Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Movie Review (with Spoilers)

starwarstheforceawakensmovieposterAlong with the rest of the world (except for droids, because “no droids allowed”), I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens weekend. To put my opinion in a nutshell, the newest addition to the Star Wars Saga is enjoyable thanks to the compelling Star Wars mythos coupled with lightsaber action and a touch of humor, but the film is decidedly not great thanks to excessive parallels with the original. Read on for SPOILER-laden, geeky explanations.

Action hero humor a la Kasdan.

When think of the funnier moments in The Force Awakens, what comes to mind is Finn (John Boyega) bumbling over his lies, drawing a laugh from the entire audience. I found Finn to be some combination of Han Solo’s cool-guy comedic presence (though not as cool as Han) and Luke Skywalker’s boy scout heart, and it totally works for me.

Though it’s based on an shaky inference, I’d attribute these jokes to Lawrence Kasdan. Kasdan wrote Episodes V and VI of Star Wars films as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark which has similar humor delivered by Harrison Ford (of course, Ford and Boyega’s performances are vital parts of the formula; and maybe it was other writers or actors who wrote and improv’ed these lines).

Blasters, X-wings, TIE fighters, and lightsabers—hard to go wrong there.

The action, as expected from Star Wars, is fun to watch.

There was a hiccup for me when Finn picked up a lightstaber and started swinging away; the movie established Finn was a natural with shooting, but wielding a lightsaber without Jedi reflexes seems like it’d result in lopping off your own arm. If Finn ends up becoming a Jedi in a later film, that would explain his instant proficiency, so until then—

Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) skill with the lightsaber, on the other hand, was believable. She grew up fending off scavengers and thieves with a stick, and she is strongly in tune with the Force; it’s no surprise she can stand toe-to-toe with an injured and poorly trained Dark Jedi (who, notably, isn’t awesome enough to be a Darth).

Speaking of the wannabe Sith, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) stopping a blaster slug in midair was a cool moment. It seemed impressive at first ’cause I’d never seen any Jedi do this before, but then I remembered Darth Vader slapping blaster shots away like flies in Empire which makes Kylo Ren’s feat look like child’s play.

Gaps and loose ends.

The young characters are all somewhat interesting, but not developed much. We have a scavenger with abandonment issues, a Stormtrooper who’s too kind to shoot people (unless his target happens to be another Stormtrooper), and a Dark Jedi with an inferiority complex. That’s what we learn about them in the first third of the movie and that’s all we know about them by the end (well, we learn that Rey is Jedi material, but that’s an assumption 99.9% of the audience made before the opening crawl). It’s obvious they’re saving some major character revelations for the later movies, but I would have liked a tad more closure within Episode VII. Just tell us whose Rey’s parents are.

As for the returning characters, we’re given little of what they’d been up to in the last thirty years. It’s nice to know that they were happy for at least ten years—raising kids and training new Jedi, but there’s so much left to the imagination.

One thing we don’t have to imagine is that the heroes of the original trilogy, along with the other leadership of the New Republic, sucked at their jobs. After the fall of the Empire, the New Republic secures almost no peace or military dominance in the galaxy. The First Order just showed up and started slapping people around almost as easily as the Empire. It’s also weird that New Republic’s military is called the Resistance instead of the New Republic Navy or something less pathetic than the Resistance. I suppose the name helps the audience feel like they’re rooting for the underdog, but I don’t think it was worth sticking us with this name.

Han Solo: Gandalf (not dead) or Boromir (super dead)

My rule concerning deaths of beloved characters for any series: If you don’t see the body, there’s a good damn chance they’re still alive. This goes for Game of ThronesThe Walking Dead, and now Star Wars.

Considering Han Solo is impaled through the torso, falls into a bottomless pit of some facility, and said facility explodes into smithereens minutes, it seems a bit hopeful to think the notorious scoundrel is still alive. However, I can’t believe the director and writers would give Han Solo such an anti-climactic death. The emotion of the scene relies almost entirely on a sense of nostalgia built up over decades of being a pop culture icon rather than rely on the character development and pacing of the actual movies.

Speaking of nostalgia—

There were a bunch of moments which relied on nostalgia to make the scene interesting. Now I’m wondering how those scenes work if I were to re-watch the movie. Are there a awkward pauses when Han or Leia show up? Or does it flow naturally? I guess I’ll probably see in the near future.

Too much A New Hope, not enough new.

The Force Awakens goes out of its way to make itself parallel to A New Hope. There are, of course, substantial twists in the details, but the overall story arc is too similar. Rey, like Luke, is a mechanical engineering genius sensitive to the force. Finn, like Han, is a blaster-totting source of comedy who lies almost as often as he gets shot at. The youngsters are accompanied by Han Solo, a wizened father figure much like Obi-wan Kenobi in the original film.

The major plot points remain the same: Good guys hide secret data in a droid which flees to a desert planet; droid is found by a goody two shoe person sensitive to the force; said force sensitive person goes on an adventure with a father figure who tells them the Force is real, a comedic guy with a blaster, and Chewbacca; they get caught by the bad guys and escape; they blow up the bad guys’ planet-destroying weapon; high fives all around.

What changes the plot slightly is Rey. She takes Leia’s role as the woman in distress, but is capable of rescuing herself before anyone else lifts a hand (whereas Leia at least needed Luke to open her cell door).

Star Wars finally gets diversity and feminism (outside of video games, anyway)

The twist of The Force Awakens is that it’s politically correct by modern standards. The ranks of the Resistance are slightly more diverse with the pilots played by actors of various races and sexes, including ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, who’s of Guatemalan and Cuban descent, and seems to be the #1 contender as the new Han Solo). I also recognized two of the ranking Resistance officers as Ken Leung and Greg Grunberg from Lost and Heroes, respectively.

In line with recent popular novels and films, Rey is a female warrior who manages to save herself and other people on more than one occasion. What I find refreshing about her is that she seems to have 20 or 30 more IQ points than certain other YA heroines (not smarter than Hermione, though).

Kylo Ren brings to mind J.P. from Grandma’s Boy

kylorenandjp

Kylo Ren and J.P.: Medium-length hair, long black coat/cloak, and nerd rage.

I didn’t notice this while watching the film in theaters, but it was pointed out to me soon after: Kylo Ren bears a passing resemblance to J.P. from Grandma’s Boy, primarily due to his hair and all-black outfit. He looks like a socially awkward guy in cosplay and, as such, he is the least menacing Dark Jedi to have graced the silver screen.

I’m assuming the social awkwardness was intended; Kylo Ren is supposed to be an angsty guy with an inferiority complex and father/grandfather issues, not a bad ass Sith Lord. Notably, rather than murder the subordinates who fail him like Darth Vader, Kylo Ren uses his (poorly made) lightsaber to destroy inanimate objects. Vader’s actions demand respect and fear, and all Kylo Ren manages to do is make the Stormtroopers feel awkward and walk the other way (giving the audience a few laughs).

Rather than having suffered through real loss and PTSD like Anakin Skywalker, Kylo Ren seems to have succumbed to the dark side simply because he wants power to compensate for his lack of self-esteem. Sure, his parents seem to have dismissive attachment personality disorder and probably weren’t very good at showing him love and support, but that’s no reason to become a Dark Jedi. I hope the later movies make him more sympathetic and somewhat justified in going dark.

Well, that’s my two cents on the mountain of pennies that is the internet. The Force Awakens is good but not great, and I have hope that the following movies are better.

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Annie Hall – Movie Review

Annie Hall

I don’t think she ever wears this outfit in the film.

I finally got around to seeing Annie Hall (1977) and I was not disappointed.

The film follows Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) through several romantic relationships, from what seems to be his mid-twenties to his forties, focusing on his relationship with the titular character, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).

It reminded me a bit of Seinfeld; not just because the male leads are Jewish comedians in NYC, but because much of the humor draws on the protagonist’s mild dislike of other people and certain occurrences in everyday life. The dialogue and rants in Annie Hall are entertaining to watch, nicely bolstered by the neurotic mannerisms of the lead characters.

Having seen numerous references to this movie growing up, I was unable to detach myself from said references while watching the film. My mind kept going back to How I Met Your Mother (there’s an episode in which Ted determines how cool his dates are based on whether they like Annie Hall; the HIMYM writers, inadvertently or not, also draw a parallel between Ted and Alvy who both spend years upon years figuring out and finding love) and That 70’s Show (which sort of “parodies” a particular scene). Continue reading

1st Anniversary Post: Top Posts and the State of the Novel

1stanniversaryimage

I set up camp on Wordpress a year ago to connect with other readers and writers, and establish some internet presence while I tried to get my novel published. As far as publishing goes, I totally failed, but I’ll get to that later. First, some fun blogging anniversary stuff—

The Best of A.D. Martin Posts:

Sex definitely sells—well, according to my post statistics, anyway.

Without looking too closely at all the facts, the posts which garnered the most clicks over the life of my blog—by quite a large margin—has been:

1. Two Seasons of Arrow, Seven Women for Oliver Queen; and

2. Cool-ish Actors, Annoying Characters

Pointlessly Shirtless Men of Arrow: Slade Wilson, Oliver Queen, John Diggle, and Roy Harper

Yeah, people click on these guys.

For the post about Arrow, the post seemed to have built considerable SEO which helped it to show up in Google results somewhat prominently (as I write this, if you search for “Oliver Queen” and “Women,” the post will be in the first page or two). I also noticed that not long after I made the post, someone awesome linked to it on the IMDb discussion board for the show. Thanks, anonymous person!

Aimee Teegarden

I should probably watch Teegarden’s newer stuff.

The SEO of the Arrow post aside, there is one thing these two posts have in common: attractive people. By coincidence (not by design; I wish I were that clever), the images displayed on my “Top Post & Pages” are of shirtless vigilantes and Aimee Teegarden, for the Arrow and “Cool-ish Actors” posts, respectively. I think it’s fairly safe to say that most people find Oliver Queen, Mr. Diggle and Ms. Teegarden pleasant to look upon and this seems to have played a part in giving these posts a higher view-count than my other posts.

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Liberal Arts — Movie Review

liberal arts josh radnor elizabeth olsen“Everything is okay.”

Jesse Fischer (Josh Radnor) is 35 years old and working as in admissions for some college in NYC. As if his chronic ennui wasn’t enough, at the start of the film, some jerk steals Jesse’s bag of dirty clothes from the laundromat and his girlfriend leaves him.

Ennui (noun): a feeling of dissatisfaction due to being super-bored (generally caused by reading one too many literary novels).

Coincidentally, Jesse is invited to return to his beloved alma mater for his second-favorite professor’s retirement dinner where he meets a nineteen-year-old drama major named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), and then the rest of the movie happens.

I enjoyed this film written by, directed by, and starring Josh Radnor.

And into *SPOILER* territory we go—

Ted Mosby's even-more-somber twin brother, and Wolverine's cousin.

Ted Mosby’s even-more-somber twin brother, or Wolverine’s cousin?

The character of Jesse Fischer is a less fun version of Ted Mosby (Radnor’s character from How I Met Your Mother). They’re both somewhat pretentious and are dissatisfied with life, and both seem to ward off that sense of dissatisfaction by courting women. However, Jesse Fischer’s final growth in Liberal Arts is more internal than it is external (Teddy Westside’s need to find “the one”).

For the most part, Jesse attains new stages of growth throughout the film by being pushed by another character. As such, I’ll discuss the film by focusing on these characters.

Hippy Zac Efron

Jesse meets Nat (Zac Efron) while wandering the college campus at night (as we alum tend to do). Nat is not a student at the school, but a hippy-drifter who seems to be there for no reason other than to remind Jesse that everything is okay. He does so by actually saying, “Everything is okay.” The script makes a self-referential nod toward Nat’s role by having Jesse say aloud that he’s not even sure Nat is really there.

Though I initially found Nat off-putting, I eventually took a liking to him and his stupid hat.

Better than the Scarlet Witch and whatever her name was on Godzilla

Elizabeth Olsen - Zibby - Liberal Arts

How can you say no to this face?

Zibby, perhaps my favorite Elizabeth Olsen performance to date, is Jesse’s nineteen-year-old love interest. With Jesse’s nostalgia for his college years and Zibby’s disenchantment with men her age (who, let’s face it, generally aren’t the greatest), these two begin their relationship with a platonic guise which inevitably gives way to romance. Jesse is understandably reluctant to start the relationship due to the age gap, but after some math (e.g., “when I’m 86, she’ll be 70”) he decides to go for it. When he learns she’s a fan of an unnamed series of vampire novels, however, cracks begin to show.

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Lessons While Editing My Novel

With so many writing conventions and diverging schools of thought, it’s impossible for a single human being to learn it all (except for Yeezus, of course). However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to keep improving our craft. Giving up is for poets and the French (bonus tip: don’t make fun of poets or the French on your blog).

So, in the spirit of not giving up, here’s another list of writing-related lessons I’ve conjured up while drinking an ill-advised mix of Mountain Dew and Stella Artois (mostly lessons that were re-learned and reinforced):

1. Unnecessary scene changes to your readers is as tea to Phoebe Buffay (Hint: “Tea gives Phoebe the trots.”).

Maybe you actually want your book to make people rush to the toilet, but for those of you who don’t, you should carefully assess the number of settings you push your characters through in a single chapter.

Essentially, you have to consider whether a change in setting is necessary. Do you absolutely need the change in ambiance? Are you trying to jump through different settings to expose the reader to the different places you created during your manic world-building episode? Can you get the same plot advances, character development, and evoke the same emotions by having everything occur in the same place? If you answered yes to that last question, make it occur in the same place. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and word counts shuffling your characters between locations.

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10 Tips for Better Writing!

Advice Dog Writing Tip

After being inspired by a guy who thinks lists of writing tips suck, I decided to create a list of writing tips. Yeah, this post started out as a joke and then it kind of got away from me. 

Enjoy!

1. Learn to spell.

If you can’t spell, your writing’s probably going to suck. Buy a dictionary, chump.

Of course, certain words may be spelled differently depending on the region you’re in. Fun Fact #2 (there is no #1): Some years ago, certain folks decided to deviate from French-influenced phonetics and started to omit the “u” from certain words (e.g., going from “colour” to “color”). It stuck in the United States.

2. Use the hashtag #AmWriting as much as frickin’ possible.

Not only will this seem annoying and pretentious, it will also help you connect with fellow writers with whom you can develop alongside and form a network of support.

Originally, I did think the hashtag was a bit on the lame side. It reminded me of the Family Guy joke poking fun at writers who conspicuously write in public for validation. However, I’ve seen others who have used the hashtag to form a good network of earnest writer-friends and, to be quite honest, I’m jealous.

3. Read more novels and watch more movies.

That way you can rip them off and pretend you thought of it first.

Alternatively, you can learn to improve your craft from observing how successful authors set the pacing for their scenes and overall plot, or how they develop tension and make use of white space. You could also take notes of mistakes of other authors—if they didn’t spend enough time to develop a character’s motives and personalities before expecting the reader to care, or if there’s too much fancy prose in a segment which makes it difficult to keep a fast pace. Maybe you can at least pick up a new vocabulary word.

Oh, and if you’re familiar with other work in your genres, you can also avoid accidentally writing something that’s already been done. Those aren’t so easy to sell.

4. Get critiqued.

A good cry can be nice, sometimes.

Receiving feedback on your writing is an important part of improving your writing chops. However, the key to taking criticism is staying patient and logical. You shouldn’t quickly dismiss advice you don’t like, but you also shouldn’t assume that because one person hates something that everyone else feels the same. Get several opinions and see where they overlap; logically assess whether certain things are problems, and whether certain parts of your writing are truly awesome (at least to the majority of your target audience).

5. Critique others.

Making other people cry can be rather satisfying. Also, there are other, more concrete benefits.

Giving critique helps you learn to take critique: You learn that, as a critic, it’s easy to find the bad bits in another person’s work while forgetting to point out the good ones. As such, when someone gives you your own manuscript marked up in red, you’ll understand he or she may have actually liked more of your work than the quantity of red might indicate.

On top of that, when you see mistakes others make, you might just realize you’re making the same ones.

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Horns – Movie Review

Horns Promo Daniel RadcliffeDrugs, alcohol, sex, violence, overt biblical references, and Daniel Racliffe.

I watched Horns (2013) with absolutely no expectations. Somehow, I’d gone without hearing much about the film and didn’t bother checking others’ reviews. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.

Coincidentally, I’d just watched Bruce Almighty (2003) before watching Horns, so there was a bit of a contrast between the two films: in one, God takes a rather direct hand in helping a protagonist figure out his problems, and in the other, He seemingly has delegated the job to Satan.

In Horns, Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) is suspected by nearly the entire town for the murder of his girlfriend (Juno Temple). Having been on a drunken bender at the time, he’s not quite sure himself whether he did it. Being treated like the devil incarnate, Ig eventually also looks the part when he sprouts horns on his head and finds people confessing their sinful desires to him because of it.

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