Star Wars 7? I’ve got an idea…

J.J. Abrams is directing Star Wars 7? Here’s a thought, a crazy, crazy thought… Have him “reboot” the prequels, but do it in one film. Do it right. Write a better, tighter story. Write dialog that doesn’t make the audience puke. Make Jar Jar an unperson and drop all records and photos of him into a memory hole. Please dear god find an actual actor to play Anakin.

J.J. angered some Trek purists with his reboot of Star Trek. Granted, some of the elements that made Trek transcend itself just weren’t there. But also granted, it was a fun action ride of a movie — just what the original Star Wars films had in abundance, and the prequels totally forgot. If J.J. did for a Wars prequel what he did to Trek, we’d have a *ride*, baby.

Okay, I know that’s not going to happen. And I’m sure Star Wars 7 will have that swashbuckling fun we all miss. J.J. obviously knows how to make a fun, summer thrill ride of a flick with just enough story and decent acting and a good cast to hold it together. (Again, see Trek.)

The story of Darth Vader’s origin was not a bad one to want to show, it’s just that Lucas screwed the pooch by not letting someone else take his story outline and write it up all pretty, and by not letting someone talk him out of pointlessly stretching it into a trilogy. The one and only thing that I can even stomach from the prequels is that brief shot in Revenge of the Sith with Obi-Wan and Anakin laser saber fighting way off in the distance. That was a cool shot. But that’s it.

Maybe I’m wishing this because there’s a place deep inside of me, where I’m dark and paranoid and scared like a little boy lost in the woods, that seeing an aging Luke and Leia and Han is just going to make me… sad.

Lincoln Revisited

I’ve already written my shorthand review of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, but it’s now out on home media and it’s time to revisit this magnificent film.

I have no religion of my own, but my love and affection for the historical figure of Abraham Lincoln borders on religious devotion. If ever there were someone I would worship it would be the 16th President.

The great accomplishment of Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis here is making me feel that I have personally met the man in the history books and early photographs. Lincoln’s homespun manner, which hid an immense intelligence and unparalleled political savvy, shines through in the film, and though his speech was simple for the time, the words he strung together could have fallen from the lips of a god. Shakespeare in all his striving could never meet the genius of Lincoln cajoling his cabinet, entertaining a lowly private, or arguing with his wife.

The film captures all of it – the way he seemed to have a story for every occasion, his high, sometimes reedy voice (borne out by historical accounts), the way he was hunched over, carrying the weight of all the blood spilled on Civil War battlefields, his flat-footed step, as if there were a fear God might realize he’d made some mistake in allowing a figure so grand as Lincoln to set foot on this unworthy earth and snatch him back to heaven.

And who can deny how Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field put their indelible imprints on the story? The scene of Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens browbeating his hapless Democratic colleague alone is worth the price of admission. Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln also illustrates how his wife surely was as much of what made Lincoln a great man as his own righteousness and humility.

John Williams’ score, intimate and grand but always longing to soar with its echoes of Aaron Copland, seems to soften the emotional blow that surely comes at the end of any telling of Abraham Lincoln’s story. Williams has never written so sweet and touching a score as this one. It is an adagio for the end of an age, a requiem for the closing of one chapter of America and a gentle prelude for the beginning of another.

If there is any complaint I could make, as if I had the nerve to tell Spielberg how to make a movie, it would be this: I would have ended with Lincoln leaving the White House to go to the theater, and faded into his second inaugural speech to close the film. The scenes of the announcement that the president had been shot, and the moment of his passing, seemed unnecessary, almost tacked on like an afterthought. But perhaps that is because Lincoln’s death, even though it happened a century before I was born, cuts me as if it were a personal loss, and perhaps in my mind that is the moment in which I want to turn away. Surely, I would want to be left with the lingering image of a tired, exhausted president walking down the hallway, never to return home, because I already feel the loss in my heart and don’t need to see it with my eyes.

Abraham Lincoln was too great for his time, but so necessary for it.

Spielberg’s Lincoln captures all of that for me, and that’s why it’s now one of my favorite films of all time.

Future man

Had a strange dream the other night. A guy from a thousand years in the future showed up and asked to look around my apartment. When he went into the bathroom, he pointed at the toilet and asked me what it was. When I told him, he laughed and laughed…

The Tudors

So I binge-watched The Tudors on Netflix, sue me.

The show had some faults, some of them amusing, like the telenovela soap opera opening credits, the conceit that every historic personage was young, virile and looked like fashion models, and the ridiculous attempt to “age” Henry VIII by merely streaking his hair with gray and having him speak in a husky voice. And it simply wouldn’t have done to show Henry VIII’s girth he gained early in life, even as he was wooing his second wife — but then Jonathan Rhys Meyers didn’t look at all like the paintings we have of the monarch.

And, of course, as soap opera, it displayed every motivation as coming from sex and lust, when it was not always the case. But all that was for television, and Showtime had demanded a sexy soap opera based on history, and that’s what they got — Will Durant with lots of breast shots, sweaty bodies and perfectly-lit thighs.

It departed from history in quite a few places, especially some seemingly random diversions, but in other ways was quite pleasantly devoted to it: some bits, especially letters and speeches delivered before beheadings, were taken directly from historical accounts. The portrayal of Henry composing Greensleeves made me laugh — even though that theory has been debunked, it did persist in history for quite some time.

But in some places the show rose to poetry — poetry in visuals as well as in words. I don’t know why, but the portrayal of Ann Boleyn’s downfall, final hours and execution have brutally haunted me. She had just seen her father disown her to save his own skin, but in her final moments, as the sword swung toward her neck, she imagined herself a little girl once again, being swung around in a green lawn by her smiling, loving father who was now gone. I can’t get that episode out of my mind. It haunts me still.

There was also a brief scene in the middle of the 4th season, where the Duke of Suffolk and the Earl of Surrey have a conversation about the ephemeral nature of happiness (video below) — which has stuck in my head too, hitting very close to home. The pleasures of life grow dim and small as we race toward the end, indeed.

All in all, the acting was generally good, with the characters of Cardinal Wolsey, Anne Boleyn and Thomas More elevating the enterprise. The show seemed to stumble a bit once these magnificent characters left the stage as many did in the reign of Henry VIII, but in a way that too captured the reign itself, as it peaked and then began a slide toward its inevitable end.

But in the final analysis the show captured the essence of Henry VIII, a behemoth (in more ways than one) astride English history — probably the loudest, most colorful of the English monarchs.

Peter Banks, RIP

Sad news for fans of Yes: Peter Banks, a founding member and the first guitarist of the band, has passed away.

His stellar work on the first two albums, back when Yes was much more of a psychedelic-rock band than the prog warhorse they became, was unforgettable. Banks’ genius was his expansive, free-flowing, jazz-inflected lines, as defining as was Steve Howe’s more studied, country- and classical-oriented technical prowess.

Band legend has it that it was Banks who came up with the name Yes, but only as a placeholder until they thought of something better.