Saturday, November 21, 2015

Oscar Season 2015

As usual I haven't seen most of the contenders yet, but the Oscars have always been more about politics than merit, and we're definitely deep into the season at this point. The various critics' circles will start announcing their nominees soon, followed by the guilds and the other major awards organizations. What am I hoping for this year?

Well, it's going to be an interesting race because there aren't a lot of front runners yet and no clear favorites.  Thomas McCarthy's "Spotlight" has been singled out as a possible winner, but it's a quieter picture with a modest campaign so far.  The populist choices are "The Martian," and "Inside Out," but neither seems to have the support for a win.  We've been hearing a lot about what it took to make "The Revenant," but who knows if it's any good or not.  That leaves us with a lot of films from familiar names that sound like safe bets: Todd Haynes' "Carol," David O. Russell's "Joy," Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl," Quentin Tarantino's "Hateful 8," Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs," and Steven Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies."  There are also some smaller, more interesting titles from relative newcomers in the mix: John Crowley's "Brooklyn" and Lenny Abrahamson's "Room."  I'm also gunning for longshots "Love & Mercy" and "Mad Max: Fury Road."

Best Actor looks like it's going to be a fight between Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Fassbender.  I wouldn't mind if either of them won, because they're both due some recognition.  Eddie Redmayne will almost certainly be back for "The Danish Girl," and I'm guessing Johnny Depp for "Black Mass," since he's gotten enough good press for the role.  Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Bryan Cranston, and Will Smith are all in contention for the last spot.  In the Best Actress race, Brie Larson is our early frontrunner for "Room."  Saoirse Ronan for "Brooklyn," Cate Blanchett for "Carol," and Jennifer Lawrence for "Joy" are also very likely.  The fifth spot is a lot harder because there are so many smaller, actress-led films that tend to fly under he radar but get nominations with a good campaign.  Julianne Moore won with the completely pedestrian "Still Alice," remember.  I'm going to guess that Carey Mulligan swings a nod for "Suffragette."

The supporting categories are a lot harder to gauge, but I'm rooting for Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks for "Love & Mercy," and Jane Fonda for stealing the show in "Youth."  The ones to beat will be Mark Rylance who seems to have bee the only part of "Bridge of Spies" worth talking about, and Rooney Mara for "Carol."  Who I'd love to see in the Best Supporting category, but who will almost certainly have no shot, is Oscar Isaac for "Ex Machina."  Instead, this is usually where we see token nominations for minority actors, like Idris Elba for "Beasts of No Nation" and Benicio Del Toro for "Sicario," or older favorites like Joan Allen for "Room" and Sylvester Stallone for "Creed."  Who ends up with a nomination could depend largely on which picture picks up momentum as we get closer to the deadline.

For the rest of the categories, a miscellaneous assortment of thoughts: Cinematography is going to see yet another Deakins and Lubezki showdown.  I'm rooting for Deakins, just because Lubezki's already won twice.  Otherwise, this would be a good place to recognize Cary Fukunaga for "Beasts of No Nation," and "Mad Max: Fury Road."  In Documentary, the Amy Winehouse profile "Amy" is the frontrunner, and "Going Clear" is going to have to fight simply secure a nomination.  I'm rooting for "The Look of Silence" personally.

In the Foreign Language category, the only major contender seems to be "Son of Saul" from Hungary.  I'm also curious about Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "The Assassin" and the Icelandic "Rams."  For Animated Film, as much as I loved "Inside Out," I'm rooting for Charlie Kaufman's "Anomalisa" sight unseen, because it would set such a good precedent for this category is something for grown-ups finally won.

And then you have all the wild cards and dark horses, of which there are plenty this year. Will controversy help "Truth"?  What's going on with "By the Sea"?  Is "99 Homes" going to get lost in the shuffle?  What about "Concussion," "Macbeth," The Program," and "The Lobster"?

And what of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"?

Friday, November 20, 2015

My 2015 Holiday Wishlist

Dear Hollywood,

It's that time again!  This year for Christmas, I want:

For women directors to get a fairer shake.  Now I understand that there have been some great efforts made in recent months, and I know there are a lot of systemic problems that can't be corrected quickly.  But when you've got the EEOC conducting an industry-wide investigation of gender discrimination, you have to acknowledge that there's something wrong with this picture.  Yes, I know that Ava DeVernay said no to "Black Panther," and Michelle Monaghan said no to "Wonder Woman," but we need to get to the point where female directors turning down these high-profile gigs is no longer newsworthy.  At the time of writing, there are only seven films directed by women on the 2016 movie schedule, two of them animated films.  On television the numbers are better, but still not what they should be.

For the DC films to score some wins.  I still don't know how I feel about Zack Snyder having the reigns for "Batman v. Superman" leading into the "Justice League" movies, but I hope that it does well enough to get the DC cinematic universe back on track.  Keep in mind that we also have David Goyer's "Sinister Six" movie coming, which could provide an alternate avenue of success if the capes end up going down in flames.  As much as I've enjoyed many of the Marvel films, and as much as I'm looking forward to "Captain America: Civil War," it's not healthy for the industry and the superhero genre if Marvel keeps dominating the field like this.  I also have high hopes for FOX's "X-men," which include "X-Men: Apocalypse,"  "Deadpool," and possibly "Gambit," though it's likely that one will be pushed back to 2017 because of production troubles.

For Renee Zellweger to get back on her feet.  A year ago she reemerged after a five year hiatus from acting with a dramatically altered appearance.  I find it very sad that she thought she had to resort to such drastic measures to be marketable again, and we'll see how it's affected her screen work soon.  Zellweger has three films coming out in the next year, including "Bridget Jones's Baby."  While she was never one of my favorite actresses, I really hope Zellweger pulls off this comeback.  I always respected her work, and we need more forty-something headliners like her onscreen.

For Messrs. Sepinwall and Fienberg to regroup and find new podcasting homes.  The sudden cancellation of "Firewall and Iceberg" at the beginning of October was one of the saddest events of 2015 for me, as it was by far the best television podcast out there.  I have no idea how I'm going to get through the midseason without these two.  Oh, and for all the writers from The Dissolve and Hollywood Prospectus to land on their feet.  This was a rough year for the media reviewing community all around.

For the 2016 presidential election coverage to maintain some semblance of sanity.  With Donald Trump involved until the primaries next year, it's going to be tough, and probably very entertaining.  But as I get older, I find that I have less and less tolerance for political shenanigans.  I hope Bernie Sanders holds out for as long as possible, though, if only for more Larry Sanders appearances on SNL.  Thank goodness I've stopped watching live television.

For the return of "The X-files" to go smoothly.  I don't think that the revival is particularly necessary, and there's a pretty good chance that it'll be a disappointment.  The original had some pretty major ups and downs in quality, after all.  I'll be happy with "The X-files" if we get a few decent updates on the "monster-of-the-week" installments, which were always my favorites.  Oh, and if they could clear up what happened to Gibson Praise and the Lone Gunmen, I'd really appreciate that.

For all the new films and television shows coming out this winter and next year to exceed my expectations, and for those that didn't to improve.  Especially "Dr. Ken," because it looks like we're stuck with him for a while.

And for the "Sherlock" Christmas special and the new "Star Wars" movie to be as good as their promos.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Marvelous "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."

There have been so many spy movies this year from "Furious 7" to "Spy" to the latest James Bond movie.  I think I've found my favorite of the year, a loving throwback to Cold War spy films based on the 1964 series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."  Guy Ritchie puts together a stellar group of acting talent, with a lighthearted script, gorgeous locales, and a sensational soundtrack to tie the whole thing together.  There's not as much action in it as some might hope for, but it doesn't lack for excitement.

CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) helps a young woman named Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) escape from Communist East Berlin, hoping that she can help lead them to her father, a nuclear engineer who has disappeared.  A KGB agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), is hot on their tails.  However, having determined that Gaby's father may be working on a nuclear bomb for Nazi sympathizer Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), the CIA and KGB decide to team up, and stick Solo and Kuryakin together as reluctant partners.  They go to Rome, where Gaby's uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) is working for Vinciguerra, to try and infiltrate the operation.  Kuryakin poses as Gaby's fiancé, to her dismay, while Solo poses as an antiquities dealer to cozy up to Vinciguerra directly.  And of course there are dangerous missions, double crosses, daring escapes, a little romance, and a lot of witty banter.

The plot is an overcomplicated jumble, as it was in Guy Ritchie's last "Sherlock Holmes" movie, but here the performances are so much fun, I didn't care.  Cavill's square-jawed Napoleon Solo oozes charm and just the right amount of cavalier nonchalance.  There's a lot of Cary Grant in his performance in a good way.  Hammer's Kuryakin is a sympathetic, if touchy soul, and definitely a co-lead.  It's nice seeing the two of them having some fun after the gloomy "Man of Steel" and the muddled "Lone Ranger."  They make a very good comedic pair, constantly bickering and trying to one-up each other before becoming grudging allies.  The ladies are no slouches either.  Vikander's feisty gamine has no trouble keeping up with the boys, while Debicki's icy femme fatale steals every scene she's in.  After this and "The Great Gatsby," I hope Debicki gets a lot more work, because her presence is fantastic.

Ritchie throws himself into recreating the 1960s as it only existed in the movies, with a playful sensibility that makes it accessible to young and old alike. I've found the director a little hit-or-miss, since he can go overboard with his visual tricks and elaborate stylization.  In "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." I noticed that he has a tendency to repeat gags: something mundane happening in the foreground contrasts with something crazy happening in the out-of-focus background, the narrative doubles back on a scene to insert extra bits of information that makes it play out in a different way, and there are two rounds of split screen montages.  They work most of the time, though, are well executed.  Really, there's little here that I haven't seen in other spy movies, but it's all done with such an admirable level of care and craft.  There's so much retro eye candy, from the fashions to the Roman locales, to the cars.  The substance is lacking here and there, but the style is good enough to carry the film.

I've never seen any of the original "Man from U.N.C.L.E.," but I can't imagine any of the old fans would have any strong objections to the reboot.  It's definitely putting its own spin on the material rather than aping a past success, and more importantly it's not garishly modernized like "The Green Hornet" or "Get Smart."  This is one of the only spy films in recent years that I can think of that really romanticizes the profession of being a secret agent again.  Oh, it's winking terribly whenever Solo drops a double entendre, but there's definitely a nostalgic taste of the old exoticism from the early James Bond days in the mix.  I didn't realize until now that I've been missing it, just a bit.  There are so many spy movies these days, but so little to intrigue.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Going Clear" and "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation"

Oh yes, we're doing this.

I saw the latest "Mission Impossible" movie recently, and it's great fun.  Christopher McQuarrie picked up the reins, and sent the Impossible Missions Force members Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rames), and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) off on another globetrotting adventure with lots of great action set pieces, lots of zippy humor, and all the usual spy shenanigans.  It's always a good sign when you can identify multiple sequences for praise, and here there were plenty - the opera house sequence, the underwater sequence, the crazy car chase, and so on.  Heck, the big airplane stunt that's been at the center of the film's marketing campaign happens in the opening pre-title sequence!  I don't think this was the best installment of the franchise, but it was a pretty strong one, signaling that there's a lot of life left in the almost twenty year-old franchise and Tom Cruise's career.  Rebecca Ferguson got a lot of good notices for playing double-agent Ilsa Faust, but Cruise is clearly still the main event.

And then I had to go and watch the HBO documentary "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief," directed by Alex Gibney, which strongly suggests that Cruise is complicit in some of the worst abuses of the Church of Scientology.  "Going Clear" is an excellent summary of Scientology's long and sordid history, from its origins as a self-help philosophy created by science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard to the soul-sucking runamok cult it's become today.  For those already familiar with Scientology's antics the documentary doesn't offer much new information, but it backs up a lot of the most important claims with riveting interviews with former Scientologists who were high up in the organization, and experienced the insanity first hand.  Some of the most disturbing images came from the Church's internally distributed promotional videos, several of which featured Tom Cruise essentially being worshiped as a Scientology deity - and set to the "Mission: Impossible" theme music no less!  That certainly put a dampener on any enthusiasm I had for Tom Cruise's resurgent career.   

So "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" is now the latest sad, stark example of good media coming from distasteful talent.  Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby are the usual names we should bring up in these conversations, of course.  The individual viewer can (and should) draw their own conclusions from the material presented in "Going Clear" as to how much responsibility Tom Cruise has for the amount of power and influence Scientology currently enjoys, and whether they want to keep supporting his movies.  Personally, I don't think that he should be condemned for simply being friends with people like David Miscavige, but his status as Scientology's most famous promoter suggests that Cruise is either condoning the abuses or has been manipulated to the point where he's essentially a puppet figure.  Either way, Tom Cruise is clearly a troubled man who is in way too deep with a pack of dangerous zealots and con-artists.  Though he's not particularly vocal about being a Scientologist these days, he's not exactly doing anything to distance himself from them either. 

However, Cruise personal failings don't change the fact that he's still an excellent actor and is a big part of why "Rogue Nation" is one of the better summer action movies this year.  As a producer he was directly responsible for the hiring for McQuarrie, who Cruise also worked with in 2012's "Jack Reacher."  From interviews, it's clear he also had a big part in casting, writing, and all the stunt work.  I've never had trouble compartmentalizing in these situations, and considering the art separate from the artist.  Some of my friends can't bear to watch Bill Cosby's old work anymore, and I sympathize.  However, when I've gone back and looked at old "Cosby Show" episodes, I see Cliff Huxtable, not Bill Cosby.  It's the same with Cruise and "Mission: Impossible."  I look at the film and see Ethan Hunt, not Tom Cruise.  He doesn't remotely resemble the Tom Cruise in the "Going Clear" videos, who looks like he was going through some kind of extreme psychological crisis at the time they were made.

Is there any way to resolve the cognitive dissonance?  Not easily, no.  I can try to justify watching "Mission: Impossible" as supporting all the hundreds of other people who worked on the film, but honestly without Cruise it probably wouldn't exist.  Supporting Cruise's isn't directly supporting Scientology, but the organization still benefits from counting a big movie star among its ranks.  Cruise seems to have become more self-aware at least and has clammed up about Scientology in public, but there's still something off about him.  He appeared on the Nerdist podcast last year and sounded like a guy who had been stuck in press tours and junkets for far, far too long.  Being a movie star is about maintaining an illusion, and Cruise is still very good at it.  But we've seen him lose his footing before, and he probably will again.  "Rogue Nation" was a high point for him, but I have to wonder how many more he's got left.

As for the Church of Scientology, its days are surely numbered.  "Going Clear" is damning, but it's also notable for how much it left out of the narrative, for all the terrible, well-known stories it didn't tell.  In popular culture, Scientology has been a laughingstock since the "South Park" guys introduced us to Xenu, and a much easier target for criticism since the Internet got involved.  What resources the organization has amassed will ensure its vestiges stick around for a while, but its power is quickly dissipating.  And if Tom Cruise or John Travolta or any other major star made any visible efforts to help them at this point, they'd probably go down with them. 


Monday, November 16, 2015

Watching Shia LaBeouf Watching Shia LaBeouf

Last week, Shia LaBeouf and several collaborators created a unique piece of performance art, titled #Allmymovies.  Over three days, the bulk of his filmography was screened at New York's Angelika Film Center in reverse chronological order, and LaBeouf marathoned all of it, from the recent indie film "Man Down" to the Disney dub of Miyazaki's "Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind."  Only brief breaks were scheduled, so he slept through several of the films, and ate during others.  The goal was for him to remain in his seat for as long as possible.  The whole thing was livestreamed, and curious fans could also drop by the theater and join the audience at the screenings - admission was free.  The Gothamist covered what was going on outside the screening room.

I logged in briefly to the livestream site during the first day, and was greeted by the image of LaBeouf's passive face as he watched one of the films.  You could also make out a couple of other spectators sitting behind him, but not very clearly.  The lighting constantly changed because of the flickering screen, but you could clearly see LaBeouf's expressions, or the lack thereof.  I only lasted a few minutes before quitting the stream.  I don't feel like I really got the full effect of the piece, but I didn't have the time or resources to really commit to the experience.  No sound from the movies was supplied because of copyright issues, so following along required some work.  A schedule of the films was supplied so the curious viewer could sync up with LaBeouf, but was it worth the effort?

I've tried to keep an open mind about Shia LaBeouf's artistic ambitions and offscreen foibles.  His plagiarism of a Daniel Clowes comic two years ago was definitely a low point, but his very public string of apologies (several of them also plagiarized) and jaunts into performance art have been intriguing, if not always very effective.  Marina Abramović he ain't.  The marathon strikes me as an original idea, at least.  A famous actor watch his own films isn't something we've seen before, and it's a perfectly appropriate piece of programming for the Netflix generation, who have made marathoning television shows and watching livestreams of other people playing video games popular.  Heck, just a few days ago Twitch streamed the entire run of "The Joy of Painting" with Bob Ross to a not-inconsiderable audience.  Just because I haven't the time or inclination to watch Shia LaBeouf watching "Dumb and Dumberer" doesn't mean that others online don't.

I've written a bit before about the pleasures of secondhand and communal viewing, and how the internet is creating new forms of both.  Reaction videos, liveblogging, and livestreaming are commonplace these days.  As I've read over some of the reaction pieces to the Shia LaBeouf marathon, what struck me was how familiar it all felt - the speculation about his intentions, the obsession over minutiae (someone gave him a can of Pringles!), and the nostalgia from younger viewers over LaBeouf's earlier films.  #Allmymovies is just giving us a new excuse to have the same conversations about Shia LaBeouf we've been having about him for years.  It's the fact that LaBeouf is instigating the conversation this time that's the interesting part.  While the stunt is inherently attention-seeking, there's no sense of desperation about it, no indication that it's meant to be anything more than exactly what it is.  LaBeouf's actually had quite a decent run of movies lately with "Nymphomaniac" and "Fury," and he seems to be successfully putting the "Transformers" phase of his career behind him.

But that doesn't mean he can't revisit it.  Interest in #Allmymovies seemed to peak during the screenings of the films people were the most familiar with: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the first "Transformers," and his Disney Channel era features like "Holes" and the "Even Stevens" movie.  Without LaBeouf providing any commentary, viewers could only guess at what he was thinking while watching the younger version of himself in these films, and many did.  Poking around on Reddit and Twitter, I found so many watchers sharing speculation: Did he seem bored by this one?  Was he embarrassed by that one?

I don't think that most of Shia LaBeouf's films are worth revisiting, but revisiting them alongside their star is another matter.  And LaBeouf keeps doing things like #Allmymovies, he's not going to lose the spotlight any time soon.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rank 'Em: The "Star Wars" Movies

Before "The Force Awakens" upends the franchise forever, I figured it was time to get my rankings in order for the existing six films.  No, I'm not counting the "Clone Wars" animated movie or the Ewoks movies.  The rest are ranked below from best to worst.  Sorry prequel fans, but I never much liked Episodes I-III.  They do have their good points, though, which I'll expand on below.  Spoilers below.

"The Empire Strikes Back" - I originally watched "Empire" and "Jedi" via edited television broadcasts in 1992, and I don't think I knew about the famous reveal beforehand.  I remember that the ending definitely made a strong impression, that suddenly this dazzling space adventure story I'd been enjoying had deeper, darker, more personal stakes than I'd anticipated.  After more viewings, I'd come to appreciate all the scenes with Yoda, the Hoth battle, and the increasingly dicey situation with Lando Calrissian on Cloud City.  What I think really makes this film for me, however, is Darth Vader, who becomes more and more powerful and threatening with each appearance.  After years of jokes and parodies, people forget how effective he was as a villain - and it still irks me that he was so badly undercut in the prequels.

"The Return of the Jedi" - This is the "Star Wars" movie I watched the most often as a kid, to the point where I had good chunks of the dialogue memorized.  I never really minded the Ewoks, and "Jedi" had the Jabba the Hutt sequence and the confrontations with Darth Vader and the Emperor, which are some of my favorite parts of the whole series.  I've heard some criticism over the years that there was too much reliance on action sequences, and that the series essentially backslid to being a kids' movie after "Empire" struck out in more adult directions.  I always thought of "Star Wars" as being a kid-friendly franchise first and foremost, though.  I especially appreciate the effects work in this installment, which significantly improved on similar scenes from the earlier movies.  When I think of the attack on the Death Star, it's usually this one.

"Star Wars" - I actually saw "Star Wars" after the first two movies, so all the innovation and the originality of its concepts were completely lost on me.  I was initially a little disappointed, even, because the characters were fairly flat, and some of the effects didn't hold up so well (until the 1997 Special Edition anyway).  However, I thought it was still a great time, especially the middle section on the Death Star where the humor comes out, and there's that great scene with the trash compacter.  The Death Star getting blown up is always fun too.  The older I get, the more I appreciate Harrison Ford and Alec Guinness's performances, which help to ground the space fantasy elements considerably.  And then there's John Williams' score, which is as vital to these movies as the special effects.

"The Phantom Menace" - It could be the nostalgia talking, but I really do think that "Phantom Menace" was the best of the prequels.  It had Liam Neeson, Darth Maul, the best score, and some absolutely stunning art direction.  Yes, it also had Jar-Jar Binks and Jake Lloyd, but if I keep in mind that I'm watching a kid's film, I don't find them intolerable.  The tin ear dialogue is pretty bad, but I like several of the fight sequences, particularly the final two-on-one lightsaber duel.  After fifteen years, it's become obvious that the heavy reliance on green screen effects really hurt the film, but some of those effects still look pretty impressive.  Most of all, I think that the way it's structured as a prelude to a bigger story helps to cover a lot of the flaws, which is why I was able to enjoy what I could.

"The Revenge of the Sith" - I really, really loathe Hayden Christensen's performance as Anakin Skywalker.  While I admit I enjoyed watching a good deal of his downfall, that awful final transformation scene just killed it for me.  And I still can't believe that Darth Vader's tragic backstory amounted to some dumb, reckless kid trusting the wrong people and jumping to idiotic conclusions about his closest friends.  "Revenge of the Sith" may have tackled more adult subject matter than the other two prequel films, but it's executed so ham-handedly, it never feels like Lucas is really taking his characters seriously.  The only thing keeping this one from the bottom of the list is that I do get the sense that the filmmakers were trying.  Sadly, it wasn't enough.

"Attack of the Clones" - Good grief, where do I start?  The leaden romance between Anakin and Padme?  The arena fight where all the lightsabers look like glowsticks?  The ridiculous Yoda and Dooku duel?  This was the film where it finally sunk in that the franchise had seriously gone off the rails.  I've only watched "Attack of the Clones" once, but I'm going with my gut on this one.  I walked out of the theater hating this movie, and it's been my worst experience with "Star Wars" to date.  So as far as I'm concerned, it's definitely earned last place.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tentatively Getting Excited About "Star Wars"

I've spent so much time trying to stay out of the way of the "Star Wars" marketing machine.  There have been toys on sale at Target since mid-summer.  Themed food items are showing up at the grocery store, with packaging that make it all too clear which characters are the good guys and which are the bad guys.  There are certain movie-related sites I just can't visit anymore for fear of running across more spoilers.  I already know way too much about who's playing who, who's making cameos, and who ends up with which lightsabers.  I'm guessing that many of my fellow old school "Star Wars" are getting a little burnt out.

So I'd like to just pause, take a deep breath, and remember that I actually am excited to see "The Force Awakens."  It has been a very long wait for most of us, and now we're only a little more than a month away from opening weekend.  2015 has been a very solid movie year, but frankly the new "Star Wars" movie still has the potential to dwarf all the other successes.  Those first two teaser trailers gave me goosebumps like nothing else in years.  I toyed with skipping the final one last month, but I eventually gave in.  The Comic-Con behind the scenes footage actually got me a little teary-eyed.  I've written before extensively about how I fell out of love with the "Star Wars" franchise after the prequels, but I continue to adore those first three movies.  They're my cinematic touchstones for so many, many things.

Realistically, I know "The Force Awakens" probably won't be the movie I want it to be. J.J. Abrams is a severely hit or miss director with a lot of bad habits, and the only movie he's directed that I've liked without reservations is the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot.  However, I can see his sensibility suiting "Star Wars" very well, as long as he doesn't get carried away.  From the promotional materials, he's made many choices that I can really get behind, like the diverse casting and the use of more physical props and effects.  I'm actually more thrilled at the prospect of Gwendoline Christie playing a "Star Wars" role we haven't seen a woman occupy before than any of the promised cameos by the old familiar faces.  And frankly, I can handle some lens flares if it means we get more visuals like the Super Star Destroyer wreckage from that second teaser.

I'm also getting very excited for the films coming after "The Force Awakens."  There's been a lot going on behind the scenes with "Episode VIII" and "Rogue One" that's been overshadowed by the current hype for "The Force Awakens."  Creating the spinoff anthology films and using different directors for each film were good ideas.  This means a slew of different creative voices will be in the mix, and the franchise will be flexible enough so that it can hopefully accommodate directors we wouldn't immediately consider for "Star Wars."  "Rogue One," for instance, seems to be aiming to put the war in "Star Wars," with a plot synopsis straight out of a WWII movie.  The international cast they've assembled for it, including Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, and Alan Tudyk is jaw-dropping.  Not much is known about Episodes VIII and IX yet, but I'm hoping these will be the movies that Rian Johnson finally knocks out of the park.

I think what I find especially heartening is that Disney is clearly signaling that they're in for the long haul with "Star Wars."  They are doing their best to turn this into the next Marvel Universe, possibly with multiple sub-franchises and spinoffs.  Netflix is gunning for a "Star Wars" series to go with "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones," of course.  So even if "The Force Awakens" turns out to be a disappointment, there will be multiple attempts to get it right using multiple approaches. Now looking at the current state of the Marvel Universe movies and shows, there's clearly both upsides and downsides to this kind of strategy long term, but I'm pretty confident that "Star Wars" fans are going to be getting some fun media out of it before the end.