Rogue One is a one-hit wonder

24-Dec-16 9:30 AM by
Filed under Potpourri, Star Wars; 2 comments.

This holiday season marks several milestones, including the first standalone Star Wars movie. Rogue One debuted this month and is set immediately before the events of 1977's Episode IV: A New Hope, answering several of the questions raised by that movie. In many ways, Rogue One defies what we've come to expect from a Star Wars movie: there is no opening scroll, no Jedi, and no hope — this is a dark movie, more akin to a war film, and is inappropriate for children. That's all in stark contrast to the lighter fare of the original trilogy, which resulted in Kenner toys being popular Christmas gifts; I would be astonished and mildly horrified if any of Rogue One's cast were found under the tree this year.

For all those differences, I liked Rogue One. It belongs in the Star Wars universe and shows a different side of it, both establishing and emphasizing the enormity of the Empire and the desperation and necessity of the Rebel Alliance. There are plenty of hooks and tie-ins to A New Hope that longtime fans will appreciate — though I can't imagine that anyone not well-versed in Star Wars lore will even understand this "standalone" film.

To that end, I was surprised and disappointed that Rogue One had no apparent bearing on The Force Awakens. Last year's Episode VII raised many questions, and it seemed reasonable that the next Star Wars film to be released would answer some of those questions. After all, this franchise is now being developed by the studio responsible for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which practically requires you see three movies a year; I expected Disney to give us every reason to see every Star Wars film as well. But ultimately, the characters of Rogue One, while well-written and acted, are forgettable — I walked out of the theater not remembering almost anyone's names.

The story is co-written by John Knoll, Photoshop co-creator and ILM special effects maven. I interviewed Knoll nine years ago about the impact TRON had on the evolution and acceptance of computer-generated special effects. Knoll was already an industry luminary a decade ago, but I had no idea he'd go on to earn a writing credit for such a blockbuster film.

While Rogue One expands the Star Wars universe, it doesn't move it forward: the franchise was fine without it, and it's not required viewing for continued enjoyment of the new trilogy. I saw The Force Awakens twice in theaters and then bought the Blu Ray; by comparison, while I much enjoyed Rogue One and recommend it without hesitation to Star Wars fans, I doubt I'll ever see it again.

There are many good holiday movies in theaters this season, of which Rogue One is but one. But even Star Wars can get into the Christmas spirit, as seen by our favorite Wookie singing one of his favorite carols:

That's our obligatory Christmas Eve video — but there's still one more occasion to mark: this month is Showbits' tenth anniversary. It was ten years ago, on December 15, 2006, that the site launched, reviving a message board I'd previously operated on the Syndicomm Online commercial service. It was a member of that board, Peter Watson, who encouraged me to reimagine the bulletin board as a Web 2.0 blog. I chose the WordPress CMS with which to do so — a decision that has profoundly impacted my professional development and career.

While I may no longer blog often on Showbits, WordPress remains a tool I use daily to promote causes I'm passionate about. My thanks to Peter, who remains my friend to this day, for setting me down this path.

Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, and holiday season to all!

Darth Santa

24-Dec-15 9:30 AM by
Filed under Potpourri, Star Wars; Comments Off on Darth Santa

Tis the season to believe in the Force. Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived in theaters last week and smashed all opening weekend box office records. I knew it was a cultural phenomenon, but it was a small thing that made me realize how deeply it had penetrated into our awareness: this sign on my state's highway.

The Force Awakens is a fantastic movie that made me have all the feels: I was exuberant, joyful, angry, anguished, and excited. I loved every moment I spent watching it. After having some time to absorb and reflect on the experience, I am a little disappointed in the direction they took the script. But that does nothing to diminish what a stellar film it is, and it leaves me eager to see if those decisions are followed through in the pending sequels.

Episode VII is the first Star Wars movie to be released in a month other than May. Does that make it a Christmas movie? Probably not, but certainly it's a holiday season movie, with families gathering to enjoy time away from work and school at the movie theater.

But the characters of Star Wars aren't necessarily people you want to be with on Christmas morning. In fact, I might rather a visit from Krampus than Darth Vader:

By the time of Episode VII, Darth Vader is well and truly dead — but true villainy is timeless, and no matter what comes of this new trilogy, we'll always remember our first Sith.

(Full disclosure: I support Corridor Digital on Patreon.)

A Muppet Family Christmas for all of us

24-Dec-14 9:30 AM by
Filed under Potpourri; Comments Off on A Muppet Family Christmas for all of us

Today is Christmas Eve, which for many means a gathering of loved ones. If you never strayed far from home, like me, then this ritual may feel almost rote. But if you are far-flung, then this return to your roots can be special — a small window of time in which whatever's been missing from your life is once again present.

I miss the many holiday traditions I had as a kid. Whether it's the sense of wonder and mystery, or the love that family showers upon each other, both are absent now. But I sometimes feel a lingering trace of those magical times when I see tried-and-true holiday specials again making the rounds.

One of my favorites was A Muppet Family Christmas. Like an actual holiday, this 1987 TV special has no real plot beyond the joys, hijinks, and insanity that ensue when many people who are very different but yet still care for each other try to fit into one place. The tenderness all the characters have for each other is obvious — but what made this movie really special was the special appearance of the residents of Sesame Street.

I grew up watching Sesame Street and never understood — still don't, actually — why the only crossover between that cast and the Muppets was Kermit the Frog. This Christmas special finally broke down that wall and united the two families like old friends. That the celebration happens at Doc's house, the set of Jim Henson's other show, Fraggle Rock, made it all the more magical.

There are many people I won't be seeing at this or any future Christmas, and I miss them dearly. But in this brief holiday special, we can always count on all our friends, no matter the neighborhood, to show up and wish each other, and us, a merry Christmas.

Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas, Chorally Yours

24-Dec-13 9:30 AM by
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Alumni of Mystery Science Theater 3000 rang in the holiday season earlier this month with a live RiffTrax of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a film that Cinematic Titanic has also revisited. When MST3K originally spoofed that episode on Dec 21, 1991, it featured a host segment with a very special musical interlude: Joel and the bots wishing viewers to "Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas".

Mr. Swayze is no longer with us, but I think he would smile at the thought of us celebrating the holidays in his memory. MST3K creator Joel Hodgson and the team at Reddit agree and together revisited this holiday staple, arranging it for a mighty chorus. Come and listen to their musical rendition:

Merry Christmas, everyone!

(Hat tip to reddit)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day offerings

27-Nov-13 2:19 PM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day offerings

It is a good time to be a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The television show spent ten years lampooning some of the worst films ever created, and this week, 25 years after the show's debut, the comedy just keeps on coming.

If you didn't catch this show during its decade on the air, or you're missing your favorite episodes, Shout! Factory has you covered. All this month, they've been celebrating the show's 25th anniversary with daily sales on select DVD sets. But why settle for one a day? This Thursday and Friday, ALL previous sales will return simultaneously. Engorge yourself with your favorite box sets at MST3KTurkeyDay.com.

There are still more box sets to come, with the 25th Anniversary Edition having been released just yesterday, and another box set — the show's 29th! — announced as coming next year, containing some of the best episodes ever.

Want to watch MST3K show live like it's 1988? A tradition long gone from our world returns this Thanksgiving, thanks to show founder Joel Hodgson. The MST3K Turkey Day Marathon is back, with six favorite episodes airing starting at noon ET, again at MST3KTurkeyDay.com.

Reruns are great — but what about the future? After MST3K concluded its run, its hosts continued the comedy with two similar troupes: Cinematic Titanic, hosted by Joel Hodgson, and RiffTrax, spearheaded by Michael J. Nelson.

Cinematic Titanic focused on DVDs and live tours and will be concluding their farewell tour next month. I caught them on all three of their visits to Boston, most recently on November 2, when they subjected their audience to a terrible movie, The Doll Squad. Hodgson engaged in Q&A with the audience, but more impressively, he yesterday conducted a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" (AMA). Generations of fans paid tribute and got sincere, thorough answers to their questions about the past, present, and future of Hodgson's comedy exploits.
Meanwhile, RiffTrax continues to publish audio commentary MP3s to accompany your favorite blockbuster films, from Starship Troopers to Twilight. Their next live event is a holiday riffing of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians on December 5 at 8 PM ET. Tickets are now on sale, and these events have been known to sell out, so get yours today!

This holiday season, I am thankful for the talented artists who have brought so much laughter into my home, and the many friends with whom I've shared those experiences. We have movie sign!!

UPDATE (2-Dec-13): Missed the Turkey Day Marathon? Here are all the original host segments featuring show creator Joel Hodgson:

(Hat tip to Annie Lynsen and Annie Lynsen)

Star Trek mosaic's Christmas landing

27-Dec-12 8:29 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; Comments Off on Star Trek mosaic's Christmas landing

This year, Star Trek: The Next Generation turned 25. The occasion was popularly celebrated with theatrical screenings and Blu-ray releases, but I wanted to commemorate the milestone personally as well, for this year marked the 25th anniversary of my introduction to the franchise. And I wanted to thank the person responsible for that turning point in my life: my father.

There exists a company called Fan Mosaics which operates on a tried-and-true theory: include your fans in your product, and their ego will guarantee a sale. I've previously and happily supplied my contact info to Paramount and CBS, and Fan Mosaics must've collaborated with them, as they reached out to me with an invitation: provide them with a photo, and they'd include it in a mosaic of the starship Enterprise NCC-1701D, absolutely free. Thousands of other fans had previously provided the photographic material for Fan Mosaic to assemble images of Kirk, Spock, and the original Enterprise, so I'm sure they felt confident letting me know that, if I wanted the final print, it'd be only $19.95 plus shipping.

Although the software to create photo mosaics is nothing extraordinary, I was charmed by the prospect of a visual representation of the community that has formed around Star Trek. My father made me a member of that group, and though he may not participate as enthusiastically as I do, he too belongs in that pantheon. It seemed appropriate for us to be included in the mosaic. I submitted a photo taken of us and my oldest brother at the opening of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie. Although it does not show any one of us close up, it is the most thematically appropriate photo I could think of to submit.

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All the Muppets Need Is Love

24-Dec-12 9:30 AM by
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Happy holidays from Showbits! It's been a full year since the most recent Muppets movie, but our favorite characters from Jim Henson are alive, well, and here to wish you a Merry Christmas in this holiday music video:

"All I Need Is Love" features not only CeeLo Green and Craig Robinson, but also Walter, the newest Muppet introduced in last year's film — a nice touch of continuity! Might we see these characters reunited in another feature film? We can only hope!

Until then, happy holidays — and mahna mahna!

(Hat tip to Annie Lynsen)

Tis the season to Die Hard

23-Dec-12 2:53 PM by
Filed under Films; Comments Off on Tis the season to Die Hard

When folks ask me what my favorite Christmas movies are, I turn to a stable of reliable hits: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation; Jimmy Stewart's It's a Wonderful Life; and … Die Hard.

Yes, Bruce Willis's violent defense of Nakatomi Tower from Hans Gruber and his personal militia is indeed a holiday film, set as it is on Christmas Eve. The sequel occurred in the same season, but the second and fourth Die Hard films moved away from that synchronicity — with a fifth film, A Good Day to Die Hard, set to do the same. In fact, it mixes up not only the time but also the place by being set in Russia, in much the way the seventh and final Police Academy film went to Moscow. Certainly that series didn't jump the shark…

If you're missing your annual dose of holiday havoc and can't wait for Valentine's Day for Bruce Willis to tear up the screen, look no further than Tom Ridgway to give you your dose of festive fight scenes. TomSka, creator of the silly "asdf" animations, goes after St. Nick himself in Christmas Destruction:

Happy holidays!