Why I Don’t Want to Watch Any Star Wars Trailers

Today begins my quest to avoid trailers, promos, and other spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi (I guess we sorta stopped counting episode numbers?) It will be difficult, I expect.

I will see this movie when I comes out.  They’ve already sold me a ticket. I don’t need to ride the hype train to release day.

I’m avoiding all of this for several reasons. Obviously, I don’t want anything to be spoiled. How many times have we all watched a trailer only to come away feeling like we’d already seen the movie?

Continue reading “Why I Don’t Want to Watch Any Star Wars Trailers”

Happy Birthday, St. Louis!

The City of St. Louis is 250 years old today… maybe. Then again, it could have been yesterday.

Our city’s French founder, Auguste Chouteau, wrote the date in his diary, but authorities have gone back and forth about whether he wrote February 14th or 15th. Nobody’s quite sure which is the right date. Yay for bad handwriting!

I’ve lived in St. Louis, Missouri my entire life. Okay, technically I’ve lived in the suburbs of St. Louis and not the city proper, but we claim St. Louis residency and culture just the same.

Continue reading “Happy Birthday, St. Louis!”

Favorite Games of 2013

A new year is upon us and that means it’s time to hand out meaningless accolades to various media properties because making lists is fun!

I am quite intentionally calling these “favorite” lists rather than “best of” lists because there’s a lot of games, movies, and music I didn’t experience in 2013 which no doubt deserve attention and praise, but I can’t consume everything in a year. With that in mind, I am limiting my lists to a Top 3 with possible honorable and dishonorable mentions.

3. The Stanley Parable

SP1

Continue reading “Favorite Games of 2013”

The Star Wars Prequels: looking on the bright side

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C’mon. You know this is cool.

Yesterday, a good friend of mine made me aware of this article: Watching the Star Wars Prequels on Mute: An Experiment.

Much has been said about the Star Wars prequels. Most of it negative. The internet loves talking about how awful they are, how much they missed the mark, how the writing’s no good, and what the heck was George Lucas thinking anyway?

Actually, I’m more annoyed with how Lucas has altered the old films than by the prequels themselves. It always seemed apparent to me that he was really trying even if he was also really failing.

Or did he fail after all?

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The drama! The horror!

This post looks at Star Wars as visual art. By watching the movies on mute you take away the terrible dialogue and the awkward delivery of said dialogue. Remove the ham-handed scripts and these films become all about the imagery and what that communicates.

Film has so many aspects to it and not all filmmakers are great at wielding every element. For some, their strength lies in writing, plotting, and working with actors. George Lucas is infamously bad at all of those things. But the man has proven himself to be a master of visuals.

We can debate his focus on innovation over proper storytelling, sure. Did he go too far with GCI? Absolutely. Did it make the films terrible? No. It gave them a different aesthetic. We may like it or hate it, but I can’t deny that there’s a certain power in the visuals of Star Wars – even in the prequels.

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It might not look real, but there’s certain fantastic quality to this shot

Like a lot of Millennials, I saw the original trilogy growing up. I watched them on VHS for the first time in the mid 90s and then saw the special edition re-releases in theaters. I was absolutely psyched when Phantom Menace came out.

I was also nine years old so I enjoyed it and thought it was good.

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Remember these, guys?

After the prequels ended in 2005 with Revenge of the Sith, I started hearing the negative talk about the movies. As I listened to the criticism and my artistic and critical sensibilities grew and matured, I began to turn on the prequels as well. I saw them as terrible movies made by a man who had lost his way.

But I could never hate them. I could never bring myself to actually dislike watching them. They were still Star Wars to me – even if a sloppy, less-than-perfect Star Wars.

Reading this article reminded me why there’s definitely still some artistic merit to these movies. There are legitimate reasons to not write them off completely and to enjoy them for what they do well.

I’m probably not going to try the exercise of watching Star Wars on mute myself. I don’t really have the time for that. But by reading this post, I have gained a bit more of an appreciation for movies that I dearly wish had turned out better. It even helped me regain some respect for George Lucas. Despite what he’s done to the films in re-releases, the man is still a visionary and he’s gotten an immense amount of hatred for something that doesn’t really make an eternal difference to anyone.

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Now if J.J. Abrams makes a bad Star Wars movie…

Just don’t, J.J.

Just don’t.

an aimless discussion of romance

parks cover

“Romance is a word that if I tried to define concretely wouldn’t mean as much.”

… that’s according to the protagonist of “Parks,” the short film I did for my capstone project last Spring semester. I’m not sure that I agree with him.

As today is Valentine’s Day (or Singles Awareness Day or National Hate Day depending on who you talk to) I thought I’d use the occasion and my film to ramble aimlessly about the subject of romance. I find it a fascinating subject for many reasons.

The whole point of the film was to discuss romance – what it is and how people view it. It’s the story of a guy and girl who fall for each other whilst discussing the topic.

He’s got all sorts of preconceived notions about romance. Who knows where he got them. Movies, music, books, family. Whatever. In his view certain things are just intrinsically romantic. As indicated by the quote above, he’s not particularly interested in defining romance but he does think he can construct a romantic ideal from components he’s deemed “romantic.”

She’s not so sure that romance is definable at all. She finds his romantic notions and fascination with them amusing. This amusement leads to a growing curiosity. Eventually, she comes to buy his sincerity and even his romantic notions and they end up together.

The thing is this relationship is based on almost nothing real. There’s no realistic evidence given in the film that the relationship will last. That’s the impression that I wanted to leave people with but I couldn’t figure out a way to pull it off in time so I left it out altogether. Against my personality and my life circumstances when I made this film, I left it with an optimistic ending. Maybe that’s exactly why – I wanted to believe in something like it. I didn’t want the short film equipment of a sad song. I have enough of those.

Now that the turbulence of my life has settled, I’m looking at things more realistically again… or so I think. I donno. You be the judge of that.

Many, many people have noted the massive gulf between the way romance is portrayed in our media and popular culture and how it plays out in real life.

You know what? I don’t think actually think that’s the case. Romance often comes off as authentic in fiction. I’m not talking about the stories where the couple gets together barely knowing each others names – I’m talking about the ones that take more time; that actually build their relationship on some kind of foundation more than sex appeal.

No, I think the disconnect is how easy the romantic genre makes things look and the expectations it gives people consciously or (more generally) unconsciously.

Our romantic media, including all the stuff sold to us for Valentine’s Day, is a representation of something we very much want even if it is seemingly unachievable in the “real world.”

Perhaps I am merely being pessimistic, but from my vantage point it seems most couples exist in a state of unhappiness for pretty much of the time. Maybe they’re mad at each other, maybe they’re just unsatisfied in the relationship. One thing they aren’t is madly in love.

It is remarkable how many couples go from longing to loathing over the course of years. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. People stop trying to be their best for one another and the romance dies.

In contrast are the few exemplary couples who seem to actually have a romance-movie relationship. Their lives aren’t perfect or conflict-free, but they appear to be, more often than not, better and happier with each other. They make marriage look palatable despite the many mundane and negative examples which are the vast majority.

So what’s the difference? Did the happy couples find their soulmate while everyone else settled for less?

No. The concept of a soulmate as your perfect match is like the Fountain of Youth. It’s a lie we invented because we want it so badly. While some people are more “compatible” with one another naturally, the fact remains that all people are fallen. None of us sinners should expect to have an easy time living with one another.

I find it incredibly sad when I see hollow marriages and dying relationships around me. That’s because I’m a single still in the “longing” stage of life (or “pre-longing,” I suppose, since I’m not longing after anyone in particular.) But I’ve been in relationships enough to see the decaying trajectory of a neglected relationship.

Like my short film character I’m not really interested in nailing down a definition of romance. But I will say this: it’s important. Many well-intentioned people have tried to downplay romance as being shallow or unnecessary.

Certainly there are many other aspects to a relationship that are just as important but to neglect romance is unhealthy. Romance is about feelings and feelings are significant because God created them as part of the human experience. Unquestionably they are part of human relationships.

The critical mistake made by the protagonist of “Parks” was coming up with a list romantic things apart from someone else. Love letters are not love and wedding rings are not marriage. While we might have things we each individually consider “romantic,” true romance is only created in concert with another person.

Romance looks different (on the surface) from couple to couple; culture to culture. But there are universals. The things that are romantic to all times, places, and peoples are acts of selflessness. Is this not the core of romance, of friendship, of love?

 

Strangely on this Valentine’s Day I am not bitter as I once suspected I might be. I am content where I am and with the potential before me. Whether you are single like me, married, or dating I hope you are similarly contented in the blessings of God.

And if you’re part of a couple then for goodness sake be romantic today, alright?

Disney-made Star Wars might not be the worst thing ever

Last week Disney shocked the nerd world by announcing their intention to acquire LucasFilm and make Star Wars: Episode VII which is due in 2015. That news came right the heck outta nowhere.

My initial reaction (aside from shock) was something like “oh great, Disney’s going to ruin Star Wars now.” And then I remembered the horrible reality in which we live. The prequels happened. Clone Wars happened. Jar Jar Binks is a thing that exists. Oh yeah.

So given that reality and the recent-but-strange return of my optimism, I decided on a different outlook. Y’know what? All joking aside, this might be the best thing that’s happened to the Star Wars franchise since George Lucas decided to stop ruining making movies. Here’s why.

Production Pipeline

Disney has money. This we know. Well, now they have a few billion less after giving some to George Lucas. But, still. They’ve got mountains of cash. Disney also has a massive amount of capital in filmmaking. They’ve got studios full of creative people and loads of experience getting films made.

All of this is essential to making films. Science fiction films are generally more expensive to make than your average movie so it’s good that the studio has the cash to invest in the films.

Mo money mo problems or mo movies?

In addition to the new movies, we might actually get that Star Wars TV show that’s been kicking around since 2005. I would love that. Ever since SyFy canceled Stargate Universe just when it was getting good, I’ve been wishing for a new sci-fi show to watch. Apparently there are a bunch of episodes written for the show, but the problem has been money. Back in 2010 Lucas said that they couldn’t find a way to make the show for less than $50 an episode and they were waiting (again) for technology to catch up the vision and make the process cheaper. Perhaps with Disney at the helm this won’t be such a problem.

Of course quantity and more money doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. In fact, sometimes it’s the opposite. On the other hand, Disney and Lucas seem like they’re willing to seek out new directions and new talent.

New Blood

When I went to see Revenge of the Sith in 2005 there was a movie called Batman Begins showing in the theater next door. That movie along with Casino Royal and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek showed that the idea of rebooting a franchise can be more than just a cynical cash grab. They can shed new light on old characters. Recast beloved stories in new contexts or just give another creative team the chance to tell the same story in their unique voice.

Star Wars needs a reboot. It does. The outline for a great saga is in the existing six films. It just needs to be made from the ground-up. It needs to be made in chronological order so everything cohesive. It needs to be made with the emphasis on story and character first and foremost.

Okay, so that’s my wild nerdy dream.

In reality we’re supposedly getting an Episode VII. And VIII. And IX. Okay. Some good could come of these as long as they don’t get overly ambitious and just try to tell a good story in an appropriate swath of the Expanded Universe. I don’t expect masterpieces. But this is a great opportunity for fresh new takes on the franchise. They just need to make sure to not hire some stary-eyed fanboy to do them. Actually, Disney is currently in talks with X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn who seems like a good choice for the task at hand. Here’s hoping they give the job to the right person.

But if the whole thing does crash and burn and they’ve milked the Star Wars utters dry after Luke Skywalker Meets the Avengers, then they can reboot it and we can get back to great Star Wars stories.

Less involvement of George Lucas

As is the case with most nerds and Star Wars fans, I have love/hate relationship with George Lucas. Sometimes when I hear his name it conjures images of a young, pioneering filmmaker fighting heatstroke and budgetary concerns shooting on location in Tunisia. That guy was cool. He worked hard for something that nobody thought would succeed. He used models and practical effects. He took advice from others. And best of all, he knew that story was paramount. Don’t believe me? Watch this.

And that brings me to the other George Lucas that I think of. An older, fatter, less cool guy who seemingly disregarded everything his younger self had to say. This was a top comment on the above YouTube video:

“I’m very well convinced this person interviewed is not the same person who made those awful CGI infested, horribly written and acted Star Wars prequels as well as making those stupid unnecessary changes to the Original trilogy. My conclusion is that he was either adbucted [sic] sometime in mid 90’s and impersonated by an imposter [sic] who resembles him, maybe an evil twin brother, or a demon possessed him.”

You know what? For once a YouTube comment rings true. Actually, my theory is that the George Lucas who made the prequel trilogy is an evil clone, not an evil twin brother.

Clone George certainly seems to have fallen off the wagon of good filmmaking in recent years. With the release of the poorly-reviewed prequel trilogy and the poorly-received Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Lucas became a man whom some blame for reviving and ruining two classic franchises he helped create. Some have pointed to these works (especially to the prequel trilogy) to say that Lucas was never that great a filmmaker to begin with, but I have to disagree. There’s a reason that the original trilogy has a place in the hearts of so many and that is because it’s genuinely good (among other reasons). Lucas had a lot to do with that even though his role might have been exaggerated in recent years. One thing’s for sure: without him the beloved franchise wouldn’t exist in the first place.

Clone George Lucas had (from what I understand) basically total creative control of the prequel trilogy. Given the way those films turned out, it’s probably best that he’s taking more of a backseat in future Star Wars productions. Lucas wrote the treatments for the upcoming film trilogy and hopefully that’s the most input he’ll have over the process. Lucas has proven to be a pretty good ideas man in the past. You can see the outline of a great story in the prequel trilogy. He just struggles with the nitty gritty of writing those ideas into a script and directing actors effectively. A new trilogy plotted at a high level by Lucas but written and directed by others could be really exciting to watch.

Re-releases

Speaking of George Lucas, one of the worst things he’s done aside from the prequels is to keep changing things in the original movies ad nauseam! From the first simple retcon of the 1977 movie’s title to the horror of the Blu-ray releases (and that’s not even mentioning the inevitable 3D release), the man just can’t leave well enough alone. For proof, see this extensive list of changes made to the movies in re-releases.

Some of the changes are just cosmetic – supposed “improvements” to the visuals using modern day computer graphics. A lot of people hate these changes and some others find them harmless. It’s the story changes that really irk people: the most heinous and well-known of them all is Greedo shooting first instead of Han Solo in A New Hope. And that’s not just nitpicking from overly-invested fans. It really does have an impact on the story and character arc of Han Solo throughout the trilogy.

But here’s the real kicker: even if you want a Star Wars without these changes, you can’t get it. It isn’t like there’s a “Director’s Cut” and a “Theatrical Cut” version you can buy. No. The only versions you can buy on Blu-ray and DVD are significantly altered. I actually don’t own any of the Star Wars films for this reason. The last time the original trilogy was released without the offending changes was on the 2006 DVD boxed set but unfortunately those versions were low-resolution with lackluster picture and sound quality.

The best thing about Lucas constantly messing with the films is that the updated versions do look nice. You know how you can tell when a movie’s from a certain era just by looking at it? The first time I saw the HD version of Empire Strikes Back I couldn’t tell it was shot in the late 70s and early 80s. The colors were vibrant, the contrast was great. It just looked really, really good. Similarly, the audio quality has been improved throughout the years. Personally, I have no problem with these kinds of changes. It’s the story changes and the extraneous silly stuff that really irks me and a lot of other fans.

Now with Disney in control of the property, will they do what fans have been wanting for years? Will they release an unchanged original trilogy with the proper restoration it deserves? Are you listening Disney? There’s money there, guys. You could even use that stupid “Disney vault” ploy to get us to buy it.

Remember, no matter what happens, it can’t really get worse.

Well. No. That’s not true, is it? That’s a failure of imagination.

Let me put it this way: it probably won’t get any worse and if it does it’ll be super entertaining.

See you at the theater in 2015!

The Election

Like a lot of people I hate election season. I hate the ads. I hate the rhetoric. The hate internet fighting over candidates. I hate the binary choice of two broken parties. I hate that people only see it as a binary choice. I hate that neither candidate will do anything to really fix or address the fundamental problems of the United States – even the ones they could effectively address as the country’s top executive.

This was the worst election yet for me. I had more debates with friends than I ever have before. Nasty ones at times. I hate how elections make people act. I hate the thinking it drives us to.

“If you aren’t for my candidate, you are a traitor.” “If you vote third party, you are voting for the ‘other’ guy.” “If you don’t vote, you’re voting for evil.”

I don’t even want to address that stuff at this point. I just don’t care about the debate over debate anymore.

At the end of it all I stand in front of the voting machine and stare blankly into the screen. It doesn’t ask me who I don’t want to elect. It asks me who I do. After all that build up it’s all over so quickly. I make my selections. I choose to the best of my ability and I walk out.

The rest is up to God. The results are his will. I have done what I can to affect temporal, earthly politics. Now, finally, I can go back to real life.

While I hate, hate, hate the conversation of modern American politics, I can’t really expect differently of most people. They are – most of them – unregenerate sinners who need Christ. I shouldn’t expect values like honesty and principle to govern their actions when they have so many incentives to forsake honesty and principle.

I’m really disappointed in my fellow Christians. Not all of them. But certainly some.

Romans 13:1-7 gives a succinct explanation of how Christians should relate to the government. We are commanded to submit to authority in scripture. We are commanded to show respect and honor where due. It is God who puts leaders in power.

Most scholars maintain that Romans was written sometime around 51 to 58 A.D. which would be during the reign of either Claudius or Nero. Neither of them were particularly nice guys and certainly didn’t have Christian values in their governance (especially Nero) and yet the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write Romans with that passage about submitting to authority.

There’s a lot that could be said about this topic. It has a lot application in our lives. But here are the two points I wanted to make to my fellow Christians given that context.

1. When you disrespect people who hold offices in our country; when you make fun of them; when you misrepresent them as something they are not; when you see them as an enemy to be thrown out of office even if it means abandoning some of your principles to do it, are you in accordance with what the Word of God has to say?

2. Your reaction to whomever wins the election should be consistent with a deeply-held belief that God is in control of everything and that we are citizens of an eternal kingdom foremost and not an earthly country. It should make no real different to your Christian walk who wins this election (though practical life changes might occur). Does the Bible change depending on the result? Does God change? No. I know you know this. Act like it.

And I am not innocent in these things either. I had to stop watching the Presidential debates this year because I couldn’t stop myself from getting angry and disrespectful toward the candidates (and indeed the whole system and culture). There is a point at which disagreement turns to disrespect and I’ve crossed that line more than a few times. We have to learn to see our leaders for what they are: God’s instruments.

Politics is far less important than my patriotic American upbringing has led me to believe. That’s not an excuse for not participating (I did participate) but it is a reason for not having my heart invested in this thing. It gets ugly when I do that. It gets ugly when you do it.