I Am Not My Stuff

Netflix Amazing Interiors

Last night, I was tooling around Netflix for something to watch and happened upon a new show, Amazing Interiors. The promo had that HGTV feel and being curious about how people renovate their homes, I decided to watch. I made it through one and half episodes and turned it off.

The premise of the show is that people have these homes that look ordinary from the outside, but are “amazing” inside, with fantastical decorations or opulence or unusual accoutrements. But what I concluded is that it’s all about the stuff.

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Why Did Leia Seek Out Obiwan Kenobi Now?

As I was falling asleep last night, after having watched a Star Wars Rebels, I had a sudden thought: Why now? The new movie Rogue One will end where Star Wars: A New Hope begins, with the delivery of the Death Star plans.

But my question is this: Why was Princess Leia delivering the plans to Obiwan Kenobi. From the trailer for Rogue One, it’s very clear that it is the Rebellion, lead by Mon Mothma, who sends Jyn Erso and her team to retrieve the Death Star plans. So why aren’t the plans delivered back to Mon Mothma? At the beginning of A New Hope, Leia’s ship—which was presumably at the battle where the plans were stolen—is racing back to Alderaan. As the opening crawl writes:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

So, intercepted by the Imperial Star Destroyer, Leia instead makes for Tatooine. Why? In her hologram, she tells Obiwan that she was sent by Bail Organa to get him to help in the Rebellion.

General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire. I regret that I am unable to present my father’s request to you in person, but my ship has fallen under attack and I’m afraid my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed. I have placed information vital to the survival of the Rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit. My father will know how to retrieve it. You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

And thus my question:

Why now?

Update: Having watched Rogue One after writing this, my question has been answered to some degree, but not completely.

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Tolkien: The Movie

New Line Cinema has announced it will be making a new J.R.R. Tolkien movie. No, not one based on his books, but based on the author. It will be a biography.

Middle Earth is described as following Tolkien’s "early life and love affair with Edith Bratt," as well as his service to the British Army during the First World War. The film, to be written by Angus Fletcher, is reportedly based on years of archival research on Tolkien’s life.

I don’t know Fletcher, but I know that if they don’t treat his deep Catholic faith with respect, this won’t be worth watching at all. His faith animated him through the mot important moments of his life.

A Review of Designated Survivor

“The biggest terrorist attack since 9/11.” That’s how the new ABC show Designated Survivor describes the attack that sets up the premise of the show and it’s illustrative of the weaknesses of the show.

(There are only minor spoilers in this review, but read at your own discretion.)

First, I want to make it clear that I do want to like this show. Melanie and I always have one show at least that we watch together and now that Person of Interest is over we’ve picked DS.1 As for that line? In this fictional attack, a bomb in the Capitol Building during the State of the Union kills the President, the Cabinet, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Joint Chiefs in one fell swoop… except the designated survivors of Sutherland’s character, Kirkman, who was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and a congresswoman. They say in the show that about 1,000 people died, which in absolute numbers is smaller than 9/11’s 3,000, but we’re talking about the decapitation of the governments of the world’s hyperpower. I think that qualifies as bigger.

This sort of small thinking is endemic to the show. An FBI agent says they have 50 agents working through the rubble of the Capitol looking for clues. Fifty? In reality there would hundreds, maybe even thousands. Everything they have the president doing and dealing with sometimes feels like he’s a small town mayor, not leader of the free world. Meanwhile, there’s one general who seems to speak for the entire military, who is himself a caricature of a hawk who is demanding Kirkman nuke everyone in sight, conveniently shifting from one bogeyman to the next. Last week, he was demanding Kirkman nuke Iran, until Kirkman found out they weren’t involved, and rather than act chastened, General Fire-up-his-butt shifts to some made-up al Quaeda analog the next week.

And then there’s the plainly unrealistic stuff. Kirkman’s family includes his wife, his grammar school age daughter, and the requisite long-haired and rebellious teenage son, who it turns out was dealing drugs on the side. In the midst of this national crisis in which an unknown enemy is targeting the leaders of our nation, the First Son, Emo Boy, apparently has the run of Washington, DC, wandering around the city with a couple of Secret Service bodyguards. Yeah, no, in reality he’d be locked down in the White House.

That’s the other thing. We know that this incredibly tragic and scary event that may signal a new World War has just happened in the last couple of days, but everyone is acting as if things are just a little unsettled. The new “fish-out-of-water” president feels regretful he missed dinner at 6:30 with his family, never mind he was dealing with the biggest crisis in history. The deputy chief of staff and Kirkman’s old assistant from HUD jockey for position so each one can become the new chief of staff.

In the second episode, we’re already holding the memorial service for the dead president, but what’s the hurry? It’s been a couple of days. Maybe we should wait until the dust settles and we’ve started to rebuild the government before we begin the state funerals. And then more unreality. After the service, the president and first lady wander out the front doors to their waiting cars in the midst of the crowd of other people leaving, having casual conversations with them along the way. In reality, everyone stays put at the end of the service while the first couple are whisked outside to waiting vehicles and the motorcade rushes off with the sirens blaring. Only then is the crowd released.

Plus what’s your hurry? This is a series that will presumably unfold over a few years. Why not let it do so slowly? It feels like the creators wanted to do a show along the lines of: “What about a guy who isn’t a politician and is essentially a good guy suddenly finds himself president and in control of recreating the government?2 Okay, now how do we do that? A terrorist attack!”

I guess this all sounds like I don’t like the show. That’s not true. I haven’t made up my mind yet and the six-episode rule is in effect.3 I do like Kiefer Sutherland’s president and I do like the basic question of how does the country rebuild after such a loss (if only they can stay away from the cheesy primetime drama plot lines). I can suspend my disbelief for some of the rest of the laughable devices and tropes for the next four episodes. Here’s hoping they improve by then.

  1. She was a West Wing fan and Chris Jackson at the Secret Service agent appeals to Hamilton fandom. As for me, well, it’s Kiefer Sutherland.
  2. We’ve seen this movie starring Kevin Kline.
  3. If I’m interested in a new show I will give it six episodes for the writers and actors to get their feet under them and gel together. This rule began with Star Trek The Next Generation and had its most relevant application with Fringe.

What’s Old Is New (and Unoriginal) Again on TV This Fall

It’s a cliché to say that Hollywood is bereft of new ideas, but I don’t think it’s ever been more true than in this Fall’s TV season. Here are all the shows that are either spinoffs or reboots or “modern, reimaginings” of old shows or movies:

  • 24: Legacy is 24 with a new Jack Bauer.
  • The Blacklist: Redemption is a spinoff of The Blacklist with one regular character and a new one introduced last season. But without James Spader, The Blacklist wouldn’t be any good and so I don’t this one to be.
  • Chicago Justice is a spinoff of the whole Chicago franchise, after Fire, PD, and DPW, I think.
  • Emerald City is a “modern re-imagining” or reboot of The Wizard of Oz, as in changing everything about the original story except the barest framework.
  • The Exorcist is a reboot of the movie. I wonder if the titular exorcists are even priests any more.
  • Frequency is a reboot of the 2000 movie that starred Jim Caviezel.
  • Lethal Weapon is a reboot of the Mel Gibson movie although the starting premise sounds completely different.
  • MacGyver is a reboot of the 80s series, complete with the bad hair.
  • Prison Break isn’t exactly a reboot, so much as it’s a restart from where it left off in 2009, with the same stars playing the same roles.
  • Archie is a live-action “modern, reimagining” or reboot of the “Archie” comic books. Yes, really. And in all the modern, reimagining shows, they mean taking what was originally hopeful and pure and making it gritty and depressing and “real”.
  • Taken is a prequel to the movies, in which Brian Mills isn’t a vengeful dad, but a young CIA agent. But confusingly set today. And without the Irish accent.
  • Time After Time is a “modern, reimagining” of Jack the Ripper.
  • Training Day is a reboot of the 2001 movie.

And that doesn’t count all the other new shows that are just new versions of old concepts. Network TV is a vast wasteland. Yes, there a few good nuggets, but really, the innovative stuff is now on certain cable channels and streaming.

So what am I interested in this season? I might try an episode of 24: Legacy and see if it captures the old 24 glory days. Speaking of Jack Bauer, I am interested in the new Kiefer Sutherland series Designated Survivor. The previews for the new sitcoms The Great Indoors and Kevin Can Wait were funny and worth a try. Plus, the handful of old shows I watch that are coming back.

Remembering the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon

It’s a great shame that Millennials and later generations, including my kids, will never experience the heyday of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon because I doubt its like will ever be seen again.

You can get a quick summary of the event from this AV Club article, but like a lot of internet journalism it has a profoundly cynical take on it, dismissing the telethon as mawkish and sentimental and highlighting the criticisms and awkward moments over its 5 decade run.

But the Labor Day event was a cultural touchpoint for the whole country. For 24 hours over this holiday, the entire nation would stop and pay attention and work together to raise enough money to beat last year’s amazing total. Over the length of the event, heads of major corporations and beneficiary organizations would parade out to meet Jerry and hand over giant checks: “On behalf of 15,000 7-11 employees and our customers, I would like to give you this check for 1 million dollars,” one would say and Jerry would gratefully accept, visibly moved on behalf of “his” kids and shake hands or give hugs.

But what the article misses is that it was also a very local event too. Local TV stations would participate in not just showing the telethon, but hosting local versions of it, cutting in to the national show from time to time with their own hosts and phone banks and businesses and organizations raising money. Communities would band together to raise money to bring down to the local station and drop it in a big bucket or hand over a check.

Our neighborhood kids one year organized a carnival in our backyard, where people could pay some pittance for one of the teens to tell your fortune (she was dressed up like a gypsy and sitting in a large camping tent) or play some contrived carnival game. I don’t know how much we raised—probably not a lot—but it was a memorable event for all of us.

One of my bucket list desires as a kid was to stay up for the entire show one year, all 21 and a half hours and see every act. Of course, my mom would not let me sit in front of the TV for an entire revolution of the planet and so when I could sneak back in after required breaks for food, bathroom, and fresh air, I’d gnash my teeth over missing Frank Sinatra or worse, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.1

The last time we had such a national focus in which Hollywood and corporations and communities came together was for the 9/11 Telethon 15 years ago now. Of course, that was not fun or sentimental. We were all still in shock and grieving and reeling from the tragedy.

I can’t imagine anyone ever being able to pull off something like Jerry Lewis’ Telethon today. The culture has changed, the legal environment has changed. Our society is much more cynical. And we don’t do “gather around the TV” events like we did. Which is a shame, because for all its heartstring-pulling sentimentality and awkward celebrity moments, the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon was something for all Americans to rally around and a unifying touchstone and we don’t have many of those anymore.

  1. I don’t know if the Star Wars actors were ever on, but my recollection is that people important to me in that way were always on when I wasn’t watching.

What about Luke Skywalker?

One year ago, Entertainment Weekly printed an interview with Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams four months ahead of the movies release, and asked him why he decided to make this film. Here’s my summary of what he said at the time:

One question was enough to overcome J.J. Abrams reluctance to do Star Wars: Who is Luke Skywalker? Who did he become? Was there more to him in the original trilogy than we saw?

Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the script and wrote Empire and Jedi, said writing for these characters who’ve aged the same 30 years he has, revealed to him that age doesn’t bring wisdom necessarily, just experience.

This should be good.

”But those four words — Who is Luke Skywalker? — created a disturbance in the Force for Abrams. After all these years, we thought we knew him, but what if there was more to that Tatooine farmboy? Or… what if there was less? The answer could alter not just how audiences look at the original trilogy, but the arc of a planned universe that now tallies at least five more upcoming films.”

Having seen the film, we all know now that Luke was in it for a total of about 30 seconds at the very end and didn’t say a word. And we know that J.J. isn’t directing the next movie in the trilogy. So, in what way did The Force Awakens answer those questions?

Perhaps the answer comes in what TFA has set up for the next two movies and in the characters we meet for the first time: Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo. Perhaps one or more of those characters have already begun to reveal the “more to that Tatooine farmboy”, a revelation that will become very obvious in the films to come.

The Uneasy Filmmaker vs. Fan Relationship in Star Trek

A thorough (and long) article on the state of Star Trek, how Trek fandom basically created TV/film fandom, the trouble of fan films, and why the new Star Trek films care less about what fans think.

Still, the disconnect between the Trek reboots and the core Trek fanbase was suddenly front and center. “I mean, whether people like [Into Darkness] or not, I have no control over it,” said Pine on the Beyond set. “I don’t write the films, nor do I do the PR for them, nor do I direct them. If that’s how they felt, I don’t, you know” — he laughed — “really care. I think we made a really great film, you know?”

“Tentpole superhero action movies have become the standard fare of Hollywood,” added Quinto. “That’s not going to change, and we’re not going to change it. The studio is more interested in appealing to a broader audience than the comparatively minor subset of rabid Star Trek fans. So I can see where there would be some disparity, where people who have become more accustomed to the cerebral nature of Star Trek would say, ‘Well, this is a real departure.’ That’s the way it goes.”

If you think about it, Star Trek created the idea of the “cinematic universe” before anyone else did with movies and TV shows and animated series and books. But the Marvel and DC universes are facing similar problems of rabid fans wanting fidelity to the source material and the rest of the movie-going public who just wants an interesting movie without needing to have a wiki open on their phone in the theater to figure out what’s going on.

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