Solo

I’m in bachelor mode for the week because Sarah is out of town, so I decided to see Solo last night, the latest Star Wars movie. I’ve largely dropped the thread on Star Wars movies as of late. The first trilogy, of course, was a big part of my childhood. The prequels in 00 were largely garbage, and pretty much threw me. I went back and watched The Force Awakens, and it was very exciting to see a Star Wars movie on the big screen and gave a certain nostalgic jolt for me. But ultimately, I did not like it; it was a bunch of stunt casting into what was essentially a remake of the first trilogy for millennials. I didn’t see the one after that, do not care. It was the first Star Wars movie I did not see in the theaters, and I felt bad about that, but whatever.

I like the idea of the anthology films, though; films in the sandbox of the others, but different plot lines, different characters, different directors and styles. I really liked Rogue One, maybe as much as the original trilogy. It had a roughness to it, and was not as associated to the big merchandising arm of the main canon, not as wired into the usual summer blockbuster bullshit tactics. It was like when George Harrison did a solo album that had none of the baggage or bubblegum of a proper Beatles album, none of Paul McCartney’s bullshit involved. It was also more of an “adult” movie and (my own theory) had to do more with modern conflict, ala Syria, than the usual good guys wearing white against bad guys wearing black. (I guess stormtroopers wear white, whatever.)

I really do not like comic book movies, do not like Marvel movies at. all. Every Marvel movie is the same, and has the same mechanics: “we’re rebooting something we just did, and we’re going to spend half of the movie setting up the character origin, just to make the fanboys happy and/or piss off the purists to generate more buzz.” It’s like a magician who spends all their time showing you how they are going to do the trick, as if that makes them cool. It bores me. I don’t really care about comics that much, but I really don’t care about the annual Spider-Man reboot, and how they slightly change the origin story this time, or how it’s tangentially related to all the other Marvel movies written with the same exact template. So I was a little worried about that type of movie when I heard about a Han Solo origin movie.

This movie was directed by Ron Howard, but it wasn’t really “his” movie – he’s just a hired gun that was pulled in when the original co-directors shit the bed. It doesn’t feel like a Ron Howard movie, aside from stunt casting his crazy brother in one small scene. The movie goes into the origin of Han and Chewbacca and Lando and the Millennium Falcon, but there’s absolutely nothing about the Skywalkers or the force or any of that, and I wasn’t that off-put by the mechanics of that. Woody Harrelson plays Han’s smuggler mentor, but doesn’t fuck things up. The kid who played the cowboy actor in Hail Cesar plays Han, and does a decent enough job. The story is pretty straightforward, just a standard three-act adventure burn-through, pretty textbook but enjoyable.

What I liked about the movie was that it’s not overly sentimental, or cartoony, like if Lucas had been involved. It doesn’t have the wooden acting, the incredibly obvious good versus bad, and has a slight bit of the more “adult” feel that Rogue One had. It also isn’t too JJ Abrams-y, with tons of CGI and smash cut editing. I think Lucas had minimal involvement and Abrams had none, which was a big plus for me. I really like the idea of different directors doing completely different things with these films. Like I’d love to see Tarantino or someone do a spaghetti western or mobster-like Boba Fett movie.

I don’t have anything bad to say about the movie. I think the main issue is that the movie just sort of is. No high concept, no camp, no big drama, no big theatrics. It just is. It doesn’t perform well as a standalone blockbuster, and doesn’t have the power of any of the main films. And that would be fine if it was a low-budget thing, or a Showtime original. But it’s the sixth most expensive movie ever made, costing something like $275 million, and there’s no way it’s going to pull a half-billion dollars to break even. So it will have a bad legacy because of that. I’d expect it to drop out of theaters this week or next, and then there will be a hard push for VOD and home release, so maybe the completists will buy all the various box sets and they will break even. At any rate, it was a meh for me. Glad I saw it, glad I didn’t go out of my way to see it.

 

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Bourdain

Usually, these things don’t get to me. But for some reason, this one has.

So Anthony Bourdain is dead. Suicide, hotel room, 61. I feel some need to extrapolate on this, front-loading this with a lede of what he accomplished or why this is so tragic, etc etc. I have no energy for that. You can go to Facebook and see that 50,000 times.

I’m trying to figure out why this bothers me so much, and I think it’s because of when I became connected with his work. I remember exactly when and where I first picked up a copy of Kitchen Confidential. There was a book store called Coliseum Books in Columbus Circle, and I’d go there every Friday after I went to my shrink. (She’s also dead, I found out recently – lymphoma, I think.) I think I read the New Yorker article, so I picked up his book. This was back when I spent hours and hours on the subway, and was single, lived alone, had no cable TV, so I would plow through books, reading a book a day most of the time. But while I read a lot of forgettable work back then, his stuff had a real resonation for me.

My kitchen career was low-level and short-lived. A summer on the Taco Bell drive-through; a couple of months washing dishes at an old-school Italian restaurant; part of a semester doing the same at a dorm, with the very brief and slight promotion of being the dude who stocked the milk and juice bar in the front-of-house. But when Bourdain described the camaraderie, the in-the-trenches slog of working the back half of a restaurant, I immediately related. I’d never aspired to cook or even stay in the business long enough to do anything other than collect a small paycheck, but I’d spent enough Friday nights at war with the dinner rush, completely slammed with a wall of dirty pans and plates, and no way out. I got it, and it pulled me in.

Bourdain had a persona, and I think it grew much more when he became a TV personality, picking fights with other chefs, with vegetarians, with food chains. His work as that persona was good, but it’s easy to forget he was a hell of a writer, and that’s what drilled into my brain. It wasn’t that he was a good brand; he was a guy I knew, someone telling stories and shooting the shit and talking war, a war I briefly fought. There’s something about any writing about a very involved job like that – it’s the reason I probably go back and re-read Bukowski’s Post Office every other year. Bourdain had chops, but he also had the ability to figure out what to write from such a career, and to do it in a different template than all the other stodgy food books up to that point.

I think he’s also a very intertwined part of the early 00s and New York for me. I was not a foodie, and spent far more time at McDonald’s than at any French restaurant. But if I had to make a list of the things that made up the background of my time in New York from 1999 to 2007, he’d be on that short list. I used to walk home down the back alleys of south Manhattan to avoid the tourists and bustle of Broadway, the Broome to Jersey to Mulberry to Prince to Bowery route, the interior of the blocks that were grand and exquisite on the exterior, but I’d be seeing the service entrances and freight elevators. And that’s where I’d see the chefs, always smoking, always preparing for a battle that was about to start when I was heading home from the cubicles. And that always made me think of Bourdain and other chefs, and the underbelly of the city, and those folks who took the long train from Jackson Heights or Hoboken to cut up fish or wash dishes for minimum wage in a city where bankers earned millions of bonuses in the W years.

It’s weird because I feel like I knew Bourdain, although I didn’t. When I stop and think about it, I think, wait, did I know him? Like did I meet him at a signing, or have a friend of a friend that worked with him, or run into him at some point? I didn’t, but it feels like it, because his writing got so in my head. I don’t have a connection to the TV host who jetted to France to eat oysters with someone famous in the food world. I mean, good for him that he got the money and the opportunity, and it’s fun to binge-watch on Netflix, but that’s not what did it for me. He somehow burned into the background of my brain, and that’s why his death bothers me.

There’s also the usual thing I do, where I look at him at 61, and me at 47, and I’ve wasted a lot of time on 401K calculator sites that all tell me I have to keep this optempo going for another twenty years, and I feel like I want to retire in 20 weeks, and who knows when I’ll even get started with this writing thing in earnest. He broke big because he wrote what he knew and he wrote as a person, and I’m so burned out and sick of writing what I write. So I keep thinking, well maybe next week I’ll reinvent myself, and do everything different. But the clock is ticking, and when someone goes, it puts that in perspective.

I’m not going to go into the why of how he did it, or if this is some epidemic, or if prescription drugs played a part, or what 800 number you should call, or any of that shit. You’ve probably seen it a million times already this morning. Just like how I couldn’t think of a snappy paragraph to open this, I don’t have one to close it. Just wanted to get down my thoughts now, because it seems like I never get to do that anymore.

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