A Spoiler-Free Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The force is indeed awake once again. It went dormant in the ’90s because George Lucas forgot that what makes movies good has all to do with character and story and nothing to do with long-winded trade agreements (or whatever those movies were supposed to be about; the first one was about pod-racing, I think).

All our favorite characters are back. And we’re introduced to new favorites. I love the new droid BB-8. He’s cute without being cloying

I promised no spoilers, so there shall be none. What I will say, abstractly, is that this new Star Wars, from the mind (and clearly the heart) of director J.J. Abrams, is the movie we’ve all wanted for years. “This is the Star Wars you’ve been waiting for.” Forget the prequels. What we wanted to know is: After the empire is taken down, what happens next? We get that here, in a movie that feels one part New Hope, one part Empire Strikes Back, one part it’s own, new form of awesome. For one thing, the way this movie uses the force is the kind of thing we all imagined while playing with our Star Wars action figures as kids. (Why didn’t we leave them in the box? We’d be rich right now, if we had. Damn!)

By the end of The Force Awakens, all I wanted was more. I would have sat in my seat and watched episode 8, if the powers that be had let me. By th way, less than six hundred days until we once again can visit that long time ago in that galaxy far, far away.

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The Oscars: My Take

I love movies.

I always make it my mission to see all of the Best Picture nominees before the show. I don’t always get there, but it’s a good goal to have. This year my final number: 5 out of eight, with Whiplash (6) on its way via amazon. That means I will have yet to see only Selma  and American Sniper as of this time next week (after my girlfriend and I watch J.K. Simmons teach his music methods through violence).

Full disclosure: I was rooting hard for Boyhood in the best picture race. It was the best film of the past year. Twelve years in the making, it will stand as director Richard Linklater’s true masterpiece. But Hollywood always loves stories about itself. So I wasn’t surprised when Sean Penn announced Birdman as the best picture.

I was so happy to see the best actor statue didn’t go to Michael Keaton, who would have been the sentimental, life-time achievement winner. Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawcking was spot-on and so perfectly done you almost forgot you were watching a man who could get up out of Hawking’s wheelchair and walk to his car at the end of the day.

Three categories were obvious before the night opened. Both best supporting categories and the best actress oscar. No one–and I mean no one–has seen Still Alice, for which Julianne Moore took home her first oscar in five nominations. Everyone should see Boyhood; the boy’s mother is your best supporting actress winner, Patricia Arquette. J.K. Simmons is such a likable nice-guy character actor, who takes home oscar for playing an ass of a teacher. (I’ve had a few of those. They didn’t beat me up or anything, but haven’t we all had jerks for teachers? *Grin.*).

There’s not much to say as to the animated films. Other than: Where the heck was The Lego Movie? How do you not at least nominate them, academy? If you had you know everything would have been awesome.

Barney Stinson–errr, NPH–hosted the festivities. He did well–no one is ever perfect in that job. Ask David Letterman. But I thought he was very good. I am a huge NPH fan, and so any excuse to watch him, and I’m there.

The best moments of the night, in no particular order:

When that Polish guy didn’t leave the stage. He just kept talking, and everyone was like, Ah, what the hell? He’s cool.

Lady Gaga sings Sound Of Music, ending in an embrace with Julie Andrews.

John Legend and Common perform Glory. And Oprah apparently thinks she herself fought in the civil rights movement or something. You. Are. Not. Rosa. Parks. But the song was amazing. Amazing!

And, of course, NPH’s opening niumber just NAILED it! What a great way to celebrate movies!

My grandmother taught me to love movies. She would have loved last night. And we would have called each other tonight to talk about it. She’s not here anymore. So this blog will have to do.

What did you think of the oscars?

HULU Picks Up “The Interview” or: How Amy Pascal Lost Her “Balls”

A note before we start: This post is all about assumptions. But they are assumptions that aren’t too far out of the realm of possibility, and so they are worth making. Hence the title.

I am a fiction writer. That is what I do. If you ask some people, I do it quite well. I’m trying to learn not to care about those who feel otherwise. It isn’t easy. Regardless, I love making art.

I also support anyone else who finds joy in fashioning their own forms of art.

I have been a Seth Rogen/James Franco fan since their early days, the much-loved and gone-too-soon Freaks And Geeks. These two know comedy. They grew up in the school of the mighty Apatow with Jason Segel and Martin Starr. They know the kinds of movies they make, and they are paid well for making them.

I don’t remember what movie I was seeing–could it have been The Giver, or was it something else?–where I first saw a preview for Rogen and Franco’s newest vehicle, The Interview. I remember thinking at the time: Wow, that got green-lit? I’m sure it’ll be funny, in its own rogen-y way, but whoever green-lit that movie has some balls. Seth Rogen agreed with me, thanking Sony exec Amy Pascal for having the balls to make his movie.

Well, apparently Ms. Pascal misplaced her balls.

While I understand fully Sony’s decision not to release The Interview in theaters over Christmas, and really they had no choice (no one was going to show the thing), their  next decision was the one that really got to me. Sony has no plans to release The Interview… in any form. Translation: No Video-On-Demand, no DVD, etc.

I’m a writer. But deeper than that, it should be clear I consider myself an artist who finds value in the art of others. Rogen’s intention was to make a funny, crude comedy that has at its heart a provocative premise. But the time to nix the concept was at the pitch meeting, Ms. Pascal. Not after you’ve poured $42-44 million into the making of the movie and much more into promotion. You should have cut your losses and released your big Christmas movie on video. Or, at least you could sell it to Hulu or something. The public deserves to see it without having to resort to the kind of shady downloading your industry calls theft.

What happens the next time someone cries out against a film of yours? “No problem. We’ll just pull it. Problem solved.” That scares us artists, because, in America, the people say what we want to say as a right, and our fellow Americans have the right to partake of it/agree/disagree with it–or not.

I recently finished a novel in which I believe, with all my heart. It’s a great book I have worked extremely hard to make great. I’m in search of the agent/publisher who will do the same. Both love it and make it even better. I understand that books/movies/entertainment  are big business, and you’re completely covering your butts here, but shouldn’t loyalty count for something? Where I come from, if you say you’re going to do something, you do it.

Even if it’s through Video-On-Demand. Or Hulu.

My Novel–What It Is Is Not What It Will Be!

I know. You’re probably thinking, That’s an odd title. Wonder what it means.

This post is not about my novel. The one I’ve been editing so long–and so much–that it’s kept me from this blog for a month (Sorry about that, by the way. I promise to blog more frequently in the future. I appreciate the followers I have, who read all my new stuff. Here’s hoping you guys will follow me into the bound word).

This post is about artists.

The people who write, who make films, who act, who paint giant paintings, be they of apple orchards or starry nights, or…

Whether a story is fictitious, or a meticulously realized documentary, or a portrait of the street an old man remembers growing up on as a young boy, the art we make is not just to satisfy a potential–and, if you’ve made it, you lucky few–a devoted audience. If artists are honest with themselves, all art is a way of leaving a legacy, a way of preserving and protecting the young child they once were, even after they grow so old they forget him. Maybe this child was awkward, and their greatest talent was that at which they work, or they might have been popular, and their peers always knew they’d make it.

Whatever the case, readers, film and theatergoers, admirers, fans, and especially agents should remember this:

The economy has a bottom line, and that’s money. We all know that. The artist’s bottom line is this: Is it true to me? Is it who I am?

Honestly, if the answer to those two questions is, “Yes”, then I can’t care what an editor tells me. I can’t accept, “This is just too Hallmark.” If it’s true to me, and if I think it will be true to others, it stays.

That being said, my novel sits now in a state of limbo. What it is is not what it will be. I am hammering away every day to bring out the truest representation of me on the page. If you get it, eventually, when it’s out there and ready to be got, that’ll be so great; maybe we’ll share a scone and talk books, movies, TV–art in general–in a little cafe somewhere down the road.

Here’s hoping.

Boyhood (A movie By Richard Linklater)

Boyhood.

I’ve been out of the theater, the experience complete, for a good five hours and change. Yet I’m still digesting all I saw, all that one of America’s greatest directors, Richard Linklater, put on the big screen to be seen in a 165-minute new American classic.

I don’t toss that word around lightly. I watched American Hustle last year. I was bold enough then, and I’m bold enough now, to say, simply and truthfully: That movie sucked. So if Boyhood wasn’t any good, I’d tell you.

And it isn’t good. It’s great, a sure best picture contender.

Everyone who watches Boyhood will experience it. And everyone who has an experience will have a slightly different experience than everyone else has, because we all go into the film with our own previous life experience as our guides, and it is those memories, and our memories of the time period covered (2002-2013) that ground Boyhood for each moviegoer.

I am a big brother. Have been since I was four years old. In 2002, my littlest brother, James, was about to turn 7, the same age as the great Ellar Coltrane’s Mason, and my little sister, the beautiful Ms. Katie, was about to turn 10, the same age as Mason’s sister Samantha (played with tenderness, skill, wit, and heart by the director’s daughter). In them, I saw my siblings. In the people around them, I saw myself.

Boyhood gets so much right. The advice given to both Mason and Samantha about life itself reminds me of the same advice I doled out, given to me years before. The brother-sister relationship. Even the video games these kids (okay, let’s be fair, the video games that Mason plays) are perfectly rendered here, so that you say, Yes, that is exactly what it was like!

Linklater’s best directing Oscar awaits him in February. If Boyhood doesn’t win best editing, then I don’t know what best editing means. If Arquette isn’t nominated for best actress, I would be utterly shocked. And if Boyhood isn’t in the running for best picture, then I want to know: What was the point of increasing the number of eligible movies from five to ten? Not only should this movie be nominated, if there is any justice in the academy’s vote, it should also win.

That means, just this once, Mr. Weinstein, let someone else come to the party. Back off promoting the rest of your films the way you’ve backed off promoting Snowpiercer (anyone who knows movies hopefully sees what I just wrote as a subtle dig). Admit that you’ve been bested, sir, because I’m telling you right now–you have!

Boyhood stars Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater. Run time: 165 min.

The Fault In Our Stars–No Fault Here!

Full disclosure: I love the book by the same name written by John Green of vlogbrothers youtube fame. It is one of the best written works of the past ten years. Forget its genre. Forget that it’s YA. It’s brilliant on its own wonderful merits.

So I went into the movie, starring Shaiene Woodley and Ansel Elgort and directed by Josh Boone, with high expectations.

Expectations met.

The movie, too, is a wonderful piece. Like the book, it does not sentimentalize the truth of cancer. It lets that truth stand for what it is; often unfair and ugly.

Green’s best “book-scenes” as well as his most affecting dialogue remain intact here. Woodley is good. There was never any doubt she would be. There is a heartfelt–but perhaps too short–performance by Laura Dern as the helicoptering mother of young Hazel Grace Lancaster.

Elgort’s Gus is likable, at turns sardonic, always kind and affectionate toward our Hazel, always ready with a metaphor. The simple metaphor, more than his wit, and thankfully more than the cancer that took his leg, is what makes Gus who Gus is. You gotta love a guy willing to put a cancer stick between his lips but who refuses to light it, just to show his cancer who has the power.

I won’t give anything away. If you’ve read the book, you know what happens. If not, still see the movie. In fact, make sure you see it.

Is the movie better than the book? No, but it comes in a very close second. For reference, there are only two movies better than the books they came from, in my opinion. Those were Forrest Gump and Field Of Dreams.

The Fault In Our Stars, A Josh Boone Film, 125 mins, PG-13, 5 stars!