Star Wars: The Force Awakens-A Fan’s Reaction

 

Nostalgic I am, yes.

Nostalgic I am, yes.

I love Star Wars.

My first experience was viewing the reissued special editions (you know, the Han didn’t shoot first kerfuffle) in theaters with my dad.  I became obsessed.  I cried for weeks when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite.  This was before the explosion of the internet and none of my friends cared so I was spoiler free until Jedi came into town a month later.  I started collecting figures and taking them out of the box to arrange scenes on my shelf.  It was one of the main things that brought my husband and I together.  I borrowed his character encyclopedia and left a note by Princes Leia’s profile.  I won us a limo ride to the premier of Episode 1 after entering an essay contest with our local paper.   (Talk about a perfect date.)

So when I say I was disappointed with Episode VII, you’ll know I’m not a hater and not just some casual critic.

I’m a writer.  Part of what has always drawn me to Star Wars is the story.  Steeped in mythic themes and the quintessential modern prototype of the hero’s journey, Lucas’s original space fantasy captivated my literary sensibilities.  It was also a perfect blend of humor, action, and romance.  I remember reading articles before the release of The Force Awakens talking about how director J.J. Abrams tossed around story ideas on long walks and thought “cool, that’s what I’d like to see.”  It made me nervous, but I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.  Unfortunately, that haphazard approach to storytelling shows in The Force Awakens.  The film is visually engaging, but it doesn’t hold up when you think about it from a storytelling perspective.

I agree with the general complaint of too much borrowed from A New Hope.  The movie became one long nostalgia trip with hyped up special effects.  But what bothered me the most was the lack of subtle and nuanced storytelling.  I didn’t feel invested in the characters and their conflicts because I wasn’t given a reason to care.  Who was the new hero Poe Dameron talking to by the fire when he put the plans into BB-8?  Who left this kid on a desert planet to collect scrap?  I had no idea what the Resistance was about and why the First Order was even around.  The last I saw a regime had toppled and the heart of the empire was destroyed.  If it all went to pot, fine.  I buy that.  But at least throw me a dialog bone as to why the galaxy is still in chaos.  Scrolling credits aren’t enough to justify an entire plot without any other questions answered.

The movie seemed to pitch forward at light speed, giving no ground to back story or character development.  The new Death Star, um, I mean Starkiller Base destroyed the Republic.  I’m sorry, what?  That’s about as much time as the film devoted to it.  But what does that even mean?  Was it a planet?  A system of planets?  Coruscant?   We reeled to the climactic death scene of ____ so fast that I couldn’t even react.  Normally I would have choked on popcorn wetted with tears.  Or maybe it was because I had seen the same thing happen before and the foreshadowing was so tangible, I could have hit it with a stick.

If Abrams wanted to go dark, maybe he could have waited until a bit later in the storytelling so that I was invested in the plot.  He took away Star Wars’ adventurous spark when he massacred a village thirty seconds into the movie and started to lose me from that point on.  If we’re going to borrow so much from Episode IV, then why not the homey scene of blue milk and Beru’s cooking?  Instead I got a slave girl overworked, underfed, and alone.  Yes, the Stormtroopers never hitting a mark got a bit old, but now they create carnage like a first person shooter video game.  Let’s face it, the film was a downer from beginning to end.  The lighthearted moments are gone.  It’s just one fire fight after another from a group of people with bleak lives.

One saving grace for the film was the addition of the new trio.  Poe, Finn, and Rey make for powerful and interesting characters if we just go by their words and actions.  Back story aside, Rey presents an intriguing raw force wielder.  Poe is just a cocksure as Han Solo but has no mercenary tendencies–he’s firmly committed to the Resistance.  Finn is all heart with a loveable lack of confidence but a strong conscience.  It’s clear this is where the film started and what anchors an otherwise piecemeal ship.  And the new baddies: very engaging and complex.  Maybe this is where the trouble started-grafting these new lives into an established galaxy where the previous head honchos still need their screen time.  Don’t throw tomatoes, but maybe it would have been better if the Princess and her scruffy nerf-herder hadn’t even shown up until later films.  On the other hand, we were given that outcome with another character and some clamor that was the awful part.  I didn’t mind that so much.

In some ways, J.J. Abrams could never win, and in most ways, he already has.  Ticket sales annihilated  records.  Merchandising is a machine that could rival a terminator.  I’m sure most people love the violence and dark storytelling-it’s what our modern culture demands, right?  Me, I’ll just have to look back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to find my escapist adventure and symbolic new hope.

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Remembering My 80’s Toys

It’s my birthday again and I’m nostalgic. There are a lot of things to remember as you step into those years well beyond the golden sparkle of post-college bliss. But for me, life is full of one thing at the moment: a playfully curious one-year-old whose toy collection (now thoroughly enlarged thanks to a first birthday party and wonderfully generous friends) spreads across the entire house. This has gotten me to thinking about some toys I grew up with that no redesign can better or some so obscure, I’m not even sure what a Google search would yield. Growing up 80’s meant some pretty rad playthings. Here are some favorites I remember. I know. It was awesome back then.

  1. Nerfuls
Photo from fanboy.com

An intrepid gang of Nerfuls ready for the playin’

When I talk about playing Nerfuls with Nathan, it sounds vaguely risqué, but it was just clean fun. There’s no toy on the market that closely compares. They were these interchangeable ball-headed-people-things with matchable bottoms and tops. They were goofy-looking and pretty gender neutral as a toy. They came with cars you could pop them into instead of their usual feet holders, skateboards and bikes for feet and all, and even little round houses with slides for the rolling. I wish I had saved them; goodness knows I have enough old junk lying around in my garage. Here’s a link to a glorious commercial for Nerfuls. Photo credit: fanboy.com

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L34OzpEifD8

  1. Jem and the Holograms Dolls and Cassettes

    Synergy was Truly Outrageous!

    Synergy was Truly Outrageous!

Did you know there’s a movie in the works? I know, I’m really excited/terrified too. Unlike some digital download that comes with toys now, it was instant gratification (I really can’t type this word without thinking about this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_ubVVnWglk&feature=kp ) with the inclusive tape featuring songs from that particular band member. Of course I loved my Jem but I also had some black and hot yellow tapes from my Misfit dolls. You could jam out to their Glitter Rock at the same time you combed their hair or changed their clothes. Amazing. Photo credit: poprewind.com

  1. My Little Pony

    Surprise was a favorite.

    Surprise was a favorite.

I’m not talking Friendship is Magic, although, of all the remakes of my childhood, this one is probably the best, but the original, real deal, sweet-smelling plastic goodness. I had a duffle bag full of ponies that I would dress up with barrettes, use as mounts for my Jem dolls, colonize entire floor sections of my bedroom, and take pretty much anywhere. They were bigger than the new ones and very hollow. They originated the little insignia printed on their back haunch, which told you something about their personality, but unlike now, we basically picked our favorite by how much we liked the symbol paired with the color of the pony and their hair. Like so many of its 80’s counterparts, it was paired with a TV show and spinoff movies.  Photo credit: Flickr lazysundae

I had this one!

  1. Pound Puppies

Cuddly, cute and a bit sad, these adoptable pets were hard to resist. They had those big eyes and soft coats. I was always one to snuggle with a stufty (as Sara called them). I remember having this one dog with a gray coat, brown spots and big brown floppy ears. Yikes, they did a remake of this too? Will the HUB never leave my childhood alone?  Photo credit blog.thenostalgiablog.com

  1. Mc Donald’s Happy Meal Toys

It was a treat for me to get a Happy Meal. And the real reason wasn’t the food. I’d say a good portion of my favorite toys were birthed from a plastic wrapper that smelled faintly of greasy burger and had some flecks of fry salt clinging to it. Muppet Babies, Care Bears, Disney characters, you name it; they came from a Happy Meal. And they were good toys. Sturdy, dependable, and always a likeness to the original, these toys were prized my neighborhood over. When I was sick with chicken pox, one of my friends left a box of Happy Meal play things (that I didn’t already own) that saved my bedroom-ridden self from boredom that week. It wasn’t only the toys too, it was the tie-ins. They just don’t offer glasses, stuffed animals or Christmas ornaments from the latest family blockbuster anymore. I still hang my Cinderella mice and Rescuers ornaments on my tree. Imagine if today’s McDonald’s sold Avengers tumblers or Harry Potter house goblets for $1.99. We never knew how good we had it.

Muppet Babies were pretty much the best thing ever.

Muppet Babies were pretty much the best thing ever.

 

I still have some of these...somewhere.

I still have some of these…somewhere.

Still hang these bad boys on my tree.

Still hang these bad boys on my tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits Muppet Babieswww.rediscoverthe80s.com; Fraggle Cars www.openthetoy.com; Jaq and Gus Ornaments www.snarkcards.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just to prove my point, here’s a fellow blogger who agrees. This is a great list.  What do you remember?

http://snarkecards.net/the-25-best-happy-meal-toys-of-the-80s/

Happy 50th Birthday Doctor Who: A Fan’s Tribute

Doctor LineupHow do I love thee?  Let me count the sonic screwdrivers.  As I write, the fiftieth anniversary special of the longest running sci-fi show in history is making its wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey way across tele and movie screens, proving that nothing outlasts a geek romance.  Fans make other fans.  It’s probably one of the biggest grass roots success stories in entertainment: a British indie gone big budget time travel-palooza.  But finding Doctor Who merchandise in major retail chains isn’t what has drawn and kept fans.  Doctor Who remains true to its roots—a character-driven adventure story with depth, quirky humor and two lumps of the mysterious.

What drew me to Doctor Who wasn’t some big marketing campaign but the persistent urging of a friend and longtime Whovian who kept saying I should watch the Shakespeare episode, being the literary geek I am.  First, I had to watch “The Christmas Invasion,” the annual holiday episode that perpetually revives the Doctor’s story and reminds us of who he is, especially if it’s a regeneration.  It’s no big surprise then that my Doctor is Ten.  I love asking the same of other fans.

Sorry, where was I? I just got sidetracked by the Doctor Who game on Google.

 Doctor Who is both old and new, familiar and reinvented with each episode.  No television show has surprised me as often with bold storytelling choices and ridiculously good acting.  Taken with a bit of cheese, Doctor Who is unique as a sci-fi adventure.  We’re not just treated to aliens but also meet the likes of Vincent Van Gogh in the same scintillating suspense story.  The Doctor is the perfect hero-never winning too easily but always making sure you know who he is and what he’s capable of.  He can ride a horse through a mirror or drive his spaceship into the sun.  Watching him frolic and barge his way through time and space, across cultures and history is like sitting in a TARDIS motion-simulator ride.

Doctor Who’s longevity comes in part from brilliant writing that is both episodic and overarching.  Even though I’m for Tennent’s Ten, my favorite series is the first of the 11th Doctor’s regeneration.  My mind was blown when bits of story came back to form a completed jigsaw puzzle at the end of “season” five.  Episodes like “Blink,” though stand alone, generate compelling foes like the Weeping Angels.  I’ve even turned my dad into a bit of a Whoovian.  The other day he astounded me by naming the first two words of the TARDIS acronym.  Even my mom saves me her TV Guides when she sees the Doctor on the cover.

With a new generation of fans adding to the numbers of long-time Whovians, America eclipsing England in their viewing numbers and world-wide Who fever, The Doctor’s days in the pop culture sun are long from over.  My trepidations of an older incarnation for Doctor number twelve are soothed by the promise of Moffat’s writing, the momentum from the touted revelations of The Day of the Doctor and the fact that no matter who is in the TARDIS, that big blue box will always take me away from the mundane world.  I am indeed the Doctor’s companion and I’ll be along for the ride as long as he travels.

Doctor Who 50th Poster

An Ode to the Video Store or Why the Death of Blockbuster Has Left Me Nostalgic

Video Tape DeathWhen I think about my childhood, I can’t help but remember frequent trips to the video rental store.  Browsing through wire racks of thick plastic display cases, I would make my way to my favorite tape and grab it like the warm hand of an old friend.  The newest releases only took up a small portion of the shelves, and the classics stood sentinel in their rows, familiar in their positions from week to week.  Movies traveled at a glacial pace from the theater to the store.  Disney still made hand drawn films and Don Bluth animation was better than anything DreamWorks ever dreamt up.

I’m saddened when I think that my daughter will never know that movie rentals come from anywhere other than an outdoor kiosk or a computer system.  Can you even get movies through the mail anymore?  She will never have the pleasure of browsing the local rental shop with friends before a sleepover or spending a happy summer hour contemplating the kids section for the oldie but goody she’s rented five times or the one she’s only rented four.  Redbox doesn’t stock classics.  If it’s not new, it’s gone.  Netflix won’t offer the same homey setup every time you view it or the chatter of the in-house TV showing The Land Before Time again.

Yes, with the end of Blockbuster comes the end of an era.  Video rental stores have gone the way of full-service gas stations and the five and dime.  They will be a sad piece of nostalgia we carry from our collective past, we children of the eighties and nineties and our parents.  I think of making those trips in search of entertainment with my daughter.  What will be our bi-weekly outings?  Certainly driving to Walgreens to find the Redbox won’t hold the same romance.  Trips to the Target five dollar DVD section?  Maybe.  Heck, I can’t even take her to Borders and say “old mom used to work here.” Now that is a whole other nostalgic-angst blog post waiting to happen.  I’d better quit while I’m ahead.  Oh, and I just want to give a shout out to Barb’s Video.  Yeah.  Those were the good old days.

P.S. Here’s a repost of a movie review that may ease our sufferings.  If nothing else, you can read the intro and see how attached I am to my video store memories.

Ghostbusters Jack Black

Be Kind Rewind

Or

Ghostbusters Will Never be the Same

A Film Review by Christie Hudon

Remember the golden age of mom and pop video rental stores?  Before the Blockbuster explosion I used to rent my tapes from Barb’s Video.  I loved walking into the familiar racks of the kids section and picking up one of my favorites-always in the same spot near the big white plastic Disney cases.  Sorry for digressing, but after seeing a video store featured on the big screen I’m kind of sentimental.  Be Kind Rewind, the latest from quirky filmmaker Michel Gondry is a nostalgia piece with an independent flair and a delightfully straightforward story.

Afterwards, I chatted with a fellow moviegoer who called the film an “off-beat comedy.”   I thought this was a perfect description. Be Kind Rewind is at times slapstick and other times sophisticated.  One moment you shake your head at the obvious plot device and the next you ponder the ambiguous ending.  It seemed crystal clear to me though that this was Gondry’s treatise on moviemaking.  You don’t need a budget worthy of a congressional bill, you need ingenuity.  We go to the movies to see creativity and heart and we appreciate those films.  I read between the lines and see the idea that the majority of what Hollywood has to offer has failed because they’ve forgotten this.

Be Kind Rewind is the story of Mr. Fletcher’s video store in Passaic, New York.  When Fletcher (played by Danny Glover) leaves town for the week and entrusts his store to his adopted son Mike (Mos Def) a disaster happens.  Mike’s bizarre friend Jerry (Jack Black) becomes magnetized (don’t ask, just watch) and erases all the tapes in Fletcher’s store.  In a desperate attempt to keep the customers happy, Mike decides to re-shoot the movies with the help of Jerry and a very old video camera.  What follows is a store full of strangely delighted customers and abridged homemade classics like The Lion King done with life-size paper cutouts and safari bed sheets.

One of several interesting aspects about Be Kind Rewind is the way the audience becomes involved in the making of the movie.  We see the remakes come to life with bad camera tricks, no sets or effects and minimal professional resources.  When we watch the creative process, the film becomes something more; a work that is compelling because of the efforts of those involved.

Along with all the camera gags, we also get a feel good story; in the middle of a poor neighborhood, people work together to make these films and save the store from being condemned and demolished.  Be Kind is a refreshingly enjoyable movie.  It makes you feel as if you could go out and shoot a film in your own garage and I think that’s just what Gondry intended. Be Kind Rewind Poster

Geek Trends

Can geeks be trendy?  Isn’t that idea in itself an oxymoron?  I think it’s safe to say that within its own circles, the world of geekdom has ideas and favorites that rise and fall.  Here are a few trends I’ve noticed lately that make my geek senses tingle or cringe.

1. Mashup Cosplay

Avenger Girls...and we have a Hulk

Avenger Girls…and we have a Hulk

The art of cosplay seems to have reached a new status in pop culture and is no longer pegged simply as a strange hobby for wacky devoted people.   With celebs getting in on the act; Tom Hiddleston’s Loki appearance at Marvel’s Comic Con panel or Matt Smith incognito as Bart Simpson, a dedicated show on Syfy and hundreds of easy to wear products flooding the market beyond Halloween time, it’s no wonder veteran cosplayers are looking to do something different.

The latest way to amp up cosplay is by mixing fandoms or styles to create a unique costume.  A lot of ideas start as a Deviantart picture that entices with original concepts of familiar characters.  Japanese artist Sakizou is a hot item for cosplayers.  Her creations come from taking objects or ideas and making frilly lolita meets steampunk designs.    Disney characters are popular mashup subjects with everything from burlesque to jedi princesses making the rounds at cons.  One talented cosplayer I know took a Sakizou design to create a steampunk Cinderella.  Love the Walking Dead and Superman?  Perfect.  Man of Steel Zombie.  See how easy this is?

Japanese artist Sakizou creates beautiful characters.

Japanese artist Sakizou creates beautiful characters.

Mashups allow a cosplayer to make a character taylor fit to your body and personality.  I had fun making a feminine Captain America to match a group of cosplay friends doing girly Avengers.  And why not?  Just because I don’t have biceps doesn’t mean I can’t rock the shield and stripes.

2. Geek TV

Did you know shortly before the premier of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, DC announced a Gotham cop drama centered around a young commissioner Gordon?  And now, Warner Brothers is working on a dark Wizard of Oz called Red Brick Road?  They say it will be Oz meets Game of Thrones.  You know nothing Dorothy!

Geek TV

Geek TV

But seriously, when did geekdom glut the TV market?  It’s great right?  I’m not sure yet.  The geek TV floodgates have opened, thanks to The Big Bang Theory and the reboot of Doctor Who.  Now, since geeky ideas are trendy in the mass market, networks seem to be jumping on the bandwagon like immigrants craving passage to America.  Make it good studio execs.  You know geek fans aren’t to be trifled with.  Batfleck anyone?

Making geeks cool since 2007

Making geeks cool since 2007

3. Mass Market Geek Fashion

It’s never been easier to get your geek on-literally.  Forever21 announced a DC line making Batman cool to hipsters and teens (like he needed the help).  Sites like Welovefine and Heruniverse have supercharged their geek offerings lately.    I’m a fan of geek dresses.  Tardis, Dalek, R2D2 or Vader?  So many choices!  Take a look at the T-shirt selection at Target.  I’m never at a loss for a quick present idea for the geek  hubby.  Apparently there’s a company called Black Milk out of Australia that makes chic geek clothes like leggings and tight tank dresses in Star Wars, Harry Potter and even Lord of the Rings designs.  Even Old Navy is in on the act.  You can’t check out without walking past a barrage of geek accessories.  And that’s after you’ve brought your toddler Star Wars shirts to the checkout line.

From Welovefine.com

From Welovefine.com

Exterminate your wardrobe

From Heruniverse.com

The Geek Singularity

Revel my geeky friends, revel.  We may never live in an age as uniquely geek as this.  It’s as if all the sweet spots of comic book, fantasy and sci-fi culture have hit their apex in pop culture, spawning movies, television shows and merchandising of nebulaic proportions.  There may never again be a time when Comic Con features nearly the entire cast of Marvel’s Avengers and X-Men: Days of Future Past, strutting movie icons like Hugh Jackman and Samuel L Jackson; Peter Jackson wooing Tolkien devotees with Hobbit footage and Doctor Who panels visited by The Doctor himself.  In true Sheldon Cooper theory, I christen this golden age The Geek Singularity.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

If the coming soon to theaters list is any indication, The Singularity should last at least into 2016.  Comic Con is on my bucket list but not even on the radar for at least six or seven years so I need this phenomenon to last.  According to their panel, Marvel has movies projected to 2021 so the longevity of the current comic book/ sci-fi/fantasy zeitgeist is a probability at least in the Disney universe.  What with a new Star Wars trilogy on the way, The Singularity may well last another couple of decades.  And who cares if pop culture hangs on.  Being geek has never meant being mainstream-until now.

The Winter Soldier

The Winter Soldier

Here’s a look at the future of The Singularity…

2013

50th Anniversary of Doctor Who

Ender’s Game

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Agents of Shield (Television gold? I hope so.)

Thor: The Dark World

2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Spectacular Spider-Man

Games of Thrones Season 4

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Thank God they’re mutant once again, not alien.)

X Men: Days of Future Past

Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel’s obscure but cloying gamble that I would see just for Karen Gillan as a bald villain.  I love you Amy Pond!)

2015

Pirates of the Caribbean 5

The Fantastic Four (Didn’t they just do this?)

Avengers: The Age of Ultron (Salivating for this one.)

Justice League (Please come back Christian Bale!)

Superman Sequel (featuring Batman; please come back Christian Bale!)

Ant-Man (Um, well okay, for the sake of The Singularity.)

Star Wars Episode 7 (J.J. Abrams has his work cut out for him-I want my daughter raised on good Star Wars.)

Future Projects

Deadpool (You’re welcome fanboys.)

Aquaman (The comments about this movie on IMDB read like an episode of The Big Bang Theory: “Aquaman sucks!” “Dude, 75% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water so he controls almost every sea creature and can easily sink almost all the world.”)

Death Note

BLEACH (Anime getting some geek movie love? Beautiful. Can I get some Americanized live action Sailor Moon? Wait, no, just no.)

The Phantom

Wonder Woman

X-Men 4 and 5 (Let’s hope they’re as good as the prequel sort of reboot.)

Nick Fury

The Flash

"Two of You? Oh the mind races" -River Song

“Two of You? Oh the mind races” -River Song