bizarroSTARWARS: …339 days to go!

Monday, January 12th, 2015



There are very few geeky things that get me excited – the thought of my wife in a Catwoman outfit (something as yet sadly unfulfilled), watching Heath Ledger’s Joker performance (gets me every time: perfect, perfect, perfect performance) and maybe spotting something new in yet another multiple viewing of Lost – but this year the one thing that’s getting me all hot and bothered is the anticipation of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, resuscitated by Disney and geek rainmaker JJ Abrams…something we all thought would never be realised: George Lucas himself dug the grave and delivered the eulogy to the main SW film canon sometime back, and we all thought we would be left with 6 films of varying degrees of quality and a whole bunch of fan- and Lucas-certified lesser fiction, animation and other art.

J.J. Abrams

The most important 88 seconds in film history…hyperspace-hyperbole!  

Not the case, as the release date of December 18 2015 fast approaches – not fast enough though – with many tantalising teasers and trailers to flower girl its arrival. The first of which – 88 seconds of bombast editing of nonsensical snippets that had the internet analysing frame by glorious frame to the point of complete anal-retentiveness. In preparation for it all, I plan on writings and exhibiting a few thoughts of my own during the coming months as a way to prepare myself and to have a look at what this whole Star Wars thing means to me…


Admittedly, it is hard to come to terms with Star Wars fandom – firstly, I am not one of those gung-ho, dress-up fans who live and die by the lightsaber, I am not even close the highest echelons of being a fan worthy of being considered an expert on all things Lucas-universe, which brings me to my first thoughts here: Chris Taylor’s book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise – Taylor, a much lauded and talented writer for the Mashable pop culture and tech website is one of those experts, a fan dedicated to finding the stories behind the story, delivering with great flair and great writing some things we all might not know or had forgotten about the genesis of Star Wars and its impact on the world, movies, pop culture and each and every one of us.

Taylor presents the story with remarkable fluidity and great care for the subject matter, but still with a subtle critical eye. He presents everyday real world characters for whom the SW universe has actively and significantly changed their lives – not just the fanboys (to whom Taylor is neither condescending nor flippant), but those who took a part of SW and used it to constructively enhance their lives and livelihood, like the 501st battalion, a group that started off as just a bunch of guys building Stormtrooper suits and evolved into the vast global network of performance artists who choose to deliver the SW message to where it mattered, to the people, appearing at conventions, public events and charity events in suit and in character en masse to keep SW in the public eye.


So passionate were the 501st, that Lucas recognised their contributions to the pop culture of the films and the universe that he fully endorsed and encouraged the group to continue their good work. Lesser examples of the same kind of passion for the legacy of SW also include the man who fought hard to bring the Star Wars films to the native American Navajo community in their own language, and the amateur R2D2 builders club, who like modellers and other fringe hobbyists, live and breathe their passion to the point of exhaustion. Good people all, with passion and a sense of fun, the kind of people I myself love to read about and identify with, and also a lot like Taylor who, one can gather from the narrative of the book, enjoyed the assignment a lot.


These stories of ordinary people embracing the world of SW leads directly to the story of Lucas himself, first as a young proto-geek in 1950s middle America (Northern California, actually) with a passion for cars and Flash Gordon serials, and then later for art, animation and filmmaking.

Young George is likable enough, though overly tenacious and slightly boring, but by the time he’s decided on a career in the arts, these traits would serve him well in negotiating the wobbly counterculture of the 70s independently-minded filmmaking boom that saw so many of his contemporaries and close friends almost fall off the edge of excess (prime example being Francis Ford Coppola’s megalomaniacal ambition and excess) its no surprise that the two most successful filmmakers of the era, Lucas and Spielberg, were also the most strait-laced, teetotalled and utterly focussed of this new generation of film artists.


Taylor goes on to detail Lucas’ early filmmaking: surprisingly ambitious and avant garde efforts in film school and on the fringes of Hollywood, particularly his THX 1138 minimalistic dystopian sci-fi fable that first got him noticed by mainstream Hollywood.

The film itself is a million light years and galaxy far away from Star Wars, but the film, starring Robert Duvall and a lot of overexposed white mise-en-scene, indicated Lucas’ talent for creating something different out of the fresh tropes of science fiction film. If that was not enough to keep the suits guessing, his first major feature American Graffiti, a coming of age multi-story set in his hometown, based on his experiences growing up in idealistic but uncertain 1960s America, went on to be his first box office hit (blockbusters were still a few years away as a concept) – with amiable characters, classic cars and a great nostalgic soundtrack,


Graffiti was a game changer for Lucas and Hollywood – making Lucas a millionaire and giving him free reign to do whatever kind of film he wanted.


That film was the first Star Wars, a long gestating idea of presenting not a science fiction film but a space fantasy, a operatic fairy tale that would not be held to earthly concepts of science and nature, but a fully formed world within many galaxies where anything could happen and anyone could partake.

The film was a difficult birth, as detailed by Taylor in his book, highlighting the troubles of being a young filmmaker with a great idea in his head and not being able to communicate it effectively within the limitations of the medium he chose to use – something that would dog Lucas and his creativity ever since.

As a filmmaker Lucas was no Coppola or Spielberg: having neither the talent for words on a page or images on a screen – what Lucas was good at was finding the right people to communicate the vision in his head…from scriptwriters (all 6 movies started out in pencil on yellow legal paper by Lucas, and then through extensive drafts, rewrites and edits with many collaborators, finally finding the voice that exists on screen for posterity) – …to pioneering special effects creators, sound designer Ben Burtt who gave the movies its unique sound, effects cinematographer John Dykstra who created the camera system that enabled the movies’ distinct and realistic space battle scenes.

Also in his corner, Lucas had producers, marketers and money men (Alan Ladd Jr at Fox Studios) who believed in the Lucas vision and thought up new methods and broke new ground in getting the movie made and to the people.

When the first film was released in 1977, no one thought it would be the life changing pop iconoclast that it eventually became.

“Somewhere in space this all might be happening right now…”

In Taylor’s book every inch of the process is analysed to find the secret of its phenomenal success, everything from the opening ten minutes of the first movie – dismantling how the use of music, sound and vision, the font of the logo to the timing of John Williams iconic theme worked to make the Star Wars like nothing the world had seen before.

To how Lucas considered things like casting, location and those all-important special effects. Taylor goes on to analyse the making and reaction to the next two films and the later prequel trilogy, to a lesser extent than the original film, which is a little disappointing, but you can imagine that an in-depth look at each of the films would take up an entire book each on its own.

This book though does get pretty up to date, bar of course the last couple of months of the first phase of the Force Awakens and the next series of films. He highlights the ins and outs of Lucas’ decision to retire from the Star Wars world completely (seemingly hesitantly, but eventually much willingness, once he appointed the right people to drive the franchise in the right direction – highly successful former Spielberg collaborator Kathleen Kennedy as head of the company and JJ Abrams as director of the first film), as well as the intimate details of how the sale of the entire Lucas company to Disney was executed – one of the more important corporate deals in modern Hollywood history, with as much intrigue and hard-fought negotiation one might find in some of the Star Wars films’ more overtly political plot points.

But once Lucas knew that Disney would allow the company that bore his name and its products the same freedom to develop as it had allowed its other important cinematic assets like Marvel and Pixar, he was finally happy to let it go.

The atmosphere of Taylor’s telling of this vast, intricate history of the most profitable and most culturally important Hollywood touchstone is positive and congenial. There are a lot of barbed words and vicious indictments of Lucas and his creations throughout the years, some justified, some just plain nasty – but playing to a global audience of passionate fanboys and movie lovers in general can invite overanalyses and some tough criticism – for the most part, Taylor plays devil’s advocate for the world of Star Wars, and his book is both a refreshingly honest and well thought out long form journalistic piece.

It is a perfect read to reminisce on the memories of one’s own Star Wars memories and favourite moments, and fill in some of the blanks of the story behind the films and its universe, all the while working as a perfect primer for the next stage, the next great adventure into the world of Star Wars.

Bring on December 18 already…

*More from author Chris Taylor:


bizarroMUSIC: Tony Joe White & Polk Salad Annie

Thursday, January 8th, 2015


TJW is one funky dude and can munch a swampy blues guitar like a boss, his songs used to be a staple on Chris Prior’s late shows on Radio 5 back in the 20th century.

He sounds like what it must feel like to be stuck in the sludge of a Louisiana bayou on a hot, wet, moonless night.

His Polk Salad Annie was recorded by late-era Elvis and he wrote and recorded the original Steamy Windows – later a hit for Tina Turner, the royalties of which no doubt have been his only big meal ticket ever since…


Still going strong, he was recently featured in Dave Grohl/Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways series, discussing the his contribution to the sound of New Orleans and its Deep South surrounds.

*Foo Fighters were his backup band on Letterman:

Maybeshewill: Co- Conspirators

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

“…so much of the time we’re just lost, we say, “Please, God, tell us what is right, tell us what is true”

….(but) there is no justice.
The rich win, the poor are powerless
we become tired of hearing people lie
And after a time we become dead.

We think of ourselves as victims, and we become victims

we become weak, we doubt ourselves, we doubt our beliefs, and we doubt the law
But today you are the law.”

Paul Newman as Frank Galvin in Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict

bizarrojerri – 2014 in review

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 38 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

bizarroFILM: Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

the Chappie trailer

has arrived…


…one day when I rule the world with my nuclear-powered Jack Russells, mandatory sandwich-making classes and 24-hour funk rock soundtrack, I will ban movie trailers.

Trailers ruin everything and cause fanboys the world over to make a mess all over the floor that someone else has to clean up.

that all said, here is the trailer for Chappie, the new Neill Blomkamp movie with a robot.


I enjoy Blomkamp’s style and vision – District 9 has the hallmarks, to me, of a real classic film that you can enjoy multiple times

  • sometimes even without drugs…

D9 has some great ambitious ideas, well executed with visual flair, reasonable acting and some good action…all the while doing things a little differently from the usual Hollywood cliché playbook.

I believe the original movie said what it wanted to say and that, contrary to what many have demanded, it does not need a sequel.

Chappie, judging by the general atmosphere and story in the trailer, is the movie Blomkamp has decided to make as a companion film that could be considered a D9 sequel…it might not be of the same universe , but it revolves around the same bizarre sun.


Blomkamp’s first post-D9 film, Elysium , was okay…needed a bit more focus and better casting. It is a typical sophomoric film from a rising new director wined, dined and having his pants charmed off by gushing (with wetness and money) Hollywood. The film has its moments – largely once again down to Sharlto Copley, who now embodies Chappie.

From the Chappie trailer there is not much to gather how Copley comes through as the motion-captured Chappie, but knowing his acting style – which while not award-winning, is unique and memorable (his Murdock is still the best part of the much unloved A-Team movie a couple of years back…) the Chappie character may get some flesh and bone in the main feature…as much as one can playing a robot.


I am not a fan of Die Antwoord…I am too old for that subversive, reactionary visual bullshit attached to bad music. But live and let live to Ninja and Yolandi, best of luck to them, it is still amazing they have managed to ride this wave of theirs for so long. Hipster Hollywood is notorious for its short attention span – so continuing endorsements by Depp, Marilyn Manson and others, have helped a lot in keeping them in the public eye even when the music has gotten more formulaic and their visual elements more outlandish but more redundant.

I am however a big Waddy Jones fan – I appreciate him as an artist, lyricist and his long list of ADD-riddled world domination schemes (of which Die Antwoord is the most successful “you finally did it Waddy,, and to think, all you had to go all whitetrash-gangsta to finally get your voice heard”)– everything he has done, from Original Evergreen to Max Normal, and all his various musical experiments and toy marketing escapades, and yes, even Ninja for the first five minutes when the whole Antwoord thing blow up in 2010/11 (? I stand corrected on this…) are all the hallmarks of a great artist and even a better -though slightly deluded – marketing genius.


And so to: Chappie – where the universes and visions of Blomkamp and Die Antwoord collide…with Hugh Jackman and that guy out of Slumdog Millionaire along for the ride. All I can say really, is ‘wow…. and …uh?’ – what the heck?

Not going to pass judgement just yet on this, I think we owe it to Blomkamp, that he knows what he’s doing here…but, wow. If I was some Hollywood money-guy and you came to me with the idea of casting two relatively unknown and untested South African weirdo pop culture instigators in a multimillion-dollar movie, I would have shown you the door…to an insane asylum. But luckily, someone bought into Blomkamp’s idea and vision, and it may yet prove to be a gamechanging move…what’s next Jack Parow in the next Scorsese film? Until Chappie, I would have laughed…now that I think about it – that would be a great idea- someone hook up Jack with Marty.

Chappie, though, for now, promises interesting things – it looks good – that same steampunkish-Blade Runner in broad daylight vibe that made D9 so unique…obviously, as a South African, the almost-too-real near-dystopian Joburg setting is very cool – it is nice to see your own surroundings represented in such vivid Hollywoodness – another defining trademark of D9 .

That said, the fanboys around the world are already throwing around snarky “hey, it’s a Short Circuit reboot” and “Wall-E in Mzansi” comments about like a tortured hacky-sack…

Perhaps it all might turn out like that, there’s enough in the trailer to tell us that the plot revolves around Chappie the robot’s voyage of discovery in a hard cruel postmodern world, where he meets Ninja and Yolandi, stuff explodes, Hugh Jackson has a mullet, and Chappie ultimately finds his humanity,…or some such bullshit. Trailers just give away too much of the movie, it’s amazing we bother to see the damn flick at all.

Anyhoo…I’m excited to see it anyway, even if Ninja and Yolandi give me a bit of the groanies and the cringies…don’t stay by the phone, expecting a call from the Academy, Waddy.

In some weird sense of patriotism – in that it is hard to be proud of being South African these days (but that’s a story for another day) – I am glad someone as competent and talented as Blomkamp is choosing to tell the world his unique stories using an interesting (familiar but maybe not so familiar) South African context…

If we take anything away from this first evidence of Chappie, the film – in setting, cast and general aesthetic – will be one of the most bizarre films Hollywood ever put money on.

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