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A Re-Appraisal of a Handful of Movies, circa 1990’s: Part One, “You’ve Got Mail” (1998)

This one aged well.  In spite of its portrayal, or maybe thanks to its portrayal, of the now bygone: 1998.

I remember very well how fresh and ‘in-the-moment’ it was then.  We were still the early days of the internet.  AOL mail accounts on iMacs, Power Books, and Think Pads, proliferated; Barnes & Noble had only been a thing for a few years, (spent a lot of time in those big comfy chairs in the one in Burbank, California, in ’98); the Upper West Side of New York City was a pre-9/11 world — and after the city had been cleaned of the extreme sleaze of the 70’s; 4K Cameras, 3D IMAX, digital projection, and comic book movies had not yet changed cinema forever; Tom Snyder was still on the air, and alive; MTV and VH1 were still showing music videos (though things were changing fast); the Sci-Fi Channel was still actually a sci-fi channel and not a repository for rejected strait-to-the-shelf-at-Blockbuster fair, pipelined from the ‘Spike’ channel; people were still learning the difference between Tall, Grande, and Venti; I was still waiting for Harlan Ellison’s Edgeworks Vol. 5 to show up on shelves (it never did).  And here was a fable, a follow-up to the highly popular ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ that fit snug right in the best part of the era that was the 90’s.

Think I was embarrassed to admit how much I was charmed by it, initially.  I was 26.  Probably too young to really appreciate its magic.  And really unprepared for a movie lacking most of the pretension that typically accompanied big studio films.  But in my own defense, it is today a 22 year-old film.  And in Kelly Blue Book parlance, the film became a classic seven years ago, and is now on its way to becoming an antique in three years time.  This, of course, pending a vote among the committee for the people who elect themselves and deem themselves qualified to decide such things.

And perhaps some movies just need time to reach us.  Because this one did.  Eventually.

I first began having fond thoughts about ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ stronger impressions, lingering affection — when I picked up a copy of the DVD for the film, along with a DVD screensaver called ‘Earthlight,’ and a Fujitsu laptop with a DVD player in it, at a CompUSA, in 2002.  And I really enjoyed watching the film again.  Before, of course, getting distracted by other films, and life in general.  But then many years later, I came back to it, yet again.  And I can verify it’s true: you cannot outrun who you are.  Not a romantic comedy fan, here, yet I really loved this one.  It reached me for reasons that are specific to me, personally.  Nothing compromising.  It’s a very ‘light’ movie.  I just dig it’s vibe.  And I especially loved seeing bookstores in a movie.  More bookstores in movies, please!  There are books in the background all over the place in this movie.  And it’s great.  I’ll never forget how frustrated I was watching Richard Donner’s ‘Conspiracy Theory’ over a year earlier, when the plot wandered into a bookstore (B&N), only to quickly wander out again.  To be fair, the plot of that film often segues from meandering to frenetic, without warning.  Like the confused spawn of a road runner and a Kuala bear, might.  But I maintain they could have spent a lot more time in that bookstore, and it would have improved that movie, greatly.

The only downside I can impart about ‘Mail’ is that it leaves one pondering whether or not the most magical part of their relationship is over now that the lead characters are no longer pen pals.  But then again, you can always go back and watch the movie, all over again.

The original 1999 DVD for ‘Mail’ linked to a website, which famously remained active until 2019.  It’s since been shut down by Warner Bros, but here’s a brief article from 2014 notating the original site: https://www.themarysue.com/youve-got-mail-website/

Notes on Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (*which should’ve been called ‘Balance of the Force,’ but apparently they couldn’t do that because that title had already been used in their Expanded Universe, blah, blah, blah.)

 

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So I was recently viewing this again (streaming) and remembered well the frustration I had upon my initial viewing within the prestigious Santikos Palladium, or whatever the hell they’re calling that place out on 99 now .. and I couldn’t help but wonder if I should even bother with a write-up of some kind.  The movie is truly as phoned in as that poster, and I couldn’t bring myself to take any form of an actual review seriously.  So instead, I present to you my real-time thoughts in the form which this film deserves.  Notes.

– “The Dead Speak!”   *and it all went downhill from there
– fan fiction just threw up everywhere
– nonsensical at times
– feeling a bit like an Abrams Star Trek
– Kylo Ren still comes off as an insufficient heavy
– Rehashing old ideas, with the clear intent being, ‘Look!  We have better technology than they did!’

– some interesting ideas, but not many

– nice scene between the three kids finally meeting up again
– so much TV plotting = bad.  Not the quality SW deserves
– a complete left turn from IV, V, and VI
– a movie for those who prefer a film about the ‘expanded universe’; all those rejected ideas
– nice to see more aliens, though
– this movie has too many plot contrivances, already, and I sense a tremor in the force

– too much winking at the audience

– not very realistic at all.  Simply doesn’t maintain any form of suspension of disbelief.  Feels like a Turkish ripoff.
– too self aware of itself, and too jokey
– none of this was designed very well
– the way Abrams moves his camera is often annoying.  As a member of the audience, you’re not really watching a movie, as much as operating the camera. Very frustrating.

– Some cartoons are plotted better than this

– Stormtroopers miss, miss, miss, miss.  And when they finally hit somebody, it’s conveniently a plot contrivance.  Any other time, they never hit anything they aim at.  Who taught these turkeys how to shoot, a handful of red shirts?
– so much of this is improbable.  Even in the SW universe.
– much of the dialogue is too easy
– the ocean effects are very nicely rendered

– the cameos are a nice touch.  But then all the best moments here reference the older films.

– this story just keeps evolving like the plot of a 5 Season long TV series.  I don’t like all this re-evaluation of plot and new info and deus ex machina popping up
– CGI heavy filmmaking is always covering up rather bland, badly spiderwebbed … Hey !  Did Development Executives plot this thing ??

– two words: space horses.  Okay, three words: stupid space horses

– In retrospect, as I watch meaningless effects play out, this movie comes off as the most heavily contrived motion picture I have ever seen
– Kylo running in pajamas is next level comedy
– and yet only at the end do we see Kylo always would’ve made a much better hero than he ever did as a villain.
– this could’ve bee so much better

– just a pile of bells & whistles, all of which rings hollow

– a fake attempt at sincere emotion just happened which plays out like fan service
– entire plot of this Trilogy reminds of TV logic that keeps viewers tuning in but never seems to get to the point; and when it does, it comes off like the finale of ‘Lost’ or ‘Game of Thrones.’  Reminds me of Bill Murray’s line in ‘Quick Change.’  “I could’ve called them from anywhere in the world tonight, just to tell them I was still inside the bank!”  We’re being dragged.
– a series of movies cooked up by a TV Development Executive.  This was a con.
– I’m not saying it was bad screenwriting …… but it was really bad screenwriting


– we live in a society

READY. PLAYER. ONE. …Spielberg’s film of the novel, In Review

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UPDATED: 08/12/2018.  (I was a little hard on this one — to say the least.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still things from the book that I truly miss, here and there.  But having recently viewed the film a handful of times at home, I have revised my thinking from a negative position, to a very positive one.  And although I have decided to let my original review stand (both for the sake of honesty as well as posterity,) I think in all fairness, I should disclose that much of what once bothered me about Spielberg’s film of the book is no longer an issue for me.  I do still have problems with both the handheld camera work when Sorrento is searching the IOI War Room for Art3mis, as well as the really bad old age makeup applied to actor Simon Pegg at film’s end.  But everything else I am now dealing with just fine, and retract all other complaints.  I’ve also read that author Ernest Cline is working on a sequel: Ready Player Two.  Perhaps that will become a Netflix limited series, allowing for a longer run-time.  The only real problem with Ready Player One is that the film needs a longer run-time to better establish and appreciate the OASIS.   In any event, I am changing my attitude and recommending the film.  Hopefully no one was put off too much by my ridiculously scathing review.  Be well. ~ Jim)    

Let’s start and end with the book.  Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’ centers on a teenager named Wade Watts, who spends much of his time in 2045 Oklahoma City (Columbus, Ohio in the film,) within an online virtual world.  He goes to virtual school there, he hangs out in his best friend’s virtual basement there, he watches movies there, listens to music there, plays virtual video games there …  You get the idea.  In contrast, twenty-six years from now the real world has become humanity’s compromise in the face of economic upheaval, environmental catastrophe, and overcrowding.  Things have gotten so bad that mobile home trailers aren’t lined up in out-of-the-way trailer parks, anymore.  No, to save space, they’re stacked sky high all over town.  And just like everybody else across the globe, Wade Watts is jacked into the next generation of the internet much of the time, to delude himself from it all; with a highly advanced version of an Oculus headset wrapping his vision with on-line computer generated imagery, of astonishing detail.

This new technological frontier is called, ‘The Oasis.’ 

Visualize from a great distance, a series of interconnecting solar systems, partitioned in space utilizing the framework of a Rubik’s Cube.  Within these online planetary systems, are tens of thousands of worlds, with more being perpetually added.  You get up in the morning, place a headset over your eyes, and you step inside a virtual world where the rules are not the same as the real world.  And inside the Oasis, you can be anybody you want to be, because no one knows who you really are or what you really look like.  And vice versa.  Everywhere you look, you are presented with the unimaginable and the truly unpredictable.  Willy Wonka described it best: “pure imagination.”

ready-player-oneBut there’s a monetary catch.  It works like this: you pay for everything within the Oasis, except a base avatar (your personal computer generated image within the Oasis,) and the base set of abilities you need to function.  If you wish to wear a better avatar, say you want to be a licensed property like Kurt Russell’s ‘Jack Burton’ in Big Trouble in Little China, or perhaps RoboCop, then you have to pay for it.  If you want to travel the Oasis, and visit the multitude of worlds, such as everything from planets emulating popular video games, or even a world carefully constructed to emulate the television sitcom, Family Ties, then naturally, you have to pay to get there.  If you want weapons or magical abilities, you pay.  If you want a full immersion rig, i.e., a real world physical harness and revolving rig you climb into, that better interacts with the online world — then you pay big.  Naturally, there are ways around paying out of pocket.  By winning battles in virtual video games, you win massive amounts of bitcoin.  Currency which will remain in reserve in your account to be utilized at your leisure.  But regardless of this fail-safe, most people who travel, play, party, study, work, and generally communicate within the Oasis, still fall into two groups: the haves and and have-nots.

This next gen internet was created by a computer geek/Steve Jobs competitor, named James Halliday.  When the Oasis first went online, in 2025, Halliday was already a very wealthy man, having created various successful video games and software platforms.  But ‘Jim’ Halliday had saved his greatest creation for last.  He wanted to connect people in perhaps a way that he had never been able to connect to anyone, himself.  And the Oasis was intended to be his gift to the world.  In profile, Halliday was an unremarkable, socially innocent figure.  Possibly autistic.  In point of fact, whether or not his obsessive reverence for 1980’s pop-culture was a symptom of a form of autism, is never made clear.  But either way, no one really cared.  The Oasis had taken over the daily lives of almost everyone on the planet so fast, that generally everyone came to idolize its creator.  So when Halliday suddenly died in 2044, and left behind an easter egg treasure hunt for three keys hidden within the Oasis that lead the winner to Halliday’s personal fortune, as well as control of the Oasis itself, you can imagine the broad spectrum of responses.

Much of the world’s destitute population immediately began studying Halliday’s favorite aspects of 1980’s pop-culture, searching for clues to the locations of the three hidden keys, which lead to the easter egg.  And of course those who showed the most enthusiasm, were the new generation of teenagers.  Thus, Cline’s story begins (2045: one year later,) with teenagers nicknamed ‘Gunters’ (egg hunters) having searched the Oasis, high and low, without pause, but also without having made any headway.  In tandem, the world’s largest internet provider, a multi-trillion dollar corporation called I.O.I. (Innovative Online Industries,) has spent a fortune hiring young people nicknamed ‘Sixers’ (they each wear an employee # that starts with 6, and ‘check your six, they may be behind you,’) to stack the deck in its own favor.  Did I mention that after successfully claiming the three hidden keys, the winner will face the avatar of James Halliday himself?  And said winner could either be an unknown underdog, or an emissary of evil corporate America.  In the words of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day: “It was just a question of which one of them would reach him first. “

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During a truly perilous journey, Wade Watts (avatar name: Parzival) works alongside his best friend in the virtual world, and fellow treasure hunter, Aech (pronounced ‘H,’) along with a female avatar Wade develops an enormous crush on, named Art3mis.  They are joined by Daito & Shoto; two Asian kids who also make it onto the scoreboard.  And all five are hounded by ‘Sixers’ whose strings are being pulled by I.O.I.’s Head of Operations Executive,  Nolan Sorrento.  Who in the book turns out to be a bonafide sociopath.

Please be aware, from here on, spoilers abound in respect to the recently released film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s book ‘Ready Player One.’  

LEVEL ONE

Now let me make something clear.  In general, I enjoyed the movie and thought about half the scenes within the Oasis were fun.  It was charming.  But having said that, you don’t need to be a clairvoyant to perceive the truly fantastic film that could have been made out of Ernest Cline’s book.  Taken on its own merit (as it should be,) the book is a truly transcendental love letter to 1980’s pop-culture, as well as an entire generation who grew up in said era.  It is a kind of storytelling that reaches an unexpected place in the heart of the most unexpected of random people.  And whether you were a teenager in the 80’s or not, it’s a book I highly recommend anyone read.  Stories which are this well devised don’t come around often.  But when they do, they capture your imagination in such a way that you are at once both transported into the story,  and also compelled to draw almost conspiracy level parallels to the real world, currently around you.  That’s really where the fun is.  And while that can sometimes happen with a movie, it didn’t happen here.  No, here a divergent version of the story has been created, which seems to have re-purposed much of the material, and dropped 1990’s anime and video game cameos like little poodle bombs, all over the place.

It is ironic that the last book similar in imagination and thrills to ‘Ready Player One,’ was Michael Crichton’s techno-thriller, ‘Jurassic Park.’  So logic follows that the director of that film adaptation, Steven Spielberg, would be the first set of hands the galleys for ‘Ready Player One’ would wind up in.  Seems like a match made in heaven, right?  Well yes, and … not quite.  I would say he both succeeded and failed, here.  And I suspected that would be the case even before I had finished reading the novel.  Let me explain.  And let’s start not with the essence of the sentiment that the book is trying to convey, and whether or not the chosen director’s heart is really ‘in it,’ so to speak.  Let’s instead focus on the current artistic identity of the filmmaker himself.

When you remove the possibility of a highly expensive Netflix limited series of 9 one-hour episodes (which would have been the ideal avenue to adapt this material,) what you are left with is a list of requirements for the director of a theatrical feature film, that only a name brand like ‘Steven Spielberg’ could fill.  Keep in mind, said ‘requirements’ include concerns among investors, insurance companies, studio heads, studio board members, studios stock holders, the multitude of companies that own the intellectual property rights which will be referenced during the film, and a partridge in a pair tree…  You getting my drift?  But while they see Spielberg as their savior in this situation, Spielberg isn’t really the same director he used to be.  Spielberg has moved on.  He’s even publicly stated that he’s past his popcorn days.  And it’s very likely that Studios in Hollywood are tone deaf to this fact.  So perhaps ‘yesterdays’ Spielberg would have been perfectly cast as a director for this project, but maybe ‘today’s’ Spielberg, not so much.  Spielberg admitted in recent interviews that this is one of the three hardest films he’s ever made in his career.  The other two being JAWS, and Saving Private Ryan.  To be fair, he also intimated that his work with the Computer Effects teams is really to blame, but again, his lack of … I don’t mean to say affection, I don’t mean to say enthusiasm … no, his lack of compassion for the source material, betrays the simple fact that Ready Player One is not exactly a film ‘today’s’ Steven Spielberg, holds dear.  And that is definitively one of the big problems this film adaptation has.

In truth, it’s very unlikely that Spielberg has any loyalty whatsoever to the 1980’s pop-culture references that give Ernest Cline’s story its added spark.  Spielberg was a teenager in the 1960’s.  And in the 1980’s, he was in his 30’s.  Added, he was working quite a bit, throughout the 80’s, and therefore his personal tastes are likely highly divergent to that of a 1980’s teenager.  Why does this matter, you ask?  Because changes were made from book to screen, that are things that make ‘ya say, ‘hmmmm,’ that’s why.  Arbitrary changes.  And while some of them make sense (like having Art3mis be the one who goes inside I.O.I.,) others are just puzzling to no end.  Unless, of course, you simply accept the fact that the filmmaker didn’t truly understand the source material to begin with.

So let’s investigate the differences, break them down into their various necessities, and ascribe meaning to them.  I kid because I care.  Now let’s talk some trash.

LEVEL TWO

1. The Music: the new version of the Willy Wonka theme ‘pure imagination,’ so ever-present in more than one of the trailers, was noticeably absent from the finished film.  Why??  You can listen here: https://youtu.be/XTPCwA1AcPk  Or better yet, why not just license the original song from the 1970 film, and use that?  And why was John Williams’ Superman The Movie theme used prominently in a key scene in a trailer, and then not used in the same scene in the finished film?  Also, a handful of songs, such as ‘Tom Sawyer,’ by Rush, which were also utilized in various trailers, were A.W.O.L, as well.  Those who have read the book remember well that ‘Rush’ was James Halliday’s favorite band, and figures into the plot with some importance.  So why was the song only used for marketing the film??  Fine; okay, we’ll let that slide.

2. While I generally enjoyed Ready Player One (I chuckled now and then, and was pleasantly surprised now and then) I still knew early on while watching the film that ‘Cinematic Game Changer’ Steven Spielberg was the wrong director for this project.  ‘Today’s’ Steven Spielberg just didn’t feel it.  And the emotion at the core of the story, is the core of the story.  It’s like a map that leads you everywhere you need to go.  Thus, it seems the heart of the movie has either been left on the editing room floor, or discarded very early on in the ‘Development Process.’  A friend pointed out that there must be footage missing, as Wade’s body suit somehow ends up in the possession of his Aunt’s boyfriend.  The boyfriend is seen wearing it, just before their trailer explodes in the stacks.  And the more we chatted about it, the more we agreed that there must be other pieces which had to be missing from the finished film, as well.  In fact, one could generally estimate the missing footage to clock in at around thirty minutes.  At least, if not more.  Not good.  Not good vibes, here, people.

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3. There are multiple differences in the plot of the book, to that of the film.  I won’t waste the reader’s time with an academic dissertation, but a few of them are key to understanding the true meaning behind the book.  Therefore it baffles that they specifically would be omitted.  A good example would be that in the book, acquiring the first key is something that Wade does himself, alone.  There is no race for the key.  There is no King Kong.  Wade simply figured something out first.  Before anyone else.  And THAT is what’s amazing and euphoric about it.  Then it turns out that another ‘Gunter’ named Art3mis has also figured it out.  And neither of them needed anyone’s help to do so.  They simply kept looking for clues in the framework of Halliday’s imagination.  Each find a cave hidden within the Oasis, and after navigating a series of booby-traps, play and win a game of ‘Joust’ against a character from the famous board game, Dungeons & Dragons.  And please know, we are talking about the classic cabinet Arcade Game ‘Joust.’  It’s the type of video game you would have seen in an actual Arcade in the early 1980’s.  And not a big action sequence, as is presented in the film adaptation.  And because of that, it’s a more isolated, clever scene.  And genuinely more thrilling.  “But that is not what ‘they’ would have you believe.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld

But that is not

4. Among other key differences, which feel like more arbitrary changes, is the Flicksync, or WarGames roleplaying test Halliday set up requiring gamers speak all of actor Matthew Broderick’s dialogue in the film WarGames, just so they can ‘clear a gate,’ and move on to the next round.  Something that would have been hilarious, if telegraphed in the film version.  But alas, that element of the story is noticeably absent.  Also, the Blade Runner Voight-Kampff test, which has been replaced in the film, with an uneven sequence taking place ‘inside’ the movie, The Shining.  And don’t misunderstand me, the live action interiors of the Overlook Hotel are a startling moment in the film.  But in its entirety, The Shining sequence in the film, winds up representing everything really bad about modern cinema: U.E.C.G.I. (Unnecessary Excuse for Computer Generated Imaging)  There’s no logic behind it, and it’s not as fun as it should be.  Especially since it concludes with yet another bad take on Disney’s ‘The Haunted Mansion.’  The taste of it was so bad … it was just … I was ill.  Bring me Teddy Grahams, STAT!

5. Is there magic in the movie?  Occasionally.  But it’s low level.  People will be picking apart superficial cameos in the background for years, I’m sure.  But the real magic of the book, along with the emotion associated with it, is kept on a very tight leash, and behind a very high fence.  In other words, this isn’t your grandfather’s Spielberg.  There’s too much context missing.  In Spielberg’s film, we never really get a concrete understanding of why the Oasis is so important.  In the book, Wade sums it up by saying, “The moment I began searching for the egg, the future no longer seemed so bleak.”  But in the film, it’s a bit too nebulous as to why it matters.  And very sorely missed is the presence of the Great Og, alias Ogden Morrow.  The friend who helped Halliday create the Oasis.  He pops up in the book a lot.  Including as an invisible presence in Aech’s basement, at one point.  And while in the book his character is of more importance, and has a certain depth and purpose, in the film adaptation Simon Pegg comes off as a nothing more than a peripheral character.  You don’t get the sense of the friendship between he and Halliday.  You don’t have any understanding of their falling out.  And although Pegg is seen in a couple of flashbacks early on, when Morrow eventually shows up at the end of the movie, it’s just Simon Pegg in the worst old age make-up you have ever seen in a movie.  And his purpose there is to patronize the intelligence of the audience.  And by the way, before I forget … whattheHELL is ‘The Resistance!?’  I mean what exactly was the meaning of THAT ridiculous ass-banana fuckery, anyway??

6. Personally, in Spielberg’s film, I really missed the throwaway things that made the story so special.  Seeing Wade/Parzival go to school in the Oasis, or seeing him sit down in Aech’s basement, and pick up and start reading an old copy of Starlog Magazine.  I missed at least one reference to The Last Starfighter.  I also missed the space travel — which you knew would be awesome, and yet is completely absent from the film.  I missed that wonderful endless multilevel mall of Arcades, where Wade/Parzival finds the quarter.  I miss the way the kids Wade/Parzival and Samantha/Art3mis don’t meet until the end of the story, and the punch of emotion you get when they do.  I missed how the five kids in the story subverted the system, and how they all had contact with one another in private, encrypted chat rooms.  I missed the darker parts of the story.  The fact that Sorrento disguised the bombing of Wade’s trailer as a meth lab accident.  I also miss seeing Daito being thrown from his real world balcony, by ‘Sixers’ after Sorrento has discovered his true identity.  (although I would have altered this so that Daito survived.)   And last but certainly not least, I miss Anorak’s Almanac.  For further explanation of that one, you’ll have to read Ernest Cline’s book.

7. Are there things in the book which should have been left out?  Absolutely.  As I stated before, in the book Wade is the one who infiltrates the big bad corporation, I.O.I.  And it’s such a harrowing experience that when Wade makes his escape (and remember, he’s well aware that Daito has been murdered by I.O.I,) he stops by a vending machine and purchases a gun.  That would be the first thing to go.  In fact the only change made from the book to the film which I was truly thrilled with, was the Wade/Parzival conversation with Halliday, after the game is won.  And that amazing moment when Halliday admits that he’s dead, but claims his avatar … is not really an avatar.   Implying, of course, that Halliday died and chose to live in the afterlife as a ghost in his own machine.  How?  I dunno.  But I bought it.

Ninety-nine percent of these cumulative alterations are almost certainly the work of either Development Executives, or Steven Spielberg himself.  And they add up to a gradual shift in the focus of the material.  Away from what made the book special, and deep into a place which simply smells of focus group marketing.

LEVEL THREE

The final, and most heinous source of trouble, is, as always, the simple act of placing a cross-promotional ‘product’ like ‘Ready Player One’ in the hands of Corporate America.  That’s asking for trouble.  Corporate America has clearly taken over the creative side of the movie business.  To date, and with as much success as failure, Studio Executives in casual dress, have quietly been micromanaging the plotting of most big budget movies we’ve all been watching, for about the last twenty years or so.  It is therefore likely that novelist Ernest Cline (who contributed his own early draft of the screenplay,) screenwriter Zak (Last Action Hero) Penn (who was brought in for a new draft,) and even director Steven Spielberg himself, are all along for the ride, here.

True, when addressed point-by-point, you can dismiss a lot of my condemnation of the film.  But when you add it all up … it’s a different story.  Enough circumstantial evidence always does that.  I’m making valid points when I tell you that all realism available in the original source material, has vanished from it’s film adaptation.  I’m being honest when I say that all sentiment was changed, or that all understanding of our generation and the book’s connection to our generation was essentially severed; removed, altogether.  But maybe it will help if I make a sideways comparison.  This year (2018) is the 50th Anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Therefore I show reverence by quoting from its author, Arthur C. Clarke.  “I am often asked about ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ — what does it all mean?  And my response is always this: read the book, see the movie, and repeat the prescription as often as necessary.”  In that spirit, I personally advise that reading ‘Ready Player One,’ then watching the movie, and then reading the book again, will indeed leave you with a joyful, sometimes extraordinary reading experience — but alas, a merely ‘typical’ movie going experience.  Mostly because it’s impossible to watch the movie Ready Player One, and ignore the parallel that in reality Corporate America succeeded in taking over the Oasis.
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Book Review: “ORIGIN” by Dan Brown.

(Please be Advised – if you plan to read and have not read the book ‘Origin,’ it is heavily suggested that you not read the following book review)

It was the first Dan Brown book I ever read.

I passed this one on the shelf at least three times and really had no interest in reading it, or of knowing anything much about it.  Brown’s reputation was tarnished during the ‘Da Vinci Code’ book debacle, which resulted in lawsuits by authors he reportedly plagiarizedWhich genuinely appeared to be simply an editorial mistake involving quoting the source, but there’s a whole story behind that.  (Brown was also denounced by the Vatican.)  Since then, many critics have not been kind.  Some even laugh within the context of their reviews.  And those critics have spent volumes of their energy attempting to persuade every human soul on this planet not to read a Dan Brown book.  And all of this has led to a never-ending, cascading snowball-headed-for-hell controversy that symbiotically attaches itself to every book Brown writes, happily ever after.   ‘Ya gotta feel for the guy.

But to be honest, I did not want to read anything written by a writer who simply had a bad reputation for … bad writing.  Garbage in, garbage out.

I was looking to avoid that pitfall commonly associated with mainstream, mass-produced works of fiction found in stacks and piles in what few brick and mortar stores remain, just around the corner.  Along with the electronic or traditional hard or soft cover copies sold on-line.  And in ‘Big Publishing,’ Dan Brown is big business.  A big chunk of that market belongs exclusively to Dan Brown’s chosen Publisher, whenever he releases a new book.  (In this case, Double Day.)  And when he does release something new, his name brand does the same business as any Stephen King novel.  King’s own formula isn’t as pretentious as Brown’s, but it is still a dependable genre-centric parking spot that has made King a name brand.  Meanwhile, Brown’s own formula seems to be an amalgamation of Michael Crichton, curious Wikipedia-like factoids on art and history and science (including a fair amount of speculation,) and a sort of revelatory spirit that whisks the reader away into an escapist journey that promises forbidden or secret knowledge somewhere at the end of the rainbow.  And we all know, we love that.  It may be pure fantasy, but it’s still basic storytelling 101.  ‘Gimme me pot of gold,’ demanded the Leprechaun.

But for many years, I knew none of this.  My personal reading choices lie elsewhere.  Yep, I dutifully did as I was psychologically conditioned by the word-on-the-street, and avoided reading a Dan Brown book.  Seen the movies.  But never read the books.  In fact, I was one of the few who really enjoyed the film, ‘Da Vinci Code,’ directed by Ron Howard.  With the obvious understanding that the core plot was essentially bullshit.  Very entertaining bullshit, but pure B.S., in any case.  The film of ‘Angels & Demons’ looked promising, but underwhelmed and wasn’t really very engaging, and in the end, degenerated into a mess of plot contrivance and bad Computer Generated Imagery.  And I got through around 20 minutes of that embarrassing shaking camera, NASA-like-stress-test that calls itself a movie, ‘Inferno,’ before walking out, nauseated.  To this day, I still have no idea what it was about or how it ended, and I could care less.So back to ‘Origin,’ after my third pass (saw it at a Wal-Mart,) I got curious and later Googled ‘Origin Dan Brown Review.’  First thing that got my attention: book critic ‘Ron Charles’ with the Washington Post referred to ‘Origin’ as “moronic.”  Several hits down, I found another review wherein book critic Beejay Silcox, with The Australian, simply quoted the Washington Post’s “moronic” accusation in its entirety, with: “Another thriller so moronic you can feel your IQ points flaking away like dandruff,” declares The Washington Post.” 

I read each review in its entirety and remained generally unclear as to just why they each felt the book was moronic.  Especially in light of the traditional level of intellect and quality of writing featured in most mainstream novels, today.  The two critics made various other criticisms.  But much of it sounded sneakily generic, when placed among other reviews available on-line, so that’s really not what got my attention.  No, what stunned me was the word, “moronic.”  Let me say it another way.  They practically called the author a moron.  Stop reading and think about that for a moment …

Once I had read it (and I’ll get to that in time,) it was almost as if they didn’t actually read the book.  Or if they did, they didn’t read the same book I did.  Or they came to the book with a predetermined opinion of the book, and it’s author.  Or they only gave half of their attention to it, while they were reading it.  Perhaps multitasking with Steve Harvey on Family Feud.  I imagined each of these two book critics cribbing notes for their reviews from various critiques of their peers.  And possibly utilizing some sort of galleys synopsis of the actual novel, which got passed around by the Publisher weeks before the novel was offered, for early criticism.  Why would they do this, you ask?  I have no fucking idea.  And to be fair, I also have no proof because it’s unlikely that it actually happened.  And in their defense, it’s only their professional and personal opinion of an author’s work.  State secrets were not sold to the Russians, here, ladies and gentlemen.  They are entitled to their opinion.

But still … I got curious.  And I kept thinking about their use of the word, “moronic.”  And I grew suspicious.  Where was the apparent prejudice of these two literary critics coming from?  Was this a hit job, aimed squarely at author Dan Brown?  I knew if I emailed these turkeys they would likely never respond, and if they did, they would lie about their motives for labeling the book and/or author as essentially stupid.  So instead, I simply Googled more critical opinions of Brown’s book.  And I’ll get back to that, eventually … but first, you should know that the “moronic” comment is ultimately why I purchased and read the book.  After all, if two somewhat prominent literary critics refer to a single work by an author as “moronic,” it damn well better be, or their street cred as is in serious jeopardy.

So … I sat down to read ‘Origin’ exactly three evenings ago.  And I was genuinely hooked after around 30 pages or so.

[I reiterate, don’t read the following plot description if you plan to read the book, and haven’t yet.]

In a nutshell: Robert Langdon is attending an extremely elaborate press conference at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in Spain.  His former student, a genius named Edmond Kirsch, wants to reveal to the world a scientific discovery he has made which somehow involves the big questions of where we came from as a species, as well as where we’re going.  An announcement, which he has already informed certain Religious Leaders, will shake the foundations of their faith, and possibly begin the gradual process of dismantling their religions.  A bold claim.  Both for the character of ‘Edmond,’ as well as for author Dan Brown himself.  Who now has to deliver, and again accept the inevitable consequence associated with this kind of thinking and writing: controversy.  Fortunately for Brown, it’s all very compelling.  And ironically — and in spite of his critics — it’s thanks mainly to the quality of Dan Brown’s skills as a storyteller, that it works.

But before Robert Langdon’s former student, Edmond, can make his announcement (an elaborate power point presentation,) he is murdered by an assassin; right in front of the museum audience in attendance and the three million people live streaming the ‘event’ on the internet.   As expected, confusion ensues, and as a direct result Robert Langdon is quickly a suspect and on the run again; with museum director and future Queen of Spain, Ambra Vidal, at his side.  The two of them have taken Edmond’s phone, and race around Spain attempting to retrieve a 47 character line of poetry Edmond intended to use as the password to launch the power point presentation from his cell phone.  And there’s a good chance that if they don’t discover that password, they will be murdered by Religious zealots who want Edmond’s discovery to remain a secret. 

They are assisted by Edmond’s advanced Artificial Intelligence creation, ‘Winston.’  A very helpful computer with the voice of Hugh Grant and a burgeoning sense of humor.  The lives of Langdon and Ambra Vidal are in constant danger, throughout, and in reference to the puppet master behind it all, red herrings are everywhere.  And Dan Brown does a commendable job of diverting the reader’s attention into alternate areas of interest, plot-wise.  But eventually, the storyteller has to deliver.  And deliver he does.  With Winston’s help, Langdon and Ms. Vidal make it to Winston’s central location to enter that coveted 47 character password, direct at terminal.  The entire world is watching as Edmond’s posthumous power point presentation is launched — and it’s a master class for the uninitiated.  In essence, the guy duplicated the process of the birth of life at the microscopic level, on this planet.  He performed an experiment utilizing the concoction of ingredients known as the primordial ooze, and with additional research and help from the most advanced computer on the planet, proved, unequivocally, that life simply came to be as a spontaneous chemical reaction.  That’s right, the double helix itself, those three little letters, DNA, self-generated.  And without any need whatsoever for God.  A highly controversial scientific discovery.  And one so exciting, it makes your heart race, regardless of what you believe.

“IN THE BEGINNING, MAN CREATED GOD…”

             ~Jethro Tull

But Edmond wasn’t finished.  In addition to discovering where we had come from, he had also discovered where we are going.  He had then tasked the world’s most advanced computer with creating a model for life expectancy on this planet.  He gave the computer all the required information, and then simply said, ‘extrapolate.’   And a disturbing thing happened.  As humankind took over from the dinosaurs and blossomed into the largest dominate life form on the planet, another form of life began to emerge, and it got larger … and larger, until by the year 2000, it was MASSIVE.  And by extrapolated prediction … it overtook the human race in the year 2050.

Artificial Intelligence.

***

There’s so much more to the story.  Langdon makes an additional point that includes the possibility of God’s involvement in respect to the chemicals needed to create life, the entire world responds as expected to Edmund Kirsch’s discovery: not with indifference, but with an unending series of varied opinions about what it all means.  It’s revealed Edmond had pancreatic cancer and had 9 days to live.  There is a Catholic Bishop and a dying King, and their secret, platonic love for one another.  There is the Prince and his on-the-rocks relationship with his future princess, Amber Vidal, who both get caught up in it all.  And of course, the assassin.  Who turns out to simply be a wounded warrior who got invited to the wrooooong church.  And all of it seems tailor-made for another Robert Langdon movie, with Tom Hanks.  One that will hopefully see Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot playing the part of Ambra Vidal.

If anything, ‘Origin’ simply goes on too long, when truthfully, it should have ended when ‘Winston’ confirmed to Professor Langdon over the phone that IT was the puppet master all along, then Langdon would have hung up and called the University people who took over Edmund’s supercomputer after his death, told them to pull the plug IMMEDIATELY (which is only implied within Brown’s story,) and thereafter, the horrified Professor would have smashed Edmond’s cell phone to smithereens with a big rock.

As P.T. Barnum said, “Always leave them wanting more.”

Instead, Brown  ties up numerous loose ends ‘after’ this happens, instead of ‘before’ it happens.  But was it “moronic?”  Shit, no.  It was NOT moronic.  In fact, it was an intelligent, well written book.  And personally, I only had a few quibbles with it.

Brown does over explain things occasionally.  For example, the descriptions of many of Spain’s more notable locations, while being key to the story and somewhat illustrative, nevertheless come off badly.  Sometimes annoyingly enough to remind one of a grandmother who stops in the middle of a busy intersection to tell the complete history of the old building on the corner.  And there are lots of unnecessarily italicized thoughts running through ‘Origin.’  Maybe that’s the editor’s choice.  Some new trend among Editors, perhaps.  I dunno.  But many of these clearly should have been simply added to the end of the previous paragraph, without being placed in italics.  And I would be remiss in not pointing out that many critics have mentioned that ‘Origin’ reuses various tropes from Brown’s earlier works.  Which I have not read.  So please take that into consideration, when gauging my own critique.

Speaking of critiques, let’s get back to that.   I was critiquing the critics, remember?

So a quick glance of additional reviews of the book on the internet, revealed plenty of generally favorable criticism, even if often on the colder side rather than the warmer.  But amidst them, was always the occasional pesky negative critique.  Here are some general examples of both.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times criticized author Brown’s over-reliance on modifiers, but still offered that “Brown and serious ideas: they do fit together, never more than they have in ‘Origin,’” and added that “All that symbology [author Brown] and Langdon bring to the game is never without its gee-whiz excitement.  Brown has told The Times (The New York Times) that he loved the Hardy Boys books, and it shows.”  

Dissenters included Jake Kerridge with the UK-based Telegraph, who wrote, “Brown is a lousy storyteller and a very good communicator, never passing up an opportunity to share a fascinating historical or artistic factoid with the reader at the expense of building up tension, taking pains to frame complex ethical and scientific debates in a way that the layman will understand.”

Sam Leith with ‘The Guardian’ simply stated, “Dan Brown: novelist of ideas.”

And lastly, Brian Truitt with USA Today said, “Loyal fans of his globetrotting symbologist Robert Langdon will no doubt be thrilled with the fifth book in the series. But despite exploring some seriously big concepts about creation and destiny in its Spanish-set central mystery, Origin spawns a dizzying parade of scientific jargon, nonstop travelogues and familiar tropes that all lead to a fumbled ending.”

***

But most of these issues are familiar.  Michael Crichton’s writing had similar, if comparable, issues.  Issues which critics ignored, and often failed to take note of, altogether.  But all of that is circumspect to the fact that two critics, called this book “moronic.”  So what gives with the Dan Brown hate?  Could LeCarre write it better?  Probably.  Could Crichton?  Doubt it.  So, let me get this right … judging by the accepted double-standard-NPR-snobbery of some critics, it’s likely that they would have considered this book less “moronic” if there had been more clever puns??  Or maybe if Dan Brown was a more universally praised or adored author like, say, Lee (Jack Reacher) Child; a favorite among the critics …   Strike that, let’s start again, and say it this way: perhaps critics will no longer refer to Dan Brown’s work with such negative phrasing, when he simply begins writing down to them.

Someone once said, “A faster read, makes a happy critic indeed.”

By the way, that was me; I said that.

Because it is statistically accurate to say that literary critics are more kind to authors whose books are easier, and faster to read.  Ron Charles of the Washington Post, and Beejay Silcox of The Australian.  Remember those names.  They essentially smeared a book that, while not a masterpiece, is no different than any number of other mainstream books on the shelf right now.  I’m sure they read at least a handful of those, as well.  And these two guys referred only to Dan Brown’s book as, “moronic.”  Other critics gave the book negative reviews.  But none of them crossed the line these guys did.

Maybe we make a rule right here that you don’t refer to a book as “moronic” unless Judith Krantz wrote it, how ’bout that, huh.

“Origin” was a thrilling read.  Can’t wait to see the movie.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (A REVIEW PURGED OF SPOILERS)

I won’t spoil much because to be honest if I do there won’t be much to keep you awake while watching it.  The film is not exactly story-centric entertainment.  And there are no new ideas to be found here.

Of the six of us who saw it, only one film seemed to compare at all.  Children of Men was mentioned at least twice that I remember.  But please don’t let that confuse you.  Children of Men is actually a much better film than Blade Runner 2049.  But then again, Children of Men isn’t so Criterion-Collection-spare and deliberately sparse in its story-telling, either. Whereas this supposed sequel to 1982’s original Blade Runner, is simply overkill in that vein.   It’s like a Blade Runner sequel written by Sarah McLachlan, directed by a latter day Robert Zemeckis, and edited very lazily by Ridley Scott as the throws of dementia overcome him.  And not a note of it touches the true heart of science fiction.  Art film, maybe.  But not SF.  And for so many reasons, but I guess mostly because none of it really feels like ‘acceptable’ fact.  You know what I mean ?  You simply cannot accept any of it at face value, and you question it continually as you’re watching it.  Which is the worst kind of breaking the fourth wall.  The kind you never want.  An entire audience of critics.

2049‘ is a radical deviation from the original in almost every way.  While the original was heavily textured and layered, visually and thematically, all details of this new film have been smoothed out as to obliviate one’s wandering imagination.  The movie only wants you to focus on ‘this‘ over here.  Only problem is, there turns out not to be any ‘this‘ over there at all.   The plot is merely an inescapable circular driveway.  Truthfully, the two films don’t even compare.  It’s as if the director Dennis Villeneuve set about to dismantle Blade Runner and create a new film that in his supreme arrogance, he believed would overshadow the original.  (There is a telling moment where one key set piece from the original film is intentionally disrespected, but I won’t give it away.)  But contrary to the original film, very little thought or imagination went into the opening shot.  This leaves a bad first impression.  And while you found yourself endlessly fascinated by the various identities of the characters in the original Blade Runner film, the characters in ‘2049‘ never spark the imagination enough to even care who the hell they are.  And by the end of the film, none of them mattered, anyway; and there was literally no point to the story, and no meaning behind any of it.  Apart, of course, from Deckard’s own personal plot twist, and a subplot involving a lingering question about the true nature of artificial intelligence.  I mean when you’ve devised a ‘plot device‘ that may have more of a soul than a main character, you either A) start a spirited discussion, or B) confuse the hell out of everyone.  And then what’s left ?  I don’t know about you, but yet another old, sweaty Ford, is one old, sweaty Ford too many for me.  Take a bath, mutherfucker.    

Further, while the original film feels like it was bolted down into the annals of science fiction, this new film feels like it was temporarily attached with Velcro.  Made by-the-numbers, and hollow.  Even the score is for the most part nothing more than a succession of stingers, with very little actual music.  In fact, it’s mostly trailer music.  I’m being honest, that’s exactly what it sounds like!  That old Inception button coming home to roost, yet again.  And again.  And again.  Oh, God, please make it stop.

In all fairness, many are enjoying that ‘departure from the original‘ feel this film has, along with its general ‘mood piece‘ mentality.  Many have, and will enjoy it.  I, myself, did not.  Don’t get me wrong, the film didn’t make me angry.  It didn’t do that.  No, it just sort of sat there; drifting in placebo like a lava lamp, for almost three hours.  I intuited that they fired original writer Hampton Fancher, then proceeded to remove every single imaginative idea held within the material he had conceived for them.  Oh, yeah, that’s right.  I neglected to mention that Hampton Fancher, the core writer on the original Blade Runner, was the original writer on this project as well.  Until, that is, he was dismissed in favor of Michael (Green Lantern) Green.  Why, you ask.  Because Green’s last credit was Logan.  Problem is, Michael Green didn’t actually write Logan.  Director James Mangold did.  Mangold just didn’t get credit for it.  But take heart, Michael Green wrote elsewhere.  Alien: Covenant, for example.  Whoops.

And thus, I’m left with the general disposition that I don’t want to read about Blade Runner 2049, I don’t want to talk about Blade Runner 2049, I don’t want to hear about Blade Runner 2049, I don’t want to study Blade Runner 2049, and I don’t think I ever want to see it again.

The missed opportunities of cinema have preoccupied my tired mind too often in life.    I’m letting this one go.

p.s. I also saw Close Encounters in a theater again, a few weeks back.  For the first time in many years.  Loved it.  Best film I’ve seen all year, bar none.

A SPOILERIFIC ROGUE ONE SPAGHETTI RECIPE

I kind of feel the same way about these new Marvel Star Wars films, as I do about J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek films.  Whatever keeps the idea alive can’t be so bad, can it?  And Rogue One wasn’t so bad.  But on closer analysis, it was bittersweet in a way that could only be properly digested and identified by a 70’s era child of the Original Trilogy.

r4It’s like this: while those films were made from a place of strong storytelling that recalled many well told cinematic stories of the past, this new film was designed to be a fresh take on the Star Wars universe, supercharged by modern cinematic techniques.  But because they ignored the original intent of the Original films, they wound up with a diesel engine, as opposed to a linear aerospike.   And it’s for this reason, that I think I had very little of an emotional response to this story.  Or its characters.  And that’s sad, given how good the acting is among the principal cast.  If anything the director did right it was work with the actors to build memorable characters.  Even if all they did was stand there most of the time.  I mean, at the very least, the director did a very fine job of directing these actors to give their lines the proper inflection.  Something Lucas never even gave a passing thought about doing with the Prequels.  But maybe this film, and its audience, would be better served by a plot that involved the Rebels rounding up a group of criminals, one by one, and somehow getting them all to cooperate with this mission.  Would’a, could’a, should’a.

r2To me, this film really felt like a long, twisted, confusing journey to find some sort of a weaving plot that justifies the happenings within it.  And the audience isn’t supposed to even be this aware of something like that while watching a movie on an initial viewing.  If your story is constructed correctly, the audience is completely preoccupied with the movie’s storyline, in the vault of their own imaginations.  But here, we don’t have a thrilling plot that unfolds, much less a mystery.  Heave ho, the art of distraction; all which is required is the overlong, episodic tale of how to get from point A to point B.  Fuck points C through Z, we don’t need those; we can feed ‘em 3D, hyperbolic videogame gobbledygook for the cerebral cortex, throughout the second half of the film, and they won’t know the difference.  This makes Rogue One a hollow meal that makes you wish for a better restaurant, or better yet, home cooking.  Unlike some movies where it seems like bits and pieces of junk-ideas and leftovers have been heaped into a single script and sloughed onto the audience’s plate, this movie seems more like a by-the-instructions, hard won recipe for nothing more than a lunch of the week special of very expensive and well-made pasta — covertly removed from the refrigerator, and microwaved to proper room temperature before serving to an unsuspecting patron, at the most expensive restaurant in town.

So it’s truly confusing how to feel about this movie.  While I cannot say I didn’t enjoy the movie Star Wars: Rogue One, I can definitely say that too many things about it seem all but completely distanced in my imagination from the universe of the Original Trilogy.  Much like the Prequels.  And that breaks my heart, in light of how much they got right with Rogue One.  Don’t misunderstand me, the film is a vast improvement over the Prequels.  As was Abrams’ own film, The Force Awakens.  However, while I have issues with Abrams’ film, I did feel it was connected to the essence of Star Wars.  It felt connected.  But with Rogue One ... there’s something missing.  Maybe it’s a simple spark of creativity.  Maybe it’s that the intended connection — the face of Princess Leia — is a dodgy effect at best; and the audience required better, in order to complete that illusion and generate the intended emotional response.  (Perhaps it would have been better if clearly CGI Leia didn’t fully face the camera.)  Or maybe it’s too gritty. Perhaps the filmmakers didn’t realize that a little grit goes a long way with this type of film.  Or maybe the film’s simply not intended by the filmmakers to truly belong within that universe the Original Trilogy of films inhabit, in the first place.  And that’s an issue with me.  They make a shit-ton of money off of these things.  And they likely always will.  No matter what kind of films they make.  And they know that.  Which begs the question, do they even care about the longevity of these stories?  Or are they only playing pretend on behalf of the public.  Yes, in addition to wanting to separate you from your money, we also care about Star Wars.  But do they?

Since the filmmakers, and I’m sure numerous Executives, could not figure out how the magic of Star Wars worked, they merely reinvented it.  Makes sense, doesn’t it.  They simply went back to the drawing board.  Question is, is that a sufficient enough copout for not trying to genuinely achieve the grand illusion that audiences require?

I knew something was off with the opening titles.  Which were designed to place the film on another track.  An adjacent track to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.  The film opened with simply a prologue.  A dark and gritty scene that portrays the abduction of the female protagonist’s father when she was a child.  A scene that any experienced screenwriter will tell you, is unnecessary.  In fact without it, her story would have unfolded much better in bits and pieces of information as the film went on.  And there would have been more of a mystery surrounding her, as well as her Father.  The entire sequence is not only unnecessary, but it plays much too long.  As does pretty much the entire first half of the movie.  In circumspect, the entire set-up of the film is handled the way today’s movies (many of them not theatrically released) are routinely tasked by today’s filmmakers and their crews.  Lots of ‘you really need to take this seriously’ bullshit cinematography, complete with the customary shaky cam, and unending exposition.  It’s a general tone we’ve all come to accept, and a modus operandi now seen repeated in film after film, since Casino Royale introduced it in 2007.  And to some extent the filmmakers miraculously manage to make this work.  But once you get beyond that, there are issues with this film that could never have been resolved, due to the way the story is constructed.  And it all points to a singular idea, intended for a single sequence in a larger story, being padded out to fill the entire runtime of this one movie.  Almost as if they looked at the original script’s structure and decided, ‘well we could make FIVE movies out of this,’ and earmarked the other five parts of the story, for five more movies.  And personally, I dread the recognition of familiar material in subsequent films.  I’ve seen this before, and it genuinely gives me a headache.  I was the one who thought it was too easy and obvious that Lucas reused the Death Star in Return of the Jedi.  Now we have a total of 4 films, count ‘em, FOUR, featuring the freakin’ Death Star.  (I’m including the planet killer in The Force Awakens; which was essentially the same plot device.)  And while this one film does have a good excuse for that, given the conceit of the story, it manages to make the Death Star far less interesting, this time around.  How the hell do you make a planet killing moon-sized space station, blasé and disinteresting?

And here’s a few more little touches of insanity that fell upon my head while ingesting this film:

  1. When Diego Luna’s character (the Clandestine Rebel Agent) killed a trusted informer in one of the very first scenes … I knew the movie was in trouble. Because that could only mean certain doom for any protagonist character in any kind of Star Wars film.  This was something that nagged at me for the entire first half of the movie.  And to be fair, it is possible that his character, being who he is, was ordered to kill that individual by his Rebel Commander.  But A) that was not conveyed, and B) that makes the Rebellion no better than the Empire.

  1. Did they expect that the film would only be seen by audiences in 3D, is that the reasoning behind the slightly dodgy Liea and Grand Moff Tarkin effects. I mean, I appreciate the effort, I really do, but come on, man.  They can do better than that on TV Commercials.  You expect me to believe …

  1. It was nice to have the cameos from the original film. Certainly in light of this film’s place in the timeline.  But am I the only one who noticed a few issues with that?  Where the hell are the characters from the wonderful, animated Disney show Star Wars: Rebels?  When the impromptu Rebel Council – or whatever they called that inept roundtable debate – made a decision to surrender to the evil empire, and the female protagonist decides to go it alone, and suddenly Diego Luna’s character approaches her with volunteers … would this not have been a perrrrrfect opportunity to introduce the Star Wars: Rebels characters into the live action arena?  In my opinion, that would have elevated the film to a B+, as opposed to a C-.  And by the way, why is Walrus Man’s head so much larger in this film that it was in the original Star Wars?  Did he get bit by a giant Fucking mosquito shortly before the events of this film, or something?

  1. The score was ho-hum. Michael Giacchino is clearly no John Williams.  To be fair, Giacchino was not the original composer, of record.  Pun intended.  The original composer was replaced, and Giacchino had to do a rush job on this one.  But he ain’t no J.W.  ‘Nuff said.

    r3

  1. Why did the Game of Thrones mentality of ‘everybody dies,’ have to influence this film? I mean even the Robot dies.  That’s overkill.  Another pun intended.  And placed within context – it sends a not so nice message to children that a bunch of ragtag, dirty, homeless, rogue rebels went through hell and died acquiring the plans to the most destructive weapon in the galaxy, so that pretty little rich kid Princess Leia Organa didn’t get her white robes messy.

  1. Too much contrivance. I loved the small Rebel ship crashing into a Star Destroyer, causing it to collide with another Star Destroyer, and have both fall and crash into a shield generating spaceship, thereby destroying all ships involved, and deactivating the shield.  Really made me laugh.  There’s just one problem.  Well, two if you want to get anal about it.  There’s not enough gravity that far up in orbit to cause those ships to fall downward.  Duh.  2. It’s too much of a stretch to believe that the Rebels didn’t know that shield ship was going to be there, and work out a method of dealing with it, beforehand.  Maybe this would have worked in a more playful film, but positioned as a plot contrivance within a story told with the gritty tone this one is told with, it just stands out like a sore thumb.

  1. There is really no main character, functioning within this plot. They’re ALL supporting characters, and only one of them even has an arc.  Am I honestly the only one who noticed this?  I was very excited to see this film.  The premise seemed to be withholding much in the way of imaginative storytelling.  And some of the critics who saw early screenings touted that the film did in fact hold surprises.  But this was merely the Wizard behind the curtain.  This new kind of movie seems to be the norm these days.  Please don’t look to close, just enjoy the pretty pictures.  It wasn’t dumb, by any definition.  But it was an expert example of how to skip over the hard parts of telling a story.

  1. They still haven’t fixed the issue of how easy it is to kill a storm trooper, even though they are supposedly wearing armor.

In summary, I did enjoy the film, Star Wars: Rogue One.  Just not as a Star Wars film.  I had trouble accepting that.  And in the end, there were a few little things I did like.  And Diego Luna’s character arc was one of them.  At the beginning of the film, he kills indiscriminately.  Possibly because he’s been ordered to.  After all, he is a clandestine operative.  But when faced with a moral dilemma, he chooses not to kill; which rings true with the morality that Star Wars was originally designed to impart to children.  And while that doesn’t correct the problem of his character’s initial introduction, it does give his character a proper arc; whilst none of the other characters even have an arc.  The female protagonist walks through the film and dies a martyr, whose name is only spoken of in hushed whisper, off camera for the remainder of the serial.  The Blind Guy (really the best character) who really believes he’s one with the force, walks through gunfire, flips a switch then dies walking back — guess an actual Jedi would’ve seen that coming.  The stoic rifle toting broad shouldered long haired guy … charges the enemy, gets shot, has a grenade roll his way, then just stares at it go off and dies, needlessly.  The Clandestine operative is content with having accomplished his mission and dies.  The former Empire pilot who just wants to make things right, has a grenade thrown at him, then just stares at it and gets blown to bits, too.  And the Robot is given a blaster (apparently his life’s ambition is to hold one) moments before he gets to use it, then gets himself shot.  Gets shot a lot, actually.  Matter of fact, I think the last one went right through the center of his head.  Guess those toys won’t be flying off the shelves.   Oh well, everybody else dies, why not the stepin fetchit, right.

**Actually, I liked the Robot.  Didn’t like that he was given artificial intelligence that practically acquaints to human intelligence, and then treated like a ‘sophisticated spanner,’ as writer Harlan Ellison once termed R2-D2.  That dehumanizes the character.  Another negative aspect of the storyline.

REVISAL OF SITE

The site was revised as of 06/23/2016 to reflect that my book, “Western Legend” is not currently available.  All clickbait on the right of the page referencing sites wherein the book was available — as well as the cover — have been removed.

More information will be available regarding this book if and when it sees publication in the foreseeable future.

Thank you to everyone who supported my book.

Currently, I am working on other projects.  Another book, two screenplays, and seeking financing to the “AstroWorld” project.

~ Jim