When you know the guy ran out of toilet paper at 8:30 am on a Saturday, but didn’t want to put just the toilet paper on his debit card.
And then I got home and it turns out I bought the “wrong” toilet paper.
This Christmas has been tinged with sadness. Rick Parfitt, George Michael…and a man you haven’t heard of named Peter Cavan Sr. I grew up with his son Peter Cavan Jr. Pete was the best man at my wedding, and his dad Peter Sr. always treated me well. The Cavans made me feel like part of the family. In my first year of university, I decided to stay home from the cottage on Thanksgiving weekend, so I could study for my first exam undistracted. Alone that Thanksgiving, Pete’s family had me over for dinner. I’ll never forget their kindness. I always enjoyed Peter Sr.’s stories, of growing up in Germany during the Second World War. Those are tales you don’t hear every day. And he was funny. Peter Sr. was truly funny. Whether intentionally or not, I knew his stories entertained us for many hours over the years. I received the sad message on Christmas morning that Peter Sr. passed after a short battle with cancer, peacefully at home that morning.
So it is with profound sadness that I give you this year’s annual post-Christmas commentary. My entire family knows and loves the Cavans, and we hope Pete and Joanne know we are there for them.
As it does every year, Christmas began early for me, at our office Christmas luncheon on November 25. Just look at that food. When you like the people you work with, an office Christmas party is a very rare and special chance to unwind with them.
My sister hosted Christmas Eve at her new place. What a spread she put out! Cheesey good appetizers, steak fondue, cheese fondue (the surprise winner), and chocolate fondue to boot. The guests had a spirited debate on the merits of CD versus vinyl, with myself being the only holdout who still prefers CD. (I know I’m not alone, just ask rock journalist Mitch Lafon which format he prefers.) My sister did a great job of decorating her tree. Have a gander.
And now, on to the good stuff. Broken down into categories, let’s give’r!
Stuff You Listen To:
I have only played the Rik Emmett so far, given to me by Mrs. LeBrain who met Rik back in highschool as part of her guitar class. Pretty cool! It features a Triumph reunion on the bonus track, “Grand Parade”. The Queen set is six discs of radio recordings. The Rush set I am both grateful for and bitter about. This is the third time I’ve received Rush 2112 as a gift in the last five years! First as part of the Sector 1 box set, then the “deluxe edition“, and now this 40th anniversary edition which has some tracks not included on the deluxe (and a slew of artists covering Rush including Jacob Moon, Alice in Chains and Foo Fighters). However, the 40th anniversary edition doesn’t include the 5.1 surround mix of the album, meaning…you kinda need both. It’s sad that Rush reissues have become so exploitive.
The Keel reissue of The Right to Rock has a bonus track, a remix of “Easier Said Than Done”. And this is my first time owning any version of Jethro Tull’s first album, This Was.
Stuff You Read:
Stuff You Play With:
The Force Is With This Stuff:
Stuff You Watch:
The Sopranos set I orchestrated myself. Sometimes-contributor Thussy and I both always said: “If the blu-ray set drops below $100, we’ll buy it.” A few weeks ago he texted me that Amazon has it on for 24 hours only at just $80! So this Christmas holiday, we will be enjoying some Sopranos and Italian food.
Stuff That Transforms From Stuff Into Robots:
Pictured below are the official Transformers Titans Return Astrotrain figure and a couple very interesting third party figs. These are Masterpiece scale and heavy as fuck with plenty of die-cast parts. Please meet Generation 1 Decepticon Reflector, incarnated here as KFC’s Eavi Metal series “Opticlones”. Representing the Autobots is Dinobot Snarl, produced by the excellent Fans Toys in their Iron Dibots line as “Sever”. I long ran out of room for more Masterpiece figures (especially Dinobots)…but who cares.
Stuff That Flies:
I always wanted to try flying a drone. My mom and dad surprised me with this starter drone, and is it ever a lot of fun. I can almost get it to hover! Getting it to fly in the direction I want is still a challenge. So far there are no serious injuries. Jen has a couple bruises. I think my mistake was calling her into the room when I got it into the air, rather than when I figured out how the controls worked. That was a lesson there.
That’s another Christmas for the books! I hope each and every one of you had a safe and happy holiday. As I think of my friends the Cavan family, I ask you to remember that life is short. Tell the people who matter that you love them. Let’s try and make the world a better place in 2017.
Two reviews for the price of none! For Deke’s review of Kiss Rocks Vegas, click here!
KISS – Kiss Rocks Vegas (3 CD/1 Blu-ray Japanese import, 2016 Eagle Rock)
Kiss put on a hell of a show for their nine gig run in Las Vegas. You could argue that spectacle is 50% of the Kiss experience. That said, the audio has to hold up, and it does. I gave it two spins before review: one at home and one in the car, and only after that did I put on the Blu-ray. As expected, Paul Stanley’s voice is the chink in the armour. But it is the only one. This is one of the most musically capable versions of Kiss ever, and vocally they can’t be touched. When Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer, and Gene Simmons start to harmonize together, it becomes a far stronger beast. This is how Kiss have adapted to Paul’s current vocal shortcomings, and on a whole it works. Check out “Tears Are Falling” for a version of a song that gets a serious boost thanks to these guys singing backup. Now get ready to rock for the next 80 minutes. Of note, some of Paul’s stage raps are trimmed for time on the CD version, as is Gene’s “bass solo”/blood spitting/flying. The video has the whole enchilada.
The audio is clear; Gene’s bass nicely audible and in the pocket. With the 5.1 surround sound cranked, let’s dive into the Kiss Blu-ray, a fine shining example of hi-def rock video. You can try to count the sparkles on Paul’s guitar, when they open with “Detroit Rock City”. Their stage looks like a cross between the Creatures-era tank stage and a Dalek. Giant screens ensure everybody gets a good view, which is a good thing since there is so much going on. From “Detroit” into “Creatures” itself, and then “Psycho Circus”, Kiss started the show with three of their classic openers from three different eras! On screen it’s clear Paul Stanley is still in excellent physical shape. He doesn’t look like someone who’s had a double hip replacement. He hops around a bit, plays guitar between his legs, and dances up a storm as always.
Kudos must be given to Tommy Thayer, who takes many of the flashier solos from 80’s Kiss and adapts them to the style of the 70’s that Kiss tend to ply most. Tommy’s re-imagining of guitar solos and giving them a Frehley-like vibe is one reason to check out new live versions of these Kiss classics. Never to be underrated is Eric Singer, a talent to be reckoned with in this band. His beats are always perfect, but so is his voice. As usual, he sings “Black Diamond” towards the end of the show, with respect and class.
Other setlist highlights:
Gene’s “War Machine” from Creatures (Gene blows fire at the end). Paul’s “Tears are Falling” from Asylum (“Some of you weren’t born in 1985!” says Paul, accurately observing his audience). “Lick It Up”, featuring Kiss’ sometimes-segue into “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. “Hell or Hallelujah”, from Monster. “God of Thunder” with its flying Gene, and playing way up high on a tiny little platform. Paul running out to sing on a catwalk suspended over the crowd on “Love Gun”. All of this is served up with lights, lasers, explosions, levitating platforms and larger-than-life sparkle. Kiss still deliver it.
Admittedly, when there is so much great live Kiss from the past out there, it’s hard to get excited about a new one. (Why watch a 2016 live version of “War Machine” when you can watch one from 1983, 1984, 1988 or 2004?) The added bonus that makes the whole thing hard to say no to is a seven song acoustic set. This is a makeup-free event in a packed conference room. A few more rarities are served up here, such as “Love Her All I Can”. The loose atmosphere is refreshing. They goof around a bit on “Christine Sixteen” (in harmony!) and Paul helps with some forgotten words on “Goin’ Blind”. Just don’t go and compare these with the acoustic ones on MTV Unplugged. That was 20 years ago. Controversially, Eric sings “Beth”. The mitigating factor is that this is a small event for fans and not part of the main Vegas concert. It’s worthwhile to get a version of this release that contains the acoustic portion on the bonus CD.
The Japanese release is an interesting one. Instead of one CD, the Vegas concert is split over two. This is probably because the concert is close to the 80 minimum maximum that a CD can hold, and the Japanese usually adhere to a higher manufacturing standard. They also included a nice T-shirt in a shiny, embossed box.
As usual, any time Kiss release new product, fans will bitch that they’re over the hill. They’ll complain that there are only two original members left, and that Paul’s voice is but a shadow of what it once was. While these things are indeed true, Kiss have found a way to continue on with two talented members helping Paul out with the vocal burden. If you don’t like it, fair play. But let the rest of us continue to enjoy Kiss without your negativity.
1. “Detroit Rock City”
2. “Creatures of the Night”
3. “Psycho Circus”
5. “War Machine”
6. “Tears are Falling”
8. “Lick it Up”
9. “I Love it Loud”
1. “Hell or Hallelujah”
2. Tommy guitar solo
3. “God of Thunder”
4. “Do You Love Me?”
5. “Love Gun”
6. “Black Diamond”
7. “Shout it Out Loud”
8. “Rock and Roll All Night”
CD 3 – Kiss Acoustic
1. “Comin’ Home”
2. “Plaster Caster”
3. “Hard Luck Woman”
4. “Christine Sixteen”
5. “Goin’ Blind”
6. “Love Her All I Can”
Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment. With all apologies to the regular music readers, I decided to post my reviews of the first three Transformers movies, in reverse order. That’s the only way I could have saved the best for last!
TRANSFORMERS (2007 Paramount)
Directed by Michael Bay
J. from Resurrection Songs requested quite some time ago that I post this review. I decided that the only way to post my review of this movie, the first of the loathed “Bayverse” Transformers film, was to do it legit. I wrote up a review for my journal almost 10 years ago that has never been seen by anybody. Back then, I actually liked the movie, and the first is still the best of the series. Let’s look at this thing from the perspective of “then”. Things seemed wide open! Whatever was wrong with the movie could be fixed in the next one, right?
How wrong we were. Read on!
TRANSFORMERS: Not actually much more than meets the eye!
I hate Michael Bay. Period. I hated him when I saw Armageddon, easily the worst excuse for science fiction I’d ever seen. I maintain that anyone seeing that movie is dumber for doing so. It kills brain cells like a shot of Absinthe, straight up. I was predisposed to hating Transformers since Michael Bay directed it, but surprisingly I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it either; it was infinitely flawed. But what I liked in the film, the stuff that they nailed perfectly, was killer.
So what did they mess up so badly that I was cringing? What did they get right? Where did they surprise me?
I am with most people who hated the robots speaking and acting “contemporary”. These are aliens after all, so why Optimus would say “My bad!” when stepping in a flower bed, or why Jazz would talk like Bill Cosby acting hip-hop, I have no idea. Bumblebee “peeing” on John Turturro irked me too. For the record, “peeing” occured twice in this masterpiece of film: Once when Bumblebee unloaded on Turturro’s Agent Simmons, and once when a puppy dog urinated on Ironhide’s foot. (I did like it when he said, “That’s going to rust!” though.) This kind of thing was stupid, juvenile, and out of place even as comedy relief. Granted we’re talking about a movie based on a toy line, but the kids who played with those toys are grown up and have kids of their own now. I would like to think that piss jokes in a science fiction movie are a little passe now. (Although I do own Jackass 1 and Number 2, so call me a hypocrite.)
The storyline was a little weak. The “Allspark” that the Transformers are seeking is nothing more than a McGuffin to drive the plot. Apparently in the hands of Megatron it can do infinite harm, in the hands of the Autobots, it can heal their homeworld of Cybertron. However, in the end, it’s just a box that robots chase each other around for, like a colossal game of Cybertron Football.
The human character of Sam Witwicky as played by Speilberg’s new protege Shia LaBouf was really funny. I don’t know if he had much more dimension than that, though. He’s an awkward teen who wants to get the girl, any girl, but Megan Fox just happens to be available at the right time. When Shia is ready to protect the Allspark with his life (“No sacrifice, no victory!”) it comes a little bit out of left field considering that he rarely showed any motivation beyond getting the girl and staying alive. However, his honest, humourous delivery will make him a star one day. This kid has yet to show what he can do. I am sure he will under Speilberg in Indy 4*. As for Megan “the” Fox, she did little other than live up to her name. She did that very well. However, she didn’t really generate any other feelings in the audience. Lots of gratuitous skin shots.
Bernie Mac had some funny lines, totally over the top. But that’s why they hired a guy like Bernie Mac to play a used car salesman. John Turturro was OK, but you can tell he just phoned in his performance. John Voight, give the man some credit, looked like he was trying. Shame his part was so generic. All the soldiers in the film were pretty much just Michael Bay Soldiers…the same, every film, every time.
The robots had no characters, aside from Optimus and Bumblebee. They could have been fleshed out a lot more, but at least they felt like characters. Megatron was completely wasted, just a really big, mean, bad guy. You couldn’t even tell it was Hugo Weaving voicing him. Peter Cullen did a great job as Optimus, of course. I’m glad about that casting choice.
There were many nods to the past. Most of the characters still transformed into similar forms. Optimus looked amazing. Bumblebee was pefect as a Camaro. Frenzy was no longer a cassette tape, but the basic gist of the robot was the same. Brawl (misnamed “Devastator” in the subtitles…will this be fixed on the DVD version?**) was still a tank. Starscream was no longer an F-15 Eagle, but now a F-22 Raptor…killer update! Scorponok looked amazing in scorpion mode, but had no character to speak of and wasn’t seen in robot mode at all. Shame, that. He was once one of the deepest characters of the old Marvel series.
There was even some dialogue from the past: Optimus says, “One shall live, and one shall fall!”, the same words he said before Megatron killed him in the 1986 Transformers movie. However, twice the words “more than meets the eye” were uttered, making everyone in the audience groan. (It was just as bad as James Cromwell saying, “And you guys are astronauts, on some kind of star trek?” in Star Trek: First Contact.)
There were many nods to the creators. “This is way better than Armageddon!” one character says, with Michael Bay’s penis firmly in mouth. Someone mentioned E.T. in honour of Señor Spielbergo. There were also a small number of original series Star Trek soundbites, since the same dudes who wrote this are also working on Star Trek XI, an original series-era movie.*** (Interestingly, Michael Bay’s cousin Susan is married to Leonard Nimoy.) Some of these things were cool, some were not.
Michael Bay’s directing, as always, was suck-ass. Just for fun I watched Team America a few days before going to see Transformers. All that stuff that is made fun of in that film was in Transformers, in spades! As soon as we hit the desert in Qatar, there’s a piece of “Arabic” music that sounded right out of Team America. All the slow-mo shots interspersed with high-speed action, all the cheesy dialogue, all those over-dramatic camera angles and lighting effects…Michael Bay threw in the kitchen sink, every trick he knew.
I think the coolest thing about Transformers was that it opens up wide what can happen in 2 and 3 (Peter Cullen, Megan Fox, and Shia LaBouf have signed on for two more). Michael Bay isn’t necessarily doing the sequels, so maybe someone with a lighter hand can take over. Slow things down a bit. Let us actually see the robots. The action was mostly so fast and white-washed with explosions and debris that you couldn’t see the robots.
Speaking of the robots, much has been made of their look: People whine that Optimus shouldn’t have flames, the Megatron should transform into a gun, that Bumblebee should have been a VW Beetle. I say, stop whining. These robots look amazing. I’m sure Megatron will look different in the next film anyway.**^
Speaking of the next film: Storywise, it’s already been said that the Dinobots, Constructicons and Soundwave are potential characters for the sequel, opening up story possibilities big time. I’d like to see Grimlock and Optimus clash over leadership direction a little bit like in the old Marvel series. Megatron and Starscream too…their conflict was hinted at. The ending was left wide open for sequels. (Why did the stupid humans believe that Megatron could be disposed of in such an easy way? Foolhardy!)
So there you go. Go get a Coke and a huge tub of popcorn. Enjoy and most importantly, enjoy discussing afterwards with all your geek and nerd friends like I am.
*He did not.
**It was not. Even though Bay introduced the actual character of Devastator in the next film.
***2009’s Star Trek.
**^He did look different, but not any better.
Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment. Apologies to the regular music readers, I’ve decided to post my reviews for the first three Transformers movies…but in reverse order. Because fuck these movies.
Click here for Dark of the Moon.
Directed by Michael Bay
This is a movie to make you say “wow”! Not because it’s great, or the because the CGI effects are any good (they’re not) — just because Transformers 2 mucks things up even more than the first one did.
For example, the robot dialogue is geared towards kiddies, just like the old cartoon was. Then, mixed in the middle of all that kiddie dialogue, is Megan Fox wearing a tank top, then Megan Fox wearing leather chaps, then Megan Fox stripping off those chaps…just who is this movie for? It’s either geared for kids with no consideration at all for throwing all this sexual imagery at you, or it’s geared for adults (males) and really dumbed down.
All that could be forgivable if this movie had a plot, or characters, or even decent visuals. The effects were so bad; clearly the crew only had so much time and budget to finish. So when you see a robot called “The Doctor” manipulate Sam’s (Shia Labouf) face, it looks like something out of Roger Rabbit, or Star Wars Episode I. When robots are getting blown apart, you see little pieces of junk flying off them, but they don’t look real at all — it looks like little cartoon pieces of junk. Everything looks completely fake, except the explosions. Those look real (because they were real) and there are a lot of them, because BOOM Michael Bay BOOM!
So many opportunities here are squandered. The death of a beloved character has no emotion to it; even the pathetic 1986 cartoon movie had more emotion to the scene in question. The Fallen — one of the all time great Transformers villains — is just another bad guy, not the awe inspiring menace he should be. And don’t get me started on the hip-hop-bots. Why does Devastator have genitalia again? Was that really necessary? Like the prior film, the humour was awfully juvenile — Sam’s parents are more annoying than ever, especially his mother (who gets high accidentally) and his roommate is one character that either should never have been written, or killed off in Act 2.
There are some minor shining lights in this movie. John Turturro, as Simmons, is better and funnier than before. There are also lots more robots — dozens. I couldn’t keep them straight!
However that is part of Michael Bay’s problem. His design team makes the robots essentially all look the same, particularly the Decepticons. There are a group of “protoform” Decepticons who arrive on Earth. Since they are “protoforms”, they are actually all identical with the exact same design. Budget wise, you can see how using the same animation model for a whole bunch of ‘Cons makes sense. Visually, it reduced the film to an onscreen mess of flying shit. Oh sure, there were Constructicons, and Insecticons…so what? They didn’t do anything important. The humans, in fact, do all the thinking, talking, leading, and everything else in this movie. The plot only moves forward when the puny humans decide to do something. That isn’t what the original Marvel series envisioned by Bob Budianski and Simon Furman was about. That isn’t even what the cartoon was about. Transformers is about the robots, and yes, they should have some characterization! If the comic book did, surely they can do it in a multi-million dollar movie. But no; either nobody thought to write interesting characters for classic robots like Sideswipe, Arcee, and Ratchet, or they just didn’t have the time to do them properly. Sad.
Plot holes big enough to drive a Peterbilt truck through:
1. A bunch of mini-bots attack Sam in his kitchen, requiring Bumblebee to barely save him. Two minutes later, Sam is telling Bee that he’s all grown up and doesn’t need his protection anymore. Then, just 20 minutes later, Sam does need protection and Bee comes to save Sam from a Decepticon Pretender…but doesn’t actually do anything! He lets the Pretender into the car, and then he just plays annoying songs on his radio and sprays the Pretender with lubricant instead of…I dunno…driving off? Seriously.
2. The tomb of the Primes! Woah! But…as Jetfire explains it, the original Primes sacrificed themselves to create a tomb out of their bodies. Then he continues to exposit, “Only a Prime can defeat the Fallen.” Well, maybe they shouldn’t have sacrificed themselves?
3. The tomb that they sacrificed their bodies to create doesn’t actually do anything. It’s opened with one simple blast.
4. And yes, “Only a Prime can defeat the Fallen,” according to Jetfire. We are not sure why. When the two finally clash they just have a normal-type robot brawl. Nothing special here that any other ‘bot couldn’t do, and Prime needed all of Jetfire’s parts (seriously!) to help him do it!
Since people are going to buy this movie no matter what I say, I’ll draw this review to a close. I have only scratched the surface of the issues with Revenge of the Fallen. Proceed at your own risk. This is a turd.
2/5 energon cubes
Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment. Apologies to the regular music readers, but I’ve decided to post my reviews for the first three Transformers movies…but in reverse order. Because fuck these movies.
Directed by Michael Bay
As I sat there finishing the third Transformers movie, I thought to myself, “Does Michael Bay ever take himself seriously?” I mean, the dialogue here is so juvenile and stupid, the characters are more one-dimensional than ever (how is that even possible?), and every inch of film is so stupidly overblown, it’s beyond ridiculous. It’s like giving very expensive movie making equipment to a child with a Bart Simpson streak. Welcome to the Bay-verse, where one can walk away from a flaming car wreck with no injuries, and no idea what the hell the story is!
The plot, such as it is, revolves around the discovery of Sentinel Prime (voice of Leonard Nimoy and Autobot mentor to Optimus) on our moon by Neil Armstrong and the crew of the Apollo 11. Sentinel has something (yet another “McGuffin” in this series – a generic object that the protagonists and antagonists seek) that can save Cybertron (again). But there’s more than meets the eye and things are not always what they seem! Funny though how Earth always seems to be the epicentre of all Transformers plots and schemes. Are we a magnet for alien assholes?
Though it is the worst of the first three in the series, Dark of the Moon was a marginal improvement in some minor ways. Many of the most annoying characters (Sam’s annoying parents, the hip-hop-bots) are toned down in movie #3. The plot is still a confounding mess in a universe that defies all logic and physics. It’s all there to support a massive end battle that takes up almost half of the movie. Is that battle spectacular to watch? Oh, sure, I guess so. Can it hold your attention? No. After about half of the end battle had transpired, I was begging for this movie to please just fucking end.
I have to say though, Rosie Huntington-Whitely is an upgrade over Megan Fox. Something about British accents. Bad British acting always trumps bad American acting. The cast is rounding out by Frances McDormand (also wasted here), John Malkovich (criminally wasted), Patrick Dempsey (meh) and of course John Turturro who always should have more screen time.
A thudding end to a disappointing trilogy.
Oh, and by the by — no special features! On the Blu-ray! You suck, Bay!
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015, 2016 Lucasfilm Blu-ray DVD set)
When we last saw our heroes in 1983, Evil had been defeated. Seemingly, Luke Skywalker fulfilled the prophecy of the chosen one who would bring balance to the Force, via his father Anakin Skywalker. Appealing to the good still within Darth Vader, the evil henchman of the Empire turned back to the light and betrayed his Sith lord, Emperor Palpatine. The Rule of Two was broken and the Sith were destroyed, along with their ultimate weapon, the second dreaded Death Star. In death, Vader redeemed himself. Luke smiled when he saw the ghost of his father standing next to those of his old masters Yoda and Ben Kenobi. He turned to rejoin his friends in the celebration of victory. Roll credits.
For decades, we were told “that’s it”. That’s the end of the story, said the man who wrote it, George Lucas. Sure there was talk of a sequel trilogy before, even two sequel trilogies! This seemed highly unlikely in 1983 as George was adamant that he was letting Star Wars go to work on other projects. The legacy of a sequel, of “what happened to Luke, Han Solo and Princess Leia later” was left first to novelist Timothy Zahn and then to a whole new generation of writers who filled the galaxy with stories of what came next. Of course, we all knew that should George actually change his mind and allow sequels to be made, all of that old stuff from the books would go out the window. No way was anybody going to try and adhere to continuity that somebody else wrote in a novel.
In 1994 there was hope. Lucas re-emerged and began working on the mysterious and long-awaited Star Wars prequels, Episodes I, II and III. Questions now could finally be answered. Who were the Jedi? Who is Luke Skywalker’s mother, only briefly mentioned before and never seen or named? Most importantly, how did Anakin Skywalker transform into Darth Vader, and why did the Repulic fall to be replaced by an Empire? One of the problems with this situation was that some questions are often best left to the imagination.
It was undeniably wonderful to finally return to the Star Wars galaxy, but it is also impossible to overlook how ill-received by fans the prequel movies were. The stiff acting, the wooden dialogue, the unlikely scenarios and muddled plots of these movies made them difficult to fully enjoy. Although entire cottage industries had grown out of anticipating the possibility of a sequel trilogy, many fans were happy all the same if they never got made. Lucas pooh-poohed the idea, now claiming Star Wars was always two trilogies, six movies, and the story of Anakin. There were no stories beyond that, he continued. It would be fun, he said, to see what Luke and Han were up to later, but ultimately they would just be extraneous to the actual story of Darth Vader. The end.
Quietly and in secret, Lucas once again had a change of heart and began work on the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Realizing that he would not be able to undertake such a massive project at his age, he made the brave choice of handing Lucasfilm over to Kathleen Kennedy, and selling Star Wars to Disney. Lucas’ story and characters were thrown out, but used as inspiration for what would eventually become Episode VII. Artists dug way back into the Ralph McQuarrie archives for inspiration, and so decades-old designs for Star Wars were finally able to leap onto the big screen.
Much of this information is the included documentary, Secrets of the Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey. Though that feature does document the emotion and gravitas of what a sequel really means, it fails to really express the true feeling of it all. For decades, we were told this movie was never coming, but Episode VII was what we all really wanted, not Episode I. After the credits rolled on Return of the Jedi, did we all not grab our action figures of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie and try to play out what happened next? The toy company Kenner tried to come up with new villains (I’m sure “Mongo Beefhead Tribesman” would have been a big hit), and Marvel Comics introduced a new villain called Lumiya, the Dark Lady of the Sith. Mace Windu, Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn did not exist. The truth is, even in 1983, we didn’t really care about prequels. We wanted to know what happened next much more than what came before. So the dual challenge with Star Wars Episode VII was to not only make a movie that continues the story of the Skywalker family appropriately, but also to live up to everything we imagined and played out as kid. No pressure, right?
Director JJ Abrams felt the pressure, but what he and his creative team emerged with in The Force Awakens is everything that fans needed it to be. Not that there were no complaints. The heaviest criticism laid against The Force Awakens is that it imitates the first Star Wars (A New Hope) slavishly. Some derisively refer to The Force Awakens as a “reboot”. The parallels are there, but let us also not forget that Lucas himself tried to make his trilogies “rhyme” with similar circumstances. Did they go too far trying to copy the original?
A cute heroic droid carries a secret message on a desert world that must get back to the heroes. A new young character, a loner who is unwittingly Force sensitive, meets this droid and decides to help it. The desert world is escaped in the Millenium Falcon. They are pursued by the bad guys, led by a Force-using guy in a black mask and cloak with a crimson red laser sword. The bad guys have an ultimate weapon, a planet destroyer, and they use it. Our heroes must stop them from using it again. This large spherical weapon must be blown up, and a battle of X-Wings vs Tie Fighters will decide the fate of the galaxy. An old hero from a prior trilogy makes the ultimate sacrifice. Finally, our young new hero character concentrates to use the Force, and defeats the evil. Roll credits.
That paragraph describes both A New Hope and The Force Awakens perfectly. But a lot has changed, too.
Although we know the events that occurred 30 years prior off by heart, we know very little about what actually took place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Here is what we do know.
After the Battle of Endor and the defeat of the Emperor, Han Solo and Princess Leia had a son named Ben. The Blu-ray special features reveal that Ben Solo was powerful in the Force, but with equal portions of light and dark within him. Director JJ Abrams tells us that the man known as Snoke, a dark side user, had his eyes on Ben Solo from the very start. So, much like his grandfather Anakin Skywalker, young Ben was being watched by a dark side master from the very beginning, and slowly seduced to the dark side. We also know that Luke was training a new generation of Jedi, but that Ben destroyed it all. Luke went into hiding, feeling responsible for his failure. We do not know anything concrete about this Snoke, or where he comes from. All that we know is that he seems very, very afraid of Luke. Ben Solo wants to find the map that leads to Luke’s hiding place. Snoke on the other hand wants that map destroyed if it cannot be recovered. He would rather that Luke never return to the affairs of the galaxy, where Ben is desperate to find that map, and therefore his uncle Luke.
Our new hero, the girl known only as Rey, has a Force vision in the movie that tells us a little bit more about what happened. We see brief clips of a massacre in the rain. Betraying Luke’s students by surprise in the night, it appears Ben, now known as Kylo Ren, has slaughtered Luke’s younglings with the help of his henchmen, the Knights of Ren, about whom we know nothing at all. We glimpse Luke placing his robotic right hand on his trusted droid R2-D2, perhaps shutting him down. And most interestingly, we see Kylo Ren killing someone through the back with his lightsaber, from the perspective of someone down below. Someone small like a child perhaps.
In that vision, which seems to be from the perspective of Rey as a little girl, Kylo Ren appears to be killing one of his fellow Knights of Ren. Is that indeed what is happening? Why did Kylo kill that man from behind? Did Kylo spare Rey from him? And who is Rey?
There seems little question that Rey is indeed a Skywalker. It also seems clear that Kylo Ren knows, or at least feels, that there is more to Rey than anyone else knows. It is Kylo who freaks out every time somebody mentions the scavenger girl from Jakku. Why? What is it about the idea of a girl from Jakku that has him so on edge? Rey is powerful enough to not only resist Kylo’s mind probe, but also reverse it and read Kylo’s mind. “You’re afraid,” she boldly proclaims, “that you will never be as powerful as Darth Vader!” She is strong enough to defeat Kylo Ren, at least semi-trained in the lightsaber, in a dual. Much like three other key characters in Star Wars (Luke, Leia and Anakin Skywalker), she has latent Force talents that are emerging on their own. And this terrifies Kylo Ren, very much. “You need a teacher!” he tells Rey, trying to avoid being bested by a girl. “I can teach you the ways of the Force!”
Kylo Ren is an interesting and complex villain. He has the fiery temper of his grandfather, but even more wild and untamed. His unfinished lightsaber is amaturish and dangerous. Unlike Anakin, he does not feel pulled to the dark. “I feel it again. The call to the light,” he confesses to Darth Vader’s melted helmet in meditation. “Show me again, the power of the dark side,” he begs the spirit of his grandfather. Wait…”again”? What’s this “again” business? When Anakin died, did he not revert to good? It seems highly likely that Kylo Ren’s master, Supreme Leader Snoke, is manipulating him with this Vader business. We will not know for sure until Episode VIII…or IX.
As for Snoke, we know he’s a Force user because we are told that he senses Kylo’s weakness, his compassion. We also know this because he says he’s going to complete Kylo Ren’s training. And that doesn’t sound too good for Kylo! His mucking around, trying to retrieve the map from Rey instead of destroying it in BB-8, caused the First Order to lose their gazollion-credit superweapon, the Starkiller. Think Darth Vader was in shit when he let the first Death Star get blown up? Just imagine the shit that Kylo Ren is in now. That new scar across his face his the last of his worries. When Snoke finds out that he not only got the base blown up, but also let the girl get away and the Resistance find Luke Skywalker…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be Kylo Ren right now. The “completion” of his training will result in an even meaner and more intense Kylo Ren in Episode VIII.
Kylo’s father Han Solo went down a hero in The Force Awakens. Now, true Star Wars fans could have seen this coming right from the day they announced the movie was going to be made. Han Solo was supposed to die in Jedi. At first, George Lucas wanted balance. The victory of the heroes should be balanced by a tragic loss, because that’s life. He eventually backed out of this. It seemed obvious that the idea would be resurrected for The Force Awakens. But for Han to go down the way he did? Perfect. Flawless. Some complain that Han should have had the last word; he did though — his hand on his son’s face says 1000 words.
Chewbacca’s rage in that moment reflected the shock of everyone in the movie theater. Rey and Finn’s shock and sorrow was what we all felt, even though it was telegraphed from a mile away. If those gangsters chasing Solo earlier in the film didn’t hint that his luck was running dry, then the moment Solo walked out onto that catwalk surely indicated it was time for his end. If there is one rule in Star Wars, it’s be careful of catwalks. Have these people not yet invented the safety rail? On Earth, that catwalk would have violated so many regulations that General Hux would have been busted down to Colonel.
The Blu-ray has deleted scenes, and some of them reveal a little bit more detail. In one, Rey is told that Finn is going to be just fine, something left ambiguous in the final film. In another, Kylo Ren and a squad of Snowtroopers board the Millenium Falcon after its crash landing on the Starkiller planet. Knowing Ren would have grown up on that ship, you can only imagine his feelings as he stands in the cockpit. Other cut scenes, like a battle with Finn and Rey using Snowspeeders, would have made the movie drag. So here they are for your enjoyment, and separate from the film on a bonus disc.
The bonus disc also includes interesting bits about the different BB-8 droids that were built for the film, and the various creatures and monsters. Composer John Williams is the star of one featurette. The CG effects are gone over, and so is the end lightsaber battle with Kylo and Rey in the woods. Few lightsaber battles in past movies were filmed in a night time setting. In order to get the reflective glows on film, the actors used actual glowing lightsaber props for the scene. The result is more realistic lighting in a scene featuring many trees and lots of snow. Finally, there’s a bit about the famous “table read”. When the cast were assembled and the script was read in one room for the first time, the photo of this epic “table read” went viral. You may wonder, what did Mark Hamill do during this table read? Did Luke have zero dialogue or not? Good question: Mark read the narration. It’s only a shame the full two hour table read wasn’t included.
That brings us to Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker, the ideal place to leave this epic review. There he was at the end, after 30 years of wondering “What happens to Luke, the only Jedi left in the galaxy?” Hamill’s face speaks volumes of what happened to Luke. Epic pain…sad wisdom…incredible knowledge. Luke has seen these things and much more, and it is in his eyes. His light beige cloak is a sharp contrast to the black clothes we last saw him in. In Star Wars, this communicates a purity awash in the good side of the Force. Whatever he has done in the years since he left, it is implied that Luke has become as powerful as the Emperor predicted. Probably more powerful even than Darth Vader ever was. Supreme Leader Snoke fears Luke Skywalker more than anything the pitiful Resistance can muster. Who do you think gave Snoke those horrific scars on his head? Perhaps the reason Snoke fears the last Jedi so much is that he has tasted the blade of that Jedi.
The Force Awakens may take all its plot cues from the original 1977 Star Wars, and that is a fair critique. As we have shown here, there is also much more to it. There are layers of mystery that are waiting to be peeled. When George made the first Star Wars in 1977, he didn’t know he would ever make another one. There were not as many questions to answer. What Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt came up with here was a story once thought impossible to write. They succeeded in coming up with a sequel idea that continues the story of the Skywalkers, introduces new heroes and villains, and doesn’t seem tacked on or mismatched with the original movies. It feels completely organic and natural. Indeed, The Force Awakens feels far more like Star Wars than any of the three prequels did. That’s something many thought impossible, like making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.
Everybody’s going to buy this Blu-ray, so the only question left is which version to buy? I chose Walmart’s which came in a BB-8 case with a little “trading disc” inside. Only humbug: all those trailers we sat around and watched are not among the bonus features. But there are many versions out there and here’s a breakdown of them:
TED 2 (2015 Universal)
Directed by Seth McFarlane
What happens when you let a bunch of now-grown Star Trek nerds from the 80’s make a movie? Apparently, they make Ted. If you let ’em do it twice, you get Ted 2.
I really don’t know how this works, but Ted 2 provides ample proof of its own Trek-nerdiness. Forget the fact that the climax takes place at New York Comic-Con. Do you realize how many Trek actors appear in Ted 2?
So: McFarlane likes Star Trek. That’s obvious. He likes a lot of stuff, and Ted 2 is less a story than a running series of references to other movies. From Jurassic Park to the cheesy ending to Contact, these characters walk and talk quoting movies all the friggin’ time. It’s all they do! One thing you will see and hear less of going forward: Star Wars in any McFarlane production. According to the audio commentary, the friendly relationship that Seth used to have with Lucasfilm has vanished since they were sold, and Disney have made it pretty clear that further collaborations will not be happening. So you can kiss the idea of a Family Guy: The Force Awakens goodbye.
Unfortunately, characters that quote stuff is as deep as it gets. Mark Wahlberg’s Johnny has divorced Mila Kunis, because she was trying to change him too much. Well, yeah…that was the whole plot of Ted 1. Wahlberg wanted to grow up and marry Mila. Now he decides that’s actually not what he wanted, after fighting for it so hard in the first movie. In Ted 2, we see Marky Mark hanging around with Ted a lot, and we see him getting into plenty of hijacks, but Mark Wahlberg is little more than a non-character sidekick in this one. Ted is Ted; a foul-mouthed Peter Griffin who gets away with it by being a teddy bear. Newcomer Amanda Seyfried steals the movie with her likeable lawyer character, Sam L. Jackson. And yes, she has not heard of the actor Samuel L. Jackson, nor does she pick up on any of Ted and Johnny’s movie quotes, and that’s the driving force of the trio’s interactions. Seyfried is a wonderfully talented actress with a very expressive face, and she easily outclasses everyone she’s in a scene with (except obviously Morgan Freeman). To her credit she’s a good sport about her famous large blue eyes. They are the butt of a few jokes in the movie — the best ones actually. Seyfried is obviously a good shit and I bet she’s fun to have a beer with. She also gets to sing, and that award-winning voice performs the original theme song “Mean Ol’ Moon”.
The plot, such as it is, was inspired by the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man”; I shit you not. This is even acknowledged by McFarlane in the commentary. Ted and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) have been married a while but it’s not working out. So, they do what every struggling couple in America does to heal their relationship: have a kid. At first, you think the movie will be about Ted and Marky Mark getting into hijinks and capers, trying to steal donor sperm from demigods like Tom Brady. Then it awkwardly shifts to a legal slant, with Ted having to prove he is a person and not property in a court, just like Lt. Data did in Star Trek. Data had Captain Picard to defend him, and McFarlane says that Amanda Seyfriend’s opening comments in the courtroom scene were inspired by Picard’s.
In Star Trek, if Data were declared to be property, then Starfleet could have cut him open to mass produce intelligent androids to serve as a working class. In Ted 2, Giovanni Ribisi’s evil Donny wants to do something similar. He convinces Hasbro that they can take Ted, and cut him open to see what makes him tick, and repeat the magic. Billions of dollars would be made. All this hinges on him being declared property in court. There would be few repercussions for Hasbro to steal a teddy bear, compared to a person, to dissect it!
You have to give McFarlane credit for a great Mel Brooks-inspired opening musical number, and a brawl finale. You have to admire Amanda Seyfried’s abilities, and Pantene Pro V-perfect hair. Otherwise Ted 2 is a lazy retread. I don’t mean “lazy” in the sense that it wasn’t hard work. It clearly was hard work making this movie, doing the perfect CG bear and motion capture. The reason we don’t talk about the bear much is that he seems perfectly real at all times. No, I mean “lazy” in the writing. There are plenty of funny jokes, situations, and lines. There are no characters we care or even know much about. How did Seyfried’s Sam, age 26, become a lawyer who can play guitar and sing better than 95% of the ladies currently in the top 40, all while suffering debilitating migraines that require her to constantly smoke marijuana? How??? It’s hard to get involved in the characters when they’re so obviously not human, and I’m not referring to Ted! How does Marky Mark support himself? Does he still have a job? We never see him at work.
Best gag: A Liam Neeson cameo. Stay tuned for the post credit scene.
Special features: Unrated version of the movie, audio commentary, gag real, deleted scenes (mostly alternate lines from scenes in the movie), and plenty of making-of featurettes. The “Creating Comic-Con” feature was interesting, from a Trek nerd point of view. Check out how they made that giant starship Enterprise that hangs from the ceiling. It’s just based on a model that McFarlane had on his desk!
Blu-ray annoyance: These text info-boxes advertising other movies pop up on every menu, unless you specifically look for the setting that turns them off. That’s…mildly vexatious.
Joke tagline: Ted 2 – more of the same, but now with Seyfried! Whose last name I can now pronounce correctly, thanks to the commentary.
GETTING MORE TALE #458: The LeBrain 2015 Christmas Extraganza! – full report
Scraps of turkey remain, wrapped in tinfoil, awaiting soup or sandwiches to be made. The cranberry sauce, if not used up, has been thrown out along with a mountain of cardboard and paper packaging. Bank balances are lower, but hearts are fuller. Christmas has come and gone.
Here we sit on the Monday after, hopefully still on vacation, to enjoy the spoils.
The first thing I need to address personally is this: Happy birthday to my sister Kathryn! Kathryn requested a birthday review this year, but unfortunately I just have not had the time to do it. I will review her request sometime in early 2016!
The first Christmas gift that I opened came in the mail from Aaron who sneakily did this even though he certainly didn’t have to! And I know he has sent Christmas gifts to other folks in the community. What a generous lad! I know he loves to hear about how we react to his surprises, so I had Mrs. LeBrain record mine. This was done on the evening of the 22nd. Thanks Aaron!
You can’t have too many Kiss shirts! And that Flying Colors blu-ray is going to be amazing. In fact I’m already arranging a group screening for review purposes!
On the 23rd, we had a half day at work, and a huge Christmas feast for lunch. This was catered in by a company called Platters that we’d never tried before. It was easily the best catered meal we have had in my eight Christmases at the company. Lots of laughs and handshakes, and then by 1:00, most people had taken off for the Christmas break. For some of us though, a long day was still ahead! We had taken on a job that was new to us only a week before. The job had to be completed and shipped on the 23rd, so we had a skeleton crew left, working hard to get this accomplished. I was responsible for coordinating the customs paperwork, and so I was among the stragglers. Around 5:00, the job was finally completed and I crawled home exhausted to begin my holiday. It sure felt amazing to walk in that door!
Mail had arrived, and in the box was Marillion’s latest fan club-only Christmas CD! Free gifts given only to fan club members, I collect these things which are true rarities. I’m only missing the first two (1998 and 1999). This year is a double live called A Monstrously Festive(al) Christmas.
On December 24th, Christmas Eve, it was so warm outside that I was wearing shorts. In all my years I have never seen a Christmas without any snow. This was the first. We’ve had blizzards and mild weather but nothing like this!
Over the course of the next 24 hours, there were some pretty damn cool gifts given and received. Here are the musical highlights. All are still sealed, so as to savour every delightful moment. As usual, I have some intensive listening to do in the weeks and months to come. Do you see something here you’d like reviewed?
It’s a very Purple Christmas this year! Hard Road is a 5 disc box set containing the first three Purple albums with bonus tracks, and also the rare original mono mixes, which I have never heard before. This renders even the best remastered versions of the early Purple CDs obsolete. I need someone to gift them to! As for the Rainbow, and Wacken sets…this is a lot of hours of music. Include that Flying Colors double live as part of my Purple Christmas!
The live rock continues:
Two new releases and one classic. Many more hours of incredible musicianship to be had right here. But what’s Christmas without some kind of crazy deluxe edition boxed set?
I originally acquired Too Old to Rock ‘N’ Roll in 2012, so I don’t know it very intimately. I do like it though, so why not go for the whole hog? This box set contains: the original album, the previous bonus tracks with a bunch more on top, the original quadrophonic mix transferred to DVD for the 4.0 quad experience, a TV special, bonus video features such as a tribute to the late bassist John Glascock, and lots more. Go big or go home!
Then we have this massive Led Zeppelin book set, The Ultimate Collection by Chris Welch, including a DVD and an enormous amount of reproduction memorabilia:
Sheer overload! When am I going to have time to go through all this? I only have a week off!
Fortunately, I have already enjoyed these two movies, Ted 2 and Ant-Man. Great way to enjoy Boxing Day.
New Transformers and nerd-stuffs also arrived chez LeBrain. My mom even bought me a
selfie stick Nerd Stick. Look at the aerial photo I took of her Christmas village! In fact, the only snow in town could be found in her Christmas village.
Finally, I needed a new coffee mug. I need a cup that can comfortably hold 12 oz. Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom delivered, with my brand new Vader mug. Dark side or not, that’s just a light roast inside him. This is actually quite a nice mug, with silver paint applications on Vader’s mask. It’s odd to see the Disney logo on anything I own, but there it was on the box. I believe that Lord Vader will be accompanying me as I journey through the light and dark sides of live music sets!
I hope everyone had a merry, merry Christmas. Next up: the new year. And you know what that means! Year end lists! Next time on Getting More Tale.
GETTING MORE TALE #457: Making the Best Buy
(Or, making lemonade from lemons)
In Getting More Tale #326, we lamented that the once-mighty retail chain Best Buy isn’t what it used to be. This time, we’ll take a look back at the store’s history.
Who doesn’t love those fact-filled Uncle John’s books and calendars? Here’s the entry for December 2 2015. Before reading this I had no idea, nor did I really care how Best Buy started. Uncle John changed my tune:
Back at the Record Store days in the early 2000’s, the Boss was bracing for a new Best Buy store to open nearby. He figured that we’d probably feel some short term pain, but in the long term the store should draw more customers to the area and we’d benefit from their presence. He also strongly encouraged us not to shop there, a big US chain edging into our turf.
I tried to avoid shopping there at first, but the convenience was too much to resist. When I needed printer ink, computer supplies, or a new movie release, they were right there, and they usually had everything I came in for. That made it hard to avoid. I still tried to shop locally — I remember making special trips to Steve’s TV in Frederick Mall to buy the Star Wars trilogy on DVD. Between big items like TV sets, and small ones like candy, I know I have easily spent thousands of dollars at our local Best Buy stores. They also had hard to find items, such as the rare ZZ Top box set that came in a little box shaped like a barbecue shack (Chrome, Smoke & BBQ). The guilt felt for shopping a big US conglomerate was tempered by the savings and convenience.
That was then. As mentioned in chapter #326, Best Buy took a serious dump a few years ago. Still, a few weeks back, I had the chance to stop by one with my friend and sometimes contributor, Thussy. We had an hour to kill before a work dinner, so we popped into Best Buy, prepared to spend money if they had something we wanted. We spent an hour in the store, but no dollars.
The one thing I would have bought would have been the new Adele CD, 25, for my mom. (Yes, it’s for my mom.) I know Best Buy pretty much cut audio CDs from their stores completely, but hey, it’s Adele. Worth a try, right? Even my grocery store has the new Adele. Best Buy did not have the new Adele. I wasn’t really surprised.
We were tempted by some of their blu-ray deals. We saw a reissue of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I have already bought thrice, no more no less, over the years: VHS, DVD, and special edition DVD. This new version was a blu-ray, with the same features as the DVD, but a neat little castle set and plastic animals to catapult over it. Very tempting indeed. But both of us said no. We survived their $7.99 cheapie blu-ray bin without spending a penny. The only thing that was almost a serious temptation was that new remote controlled Star Wars Sphero BB-8 toy. It was $180, and it is definitely a neat little toy. But what the hell was I going to do with it? With a big record shopping excursion in Toronto on my horizon, the $180 would be better saved.
It was a pleasant trip to Best Buy, and we marvelled at all the new televisions and gadgets. We were asked by one pleasant employee if we needed any help, and only once, which is exactly how you want it.
Best Buy, what happened to you? Obviously, their story didn’t end with opening 1000 superstores. They continued to grow, by acquiring other electronics and music retail chains, such as Sam Goody. Their presence in Canada was felt in 2001, when they bought out our own, similar chain: Future Shop. That’s when they began horning in on our territory, and freaking out the Boss. They continued to expand and acquire, and their services such as the Geek Squad became household names. It seems this is where Best Buy and I parted ways, as they focused more and more on electronics, and less on the media that I often came in for. They bought mobile phone stores and services, and became the first non-Apple distributor of the iPhone in 2008. Phones, game consoles and tech support took over the spaces once designated for music. Meanwhile online, Best Buy’s on-demand movies, improved web sales services, and quick delivery began to dominate. I bought my laptop online, and it was at my door to me a few days later in the post. Around 2010 however their sales began to dip, but Best Buy shed some weight in order to continue to survive.
It just hasn’t happened with much of my help.
This year, Best Buy’s Canadian acquisition Future Shop bit the dust. I hadn’t done much shopping there lately either, for the same reasons as above. The two stores were all but identical, and sometimes existed side by side! It was no wonder they shut their doors. Others re-opened under the Best Buy banner, but it was a major hit for the company.
I think Best Buy will continue to exist, but as online ordering and home delivery becomes the norm, I think the stores will be able to shrink in size and survive. Large items like televisions might remain in-store for customers to try out, or to pick up after ordering online. Small items like movies might be phased out altogether, since Amazon’s own home delivery is the king of convenience.
I will continue to watch Best Buy, and sure, I’ll be cheering from the sidelines. I would very much like to buy something cool at a great price from them again, some day.