I could never really get into comic books in my youth.
I definitely tried. I loved the characters and stories, but ingesting the short stories only once per month greatly tested my patience. Like with how I do most of my TV viewing now, I’d need to wait till there were plenty of back issues then binge…and it would need to be a story-line I was into.
Those story-lines were rare and almost exclusively Batman. The darker the better. When I read “The Killing Joke“, my eyes were opened to the idea of a grittier world for these heroes. This was something I could really get into. Still, by and large that particular means of taking in these stories escaped me.
Little did I now, around that time Tim Burton got his hands on a live action Batman film.
30 years ago today, I found the way I needed to ingest these stories.
“Where does he get those wonderful toys?” The Joker’s envy over Bruce’s gadgets was what I would imagine other filmmakers felt about the cast and script that Burton had to play with on this film.
Michael Keaton is still the greatest all around Bruce Wayne/Batman. Argue otherwise, and I may fight you. He carved out this character (both sides of it) leaning on nothing in film history…at least this genre, as there was nothing to draw from. He created the blueprint for all others to follow, and in 30 years it’s yet to be improved upon.
Then, there’s Jack. “Winged freak terrorizes? Wait till they get a load of me.” It certainly was something to behold. Nicholson’s Joker had some of the all time great one-liners, which would’ve been wasted on most other actors.
A villain who made you love & hate him while attempting to poison a large number of Gotham civilians (remember “Smylex”)? Not many could pull that off.
Thankfully, The Joker’s tale is built in mystery. This has left the door open to more opportunities for others to have their own very unique take. Only one has measured up since.
A moment that stood out to me well after leaving the theater back in 1989, was when we first meet Batman doing what he does. He grabs a thief who was hiding on a Gotham rooftop, and dangles him over the edge:
Here, we learn this Batman knows how to play this game, without only violence:
“I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell all your friends about me.”
“What are you?!”
That was true till Robert Downey Jr. showed his true colors. And they’re…whatever awesome colors GRATEFUL would be.
Here and there, the cast of Endgame has been posting behind the scenes photos and videos, reminiscing about their time on set and providing fans with a glimpse into the fun (and stress) of working on such an epic production. Chris Evans was excited to learn when he could post this BTS vid from Endgame on twitter:
However, none has matched RDJ’s grateful victory lap.
We all know that Tony Stark has taken his last bow. Even before Endgame was released on April 26th, RDJ began posting photos and videos…memories from the set and press tour:
The posts leveled up in intensity once any reasonable spoiler embargo was lifted. This included a behind the scenes look at Tony’s SNAP (which obviously came well after the films release) :
While any singular post wouldn’t necessarily stand out, the sum total paints a picture of a man who is grateful. Grateful for fans, for the experience, for his family & friends, and of course for his fellow Avengers. You’ll notice a tendency to include #thankyou on his posts, especially after the film was released:
You definitely get a sense of someone who is going to miss these folks…and how much he appreciates them. One post was from a lunch he hosted for all of the women of the MCU:
Speaking of folks he’ll miss 😭:
While the legacy of RDJ’s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man won’t dim in our hearts & minds any time soon, they’ve also taken a more physical approach to solidify this legacy at the infamous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA 🙌:
As much as I enjoy ending things by writing something clever or poignant, it’s probably best to let RDJ himself take us out of this one. We love you 3000, Robert! 👋:
To whoever was my boss 20 years ago today: Sorry, not sorry.
If reserved seating at movie theaters was a thing back then, I wouldn’t have had to call in “sick” to be sure I had a decent seat. I’d direct you to aim any judgment to the theater I went to, but apparently it’s now just some random parking lot full of trucks.
Since there isn’t anywhere to re-direct your judgement, let me explain. It had been 16 years since “Return of the Jedi” had been released. Star Wars fans had put the idea of any new films behind us, only to have George Lucas drop a Darth Vader origin story in our laps out of the blue.
I can’t say I had to see it opening day to avoid spoilers, since social media wasn’t a thing then. I just had to. I’m glad I did. Sitting in that theater (with an aisle seat only half way back 🙌) with die-hard Star Wars fans who ROARED when that “Lucasfilm” logo came up will be a memory I cherish forever .
If you’re still feeling sour, I’ll stop by sometime and clear out some fitting rooms for you. In the meantime, I’ll share with you (and only you 😉) some fun moments from “The Phantom Menace” 20th Anniversary panel at this years Star Wars Celebration. Hope this helps smooth things over a bit.
Hosted by Warwick Davis, the panel featured actors from both the light & dark side of the Star Wars universe. Starting with the DARK SIDE, Ray Park talks about the moment those doors opened revealing Darth Maul ready to throw down:
After Warwick gives some grief to Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) for his sock fashion (their multi-panel ‘rivalry’ was the stuff of legends), Ahmed Best gives some background on the casting/discovery process for Jar Jar:
Earlier in the convention, Ian McDiarmid‘s maniacal laugh was heard on the “Rise Of Skywalker” trailer just before he sauntered out on stage. Speculation was obviously rampant about how The Emperor could be alive. Here, Ian goes into how emphatic George Lucas was that he was truly dead while filming “Return of The Jedi“, and how he was introduced again in the prequels:
Thankfully, J.J. Abrams has decided otherwise, and we’ll be getting more if Ian…in some shape or form.
Getting this off my chest after all this time has certainly made me feel loads better 😉. If there is still any sort of sting from my workplace betrayal from “A long time ago”, I’ll leave you with this happy, peppy little ditty from Weird Al about some “small fry” named Anakin:
If you’re reading this and are 17-99 years old, please go get a younger sibling or niece or nephew or kid or grandkid who is 16 and under to read this with as this is for them. I’ll wait:
KIDS! I have a top secret mission for you.
Yell it toward your parents or siblings or dog/cat/hamster so someone can hear you (if they’re sitting right next to you, feel free to just say it at a normal volume).
Don’t tell them WHY just yet…that comes later.
Now, tell the grown-up reading this with (or to) you that they can hang out…but you’ll need to initiate them with a “Shake of Secrecy“.
If you don’t already have one, you can invent one with them now. This will require they keep your mission a total secret…or else they have to buy you pizza every night for a month. Go ahead and do that now. I’ll wait:
Cool! I asked some parents, aunts, & uncles who their fav kids favorite characters were (I’ll include those at the end), and just hearing the responses I have to say you guys definitely have WAY more fun than we older people do.
Sometimes us grown-ups take things a little tooooo seriously, and we need you to remind us to JUST HAVE FUN with these stories. Sometimes we’re thinking too much about the small details that really don’t matter.
You’ll hear us call it “trivia” or whether or not something is “canon” (don’t worry about what “canon” means, it’s not at all important). You might hear us complain about small errors in these films & shows that are just supposed to be FUN. Please stop us.
THIS. IS. YOUR. MISSION.
Teach us old folks how to just have FUN with these awesome characters, shows, and movies again. How to be giant dorks like Chris Pratt (STAR LORD) here:
Now, go tell some grown-ups WHY you love the character you shouted earlier. Tell them your favorite scene, if you can remember it. Better yet, ACT IT OUT WITH THEM. You’re the director, so you get to say “ACTION!” and “CUT!”. I’ll wait:
NICE WORK! Every time one of these big new movies comes out, be on the lookout for the older folks in your life getting too stressed about the small stuff that doesn’t matter. If you see us looking too much like grumpy Dumbledore here:
…make us act out another scene with you! You should also ask us who our favorite characters are, and make us tell you WHY. If it doesn’t put a smile on our face to tell you, we’re doing it wrong and we need you more than ever!
Thanks to all of the kids who contributed their favorite characters and ENTHUSIASM. You all are an inspiration! Here are the favorite characters our young correspondents submitted, and what they love about them!
(Grown-ups take note: We should be talking like this way more often 👇)
As one chapter closes, another one begins. It’s time to talk about my favorite character in all of the MCU. Nebula. Not only because any mainstream representation of curmudgeon-hood makes my grumpy ass feel ever-so-slightly less grumpy, but that is certainly a tiny part of it.
I once audited a class with a dialect coach who works with film actors. Just the initial screening to start to find my ‘base’ dialect was a conversation that took an hour (turns out I have a very general American dialect…the only giveaway of hailing from where I do being my liberal use of “dude”).
Karen Gillen has etched out a character so specific in dialect, movement & emotional tone, that I’d defy you to find another to compare Nebula to. Strip away that blue & purple-faced, black-eyed facade, and you still have a performance (spanning four films so far) that is one of a kind and unforgettable.
The work that has gone into each aspect would be exhausting in itself, but the sum total…I’m not sure how she’s not in a coma.
Do we dare look at the emotional thread? Who in that universe has been more tortured? Literally. Her own (adopted) father. Stripped down and rebuilt to be a better warrior, but what you get from her performance is still very raw, damaged, vulnerable humanity (Luphomoidity?).
It’s true that talented scene partners will elevate your own performance (I’ve dabbled, & you will certainly ride the wind of the genius around you). So, I would imagine doing scene work with the likes of Josh Brolin, Lee Pace, Zoe Saldana et al would inspire some pretty epic moments. I’d also likely soil myself if I had to go toe to toe with them.
Thanos would pit Nebula and Gamora in battles against each other, with Gamora winning “again and again, and again, never once refraining“. Thankfully in the case of these scene partners, neither side refrained and we’re all reaping the benefit.
We’re still fresh in Endgame territory, so we can only assume we’ll be seeing Nebula in the next Guardians of the Galaxy installment (safe bet). Who knows where in the MCU timeline or Nebula’s own emotional journey we’ll be lucky to witness when that finally hits screens.
Ms. Gillan has also recently suggested she’d be interested in directing a Marvel film. If her debut feature “The Party’s Just Beginning” is any indication (she wrote, directed and starred), she’s well versed in unearthing stirring performances from others as well as herself.
A solo Nebula film? I’m down. Whatever it ends up being I’m fairly certain what I’ll be saying dryly yet very sincerely as I leave the theater: “I had fun”.
This is going to hurt.
It’s probably unwise to try and write this in public, but the people around me will just have to assume I’m writing an obituary and deal with it.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue. New directions, characters, “big baddies” etc. However, it felt necessary to look back as this particular chapter came to a close. We all know that some of the actors involved have announced they’re done playing their characters, so there aren’t any spoiler threats here.
Storytelling is at the core of the human experience. It has been since the dawn of time. Stories (real or imaginary) can help us learn how others deal with setbacks. They can help us remember. They can help inspire us. They can help us connect with others around us simply by sharing them…our own, or the one’s we take in from gifted storytellers.
Not all people have the same entry point when it comes to storytelling, but there may be a few invested in this one. Starting with Tony Stark in that dang cave, Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau were definitely on to something. Introducing a lesser known (to the masses) superhero to cinema goers was bold, but boy did it pay off.
I am very thankful for this boldness. Admittedly, there have been too many of these films (in my opinion). Not all of them have been great. However, a few of these actors have found a thread in each appearance that has felt real, and somehow close to home despite the other-worldly nature of the films. This has made “suffering” through the few stinkers worthwhile.
Enter Chris Evens and Robert Downey Jr. The heart and soul of this universe for me. These two exemplified a commitment to character throughout the last 10 years. The work they’ve put into their characters has risen above any reductive argument about these being “just superhero” movies.
While the colorful, thrilling, flashy, popcorn inducing wrapping on these films may seem “easy” (it’s certainly not), you can find something in the work these two put into their characters that will stand the test of time. Take the heart of this character work from these films, and put it into a period drama, thriller, or what have you…it wouldn’t feel out of place.
The roads Tony and Steve have been down during the last decade are exhausting, when thought of as an actual period of life for any human. Physically, emotionally…I cannot fathom. From their most vulnerable places (Steve’s “I can do this all day” while being bullied pre-super soldier serum & Tony’s determination to build his original suit “with a box of scraps” to escape captivity), these actors proved these were characters worth following from the get-go.
The characters are well written, sure, with a wealth of material for the screenwriters to draw from. Somehow, though, these two were able to elevate even from great writing & connect two characters to the hearts of fans around the world in a very real and tangible (and somehow relateable) way.
Two vastly different characters, similar journey’s, same goal…and destination. They’ll be in our hearts and minds (and stories) for life.
Thank you, gentlemen.
STAR WARS CELEBRATION
Episode II (for me)
It is a period of celebration for Star Wars fans. Lucasfilm executives & creatives, working from a not-so-hidden ranch in Northern California, have ushered in a new era of exciting new original content and brought this work to Chicago to display to their biggest fans.
During this event, fans managed to capture not-so-secret photographs of panels, cosplays, and the overall excitement surrounding this new content…which has enough power to launch an entirely new TV streaming platform.
Pursued by a convention schedule too packed to capture literally everything, one journalist raced around this windy city, attempting to bring as many images as possible of this exciting event to the rest of the galaxy….
“Roll it again.” 😯😯😯😯😯
In case you missed it (doubtful), those words were uttered by none other than “The Emperor” himself, Ian McDiarmid, after the first viewing of the trailer for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago last weekend. There was an indistinguishable, maniacal laugh near the end of the trailer which left many wondering: “Could it…?” “Was that…?”
The lights came up red on stage, Ian sauntered out and stood for a few beats…then said those words in a voice that would send shivers up the spine of any Star Wars fan.
It WAS him. 🙌 (and they did…roll it again. Who’s going to argue with The Emperor?)
That was how they capped the event for this trailer release panel. But before this, panel host Stephen Colbert sat down with J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and a ton of the cast from this amazing new trilogy.
Joining J.J. on the panel were actors Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Joonas Suotamo, Naomi Ackie, and everyone’s favorite protocol droid Anthony Daniels.
We’ll start with the LEGEND. Mr. Billy Dee Williams. Stephen asked him how, after all these decades, did he “find” Lando again in order to portray him on screen:
Enough said. Moving on.
On to Oscar Isaac, with a question that made everyone in the room groan a bit. Stephen asked who was the better pilot, Han Solo or Poe Dameron:
The photos were definitely exciting to see, and John Boyega shared a bit of his excitement about his new wardrobe for Finn after seeing it for this film:
Naturally, any conversation about the new trilogy will eventually turn to the relationships. One panel I’m disappointed I missed at Star Wars Celebration was the “shipping” panel discussion (for those not familiar, “shipping” = a fans desire for two characters to be together…relationSHIP).
Not because I’m in any way invested in “Reylo” (Rey and Kylo Ren) or the topic in general, but because the anticipation for it was big & the discussions online about it were HEATED weeks before the convention.
Thankfully, Colbert goaded Daisy, John, and Oscar into giving us their own version of a shipping panel:
Colbert certainly didn’t pull any punches when it came to digging for spoilers, and even extended his investigation into what force powers we could expect to see on display with Rey:
Only 8 (tedious) months till we see the “other things” Rey gets up to. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” opens December 20th.
If you know me only from twitter, you’d think after unexpectedly meeting Dave Filoni earlier today on the expo floor of Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, that I’d be here talking about that chance encounter. He’s what I’ve talked about most when on the topic of Star Wars since listening to him talk about “The Force” at the same event in Orlando two years ago.
If you know me well, you know I’m here because the “Sisters of The Force” panel a few hours later gave me an excuse to talk about the women. The women in my life, as well as the women in the Star Wars Universe.
Brave, strong female characters in fiction have always reminded me of the amazing women in my life. My mother and grandmother in particular, but also many of the best friends, coworkers, teachers, and other role models throughout my life.
When Princess Leia arrived along with Star Wars when I was a kid, I thought “Gotcha. A lady my Mom would hang out with. Loads in common”. My grandmother was also someone who inspired me, as she was always able to find the positive in anything around her. Both of them lived how they were going to live & were going to achieve what they were going to achieve. Try and stop them. That’s pretty damn Leia…
…and Hera, and Ashoka, and Mon Mothma, and Padme and on the list goes.
What I learned today (to no surprise), was the women behind some of these characters, as well as behind the scenes on the shows and in other areas of the creative side of this Star Wars Universe…are equally as inspiring. What I love about this is that even if there is a shortage of “built in” female inspiration in a young persons life, there are women who can step in and inspire them straight out of popular culture.
This was literally put on display in this panel today.
Vanessa Marshall (“Hera” from “Star Wars Rebels“) connected with a young Star Wars fan at an event years back. She went by the handle “Darth Makenna” online…dressed in a sparkly, Vader themed cosplay. When Vanessa came across Makenna years later, she was concerned as she wasn’t as high-spirited as she had always known her to be. She connected with her mother over email, who explained she’d been bullied and that had led to depression.
Long story short…”Darth Makenna” was here. In Chicago. Backstage. In cosplay (OMG THE HELMET)…and Vanessa brought her on stage in front of thousands. Thousands who were touched by her story and cheered for her because this actor who cared reached out and did what she could to help.
The rest of the panel was filled with more stories of inspiration, showing the impact these awesome women are having on the fans (young and old) in the Star Wars fandom.
The panel host, Ashley Eckstein (“Ashoka Tano” from “Clone Wars” and “Rebels”) met a young fan named Miranda at a “Doctor Who” convention. Miranda has since battled (and beat) cancer numerous times. “I’ve met a real life Ashoka Tano”. She orchestrated a rendition of “Happy Birthday” with the crowd to send to Miranda who was watching the live-stream.
Catherine Taber (“Padme” in “Clone Wars”) met a young boy at an event who’s favorite character in Star Wars was Padme. He wrote a pretty lengthy summary on his reasoning as well (which again reminded me of the women in my life). Over the years he’s battled cancer and is in remission, currently readying for college to study film. She hopes to be hired by him some day.
Voice actor Suzie McGrath (“Tam” in “Star Wars Resistance“) used the opportunity of her first ever Star Wars Celebration appearance to talk about overcoming a stutter when she was young. She mentioned she didn’t bring it up much, but did so in the spirit of this event.
Writer and host Amy Ratcliffe talked about the work that went into getting where she is in her career. From writing a blog, to Nerdist and more. Brick by brick. She’s currently hosting at this massive event, and late last year she released the book “Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy“. She shared how excited she was when fans showed up to book release events in Star Wars cosplay.
Athena Portillo is the Executive Producer on “Star Wars Resistance” and was also a producer on “Clone Wars” & “Rebels”. She chronicled her path from being 45 minutes late to her internship interview with Lucasfilm back in the 90’s, to where she is today…learning about what will be going into all of the stories the actresses on that stage with her would be acting out later on.
The future of Star Wars is bright because of these women. But more importantly, so are the lives of the people around them (friends, fans, family) who they can inspire in the ways that were on display here in Chicago today.
I should call my mom.