Thursday, December 31, 2015

some things change but some things shine forever as they are

The internet always includes a bit of backlash to any film that people love. Whether it is deserved or not. Whether more voices speak positively or not. I am here, for the third day in a row to speak against some of that backlash. Like Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times, who describes Star Wars The Force Awakens as "depressingly unimaginative and dull in long stretches" then just a sentence later says, "This isn't to say that it's not an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours." That kind of contradictory bullshit pisses me off. Does The Force Awakens hit a few too many of the same plot beats as A New Hope? Of course it does. But, here's the thing... Or my thing, anyway--I still watch A New Hope sometimes. Those plot beats are worth hitting because they're good. In fact, I'm thinking of watching The Hidden Fortress tomorrow to see those same plot beats even earlier than Star Wars. There are only so many plots available to wrap stories around. The key to making new stories is new characters, new nuance to the same old plot beats. What matters with The Force Awakens is that Rey is a different character than Luke (and Anakin), Kylo is a different character than Vader (and Palpatine). That Han Solo can fill a bit of his old role, and fill in the role of Obi-Wan in A New Hope and Qui-Gon in The Phantom Menace may demonstrate a little bit of the "unimaginative" but it also shows actual evolution of a character over time. That the evil Empire offshoot would think a bigger, badder weapon is the way to go shows the lack of imagination on the part of evil organizations, not the lack of imagination on the part of the screenwriters...

...necessarily. These things could very well be examples of the screenwriters lacking imagination. Or they could be the necessary beats to jumpstart an old story, the return of which fans have been dying for.

Today's film is actually Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, and it has had more action in its first few minutes than the entirety of Caravan of Courage. Plus, whiny Mace is dead, Cindel seems to have gotten a little better at line reading and Wicket can speak pidgin Basic (read: English) now... Actually, I'm not sure that last point is a positive, but that narrator in Caravan was fairly annoying.

But, I'm here to finish with Seth Abramson. I've gone through all of his 40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' over the last two (1 2) entries and discovered--much to everyone's shock, of course--that not one of his forty items was an actual plot hole, a few may have been stupid decisions on the part of the characters, but most were just questions Abramson wanted answered, which, for the record, a film has no responsibility to answer all of your questions. Especially when that film is setting up a planned trilogy with a few mysteries for fans to obsess over. Today, we move on to Abramson's 20 More Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' because, well, somebody has to be completist about this sort of thing.

First a comment regarding Ewoks: Lucas knew about all these creatures on Endor, like this winged thing that just stole Cindel, and he didn't insert some Stormtroopers riding them into the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi? That is some out-of-character self control on the part of George Lucas. An Abramsonian plot hole, if you will, in the "plot" of Lucasfilm.

I just found that Abramson wrote a third piece about The Force Awakens--10 Reasons 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Is the Best 'Star Wars' Film Ever Made. In it he says, "In law school, they taught us to argue both sides of any issue with zeal and ferocity." I'm thinking Abramson's thesaurus says that zeal means make shit up and nitpick as much as you can. Now, long-time readers of the Groundhog Day Project will know that I can nitpick and make shit up like the best of them. But, I generally label a nitpick as a nitpick, and even in one of my favorite entries I've written--Day 292 - can you keep a secret?--I acknowledged in the footnotes that I was inventing my conspiracy out of nowhere. Suggesting that "Is Supreme Leader Snoke actually a giant" is a weakness in the film, let alone an actual plot hole, is not zeal and ferocity. It's inane.

Abramson's third piece actually gets into elaborate explanations of his points. Perhaps if he had simply chosen ten plot holes to write about before he could have explained better how flaws in characters or plot points he didn't like should be designated as plot holes. His rather long first point boils down to the idea of monomyths (I already covered this), his second argues against Rey as a Mary Sue (I got that too), his third defends Kylo as a "vastly superior" character than Vader, his fourth promotes Finn, his fifth argues, "Han's death was hard-earned, not cynical or contractual," and his sixth point even defends the "cyclical" nature of the First Order echoing the choices of the Empire. But, my favorite one is his #8:

The Force Awakens has no plot holes; it's just in the unenviable position of having to continue telling one of the longest and most complex stories ever rendered on film, and having to do so within a two-hour runtime.

He still, I think, misunderstands Luke's map, as do many people. He says that Ren explains that the remnants of the Empire tracked Luke on "his 'flight' from civilization." I don't know if anyone tracked anyone. I think R2-D2's map--we never actually see what the First Order has--reflects the Jedi temples Luke found, or his stops along the way to finding the original one he was seeking. It's not bread crumbs to be found later. It's just notes on a trip. And, in a galaxy-wide, multi-cultural civilization, I'm not sure how much of it can be said to be a "flight" from civilization. As far as we know, that island where Luke is found at the end of The Force Awakens is on a planet where, you know, other people live. Luke left wherever he was training Jedi, Luke left the Republic. Luke didn't (necessarily) leave civilization.

But, his writing here is clearer, and more detailed. Rather than going for a long list, he should have stuck with this writing style in his previous piece. There is plenty of room for negativity about The Force Awakens--a personal nitpick, for example: Maz Kanata's contention that why she has Luke's lightsaber is a story for another time suggests an interesting tale we will get later when having it could be as simple as someone found it on Bespin and it eventually got into some black market that made its way to Takodana. It doesn't have to be complicated. Maz could have dismissed Han's question just as easily by pointing out that he's a smuggler who has three rathtars on his freighter; I mean, do we need a story about how he caught them? No. We know Han does dangerous shit sometimes. That he is hauling dangerous animals around is surprisingly in-character for him. And, thinking it strange that Maz has something as valuable as the lightsaber of Anakin and Luke Skywalker when Maz is a friend to smugglers and criminals and has been for a long, long time, is actually not in-character. Unless the journey of that lightsaber is actually a major subplot of Episode VIII or the Rogue Squadron film, Maz could just have easily gone with a Barney Stinson-style "Please" in response to Han's question. Instead we get the too-suggestive implication of a story to come, just begging fans to speculate and when fans have two years to speculate, the story we eventually get will probably never hold up when compared to the speculation. Now, that is a weakness in the film. Still not a plot hole. But it is a point of weakness.

And, by the end of this sentence, I will have passed 1500 words already today and I haven't even gotten to Abramson's second list of plot holes. So, let's do this.

After some critique. See, Abramson got significant response to his 40 Plot Holes so he explains himself a little more before getting into his second list. "For instance," he explains, "it's not a plot hole that Rey can speak Wookiee; it's a plot hole that Han and Chewie aren't surprised by it." No, that's still not a plot hole. Han and Chewbacca can speak Wookiee, so they are the people who should be least surprised by anyone speaking Wookiee. Rey lives outside Niima Outpost, which if built up a bit would be a lot like Mos Eisley, the kind of multi-cultural location where people learn each other's languages just to get by. She speaks droid, too. And she speaks Teedo. And, obviously, she speaks Basic. And, I'm sure Han and Chewbacca have met a lot of people who speak a lot of languages, including Wookiee. Lando Calrissian, for one--he spoke Wookiee.

Abramson also acknowledges that, in his previous list, his #11 was not a plot hole, his #16 was explained in the film as was #34 and #38 (Snoke's hologram being big) echoed the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back.

After doubling down on his misuse of "plot hole," Abramson suggests that his previous list be understood "more on the order of 'Capitalism owes us better story-writing than this!' than 'There are too many grip-notches on Luke's light saber!'" The first at least suggests he realizes his list is just his personal complaints, despite still labeling them plot holes, but the second is just silly. I'm not sure anyone suggested that his complaints were that level of nerditry. But, now I'm wasting time.

(Before I actually get to the second list, one more thing: for the record, Phasma is never "hardcore" in The Force Awakens; she's just in charge.)

#1 Starkiller Base sucks energy out of a star thousands of times its size... In a universe with the Force and Hyperspace, I really don't think this detail is a problem. And the alternative is that we get some Star Trek-style lingo that makes less sense than the visual.

#2 "If Starkiller Base is a weaponized, orbit-locked planet--" Gonna stop you right there, Abramson, because the film never tells us that Starkiller Base is "orbit-locked." Abramson does get at an interesting point, though, when he asks, "And if Starkiller Base is a planet-sized object that can fly on its own, why is it anywhere near Republic-held territory...?" I haven't read the novelization, but I saw an explanation that someone said is in there suggesting that Starkiller Base does not actually fire beams of energy like we see in the film--that's just an easier visual--it throws that energy into hyperspace, so it can actually fire on planets at huge distances, unlike the Death Star that went into orbit around Yavin in order to blow up Yavin 4. That beam (and the splitting of it) in the film I think was a mistake on the filmmakers' part because it does offer a confusing layout of planets; the visuals suggest that Starkiller Base and Takodana are somehow in the Hosnian system along with those five Republic planets that are destroyed. In canon--i.e. in the The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary--Takodana is nowhere near the Hosnian System. The visuals in the film--when interstellar communication is possible is something like an Abramsonian plot hole--a confusing choice made by the filmmakers that doesn't hold up very well to inspection.

#3 Maz Kanata's keeps "her most prized and valuable possession in an unlocked chest in a publicly accessible basement." Presumption: that Luke's lightsaber is Maz' most valuable possession. As far as we know, she's got a collection in just that one room of thousands of lightsabers--her being a lightsaber collector would actually cover pretty damn well that "story for another time" bullshit; anybody finds a lightsaber anywhere in the galaxy, eventually it gets to Maz. Hell, she could have a Katana warship or the Alderaanian ship Another Chance--that would be more valuable than one lightsaber. Potentially, that room and the chest are only unlocked when a Force-sensitive person like Rey is nearby. Plus, the room can be accessible to anyone as long as, you know, Maz knows when someone's down there, which clearly she does, since she shows up right after Rey does. If your storage room has sensors that let you know when people are in or near it, you don't really need guards, especially when there seems to be only one way out. Plus, even if this were a bad idea, it is Maz carrying the idiot ball, not a plot hole.

(Abramson also presumes, in passing, that Maz is committed to the Resistance. The film never suggests this at all.)

#4 Han makes Maz's "cantina... sound incredibly dodgy--so much so that he tells Rey and Finn not to even look at anything once they're inside." No, he tells them not to "stare." That's just being polite. Abramson says the patrons are friendly, citing Maz--the owner who clearly knows Han from way back and has a thing for Chewbacca and is familiar with the Force--and the "couple dudes in a corner [who] offer Finn a ride to the Outer Rim even though he has no money." First of all, wow, three friendly folk in a crowded space. Second of all, those "dudes" are pointed out by Maz, so are presumably more friendly to strangers than others who are there, and they don't offer Finn travel for nothing. He is supposed to work for them. Maz says that up front and we later see Finn helping them load stuff into their ship.

#5 Rey "says she never imagined so much green could exist in the entire galaxy" when she sees Takodana but she dreams "every single night... of an oceanic world dotted with idyllic and gorgeously lush islands." Not sure anyone says she dreams of those islands every night, first of all. And, second of all, a few scattered islands in a vast ocean is a hell of a lot less green than is immediately visible on Takodana. Plus, a line like "I never imagined..." whatever--not often taken as 100% literal.

#6 "Has any film, in any genre, ever allowed a sketchy, background-unknown defector from the Bad Guy camp (Finn) such quick in-person access to the Supreme Commander of the Good Guys (Leia) as we see here, and with so few questions asked?" 1) am I reaching in thinking the addition of "sketchy" is a little racist? Probably, but that word doesn't add much here. 2) Finn's background is actually quite known, I'm guessing, since the Resistance has done flyovers at Starkiller Base and probably knows all about how Stormtroopers are being trained of late. 3) Finn, by this time has spent time with Poe, saved his life, even. He has spent time with BB-8, who seems a good judge of character. He has spent time with Han and Chewbacca. He has fought and killed numerous Stormtroopers, and has Luke's lightsaber (though I'm not sure Leia knows this last detail). Plenty of questions have been answered already, even if no one has explicitly asked them. And, again, even if this was a stupid decision on the part of Poe, taking Finn in to see Leia, that is Poe carrying the idiot ball, not a plot hole.

#7 "Rey remembers quite clearly that she's been told not to leave Jakku..." No. Nothing in the film suggests that anyone told her not to leave Jakku. It actually plays like a psychological affectation of an abandoned child--she's sure her family is going to come back for her someday, so she never wants to be far from Jakku because she might miss their return. "..and yet she has no memory whatsoever of the face of the person" who told her that. If no one told her as much, there is no one to remember, plus, does Rey ever say she doesn't remember her family? In her vision, we see the ship leaving. That does not actually mean that Rey has no memory of anything more. And, if she does, that is not a "logical inconsistency" and not a plot hole.

#8 Stormtroopers has a giant taser. Yes, they have weapons beyond blasters, which 1) prepares them for fighting, say an apparent Jedi (who can probably deflect blaster fire) with a lightsaber and 2) also explains why Finn might be able to wield a lightsaber with some skill; First Order Stormtroopers are trained to fight. Abramson calls the "taser" both "inept" and "inapt." In fact, having more than one type of weapon makes a Stormtrooper quite... Is "ept" a word? And, the weapon, like those staves that General Grievous's Magnaguards' electrostaves, are what one needs to fight a Jedi, who has a lightsaber and can block blaster fire. Thus, apt. And, again, even if this weapon were inept and inapt, that does not make its existence a plot hole.

#9 Flametroopers. Again, not a plot hole. Also, a realistic addition to a military that uses intimidation to subdue its enemies and innocents alike. That's why real-world armies include soldiers who carry flamethrowers.

#10 There were toys released that were not in the film. Not in any way a part of the plot of the film, so not a plot hole. Plus, Abramson acknowledges that something might have been cut from the film. In fact, a sequence on Starkiller Base involving speeder bikes and snowspeeders was apparently cut from the film. It's removal creates one of the only (sort of) actual plot holes in the film--Poe's jacket that Finn now wears apparently switches from Finn to Rey wearing it between scenes, and then back again, and we don't get to see any of this jacket switching which means the writers and the director and all of Hollywood have failed and Star Wars The Force Awakens no longer makes any sense at all because of this gaping plot hole.

I kid, of course.

#11 TIE fighter is tethered. Actually, as Abramson puts it, "Since when, in the history of space films, have spacecraft in a well-guarded spaceship hangar needed to be tethered? This is just silly on so many levels. But it elongates a cool escape scene by thirty seconds, so hooray!" See, my thought when that "tether" showed up was that the TIE fighter was being fueled, and this bothered me not one bit. Plus, yes, it lengthens the action sequence, and offers up more time to a) demonstrate that Poe is a capable guy and b) allow Poe and Finn more time together because (see #6 above) apparently no one can ever judge anyone's character in less than a minute.

#12 Yay! Abramson caught on to the bowcaster conundrum. Thing is, Han having never fired Chewbacca's bowcaster in 40 years together is less a plot hole than a relationship hole, and I weep for the conversation Han and Chewie might have had later if Han had not been killed by Kylo. In fact, the absence of that particular connection between the two is probably the thing Chewbacca laments most each night now that Han is gone. "Why didn't I let him fire my bowcaster sooner," Chewie asks himself... except in Shyriiwook, not Basic. And he weeps.

Abramson dismisses this bowcaster business as a "gag." But, really, it is a setup, so we realize just how bad an injury Kylo has sustained later. See, the fight at the end of The Force Awakens is Kylo at nowhere near his best, and he hasn't finished his training. Imagine the badass he was in act one and elevate his power level a whole lot and Kylo in the next film could be as dangerous as Vader has been in, say Force Unleashed video games or his recent comic, or on the Rebels cartoon. Modern special effects can make Kylo be as powerful on screen as we all imagined Vader was, but really never got to see.

#13 rehashes #8. Plus, Abramson really doesn't like the idea of a toy line, I think. He seems to think the "Tasertrooper" exists just to have more toys possible.

#14 makes no sense to me. Abramson says: "For folks trying to hide BB-8 from the First Order, BB-8's friends sure make some inexplicable, unnecessary decisions to trot him out in public." 1) no one makes any effort at all to "hide" BB-8, so there is no logical inconsistency in "trotting him out in public" but 2) no one trots him out in public either. Abramson is as dismissive of droids as Teedo is. BB-8 can actually make his own decisions. And, he is never unnecessarily out in public, at all. This is his mission once Poe is out of the picture, so of course he is going to go along into Maz' castle. Taking him to Maz' is the only "decision" that might fit Abramson's contention, despite the plural, and I would say, that was BB-8's decision, not anyone else's. So, at best, this is BB-8 carrying... no, being the idiot ball.

#15 Finn turns out not to know Starkiller Base as well as he implied, so "why doesn't Han let Leia know that they've been had?" 1) no time for that, 2) Finn turns out to actually have a legitimate plan on what to do; and Han is just being as dismissive of "janitors" as Abramson has been, in balking at all, and 3) maybe radio contact at this point would a) not work because of the shield or b) reveal their location to the First Order. And, like before, idiot ball at best, not a plot hole.

#16 "Why can't Starkiller Base be used until it's dark...?" It can be used whenever, but the First Order, obsessed with big guns, wants a big beam of energy, so they will drain the entire energy of the star, thus, you know, causing it to become dark. I don't think Abramson is stupid. In fact, judging by his writing in some of his non-Star Wars pieces, he seems relatively intelligent. But, this is just him not paying any attention to what is going on on the screen. In fact, many of his "plot holes" are just him not paying close enough attention. And, I know from attention. I spent a year picking apart and expanding on a single film. And, I wrote once in this blog (and this line has made it to being quoted in my master's thesis)--Day 113 - not today:

...every piece of art deserves to be studied and broken down. Every piece of fiction deserves to be dissected until we know not just what it means but what it can mean.

If I have not proven that as fact time and time again in this blog, I figure that I am just doing what Julie Powell did once upon a time, dropping "a tiny line... into the endless sea of cyberspace, the slender east of lures in the blackest of waters." I think about film. I want other people to think about film. In fact, if we would all pay as close attention as Abramson thinks he has to The Force Awakens films might actually make some many mistakes, or might make it more clear that characters are the ones making the mistakes because some characters are flawed just as some people are flawed, damn it. I've spent several thousand words on Abramson, now, a few thousand more on Star Wars, and many, many thousands more on films generally and specifically. I have done this because, in my life, films mean something. When someone misuses a term like "plot hole" to nitpick a few things he didn't personally like, or get, that offends me. What you personally want or expect from a film is worth expressing. But, let us not, as in Inside Out mix up our boxes of facts and of opinions. Let us not put "unforgivable" in our title as clickbait and then offer up items that are clearly forgivable as much as Abramson seems to have actually enjoyed (and defended) the film in his third piece.






And, just because I'm a completist:

#17 Poe and Finn survive a crash. Yeah, as we see in Finn's case and can assume in Poe's, TIE fighters have ejection seats. Get over it.

#18. "Kylo Ren can read Rey's mind from a distance..." Nope. Film never suggests this. In fact, he has trouble reading her mind up close, which the film makes quite clear. Plus, Kylo could know exactly where Rey is on Starkiller Base and still be preoccupied with the presence of his father or, you know, the X-wings shooting at said base. Plus, idiot ball at best, not a plot hole.

#19 is at least labeled as "a little petty." "[S]ince when do blaster wounds cause massive bleeding?" They don't. The Stormtrooper with the bloody hand was injured by an explosion. It ripped his glove open, even. And, if blasters have been upgraded in the decades since the Battle of Endor, good for technology. Not a plot hole.

And, Abramson suggests the First Order troop transports carry only a handful of Stormtroopers to make the toy's price point low enough... While I like cynicism when it comes to capitalism, troop transports in reality often carry a small number of troops--just watch any footage from Vietnam with those helicopters that carry fewer soldiers than the First Order troop transports. But, really, what annoys me on this point of Abramson's is that he refers to the Empire's transports that "held scores" of soldiers. I'm not sure if he means the Republic Gunship, aka LAAT, used during the Clone Wars and seen in-canon in Attack of the Clones because it carries a whopping 30 clone troopers, because yeah, 30 is more than the smaller vehicle here seems to hold. And the AT-AT could hold 40. But, the logic that suggests that because larger vehicles are available the First Order should not use smaller ones is exactly the same logic that suggests that Starkiller Base was a good idea as a followup to the Death Star.

#20 I'll give you word-for-word. The first part of it, anyway:

Even accepting that Jakku was Finn's first military assignment of any kind, as many readers of my first article on the film clearly did [and Abramson would have, had he been paying attention to dialogue], are we to assume that he was entirely in the dark about the giant, racist, homicidal, Galaxy-spanning terrorist organization he was mopping floors for?

1) nitpick: sanitation on a military base is still a military assignment. 2) Abramson's own interpretation of the First Order--that we see all of its soldiers on Starkiller Base--suggests that the First Order is not so giant. Abramson's own confusion about there not being non-humanoid soldiers suggest it wasn't clear that the First Order was racist. Finn has been trained to kill, so homicidal seems rather obvious; in fact, that's any military. People in the military for whatever country or planet or organization probably don't figure on that country or planet or organization being "evil" until they actually see it commit evil acts. Finn's situation is actually, exactly what one would expect to create a defector. On his first assignment in the field he realized that this army he has been forced to be a part of likes to slaughter innocents. And, that is how narratives work--we start Finn's story at the moment that he gets to see who he's working for. Plus, even if he has been seeing how horrible the First Order is indirectly for a long time, there is no direct consequence for him until he just got caught not shooting people by Phasma. And, this just happens to also be when there's a Resistance pilot around to help him escape. This is where drama happens. This is where a story worth telling begins. It is not a plot hole.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

these little bears are nuts

I've got Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure--one of the two Ewok movies that showed up on television in the years after Return of the Jedi. Really, while I might have some comments on how bad this movie is (it's been a long while since I've seen it, and just a few minutes in, I'm thinking I'm going to hate this voiceover combined with lack of subtitles), this is really an excuse to continue with yesterday's Blog Wars.

That fact that Ewoks have no no movement to their faces is also going to be a little annoying as this thing keeps going. They don't even move their mouths to talk. Couldn't have hooked up some Chewbacca-style mask that actually moves? Cheap.

In the meantime, while Deej (Daniel Frishman) and his kids inspect the crashed spaceship--and I think I hate both Mace (Eric Walker) and Cindel (Aubree Miller)--how about an exercise in plot holes, part two?

Abamson's #21 plot hole in The Force Awakens, is that Kylo Ren can sense "where his father is in the Galaxy" and notices when he lands on Starkiller Base but then "can't detect him" later when he's "just twenty feet" away. This is not a plot hole simply because it has nothing to do with the plot. The consistency or strength or accuracy of Kylo's skills with the force is not the plot. Now, imagine a couple explanations, easily inferred: 1) Kylo could sense Han just as he landed on Starkiller Base because Han had some adrenalin pumping in his system, was maybe even afraid for his life as he crash landed right into the edge of a cliff. That might just be easier to sense than Han Solo wandering about planting explosives. 2) Kylo knew exactly where Han was later, which is why he heads "in the wrong direction" out onto that bridge. That is where he wants to sacrifice his father. You know, killing the guy is one thing, but then having to deal with stepping over his corpse is something else entirely. You avoid that by making sure he falls right into the convenient (not plot) hole in the base.

#22 "How lame is Han's attempt to convert his son?" Yeah, lameness does not equal a plot hole.

#23 "Why do Rey and Finn just stand by watching as Ren murders Han?" See, I assumed that because this is a movie, they could hear the conversation from where they were (in reality, sound doesn't quite work like that, but it's par for the course in movies), so watching Han talk to the guy who happens to be his son would be worth waiting around for, not to mention--Finn knows Kylo can deflect or stop blasters, so I'm not sure what Abramson wants them to do.

#24 Rey calls the Millennium Falcon "garbage" and it hasn't been flown in years. Yep. Not a plot hole. In fact, that Han can detect it as soon as it does fly suggests there's a reason Unkar Platt kept it grounded.

#25 "Why does Plutt [sic] offer Rey 250 times her usual pay for BB-8 and then, when she says "no," simply tells some of his heavies to just steal it?" Because he wants it. Not a plot hole.

#26 "Maz Kanata is a friend to the Resistance. So why is she hiding Luke's light saber from them?" Simple--maybe she isn't. She's got it stored away--and could immediately tell that someone was down there touching it, so it seems pretty safe. The Resistance has no use for it.

#27 "How did Kylo Ren manage to get Darth Vader's mask into his little fetish den?" First of all, the descriptor "fetish den" seems a little much. But, given Abramson's very next line is to describe the mask as "the most significant piece of memorabilia in the entire Galaxy" I'm guessing someone had it and Kylo bought it or killed them for it. I'm not sure that story would even be that interesting, and it certainly doesn't mean a hole in the plot here.

Meanwhile, Eric and the Ewoks are visiting Logray but for some reason he's all gray-striped like Teebo instead. Did the people who made this movie not have the Ewok action figures? Or is this set so long after Return of the Jedi that Logray went, well, gray... and got shorter?

#28 How does Finn find Rey's settlement? Stupid blind luck is not a plot hole.

All the Ewok villagers helped load supplies for the caravan, the narrator tells us, but there's like eight Ewoks, and then we see Logray is just up at his hut in the tree, probably smoking something. Narrator needs to learn what "all" means.

#29 Who trained Rey to fight with a staff? I don't know--somebody. Not a plot hole.

#30 Presumption again: "If Finn is such a. Good guy that he would try to save Rey the moment her saw her in distress, doesn't it further call into question just how in the world the order to kill civilians on Jakku was the first time he'd ever had qualms about doing something the First Order had asked him to do?" No, it doesn't, because that was, as he tells Rey later, his "first battle." He worked in sanitation before. Plus propaganda can go a long way to keeping a soldier thinking his side is right. But, watching his side slaughter innocent villagers--that can work quickly against his upbringing. Plus, Phasma's contention that Finn always followed orders before is her problem, not the plot's problem.

#31 Why is Poe happy to see Finn is alive? Because the guy saved him from imprisonment and likely death, and because Poe is a nice guy. Poe's personality is not a plot hole.

#32 "Kylo Ren takes his mask off pretty readily, and in pretty mixed company, for someone determined to wear super uncomfortable headgear perpetually." Well, no. 1) no reason to think it is uncomfortable, and if it is, that could be deliberate because I'm sure discomfort is a path to the dark side. 2) Kylo takes his mask off twice in the film, in front of Rey who he can tells is special, and in front of his father. Now, twice doesn't even, in mathematical terms, make a pattern. Nor is one female and one male "pretty mixed company." Nor does Kylo's personality equal a plot hole.

#33 Kylo assigns one Stormtrooper to guard "the most valuable prisoner in the history of the First Order." 1) presumptuous there, thinking Rey is the "most valuable" prisoner ever. You don't know who they've had as prisoners. They could have found Corran Horn or Kyle Katarn or Kyp Durron or Dorsk 81 or Mara Jade or any of the other Jedi that may have been removed from the story by Disney but certainly still lived a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. 2) And, considering a whole lot of people have complained about Rey figuring out how to use to the Force to make that Stormtrooper let her go, I'm guessing there was no reason for Kylo to suspect she could manage it. All she did in front of him is resist his mind reading and read what was probably a surface thought out of his head. Plus, even if this was a stupid decision, that's on Kylo, not the plot.

#34 "How did the Rathtars on Han's freight get loose?" Seriously, did you watch the movie? Rey resets fuses to lock the doors and trap the two gangs, but releases the rathtars instead, even says, "wrong fuses."

#35 "Why do Rathtars immediately kill every human they encounter--except Finn...?" They don't. In fact, you can see one of the rathtars dragging like three guys right before Rey pops her head up out of the floor. In fact, the only time we actually see one eat anyone is when Han deliberately throws a guy at its mouth.

#36 Why are Stormtroopers humanoid? Abramson's logic is if they are not all clones, why not more varied races. Except even without most of the EU canon, the Empire (and presumably the First Order) is a rather racist organization. It doesn't count for canon anymore, but the big deal about Thrawn in Timothy Zahn's novels was that he was the only non-human to every reach the rank of Grand Admiral. I don't know if the Han Solo story that established that he saved Chewbacca from slavery under the empire is still canon--that might actually be a detail in one of the film novelizations; I don't remember--but yeah, Wookiees were just one non-human race enslaved by the Empire. [note: apparently, they do not]

Plus, a nitpick: Abramson mentions Watto's race as an option for Stormtroopers. I actually just recently watched the Clone Wars episode--which is still canon--that showed Watto's race was officially neutral during the Clone Wars. I'm guessing they kept that up, Switzerland-style during this war also.

By the way, Ewok dude just used plot-convenient magic to stop a giant spider. That ain't a plot hole either, even if it came out of nowhere.

#37 "If basically everyone in the Galaxy knows the Force is not a myth--" I'll stop you right there, Abramson. Not every Stormtrooper has seen Kylo Ren use the Force. And even if they all had, I'm pretty sure that is a minuscule percentage of the population of the entire galaxy. And, the people in the Resistance could think Luke is important as a Rebel hero whether or not they believe in the Force. And, Jakku is in the Outer Rim. In-story we have seen Han Solo, well-traveled smuggler say,

I've flown from one side of the galaxy to the other, and I've seen a lot of strange stuff. But I've never seen anything to make me believe that there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything. 'Cause no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

By the time of Order 66, I'm not sure there were that many Jedi out there anymore. They were probably already pretty mythic throughout most of the galaxy. Then they were (almost) all killed. And, just a couple decades later, Han says that. Gotta trust Han on this one.

#38 "Is Supreme Leader Snoke actually a giant?" If Abramson really believes this is a plot hole, even by his simplistic definition of "logical inconsistency," something is seriously wrong with his head. Nothing in the plot hinges on the size of Snoke. Snoke could be two inches... No, I'm guessing the galaxy that was held together by the Old Republic for thousands of years went metric. Snoke could be two centimeters tall and there would still be absolutely no plot hole to be found in your inability to know how tall he is. Abramson's "plot hole" here seems to actually be that we haven't seen a humanoid that size in Star Wars before. As I'm watching Caravan of Courage right now, I gotta say, the Gorax is pretty damn big. In fact--

New "fan theory":

#39 "Why would the First Order spend untold quadrillions of [insert unit of money here] to build the Starkiller Base, when a similar concept and design plan had twice before been destroyed with minimal difficulty by the rebels?" 1) The F-35 cost the US Air Force $1.5 trillion. An individual F-35 fighter costs $148 million. Yet it can't Win in a dogfight against decades old fighters. Governments and militaries spend money. It's kind of a thing. 2) If your pistol doesn't work, but you've got materials to build a cannon, the latter, larger weapon would still be a good idea. If we count the EU, Starkiller Base isn't even the biggest superweapon that galaxy has ever seen; the Centerpoint Station World Puller involved multiple planets for its engines. 3) Abramson assumed previously that the army we see on Starkiller Base was the entirety of the First Order's military. For a galaxy-wide threat, the First Order really needs a big gun if they've only got several thousand soldiers. Plus, the First Order is not the Empire (and the Resistance is not the Rebel Alliance). The Empire tried again after the first time, so why shouldn't the First Order do the same? The arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union--in reality, mind you--suggests bigger and badder weapons is the way things go.

#40 "Is there any other film franchise in the history of cinema that would be permitted, by its fans and by critics, to recycle so many plot points?"1) this does not even relate to the plot, so cannot be a plot hole. 2) Have you heard of James Bond?

I'll get to his 20 More Plot Holes tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

it's a dumb movie thing

I want to cheat a little bit. I will not be watching Star Wars The Force Awakens today, but this blog entry will primarily be about that film. Imagine, if you will, this is part two to yesterday's entry (since Wesley never got the rest of his commentary to me). Really, I've got Kiss Kiss Bang Bang playing again, and I might watch TROOPS after. There will, of course, be SPOILERS.

But, it's time for some blog to blog business. Namely, this blog--the Groundhog Day Project--and Seth Abramson's blog at Huffington Post. Specifically, while looking back at his recent entries, movies are not his thing, he recently posted two entries about Star Wars The Force Awakens because he apparently just became the expert on "plot holes."

David R at Unreality magazine made a good point three years ago, and we we should get out of the way:

There's a lot to like about the way the Internet has affected the film industry. It's given us new filmmakers, new ways to find movies, and a wide forum to really examine the art of film. So stop clogging it up talking about plot holes. I know it's fun, but we have got to chill out on that.

I must apologize because by continuing this conversation (if you will forgive my use of the term) about plot holes today, I am adding to the clog. David R continues:

One of the first problems that comes up with "plot holes" is that people often can't even get the definition right. Literally, "a hole in the plot."

Abramson uses the Wikipedia definition--the simplest version of it--and he defines a "plot hole" as a "logical inconsistency." The thing is, a logical inconsistency in, say, a character's behavior is not a plot hole; that would be, were we to bother with a term for it, a "character hole," I guess. (Or, the character being handed the Idiot Ball.) This logical inconsistency must be related to the plot. We'll get into the distinction more later, but for now, think about it this way: Poe Dameron's sudden reappearance in the battle over Maz Kanata's castle on Takodana would be evidence of a plot hole; i.e. Poe disappeared into said plot hole after the TIE fighter crash and then reappeared out of it when useful for the action. Except, this is not a plot hole because later Poe explains that he managed to get out of the crash just as Finn did, and made his way off Jakku, no big deal. Might have been worth seeing, but really would not have affected the larger plot at all, so we skip it. It's a plot hole only as long as we get no explanation. And, in this case, we do get an explanation.

David R offers up a useful guide to what is not a plot hole: character choices, things we have to infer on our own (for a Force Awakens example, notice that the film never explicitly tells us that Kylo Ren is the student who turned bad among Luke's new generation of Jedi he was training. We have to put that together from what the film does tell us (and we might not even be right), and what David R calls "Things that sound right, but actually have no relevance to the movie." By that, he means, things like, well Abramson's #1 in his first piece on The Force Awakens--the wonderfully titled, 40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'--so let's just get on with this nightmare. Let the Blog Wars begin.

(And, I do not mean the Harriet the Spy TV movie. In fact I did not even know that exists until just now.)

First, Abramson's 40. And, I will offer the first one word-for-word so you can get a sense of what we're dealing with here:

1. To blow up the 120-km "Death Star" in Star Wars, the rebels needed detailed plans for the base and a full-scale invasion force--as well as the supernatural targeting skills of the most powerful Force-user in the galaxy. To destroy the exponentially larger and better-protected "Starkiller Base" in The Force Awakens, all that was needed was a janitor with no special skills, a few run-of-the-mill handheld explosives, a couple not very difficult X-wing blaster strikes, and some moxie. It also helped that the Millennium Falcon was able to "fly low."

Let's break that down, you know, for Abramson's logical fallacies. What the rebels needed to destroy the first Death Star is debatable. What they had was certainly a larger force than what the Resistance had at Starkiller Base. But that doesn't actually tell us anything about what was needed. In fact, what we see on screen tells us what was needed. There is no plot hole here, nor is there even a plot problem. In fact, in terms of the plot, Han hangs a lamp shade on the idea that regardless of the size of the base, there has to be a weakness.

Now, a few details that are presumptuous:

  • we have no reason to believe Luke to be the "most powerful Force-user in the galaxy." In fact, at the time, we know from the larger plot of the film series that there were at least two other more powerful Force-users around--Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine
  • we have no reason to believe that Starkiller Base is "better-protected" than the Death Star
  • we have no reason to believe that Han's explosives that he brings specifically for this job--remember, Finn was loading them just before they left--are "run-of-the-mill." Plus, factcheck: those explosives do not actually destroy Starkiller Base. Those explosives merely open a hole that allows Poe Dameron to get inside the thermal oscillator which the X-wing's missiles (or whatever Poe is firing--I was never enough of a Star Wars nerd to memorize armaments) do more damage to, but even that does not actually destroy Starkiller Base. What destroys Starkiller Base is that it currently has the energy of an entire star inside it and the thermal oscillator that allows that to be possible is damaged so, well, it overloads and (apparently) turns into a star because of all that energy.

A few more things: I think we can assume that flying an X-wing takes some skill, as it seems like not just anyone can jump into one and fly it, so to dismiss the Resistance's X-wing pilots' contribution to the battle at Starkiller Base is a little rude. As is the suggestion that a janitor--nevermind that Finn says he was in sanitation and sanitation in military service is probably a lot more involved than the restrictive label of "janitor"--has no special skills offensive to anyone who has ever worked as a janitor. And, moxie can go a long way. If you believe differently, you probably should not be watching Star Wars films, or any films for that matter. And, yes, actually, it did help that the Millennium Falcon can fly low. I'm not even sure what Abramson is trying to suggest with that last line.

Now, I would not spend three paragraphs on each of Abramson's points for a couple reasons: 1) I don't have the time and 2) there are 60 of these things between his two pieces and, really, as you will see if I manage to get through all of them even in brief, they don't really deserve or necessarily even require so many words. But, understand that those three paragraphs demonstrate the way my mind is working as I read crap like this. I mean, you want to complain that The Force Awakens hits the same major plot beats that A New Hope did, I'll counter with the repetitive nature of mythic storytelling, and at least we will have something to debate. I would have liked the film to branch out in some new direction, but hitting the same beats in different ways, and with different characters, especially a more empowered female lead than Leia ever was, was plenty to enjoy. For me, and a whole lot of others. What the internet allows is an equalizing power that means any complaint could potentially have as much "volume" as any praise. Except for the nature of the internet, of course, in that the complainers, especially when it comes to nerdy complainers, have a tendency to speak a little "louder." Plus, Abramson has the benefit of Huffington Post's audience.

(And, for the record, yes, I'm envious of the sort of numbers his Star Wars pieces probably have gotten, but me personal problem with an English Professor who writes a blog abusing the concept of the "plot hole" and getting a lot of attention over it will not keep me from being objective. Plus, I tend to make my lack of objectivity really, painfully obvious when it rears its head.)

Anyway, let us move on.

Abramson's #2, simplified--Han Solo lost track of the Millennium Falcon for years but finds it immediately when it flies. a) Han specifically mentions that he could track it once it was off Jakku and b) Rey specifically mentions that it hasn't flown in years. So, unless Han happened into a business venture at Niima Outpost on Jakku (or someone who cared to tell him about it being there happened to cross paths with him), he's not going to know it's there. But, turn that ship on and maybe there's a beacon that turns on. It's not rocket science. Well, I guess it's spaceship science. But, it's not a plot hole because we can easily infer how it went. We could also get all religious about it and assume the Force was working in mysterious ways by making sure the Millennium Falcon was there at Niima Outpost that day so that Finn and Rey would meet up with Han and Chewie so they could all play their part in the Battle of Starkiller Base and whatever is going to come after, especially anything involving Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren or Supreme Leader Snoke.

And, that was me being brief.

I think I could do better.

Abramson's #3 - Kylo Ren, "powerful Force-user", duels with an "ex-janitor"--you really need to stop harping on janitors, Abramson--"who has never held a light saber" and doesn't use the force and barely wins. There's also a bit about Ren's light saber design. The presumption: Kylo Ren would know anything at all about lightsabers. As far as we know, no one has made a light saber in a few decades. In a universe with blasters, lightsabers are not particularly useful and there aren't any folks around who have made them. On the other side, we can actually assume that Finn has had combat training and the stormtrooper who fights Finn on Takodana proves that they have weapons beyond blasters. Plus, the fight at Takodana also makes a point of showing us just how powerful Chewbacca's bowcaster is, and Kylo Ren has taken a hit to the side from that thing; he's not at 100%.

That was like a line or two shorter. That's better, right?


#4 Rey being good with the Force is just that, Rey being good with the Force--it's not a plot hole. See also, my point above about assuming Luke is particularly powerful.

#5 Star Wars has included hand-held communicators before, so the idea that Hux or Ren could contact one another as Starkiller Base falls apart may be unlikely but is certainly not impossible, and definitely not a plot hole.

#6 When the planet is cracking apart, the crack between Ren and Rey is (in)convenient but not a plot hole.

#7 Rey can speak Wookiee. So what? And, Han and Chewbacca, who both do speak "Wookiee"--Shyriiwook, actually--have the least reason to be surprised that someone else would also understand it.

#8 is the Poe Dameron thing I already covered. It ain't a plot hole as long as Poe explains it. A more detailed explanation would just be a waste of time.

#9 The Republic and the Resistance are two separate things. The film not explaining this as explicitly as Abramson might like--that's not a plot hole.

#10 Why is the Republic centered in one system? Because governments tend to be centralized. I'm not sure any of the dialogue in the film suggested that the entire Republic had just been destroyed. I mean--and keep in mind, five planets were destroyed at once--you blow up, say, Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and... I don't know, Denver, the United States is going to be seriously crippled afterward. And, anyone who did just destroy all of those cities would probably go around claiming afterward that he just destroyed America.

#11 That we only see (and this is debatable, given Rey's vision) one Knight of Ren is not a plot hole.

#12 Phasma being lame--also not a plot hole. It's just a sequel to the Boba Fett thing from Empire Strikes Back. He didn't really do anything there, or even in Return of the Jedi--seriously, he gets beat by a blind guy--but everyone decided he was a badass. And, with the EU removed from the official canon of Star Wars stories, we don't have anything else to go by. Phasma does nothing early in the film but talk, and ends up doing nothing later. It would have been nice if she were the one to fight Finn at Takodana, but a) she wasn't, and b) Abramson doesn't even suggest that option, while I do.

#13 Considering how Abramson just calls Finn a janitor, yeah, killing a bunch of innocent people at what Finn tells Rey was his "first battle" was the "first naughty thing the First Order had ever required of him."

#14 Whether or not the First Order would actually chase down the AWOL Finn is not a plot hole, and Finn assuming that it would is on him, not on the plot.

#15 Abramson presumes that when Luke gave up training Jedi and he disappeared--while the text crawl at the beginning of the film suggests it may have been recent, we are never actually told how long ago it was--and Han returned to smuggling that the First Order even existed, let alone that it was powerful. Luke's choices and Han's choices do not a plot hole make.

#16 If all of the First Order soldiers are dead at the end of the film, that also doesn't create a plot hole. It just means the next film will get away from the First Order.

#17 Hux gathers his soldiers before the big gun gets fired because he's a showman. Military leader gives big speech to fire up the troops, news at 11. That is not a plot hole.

#18 Abramson is not the only one that assumes Luke left the map as "bread crumbs" to get to him later. I assumed the map was just a record of Luke's search for the original Jedi temple. But, even if Luke left bread crumbs, that just makes Luke a bit of a jerk, it doesn't create a plot hole.

#19 Abramson asks why the Resistance didn't access R2-D2's data. 1) maybe they just can't when he's in sleep mode. 2) Maybe they did access it. His map was incomplete, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway. (My problem here is not that R2-D2 is propped up in a corner, but that he's not just in storage on a ship. I'm guessing this base is not permanent, so are they really lugging R2-D2 out to stick him in the corner at each new base? Still, not a plot hole.)

And, I'm going to stop (for now) at #20. I might feel obsessive enough tomorrow to continue, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has ended, TROOPS has come and gone. And, I'm getting close to 3000 words.

#20 Why do they send Chewbacca and "a random girl who Leia just met" to go collect Luke? I don't know--because Leia is busy leading the Resistance, which now might be the most powerful organization in the galaxy with the First Order and the Republic both crippled. Or maybe because Rey seems naturally talented with the Force and her existence (not to mention her apparent goodness) might be exactly the thing to get Luke out of whatever funk he's in. The other obvious option, if Luke is just going to be like, "Oh, you found me, I'm coming home" would be to send Poe, just like Leia sent Poe after the map Lor San Tekka had before. But, Poe doesn't seem to have a ship, while the Millennium Falcon is right there ready to go.

And, still not a plot hole.

I am just obsessive enough that I'm already thinking about covering 21-40 tomorrow, and then cover Abramson's 20 More Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' the next day...


Or maybe I've made my point.

i like that wookiee

Winter quarter starts next week, but I had to go to campus today to sort out some stuff. Ran into fellow TA Brian in the parking lot and then fellow TAs Wesley and Alex in the office. We hung out there for a bit--after getting that stuff sorted out. Then, we decided to go. See Star Wars The Force Awakens. Third time for me, of course (previously blogged: 1 2), second for Wesley, first for Alex and Brian (and Brian may not have even seen the previous films--I know. That's just awful). Anyway, so we head off and we the film and get some dinner afterward. And, I told them all they could write something for this entry. Only Wesley took me up on that. His bit will come later. Meanwhile, Alex loved it and wondered aloud how he would keep it to himself until his brother saw it. Brian liked it and amusingly, had comment after I brought up my primary complaint with the film upon seeing it the third time:

They've been flying together for like forty years, and Han has never fired Chewie's bowcaster before? Seriously? I know, we need Han to fire it so that we know how powerful it is to understand just how injured Kylo is later that he can get beaten by the token black guy and a girl, who, you know, are historically weak as film characters. I kid, of course. But, seriously, Han never fired it in forty years?

Brian's addition to that conversation was that he saw the shape of that thing and expected it to fire arrows then there were no arrows.

For the record, and maybe this is not canon anymore, the Wookiee bowcaster does fire metal quarrels (same as a crossbow might), but enveloped in energy, and those ball things on either side create a magnetic field that accelerated the quarrel. The bowcaster is, thus, more powerful and more accurate than a regular blaster.

Now, Wesley (there will be SPOILERS):

Rey has the capacity of the "little engine that could." To my astonishment, she carried herself in a way that made all other Jedi battles seem like child's play. Rey's Jedi battle with Kylo Ren was remarkable work. I wasn't exactly full of praise for past Jedi battles, especially those performed in the prequels.

Gotta interrupt to say that I, on the other hand, thought most of the Darth Maul fight in The Phantom Menace was pretty good, and Yoda's insane jumping when he faced Dooku in Attack of the Clones was entertaining if not a great fight. If not for the lava river, that last battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan. In Revenge of the Sith could have been the best fight in the series, given how it dealt in character moments and a major plot point of the whole series. But, of course, there was that lava and silliness of fighting around it.

On the other hand, Kylo's fight with first Finn and then Rey in the woods plays as something more real, grounded in its setting and characters with more depth than the prequels would allow. Speaking of which... back to Wesley:

The Star Wars prequels were notoriously bad for plot crafting and the presence of Jar Jar Binks. In addition, Natalie Portman looks rather similar to the evil being of my sister which prompted me to lose an incredible amount of interest in Padme's character, eventually stemming [sic] to losing interest in other characters. What made The Force Awakens so memorable was the essence of Rey's character. One particular line that rocked my world was when she said, "You're afraid you'll never be as strong as Darth Vader." This in turn caused a massive chill down my average spine, so much so that it made me want to unravel Rey's powerful character. More specifically, I aim...

I think that sentence was supposed to lead into the next one, but I'm not sure. He sent me his comments unfinished and while the Groundhog Day Project operates on a 6am to 6am schedule, Wesley may not. I might have to add his part two in the morning.

There was one more bit:

I want to be in a relationship with her. I want to feed her grapes. I want to take her to Olive Garden. To put it nicely, although she challenges social norms in our little post modern world, she still exhibits oceans of...

And that's all. For now, imagine more below. I need some sleep.











Sunday, December 27, 2015

in the blink of an eye

I don't figure that people are inherently bad, or inherently damaged, or inherently incomplete. I figure we start out fine and if we go bad at some point--and, for the record, "bad" is entirely subjective, defined by societal tradition and whatnot...

I'm not exactly sure what I mean to say. I saw Mustang this evening. Since you probably haven't heard of it, it's a French/German/Turkish film--though the language of the film is Turkish, Mustang is France's official Oscar entry. It is about five young sisters who, after having a little too much freedom, are basically locked in their house until their uncle and their grandmother can marry them off. Since the five actresses are all pretty new to film, I'm not sure how old they actually are, but I'd say they range from around 11 to 18, and in their world--which doesn't seem all that far off from the one I live in--they are expected to remain pure and virginal until their wedding night, and that night their bedsheets are even checked for blood. I'll be frank. I think it's despicable. It is unfortunate that the situation in this film, in a small, conservative Turkish town, is not all that far off from places here in the supposedly free United States.

Maybe it's because my sinuses have been angry at me all day but I don't feel like lingering and/or sugarcoating. I'm tired of there being standards and traditions about actions that don't hurt anyone. You know, the whole requirement that women be pure for their husbands is just one. Gay marriage is another big one lately. I'm tired of it. If what someone else is doing offends you because of some made-up standard in your head, keep it to yourself... Better yet, get the fuck over it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

that's the problem with old men

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang again, this time with commentary--Robert Downey, Jr, Val Kilmer and Shane Black.

Also, I did see The Hateful Eight today. And, I've got a love/hate relationship with its Tarantino. Not love it or hate it, but more like both at the same time. I mean, take Super Panavision 70mm, use it beautifully for a some landscape shots and a bit of the first act Stagecoach... homage? ripoff? Then, you set most of the film in an enclosed space where the wide shot really doesn't matter that much. Take the requisite A [insert director's name] Film and turn it into the pretentious the 8th film by Quentin Tarantino and then give us chapter headings as well? Tarantino has these tics that bug the crap out of me. And he's arrogant. (Don't get me started on his tiff with the Cinerama Dome, because, yeah, they want to take Star Wars out after a week.) But, the guy can make a film. I mean, sure, The Hateful Eight hits a lot of beats we've seen before, and Kurt Russell is doing his best John Wayne and Walter Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson are mostly playing their usual characters--

(Which really isn't necessarily that bad a thing when it comes to a western, I suppose. I mean, watching all those westerns back in June, aside from all those story fixtures that Wright explores in Sixguns and Society, you get a whole lot of actors who the genre keeps returning to--personas that you just don't expect to be that different from film to film. It's a genre built on tough guys, not necessarily emotionally deep, seriously acting, guys. Even John Wayne in The Searchers--clearly Ethan is an emotionally deep guy going through some shit, but most of that comes from his actions, and occasionally in his words, but you don't go to a John Wayne film expecting long moments of emoting. As long as you can tell one character from another within a specific film, that's good enough. Sometimes.)

--but it's still a solid film.

By the way, on the commentary track here, they just commented on the chapter titles in this film, and I gotta say, they work better here than in The Hateful Eight. Here, they tie together with the voiceover to make this feel like a pulp novel thrown up onto the big screen. For westerns, except for, say, How the West Was Won--which is not the western vibe you want to go for... ever--westerns don't do the chapter thing. Westerns are more straightforward. You don't get a lot of flashbacks, certainly not extended ones like in The Hateful Eight. Despite some complaints I've seen about The Hateful Eight and its excessive dialogue, it's not like westerns are all action all the time.

And, for the record, Kurt Russell's John Wayne is great.

Plus, Tarantino should totally try his hand at a hard boiled detective story, with voiceover...

Oh, there's that. Fourth chapter of The Hateful Eight and had to be more than an hour in and suddenly Tarantino himself starts doing some narration like he's going for a Hugh-Ross-in-The-Assassination-of-Jesse-James-by-the-Coward-Robert-Ford vibe and it doesn't really work, and doesn't give us any information the film won't provide us later. And, it's only around for a minute or two, then even more briefly at one later point in the film. It's just so arbitrary. Meanwhile, here I am watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang where voiceover adds real information, adds jokes, adds more depth to the main character and deconstructs the film itself. Obviously, I'm not a huge fan of voiceover, but it can be used well.

And, as I think I already said, I liked The Hateful Eight. I'm just better at being negative than being positive. I could get into SPOILER territory and complain about who turns out to be the bad guy in the film, but really, the various characters worked (Jennifer Jason Leigh's Daisy is so over-the-top in some moments that he subtle moments almost get lost, but she deserves the nominations she's getting for the role) and their interactions were good. The Tarantino dialogue--if you like that sort of thing--was, as they say, on point.






And, the commentary track on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is as distracting as the film is. These guys are hilarious.

Friday, December 25, 2015

i'll be your narrator

Two very different movies today--The Revenant and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The former: a beautiful film, visually, with minimal dialogue, bouts of serious violence and blood, and Leonardo DiCaprio trying for an award again. He should really take on roles like Tom Hardy's here. There's more nuance to it. But, I digress. The latter: one of the great Christmas stories--Shane Black writing and directing a nice Christmas yarn about a missing girl, some murders, incest, violence, and some kickass narration. You know, classic Christmas trappings.

Meanwhile, you've got Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu directing Leonardo DiCaprio--who despite my tone above, was awesome as real-life Mary Sue Hugh Glass--Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson (who just keeps showing up this week) acting the crap out of a script with a lot less--a lot less dialogue--than Shane Black's talkative Hollywood noir...






And then, I'm here just watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang because it is one of my favorite movies. Seriously, top ten. When I really want to be talking about The Revenant and the current stock of Oscar-hopeful films, because Oscar season is in full swing. Nominations are already out for Critics' Choice, Golden Globes, SAG... I print out the lists after they're announce, and highlight the films I've seen. A list with a lot of yellow on it makes me happy.






Hell, it's Christmas. I have a right to be distracted. Or entertained, rather. The Revenant is a nice survivalist yarn with a revenge plot lingering over the top of it like a dark cloud. It's also based on a true story, and the real guy was apparently injured even worse than DiCaprio is in the film--had to set his own broken leg and laid on a rotten log to let maggots feed on the open wounds in his back where ribs were exposed. He's also got a nice puncture wound in his throat, which he Rambos with some gunpowder in the film... Or maybe Rambo Hugh Glasses his wound--one of those.

Some good movies this year--no flawless standouts like Birdman or Whiplash last year. Maybe Trumbo. Or The Martian, but that was less... unique than those two from last year. Mad Max Fury Road (Tom Hardy again, plus we can't forget Charlize Theron as Furiosa...

(Which brings me to a nice tangent. I was thinking of seeing The Hateful Eight tomorrow, but I think I might put it off another week, turn January into a month of Tarantino and Tarantino-esque films. This tangent, of course, comes from where Charlize Theron first came to my attention, 1996's 2 Days in the Valley.)

and George Miller returning to some amazing form) was great. I loved The Danish Girl and of course there was Star Wars The Force Awakens. Ex Machina (which I spent a few days (1 2 3 4 5 6) on in this blog) was a particular favorite, as was Inside Out. And the fact that I'm not immediately thinking of more films from this year suggests to me that there weren't many other great ones. I mean, Avengers and Ant-Man were entertaining. Straight Outta Compton, Bridge of Spies, Southpaw, Creed... Room was good, and far more sad that I probably made out; sometimes, my tangents get so far away from the film in question that, well, that's why I made clear the other day that I don't review films here. I write. Films are the trigger, the fuel, sometimes the meat. But, if you're coming here to figure out if a film is worth seeing, you're probably better off asking me directly on Facebook or Twitter. Come here after you've seen a movie and I might have something to get you thinking.

That's where I live. After the film.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

say yes to everything

I was prepared to make some sort of joke about Carol relating to Christmas because, you know, Christmas Carols, and then not ten minutes into the movie I realize it's actually set around Christmas and Carol (Cate Blanchett) first meets Therese (Rooney Mara), she (Therese) is wearing a Santa hat. My actual Christmas movie for today is In Bruges--it's playing now. I didn't expect to really be arguing that Carol is a Christmas film..

Note: This blog has had a few extra views of late, probably because of my one two Star Wars The Force Awakens entries. I wanted to note for new readers that I do not generally review films. If you want a review of Carol, try NPR or the International Business Times or the Boston Herald or Screen Crush or wherever you like to find movie reviews. I don't know what to call what I do. I take a movie and maybe deconstruct it, or maybe tie it to some... other thing, or link two movies (Carol links really well to yesterday's Brooklyn, for instance, with the '50s romance bit, except instead of Therese getting together with a working-class Italian guy as Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) does, she gets together with a rich white woman in the process of getting a divorce) , or ignore the movie almost entirely so I can rant about something else. I perfected this do-whatever-I-like format during phase one--365 days in a row watching Groundhog Day.

All that is to say, I could probably make the argument that any film is in some way a "Christmas film." But, Carol and In Bruges--both are actually set around Christmas so that will make my job a lot easier.

I'm not sure romance is really the Christmas thing, but so many Christmas movies do involve romance and love because what greater joy is there than being in love? Carol is not, strictly speaking, a lesbian love story. Aside from the whole "morality clause" thing that comes into play regarding Carol's divorce, it doesn't much matter that these are two women; yeah, the '50s setting means their love is forbidden, but really they are just two people in love. Under Todd Haynes' direction, the film takes its time, and the joy remains just a little out of reach.

In Bruges, on the other hand, is more about the melancholy of the season. An AV Club piece refers to the "existential weight of the season hang[ing] so strongly over the film." Instead of a forbidden love, it is an accidental death here that holds back... I don't know, the joy of the holiday season, I suppose. Ray (Colin Farrell) has his moments of joy--when he first sees a "midget" (Jordan Prentice) or a pretty girl (Clémence Poésy>--but he cannot seem to enjoy his exile to Bruges after a botched assassination. Meanwhile, his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson) wants to sightsee.

Together, these two films are about obstacles that keep us from being happy. A married woman who wants to be with a younger woman or a hitman who wants not to have accidentally killed a mother and child--they are both as human as anyone else, deserving of, and wanting to be happy. Especially around Christmas, when everything is fancy lights and decorations and gifts and "Joy to the World" and all that. I think the notion that suicides happen more around Christmas is untrue, but it's no surprise that the idea keeps getting told and retold--it makes sense that those who can't be happy at Christmas would be sad--acknowledging any middle ground there is too complicated and mostly we just can't be bothered. And maybe we figure there's a limit to the amount of happiness the world can bear. The happier we are, the more sad the next guy must be to compensate, and vice versa--when we're sad, there's some asshole out there enjoying his life far too much, and that's unfair, so that just adds some anger to our sadness and we get bitter and hateful. And, that's what Christmas is all about: the black hole of sadness and anger--the dark side, if you will (since I've still got Star Wars on my mind)--and the bright warmth of family and friends and being able to have things.

this is where your life is

So, I did get some work done today, got some stuff ready for the upcoming winter quarter. I also managed to oversleep, go for a walk, and watch... Technically, this--Go is on right now, because I wanted a classic Christmas film--is my fifth movie in 24 hours. I watched the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated movie--which is nowhere near as good as most of the episode of that show that I have seen. I watched Steve Jobs. I watched Spectre. And, I just finished Brooklyn.

The quick rundown before I (probably) get distracted by some tangent and forget all about the specific films in question:

I've seen the Clone Wars thing before, as well as a lot of episodes of the series... For whatever reason, I never kept up consistently, but I've had Star Wars on my mind of late, for some weird reason. This theatrical release was a edit of a few episodes with a self-contained story, and it's pretty kid-friendly--baby Hutt nicknamed Stinky--and pretty weird--a Truman Capote-sequel Hutt with neon tattoos. The serious war stuff that made the Clone Wars cartoon great came later.

Steve Jobs--I'm sure there's a whole lot of fictionalizing to compress all these details into these three sequences, but I absolutely love the structure here, boiling down a biopic of sorts into three setups--each third of the film is set in the minutes before a product launch, and even in the confines of that premise, the film manages to get into Jobs' (Michael Fassbender) relationships with his daughter (Mackenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine, because the film covers 14 years), her mother (Katherine Waterston), Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). With Danny Boyle directing and Aaron Sorkin writing, you can expect something with some energy and something with a lot of talking, and the film works on both levels. I meant to see Jobs a couple years back, but never got to it. I wonder if film needs a more elaborate portrait of a guy who was very much about his public persona and his products. I also wonder why Jobs never used his magnetic powers to, like, fling a computer at someone.

Spectre wasn't anything special as far as James Bond films go, nor even as far as Daniel Craig James Bond films go. It's good, and for such a long film (2 1/2 hours), it didn't seem it at all. But, it just kinda hits the expected beats and moves on.

Brooklyn, for about half its length is a surprisingly straightforward story--Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) , a young Irish woman movies to America in 1952, lives at a boarding house, works at a department store, meets a nice Italian man (Emory Cohen), they grow close in a nice wholesome fifties way, and cynical me, I'm thinking he's too good to be true, things are gonna take a turn for the worse. Instead, they get married in secret and she returns home (SPOILER) after the death of her sister and everyone in her hometown in Ireland seems quite intent on her sticking around and marrying--and here's where it gets weird for me this week, because they want her to marry General Hux from the First Order (Domhnall Gleeson) and I'm thinking, she should steer very clear because he's like a space Nazi, and he's been alive for a long long time. And then, I'm thinking he probably only joined the First Order after a mishap with his time traveling, somehow jumped farther back than his own life and the drove him mad, meanwhile Supreme Leader Snoke is looking for a pasty white guy to lead his army, and Jim Farrell, Brendol Hux, Jr, Tim Lake--whatever you want to call him, I'm thinking he's going to turn out to be a bad guy, but no, the townsfolk are a little overbearing, but only one old lady is really all that bad. Still (SPOILER) Eilis returns to New York to be with her husband and all is well. All in all, a nice pleasant film.

And, now Go--classic Christmas film, as I said. Of course, aside from a Santa hat and some nice celebration of capitalism, and a giant neon Santa at the rave, the film is not overtly about Christmas. Oh, and drugs, lots of drugs--that's a Christmas thing, right? I mean, the Christmas Tree lot drug deal in Lethal Weapon, Harry Ellis doing cocaine in Die Hard, whatever Theodor Geisel was smoking when he came up with... well, any of his books. 

Plus, Christmas always comes in three distinct acts, like Steve Jobs. Or Go. Or Rashomon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

when i was small, i only knew small things

It's 11pm as I start writing this entry. I've got an episode of That '70s Show on in the background. The house is quiet otherwise--kids are in South Carolina for a week visiting relatives. Earlier this evening, I had a nice dinner alone and then I watched Room. I'm not sure that I have much to say about the film. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are fantastic, and the film has several moments that are painful to watch. In case you don't know the film, the premise is that Ma (Larson) was kidnapped seven years ago, and has been living in a locked shed every since--the titular room. Five years ago, she had her son Jack (Tremblay) and now that he's five she finally explains to him that there's a world outside the room. And, they escape--that isn't really a SPOILER, the revelation of why they're in this room is plot point one and the escape is at the half way mark, and really, them learning to live outside the room is the point. The film has a great sense of location, and uses the confined space of the the room well in its first half, and only gradually opens up to the outside world later, as Jack and Ma adjust to it.

The portion of the film in the room, especially that first bit in which Jack simply doesn't understand that there's anything more outside, had me thinking about when I was as young. There's a potential metaphor in Room for any sheltered childhood or any closed-off life. Or just childhood in general, those years when we barely understand anything, though we probably think we know more than we do. For me, I think for example, of playing Star Wars--it's in my head after seeing The Force Awakens twice already. Fantasizing about being Luke Skywalker or Han Solo and that was better than real life. Real life was private school and church. Whole lot of fantasy in that last one but not as exciting as Star Wars or Beastmaster, Conan, Flash Gordon, Clash of the Titans, Krull, Raiders of the Lost Ark... well, I suppose that last one is not fantasy, but it was just as far removed from my reality at the time that it might as well have been.

Fantasy is nice. Good fantasy is great.

Real life, sometimes--it's like being stuck in the same room day in and day out.

Tomorrow was supposed to be a work day, working on stuff for the upcoming winter quarter or sorting my research notes for the next section of my thesis. Maybe I should just take the day off and play instead.






Of course, that might just be me sitting around watching movies and writing about them.

Monday, December 21, 2015

got properly pissed

The voiceover at the start of Network gives us like an entire other film's worth of plot. Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has just learned that he will be off the air in two weeks after his ratings have been in consistent decline of late. Also something about a problem with alcohol.

He tells Max Schumacher (William Holden) that he will kill himself on the air, then he even announces it on the air. This movie came out in 1976. In 1974, talk show host Christine Chubbock had killed herself live on the air.

Diana Christiansen (Faye Dunaway) who heads programming, wants to air footage of a bank robbery, filmed by a SLA-like group as they performed the robbery. She might even want to make a series out of it.

"The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them." That's what a study Diana quotes says. And, I can't help but tie this into the present, the people who like Donald Trump as presidential candidate because "he says what I'm thinking."

It's remarkable how much Beale's rants still rings true. As I said the other day, when Roger Ebert suggested that Bulworth "seems to reflect a rising tide of discontent with current American political discourse," there's no rising tide. There's just the tide. American political discourse mostly sucks, and when you like a piece of it, you can be sure there's a whole lot of people who disagree with you, to varying degrees. We've been discontent pretty much as long as there's been discourse. Television made a go at objective news coverage for a while... Supposedly. That was long before I was around, but it seems like there were some great "newsmen" who America respected. Of course, there weren't so many channels back then, no social media, no space for anyone and everyone to say whatever the fuck he's thinking.

(No, the irony of saying that in a blog does not escape me.)

Of course, America would want to watch a guy like Howard Beale rant and rave. And of course, America wants to watch Donald Trump spew his offenses... Or his amazingly honest and open views that don't put up with PC standards. Whatever whomever wants to think of it as, it's entertaining until it becomes disgusting, then it circles back to entertaining all over again. We don't want reasoned debate. We don't want talk. We want anger, we want voices raised. We want it to feel like violence is coming before the soldiers have even been sent anywhere, before SWAT's been called in. When a cop kills an unarmed man, we should all be angry, but there are always those who stand up for the cop, say, "If the unarmed man would have just been obedient" or "just not been suspicious" or "just been white" ... I may have invented that last one--an impression hidden behind the words most of the time.

Diana offers Beale a show--he can be a "latter-day prophet denouncing the hypocrisy of our times." Of course he takes up that role. Who wouldn't want to take up that role? You get to speak your truth to the world, no censor but for you own inhibitions.

(Just like blogging.)

Personally, I've backed myself into a corner. My voice is here in a movie-centric blog, and in the occasional rant on Facebook. (Still finishing up my master's thesis, as well, but there isn't much in the way of politics in there at all.) I watch the presidential debates... The farce that is the presidential debates and I live-tweet 'em. But, sometimes, I wish I had more of a soapbox.






On the other hand, I'd bet that a whole lot of the newsmen (and newswomen) we have today think themselves modern incarnations of the likes of Howard Beale. Latter-day prophets and all that, on their 24-hour cable news soapboxes. Soapboxes aren't all good. You're better off helping out your fellow man directly than getting up on a soapbox (or a pulpit) and preaching.

And, that counters an argument I make with my students when we talk about persuasive speeches. I show them a photo by Kevin Carter--this one:

And, we talk about the responsibility of the photographer, whether taking the photo is enough, or if he has an obligation to help every sick or hungry or injured person he photographs in some direct way or if there is a place for photojournalism as a detached artform... Or if it is even "detached" at all. And, I take the side of the photojournalist, of course. Taking that photo--getting on the soapbox, as it were--can be enough if it gets the right eyes. Howard Beale's rants, however they may be fueled by psychological problems--they can be enough if the right ears hear him. But, what are the right eyes? What are the right ears? What are the right images and the right sound bites for them?

This is Howard's most famous rant:

I don't have to tell you things are bad.

Everybody knows things are bad.

It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter.

Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be.

We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."

Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, "I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value!" So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!

You've got to say, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

And, the narrator tells us Howard's show settled into a 42 share. I don't think any broadcast has had a 42 share for decades now.

And, the rant that I like the most, I think, is the first one he gives on his overwrought show with all the production value (not just him at the news desk). It includes this:'re never going to get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell. We'll tell you that Kojak always gets the killer, or that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker's house, and no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don't worry, just look at your watch; at the end of the hour he's going to win.

We'll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in illusions, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds.

We're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube!

This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God's name, you people are the real thing!We are the illusion! So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right in the middle of the sentence I'm speaking to you now! Turn them off...

And then he collapses like a televangelist overcome by the holy spirit.

The great thing about Howard Beale is that his rants are not, in any significant way, leaning to the Right or to the Left, politically speaking. Everyone can relate. Whatever you're mad about, you can relate. Whatever I'm mad about, I can relate. Anger is universal, or at least universalizing. And, it's certainly American.