Pick a side

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Superheroes vs. superheroes.

Good guys fighting good guys.

Batman vs Superman Fandango Tickets

Someone superhuman strength taking on a super-rich man with amazing toys and glowing eyes.

It’s madness, that’s for sure. Some might even call it a war. A civil war.

I’ve been a big fan of the man in the red cape for as long as I can remember. Superman II is still one of my all-time favorite movies. And The Death of Superman was a big deal when it happened. I’ve also got a soft spot in my heart for the Caped Crusader. So Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice is definitely on my list of movies to watch in the theater. And the Captain America movies have been my favorites in the Marvel cineverse. So I’m pretty excited about the arrival of Captain America: Civil War, too.
Captain America Premiere Sweepstakes

2016 proves to be a year of epic proportions. And the blockbusters are coming soon to a theater near you!

So who you got? Are you #TeamBatman or #TeamSuperman? Is your allegiance with #TeamIronMan or #TeamCap? Or are you like me: #TeamJustGetAlong?

Apparently not.

I hope they can work things out soon. The world desperately needs a few good superheroes.

What movies are you excited to see this year?

We survived Back to the Future Day. Now what?

**This post contains affiliate links. I hope you don’t think that makes me a slacker. Or a chicken. Now make like a tree, and read the rest of this post.**

Back to the Future Dashboard October 21 2015

Want to commemorate Back to the Future Day? Shop the 88MPH Collection at TeeFury!

Well, we survived Back to the Future Day. You didn’t realize your life was in peril, did you? Well, it was.

You see, yesterday was supposed to be the day that Cubs fans were waiting for. According to Back to the Future II, October 21,2015 was supposed to be the day where the Chicago Cubs defeated Miami to win the World Series. Miami’s franchise has already won a Series. They did it back in ’03. They even beat the Cubs to get there. Nevermind the fact that Miami and the Cubs are in the same league and will never meet in the World Series (unless one of them does what the Astros did and switches to the American League). Some sports prognosticators preached that this scene meant that the Cubs were a team of density….I mean…destiny.

But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. But in some wicked twist of fate, the date that is depicted in Back to the Future II – the day when the Cubs were predicted to win the World Series – happened to be the day that they were actually eliminated from postseason play. They didn’t sweep Miami. They got swept by the Mets.

I know what you’re thinking:

That’s heavy.

So here’s the danger that we risked because of this. The Cubs being eliminated on the very night they were supposed to win the World Series had the possibility of creating a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum. See? And you didn’t even know you were in danger.

Like I said:

Heavy.

It appears we dodged a bullet here, folks. Nevermind the fact that we don’t have flying cars. Or hoverboards. Or Jaws 19. Or Mr. Fusion machines. The Cubs losing the series could very well have pushed us over the edge.

outatime

So it appears that we survived the shredding of time. We made it through Back to the Future Day 2015 unscathed. We’re really not “outatime” at all. The future is here. The future is now. The future is full of possibility. That’s really the message of several popular films from the 80s and 90s. Here are just a few:

Always in motion is the future - Master Yoda No fate The future is whatever you make it - Doc Brown

I think these characters have a point. We can sit around and wait for things to unfold, or we can start living now. Grab life by the horns. Breathe in deep. Soak in your surroundings. Live with no regrets. Laugh often. Work hard. Love wholeheartedly. What you do today helps determine what you do tomorrow. And that, my friends, is the future. We impact our futures by impacting what we can control today. So now that we’ve survived to the future, we’re walking into the realm of the unknown. So live life to the fullest. Because it behooves us to live.

After all, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan taught us that.

What steps are you taking today to change your future?

Powerful stories, the magic of film, and the Heartland Film Festival

Heartland Film Festival

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by the power of story. I’ve been especially interested in the way a story can be told through the magic of film. I’m sure that my interest in powerful stories and magical films was enhanced by my love of one movie in particular: Star Wars.

Me with my ceramic Darth Vader nightlight
Yes, this is me a long time ago in a galaxy not-so far away. Star Wars helped me appreciate the power of good storytelling and the magic of the silver screen.

While I don’t believe Star Wars is the cause of my love of story and film, it certainly magnified it. My eyes were opened to a whole new magical world because of the artful storytelling of George Lucas and his editors.

In middle school and high school, I wanted to become known as “The Next Steven Spielberg.” I was the first Scout in our Troop to earn the Cinematography merit badge. I took as many creative writing and film-related classes in high school as I could. I entered Milligan with a plan. I was going to graduate with a degree in Communication and then move to LA where I was going to attend film school. My ultimate dream was to take the story of Elijah and present it on the silver screen. And then, after making that blockbuster, I was going to spend the rest of my filmmaking career telling moving, inspiring stories through the medium of film.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

But I still love a good story. I love how film can transport you to another time and place. Sometimes even another dimension. I love how a well-told story can make you laugh with delight or move you to tears. It can challenge your beliefs. It can poke around at the tender parts of your soul, prodding you to make a difference in the world around you. It can inspire you to act. Sometimes, it can even change your own life. And yes, it can also provide a place to escape the trials and troubles of the day.

Stories that challenge. Stories that inspire. Stories that move you. Stories that make you want to create. That’s what I think film does best.

Heartland Film Festival Logo 2014

And that’s why I love that Indianapolis is host to the Heartland Film Festival, Indiana’s largest and longest-running independent film festival. Over a course of 10 days in October, this festival shines the spotlight on more than 130 independent films and gives audiences access to more than 100 independent filmmakers from around the world. And it’s all right here in the Crossroads of America. The Heartland Film Festival is one of the many reasons to love this great city.

In addition to shining the spotlight on some amazing storytellers, The Heartland Film Festival is also a qualifying festival for the Annual Academy Awards® within the Short Films Category. This means that the winner of the Grand Prize for Best Narrative Short Film will qualify for consideration in the Short Films category of the Annual Academy Awards® without the standard theatrical run, provided the film otherwise complies with the Academy rules. That’s a pretty big deal.

This year’s festival has almost completed its run, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. You still have today, tomorrow, and Saturday to catch a screening or two. For some strange reason, the powers that be have decided to grant me a media pass to this year’s festival. So maybe we’ll run into each other while we’re catching some powerful stories on the big screen. You can check out the lineup and screening schedule here.

This is an amazing event. It’s one that truly puts Indianapolis on the map and introduces some great filmmakers to the public eye. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity before the festival ends Saturday night. I know I will.

Tickets are $9 if purchased in advance, $11 at the door.

My friend, Leah, ended a six month blogging hiatus in order to share her experience at this year’s Heartland Film Festival. You should check out what she has to say.

I’ll see you at the movies!

Why A New Hope is my favorite

Me & VaderI remember when CBS aired Star Wars* on network tv for the first time. It was a big deal. A big-huge deal. Gigantic. Enormous. Gargantuan. You get the idea?

I asked Grandmama and Grandpa to record it on their big-huge VCR because we didn’t have one yet. Every time we visited their house (which was often), I’d pop in the tape and watch it over and over and over again. I wanted to be part of the Stuben family with their giant collection.

All that being said, I still thought it was pretty weird to get married in line while waiting for the movie. I mean….having a Chewbacca-shaped Groom’s Cake is one thing. Spending your wedding night in a movie theatre?

That’s something else.

But I digress…

Every time someone would walk into the room while I was watching the beloved Star Wars videotape, I would shout, “Shhh! Shhh! This is my favorite part!” Of course, every part was my favorite part.

Leia gets captured? My favorite part.

Luke is ambushed by Sandpeople? My favorite part.

The Millennium Falcon has to blast its way out of Mos Eisley? My favorite part.

The Princess is rescued from her cell?** My favorite part.

I think you get the idea. Every single part of this movie was my favorite part of my favorite movie. It was so captivating. It transported me to a different world – one that I would continue to live in when I wasn’t watching the movie at my grandparents’ house. Star Wars has a very special place in my heart because of the memories it evokes. For this reason alone, Star Wars will always be my favorite. There are other reasons, however, why Star Wars is such a masterful piece of storytelling.

The music

John Williams is a genius. George Lucas is a genius for getting him to work on this film. The score is so intertwined with the visuals that it is impossible to imagine Star Wars without the soundtrack. I would suspect it would be a much, much different experience. And it probably wouldn’t have been as memorable of a movie.

Here’s an example of how the two tie in so perfectly. Try not to get a little misty-eyed as you listen to Binary Sunset (around the 1:50 mark). In your mind’s eye, you can see young Luke gazing off into the horizon, wishing he could leave for a life of adventure that he cannot have while he’s stuck at his uncle’s farm.

OK. Maybe I’m the only one who can see the scene in my mind’s eye. And maybe I’m the only one who gets misty-eyed. But it’s still a powerful scene. And we owe it to the soundtrack.

The jaw-dropping special effects

With Star Wars, George Lucas understood the purpose of special effects. It could be argued that he lost his way when it came to the prequels, but that’s a different discussion. When you look at Star Wars for what it was, it was an amazing technological leap forward in the realm of special effects and film.

And it played second fiddle to something much more important: the story.

Without a good story full of engaging, memorable characters, you don’t have that much of a quality movie. If you throw special effects in there and use them to drive the story, then you have even less of a movie.

Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.

George Lucas
From Star Wars to JediThe Making of a Saga

The story is a timeless fantasy. Farmboy growing up a hundred miles from nowhere becomes a protege of a wise, mysterious, old wizard. They team up with a band of outlaws on a journey to rescue a princess. Along the way, they topple an evil Empire and this seemingly insignificant farmboy from an insignificant place saves the galaxy.

While the special effects were groundbreaking and are still pretty amazing, they’re subservient to the timeless story. And that’s the way it should be. I wish more filmmakers (including George Lucas himself in later years) would learn from that. Special effects are a tool to tell a story. Special effects are not the story. Star Wars nails this point perfectly.

I think that’s why I have been so disappointed with the tinkering they did with the films for the Special Edition – and after the Special Edition. The story becomes a tool to show off your special effects, which is the opposite of how it should be. It messes up the story.

All that being said, there’s one addition in the Special Edition of Star Wars that does help the story. It’s the brief encounter Luke has with Biggs before the final battle. It helps the audience understand why it was such a big deal that Biggs is shot down at the end. It’s not just that Luke is now all alone. He’s also lost his best friend.

Luke and Biggs before the Battle of Yavin
image via Wookieepedia

I feel like I should also mention that the final battle scene in Star Wars is where I strongly disagree with Roger Ebert’s initial review of the film. I have always thought the final battle was just the right length.

The magic

Star Wars is an adventurous joyride full of ups and downs and twists and surprises and it doesn’t stop until the final explosion and you jump up and down with joy as all the tension releases from your body. Steven Spielberg once said that Star Wars “put the butter back into the popcorn.” And he’s right. With Star Wars, movies became fun again. Once again, movies could take you off to a place far, far away, and invite you to stay. Moviemakers have been trying to capture that magic since Star Wars. While some have had varying levels of success, none have been able to come close to matching the magic of Star Wars.

Its endurance

Some movies, like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan are great because they tell moving, heartbreaking stories. And I never want to watch them again.  Other movies are great because you want to watch them over and over and over again.

As you can see, Star Wars clearly falls into the latter. And I’m pretty sure that’s why it’s my favorite of my favorites. Always has been. Always will be.

Which Star Wars film is your favorite? Do you like any prequels better than the Original Trilogy?

For the duration of this post, please realize that I’ll be using ‘Star Wars’ and ‘A New Hope’ interchangeably. If you have a problem with that…well…that’s really your problem. I suggest you find something else to get upset about because this really isn’t that big of a deal.

** I warned you here. I warned you again here. I have no sympathy for you if this is a spoiler. Just watch the daggum movies already!

Why The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite

Empire Strikes Back

I believe The Empire Strikes Back is the first movie I remember going to see in a movie theatre. I remember waiting in line with Uncle Don and Aunt Patsy. I’m sure other people were there with us, but I definitely remember them because Uncle Don told me that they use glowing swords that make a humming noise and go “bzzzzp” when they hit each other. I came to find out much later that they were concerned that the lightsaber scenes were going to scare me.

Scare me?

They were awesome.

I appreciate the sentiment. But I already knew all about the sound lightsabers make. I was already a huge Star Wars fan. I had the storybooks. I’d heard The Story of Star Wars. Like most kids my age, I was hooked. And the toys from The Empire Strikes Back – especially the Hoth playsets – certainly helped fuel my Star Wars addiction.

I owned that playset. It’s still in my parents’ basement. It’s one of my favorites. Always has been. Always will be.

Of course, the toys aren’t the only reason The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite…

Everybody’s Doing It

It seems that it has become quite cool to say that The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite of the Original Trilogy (and if it’s your favorite from the OT, then it’s probably your favorite of the entire series of Star Wars flicks because it’s entirely unlikely that one would think that any of the prequels is better than Empire – just sayin’). Roger Ebert said it was his favorite in the Star Wars saga. It is the highest-rated episode in the entire Star Wars filmography, according to rottentomatoes.com. Wired magazine says that “the other five movies are comic books. Empire is a fairy tale.” I’m pretty sure they mean that as a compliment.

In high school, I started telling everyone that Empire was my favorite of the three films. I got some pretty crazy looks from people for two reasons:

  1. Star Wars wasn’t “cool” anymore. I was part of the minority. I still loved the stories even when very few of my classmates would admit to being a Star Wars fan. I guess you could say I’m a Star Wars hipster. I liked the films before they were cool again. Those were dark times, though.
  2. For many of those who thought Star Wars was still worth discussing, Empire was just a bridge between A New Hope and Jedi. They didn’t see the way Empire was essential in fleshing out Luke’s development as a character. They didn’t understand how the hero had to lose before he could win.* They didn’t appreciate the complexities of the lover’s triangle that was brewing between Han, Leia, and Luke. They just wanted explosions and action and stuff. Empire was just a means unto an end.

Chewbacca

Sad Chewie by David Bigler via http://davidbigler.com/art/illustration/the-empire-strikes-back-30th-anniversary-drawing-a-day-may-5-sad-chewie/attachment/empire-strikes-back-30th-sad-chewbacca-hoth-db/
image via David Bigler

Most of the time, Chewbacca’s  character is about as static as when you rub a balloon against my head. Not so in Empire. He isn’t just a walking carpet with anger management issues in this edition. He cares. Deeply. He’s distraught over the shield doors closing at night, trapping his closest friend in the frozen horror that is Hoth at night. He goes berserk in his attempt to protect Han from the carbon chamber. He comforts Leia as she watches Han descend into the unknown. It’s subtle. But there’s a lot of depth to Chewie in Empire.

“No. There is another…”

Do me a favor. Ignore the prequels for a minute. I know. You’d rather ignore them forever. I get that.

Think back to the time when you had no idea that Luke and Leia were siblings.* When Yoda tells Obiwan that Luke is not their last hope, it sends a shiver down your spine. The mystery of who the other hope for the galaxy? Now that’s a cliffhanger.

Ch-ch-changes. Or not.

I have disagreed with a lot of the changes that George Lucas made when he released the Special Edition. I thought most of them were unnecessary. It should say something, then, that The Empire Strikes Back was the one film that George Lucas didn’t change very much. Yeah, there are a few expanded scenes and the visuals are enhanced, but it’s nothing like the changes in the other two. I firmly believe it’s because Empire was so well done that there wasn’t much Lucas could tinker around with (except Boba Fett’s voice. I’m still upset about that). That’s a sign of a well-told story. And I like that.

The bad guys are winning*

There is very little hope at the end of the second installment of the Original Trilogy. Very little hope, indeed. The Rebels are on the run. Luke’s received horrifying news. Han has been taken off to who-knows-where. The entire galaxy is spinning further into darkness. The Dark Side has won the day. You can’t have the joyful ending in Return of the Jedi without the dark, almost depressing ending found in The Empire Strikes Back

And because of this, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite.

*Like I said earlier, it’s 30+ years. If this is a spoiler for you, I’m sorry. You need to get with the program. I even have a few copies of the films you can borrow.

Why Return of the Jedi is my favorite

Return of the Jedi

Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Return of the Jedi. I remember the weeks (and maybe even the months) of hype leading up to this film. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat (honestly? it was a couch. you get the idea though) in the Living Room in our old house on Iroquois, watching Entertainment Tonight’s feature about the filming of the speeder bike scene. I could.not.wait. I was caught up in Jedi fever, like the rest of the country (be sure to note the price of the scalped tickets in that link. I’d be pretty happy with those prices today!).

While I didn’t camp out in the ticket line or attend any midnight showings, I was the first of my friends to go see it. I was pretty proud of that fact.

I still remember seeing that vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt, on the big screen for the first time. I still remember holding my breath during the final duel. I still remember the magic of the final chapter of the Original Trilogy. And because of this experience alone, Return of the Jedi will always be a favorite movie of mine. But that’s not the only reason.

Ewoks

Ewoks. Love them.
image via Enemy of Peanuts

I know. Many people think the Ewoks are the Original Trilogy’s equivalent of Jar Jar Binks. It’s become the cool thing to say.You can say that if you want. It’s OK for you to be wrong.

I argue that Ewoks are a crucial part of the story. The Rebellion is a ragtag group up against the arrogant, evil, well-oiled Imperial machine. The involvement of prehistoric Ewoks in the war against a new technological terror is merely an extension of the theme that has been evident since the beginning of the Star Wars saga – don’t count out the little guy. Love and friendship conquer all.

Darth Vader

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker's final battle in Return of the Jedi
image via Yodapedia

Once you realize the entire Star Wars saga is the story of Anakin Skywalker turned Darth Vader turned Anakin Skywalker*, you view Jedi through an entirely different lens. Watching the redemption of Darth Vader at the end of the film brings a tear to my eye. It gives me chills. In fact, I have goosebumps right now just because I’m writing about it.

The Good Guys Win!

Celebrate the Love in Return of the Jedi
image via Odds & Thens

The entire saga ties together in one dramatic climax. The Emperor is gone. The Empire is defeated. The friends are wiser, stronger, and closer to each other than they had ever been before. There’s dancing and singing and everyone is celebrating the love (not “lord,” as a teacher once insisted in high school) – but only in the original version. That’s one of the reasons I strongly dislike the Special Edition, by the way. Order has been restored. Evil has been destroyed. Good has won. All is right with the galaxy. Just like it should be.

Does Jedi work as a stand-alone movie? Probably not. But as a conclusion to an epic Trilogy? Absolutely! Sure, there are some faults. Each episode has them. But Jedi has a special place in my heart. And for that reason, it’s my favorite.

Which installment of Star Wars is your favorite? Why?

*I’m sorry if this is a spoiler, but…come on….it’s been 30 years. If this is a spoiler for you, then what are you waiting for? Pretend you didn’t read this, go borrow someone’s copy of Return of the Jedi and watch it tonight!