film the way they did, because it makes us root for Kirk before we’ve even met him.  I wanted this underdog to succeed, even if he’d probably irritate me to no end in real life.  Pine pulls off Kirk’s overconfidence in a supremely amiable manner, and good for him, because otherwise the character wouldn’t have worked.

And I have to be honest—I previously thought Spock might have been the lamest character ever.  There was nothing remotely identifiable about him until Zachary Quinto took hold of the half-Vulcan and gave him a surprisingly robust edge.  Quinto’s Spock is far more human than he would like, full of rage and emotion, and you can literally see Quinto restraining Spock’s emotions as they fight for release.  His Spock is sarcastic, tense, and even dangerous.  And yet, even with all of these qualities, Quinto makes him likable—even vulnerable.  Again, because of how Spock is introduced to us, we can’t help but root for him as well.

I think that’s the real success of the film—they make us root for the crew of the Enterprise.  They make us care about the characters.  They make us want to see more of Spock and Kirk vying to one-up the other, even if eventually on friendly terms.  Most importantly—they make us want to see more of these two in action.

If you’re a science fiction fan, I cannot recommend Star Trek highly enough.  Even if you never enjoyed Star Trek before, I know you’ll walk out of the theater cheering for this crew.  And best of all?  While Abrams didn’t eradicate the past Star Trek movies, he made sure that the audience can’t know what will happen next for young Kirk and Spock.  He didn’t erase the past, but he muddied the future.  I know that I, for one, am looking forward to the next Star Trek movie, and I never thought I’d utter those words in a million years.

Mission: Impossible III – A Movie Review

You know, I have to tell you, I didn’t hate this movie.  I know Tom Cruise somehow went from being America’s favorite son to its most popular antichrist, but J.J. Abrams, the director of the film and creator of hit shows like Lost and Alias, managed to put together a pretty good little action movie.

And, please don’t fool yourself, that’s all M:i:III is-an action movie.  But, it’s exactly the kind of action movie I want to see.  There were moments when I literally couldn’t take my eyes off the screen because there was so much happening and my pulse pounded so hard.  Car chases, fight scenes, explosions, boom! bang! zoom! vroom!  Awesome stuff . . . if you’re into action movies.

Now if you’re not into action movies, this baby still has a saving grace-Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  He’s the bad guy of the flick, and when he’s on screen, he is baaaaaad, and I mean that in a good way.  The only problem is, he’s really not in the movie that much.  On the other hand, we (obviously) have lots and lots of Tommy boy.  And you know, here’s my thing with Tom-Tom, I don’t think he’s a terrible actor.  I mean, The Last Samurai is a fantastic, fantastic, fantastic movie.  I just think that Tom the man has gotten bigger than Tom the actor, and so we can no longer differentiate between the two.  I think that happens to the best of them.  Not that Cruise is the best of them by any means, but you get the point.

At any rate, as I watched M:i:III, I didn’t see Ethan Hunt, I only saw Tom Cruise.  There’s Tom jumping off a building.  There’s Tom being slammed into a car.  And so on.  But I didn’t have a problem with that, because I wanted to see an action movie and that’s what Tom and J.J. gave me. 

Unfortunately, I really enjoyed the first two thirds of M:i:III but I have to admit the last third truly fell into the venomous waters of cliché.  It just got kind of hokey and felt as though it betrayed everything it had been up to that point. 

Nonetheless, if you’re an action movie person, except for a few attempts at trying to find America’s next catch phrase and a tired ending, M:i:III is definitely worth a rent.

Cloverfield – A Movie Review

(Notice:  Spoilers Ahead)

By far, the best thing about Cloverfield was the previews hyping its release.

Granted, by the time I finally got around to watching it on DVD, I’d seen the creature, but that’s really about all I knew.  I hadn’t heard much about the storyline or any major revelations.  Of course, I now realize why that was-there aren’t any.

Here’s what happens: Some twenty-somethings are throwing a going away party for their friend.  They document testimonials from friends and the pre-party preparations on a video camera so he can watch it when he gets to Japan.  He shows up, is surprised, and loves it.  His friend who he happened to sleep with a few weeks before shows up with another guy, they fight, she leaves.  He reveals to his friends that he never called her after their “special day.”  Then a giant monster attacks Manhattan, and they all flee in terror as the military shows up and shoots ineffective rockets.  They capture their exodus on the same video camera, and when the scorned girl calls the “hero,” she pleads for him to come save her, she’s trapped under some rubble.  He and his friends then risk life and limb to find her and rescue her, which they do, only to be killed by the monster’s parasites, the monster itself, as well as the eventual bombing of Manhattan by the military.  But the good thing is, it was all caught on a camcorder which was eventually found, and that’s how we get to see the unfolding of what the military dubbed “Cloverfield.”

The narrative technique really astounded me.  The movie starts off with a recording of the “hero” and his love’s special day after they sleep together, then moves into the going away party because the “hero’s” brother and friend don’t realize they shouldn’t be taping over it.  When they turn off the camera in the “real-time” of the movie, it reverts back to the special day from weeks previous, which was a pretty cool touch.  That, along with the hand-held feel of the movie, truly gave me a sense that I witnessed the events of the film as they actually unfolded.  That practice heightened the tension and made for an exciting visual experience.

Speaking of which, the special effects were beautiful as was the method of revealing the monster only in glimpses and snippets.  Remember, we were virtually getting a “first-person” view of events, so if the shaky hand-held didn’t go for a close-up on the creature, we didn’t see it. 

Sadly, that’s where the good ends.  The acting was atrocious, the dialogue lowered my I.Q. by at least twenty-points (and I can’t spare them!).  They somehow took my favorite word, “dude,” and made me hate it.  What little story existed was clichéd and insulting.  Those looking for answers as to what the monster was, where it came from, and why it attacked Manhattan got absolutely no closure at all.

With J.J. Abrams producing (he of LOST fame), I really expected better.  He says he was inspired by seeing Godzilla everywhere in Japan toy shops while there promoting a different movie.  He’s gone on record professing the wish to create an “American” monster that clawed its way into the social conscience as had Godzilla in Japan.  What he failed to realize, though, is that we actually have to care about the monster and the people its killing.  I, for one, was so annoyed by the whining and obnoxious external ponderings of the primary video taper, I couldn’t wait for him to cash it in so I wouldn’t have to listen to him anymore.

Finally, I really thought it was in bad taste to mimic so precisely the fall of the Twin Towers and the terrible events of that day.  A building can fall in a movie-I get that-but to copy people running down the streets and taking shelter in storefronts so exactly, I found it offensive and creatively apathetic.

Cloverfield would appear to be a movie totally dependent upon its marketing and hype.  I’m sure for those who saw it in the theatre and were firmly entrenched in the “now” of its mysterious campaigns, it was quite satisfying.  Months later, though, now that it’s out on DVD, it doesn’t hold up on its own merit.