Friday, February 21, 2020

Portis, Grossman, and the languishing of Great Works

RIP, Charles Portis.

In the '90s the cool kids were all reading Charles Portis.

His books were out of print rareties, for one thing — except for True Grit, which was usually buried in the Westerns shelf, alongside Louis L’Amour and Max Brand. If you wanted to read Portis — the real Portis, mind you, the stuff Hollywood couldn’t possibly bastardize — you had to keep a diligent eye out during your weekly trawl of used book stores.

In '91 Gringos was published. The bookflap made it sound like one of Robert Stone’s more realized efforts. My opportunity to become a full-fledged Portis-head, at last!

I put it down after 30 pages.

Still, the hip kids kept waxing hip about Portis. When his ouevre was finally re-released in the Aughts I picked up Masters Of Atlantis, figuring the subject matter would make it an easy finish.

It did and it was. I thought the novel’s ability to evoke was almost narcotic. It put me back in touch with that pre-digital era when a person could sit in an otherwise empty room and allow his thoughts to fill it. Blank walls, long winter nights, geographic solitude all conspiring to stir thoughts that had every potential of taking a dangerously religious turn — heady stuff, no question.

When I finished, though, the book went directly to the “out” box. The likelihood of ever desiring to pick it up again was just that low.

A younger version of myself would roll up his sleeves and either give account for why I remain unable to dig Portis, possibly taking the Great Man down a peg or two, or else begrudgingly assent to conversion. The 55-year-old version of me will simply note that, much as I was able to admire Masters Of Atlantis, Jim Harrison covers similar material and embues it with Harrisonian frisson — which draws me back for repeat visits. Similarly, although True Grit does hold a place on my shelf, I am more prone to revisiting Little Big Man or even Blood Meridian. For aging bloggers with limited time there is no accounting for taste, and those are mine.

Other, better Portis-'splication: the late D.G. Meyers adored Masters Of Atlantis. The concluding paragraph of Meyers’ lovely and compelling essay:
Portis’s secret in Masters of Atlantis is to tell the story of an obscure luckless religious cult, a den of nutcases, as if it were straight reporting, factually correct, without exaggeration for comic effect. The result is so funny you can’t read it safely in a public place. Masters of Atlantis is a great joy to read — it is the very novel for which the phrase “curl up with” seems to have been invented — but it leaves a curious aftertaste. You begin to worry if the intellectual independence of which you are so proud, the principled shunning of America’s consumer culture, the patient acquisition of rare and unpopular knowledge over the course of a lifetime, doesn’t make you just as nutty as the Gnomons. Who knows but that the literary life is nothing more than another esoteric New Age religious cult?
Read the whole thing here.
Flanked by the competition.
Also:
Some see the book [True Grit] as Portis’s albatross. Ron Rosenbaum, whose enthusiasm for the novelist’s lesser-known works was instrumental in their republication, found it necessary (in a 1998 Esquire piece) to distance Portis from his most famous creation (“too popular for its own good”), in order to make his case for the true gems of the Portis canon. But the novel occupies a position similar to that of Lolita in relation to Nabokov’s works: Though it might not be your personal favorite, it cannot be subtracted from the oeuvre; nor can his other writings fall outside its shadow.
 Over at The Believer Ed Park reckons with True Grit, in juxtaposition with Portis’ other work.

And finally: somewhere in this house is a copy of Vasily Grossman’s Life & Fate, with a bookmark firmly lodged one-third of the way through. Bookmark and book are likely in the latter stages of petrification — I bought and started the novel back in '85, put it down sometime before '90 and have yet to pick it up again. Odds seem long against me ever doing so.

Good thing Ashutosh Jogalekar did, though. Over at 3 Quarks Daily he culls some of the more memorable quotes from the novel while making The Case For Dumb Kindness. Also: LARB has recently published some terrific pieces on Grossman: Philip Ó Ceallaigh's “But There Has Been a Catastrophe”: On Vasily Grossman’s “Stalingrad,” here; and Vasily Grossman: Myths and Counter-Myths by Yury Bit-Yunan and Robert Chandler, over here. Anyone with even a passing interest in Cold War history and/or literature will be well-served by all three pieces.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Ten Thousand Villages, and Mennonite moms of a certain age

Over at The Drunken Menno SLKlassen draws a parallel between her mother’s passing and the corporate shuttering of Ten Thousand Villagesstores, not actual villages (so far as I know).

Ten Thousand Villages (TTV) stores were larded with tchotchkes, knick-knacks, furniture and fine goods from all over the developing world. This was an initiative begun over seven decades ago by the Mennonite Central Committee and thus devoted to fair trade many years before that became a catch-phrase and consumerist smokescreen.
10,000 Utputzdinja
When I first heard the announcement of closure I was saddened and, until I gave it a moment’s thought, surprised. Only when I read Ms. Klassen’s post did I think to equate the demise of Ten Thousand Villages with the relentless fading of her, and my, mother’s generation of Mennonite women.

At some point in the '80s the cornucopeia of our family Christmas gifts received character notes from the MCC “International Crafts” wing of their Self Help thrift stores. This wing gradually grew to become TTV and robustly expanded into the public square in the '90s.

My parents were in San Jose during the back end of that decade. My mother, on request, coordinated and managed the International Gift Faire — a TTV event held every fall in the church gym. By all accounts the yearly weekend business was robust.

When my parents moved back to Winnipeg, TTV remained a regular visit for mom. Even in my mother’s declining years as mobility became increasingly painful and difficult, TTV was usually included in her weekly circuit of thrift stores.

The thrift store circuit was a late-in-life innovation for mom — a way to continue enjoying the novelty of item exploration and acquisition without placing a burden on her immediate environment. Having already downsized from house to apartment, my mother adhered to a strict regimen of donating at least as many items as she was taking home. The staff at TTV neither bartered nor traded, but the outlets were still frequently placed in close proximity to Self Help stores run by MCC volunteers.

This past Christmas — the first since my mother died — the gift exchange was markedly leaner and less colourful. As with Ms. Klassen’s family, we survivors had never made Ten Thousand Villages a habitual destination. In fact, our most recent purchase at TTV was in the summer — a hand-tooled jointed wooden box in which we placed our mother’s ashes for interment at the cemetery.

Seems kinda fitting.

My condolences to Ms. Klassen.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The Death Of Stalin

I blame Collective Arts’ IPA No. 12* but I found the first five minutes of The Death Of Stalin thoroughly discombobulating.
First off, who's that under all the nose-putty?
The opening scene is set at a classical music concert sometime in the past. The sound-tech guy takes a phone call and answers in English with a British accent. Whatever he hears coming from the other end throws him into a histrionic flap. He’s, what, British Secret Service? Nope, he’s in charge of this event. Maybe this is happening in London? No, too many visual cues suggesting somewhere in Russia. The absence of subtitles was throwing me off.

Next scene is somewhere else, with a guy who looks kinda like Stalin, also speaking English with a British accent. His right hand man returns banter with his own British accent. So okay, the Russians are speaking the King’s English in this movie. Kinda rare these days — even Tarantino resorts to subtitles — but I think I get it. Then Steve Buscemi shows up, sans British accent. Wait: he’s Kruschev??

This experience was akin to the first bike ride in spring. The derailleur is off, so no matter which gear you try the chain is slipping and you’re not making progress. One proper adjustment later, you’re flying.

For the next 90 minutes of TDOS I was flying. When the end-credits rolled I logged into FB, updated my status with:
“Seemed like a good weekend to watch The Death Of Stalin. Soviet enthusiasm for discharging weapons upon their own felt a touch exaggerated, but probably erred on the side of understatement. And Steve Buscemi’s Brooklyn accent actually kinda worked to set Kruschev apart, in character, from the other manipulators in the room.”
I hit post, then hit the sack.

In the morning the only response to my post was Joel’s, with a link to this video:

If you can’t be bothered to watch, the gist of the complaint is summed up by The Cynical Historian (“Cypher”) in his video description, to wit:
“Some of the license taken is necessary, but there are some dangerous falsehoods and misconceptions this movie proliferates. They needed to take greater care with such a touchy subject.”
And Kruschev never spoke English with a Brooklyn nasality. But, sure, alright. Since I was the doofus who raised the spectre of historicity to begin with, the correction was more than fair game.

However, Cypher’s finger-wagging — “They needed to take greater care with such a touchy subject” — is, to my mind, easily deflected. I could be wrong here too, of course. Maybe the world would be a better place if Shakespeare had “taken greater care” with Richard III.

Not that I equate The Death Of Stalin with Shakespeare. TDOS views more like a hybrid of Duck Soup and Natural Born Killers, concluding with heady finishing notes of Pineapple Express. That may or may not be to the tastes of contemporary Russian cinema audiences, depending. But it plays well to a certain subset of the American cinema audience.

Ironically enough, the Americans digging TDOS are the Americans most likely to earnestly take on board Cypher’s criticisms. They’re the same Americans who made a point of checking out Anthony Lane’s thoughts on the movie.

i.e., They’re the same Americans glued to the news this weekend, even though utterly assured that impeachment will be a wash.

To view TDOS as any sort of commentary on Stalin and Russia is to commit to a double misreading.

Writer/Director Armando Ianucci is the big kahuna responsible for rolling out the HBO political satire Veep. He left at the close of season five, when its satire couldn’t keep up with the headlines. Disembarking at the Land of the Rose he came home to a political scene every bit as bonkers as the one he’d left behind.

Satirists can no longer satirise the contemporary political scene using contemporary political touchpoints — there is no way to render them any more grotesque than they already are. So Ianucci reached for the most grotesque political moment in living memory, and recomposed it set to recognisably contemporary Western cringe-comedy beats.

We aren’t watching a satire of Russian history — we are watching a satire of the Western Populist Present, the goons and clods who “lead” it, and the rubes and plebes who throw themselves into its collective pyre, wittingly or not.

That addresses misreading number one. The second misreading is of the American movie audience, the bulk of which cannot be bothered with this movie. Within this enormous group is another subset posting “red pill” take-downs of Star Wars and MCU movies. This is the “Pinochet did nothing wrong” bunch, and they also can’t be bothered to parse “Great Man Of History” vs. “Change from the top or bottom?” issues of historical interpretation — for them the matter settles squarely in the “Great Man” camp.

This bunch thinks “Putin’s a great guy.”

I’m not knocking Cypher’s exhortation toward deeper reading and pondering — “The answer lies in further study” is a personal motto. But at this point in history, those who place any value whatsoever in the tradition of American Liberalism dearly need to get their eye back on the ball and keep it there. And getting touchy about The Death Of Stalin is a distraction.

*Honestly, it is time for Hogtown to relinquish “Centre Of The Universe” status to Hamilton. Cos Toronto — man, we haven’t had that Spirit here since 1979.

Friday, January 31, 2020

“Wither (sic) Liberalism?”

Seems to be the question of the week, brought to us by the mere existence of some books currently in market. I will, for the most part, give these books a pass. But I am grateful to the reviewers, not just for their criticism but for their pointed calling-back to Great Essayists of Yore (GEY).

“Does liberalism have its roots in the illiberal upheavals of the English Reformation?” asks Keith Thomas, after surveying several books making claims of same. GEY hat-tip: Richard Rorty.

Over at The Point Jon Baskin’s Friends Like These takes the (figurative) shoes to Adam Gopnik. GEY hat-tip: Lionel Trilling. Baskin also roasts Ben Lerner and the “New Historicists” who were coming into vogue just as I was leaving academia. GEY hat-tip: Coleridge! And since you’re already at The Point, go on and give Denis Johnson’s God by Aaron Thier your attention. Unless you’re not into Johnson. In which case, give some thought to James Duesterberg’s Bad Infinity: The endurance of the liberal imagination. GEY: Trilling — again. So, you know — maybe dust off that old copy of The Liberal Imagination?
Oh, there you are!
The flip-side to the “Whither Liberalism” question: Hold up, am I a Conservative now? Tribeless in an age of tribalism, by Adeline Dimond.

Which brings me full-circle to Keith Thomas’s Rorty quote:
“Some cultures, like some people, are no damn good: they cause too much pain and so have to be resisted.”
An increasingly tough call to make, these days.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Ghost Light

While writing the previous post, it occurred to me there is now another variation of “band product” available — YouTube concert videos. These usually have more in common with bootleg recordings of same, but there are increasingly more professional varieties to be had.

PopMatters sent me to this video of a first set by Ghost Light, a band that was new to me. It’s surprisingly pro, but not too flashy. I queued it up, my expectations low. Honestly, I can count on one hand the number of YouTube concerts I have watched to conclusion. Throw in a band I’ve never heard of? The odds were low.

Within five minutes I was thinking, these guys build songs the way I like 'em. Twelve minutes later there was no question I’d be watching to conclusion.

I hate concerts with no seating. I hate standing there, feeling the hot coals of my plantar fascitis slowly creep-roast from my instep up into the fibres of my calves, while the kids surrounding me are happily bouncing around. It is a mighty precious band that could entice me onto the floor for an hour-long show. And Ghost Light could do it — if only they performed north of 49.

And while you’re here: Bowman smoked me out on some questionable claims I made regarding a recent Ry Cooder album. You should check out the post for the comments alone.

The aging palate — recorded albums: studio or live?

I recall eavesdropping on a conversation between two high school classmates. They’d just seen Harlequin, Winnipeg’s own arena-filling rock band, in concert and were sorting out which songs sounded most like they did on record.

That epitomized my official thoughts on what rock music ought to be, at the time. I figured the studio release must be the ideal version of the song — after all, every single element that went into the song was 100% in the artist’s control, was it not? Thus the extent to which the band reproduced the sound recorded was, quite naturally, the extent to which they put on a good show.
Paul Simonon, clearly frustrated he is not getting that posh studio sound.
It only took a few, choice, small-venue concerts for me to recant of that particular bias. Still, the bands I dug the most were adept manipulators, who understood the studio album to be one “product,” a live concert another, and a recorded live release something else still. A concert bootleg might be revelatory, but only in the way Joyce’s unpublished work is revelatory of Finnegan’s Wake.

Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense was the ideal. I loved the studio versions of those songs, but the versions in the movie brought something new to my appreciation for them, as did the visual spectacle. And David Byrne’s instincts for the initial soundtrack were spot-on — it was better for the soundtrack to be evocative of the movie, rather than extracted from the visuals and presented as a half-portion of the thing itself.*

During the child-raising years most of my music listening was conducted through two speakers in the kitchen. And I generally preferred studio work — if the volume is loud enough to cut through the sizzle of minced garlic and anchovies in a pan of hot olive oil you can catch some surprising nuances and subtleties laid out on the, uh, reel-to-reel.**

These days, however, I typically reach for recorded live shows. The “live” sound is so much better than it used to be, for one thing (thank you technology). Also, these hairy old ears aren’t catching nearly as many studio layers as they used to — making the pared-down sound of a recorded single take a better match for them.

Which is a little odd, considering how grumpy I get at concerts. How many times have I announced my “retirement”? My wife took me to task on the most recent. “You’re not retired,” she informed me. “We still haven’t seen the one act I want to see live, with you — Los Lobos.”

Good point. Perhaps a beloved band performing in a spanky up-to-date theatre with actual seats will be just the thing. After all, Steely Dan was an absolute gas.

Stay tuned.

*To my earlier three categories, we could now add a fourth: the home video. I will never forget the first time I queued up Stop Making Sense on the VCR, only to realize within minutes that I was hearing elements in the soundtrack that were not present in the footage I was watching. This had escaped my notice in the immersive environs of the movie theatre. Now here I sat, slack-jawed. Nobody owed me “accuracy,” and I knew as well as any slavering fan that perfect fidelity was a dangerous myth — again, concert bootlegs are obscurities for good reason. Still, the blush of disappointment was real.

**A sit-down listen of Porcupine Tree’s Signify still retains its capacity to elicit goosebumps. But while I note that I should also say I have more love for Steven Wilson’s live version of “Home Invasion/Regret #9” — chiefly because of the rhythm guitar he provides, particularly at the 7-minute mark onward. It’s so simple, but it gives such a propulsive energy to the song. I actually miss it on the studio version.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Rattling in my brain-pan

I was sent to The American Interest twice this month. I’m thinking this may be the first time in my life I’ve given this publication my attention.

Back when the magazine rack was still a source of fascination I took note of placement — usually The American Interest was propped next to The National Interest, so I assumed, unfairly or not, that they were in lockstep with a hawkish “We don’t wanna blast 'em but it may be the only way to keep the peace” POV.

The American Interest’s purview is a touch wider than its immediate competition — at first glance there appears to be some focus devoted to cultural concerns, as well. Back page stuff, but still — some is better than none.

I say all this because, if you are also a newcomeer to TAI, their site has a firewall that will grant you one free read per month — or two, if you subscribe to their newsletter. The firewall is easily vaulted, but I’ve gone ahead and consented to the newsletter. Weigh for yourself its potential merits, or choose which of these two links, if either, is worth your further scrutiny.

5G And The Fallacies of Techno-Optimism by Adam Garfinkle is, to my mind, the must-read piece. His summary of the Southeast Asia posture toward Chinese tech hegemony is something I’ve not seen anywhere else. And by considering how we have collectively taken a knee to the Techno-Determinist gospel, he raises distressing questions the chattering classes are doing a swell job of ignoring.

The other piece is a reconsideration of Allan Bloom, which I am always up for.
Allan Bloomam I a fan? Mm, tough to say. He’d be an easy chap to “cancel” in this day and age, but that’s neither here nor there for me. He is difficult to read, and not in a way I am given to defending. But I sure do dig what he has to say about shared texts. And getting back to “cancel culture” I have to wonder what John Granger’s feelings are re: the Harry Potter series attaining shared text status among the current generation.

Finally, another “I’m getting old” anecdote: last night I had the house to myself, so I tore off the celophane to the blu-ray of John Carpenter’s The Thing — a movie I have not seen in decades. I poured myself an IPA, eased into the comfy chair, put on the headphones and hit “play.” First impression: wow, was this film way more polished than I recollected! I mean, it opens with this helicopter shot of the Antarctic crawler steaming over the snow — Carpenter’s budget must have been substantially larger than he was accustomed to. Next scene, and — huh, that’s not an actor I recall. Five more minutes and I’m realizing I don’t recognize anyone in this film. I hit pause, do a Google.

It appears I have purchased the 2011 Dutch prequel to Carpenter’s classic. Dutch!

Accept no substitutes, people.

Post-script: “a note that should make everyone shriek with grief at the lost possibility” — in a galaxy where the Force was in balance, Colin Trevorrow's script for Star Wars IX would have been greenlighted.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Strange Advance, Worlds Away

I had a moment of the sads on Tuesday, as I prepped supper. Yesterday was technically the anniversary of my mother’s passing, but she died on a Tuesday evening, so that was when I was feeling it. And this song, randomly queued by my infernal device, tapped into my grief in a way I was not prepared for.

In 1984 if I was available to drop off or pick up my teenage little sister, then my mother tagged me for the duty.

I protested. When I had been her age my parents figured I could bloody well take the bus.

We lived in the western extreme of Winnipeg. I attended a Mennonite high school in the centre of the city, the one my sister now went to. The bulk of my friends lived in the eastern burgs, as did hers. Those bus rides were long.

One party I attended — in Transcona — required three transfers and two hours and fifteen minutes of my time, one way. On the ride back, a very drunk man of indeterminate age dropped into the seat beside me, said, “You remind me of my son,” then buckled over and commenced blubbering into his parka sleeve.

I reminded my mother of this and other stories I’d collected in my journeys by bus. “Tsk — such rotten parents,” my mother would say. “Now go get your sister. Please.”

My protests were more melodrama than truth. These taxi assignments weren’t interrupting anything more consequential than yet another evening with Louis L’Amour. A ride through the city on a dark winter’s night afforded me time with the car radio — strictly AM, but still not too bad, considering. Canadian radio stations were required to play a certain percentage of Canadian content (30%, in '84). Given the conditions, any Canadian possessed of enough pluck to form a band and create original work was pretty much possessed of a character that did not permit lapses into rote mediocrity — extraordinary mediocrity, perhaps, but never rote.

So even Canadian AM radio was forced to play some pretty weird stuff. Sure, the latest hit-for-tat chapter of the Burton Cummings/Randy Bachman feud was inescapable. But in 1984 Canadian AM radio also played Doug and the Slugs. Martha and the Muffins. FM, with Nash The Slash on electric violin. Rough Trade. The Payolas. Saga. Heck, even Rush had a trim AM radio winner with “New World Man.”

But in 1984 no Canadian band hit the sweet-spot for me quite like Strange Advance (site).
Enhanced by strange advances in hair care.
The moody synthesizers, the keening vocals, the fate-laden lyrics — it all spoke directly to the Byronic romanticism that possessed me at age 19. I was utterly convinced all happiness was but a prelude to inevitable sorrow. If “Worlds Away” came on whilst en route to my sister’s soirée, I could be depended upon to wail “Oh no! don’t say goodbye!” through a cloud of sub-zero condensation, utterly smitten with my gloriously tragic take on this passing moment.

Then my sister would climb into the car, and we’d drive home, silently listening to whatever.

No 13-year-old girl should be expected to take the Saturday Night Special through downtown Winnipeg — really, that is just a given. But in 1984 my mother’s concern had additional freight beyond mere common sense — Candace Derksen was my sister’s classmate.

Thirty-five years later as I’m chopping carrots the song shuttles me back to a moment when all these currents were in flux. Thirty-five years later I am “utterly convinced” of very little. But I sure don’t think of happiness as a “prelude” to anything. Sorrow reaches everyone, and often the most unimaginable sorrow hits the most vulnerable and undeserving among us.

Actually, I am utterly convinced: we have to take care.

And a little romanticism is quite fine, if it helps you in your care for others.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Vintage Whisky, 2018

I dragged my heels culling this “best of” for 2018. It was a difficult year for personal reasons, some of which I touched on, so I was slow to revisit it.

It was also a year I devoted an undue amount of energy trying to track how I found myself trailing so far behind anything that could be broadly considered as . . . well, relevant. Here is just one example, but I won’t link to the others. I won’t delete them either — they remain a testament to the times and to my headspace at this particular moment, I guess. But when it comes to what I posted it wasn’t as if mine was a singular POV — many others said the same thing, only better. And that is personally disappointing. I’ve blogged for 15 years and counting. When I’m not linking to other pieces I truly attempt to post original work — stuff I’m not seeing anywhere else. 2018 sometimes reads as if I gave up on this loftiest of aspirations.
There were other vistas to conquer.
NEVERTHELESS — here are a few posts that stand up fairly well, I think, insofar as summary goes.

Music:
Movies:
Mennonites:
Books:
Miscellaneous:
And finally, a surprisingly pleasant memory from that year — the last time I cried (a status that abruptly changed, needless to say).

Friday, January 03, 2020

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — final take

As with the previous Star Wars movie, the plan was to see The Rise of Skywalker with one kid, then again a week or two later with the other. Priorities shifted, and the urge to see the movie dropped to the bottom of the list for urchin #2. I have zero motivation to devote time to a second, solo viewing of the movie, so here are some further thoughts, based on what I recall from two weeks ago — indeed, from even further back.

Spoilers follow — not just from the current Star Wars movie, but from the final season of Lost, the TV series that launched J.J. Abrams into the big leagues.
...never gets old....
My favourite scene from season six of Lost is only a few minutes long. The chief protagonist and his crew are running through the jungle in hot pursuit of that season’s Villainous Heavy. They burst into a clearing and unexpectedly encounter a happily married couple who had recused themselves from the action several seasons earlier, puttering about the yard in front of their Mr. And Mrs. Howell bamboo hut. For a moment everyone stops in their tracks with a “So THERE you are!” reaction. Then the Mrs. does an up-and-down take of the protagonist and says, “You still chasing each other with guns?”

“You still chasing each other with guns?” seems to have been Rian Johnson’s question. In his Star Wars Universe The New Republic was a failure of imagination and execution of Chestertonian proportions. The ways of The Force were misunderstood and misapplied. The new generation was, out of necessity, going to have to devote its energies to deepening its family ties.

These were issues of nuance that, were they to be explored and developed to conclusion, would require a subtle touch.

J.J. Abrams had been here once before. For five seasons, Lost played with and defied viewer expectations. Villains were introduced and teased apart until they were distressingly sympathetic characters. Motivations were acted upon to the final degree, and the outcomes were an astonishment nobody saw coming. Now here they all were, still doing this “Grab the gun!” monkey dance. It was time to wrap it up.

Time to throw all the toys back into the toybox, give it a hard shake — and pull out even more bigger guns than ever before.

I can’t recall who said it, but I’m thinking Locke Peterseim or Steve O’Donahue — J.J. Abrams is a devotee of the white-board. He doesn’t plot or do character arcs — he and his team do board-room improv until they settle on the five or so flashiest sequences, then tie them together with narrative threads best left unscrutinized.

If that makes it sound like I hated the movie, I’m sorry — I liked it well enough. The one thing Abrams does well is give his actors just enough motivation to successfully emote. So, yes — I was dabbing at my eyes as this character lived while that one died.

But this most recent generation of Star Wars movie actors have all signalled (John Boyega chief among them) that they are so ready to ditch this franchise. And I am cheering them on.

Give Abrams some other Cold War franchise to muck with — James Bond, maybe. I can content myself with memories, bolstered by the occasional comic book and television series.

Better explication:
Post-script:
  • It has to be said: my jaw hit the floor when I finally registered just how far to the sidelines Abrams was pushing Kelly Marie Trans Rose Tico. I still consider Tran and her character one of the loveliest introductions to the SWU, and this move seemed like an open concession to racist trolls.
  • To quote me, responding to Joel in the previous post: “Forty-two years and countless hours of Star Wars later, it strikes me that ‘Han Shoots First’ was the most memorable bit in the three movie trilogies — or possibly the entire SWU ball of wax, even as it continues to accrue.” Discuss!