This Isn't Us

First of all, I hate, hate, hate writing about this kind of thing, but the thing is, I have such a limited amount of time to write, I am just going to write about this because it’s easy enough to critique something so annoying.  Maybe this will lead to better things.
I have been trying.  Trying to be patient that the NBC show This Is Us is going to come around, it’s going to make that magical turn into a great show like everyone else seems to think it is.  To me, it seems rehearsed, fake, unnatural.  The characters are so stereotypical. Lets review.
1. The fat chick.

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When I first saw this show, I was like, oh cool, another plus sized model– I hope she’s as funny as Megan McCartney.  Then I see that she is also dating a plus sized man– which, again, I was like sure.  Then I realized almost everything about this character is ALWAYS.ABOUT.HER.WEIGHT.  She breaks up with her boyfriend because he refuses to diet with her because he wants to just be happy and she doesn’t have the will power.  It’s pathetic.  It’s like all fat people are just fat because they can’t stop eating.

Instead, they could make this woman not care about her size, make her active to where she is getting her steps in with her fancy fitbit, going to coffee and leading the life like the struggling actor below.  They could make the struggling actor be razor thin and hate himself for it, binge eating and not able to do anything about it– really shake the shit up, but instead they just go easy.

II. The Adopted Black Man

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The Black Man whose was adopted and his homeless, biological father comes in to the picture when the father  is dying of cancer and of course they immediately let him in to live with them.  The son, raised by white parents, is an incredibly successful Investment banker with the beautiful wife and 2 perfect children.  But, he has adoption issues, never quite fitting in, never quite bonding with his siblings, which one of these things dont fit like the other.. His father, of course, who wasn’t raised by whites, is a broke musician who never amounted to anything who comes back into the picture and the son forces him to move in, puts him under his medical insurance and takes him to the best doctor his money can buy.

III. The Struggling Actor

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The first two have problems related to their size and race, but poor Kevin, he is REALLY the tortured soul!  This poor guy spent several successful seasons as the lead actor of “The Manny”, only to find that no one wants him after such a role.  He decides to move to theatre, where he immediately struggles, but an actress sees something in him and they make out, she gets invited to Thanksgiving with the whole family so she can see how inspired a “real American” family can be.  The struggle is real, brah.  He even gets to sleep with the AT&T girl!!  So tortured.  Of course he also has issues with his adopted black brother.  He has a confrontation with him several times and it comes out that he could have been perfect if his brother didn’t get all of the attention, all of the opportunity.  It’s actually pathetic to watch.

IV. The Mandy Effect

mmnewoldOh man, Mandy Moore.  Twice.  We get the young, struggling Mom in the late 70’s Mandy Moore and we get the 60+ Mandy Moore all in the same show!  Wooo-hooo?  Nope.  Her character is the most tolerable, unless you consider that the young Mandy wouldn’t allow the adopted son to know his father.  The old Mandy still doesn’t tell her son that she knew his father even as he is a grown man with a couple of kids.  No, he has to find out coincidentally as his father gets stoned with his wife on pot brownies and revels accidentally that he gave her something when he was born…

V. Time, Space Continuum

I have said it before, several times– a story is in trouble whenever the writers have to use what I call the “Time, Space Continuum.”  This refers to whenever a show has to go back or forward in time to give the current story context– and this story has a constant thread of the old, complete with 70’s flare!  Although its quaint and its got the feel of a terribly flat version of that 70’s show– without it, the show would be TERRIBLE and would make these people seem as selfish and meaningless as they really are.  We watch this show waiting for it to come together, to get past the cheesy stereotypical characters and actually make some headway, but it doesn’t — it just falls into the same stereotypes.

I know, you are thinking, then why the hell do you still watch?  Five episodes in… and here we are.  It’s no parenthood and never will be.

The thing about it– This Isn’t Us– like you and me and us.  The truth is, this show is what advertisers want to think were like.  We have problems, but they are all surface level, at the end of the day we all sit at the same dinner table and break bread and forgive and forget.  I hope that most of us are more normal than all of this, meaning it’s more chaotic.

Your thoughts?

STAR WARS: WHY THE LAST 3 MOVIES SUCK… (it's not just Jar Jar)

vaderI am re-watching the Star Wars films again and showing them to my son, who is 4.  I was 4 when the original Star Wars came out, so I figured it was a fitting time to introduce the series to him.  I had wanted to do this before he was even a person, before he was even a concept– it is one of the things where I thought, ok, having a son will allow the following things:  among them, being able to see Star Wars through the eyes of a child.  Similar to a lot of things that I get to do these days, I get the absolute pleasure of discovering things through how my son sees them, reacts to them– its a pretty cool way to look at things in a new way.

I have to say that the first film released, A New Hope as it is now titled, is suitable for a 4 year old.  The first three episodes went swimmingly well.  (I showed him the films the way that they were released).  The story gets more advanced, from the first one, the themes in Empire are more evolved for a young mind, there is more fighting, but the first three still manage to keep the violence manageable to explain to younger mind.  People don’t die onscreen, they are shot with lasers, they fall and you don’t know if they are dead, there is no blood.  The lightsabers slice everything off cleanly, again no blood, death is implied, but NOT direct.

This may seem irrelevant, but to children it’s not.  Exposure to violence is something you have to be very careful of, children learn through watching and if they see too much violence, it can easily impact how they approach social situations, etc.  Of course none of this is scentiific, I am a master of nothing, but I see it firsthand.

Which brings us to the first point of why the last three movies kind of suck.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing things about them, but they don’t seem to compare over time to the first three.  At first, CGI was blamed, then of course Jar-Jar, but I think the problems are seeded a little deeper in the narrative– the approach is off, which makes the actors off, which in turn, over time, turns people off.  Below I am going to list the issues in order of how problematic I think they are to the overall Star Wars franchise.  Warning:  I am going to go all over the place here, because I am going to discuss whats sucks in order of suck and not in order of when it happens– so hang tight.

  1. The creation of Darth Vader is predicated on Anakin’s obsession with Padwan

The series was brought back to life to explain how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader.  Lucas and Spielberg do a terrible job of creating the story.  Throughout the last three films, Anakin appears more like a stalker of Padme.  From the time of their reunion, Anakin is obsessed in such a creepy way that you think shes more likely to issue a restraining order than accept his almost childlike advances.  She tries to push him away, he’s confused, she falls in love, they get married in secret, the Universe falls into dispair, Skywalker is left with a choice, join the dark side or she dies, he takes the bait– it’s all to simple for a storyline that is complex in its nature.  The galaxy created in these stories is complex– various worlds, creatures, cultures are created for the story and the arc of the story is all based on one young man caught between love and responsibility. To me there is so much more you could do with such an iconic character like Vader.  To base the whole story of Anakin turning to the dark side to save his secret wife from death– it discounts the entire world that was created.  More on this on point #3.  Long story short: Anakin comes off as a stalker, an awkward, gross stalker and no one can give a stalker the benefit of the doubt.

2. The Violence of Revenge of the Sith:  Killing Jedi Children?  Really?

I’ll be clear: I found Revenge of the Sith violent.  It was the only film in the series (so far) to get the dreaded PG-13 rating in the entire series and it is well deserved.  When I saw it in the theatre, the day it opened, the 30 something me found it acceptable, but now that I go back in time and watch it with my young, impressionable son, the tune changes, hence the need to write this out in an article.  Which is another big thing I discovered– I am in that generation of people that are very lucky that the Star Wars franchise managed to land in.  I grew up with those films and they were made for us– now that I am taking the next generation on a crash course through 6 films, some 14 hours of footage, I see that some of (most of the last 3) are too fast, too violent, too complex for them to really comprehend on their own.  The senate scenes are a great example– all of the tension in the Senate– that is all lost on the children.

Senatemeeting1The downward spiral of Anakin starts at the death of Mace Windu (another character who is way underplayed).  The was the first point where my son wondered, “What happened to Master Windoo?”. This wasn’t the only point where my boy was scared.  Anakin, confused, quickly chooses evil over good and the Empire seizes on this and sends him off to murder the Jedi childrens.  This is something that the old films would have skipped over– there was enough going on to get why Anakin was turning– the child killing doesn’t do anything but make Hayden Christensen again step more into the creepy role (as discussed above), than evil.  Killing children isn’t just evil, its psychotic.  I prefer my Darth Vader to be the James Earl Jones style, apologetic, yet gentle.  This character that they create with Hayden Christensen doesn’t match up to the one we see at the end of the first films.  The portrayal of Anakin as Hayden is more of a serial killer in training than it is a merciless villain intent on power.  We haven’t finished the last film because he was so freaked out at the level of — I wouldn’t call it violence– its more of implied violence than actual.  We will finish it before the new film, in small spurts with lots of discussion, but it will be interesting to see if JJ Abrams takes the story back to safe land or if he keeps on the PG-13 slippery slope.

2. Character Development:  Why do we care about any of these characters?

The first three movies, it wasn’t about the acting — it was about the characters.  You didn’t need much background to get into the story line– it wasn’t complex either– classic tale of good vs. evil:  Luke Skywalker is this average kid who becomes the chosen one and he randomly finds himself a Jedi knight by happenstance.  The dark side is building this death star thing and it destroys Lea’s planet and were in– we buy these “rebels” and we buy their plight.  Simple characters allows for development– we jump into the exciting part of the story and at the end of the first three, we do end up wondering where did these characters come from, but I think we would have been slightly better off if those characters would have just remained in our creative noggin.

We do care about Ben Kenobi, certainly– he’s one of the staples in the storyline and Ewan McGregor manages to play him well, and Liam Nelson is a favorite of mine, but Qui-Gon whatever his name is, is a great example of poor character development– we know nothing about him, yet he is commanding everything.  According to the Star Wars Wiki, his character was a much deeper character than we actually see in the film (no surprise).  I get it– the focus in the first film is cute Anakin, the second one is confused Anakin and the third is evil Anakin.  Qui-Gon is Gone before his character really comes out and when he is gone.  There is a ton of information on Qui-Gone here:

http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Qui-Gon_Jinn

4.  The POWER is missing

With all of the other Jedi’s– either their power is accepted (Mace Windoo) or it is shown as the person grows into being a Jedi (Luke Skywalker).  Anakin–>Vader, we never really see the power– its the first issue they teach you in writing school– SHOW don’t TELL. The power of the force is a common theme throughout the Star Wars series– a Jedi respects the force, A Sith abuses the power.  So it makes sense that Anakin has this force but its too powerful for him to use it properly, but the same thing was done with Luke Skywalker in the first three films– and the only thing that was strange about him was that he nearly schtumped his sister.   But Anakin has three full films to showcase his weirdness because we know what’s going to happen– we just don’t know HOW and I think this is really where they get lazy– they make it easy, but not convincing.  The movie “Carrie” you see rage.

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This– I don’t sense the evil, but I just sense confusion.  Desperation.  Loneliness.  Things we all feel.  My son is afraid of this look but he is also concerned.  He doesn’t see Darth Vader as scary or as threatening as this person and he doesn’t quite get the correlation of the two either– and that, that is something that I think is fine– he is, after all, just 4– and maybe shame on me for exposing him to such things when clearly, the last episode in particular isn’t suited for children, but the first one and into the second one, one forgets that by the third film, everything is literally going to hell…

5. JAR JAR.

I have to end this on Jar Jar.  I could write a whole post on Jar Jar.  Again, I get the intention.  The original series had Cherie and R2D2 and C3PO and then eventually we even got Ewoks (which pass the litmus because they were passive aggressive kinder bears, so I can see how they needed to create the Jar Jar, but the WAY that he is in the movie, his voice, etc. makes him more of a Dick and Fart joke than a legitimate secondary character.

But here is the thing:  My son LOVES him.  He’s funny, he’s easy going and he’s easy to laugh at because he is so silly.  He is a character that young children can identify with- but the problem I think we will see is that when those kids get a little bit older, I am not sure that the appreciation will still be there– I still LOVE Chewy, I still love C3PO and the personality of R2D2, I wouldn’t even mind a future EWOK, but MEESA DONSA WITH DA JAR JAR.

That’s all I got for now.  Please leave comments and share this around– I’ll be happy to do a follow up if there are some questions– its a lot of material to go through, but sharing is very much appreciated.

May the force be with you (and JJ Abrams).

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American Sniper

I finally got the chance to watch American Sniper– I film I can’t say I was particularly looking forward to seeing, but since there has been so much chatter about it, I figured I needed to watch it before I said anything more.

For pure entertainment, American Sniper delivers.  There is a lot of war, a lot of good vs. evil, you get to see why this guy was so highly regarded as an American hero during his 4 tours of duty.  The sad part is that the film knows that it can’t just be another Call of Duty like Military film when it tells this story– Clint Eastwood won’t have it that way.  Instead this film chooses to occasionally go deep into this mans personal life, showing that killing literally over 100 people has its consequences on homelife.  PTSD is a real thing for many, many people, but our hero doesn’t directly confront it in this film, although in the end, he is killed by someone with PTSD– who, by the way, was just sentenced today.

The movie really goes over the top for me in this aspect– we see Chris go through being a soldier, but the amount that he is actually home and present in his families life is quite minimal in what was probably real time, but also in movie time.  Enough personal life is sprinkled into this to slightly tug at the heart, enough to feel bad for everyone involved, but to me it also seemed rushed and ill timed.  We see him for the birth of his children (his daughter is played by a baby doll in the film): http://hollywoodlife.com/2015/01/20/american-sniper-fake-baby-explained-plastic-doll-bradley-cooper/

In all, we see Chris outside of the war for about 7 days during the time he got married to when he dies– the timeline is just a mess.  Then you start to realize that the entire story outside of the war is equally a mess– but luckily 90% of the film is about the time he spent tracking the evil-doers and saving American lives.  Which is where I get a little angry because here we have another film showcasing the loss of American life but not saying anything about all of the lives loss by the people who were apparently being “liberated” by the Americans.  Here is yet another story where we showcase our “shock and awe” against theirs– so many messages over and over in this film leave a poor taste in my mouth– the story in the beginning where as a boy he is told that there are sheep and wolves to protect the sheep, or the rigors of becoming a navy seal and anyone that walks away is a quitter– these are all messages that make me cringe having two young boys.

When you watch films like this as a father, it makes you much more aware of what they are really trying to convey, you pay attention to the subtle undertones of Bravery, Alliegence, Protection– which are all valuable things, but it also heightens your awareness of how senseless all of it is– how any kind of war at this point in our history we no longer fight nation states, but cells of people unhappy with government– this was never our war to fight, but fight we did and what do we have to show for it?  A Clint Eastwood movie that markets itself about PTSD, but really its about glorifying the American Soldier, The American Sniper, The American Hero.

 

 

How the Hobbit hits the screen


Somewhere within the nearly 3 hour first installment of J.R.R. Tolkiens “The Hobbit”, everyone will find a moment of inspiration. For me, it was a small something uttered by Gandalf that rings the most true: ““Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” This is the heart of the story for and it always has been since I was a little boy, born nearly 40 years ago.
The hope that makes these stories ring to be so true is that the littliest glimpse of hope in the seemingly darkest of times is what makes these little Hobbit and Dwarves so lovely– it is their small spirit against a tyranny of evil that is always on the back burner, but still burning that makes this story so compelling.
And for this film, it really is the story that keeps the evil away– the evil this time being none other than Peter Jackson.

What is so remarkably different in this film is, unfortunately, also what is a serious distraction from the story itself– and that is the film. This film is a much more difficult film to pull off, where as the Lord Of The Rings films had never really been attempted in film before, the Hobbit has. This means that a number of the fans of the series already have an image of what Bilbo and the rest of the characters looked like from the films and illustrated books of the mid-seventies (I still have mine).
Creating Bilbo as a real character is a challenge because he is a certain way, as all Hobbit’s in the book are and I don’t believe that the film version of the Hobbit, played by Martin Freeman, is hardly the portly hobbit we have come to know and love.

This is the image on the Wikipedia page of the original illustration of Baggins– note the slightly portly tummy of this depiction.

This is a snapshot of the Animated version of the Hobbit, as well as the version of the illustrated book which I own. Again, a very different looking character than Peter Jacksons rendition, as seen below.

That doesn’t mean that Jackson’s interpretation isn’t correct– but I do think that the Freeman version of Baggins is much better put together than I would imagine Baggins to be in my mind. For most, the Freeman Baggins will now be forever Bilbo Baggins because of the Jackson version of the Hobbit– and for me, I can already tell that it wont feel as triumphant when Baggins finally does finish the quest because even early on, he appears to have it in him– when some of the dwarves question his stamina and perseverance, they appear aloof and Bilbo seems to be the cool headed one, which is not how the book reads at all, IMO. Bilbo manages to wander into different scenarios and stumbles upon things (like the one ring to rule them all) more from his aloofness than anything else.
Jackson also makes the mistake of trying to make this tale into a different cinematic experience with a faster frame rate for 3-D which gives the film a more visual experience, but I found the clarity to be very distracting from the story. The battle scenes look more like what you tend to see in a video game sequence than in a film– it doesn’t make the film unwatchable, but there are several moments where you wonder why he choose to do it this way.
The film is also much longer than it needed to be– 2:52 minutes for 301 pages of text seems to be a huge overkill and that is apparent with the opening scenes and several others where the dialogue is set long and out of pace with the overall story. It is unlikely that Jackson cut The Hobbit into three films for sheer profit, but with the first installment, it hard to see the logic of why the film was as long as it is with very little movement in the story. That isnt to say that the other films will be slow and dialogue intense– there is, afterall, the business of the dragon and the gold to come.

So, overall, lots of different pieces of the puzzle to consider with this one. It’s too long to keep an adult from taking a couple of power naps and I saw most teens yawning throughout, but the story is as rich as always– but you can skip the 3D and opt for 2D.

Skyfall Fails to deliver Bond character


Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, had so much potential to be a great Bond film and instead it echoes as one of the worst made. Sure, there are some obvious lemons in the Bond arsenal, but this one doesn’t have the cheese factor that makes the other Bond films still somewhat tolerable (minus the Dalton versions).
I feel asleep twice during the film, which doesn’t happen. From the start, the film felt awkward (SPOILER ALERT), with Bond dying, but then he didn’t really die. Instead, he goes on a bender, beds a couple of ladies and decides that he needs to go back. M, not impressed, makes him re certify as an agent. This entire process takes about 15 minutes of the film and it is still wondersome what the point of him dying or pointing out that his shot was off. There are lots of plot pieces here that don’t go anywhere.
This film seems like it was made in order to introduce a new Bond on the horizon and to retire other characters– Goodbye M, Goodbye Q and Hello Nubian MoneyPenny? Skyfall should have been named M Endgame and they should have worked on a better script to pay homage to Judy Dench’s longtime career as M.
Javier Bardem as the rogue agent coming back to make M pay for her abandonment of him had some good potential, but even he couldn’t save the terrible writing in this film. Bardem’s character doesn’t appear nearly as much as all of the trailers suggest– and when he does appear there are very few scenes where his character has anywhere near the impact of a villain that he did in No Country For Old Men.
Then, to top it off, there is the debacle that is Skyfall– a Scottish plantation that looked more like Wayne manor than anything Bond would be related to. There is even the odd butler, played awfully by Albert Finney. There is nothing Bond like with the end of this film, no amazing chase scene, just a lot of explosions and a quick shiv in the back– which is very much how I felt after I left the theatre– like I had been stabbed in the back as well.
Can it really be that difficult to make Bond films the way that Ian Fleming thought they should be made?
Who is James Bond? A timeless Spy who doesn’t age, who is sexy to every woman he comes into contact with. British. British humor. Technological gadgets that push the boundaries of technology as we know it.
None of the above were really in this movie— A gun that only fires according to handprint? WOW. That is original. A miniature device that shows where he is at any time, complete with an antennae? WOW.
Skyfall is just lazy.
I wish I would have known, I could have waited for the Dvd.