Another all-movies installment, I'm afraid. You, know, in looking over the list of new (to me) movies that I watched last year, while I had no problem seeing fifty movies, and while there were quite a few that I enjoyed, it's dawned on me that I didn't see much of anything that I actually loved. I apparently only saw two movies in the entire year that I thought were deserving of five stars, and if I'd been in a different mood when I'd seen it, there's one of them that I might possibly have given a slightly lower rating to. I'm not sure what my point is here; it's just a bummer to look back and realize that out of all the movies I saw, most of them were just kind of "meh" for me. Mad Max: Fury Road might have been my favorite new movie that I watched in 2015, which is a little surprising, given that I've never been a big fan of the Mad Max franchise before or action flicks in general, though when they're done well, I can definitely appreciate them.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Okay, I know I did a poor job saying what I actually thought of the new movie last time. Well, I didn’t feel a stirring in my breast as I sat in the theater and I heard that familiar theme start or saw the opening crawl- despite my general distaste for crowds, here’s where it might have heightened my excitement to be surrounded by die-hard fans. But after the first few minutes, I did start to enjoy myself. I liked it, I liked the new characters… I might have to see it again before I’m really positive how I feel. I had to go back and see The Phantom Menace a second time just because I wanted to like it so much and couldn’t quite make myself believe that it was as underwhelming as all that the first time. But thanks to that experience, I didn’t have any real expectations about The Force Awakens either way and found it mostly to be surprisingly enjoyable. Some critics and George Lucas himself have complained about it being too “retro” and having too many nods to the earlier films, but the original films were pretty retro themselves- borrowing from old adventure serials and the like. Now what piece of nostalgia can it reference except itself?
The People vs. George Lucas
The title aside, the director of this documentary has said that he wanted to make an even-handed look at George Lucas that he could comfortably watch with the man himself. I don't know if he achieved that goal, though, since slightly over thirty minutes in, I wanted to yell obscenities at Lucas, and I’m not sure I’d ever felt that strongly about the guy before. There’s a clip of someone fantasizing that Lucas died in the late-eighties. When you think about it, if he had, his legacy might have been relatively untarnished and we would have been left to speculate about the amazing Star Wars movies he never got to make, blissfully unaware of the truth.
I can understand never feeling totally satisfied with your work and wanting to tinker with it- there have been numerous times where I’ve re-uploaded pics to this site when I spot mistakes or things I wish I’d done differently. Several of the people who have commissioned me have had some experience with me sending them multiple versions of artwork because I keep finding stuff I could have done better, even after I’ve declared a piece finished.
So, I don’t totally begrudge Lucas for the remastered editions of the original trilogy. But what is infuriating is that he’s made it so that the remastered editions are the only versions (legally) accessible to the general public. I’m lucky to still have the originals on VHS, even if they’re not widescreen. I’m hopeful that now that Disney owns Star Wars, we might finally see the original versions of those movies on DVD again. Actually, given that this documentary was made before Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney, it would be interesting to see an update. I read on Wikipedia that a sequel is in the works, in fact.
Neil Gaiman is one of the people interviewed in this documentary. One of the things he says is, “Fans know exactly what they want. Fans want more of the last thing they read and they liked. That’s what they want. They liked that thing you did. They would like another one of those, please.” Boy, did that resonate with me. Even though Star Wars brought George Lucas fame and fortune, I can’t totally blame him if he has a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the franchise and its fans. I’m just a penniless nobody with a small sliver of talent, but I do have some inkling of how the satisfaction one feels when people enjoy what you do can turn to frustration when all they want to see from you is more of the same. So, it's not that difficult for me to empathize with Lucas somewhat.
One thing in Lucas’ favor that someone points out is that he’s never gone after anyone making a fan film. The reason I mention this is because, coincidentally, CBS and Paramount are currently in the process of suing a Star Trek fan film production called Axanar. It doesn’t really have anything to do with this documentary, but I can’t help talking about it because I find it a fascinating case, even though I’m not super into fan films (with a few notable exceptions, most I find too cringeworthy to enjoy). A lot of Trekkies are up in arms about this case, seeing it as the big company picking on fans who just want to show their love for Star Trek, but I think those people are ignoring a lot of damning evidence against Axanar. Frankly, having done my research, I’m fully on the side of the plaintiffs. Up to this point, CBS seems to have been willing to turn a blind eye to fan films as long as they didn’t earn a penny for themselves. This is where the Axanar team really fucked up, since they’ve used crowdfunded money that was meant to go towards the making of Axanar to line their own pockets and start a studio intended to produce for-profit films. They got greedy and I just hope that it doesn’t ruin things for other fan productions.
William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge
I’m not sure if this William Shatner documentary about the strife behind the scenes in the early days of Star Trek: The Next Generation qualifies as a movie. At just under an hour, it’s a bit rushed. It almost feels like something you’d see as a DVD extra. Unlike the George Lucas doc, this might not have as much crossover appeal to non-fans. I already knew a fair amount about this subject, but there were a number of stories I hadn’t heard before, so for me, it was mostly worth the rental price, though I kind of wish it had been a bit longer and more thorough. It’s kind of cool, though, that Shatner himself, found this an interesting enough story to do a documentary about it.
It’s interesting that I watched this so soon after The People Vs. George Lucas, as there are some definite similarities in subject matter, the biggest one being how, in an attempt to maintain total creative control, both George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry risked doing major damage to the beloved sci-fi franchises they’d created and lost sight of what made people fall in love with said franchises in the first place.
It’s noted a couple times during Chaos on the Bridge that the first couple years or so of TNG, angry Trekkies refused to consider the show to be “real” Star Trek. It’s worth keeping that in mind now that people are making the same tired old complaint about the current Star Trek movies. To be fair, I may have felt that way about Enterprise back when it was on, and I do have my own issues with the last couple movies, but it all just feels so childish and petty for someone to declare what is and isn’t “real” Star Trek” and who the “real” Star Trek fans are.
This is the sort of thing I’m seeing a lot of lately from people bashing Paramount over the aforementioned Axanar lawsuit, including the producers of Axanar themselves, which is a really unprofessional attitude to take, particularly from people who claim to be “professionals,” and it’s part of the reason I have no sympathy for them. I’m not even sure where all this devotion for Axanar is coming from, since all they’ve produced so far (or are likely to produce) is a short film with a bunch of talking heads in front of a green screen and some admittedly snazzy VFX. Plus, Axanar was intended to be a war movie, which I don’t think is necessarily out of place in the Star Trek universe, but it’s kinda hypocritical to knock the latest movies for being action oriented and then laud this other thing that’s all about space battles and explosions for somehow being more in keeping with Gene Roddenberry’s vision.
Speaking of which, to get slightly back on topic, David Gerrold, who wrote The Trouble With Tribbles has been one of Axanar’s misguided defenders, and in doing so, he’s talked about the franchise needing someone to safeguard Roddenberry’s vision, which is ironic, considering how much crap he has to say about Roddenberry in this documentary and in general… not that I blame him; it sounds like Roddenberry stabbed a lot of his old friends in the back during TNG. If Chaos on the Bridge teaches us anything, it’s that trying too hard to maintain his so-called vision above all else is what nearly doomed the franchise.
I’m not saying having an optimistic or hopeful vision of where humanity is heading is bad at all- though I roll my eyes at people who consider themselves arbiters of who are and aren't "true" fans, I think it's weird that anybody could be a fan of Star Trek and not embrace that goal- it merely seems that taking it too far or too seriously hurt the storytelling in the first couple seasons of TNG.
Excellent dramatization of how the Boston Globe blew the lid off the Catholic church’s conspiracy to cover-up the rampant pedophilia in its ranks. Sheesh, the people who say George Lucas raped their childhood should get a little perspective by watching this film. Of course, the crimes committed by the church are atrocious and very sad to think about, but I couldn’t help being enthralled with the movie, practically from start to finish. Seeing the journalistic process in action and how these reporters worked to uncover the truth in the face of heavy opposition was thrilling in a way.
The Cutting Edge
I’m not sure why I can’t remember ever hearing of this movie until recently. D.B Sweeney (who I still know best as Chance Harper from the short-lived mid-nineties Fox series Strange Luck) plays a cocky, down on his luck hockey player who is partnered with a prima donna figure skater (Moira Kelly). First they hate each other, then they love each other. Yeah, it’s predictable, but it’s definitely a feel-good flick and I’m not sorry I saw it.
While it has nothing to do with the movie, now that I’ve brought it up, I feel like saying something about Strange Luck. I don’t remember the show super well, but the premise was that the main character’s life was governed by odd coincidences. I think I always felt like the flaw in that premise was that it was hardly a unique trait to possess on television, as that could describe a lot of other TV characters. I mean, everywhere Monk went, someone committed a murder. But it was an interesting idea to make that the central focus of the show instead of simply hoping the audience doesn’t think too hard about it.
Only Lovers Left Alive
In this Jim Jarmusch movie, Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play a vampire couple. This is one of those works of fiction that emphasizes a lot of the drawbacks to immortality and vampirism, like what a hassle it is to book a flight that has to leave and arrive at its destination at night. This movie is undoubtedly not for everyone; it’s very slowly paced and not a lot happens. But it’s beautifully shot (even the wreckage of Detroit looks beautiful, though I’d be scared to drive around it at night or maybe even the day) and it’s funny in a subdued way. I watched the behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD and that was almost as interesting as the movie, if not more so, seeing how much thought goes into ever little detail and shot… stuff I wouldn’t have even thought about, like pouring fake blood on pieces of carpet to see how it’ll look on film.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Somehow, I saw two vampire movies in a row. I’ve talked about the first two Underworld movies before. The first one doesn’t feel like a complete story- it’s a bit more satisfying when watched together with the sequel- and it really wasn’t interesting to me until they finally revealed the cause of the feud between the vampires and lycans, late into the film. So, because this is a prequel, we see that backstory in a lot more detail, but there aren’t any big surprises because we already know how things are going to turn out. It might have been better if they’d actually made this movie first. I dunno, I just find the Underworld films to be pretty joyless; I don’t know why I keep watching them. I guess I like the idea or the genre enough, even if I’m not enamoured of the execution.