Day 125: Star Wars

Star Wars

Star Wars

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

 

13. Star Wars

Yesterday I live-tweeted Star Wars, in honor of Star Wars Day. I had no idea how tough it would be to live-tweet a movie I’ve seen countless times. Even though I did a bit of pre-writing, it still wasn’t enough to prepare me for the task. It seemed like every time I tweeted something, there were two or three other things happening that I missed. I tried as best I could to include trivia and witty remarks, as well as references to all of the Star Wars parodies out there, but it was a Herculean task. Kudos to those who manage to do these type of things.

As for the film itself, we all know what it’s about, right? A long time ago … etc. Even though I consider myself a hardcore Star Wars fan, I don’t own a copy of the original film; I refuse to spend money on any special edition version of the film. Actually, that’s not true. I have the original trilogy on VHS somewhere in the garage, but no VCR to play it on.

For my Star Wars Day live-tweeting, I borrowed the original theatrical release DVD from the library. This is also the same version that’s included in the Blu-ray set, but neither has been remastered and I won’t buy it until it’s been remastered and unaltered. It’s a shame that George Lucas wouldn’t release the film without tinkering with it, but hopefully Disney will see the light (aka $$$) and give the fans what we’ve wanted for years.

As I live-tweeted the movie, two things stood out during my umpteenth viewing:

1. Sir Alec Guinness and Harrison Ford were miles above the rest of the cast in terms of acting skills. Luke is nearly unwatchable in certain scenes, Leia’s accent is all over the place, and some of the Empire cronies are awful (except for Christopher Lee and James Earl Jones, of course).

2. The lack of CGI special effects is a major plus. When J.J. Abrams announced that Episode VII would not rely on all of the over-the-top CGI of the prequels, I knew that Disney had hired the right director. Nearly 40 years later and the special effects in Star Wars still hold up, for the most part.

I’m sure I’ll notice other things the next time I watch this masterpiece. And I’m sure it will be before next May 4th.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Day 119: The Sheik

The Camel Clutch

The Camel Clutch

Flipping through Netflix recently and stumbled upon The Sheik, an interesting documentary about former WWF star The Iron Sheik (Khosrow Vaziri). It’s like other wrestling documentaries with its rag-to-riches-to-rags storyline, tales of debauchery on the road, and gruesome injuries that limit the wrestler’s post-spotlight life.

Growing up as a WWF fan in the late 70s and early 80s, the Iron Sheik was one of my favorite heels (bad guys), along with Rowdy Roddy Piper. His tag team matches with the Russian Nikolai Volkoff were legendary and they were the perfect foils during the Cold War. No other tag team inspired the venom of the crowd like the Sheik and Volkoff.

The movie is sad, though, as the Sheik struggles with addiction and health problems caused by his life in the squared circle. He’s a proud father if not a perfect one, and he’s had to deal with the murder of one of his daughters. Thankfully, there is a bit of redemption for this former superstar: family friends help the Sheik become an Internet sensation, translating his unique Sheik-speak into 140-character blasts on Twitter.

I was filled with a warm nostalgia while watching the film and couldn’t help but root for The Sheik to find better health and happiness. I think it’s good enough to recommend to non-fans, but those who used to put their younger siblings in the Camel Clutch will find a lot to like about The Sheik.

Day 111: Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard movie poster

Sunset Boulevard movie poster

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

16. Sunset Boulevard

Widely considered a classic and ranked high up on AFI’s list of 100 Greatest American Films of All Time, I was looking forward to finally seeing Sunset Boulevard.

Confession: this was the third time I started Sunset Boulevard this year; the first two times I fell asleep before the half-hour mark and this third time I dozed off near the end, which required a rewind to finish the movie.

I now understand why people hold this film in such high regard: it’s a Hollywood film about Hollywood and all of its narcissist glory. For my generation, the film-about-Hollywood that best captured the spirit of Sunset Boulevard is The Player. Sunset Boulevard was the original The Player. The O.G. Player, if you will.

William Holden is solid as Joe Gillis, the screenwriter who stumbles into a former movie star Norma Desmond’s life. Gloria Swanson plays Desmond and I wasn’t a fan. She seems to be overacting in so many scenes. Perhaps this was in keeping with her character, but I didn’t like her performance as much as Holden’s. Truth be told, it’s Erich von Stroheim as the servant Max who is consistently good throughout the film.

One thing I did not like at all: Holden’s narration. Maybe this device was used more in the films of the era, but it has not aged well. At all. It’s unnecessary and it feels like director Billy Wilder didn’t trust his audience to figure things out by themselves. Whenever I heard the narration, I kept thinking, “This is the movies. There’s no reason to tell us something at the same time you’re showing it!”

Still, I liked the ending, as the Norma Desmond character utters her famous last line. It’s not a film I’d watch again, but I get why it’s on the AFI list and it seems like any serious cinephile should see it at least once.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Day 106: We’re Home

Chewie, we're home.

Chewie, we’re home.

When I woke up this morning, I had something that I wanted to blog about. I don’t remember what that something was, because this happened:

Wow. This second teaser is even better than the first one. J.J. Abrams certainly knows how to tug on the collective Star Wars fanbase’s heart strings: Luke’s narration, Vader’s mask, Leia’s hand, Artoo, then BANG! Han and Chewie!

I believe the Internet’s reaction went something like this:

ZOMG!!!

All of us fanboys/girls were blubbering idiots today.

Tonight I showed it to my parents, who took me to the see the original so many moons ago. Their reactions as we watched:

[Vader’s mask] Mom: Uh oh, not that guy.
[R2-D2] Mom: Yay, R2-D2! He’s my favorite.
[Han and Chewie] Mom: Harrison Ford looks old.
Pop: Chewbacca looks the same.
Mom: Let’s go see it this Christmas!
Pop: Better get in line now.

Is it December 18th yet?

Day 104: Life Itself

Siskel and Ebert

Siskel and Ebert

I finally watched Life Itself, the documentary about Pulitzer-Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert. It’s an excellent movie that tells Ebert’s life story and captures his final days as he succumbs to thyroid cancer.

Like so many others, I enjoyed the Siskel and Ebert movie review shows, but it was his writing that made me an Ebert fan. Before IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, I would consult Ebert’s movie guide for reviews and synopses. His guide was more than that, though; there were interviews with directors, longer essays on film-related topics, and in-depth looks at certain aspects of the movies themselves.

Years later I picked up a used copy of his Alone in the Dark, then read whatever Ebert book was on the local library’s shelves. What impressed me over the years was that throughout his writing, whether it was in one of his many books, newspaper columns, or blog posts, Ebert remained passionate about film. I respected the fact that as his blog grew in reach, he began recruiting other reviewers from around the world to review movies. He was strong with his opinions, but he gave a platform to others.

Most of all, I appreciated how honest he was with his reviews and his life. There are a few details that weren’t sugarcoated in Life Itself (for example, his drinking problem, or the images of him after his numerous surgeries) and I’m sure he liked how it was handled: honestly.

Day 100: Review and Update

Ticket to Ride board game and app

Ticket to Ride board game and app

I hit the century mark! One hundred days ago I started my Quest to Blog Every Day in 2015 and today I am over a quarter of the way there (27% to be exact). Now let’s review how I’m doing with my other goals and add another one, shall we?

My Goals for 2015:

  1. Write 100 reviews on Yelp. (25 written; on pace, but I’m behind my unofficial 10-reviews-per-month pace that I established last year.)
  2. Read 26 books and review them on Goodreads. (12 read; according to Goodreads, I’m 5 books ahead of schedule.)
  3. Break 100 on the golf course. (I’ve only played a few executive and par-3 courses, so haven’t given it a shot yet; this is most likely the one thing I won’t accomplish this year.)
  4. Watch all of the AFI 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. (read below for more)

I thought that watching all of the AFI 100 Greatest American Films of All Time would be a breeze. I love movies and I especially love great movies. Unfortunately, as of today, I’ve watched an unimpressive total of four. Yikes.

I’ve spent my movie-watching time doing other things: reading books, writing Yelp reviews, binge-watching The Walking Dead, posting on this blog, and playing board games. Now I have less than 8 months to watch the final 96 movies on the AFI list. I could count the ones I’ve seen in the past, but my goal was to watch each film this year. It’s all or nothing. Like my attempts to break 100 on the golf course, I may fall short of my goal, but at least I’ll enjoy my cinematic journey.

If I hadn’t rediscovered my love of board games, I might have put a bigger dent in that AFI 100 list. I have no regrets, though; it’s been a wonderful experience reconnecting with my love of games and the best part is that my wife shares my new passion. We’ve played dozens of games of Ticket to Ride and recently bought the Android app to play on our tablets. I still prefer the real-life version, but the digital option is a fine port of the original.

So, it looks like I’ll reach two of my four goals (write 100 Yelp reviews and read and review 26 books on Goodreads). My third goal (break 100 on the golf course) seems unattainable unless I start playing more, and possibly take lessons. The fourth goal (watching all AFI 100 movies) will take a Herculean effort to finish.

I tell myself it’s all about the experience, but I still like to accomplish my goals, no matter how silly they may seem. In that spirit, I’ve decided to add a fifth goal based on my last two months: play 10 new board games. I’m nearly halfway there, after buying Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Tsuro, and Castle Panic. I’m staying with the most popular and the least time-consuming games as my gaming rebirth continues. Right now, the thought of going deep into hours-long campaigns has no appeal to me. But I’m someone that never likes to say never, so perhaps I’ll get into them. For now, I’ll enjoy playing new games until I reach my goal.

Here’s my updated list of goals for the year, including my Quest to Blog Every Day in 2015:

  1. Write 100 reviews on Yelp.
  2. Read 26 books and review them on Goodreads.
  3. Break 100 on the golf course.
  4. Watch all of the AFI 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.
  5. Play 10 new board games.

 

Day 57: High Noon

High Noon

High Noon

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

27. High Noon

This was one of the movies that I watched as part of a Film Studies class a lifetime ago and still enjoy after several viewings. My exposure to black-and-white Westerns to that point had been the reruns on TV; nothing ever grabbed my attention enough to make me fall in love with the genre. High Noon was different, though, and it’s all because of Gary Cooper. He’s brilliant as Will Kane, the weary and soon-to-be retired marshall of a small town of weak-minded folk. Shot in near real-time, it’s an atypical Western, with Cooper as a vulnerable and very human hero of the film.

If there’s a weakness in this film, it’s the lack of action, but again it’s not your standard cowboy movie (the closing gunfight is great, though). Cooper is dressed in black, which was normally the bad guys’ color. Instead of rallying the town behind him, he finds himself alone, practically begging people to become deputies and make a stand against an incoming gang of bad guys looking for revenge. I love how Cooper maintains a stoic yet approachable presence throughout the film.

There’s a scene near the end when he seems overwhelmed by everything and he sets his head down to take a breather. It lasts only a few seconds, but it tells so much of the story: he knows he’s facing insurmountable odds and most likely a certain death and nobody has his back. I’m not sure most heroes of ’50s-era movies were shown in such a weak, powerless position.

Cooper’s vulnerability and his stand amongst the cowards of his town is what has always appealed to me. He’s not doing the popular thing, but he’s doing the right thing.

Other well-known actors in High Noon: Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, and Harry Morgan (billed as Henry Morgan). All are good, but not as great as Cooper, who won the Oscar for Best Actor. And every time I see Lloyd Bridges in any old film, I blame Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker for making me think, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop …

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkNu4-sSglY

Day 51: 20 Feet From Stardom

20 Feet From Stardom: Claudia Lennear

20 Feet From Stardom: Claudia Lennear

My wife and I finally saw 20 Feet From Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about the back-up singers for some of popular music’s most famous acts. It was a wonderful film filled with amazing music and it’s easy to see why it is so highly regarded; it’s a real crowdpleaser.

Tonight we went to a Q&A with one of the singers, Claudia Lennear, as part of the Black History Month Celebration in Rancho Cucamonga. She was interviewed by a local DJ and talked about her life in and out of the music business. I got a kick out of hearing her talk about how Keith Richards scared her and how David Bowie was at her daughter’s birthday party.

After the Q&A, we got to meet her and take photos with her. She was a delight to chat with, even for just a moment, and it made me feel good that she’s finally getting the recognition that she deserves.

Day 49: Time Travel

Back to the Future

Back to the Future

The Streak is over. After blogging for the first 48 days of 2015, I spaced out yesterday and forgot to post something. I usually blog around dinner time, but plans changed last night and by the time I was ready for bed I was wiped out, my quest completely forgotten.

Fortunately, thanks to the magic of WordPress I can change the date of this post to yesterday. Like Superman turning back the clock to save Lois Lane from death-by-earthquake*, I can travel back in time to post my 49th blog of the year. The Quest continues!

My earliest recollection of time travel, aside from childhood games, was the Twilight Zone episode “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.” Four criminals steal $1 million and hide in a cave, where their leader has them enter suspended animation chambers. Their plan is to lay low for 100 years and wake up when their crime is forgotten: outrunning the law through the use of science. Of course, this being the Twilight Zone, nothing goes according to plan and the bad guys get their comeuppance. I’ll never forget the criminal mastermind (played by the fantastic Oscar Beregi) at the end of episode, desperate and dying, trying to barter for his life.

Another time-travel favorite of my youth was Back to the Future. I won’t rehash the well-known plot here, but two things I remember from that movie are 1) vest that Marty McFly wears throughout was similar to one I wore throughout middle school, as my wife likes to tease/remind me and 2) the mall parking lot scenes that bookend the film were filmed at the still-standing Puente Hills Mall. Whenever I visit the mall, I’m tempted to tear through the parking lot at 88 MPH.

Finally, during my senior year at UCSB, I read Captain Blackman for my senior thesis. It’s a novel that moves back and forth in time, exploring the role of African-Americans in the U.S. military in different wars, as told by its African-American protagonist. Captain Blackman was one of a handful of books I kept from college and I’ve been meaning to re-read it for years. If only I could travel back in time to read it instead of wasting my time rooting for a bad football team.

*I always get a kick out of Superman geeks that get fired up about that ending, talking about the impossibility of Superman reversing time like that. People, we are talking about an alien that has x-ray vision, superhuman strength, and FLIES. 

Day 40: 40 Days, 40 Blogs

image

Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

 

So far, so good. I’ve stayed true to my Quest to Blog Every Day in 2015, this being my 40th post in the first 40 days of the year. I’m currently on pace to meet my goal.

Quick updates on my other goals this year:

  • 100 reviews written on Yelp: 11 reviews finished. On pace.
  • 26 books read on Goodreads: 2 books finished. Reading two books now (one of them pictured above). On pace.
  • 100 movies seen on the AFI 100 Greatest American Film list. Only 3 movies finished, when I was hoping to have knocked off 10 already. Off pace.
  • Break 100 on the golf course. Unfortunately, I’ve only had time to play a par-3 and an executive course. Breaking 100 on those doesn’t count, so let’s say I’m off pace.

It’s been a good 40-day stretch of blogging. As they say, I’m still finding my voice, but I have a few surprises planned for future entries. Here’s to the next 40 days of blogging. Cheers!