It’s with no small amount of irony that I, of all people, compose this list of hate against George Lucus’ Star Wars prequel trilogy. During their production, as each released, and in the years since, I have been quite the prequel apologist. There are several aspects of the films which deliver, and perhaps that will make for a follow-up to this list in the near feature. However, with the knowledge that six new Star Wars films are coming in as many years, and seeing how Disney has thus far chosen to treat the property, the flaws of the prequel trilogy seem more relevant than ever.
On the one hand, these criticisms serve as warnings for J.J. Abrams and the rest of the creative team working on Episode VII, the film which will set the tone for those to follow. On the other hand, it’s a testament to the enduring legacy of the Star Wars brand that the franchise may yet flourish despite these missteps.
Here are the top 10 reasons the Star Wars prequels sucked:
Next year stands poised to break box office records. So many successful franchises have highly anticipated releases in 2015 that you may need to make a category in your budget just for tickets and concessions. It’s going to be huge, due not just to the franchises themselves, but the circumstances under which many of them have returned.
Expectations are high and, with this much competition, damn well better be met. Here’s our top 10 most anticipated movie releases coming in 2015.
Hugh Jackman has done a bang up job of building a career beyond his bread and butter role as X-Men’s Wolverine. Next year, he goes full bad guy in Joe Wright’s take on Neverland, Pan. A prequel to the classic we know, Pan will tell how the titular boy adventurer came to be. Tron: Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund will play an up-and-coming James Hook. It sounds like he may have a rival/mentor in Jackman’s Blackbeard.
In the above interview, actor Nonso Anozie tells about his experience working with Jackson, Hedlund, and Wright. He also offers some insight into his new character, Bishop.
The month of July produced a bevy of movie trailers for releases we can look forward to in the fall. The holiday season tends to be where studios place releases they stand most proud of, a showcase for the Academy Awards. That said, there are also some good old-fashioned popcorn flicks on this list, the top 10 most popular trailers released throughout July.
10. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga comes to its presumptive close with this final chapter of The Hobbit film adaptation. Perhaps you’ve been putting off upgrading from your old DVDs to The Lord of the Rings trilogy on Blu-ray in anticipation of the inevitable super-mega-funtime edition of the complete Middle Earth anthology.
News that 2012’s The Unexpected Journey would be the first of a new trilogy adapted from the relatively short J.R.R. Tolkien novel evoked suspicion that Jackson and the studio were stretching to wring every last bit of cash out of the franchise. But The Desolation of Smaug redeemed that impression, demonstrating that there was indeed enough story to warrant three films. This final entry looks poised to begin with a bang and sustain the novel’s climax throughout its running time.
The whole point of a defamation suit is to seek reparation for damage done to your reputation. Indeed, in the wake of his shockingly successful defamation suit against the estate (read: widow and children) of American Sniper author Chris Kyle, former Minnesota governor turned conspiracy peddler Jesse Ventura declared that his reputation was restored. But restored to what? This guy wasn’t exactly a pillar of the community before Kyle claimed to have punched him in a bar. Here’s ten ways Jesse Ventura ruined his reputation without Kyle’s help.
10. Wrote a Conspiracy Book on the JFK Assassination
Jesse’s status as a conspiracy peddler will make repeat appearances on this list. It’s quite a downshift from governor of a state, and yet the path Ventura chose upon returning to private life.
Confirmation bias marks the conspiratorial mindset. It’s easy to latch faithfully onto information which appears to verify your presumptions, and just as easy to flatly dismiss information which contradicts your biases. Jesse exhibits that well in this exchange with former CNN host Piers Morgan.
Note: Some of the videos on this list are not safe for work.
Fresh off the conclusion of its third “season,” the ongoing YouTube production of Epic Rap Battles of History has established itself as an online phenomenon. What began as a clever collaboration between two musically inclined friends has ballooned into a prime example of how to produce viral videos. YouTubers Nice Peter and Epic Lloyd have created an interactive platform which has attracted the participation of fellow YouTube celebrities and even some mainstream stars. It’s been so successful that they were tapped to market the latest Assassin’s Creed video game and promote hit AMC television shows. They even got to meet with the president.
If you haven’t come across Epic Rap Battles of History before, here’s your chance to check them out. Personalities from pop culture, politics, and history collide in rhythmic battles to boast and belittle. The results are often hilarious. Here’s the Top 10 Epic Rap Battles of History.
#10. Moses vs Santa Claus
This had to be a big moment for Nice Peter and Epic Lloyd. Having Snoop Dogg (or Lion, or whatever he’s calling himself these days) featured in an epic rap battle lends a legitimacy which could not be acquired in any other way. He steps naturally into familiar territory. It would have been easy to let his presence overwhelm the project, but this back and forth between Moses and Santa Claus delivers enough laughs from each to succeed on its own merit.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken a lot of flak, even before it premiered. PJM’s own Scott Ott declared “no interest” in the series despite loving its source material. I confess to holding my own doubts regarding a superhero show without superheroes. However, unlike Ott, I was willing to give the series a chance. After watching the first season in its entirety, I’m glad I did. Here are 10 reasons to take a look at Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
10. Cinematic Action
Certain shows have come along in recent years to demonstrate that the small screen can nonetheless explode with cinematic action. Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica comes to mind, a genre show which looked better than many films from past years.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes a similar case for the possibilities of televised entertainment. In essence, it’s an international spy thriller, much of which takes place in the enormous aircraft our heroes call home. The special effects, while lackluster here and there, largely do justice to their Marvel cinematic pedigree.
Now if we can just get a live-action Star Wars series, life will be good.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial style in his debut Don Jon proves a bit jarring. But that fits the blunt, vulgar character he plays in the lead. You have to endure Don Jon to see it for what it is. It tramps deliberately through cliché expectations before finally defying them. Along the way, it explores 10 barriers to healthy relationships encountered in real life.
10. Overvaluing Appearance
As Don Jon begins, Gordon-Levitt’s title character establishes himself as a porn-addicted philandering bachelor whose tastes prove highly superficial. He spends a lot of time at the gym maintaining his physique, and takes great pride in the appearance of his “pad.” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with nutrition, exercise, and cleanliness. It’s Jon’s motivation which deserves scrutiny.
On the prowl with his pack of like-minded friends, Jon rates women at the club on a scale of 1 to 10, basing his assessment solely on physical attributes. Upon meeting his match in the stunning Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), Jon rates her a perfect 10. It’s her sultry appearance that drives Jon to pursue her, and blinds him to the uglier aspects of her personality.
This month sees a new feature here at PJ Lifestyle, our review of movie trailers promoting upcoming theatrical releases. This will be a work in progress, guided heavily by your feedback and insight. So don’t hold back.
To kick things off, we present a list of the top 10 movie trailers released in June, based on their online popularity. There’s a surprising mix of several-hundred-million-dollar would-be blockbusters and smaller independent films, everything from chick flicks to the epic actioners you might expect. We begin with:
10. Very Good Girls
Two actresses work to advance their careers in this sexually charged coming-of-age drama. Dakota Fanning continues to shed her child star image, while Elizabeth Olsen continues to distinguish her individual brand from that of her more widely known elder sisters. The two play girls who “make a pact to lose their virginity during their first summer out of high school,” a plan complicated when they both pursue the same man.
Both Fanning and Olsen have portrayed older roles, and this may seem like a step backwards but for the mature subject matter. Peter Sarsgaard looks to turn in another performance as a pervy creeper, something he’s quite good at. The film also stars Demi Moore, Richard Dreyfuss, and Marvel’s Agents of Shield lead Clark Gregg.
Despite my largely public education, I still learned a few things by accident. My favorite subjects were Social Studies and English, which figures for a kid who grew up to be a political writer.
Over the years, I was exposed to a number of fiction stories which I resisted at first but grew to love. It’s something I recall whenever trying to convince my finicky five year old to try new things.
Here are ten books, films, and plays which grew on me after being forced down my throat. They’re presented in ascending order of my personal enjoyment, not necessarily their critical or literary gravitas.
10. My Fair Lady
Yeah, yeah, go ahead with the jokes. I like The Sound of Music too. It’s a brave new post-modern, genderless world, or something. Get over it.
Despite its feminine trappings, the story at the heart of My Fair Lady emerges from unbridled masculinity. What else would you call a gentlemen’s bet that an unrefined flower girl could be transformed into a convincing lady of high society through an act of male will? It’s a theme so reliable that it’s become a cliché used in romantic comedies to this day.
This was also my introduction to Audrey Hepburn, who ain’t too bad to look at.
Here’s what we know about the future of Star Wars on the big screen. Director JJ Abrams and his cast and crew are currently weaving dreams at Pinewood Studios in London, headlong into production of Star Wars Episode VII. We’re going to get Episodes VIII and IX to complete a third trilogy. There will be a couple years between each new episode of the saga.
But Lucasfilm has also confirmed at least three “stand-alone” films which will release between the main episodes. The stated goal is to have a new Star Wars film every year starting in 2015. Gareth Edwards, the man behind the lens of the new Godzilla, has been tapped to direct the first of these stand-alone films. Josh Trank, director of the found footage superhero pic Chronicle and the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, will helm the second.
Rumors have been circulating regarding the subject matter of these stand-alone films. The conventional wisdom, or perhaps just the communal wish, is that we’ll get films focused on popular characters from the franchise.
Assuming the purpose of these stand-alone films will be to flesh out the broader mythology of the fictional universe while remaining anchored to the core saga, here are ten stand-alone Star Wars films fans would love to see.
#10. Jedi Master Dooku
As the Star Wars prequels progressed, the Sith menace took phantom forms. One such manifestation was Darth Tyranus. Known by that name to few, Tyranus was known to the galaxy as Count Dooku.
Dooku’s choice to abandon the Jedi Order, reclaim the wealth and title of his birth, and rally opposition to the Republic led directly to the Clone Wars and the rise of the Empire. A prototype of Vader, Dooku once commanded the highest respect and confidence from his Jedi peers, before turning against them and everything they represent.
In the prequels, we learn far more about Dooku from what others say about him than from what we witness firsthand. A stand-alone film exploring the arc of this Jedi swordmaster turned Sith lord would add layers of depth to one of the saga’s most under-utilized characters.
If you love movies and everything about them, you owe it to yourself to follow AMC Movie Talk, a daily web show headlined by AMC Movie News editor John Campea and a rotating cadre of entertainment experts. As marketing moves go, you would be hard pressed to come up with a better way to develop brand loyalty for a theater chain than feeding fans a steady stream of incisive commentary about every movie news tidbit that comes across the wire.
More than that, what I really appreciate about AMC Movie Talk is the insight consistently offered into the business side of the industry. Campea and company are fans like you and me, and that comes across in how they regard the films they discuss. But they are also industry professionals, and therefore bring a perspective to the process that most people lack.
The above clip highlights one such moment. A viewer writes in to ask the AMC Movie Talk crew why celebrities charge fans for personal appearances, autographs, pictures, and the like. The emailer writes:
Most of them have millions of dollars already from their work. I don’t see why they charge their fans to meet them, because it seems like it’s done out of pure greed. [Punctuation added.]
The response from around the AMC table lands right on point. Campea cuts to the chase, noting that actors and other celebrities take time and attention away from other activities which they value in order to meet fans at public appearances. “Everybody who’s not a millionaire thinks that people who have money should do everything for free… But if we’re really rational about it, I don’t think that’s the case.”
Film director Jon Schnepp points out the folly of assuming that every celebrity must be a millionaire. Even considering the few that are, does their wealth grant fans some claim upon their time and attention?
Commentator Miri Jedeikin adds that these public appearances where celebrities interact with fans factor into their job. It’s an aspect of their profession for which they ought to be compensated, provided the demand exists to pay for their time. In fact, charging for meet and greets helps control the demand. “Imagine if it were free,” Jedeikin says. “The line would be five days long.”
It’s one of those interchanges which demonstrates that Hollywood proves far more conservative and rights-affirming in their daily practices than in the fashion of their expressed politics. The emailer’s angst at celebrities getting paid for meet and greets jives well with the rhetoric of the radical left who believe people with ability ought to work for free in the service of perceived need.
If you watch AMC Movie Talk long enough, you’ll encounter this kind of stealthy, countercultural conservatism on a regular basis. It may not be intended as such by Campea and company. But it proves immensely satisfying nonetheless.
In this brief but powerful message about Christian evangelism, pastor Jeff Vanderstelt looks past the logistics of church organization and any crafty rhetorical tricks to the heart of what properly motivates the Great Commission.
I’ve never had to tell somebody to talk about somebody they love. They know how.
If you have to train people how to talk about someone they love, they don’t love them.
That insight proves useful for highlighting the idols in our lives. What people or things are we eager to evangelize? What topics dominate our conversations with others? Who dominates our thoughts? The answer reveals who and what we love.
Tabling for the moment how lackluster the prequel films were, recall both the anticipation leading up to The Phantom Menace and the sense of finality which accompanied Revenge of the Sith. For me, those two moments — waiting for the Episode I reel to roll and, six years later, contemplating that I was about to see a new Star Wars film for the last time — define the bittersweet agony of Star Wars fandom in the Lucas age.
For decades, Star Wars was three movies released years apart with contradictory spin-off stories scattered throughout an “Expanded Universe” of books, comics, and video games. When the prequels were announced, it gave fans a reason to live. I remember actually thinking, “Please God, let me make it to 2005 to see this thing through. Then I can die.”
Perhaps that heightened sense of anticipation, fostered by a long drought of new adventures, magnified the disappointment of the prequels. Maybe fans would have endured Episodes I through III with more grace if they knew they might someday get more.
That’s the point writer, director, and big-time Star Wars fan Kevin Smith makes in the above interview with IGN alongside friend and frequent co-star Jason Mewes. He points out the stark contrast in development between when Lucas owned Lucasfilm and the property now under Disney.
They got the right idea now. Instead of treating it like champagne – like, “We’re gonna bring it out once every hundred years, a new cask of Star Wars” – these [guys] are like, “We’re gonna milk it to death.”
Let’s say they make twenty, and ten of them are great, and five of them are okay, and five of them are dog shit. F— it dude, that’s twenty more Star Wars movies than we were ever going to have in this lifetime.
Some of the best Star Wars storytelling and cinematics have come out of video games like The Old Republic or The Force Unleashed which were not personally directed by Lucas. It stands to reason that similar success will eventually grace the screen among Disney’s many planned films in the franchise. With something new consistently on the horizon, the stakes for each installment will be lowered. That may enable us to enjoy them more.
Recently, my wife approached me with the unwelcome news that our health insurance plan — which we like — will likely be cancelled next year. Her employer, a healthcare provider, generously provides benefits even for those working part-time. Due to the devastation wrecked upon the industry by Obamacare, they anticipate the need to drop coverage for all employees working less than 60 hours per pay period. My wife works 56. Since my employer’s offering proves virtually worthless, far too expensive for far too little coverage, we will be left effectively uninsured.
We may consider Samaritan Ministries as an alternative to insurance. Resembling the mutual aid societies which were common throughout America before the rise of the welfare state, Samaritan Ministries operates as a “health care sharing” service. Here’s how it works:
Each member commits to sending a set “Share” amount each month. These “Shares” are sent directly through the mail from one household to another, to the members with “Needs”. Samaritan Ministries uses a database that randomly matches Shares to Needs, so that the Sharing is coordinated and Shares go to the appropriate members with Needs.
Born to a world dominated by employee-provided health insurance, we may find the notion of health care sharing bizarre or even suspect. But is it really any more odd than our rapidly corrupting government?
It’s with some irony that a Christian ministry has essentially gone Galt. While Ayn Rand may have balked at the religious context in which Samaritan Ministries operates, she also may have tipped her hat at their defiance of convention.
The service “even satisfies the Federal health care law’s (Affordable Care Act) requirement that you have insurance or pay a penalty-tax (see 26 United States Code Section 5000A, (d), (2), (B)).”
Would you consider a health care sharing service like Samaritan Ministries? How might the business model be applied to other needs?
Will the Justice League film be able to compete with The Avengers? That was the tagline for this post, inviting readers and contributors to debate whether DC or Marvel has created the more compelling fictional universe. The formally proposed question was:
Who will ultimately triumph in the superhero battles to define the genre? Does Marvel with Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men set the standard? Or does DC with Batman and Superman provide a better model for aspiring comic and superhero creators?
As a lifelong rabid fan of both Superman and Batman, I want those properties to succeed. However, if I am going to be objective about it, I have to concede that Marvel not only will win the battle to define the comic book film genre – they already have.
Some say imitation is the highest form of flattery. If we make our assessment based upon who imitates who, then Marvel leads the day. DC seeks desperately to clone the achievements of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. It can be seen in the rush to cram as many characters as possible into the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman, ramping up quickly toward the debut of the Justice League. Would DC be so eager were it not for the massive success of The Avengers? In a business where there’s one Deep Impact for every Armageddon, probably not.
This modern relationship is ironic considering that DC predates Marvel and retains the oldest characters with some of the most tried and true narrative conventions. Spider-Man creator Stan Lee has confessed that he was inspired by Superman. But today, the Man of Steel seems to follow where Lee’s creations lead.
A decent popcorn flick, Man of Steel was certainly the most entertaining Superman film in decades. But that’s not saying much. Once the comic book king of the silver screen, Superman graces scant few films on any “best of” list. Batman has fared much better, but has remained largely sequestered from other heroes. Particularly in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman works because he could be anybody.
What is Gotham anyway? That’s been the question surrounding the upcoming FOX series set in Batman’s hometown.
Early reports indicated the show might be a police procedural centered on the exploits of police detective and future commissioner Jim Gordon. Then came news that producers had secured the rights to the entire rogues gallery of Batman villains, everyone from Catwoman to the Penguin. Those latter reports fueled concern that Gotham may be going for a Smallville vibe where all these characters somehow know each other as kids and attend the same high school.
Now we get an “extended” trailer for the show, our first look at what we will actually get come this fall. At first glance, the producers seem to be threading the needle between a hard-nosed cop drama and comic-flavored tween soap opera. Indeed, there will be an adolescent Bruce Wayne, a teenage Catwoman, and a young adult Penguin. The future Riddler and Poison Ivy also appear in a roll call. But the focus seems to remain on Jim Gordon and his introduction to the festering corruption of Gotham City.
One thing the trailer doesn’t make clear is whether or not all these characters will necessarily interact. It may prove better if most of them do not, and we get parallel narratives showing diverse experiences of the city. Given the age range of the rogues gallery, that at least seems plausible.
What say you? Will you give Gotham a chance? How will this series fit with the new DC cinematic universe?
On today’s Fightin Words podcast: Pastor Kevin Erickson of Crosshill Community Church in Virgina, MN joins the program to recap his keynote address to a Republican Liberty Caucus state convention. How should Christians approach political activism?
On today’s Fightin Words podcast: In this “best of” episode, first published 12/12/13, Tea Party coordinator Jake Duesenberg gives an unconventional answer to what motivates his activism. He’s doing it for himself. How you still benefit.
On today’s Fightin Words podcast: Walter’s reaction to learning that his family will lose their healthcare plan next year. Whose equality is served by depriving middle class children of their healthcare plan?
Editor’s Note: I’ve written about what a big influence Dennis Prager has been on me and PJ Lifestyle. I have his show on the radio most mornings while editing and his approach emphasizing the importance of talking about issues well beyond politics including pop culture, religion, male-female relationships, and the big questions of life has influenced the scope of subjects covered at PJ Lifestyle, infusing a diverse range of perspectives. The Prager blend of high-minded, challenging subject matter is only half of the formula. His warm, inviting personality and straight forward presentation make important issues accessible. His show, books, and nonprofit Prager University each model important aspects of what activists and cultural creators should be doing to try and restore this country. Especially important: reach out beyond the conservative choir to people who don’t agree with you. Reframe and recreate arguments in new ways and get beyond just politics — the issues lie much deeper than ideology.
Walter Hudson is a gifted writer-activist I’ve gotten to know the past few years whose work reinvents this inspirational approach for the new media era. In both writing and in his podcast Walter uses culture and creativity to transcend the typical Left vs Right boilerplate arguments. He’s fun to read and listen to and offers fresh arguments with wit and warmth.
Check out Walter Hudson’s podcast Monday-Friday here at PJ Lifestyle and stop by on weekends to get caught up on any you may have missed. Each Saturday we’ll expand this compilation updating it with the newest episodes. In this week’s installment I’ve decided to expand it to include links to some of his articles too, both recent commentaries and his first greatest hits collection published last weekend.
What would you like to hear Walter discuss in future podcasts? Do you have any challenges to his ideas? Please leave you suggestions in the comments. -Dave Swindle
5 Compelling Cultural Commentaries From the Past Few Weeks:
20 Podcasts on Culture, Religion, Values, and Tea Party Activism
10 of Walter Hudson’s Greatest Hits:
1. March 2, 2012:
2. May 9, 2013:
3. April 18, 2013:
4. July 17, 2012:
5. July 6, 2013:
6. July 13, 2013:
7. January 29, 2013:
8. January 31, 2012
9. September 2, 2013:
10. March 7, 2013:
Listen to Part I here.
On today’s Fightin Words podcast: Continuing discussion with constitutional scholar Dave Benner on the temptations and hazards of the National Popular Vote state compact.
On today’s Fightin Words podcast: Constitutional scholar Dave Benner joins the show to discuss a compact making its way through state legislatures which would effectively nullify the Electoral College.
We might be witnessing one of the most clever viral marketing schemes of all time. Could there be method behind the madness surrounding the casting of Star Wars Episode VII?
Lucasfilm, now a subsidiary of Disney, dropped their big casting announcement on Tuesday. Along with “the Big Three” of the original trilogy – Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford – the cast of new characters included several men and only one woman, the virtually unknown Daisy Ridley. By Wednesday, Movieplot was reporting on a wave of anti-patriarchal indignation rolling across social media. A sample:
Eliza Thompson at Cosmopolitan wrote:
There is absolutely no reason why there can’t be new characters added to account for the lack of women in the original trilogy and the newer trilogy.
Annalee Newitz at IO9 quite elegantly wrote:
Myths are powerful things, because we learn who we are by telling stories. When are we going to let little girls and kids of diverse races have fantasies as powerful as those given to white boys?
Here’s the rub. Wednesday also saw a second announcement from Lucasfilm indicating that a second female cast member was yet to be revealed. This proves noteworthy not just in light of the backlash over too few women in the cast, but because previous casting rumors indicated a very different direction than Daisy Ridley. The Huffington Post expounds:
Daisy Ridley appears to have nabbed the role that at one point had Lupita Nyong’o in talks with director J.J. Abrams, as she and Carrie Fisher are the only actresses announced for the movie. More recently, British newcomer Maisie Richardson-Sellers was also reportedly tied to the part, which was described as a “young black or mixed-race woman who may be a descendent of Jedi Knight Ben Kenobi.”
What if HuffPo has it wrong? What if the role Ridley secured was different than the one Nyong’o and Richardson-Sellers were considered for? With “Star Wars Day” approaching on May 4th, are we about to see confirmation of a young black woman in the next Star Wars?
If so, this could be one of the most brilliant viral marketing moves seen in a while. It would have been preconceived to exploit the knee-jerk reactions of progressive culture warriors. Intentionally release news of a male dominant cast. Get the headlines from the announcement. Foster buzz from social backlash. Then announce a black female cast member days later, on a Sunday no less, and dominate Monday with a fresh set of headlines. If someone’s doing this on purpose, they’re a Jedi master of earned media.
Director J.J. Abrams is well known for playing elaborate tricks on fans as part of his marketing of projects. Could he be the force binding this scheme together?
On today’s Fightin Words podcast: They haven’t broken any laws. Yet their bank accounts are being closed arbitrarily. Have porn stars become the latest cultural pariahs to be targeted by the Department of Justice for unequal treatment under the law?