Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Normal Heart (2014)

There's no good way to talk about The Normal Heart, HBO's latest TV movie, without first discussing Larry Kramer's 1985 play of the same name on which the film is based (Kramer wrote the screenplay). Kramer is a playwright, a founder of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP, and one of the most outspoken AIDS activists of the 1980s. When The Normal Heart opened Off-Broadway in 1985, President Ronald Reagan had not even used the term "AIDS" in public yet, despite the epidemic having raged for nearly four years at that point. The play was a theatrical pipe bomb aimed squarely at an American society that was all too willing to ignore the tens of thousands of people - mostly gay men - who were dying from this terrifying, unknown disease. It grabbed the audience by the shoulders and shook them, screaming into its face, "why are you letting this happen to us? Why is no one helping us?"

The one thing that defines Kramer's play, as well as Kramer himself, is anger. And it was in no small part to that anger that people were shaken from their complacency and began actively fighting for a cure, one that Reagan would eventually acknowledge (though, as the film notes in its postscript, his proposed 1986 budget actually cut funding for AIDS research) and, over time, has increased HIV prevention awareness and created better treatments. Even if the US government wasn't going to act on the epidemic until straight, white men were being infected (a rant for another time), Kramer and his play were a crucial spark to igniting that revolution.

So why, in the year 2014, make a film version of The Normal Heart? Of course, a major factor is likely the successful Broadway staging of the play in 2011. But even if the film is flawed, this story - and especially this anger - is still absolutely vital today, and begs to be heard.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Short Takes: "A Late Quartet", "Bridget Jones' Diary", and more

Coriolanus (dir. Ralph Fiennes, 2011)

For his directorial debut, Ralph Fiennes took on a unique challenge: a modern-day-set adaptation of Coriolanus, one of Shakespeare's last tragedies and least-produced plays (before this, there were no filmed adaptations of it). The story involves divisive war hero of Rome, Caius Martius (Fiennes), being banished from the country under pressure from the people, and must join with his much-hated rival, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), to exact his revenge. So how does Fiennes the director compare to Fiennes the actor? The latter wins out in this film. As Martius, Fiennes burns with barely-concealed rage, his bald head throwing his piercing eyes into sharp relief. He's clearly relishing the opportunity to play this role. As a director, Fiennes brings out some pretty terrific performances in his actors, including one of Butler's finest and dependable work from Brian Cox as Martius' advisor and Jessica Chastain as Martius' wife. The best, though, comes from Vanessa Redgrave. As Martius' mother, she chews over every line of dialogue (the script, by John Logan, retains Shakespeare's original dialogue) and delivers a monstrously great performance. However, Fiennes relies way too heavily on handheld cameras, making the cinematography very distracting and giving the film a very disjointed sense of setting. Not everything works, but it's a decent first try. B-

A Late Quartet (dir. Yaron Zilberman, 2012)

The first narrative film from documentary filmmaker Yaron Zilberman, A Late Quartet is a pleasant chamber piece for its actors. On the eve of their 25th anniversary of playing together, the members of a world-renowned string quartet - first violin Daniel (Mark Ivanir), second violin Robert (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), violist and Robert's wife Juliette (Catherine Keener), and cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) - are thrown for a loop when Peter announces he's in the early stages of Parkinson's disease, and will only play one more concert before retiring from performing. With the group's future in jeopardy, tensions old and new boil to the surface, with Robert and Juliette's daughter, Alex (Imogen Poots), getting involved as well. Zilberman doesn't provide much visual flair to the proceedings, and his script, co-written with Seth Grossman, doesn't really break new ground in the situations that arise. But that hardly matters when the four central performances are as terrific as these, especially Hoffman, who's the most troubled by these changes. Like the musicians they play, these actors are perfectly in tune with one another, and they create a beautiful acting concerto. B+

Bridget Jones' Diary (dir. Sharon Maguire, 2001)

Even thirteen years later, Bridget Jones' Diary still feels like a vital edition to the romantic comedy canon. Of course, it's all about a London woman - Bridget (Renee Zellweger) - who has to choose between her loutish boss (Hugh Grant) at the publishing company she works for or the prickly human rights lawyer (Colin Firth) her parents try to set her up with. You probably already know where this is going even if you've never seen it. However, what sets this film apart is the sparkling wit on display, most notably from Zellweger herself. Putting on an admirable British accent, she turns Bridget into a rom-com heroine who feels like a real human being, proudly showcasing her imperfections without playing them as a manic pixie dream girl. And Zellweger gets an opportunity to showcase her genuinely terrific comedic chops. Though their characters are really more caricatures than anything else, both Grant and Firth make the most of it, the former oozing sleaze while the latter is all barely pent-up indignity. It's hard not to be charmed by this film. B+

Blow-Up (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

I belong to a small minority of cinephiles who just don't like Italian countercultural director Michelangelo Antonioni. To me, his films lack engagement, and more often than not it's difficult to really get into one of his films even when the technical skills he displays are admirable. Blow-Up, his first film in English, is well-regarded as a mod masterpiece, and the "plot" (it's very loose) follows  Thomas, a London photographer (David Hemmings) who may have accidentally photographed a murder. The majority of the film is really just Antonioni hanging out with Thomas, and though Hemmings has an easy charisma, the character isn't one that you'd really want to hang out with. Vanessa Redgrave - in one of her earliest roles - fares better as Jane, the mysterious woman that may be involved in the murder. She plays Jane as an enigma that won't be broken unless she chooses to be, and her scenes hum to life with the possibilities of what could have been. It's a greatly celebrated film, and there are aspects I admire, but I don't mind saying that I don't get it. B- (Best Shot discussed here)

Wonder Boys (dir. Curtis Hanson, 2000)

Wonder Boys is the kind of slice-of-life film that justifies the analogy of films being short stories, even though it's based on a novel by Michael Chabon. English professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is having a pretty bad day: his wife has left him, he's suffering from writers' block while trying to complete the follow-up to his much-ballyhooed debut novel, he's struggling to keep his affair with the university chancellor's wife (Frances McDormand) a secret, and one of his students, James Leer (Tobey Maguire), is the social pariah of his class and bonds with him. On top of that, his agent, Terry (Robert Downey Jr.), is in town to pressure him to turn in a draft of his novel. Steve Kloves Oscar-nominated script has fun juggling these elements, and director Curtis Hanson playfully stages each incident was wit and grace. But the film belongs to the actors, particularly Douglas, McDormand, and Maguire, who all do terrifically understated work. It's a fine lark that, while maybe not remarkable, is certainly enjoyable. B

How Green Was My Valley (dir. John Ford, 1941)

John Ford - the legendary director best known for his John Wayne-starring Westerns and inventive thrillers - only made one film that won a Best Picture Oscar, and it was this film about a Welsh coal-mining family struggling to keep afloat in rapidly-changing times. The film's focal point is young Huw (Roddy McDowell), the youngest son in the Morgan clan. Over the years, Huw watches as his father (Donald Crisp) and mother (Sara Allgood) try to hold the family together amidst labor disputes, mining disasters, and the destruction of the landscape they call home. As Huw matures, so does the film, tackling difficult subjects such as labor unions and environmentalism with an even-keeled approach that never threatens to overwhelm the film. Instead, Ford never lets the film get too far removed from Huw's perspective, only straying for a romantic subplot between Huw's sister Angharad (Maureen O'Hara) and new-in-town minister Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon). It's a testament to Ford's talent that even his "message" movies never lose sight of their characters, always putting them before the thematic material. It's a fine example of his prodigious filmmaking. A- (Best Shot discussed here)

Zorba the Greek (dir. Michael Cacoyannis, 1964)

If Blow-Up is a "hangout" movie that doesn't quite work for me, Zorba the Greek is an example of one that does (for the most part). The premise of Greek director Michael Cacoyannis' Crete-set romp is simple: Basil (Alan Bates), an uptight British writer, comes to Crete to investigate a piece of land he's inherited. On his arrival, he meets Alexis Zorba (Anthony Quinn), a free-spirited peasant who becomes his guide, confidant, and friend. The two learn important life lessons from each other, culminating in a dance on the beach. It's about as harmlessly and effortlessly entertaining as one could hope for, but there's still surprising depth here, particularly in Zorba's relationship with hotelier Madame Hortense (Lila Kedrova) and the fate of a widow (Irene Papas) who catches Basil's attention. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, the film does come off as a bit bloated in some parts, which serve as lulls between the high moments. But the undeniable charm and talent of Quinn's performance - easily the best in a career full of terrific work - carries the film through the patchier parts and gives it its infectious joie de vivre. It's hard to avoid grinning widely by the end. B+ (Best Shot coming June 3)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: How Green Was My Valley (1941)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

There are few filmmakers from the "Old Hollywood" era who dedicated more time to exploring American mythology than John Ford. Ford is perhaps today most famous for his Westerns, such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, as well as his adaptations of major 20th century novels such as The Grapes of Wrath (which won him one of his record four Best Director Oscars; curiously, he never won one for a Western). To make these films, Ford used the then-unconventional method of shooting on location, allowing his camera to take in the landscape and let it shape and impact the story he was telling. His films - especially the Westerns - deconstructed the myths and myth-makers of America in a way that hadn't really been done. He was a patriot, to be sure; when the United States entered WWII, Ford enlisted in the US Navy and made documentaries for the Office of Strategic Services. But through his films, he questioned the "unquestionable" ideas that America was built on, and often uncovered less-than-noble incidents driving them.

This week's selection for "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," 1941 Best Picture winner How Green Was My Valley (the only of his films to win that prize), doesn't take place in the United States. Based on the novel of the same name by Richard Llewellyn, the film follows the Morgan family as they struggle to survive the changing times in the late 19th century in a coal-mining town in Wales. The film is told from the perspective of youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowell), as he watches his father (Donald Crisp), mother (Sara Allgood), brothers (most notably Ivor, played by Patric Knowles), and sister (Maureen O'Hara) deal with the hands fate deals them. He also witnesses the deterioration of the town itself, thanks to numerous mining accidents and the stripping of the land by soot. Rather than tell a straight-forward narrative, the film is presented as a series of vignettes from Huw's life, as he grows up in these conditions.

Yet the film still manages to explore Ford's favorite themes of American mythology, and not just because this version of Wales looks suspiciously like Southern California.

More after the jump.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cannes 2014: Surprising Winners and Other Thoughts

It's a dream of mine to one day go to Cannes Film Festival myself. The festival ranks among - if not the - most prestigious film festivals in the world, and all of their lineups, from the main competition to Un Certain Regard, attract a bounty of talented and unique artists ready to unveil their latest work to the world. To see these films in this setting - even when the films are works-in-progress - would be absolutely fascinating and thrilling.

And yet, I always take reviews from Cannes and any other festival with a grain of salt. Most critics try to take in as much as they can see (why wouldn't they?), which means that between viewing, writing, and traveling, there isn't much time for sleeping. Similarly, all films require at least a little reflection before being given a final verdict, but the kinds of films that premiere at Cannes almost certainly do, and critics can't really afford to reflect when they've got to rush from one screening to another. The festival setting doesn't always do the films the justice they deserve.

But the reviews are helpful: at the very least, reading what others thought of this year's selections piqued my interest in the films and made me hopeful that most of them will make their way to the States eventually. Sadly, not all of them will, because American cinephiles can't have nice things, but the ones who won a prize most likely will. With any luck, all of the ones I was interested in before the fest will see a release here.

By the looks of this year's winners, the greatest Cannes jury in recent memory had some very diverse opinions about what they deemed "best." More after the jump…

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Programming Notes: What's Ahead in the Coming Weeks

Well, dear readers, you've probably noticed that the output of this blog has slowed quite a bit recently. I've been packing up my things to move to a new apartment later this week, and so there just hasn't been much time to write lately. However, I am happy to announce a few things to look forward to once things settle down. Here's what's coming up:

- Unfortunately, because of a Netflix error, I will not be covering Hungarian director Bela Tarr's 7+ hour magnum opus, Satantango (1994), in the next installment of "Sight & Sound Sunday," as I had previously announced at the end of the most recent installment. Instead, I will be covering Jean Renoir's classic comedy The Rules of the Game (1939), which ranked #4 in the most recent Sight & Sound poll. It's also available through Hulu Plus; won't you join the discussion?

- For the first time this season, unfortunately, I won't be participating in The Film Experience's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon. This week's film was X-Men (2000), in celebration of the release of the latest installment of that franchise, X-Men: Days of Future Past, this weekend. Be sure to visit the site to see what everyone else has to say about the film. I'll be returning next week, and if you're interested in joining the fun, it's really easy: find out here!

- Nearly a year after I first suggested it, it's finally happening: "Oscars of the Aughts" will be rebooted this June (Hollywood's all about "rebooting" now, so if you can't beat 'em…). We'll be beginning, well, at the beginning, with the year 2000, and cover all eight major categories: both writing categories, all four acting categories, Best Director, and Best Picture. The journey back begins June 8.

- And, of course, I'll have plenty of other articles about a variety of topics as I try to get back on a better pace.

I look forward to your continued readership, and thank you for your patience. See you all soon.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sight & Sound Sunday: Apocalypse Now (1979)

*In 2012, Sight & Sound published its decennial list of the greatest films of all time, from critics and directors. "Sight & Sound Sunday" is a biweekly feature that investigates the top 50 films from this list, exploring how they came to be regarded as classics.*

2012 poll rank: #14

**For the purposes of this article, the original 1979 theatrical cut of the film was viewed, not the 2001 Redux cut.**

It seems appropriate that Apocalypse Now, a film about a war that nearly (or perhaps successfully?) broke the might of the American military, would be the film that nearly broke director Francis Ford Coppola. Filmed in 1976 in the Philippines, what was planned to be six-week shoot turned into a grueling sixteen-month slog, as expensive sets were destroyed by typhoons, actors such as Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen proved to be difficult to work with, and much of the audio was found unusable, resulting in extensive re-recording of dialogue. Sheen had a heart attack during filming that sidelined him for a month, and Coppola reportedly considered taking his own life several times during the production. The film premiered, unfinished, at Cannes Film Festival in 1979, and won the Palme d'Or (along with Volker Schlondorff's The Tin Drum), making it the only incomplete film to ever win the top prize. The finished product earned critical raves, and it's reputation has only become more esteemed with the passing of time.

Yet for all of that, Coppola spent so much of his own money - including mortgaging his Napa Valley home and winery - that he would spend the subsequent decade-and-change working as a director-for-hire in order to pay off his debts. It was a costly, emotionally, and physically taxing film, and the repercussions of its creation were felt by the main players for years afterward.

(As with all famously-troubled productions, there's a terrific documentary about the making of this film: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.)

If it sounds like the making of the film has a lot in common with its subject matter, the Vietnam War, Coppola certainly wouldn't disagree. But it's not just the troubled production that makes Apocalypse Now a remarkable and important film. There is no shortage of American films about the Vietnam War (along with the Civil War and World War II, it's the most common war on film, based on my own observations). But what separates Apocalypse Now from the rest of the pack is the way that unlike, say, Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986), the film is content to simply sit back and let the carnage speak for itself.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Blow-Up (1966)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

Time for a confession: I don't particularly care for Michelangelo Antonioni's films, and it's mostly because of Jean-Luc Godard. I had an English teacher in high school who noted that, given the similarities between authors Herman Melville and Ernest Hemingway, people who like Melville tend to dislike Hemingway, and vice versa. I'm that way with Antonioni and Godard. For the most part, both filmmakers were part of a larger countercultural cinema, and made films that were incredibly self-reflexive. That is, their films consistently referenced other films, and the characters seemed to be cognizant that they were characters in a film. It's not really fair to compare them, though, as both men were working from different backgrounds and had different ideas. They were both blowing up (see what I did there?) conventional notions of what cinema could be, but they weren't doing it the same way.

But where Godard's films, for me at least, vibrate with his genuine love and fascination with the medium, Antonioni's films are almost too self-consciously made. Granted, they are handsomely made films (more about that in a second). But watching one of his films, be it L'Avventura (1960), Zabriskie Point (1970), or Blow-Up, you just never get the sense that he has that same love of cinema. His deconstructions are cold, clinical, and filled with impish "screw you" attitude that never really feels like such (this is also why I've never been a fan of Community, but that's for a different post). To me, at least, if Godard is the cheerleader at the pep rally trying to rile up the crowd, then Antonioni is the kid who's slouching the bleachers telling everyone about how he's "too cool" for this (maybe not the best metaphor, but you get the gist).

Despite those cold feelings, though, there's no denying that Antonioni knows how to compose a terrific image. More after the jump….

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Great art is the result of the tension between the creator's ambition and their ability to realize it. Many artists shoot for the stars, filled with grand ambition of creating a magnum opus that will be the culmination of everything they think, feel, and are. Look throughout the history of any form of art - literature, poetry, film, television, sculpture - and you'll find works that are ambitious in their design and intention, with varying degrees success in realization. But even if the result is messy and chaotic, it doesn't mean that it's "bad;" even failed ambitions can create fascinating works of art. Sometimes, these works are even all the better for it.

I begin with all of this because Cloud Atlas, adapted from David Mitchell's novel of the same name, is nothing if not ambitious. From the moment it was published in 2004, the novel was deemed "unfilmable." The story is a collection of six separate stories spanning centuries, from a 19th-century voyage in the Pacific to a post-apocalyptic landscape. Sibling directors Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) were no strangers to heady science-fiction, and co-director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) had a number of thrillers to his credit. In making the film, they would reorder the events of the novel (which ran in chronological order to the post-apocalyptic story, then moved in reverse-chronological order back to the 19th century) and use the same core cast members in the different roles in each story. By doing so, the filmmakers hoped, they could highlight the theme of the interconnectedness of existence, a "journey of souls" that could be physically represented.

The result, as you can guess, is a mess. But it's an incredibly fascinating one.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Remembering Gary Cooper (1901 - 1961)

It was 113 years ago today that screen legend Gary Cooper was born in Helena, Montana. Beginning with bit parts in silent films (often as an uncredited extra), Cooper worked his way up to becoming one of studio-system Hollywood's biggest stars. He epitomized the idea of masculine glamor, but he was never just a pretty face. Over the course of his career, he delivered a number of indelible performances in famous roles: as Longfellow Deeds in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Alvin C. York in Sergeant York (1941), Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), and Marshall Will Kane in High Noon (1952). He received Best Actor Oscar nominations for all of these roles, winning the prize twice (1941 & 1952).

Cooper is one of my absolute favorite Old Hollywood actors. High Noon is a personal favorite of mine, and his performance as a U.S. Marshall in the Old West who can't convince anyone to fight alongside him is a beautiful work of weariness and courage. I believe that it's a true testament to his talent that, as a committed fan of the Boston Red Sox, I still get emotional every time I watch his farewell monologue in The Pride of the Yankees. If you've never seen one of his films, do yourself and favor and check one out. His talent was remarkable and impossible to imitate.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: 3 Women (1977)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

It's a testament to late director Robert Altman's status as an iconoclastic maverick filmmaker that he was still beloved and celebrated even though he zagged when you expected him to zig. After working for over a decade in television, he began his film career with a series of films that riffed on popular genres or films: The Long Goodbye (1973) was his Philip Marlowe noir, California Split (1974) was his take on The Sting, M*A*S*H (1970) brought an impish satirical edge to the war genre. But in 1975, Nashville became his masterpiece, a sprawling epic that both perfectly captured and slyly sent-up American life at that time. The film was embraced by the Academy, was included in what is arguably the greatest Best Picture Oscar lineup in history, and won over scores of critics and cinephiles alike.

So naturally, with new creative and monetary capital, what sorts of films does he make to capitalize on his newfound success? Well, he made Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976), a sharp jab at the historical record of how the West was "won," and the subject of this week's "Hit Me…," 3 Women. Altman had stated that 3 Women was based on a dream he had, and the film unfolds as such. Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) arrives at a California spa and immediately forms a strong attraction to her co-worker Millie (Shelley Duvall), and soon becomes her roommate. However, Pinky may not be what she seems, and things only get weirder from there.

More after the jump.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sight & Sound Sunday: Breathless (1960)

*In 2012, Sight & Sound published its decennial list of the greatest films of all time, from critics and directors. "Sight & Sound Sunday" is a biweekly feature that investigates the top 50 films from this list, exploring how they came to be regarded as classics.*

2012 poll rank: #13

In the years 1959 and 1960, there were three films that have been credited with genesis of the French New Wave: Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows (which will be covered in a later edition of this series) and Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour in 1959 and Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless in 1960. It's the lattermost film, though, that was the most influential, its impact still reverberating through film history. If Truffaut's film was the bridge between Italian neorealism and New Wave detachment, and Resnais' film is a clever deconstruction of expectation, then Godard's film is a cinematic pipe bomb lobbed directly at conventional filmmaking.

There's plenty of then-revolutionary ideas in Breathless, starting with its plot. Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a fan of low-rent American gangster movies, decides to steal a car, resulting in him killing a motorbike police officer. He runs back to Paris to hide out with Patricia (Jean Seberg), an American who sells newspapers on the streets. Based on an actual event, Godard uses this thin plot as the skeleton for his anarchic desires. The dialogue is loose and amorphous, and the editing alternates between rapid cutaways and remarkable long takes. The handheld cinematography - reportedly achieved by Godard pushing his cameraman around in a wheelchair for some takes - gives the film an off-the-cuff feeling. This was independent guerrilla filmmaking before such a thing really existed.

But for all those elements, what continues to stand out the most about Breathless is how it explores adolescence in a vibrant, unexpected way.

More after the jump.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A New Hope? The Cast Reveal for Star Wars: Episode VII

Earlier this week, LucasFilm officially announced via the official Star Wars site the cast for the upcoming franchise reboot and/or sequel, Star Wars: Episode VII. Of course, as with most projects from director J.J. Abrams, there's not a lot known about the film yet, and indeed, the cast announcement only names the actors, not the characters that they will play. The cast includes original Star Wars players Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fischer (Princess Leia), and Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), and Kenny Baker (R2-D2), which is keeping with the promise that the film will focus on the "next generation" of this story, as well as providing the requisite fan service. New faces include John Boyega (Attack the Block!), Daisy Ridley (a relative newcomer), Adam Driver (Girls), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings films), Domhnall Gleeson (About Time), and Max von Sydow (The Seventh Seal), the lattermost being the most surprising addition, given his celebrated stature and long career. I'd be willing to bet he'll follow in Sir Alec Guinness' footsteps and play an older Jedi mentor. Or maybe he'll go the Ian McDiramid path and play an Emperor Palpatine-type villain.

I haven't written much about this project for a few reasons. For one, I don't want this blog to be a "click-bait" trend chaser, dumping out news and rumors about every high-profile project. And much of that has to do with the fact that, honestly, I getting big-budget franchise fatigue. Five years ago, the idea of new movies with Spider-Man, Godzilla, the X-Men, et. al., would have been super-exciting for me. And now? I'm far more eager to see Boyhood than Transformers: Age of Extinction. I just can't muster up the energy for every single one of these things.

There is one more big reason. I was only four years old when George Lucas announced, in 1993, that he would be making a brand new trilogy of Star Wars films to accompany the original trilogy. I grew up watching the original trilogy on VHS, then on DVD. And when I was a geeky adolescent, I enjoyed the new trilogy (especially Revenge of the Sith), but even then didn't quite get the same rush. Now I'm a geeky adult, and the prequel trilogy has greatly diminished in my estimation (how I sat through Attack of the Clones back then and found it exciting is the great mystery of my life). Though there are bright moments in these films (again, Revenge of the Sith), I see them more as shameless cash-ins than proper extensions of the Star Wars universe.

So, enter Episode VII, which will no doubt be part of a new trilogy (if not more). Lucas is stepping aside from writing and directing, leaving the former to Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote The Empire Strikes Back) and the latter to Abrams. It's Abrams presence that gives me pause. Yes, he's responsible for a number of great science-fiction television and movies, including one of my favorite television shows of all time, Lost. He not only revived the Star Trek franchise, but made it more profitable than it had ever been. But he achieved this particular feat by essentially turning Star Trek into Star Wars, removing the former's headier philosophical elements and making his two Trek films zippy adventure flicks. I worry that the new Star Wars won't really be all that distinguished from those Star Trek films, and this new franchise won't stand out in the crowded science-fiction field.

I mean, I know it's going to make beaucoup dollars; it could just be the cast sitting around in a circle while Harrison Ford glares at them for 120 minutes and it would still rack up +$100 million on opening weekend. But even since 2005, when Revenge of the Sith came out, the blockbuster field has become much more crowded. Even the film's December 2015 release date isn't a guarantee, since "summer" movies are no longer limited to the summer anymore. It's a lot harder to make a case that you're movie is the biggest event of the year than it used to be. If the film isn't great, quality-wise, it's going to have a hard time convincing me it was worth it.

So, basically, I'm approaching this with trepidation. If nothing else, hopefully it give a much-wider audience the opportunity to "discover" Boyega, Isaac, and Driver, all of whom are terrific actors worthy of great success. But I just can't get terribly excited about this.