From Empire to bystander – George Lucas sells

Just when I got used to the idea that there would be no more Star Wars movies, George Lucas announces the sale of Lucasfilm to Walt Disney for $4 billion dollars, that there’s a new movie trilogy to come, plus more movies after that, and maybe more television series in the Star Wars universe too.

It sounds like someone’s playing a Jedi mind trick, but apparently not. That said, if Lucas/Disney say “gotcha” tomorrow or next week or even next year, I would probably laugh and wonder how I could be so gullible.

That’s because Lucas has NEVER hinted at selling Star Wars. He has held his precious universe of human and alien characters (that includes you, Ponda Baba/Walrus Man) close to his hip since 1977. The movies would be made up of two trilogies, he assured, not three as was previously rumoured. He didn’t want to create a franchise like Star Trek, which told the same stories week after week, he said. Aside from more stories he would tell on television, that was it for Star Wars on film.

Now he’s saying that it’s time for a new generation of filmmakers to take the reigns of Star Wars. While George had said HE would not continue the Star Wars movies, that didn’t mean the door wasn’t open to others. So he’s being “consistent,” he said.


Clearly, Lucas had a change of heart. Was it the $4 billion price tag that changed his mind? The chance to crystallize his investment? Surely he has enough money alerady. What’s another $4 billion to him?

Is he disappointed that his prequel Star Wars trilogy wasn’t as big a hit with critics and fans as the original trilogy? Does he feel he messed up with Jar Jar and stuff like that? Is he looking to redeem Star Wars with the help of hot new directors like Zack Snyder and Matthew Vaughn? Vaughn recently stepped aside mysteriously from directing duties for the sequel of X-Men: First Class – maybe he’s been talking to George already?

Did Lucas’s lawyer mention the words “succession planning” recently that sent Lucas into a tizzy? Is he simply planning for the future of his FIRST child?

Or maybe he finally realized how cool it would be to see Jedi, Stormtroopers, Tusken Raiders, Jawas and, maybe even Boba Fett, on the silver screen again.

Disney has been splurging on acquisitions lately. Mickey Mouse obviously isn’t enough. It’s the home of Buzz Lightyear, Spider-Man, The Avengers, and it seems Lucas found the right home for his beloved Luke Skywalker and friends.

I am excited to see more Star Wars movies. Millions of us are and I’d be lying if I said otherwise. This morning I thought there was zero chance of that happening. This evening we already have a release date is 2015. Again, I have to wonder if this is a Jedi mind trick.

What excites me most is the chance for us to see what other creative minds can do in this amazing universe Lucas created. I think he, too, realized that someone else could take Star Wars to places he never could. That someone else could do Star Wars better than him. Though he says he’s looking forward to “a fan” like everyone else, that sounds like spin to me.

The truth is Lucas finally felt the Force for himself. That’s why he could finally “let go.”

Universal Monsters: welcome to Blu Ray

Just in time for Halloween, Universal Studios has delivered a first-class box set of their classic monster movies, dubbed The Essential Collection.

Dracula – check. Frankenstein – check.

The Invisible Man – my favourite monster movie ever! - check. The Mummy – check.

The Wolf Man – check. The Bride of Frankenstein – check.

The Phantom of the Opera – check. The Creature from the Black Lagoon – check.

I’ve watched almost all of them so far and I guarantee you these films have never looked as good as they do in this edition. Dracula and Frankenstein have received full restorations, but I found the picture quality of The Invisible Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon to be on par. Phantom of the Opera is the only one in colour and it looks glorious.

When you watch the special features and documentaries, which have been incorporated from previous releases, you will see how far the picture quality has come when  you compare the old clipos. Speaking of special features, you won’t see much in the way of new stuff, so that may disappoint some fans.

One of the few bonuses that makes up for the lack of new content is Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D! Yes, what is old is new again! This was one of the first 3D movies and, although slightly dizzying on Blu Ray, it’s quite a treat to be able to watch it in digital 3D. That’s right, no red and blue glasses required for this. It made me feel like I was watching it back in 1954 - just as the Fonz would have enjoyed it.

The Invisible Man is my all-time favourite monster movie and I have the action figure to prove it.

It would have been nice if Universal included the original 1925 silent version of Phantom. I hadn’t seen it so I made an effort to watch it recently and it is spectacular. It’s much scarier than the version included on this set starring Claude Rains. This would have been a great special feature to include. However, I’m happy that the documentary goes into some depth about this version, as well as all the others.

A tip for North American monster movie fans. This release is priced very high in Canada and the U.S. If I bought it from, it would have cost me about $150, including taxes. However, I purchased a region free set on sale at Amazon UK. The total, including shipping, came to just over $53 Canadian. That is a heck of a discount! The digiback packaging is slightly different than the book packaging in North America, and you get all the special features except for one audio commentary on Dracula, which I didn’t think was a big loss. So if you want to save, buy this set from the UK. The UK also has a special “coffin” package you can’t get elsewhere. It looks very cool and I would have bought it, but my wife wouldn’t let me.

RIP The Count – the Boba Fett of Sesame Street

Another great artist has departed this earth – Jerry Nelson – the genius that voiced Count Von Count on Sesame Street.

This one hurts. The Count was my all-time favourite Sesame Street character.

While he was considered a secondary character, to me he was the Boba Fett of Sesame Street. No one could make me laugh quite like The Count. His obsessive counting and – ah ah ah laughter – never failed to put a smile on my face and make me feel good about life, no matter what my mood might have been. On top of that, he made counting and learning FUN! Heck, I could watch the count all day. He was that awesome.

Kudos to all the great puppeteers, but especially Nelson, for creating a character that truly stood out among all the great Characters on Sesame Street. With stars like Ernie and Burt and the Cookie Monster, that wasn’t easy to do. He was the Elmo of his time.

I will always be thankful to The Count for his wisdom and teachings. As we say goodbye to Nelson, it’s somewhat comforting to know that The Count will live on in re-runs and new shows voiced by the next generation.

Ah ah ah!

William Windom was one of Star Trek’s greatest guest stars

I was very sad to hear about the passing of actor William Windom.

Windom, an Emmy-winning actor, is best known for his role in the television series Murder, She Wrote. But I will always remember him for his guest appearance in an episode of Star Trek entitled “The Doomsday Machine.”

This episode consistently makes top ten lists of Star Trek episodes and deservedly so. Windom plays Commodore Matt Decker, a captain who lost his starship to a giant planet-sucking “doomsday device” and is obsessed with obtaining revenge. In a crazed state, he pulls rank to take control of the U.S.S. Enterprise and puts the lives of its crew in great danger as he takes the ship in hot pursuit of the planet-killing machine. When I was in high school and had the chance to “teach” a Trek episode to a Grade 9 English class, I chose this episode.

Windom gives a brilliant, if over-the-top performance, as Decker. His passion and enthusiasm and range of emotion in the episode make it work star to finish. It’s one of my favourite episodes and I look forward to watching it again to pay tribute to this fine actor.


Picasso’s final week in Toronto

I remember my first brush with Picasso. It was 1992. I was in Paris with my mother and brother. We had a few days to hit as many galleries and monuments as possible. At my bro’s insistence, we went to the Picasso Museum, which is a little outside the city. (We ended up walking there – don’t ask.)

I can’t say I was too impressed. But I would have a problem with any museum that displays a bicycle seat with a couple of bars sticking out of it. If Adam West had done it no one would have cared. Just because it was “a Picasso,” it was therefore a masterpiece. Ridiculous.

But towards the end of our tour, we came across this painting. Here is a picture of it I snapped.

The security guard was not pleased that I took a flash photograph in the museum, but in the heat of the moment, I couldn’t resist. There was something about this painting that made me and my mother laugh really hard. It was like the genius of Picasso clicked right there and then for us after a couple of hours of dismissing every other work in the museum as crap.

As I write this, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Picasso exhibit is entering its final week. I visited today. What can I say? In the 20 years since my trip to Paris, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for Picasso.

Picasso could paint anything. He was capable of painting subjects in a “photorealistic” way, and there are many examples of him doing so. But much of what Picasso is known for are paintings like “The Kiss,” which is part of the AGO’s special exhibition. Here it is:

What chaos! It’s an explosion of sex and love and violence on the canvas. What mind could dream up and paint such a thing? Picasso, of course. It has his “signature” style all over it. Both beautiful and disturbing at the same time.

Picasso exhibits are a rarity in Toronto so it’s well worth seeing. There are many paintings, drawings and sculpture’s on display that run the gamut of Picasso’s talent. Yes, even the Blue Period is represented. Some of my favourites were La Celestine, Death of Casagemas, Still Life with Pitcher and Apples, The Kiss, and Jacqueline with Hands Crossed.

These works are hardly easy on the eyes. They are very demanding, horrific in some cases. But they evoke deep emotion and discussion, and that’s what great art should do.

Kudos to the AGO for bringing Toronto another blockbuster exhibit that will be remembered for a long time.

Alien prequel or not?

Prometheus is a great piece of sci-fi. The only problem is that the underlying question - is this an Alien prequel or not - getsin the way.

First, let me tell you what I liked. The special effects look great. The story is compelling. The characters feel real. There’s lots of goo. It’s scary.

But the filmmakers have been going out of their way to explain this is NOT an Alien prequel for months. Why? Just make the movie and let the audience decide.

My opinion is that this is very much an Alien prequel and there’s nothing wrong with that. That, in fact, is what Alien fans like myself wanted. And I was not disappointed. Will Prometheus 2 be a sequel to Prometheus or a second Alien prequel? I don’t even care anymore.

Van Gogh takes Ottawa by storm

There is always a good reason to go to Ottawa. It has great restaurants and bars, museums, galleries, and historic sites. This summer, Canada’s capital even has Van Gogh.

The exhibit is called Van Gogh: Up Close. It runs until September 3. If you have been on the fence about this one, my advice is to cross over and go. There are 40 works on display and it’s the first exhibition of Van Gogh’s work in Canada in a quarter-century. It’s an impressive exhibit. And the fact that it’s in Ottawa’s beautiful National Gallery means you cannot go wrong.

I have always loved Van Gogh. It always amazes me to hear that his art was not appreciated in his own lifetime. So sad. The colours, the details, the stories he tells through his paintings are masterful. No other artist makes a pile of wheat as interesting as he can.

One of my favourites in this exhibition is called Undergrowth With Two Figures. Here it is:

I love this one. It’s as if the lovers are being consumed by nature as much as they are consumed with each other. They are lost in the forest as they are lost in love. They are fading away into each other’s hearts. Beautiful.

There are many other fine examples on display in Ottawa from public and private collections.

The National Gallery in on a hot streak. I wasn’t sure how they could top last summer’s Caravaggio exhibit, but they have come mighty close with superstar Van Gogh. No matter where you live, it’s certainly worth the trip. I’m game for a second visit.

Back soon!

Sorry readers, I have had technical difficulties recently. But everything seems to be working now. Stay tuned for posts about the transit of Venus viewing, my visit to the National Gallery in Ottawa to see the exhibit, Van Gogh: Up Close, my thoughts on Prometheus, and the soon-to-be released first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray!

Neil Armstrong talks about the moon (for a change)

Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.

But it’s rare for him to talk about it. Surprisingly, he gave a rare interview to CPA Australia about his most famous “feat”. He actually narrates the final three minutes of his moon-landing approach, and talks about a whole lot more. It’s amazing stuff and I encourage everyone to check it out.

While the likes of James Cameron and George Lucas have taken us to far off places with the use of their imagination and special-effects technologies, few can actually tell us what it’s like to step foot on another world.

Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.