Some random, movie-related thoughts on the entertainment news of the week:
Fans, savor Force Friday
Midnight marks the arrival of “Force Friday,” the official beginning of the merchandising bonanza leading up to the Dec. 18 release of “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”
If you’re one of the fans staying up late and venturing out to your local Target or other stores for the unveiling of toys, collectibles, and other tie-ins to “The Force Awakens,” I salute you. As the parent of a toddler, I value my sleep too much to join you, but I’ll be with you in spirit.
At the risk of sounding like a nostalgic grandpa — “When I was a boy, we used to walk to school in 7-foot snow drifts …” — I remember a time when there was virtually no Star Wars merchandise to be found on shelves.
I was introduced to George Lucas’ space opera at the relatively late age of 12. It was the end of the ’80s and though people remembered “Star Wars” fondly, everybody was kind of over it.
The only option for watching the trilogy was renting the movies on VHS. Few people owned VHS players or video tapes back then, so you’d most likely have to rent them.
As a passionate, young convert to the “Star Wars” universe, I would scavenge for memorabilia wherever I could. There was no Internet, no eBay, no easy way to connect with fellow collectors. My prized possessions were a “Star Wars” poster, a spiral notebook from the dollar store, and a color still of Princess Leia chained to Jabba the Hutt, discovered at a creepy Hollywood souvenir shop. That was it.
It wasn’t until the release of those infamous prequels in the late ’90s that “Star Wars” merch became readily available again. Now, of course, you can find items everywhere, from T-shirts to toys, but it wasn’t always this way.
So remember that, Star Wars fans, while you’re doing your Force Friday shopping. Savor this moment.
A cure for dismal Labor Day viewing
Speaking of the weekend, if you’re planning to see a movie over the Labor Day holiday, there aren’t many options. We’re in the thick of the end-of-summer doldrums and it’s looking pretty depressing out there.
Unless you want to sit through yet another mediocre video game movie reboot (“The Transporter Refueled,” coming on the heels of “Hitman: Agent 47”), there aren’t many cinematic choices to get excited about.
My advice? Skip what’s playing at the cineplex and take this opportunity to catch up on your documentary viewing.
BLVD Cinemas in Lancaster is playing two intriguing docs this weekend: “Meru,” about climbers tackling formidable challenges in the Himalayas, and “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” from Alex Gibney, director of the provocative “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.”
If you’d rather stay home, some recent, critically successful titles include “Red Army,” “Citizenfour,” “Art and Craft,” “Last Days of Vietnam,” “The Salt of the Earth,” “National Gallery,” “Yves Saint Laurent,” “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” and “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.”
When it comes to movies, fact is often more entertaining than fiction.
Wes Craven’s ‘Nightmare’ lives on
I was sad to hear of the passing of director Wes Craven, who died Sunday at the age of 76.
I’m a lightweight when it comes to horror flicks and though I was too much of a scaredy-cat to watch many of Craven’s movies, the filmmaker made a strong impression on me.
When I was a kid, my family often walked past the neighborhood video store, where a cardboard stand-up of Freddy Krueger peered menacingly from one of the windows. I had no idea at the time who Freddy was, but I was mesmerized by his shredded face, razor claws, and Christmas-colored sweater. I’d never seen “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and already he was haunting my dreams.
Since then, Freddy Krueger has taken his gruesome place as one of the most terrifying villains of all time. Craven also directed several other seminal and, for the time, transgressive horror films, including “The Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes.”
In the mid-’90s, he laid the foundation for a 21st-century rebirth of horror with the “Scream” franchise, wittily deconstructing genre cliches and paying tongue-in-cheek homage to the classics. His influence can still be felt in recent horror films, like “Cabin in the Woods” and “It Follows.”
It seems Craven had ambitions to move beyond the horror genre, which despite being extremely lucrative, never earns a director much respect.
He helmed the drama “Music of the Heart,” helping star Meryl Streep to an Oscar. Though he never really moved past his role as a horror meister, his approach to his career was admirable.
“I come from a blue-collar family, and I’m just glad for the work,” Craven said in an interview quoted by the Hollywood Reporter.
“I think it is an extraordinary opportunity and gift to be able to make films in general, and to have done it for almost 40 years now is remarkable. If I have to do the rest of the films in the genre, no problem. If I’m going to be a caged bird, I’ll sing the best song I can.”
Idris Elba as Bond? Hell, yes!
The Internet has been all riled up since Anthony Horowitz, author of the latest James Bond novel, declared that British actor Idris Elba should not play 007 in a future film.
Elba’s name has long been bandied about as an ideal replacement for Daniel Craig, who is a wonderful Bond but can’t very well portray the secret agent forever. In an unfortunate turn of phrase, Horowitz said Elba was “too street” to be a convincing Bond.
Elba’s fans were outraged by the author’s statement and the insinuation that the star of “Luther” and “The Wire” isn’t suave enough to slip into Bond’s tuxedo.
I have only one question for Horowitz: Have you seen Elba?
And, more importantly, have you seen Elba act? The man is the embodiment of cool, British charm and self-possession. He oozes sex appeal, experience and the ability to inflict violence on over-the-top baddies threatening to blow up the world. And he’s a brilliant, underrated performer who deserves to finally be a leading man.
Maybe when Horowitz said Elba was “too street,” he meant that if you ask any woman — or man, for that matter — on the street who should be the next James Bond, the answer would be “yes.” (Sigh. Only in an ideal world perhaps, but still … .)
By the way, Elba’s perfectly composed Twitter response to the kerfuffle offers further proof that he is the best man for the job.
“Always keep smiling,” he said. “It takes no energy and never hurts! Learned that from The Street!”
Photos: sundance.org; o.canada.com; bbcamerica.com.