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ends and beginnings

January 1, 2017
princess-leia-organa

Carrie Frances Fischer – 1956 – 2016

I mentioned the original Star Wars movie in the last post. What I didn’t mention is that I watched it a total of 24 times over a twelve month period. I did that because I was “starved” for entertaining science fiction that made an attempt to actually look like it had some chance of being real. The last decent contemporary science fiction file I’d watched was 2001, and that was nine years before in 1968. When Star Wars was released, it was like a oasis in a cultural desert.

The first I ever heard about Star Wars was right before it was released through critic Gene Shalit on the Today Show. Mr. Shalit was excited about Star Wars. Over about a week before it hit the theaters, he would do a number of stories and reviews of the movie. That got me motivated to see it the weekend of the release. I was immediately taken by the movie, so much that I took my dad and brother out the next weekend to see it. Folks now find much to criticize about the movie, but when it was first released, we all just accepted the entire movie and ignored whatever so-called flaws it might have (such as how a lone missile, with or without the Force, could blow up a major planet-sized weapon system called the Death Star). It was the idea of seeing all that tech flying around. Because movie tickets were only $2 back then and I wasn’t dating at the time, I watched the movie 24 times before it finally left the area.

And it was so much fun watching Carrie Fischer, as Princess Leia, the character with so much sass, who certainly wasn’t the screaming damsel in distress. If anything she was helping to save our ostensible heroes, such as when they were trying to get her out of the detention block on the Death Star and she shot their way out of it. She was a wonderfully fresh change to similar characters in other movies. I didn’t so much fall in love with Carrie Fischer the actress as Princess Leia the character.

To give you some idea what it was like to listen to Gene Shalit as well as the then-fresh faces from Star Wars, follow this link to the interview. It’s so much fun to watch it again.

I didn’t know Carrie, never met her, but I’m going to miss her none-the-less.

alien-covenant-1280

I saw the original “Alien” when it was released in 1979. Not knowing what to expect, I went in with an open mind and was greatly pleased with what I saw. I’d been prepped, as it were, by the original “Star Wars” of 1977, and I expected a good, if somewhat flawed, science fiction movie. I came away from “Alien” feeling in the same great mood I’d felt after watching “Star Wars.” It wasn’t until 1986, a good seven years later, before I got to watch “Aliens.” But it was very much worth the wait. If anything the second movie proved even better than the first. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1987, winning two. Sigourney Weaver (then, now, and forever so incredibly beautiful) was nominated for a Best Actress, although she didn’t win it (Marlene Matlin won for “Children of a Lesser God”). Such an incredibly good start to the Alien franchise.

That was the last Alien franchise movie I watched until “Prometheus.” I’d watch the trailers for the successive Alien movies after “Aliens”, finding little in them to convince me to spend my hard-earned cash to watch the complete film. All I ever saw in the trailers were variations on the first two films. Along the way I made the mistake of watching “Alien vs Predator.” After that cinematic debacle I made sure to stay away from all the other movies in that particular franchise mashup. Then “Prometheus” came along in 2012, far enough away in time from the “Alien vs Predator” release that I broke down and gave “Prometheus” a shot. That was a big mistake on my part I came to regret almost instantly.

“Prometheus” is a crude horror movie, steeped in pseudo-intellectualism about the creation of life on Earth, in which every character behaved in the most moronic and self-destructive way imaginable. They all deserved to die, in their own horrific manner. I felt absolutely no sympathy for any of the characters. The only emotion I felt was a deep disappointment in that the character Elizabeth Shaw survived, along with the android David’s head.

On Christmas Day they released the trailer to the second movie in this franchise reboot, “Alien: Covenant.” Everything a pre-pubescent male could ever want in a schlock-filled horror movie is there in this two-minute trailer: an alien bursting out of a human, a screaming blood covered female (with knife), two naked humans making love in a shower scene with an alien slashing them into a bloody mess (stealing death-because-of-sex from “Friday the 13th”), an exploding flaming spaceship, a face-hugger, mindless screaming while running through the dark, etc, etc, etc. It’s a rote movie, with minor variations from the many prior releases, which were themselves just as rote after the very first two in the original franchise series. There’s not a damn thing that’s truly new except for the planet. Who the hell cares about the Engineers? Who really cares who created the xenomorph/neomorph? Does that really add anything important to the overall story telling? Not really. It is, instead, an opportunity to churn out yet another tiresome Alien related movie, another cynical money-making exercise.

I watched the trailer because I had managed to nurture just a glimmer of hope that things might actually be better this time around. The trailer effectively slashed that hope into a bloody mess.

a grinchy star wars christmas

December 30, 2015

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has by any measure you want to apply been an incredible financial success. As of today, 30 December, it’s crossed the $600M gross receipts mark, breaking yet another record time-wise in its unstoppable (it would appear) race to $1B and beyond. Everywhere you look, everyone is gushing over how Star Wars has boosted not only its own sales, but the overall North American box office gross receipts to $11B+ for the year.

If I’m lucky I hopefully won’t add to the growing pile of cash surrounding this Star Wars movie.

I have for decades taken a dismal view of the entire Hollywood Industrial Complex. I can’t remember how far back my dark view goes, but it was kicked into high gear with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, which essentially made making copies, any copies, felonious behavior, by the “dissemination” of means and methods for breaking digital rights management, or DRM. It went so far to criminalize the mere act, even if no actual infringement (especially for profit) takes place. And that was used to lard up digital systems with hardware and software in our electronic devices to enforce it.

This incredibly invasive law and the incredibly abusive system that that has grown up to enforce it since then has motivated me to avoid just about everything the HIC can produce, from music to movies. The only thing I buy in any quantity anymore are dead-tree books, if for no other reason that they can’t be erased or recalled, unless the Firemen come to claim my books.

It further inflames my passions against the HIC when I read all the stories trumpeting 2015’s record ticket sales of just over $11B. And this isn’t the first year with such records. This year’s record breaks the last record set a mere two years ago in 2013 of $10.9B. So it’s not like a few record years in the midst of many poor years, like the US car industry for example. The HIC has been stepping from record to record each year, riding abusively and heavily on the backs of the US citizens, helped with the gross enforcement of the DMCA and other similar actions. When you see such a colluding, abusive marketplace, investigations usually take place and people get sued. But not the HIC. Instead, with their carefully bought legislative drones, they make billions, talking out of one side of their mouths about how wonderful it is, while at the same time talking out the other about how they’re being driven to the poor house by copyright abusers. The only real copyright abuse is with the HIC, who are masters at it. And so I do as little as possible, personally, to help put money into a system that abuses me in so many big and little ways. I don’t buy tickets, I don’t watch movies at the theaters if I can help it, and I don’t stream anymore (I streamed very little to start with), especially music.

I’ve a confession to make: when the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977 I saw it 24 times. That’s right, 24 times. That’s because the last good science fiction movie I saw with space ships was 1968’s “2001.” That period from 1968 to 1977 was a vast cinematic wasteland for me, so when the first Star Wars film was released I was incredibly motivated to see it as much as possible (it also helped that I was 23 at the time, a key age for such oddball behavior). I kept going back to tease out how the special effects were created (I was heavy into film still photography back then, and nursed the ambition of going into film making; we all know how that turned out). Key to supporting this behavior were ticket prices in 1977. I could afford it back then because tickets cost $2, dropping to $1, per showing. That is literally an order of magnitude less than today.

I’m not the only one not buying tickets. In spite of all the record breaking money made, the number of tickets sold has declined to levels not seen since 1996. That’s because the cost of tickets, driven by new gimmicks such as 3D and IMAX screens, has pushed single ticket sales well above $10 in just about every market across the country, especially for 2015’s Star Wars movie.┬áThink about that for a moment. The number of tickets sold is at a level not seen since three years before the DMCA was passed. Number of tickets sold has been dropping steadily for years now, driven in part by a poor quality product as well as ever higher prices. Lest you think that this current Star Wars release is some artistic wonder, think again. There are many vocal critics who aren’t all that keen about the movie, such as this example at Forbes, and for many good reasons. The drive to see the movie is due in no small part to just how bad the last three movies were, not how good this one is. Remember that this movie was directed by JJ Abrams, the same auteur who gave us 2009’s Star Trek reboot.

While there are a few tongue-in-check movie reviews scattered around this blog, there are only a few. It seems like every time I break my vow of non-viewing I come away disappointed. I think I’ve finally learned my lesson; to avoid future disappointments and an appreciably lighter wallet, I’ll stay away. Not just from Star Wars, but all the other hyped science fiction films headed my way.

One of the “benefits” of western culture I’ve managed to avoid while on travel, until today, are the blockbuster trailers. Then I watched the Star Wars teaser trailer with a definitely old Harrison Ford and that opened the floodgates, as it were. What followed was a binge-watching session of all the trailers I’ve not seen for the past three weeks, and even a few going back even farther than that.

One of those binge-watched trailers is for the latest Terminator franchise installment, “Terminator: Genisys” (with genesis horribly misspelled). I’m now ashamed to say I’ve seen every terminator movie since the original. All four. Now with a fifth coming out they’re changing up the plot and introducing new faces for old characters. It still has Arnold Schwarzenegger as the original Terminator in something of a bridge role, just like they had Leonard Nimoy bridge between old and new with his original Spock character in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot.

Except this time Old Arnold/Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 Terminator goes back in time a lot farther such that he raised a very young Sara Connor into something of a modern-day Amazon warrior. When this trailer shows Kyle Reese’s arrival, like it did in the first movie, Sarah shows up to rescue Kyle, rather than the other way around in the first movie. To top it all off we’ve got another T-1000 in this movie reboot (that didn’t show up the first time in this franchise until the second movie), showing up at the same time Kyle shows up. Whatever…

Here’s my issue: Assuming you could time travel and you knew exactly how near historical battles played out, then why would you go farther back in time before those battles to beat your enemy? If Skynet knew precisely how critical near-term historical battles (those where it was fighting the Resistance) that it lost would turn out then it would have made much better sense to analyse those key battles and then send multiple Terminators back to those specific battles, changing the outcomes from a loss for Skynet to a win. Do that enough times and you kill off the Resistance and possibly the rest of the human race. The whole idea of even having to go far back in time to kill the mother of your enemy’s key leader makes absolutely no sense: going back in time and trying (and failing) to murder Sarah Connor, Skynet wasted incredible opportunities to finish the job much more quickly and much closer to home, chronologically speaking.

Terminator shows how poor a story teller James Cameron is compared to Harlan Ellison, whose Outer Limits stories “Soldier” and “Demon With a Glass Hand” underpinned the whole Terminator franchise. Ellison’s stories are elegant and powerful, while Cameron’s Terminator is a very poor retelling of Ellison.

Nope. I won’t be shelling out any hard earned cash to see this one.