Category Archives: Entertainment

Star Wars – The Force awakens – Movie review

Non-standard spoiler alert here

Normally I place a standard spoiler alert here because I usually go into a lot of detail about the movies that I review.  This time things are a bit different.  I feel that even 6 months after the movie comes out that if I divulge any secrets that I will get a ton of hate mail.  So with that in mind I am going to review the movie in a fairly roundabout way and discuss the whole of the Star Wars universe and how the new movie fits in.  Even so some details may leak out.

This post will go into details about the movie “The Force awakens“. If you don’t want to know what happens in this movie you better stop reading now.


Back in 1977 I was 6 years old.  My sister’s boyfriend at the time took her and of course her little brother to the movies in the Galleria to see this sci-fi movie called Star Wars.  She had already seen it and advised me not to be scared of the space battles and alien monsters.

I sat goggled eyed for the next hour and a half.  My perspective had been broadened way beyond the horizon.  Any thoughts about growing up to be a cowboy or a fireman or whatever were replaced with being a space faring Jedi knight.

In many ways this was the first “adult” movie that I ever watched.  No simple cartoons, or parables.  This was something complex for a kid to handle.  Please understand, it wasn’t so much the special effects, though they were jaw dropping for the time, it was more a matter of having such a fleshed out and complete story line framing and structuring the entire movie and setting the stage for future movies.

Lucas had been working on and off since the early seventies and possibly since his college days to come up with the basic story.  He borrowed heavily from myth, from the action movies of the 1930’s, and from a wide range of science fiction sources.  What he put together was a complete story package that had a clearly defined arc from beginning to end and it was a story that was very relatable to a wide audience but also contained nuggets of religion and philosophy for the hard-core sci-fi fans to consider.

When the next installments of the story were released, Lucas kept building the basic story line and kept it moving to the climax in the third installment (or what was the third installment back in the 80’s). When Return of the Jedi ended and it seemed that Lucas was finished with the entire story, many fans were left clamoring for more and with a whole lot of unanswered questions.

During the 90’s, Lucas set to work on the prequel series and decided to focus on the roots of the story with the rise of the Empire and in particular, Darth Vader.  The prequels answered many of the fan questions but were generally badly received.

Why?  Some criticisms focus on the story line which was perceived to be badly scripted, clumsy, and un-even.  Others said that Lucas had fallen in love with special effects and neglected the story and others said that he not so much made a movie but made a video game instead.

The story itself wasn’t bad and as I said it answered many of the origin questions in the Star Wars universe but personally I did feel that it lacked the completed feel of the original series and clumsily steered its way to connect up to what was now referred to as Episode 4 from 1977.

After the rebukes that he received, Lucas vowed that he would never again direct another Star Wars movie.  So it was a great shock and somewhat disheartening when the news broke that Lucas had sold the rights to the movie series to Disney for 4 Billion dollars.

At first most fans were horrified that the studio would ruin and “Disney-fy” the series for the sake of making money.  The studio immediately moved to install JJ Abrams as the director and we fans waited with bated breath to see what would happen.

This is where I would give away plot details but I won’t.  Instead I will mention that some movie plot points have been speculated on since back in the 80’s.  Points like, what happened to the Empire after the Battle of Endor in the sixth movie?  Did Han and Leia live happily ever after?  Did the Sith ever return?

The new movie builds a bridge from Return of the Jedi and the future.  The story tellers are not hampered as they were in the prequel series to connect one series to another and having to “artificially” steer the story.  Old cast members are there to reprise their roles but also clear the way for the new cast that will take over.

Storytelling once again takes center stage over special effects.  Overall it is a satisfactory effort.  Not original of course as it was back in 1977.  But overall it is a good starting point for this series to begin with.



The Star Wars trailer came out the other day. Don’t know if it will be a good movie or not but the initial signs are positive.  Movie trailers are not a huge event to most people but to devotees of the series, it was highly anticipated.

Nowadays trailers usually come out on YouTube and people on YouTube will film what’s called reaction videos.  Basically videos of their initial and genuine reaction to the trailer.  I could waste hours watching these. I find it somewhat fascinating to watch these. I was also shocked that so many people made these videos already.

I like watching not only the reactions but in particular I also like to note the diversity of the fan base.  Not all Star Wars fans are pasty skinned, fat, glass wearing nerds.  The phenomena that is the Star Wars series runs the gamut through all races, genders, and economic backgrounds and is worldwide.

It’s somewhat difficult to explain the appeal of this series.  I mean it’s one thing to say that it all has to do with cool special effects and space movies and fighting but I feel that there must be more here.  These are a series of movies that people have memorized all the lines and regularly quote these lines to one another during conversations.  I don’t mean that they quote just memorable lines but they will quite literally quote each and every line to one another no matter how innocuous  the line.

I don’t think that happens with any other series, even with venerated series like Star Trek.  Something about the themes, the ideas behind the story reaches out and touches individuals no matter what their background or situation.  They can relate to a character in the story, they can relate to the feeling of struggling against a system that feels oppressive, they can relate something of their own particular situation to what they see up on the screen.

Something else I noted watching all these reaction videos was the number of female fans that posted reaction videos.  Nerd and science fiction culture has had to take a long and hard look at itself with regards to the ingrained discrimination towards female fans this last year.  It has been a painful but most necessary process.  We who have proclaimed ourselves to be the oppressed underdogs fighting against a system that discriminates against us.  We have been guilty of the same sort of oppression against female fans.  A lot of the old guard nerds have asserted that female fans are not as passionate about science fiction or that they just “don’t get it”.  I think this puts that argument to rest.

Just one more to make the point.



Taking what’s offered

Life has been hectic this year.  Along with the stresses of work and trying to get some side projects going, I have some family responsibilities to tend to and on top of that a cold laid me low for about a week.  With all that going on, I have hardly had any time to relax and enjoy life.

Making plans with friends has been fairly difficult as in some cases I’ve had no certainty when I would have time to relax or if I would have time to relax.  As a consequence I’ve had to make the most of what time I did have to relax.

Programs from some plays that I've recently attended.

Programs from some plays that I’ve recently attended.

One thing that I’ve been relying on lately has been Houston’s outstanding theater scene.  Ranging from off broadway touring companies to small venues to amateur dinner theater, we are extraordinarily blessed with a lot of acting talent in this town.

The nice thing about the local theater scene is that it is usually fairly easy to get tickets, they are rarely sold out.  The theaters are usually fairly small so even the “cheap seats” are good seats.  The acting and production values of the local troops are fairly high so you get more than you pay for.  Lastly, most theater companies have online ticket sales so I can usually book a seat just hours before a performance.

Comparing this to movies?  In some ways better and in some ways not as good but I would not say worse.  I mean with movies of course you can be totally immersed in the story world.  It’s all very visual and the story is all there to see.  With plays you have to use some imagination.  Even the most lavish stage props and backgrounds won’t look totally real.  But with a live human actor right in front of you speaking the lines and instilling the lines with emotion you somehow get more into the story than you would with a movie. Difficult to explain unless you’ve been to one of these plays.

For me at least these plays have helped take the edge off life lately and have given me a bit of a release on those days that life seems to be ganging up on me.

If you ever need to take the edge off or if you are just curious, I would highly recommend it.


do your own TED talk

TED (technology, entertainment, and design) is a series of talks given in many locations around the world.  I’ve been a fan of TED talks for a long time.  The thought that people who are out there making a difference in the world would take the time to disseminate those ideas to the public at large is very appealing to me.  Very often those that do make a difference seem intent on keeping knowledge a secret.

The rest of us miss out on a lot because we don’t have direct access to these ideas.  I think the more we hear from each other, then the more that other people will feel compelled to innovate and think new thoughts and make new things that have never been seen before.

one of my favorite TED talks

The format is open and very friendly.  Basically a person stands in front of a group of people and has 20 or less minutes to explain a problem, their thoughts about that problem, why they are concerned about the problem, and what they are doing or want to do about it.

It’s that simple.

And what’s more anyone can do it.  The main requirement is that you have devoted time to a certain problem or discipline and that you feel strongly enough that you want others to know about it.  You don’t have to be a world leading scientist or politician or rock star to do a TED.

And what’s more you don’t have to speak in front of a bunch of people either.  I know some people who hate to speak in front of people or that prefer reading presentations.  If writing your ideas is easier for you then go ahead and do it that way.

The main thing is that you share a part of yourself with the world.

All of you have something special to share, to give, to express to the rest of us.  Do everyone a favor and let it out.  Let the rest of us know about it.


youtube, facebook, twitter and the rise of the new media model

Entertainment, communications, and advertising have been changing in the last 15 years as never before.  They are set to change even more radically in the next five to ten years.

The tried and true models of yesteryear; TV networks, movies, radio, sports, and the music industry have all been shaken to their foundations by the rise of the internet.  Some have adapted better than others and some are on the edge of extinction.

The power of a single internet event to reach out to millions and even tens of millions of people at a time is now undeniable.  How people, companies, and even governments harness that power is what is being debated and shaped at the moment.  The one’s that figure out how to utilize and monetize this force will be the winners in this bonanza.  The losers will fade into history and become little more than Wikipedia entries.

Facebook and Twitter have been publicly battling it out for the last few years.  Both are scrambling to add more and more people to their rolls and trying to capture people’s attention. YouTube also is also adding more people to their rolls but in a much quieter fashion.

All three are depending more and more on the mobile market.  The mobile versions of these sites all have advertising in one form or another.  Ads come in the form of static and unobtrusive side ads or full screen ads played before the featured content comes on.

In Facebook and Twitter you actually have to pay to promote your posts to appear to a wider audience but you don’t have the guarantee that people will actually click on your ad to see what you sell or do.

In YouTube the ads come in the form of the television ads that we all are familiar with.  These ads are either a minutes long ad that can be bypassed after 5 seconds or an ad that is 30 seconds or less that can’t be bypassed.  In order to catch the viewer’s attention, the advertisers have become very creative.  They take ads that on TV would be 1 to 2 minutes long and shrink them down to make their case in seconds and keep the person engaged.  The static ads in Twitter and Facebook don’t do this.

Another thing I have had pointed out to me is that in Facebook and Twitter the users take on the role of bait for advertising by creating content for others to come in and see or they’re potential targets for that advertising.  Other than getting access to the site they are not compensated for their content.

YouTube actively engages with the public in a different way.  YouTube of course wants people to click on ads, but content creators can be incentivized to create content.  YouTuber’s can monetize their content.  With persistence and creative content you could actually make YouTube into a full time job.  Further if you get a sponsor then you’ve really got it made.

Another thing I have been admiring lately about YouTube has been their attempts to organize their main content providers (channels) and get them to create new content, cooperate, and exchange ideas with each other.  In particular I have been amazed by 3 YouTubers.

Hannah Hart, Mamrie Hart, and Grace Helbig are three twenty somethings that each have followings in the hundreds of thousands.  They regularly appear in each others videos, they film each other, support each other, and just recently they parlayed their success into a feature-length film sold on their channels and only available online.

Recently one of them, Grace Helbig, left her old YouTube channel (owned by another group) to work on her own channel.  She basically left the  channel with 2.4 million subscribers to start from scratch.  As of mid February 2014 she is back up to 1.5 million subscribers and adding people all the time.  This at a time when conventional TV viewership is dropping.

It’s not only YouTube that is creating original content.  Other online powerhouses are creating content for online customers.  NetFlix, Hulu, and Amazon are also getting into the game by creating original online content and shows.  Some of it supported by advertising dollars and some by subscription fees.

Are Facebook and Twitter taking note?  Sort of.  Twitter has Vine and Facebook has Instagram. Both have short video formats that will be perfect for the mobile market advertising formats.  If advertisers are clever enough then they should be able to make use of these short formats to sell their goods.

But I am really liking what I am seeing out of YouTube.  The idea that talented people who were previously just viewers and unappreciated content creators can now monetize their content and become a part of the process is really appealing to me.  It’s not all sunshine of course.  YouTube still takes about 45% of the advertising revenue stream (which some content creators consider extremely high) but it’s something that can be adjusted over time.

As we move more and more into this digital age where ideas and thought are becoming more and more important, I think we need to rethink the old media models and start to consider that entertainment and information are no longer flowing down from central sources from on high but flowing freely up, down, left, and right across this world.  Those that realize this will successfully adapt and be able to reap the benefits of this new age.

the new paradigm

What would the 20something me have thought?  Sitting in a quiet cafe, hanging out with a friend, drinking tea, and just talking on an afternoon counts as a good time?  Impossible!

But it’s true.  The days of hitting the bars and clubs are long since gone.  Noise for noise sake really.  I don’t totally disdain the experience.  I was a different person back then and my priorities were different.  Young people generally want excitement.  I wanted to live all of life as much and as quickly as possible.  This meant going clubbing, finding new restaurants, doing whatever I was told was the most desirable experiences out there.  I doubt that the younger me would find my current life appealing.

But one day I found myself in that similar situation and had this feeling that I had lived this exact same moment over and over again.  I’ve written in a previous post that “when it’s time to go, it’s time to go”.  By this I mean that we may indeed try to keep a situation going by reapplying ourselves with more vigor and for a time we may succeed but sometimes it’s best to save our energy and move on.  That’s where I was in the mid 2000’s.

Over time I have come to appreciate the simpler pleasures that life affords us and what I am doing now gives me a feeling of satisfaction and joy that I never felt before.  Some would call this maturing or growing up.  I just accept it as part of who I am now.

These moments of simple pleasure are all too rare an experience given work schedules, family pressures, and whatnot but I aim to take advantage of this rare experience as much as I can.

cinema vs live theater vs reading

I’m more visual than most.  I tend to favor things such as cinema and live theater.  It’s not just a matter of the content, although it is important to enjoy good quality content, however things like cinema or theater add an actors, or playwrights, or director’s viewpoint of a piece.  It’s a kind of discussion with those other human beings not just the writer.

But I don’t go for just the average shoot’em up as I once did in my youth.  I’m after pieces with something worth saying.  How many times can you go to an action flick before you get tired?

Live theater is something I have recently added.  I don’t do too many of these because I want  to be picky as to what I attend.  The performances I attend have been excellent.  They have been thought-provoking, well acted, and presented in a way to make an impact on the audience.

My book reading has evolved over time.  From a diet of mostly pulp and few quality reads to one of mostly quality reads and little pulp.  I can feel the vascular pressure in my brain relax as I take in less garbage and a more mentally nutritious diet.