Monday, September 28, 2015

Real Genius

1985's REAL GENIUS is largely a lighthearted teen comedy in much the same vein of so many others of its time, but at its core is a serious drama of exploitation and burnout.  My teenage self was certainly aware and interested in this element, though I responded more to the parade of jokes and wisecracks and intrigue of the plot. The film could've been a much heavier examination, documenting the pressures of life in a Cal Tech-like school for the enormously gifted.  Add to that a egocentric professor who is secretly planning to sell the laser technology his students are sweating over to the CIA who aspire to less than ethical uses for it.

That is the plot of this film, briefly summarized.  REAL GENIUS does touch on several potentially straight faced topics but clearly favors the humor to be found within.  For example, one former student wunderkind of the 1970s named Laszlo (Jon Gries) had apparently suffered a breakdown once he discovered that his I.Q. was fostering weaponry.  He's shown like a wraith,  still wandering the campus years later,  parking in a secret enclave where he spends the day duplicating entry tickets for a Frito Lay contest to greatly increase his odds of winning.  The main characters Mitch (Gabe Jarrett), a 15 year old recruited out of high school, and Chris (Val Kilmer), sardonic resident genius who's about to graduate, look with amusement and intrigue as Laszlo disappears into their closet - the portal to his domecile.

Professor Hathaway (William Atherton at his smug best) is the blowhard overseeing development of said laser.  His team also includes the brown nosing Kent (Robert Prescott), none too pleased that Mitch has been put in charge of the project.  Hijinks reminiscent of many other youth comedies ensue. Lots of comic revenge and humiliation.  A few penis jokes. But as the students at "Pacific Tech" are way smarter than your average acne ridden Hollywood teen just seeking to get laid,  the gags showcase their intelligence.  Ingenuity to have fun (creating temporary ice for skating in a dormitory hallway, slicing liquid nitrogen to use in vending machines) and to get even (dismantling and later reassembling a car in someone's bedroom).  So while REAL GENIUS often (very entertainingly) plays like a breezy comedy, you note that these characters are realistic: awkward, driven, prone to stress.  How unusual it was to see a character like Jordan (Michelle Meyrink), a breathless, super hyperkinetic overachiever who is nonetheless as painfully awkward with social dances as her fellow geeks.

The screenplay (by several writers who've penned their share of broad comedy) incorporates a lot of science, and director Martha Cooledge spent several months researching.  Myth Busters have debunked some of the wilder bits, including the "popcorn house", but there's just enough smart chat to convince us the filmmakers know what of what they speak.  The plotline involving Hathaway's duplicity and his dealings with the CIA may feel a bit stale, leftover from other spy tales, and the climax - amusing as it is- may likewise feel contrived when maybe we just wanted more of the fun school stuff.  But it all works.  Kilmer has never been more appealing, and is quite funny.

But I always come back to the background - the idea that a respected professor would entice and abuse his students in such ways.  There is a disturbing undercurrent here. There is a serious scene here and there. But  I think REAL GENIUS tempers the seriousness quite well and opted for the right approach.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Smokey and the Bandit

As I live and breathe I find myself writing a review for 1977's SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. Where did I go wrong? What has happened to Lamplight Drivel? Will it be long before I include reviews for FRIDAY THE 13th or BACHELOR PARTY? Or even PORKY'S? Uh, whoops!

I think on those films of my youth and I wonder if they merit an entry in this blog.  So many of them are trifles, but most were significant in some way. Maybe not inherently, but how they affected me, how I've remembered them. SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT was one of the first movies to jump start my interest in the medium.  I was eight years old.  With BANDIT and STAR WARS I began to pay attention to things like editing, scoring, and dialogue.  Mind you, this would not have happened on the first or second viewings.  I saw both films multiple times at the Dolphin Theatre, Cinema 70, Paramount Theater, etc. in the West Palm Beach area.  I was obsessed.

You could say that Burt Reynolds' star was at its brightest by the time this film stormed the box office.  What an uneven career.  Most of his filmography is filled with either simplistic actioners and/or yahoo comedies.  In between were more thoughtful films like DELIVERANCE and STARTING OVER, the latter for which Burt shaved off his trademark 'stache and delivered a real performance. SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT only requires the guy to do an infectious laugh and be laid back.  He does a lot of driving.  This was the first of several "car" flicks that you could argue entirely destroyed any credibility for Burt's bid for legitimacy. But  while no one would ever confuse the first BANDIT film with Bergman, it is far and away the best of any of the mayhem that followed.  The awful sequels.  The CANNONBALL RUN series.  STROKER ACE.

Legendary trucker Bo "Bandit" Darville (Reynolds) recruits Cledus aka "Snowman" (Jerry Reed) to assist with a bootlegging mission brokered by Big and Little Enos (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams): bringing back an eighteen-wheeler filled with Coors beer from Texas to Georgia.  Bandit has a shiny new Trans AM; the Snowman pilots the truck with his trusty hound dog, Fred.  Along the way, a runaway bride named Carrie, later dubbed "Frog" (Sally Field) joins the Bandit and her almost father-in-law Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) and would-be husband, extreme dimwit Junior (Mike Henry) are soon in relentless hot pursuit.

There's your plot.  While BANDIT's success inspired dozens of knock-offs, it was the hardly the first in its genre.  There were many chase epics filling theater and drive-in screens long before Gleason spouted "sumbitch" a dozen times.  Most were either deadly serious or just goofy. BANDIT somehow finds that place between the entirely brain dead and middlebrow and lays rubber. The actors seem to be having fun and the stunts - engineered by director Hal Needham, a stuntman himself-are very good.  Gleason became iconic with his forever pissed off redneck lawman, and is quite funny.  It was probably disheartening for viewers who recalled his more serious work, but for others it was very enjoyable.

For me the movie allowed the pleasures of C.B. radio culture (huge at the time).  Many of my father's pals were into that.  I also enjoyed all the car crack ups, just like many other boys my age.  Burt epitomized coolness.  Those things, but also how such a movie could come together.  I was amazed that all of those complicated set-ups could be executed.  Technical fascinations.  I was also increasingly aware of how narrative worked.  Mainly though, there was something magical about seeing it all on a big screen.  It engulfed you.  Not like T.V.  The largeness of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and STAR WARS were naturals for movie going though I suspect even my eight year old self may have been just as mesmerized had I seen a film with two people just sitting and chatting.  A hobby was born.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Blue Collar

1978's BLUE COLLAR has one of the most revealing and disturbing final shots of any film I can recall. It's a freeze frame of two characters, former friends, who've found themselves on either side of a great divide.  A gulf separating management from employee. A terrible, though inevitable climax.  The more I think on it, the more perfect it is.  It just couldn't end any other way.

Writer Paul Schrader, known for TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL, made his directorial debut with BLUE COLLAR, and his screenplay (co-penned with brother Leonard) fits in well with his other studies of alienation.  The characters of Zeke (Richard Pryor, showing some real acting chops), Smokey (Yaphet Kotto), and Jerry (Harvey Keitel), good buddies and coworkers in a Detroit auto plant, are classic Schrader lower middle class Everyman misfits, ne'er do wells who find themselves looking in on, beating the wrong side of the glass of the American Dream.   Forever just trying to get even a sliver of the pie, to catch a break.  They are poorly treated by management and even their union. They're struggling, constantly in debt.  Jerry can't afford proper dental care for his daughter, who resorts to bending paper clips over her teeth.

The trio blows off steam at the bowling alley and especially with wild parties at Smokey's place.  Schrader invites us into the debauchery, one of the men's few outlets from a hard luck existence.  The carefree mood of these scenes nicely builds a gradual uneasiness, a feeling that a great reckoning is ahead.  When it is ill-advisedly decided that the friends will rob the safe at their union's office, they find precious little cash but a ledger that points to illegal activity. How to use this evidence drives the midsection of the film, leading to tragedy, pointing down to its sad conclusion.

The Schraders explore how the friendship among the men changes, unravels. How the individual is always crushed against the corporate, including those who espouse to protect them - the unions.  BLUE COLLAR is especially critical of them, of their leaders who may have once fought for the common man but are now just as corrupt as the overlords who exploit their workers.  It's a bleak portrait of America, of an industry that would entirely implode decades later.  In the 21st century, the skills of these assembly line workers no longer guarantee food on the table. To think that for many years a laborer skilled with his or her hands could actually afford to buy a house and a life for their families.   But blue collar jobs are increasingly obsolete.  A remake/rethink of this story, updated to modern times, might be even more cynical. 

But it comes back to the individuals.  The guys have very different personalities but share a camaraderie and work ethic that is all but ignored and destroyed by film's end.  This was a solid first picture for Schrader.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

C'mon Dave, Give Us a Break!

I was having dinner with a friend on Labor Day when he asked if I was interested in attending the Van Halen  concert scheduled for Sept. 15.  He had a pair of tickets and his original guest bailed out.  I immediately accepted, amused and then a bit taken aback that I would actually be going to this show.  I would not have gone on my own.  I mean, I like VH and all, was a big fan of 'em back in elementary and junior high.  I got their first album (on cassette) when I was eleven from a Columbia Music House promotion.  You remember them, get twelve albums for a penny? Just buy three more albums in a year or something like that.  You just had to make sure you indicated on a special card that you didn't want the "Selection of the Month", or else you'd find something from say, ABBA in your mailbox.

When I first heard "Eruption" on that tape, well, I went crazy.  Guitar wizardry like nothing I'd ever encountered.  Instant fan. Became an air guitarin' fool.  Van Halen is a seriously good debut, not one weak track, and still sounds fresh.  I followed the guys for many years afterward, including when Sammy Hagar took David Lee Roth's place in '85.  They still rocked, but there was also lots of Top 40 fodder.  "Finish What Ya Started" was the nadir for me.

As time passed, Van Halen would eventually occupy that part of my brain reserved for undiluted nostalgia. They would become a band that would always have a warm place in my memories, much like Journey, REO Speedwagon, and other arena rockers from that era.  I never listened to them for technique or nuance.  But Eddie Van Halen, we knew he was a genius.  Self taught maestro who never even learned to sight read.  Master of the "tapping" technique.  His sound is trademarked, best represented on that first album but present all the way through the catalog, even when former Extreme front man Gary Cherone became lead singer #3 for one album and tour, music with which I am only somewhat familiar.

Eddie is over sixty now and can still shred like a maniac.  At the concert he performed a medley of VH instrumentals, including "Eruption" and the beautiful "Cathedral" - always a favorite.  His time in the spotlight was easily the highlight of the evening (brother Alex also got a not too shabby drum solo earlier in the set).  Eddie plays insanely complicated notes up and down the neck of his axe, and I love how he periodically looks up and smiles at the crowd, like a kid trying to impress his friends.  He really seems to enjoy his work, and never flails around the stage like a fiend.

That's left to Roth, as flamboyant and arrogant as ever.  His antics during the show at the hilariously corporately named Perfect Vodka Ampitheater in West Palm Beach (formerly Coral Sky, a far better name.  Can you imagine if Preparation H sponsored the venue?) were even more out of control than expected.  His ramblings resembled that of a bad comedian, or some verbose derelict on the subway, the sort you make a studied effort to avoid.  DLR always dropped smarmy comments during the songs ("I like the way the line runs down the back of your stockings", "You'll get some leg tonight for sure!"), but at this show he added far more, stream of consciousness of a quite lewd variety.  At one point he sat down, broke out a harmonica (quite good, have to admit) and told stories of how he met James Brown at the MTV Video Awards.  Mostly, he was incoherent.  He talked so much that some guys in our section quoted the line from "Unchained", the bit when where a sound engineer deadpans, "C'mon Dave give us a break!"

DLR did jump around and changed his costumes several times.  He can still twirl the microphone stand like a pro.  Thankfully, he did not attempt any leaps off Marshall stacks or other gravity defying splits.  That would've been even less pretty than what I did witness.  The man's voice held up better than expected, though he forgot the words more than once, and had the damndest time singing the stoccato "Catch as catch" lines from "Little Guitars".

In all, a fun evening.  I ate braished rib tip tacos and washed them down with a Due South Cat 5 brew (don't ask how much it cost).  Kenny Wayne Shepherd was the opening act, offering blistering versions of "Voodoo Chile" and the early Fleetwood Mac scorcher "Oh Well".   The crowd was mostly in their 40s and older, though there were more younger ones than expected.  The friend who gave me the tix is a guy I've known since kindergarten.  He still has long hair and replicas of Eddie's guitars in his living room.  A guy who is just as cool now as he was when bassist Michael Anthony was still with VH (Eddie's son Wolfgang plucks the strings now).  These days, Anthony tours with Hagar in a supergroup called Chickenfoot and markets his own hot sauce with the very-Van Halen like tagline "It's so hot, you'll need two assholes!".

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Your Audiology Tutorial: CTSIB

The Clinical Test of Sensory Integration and Balance (CTSIB), a test of postural stability, was developed by physical therapists in the mid-1980s to assess how the three modalities of balance: vestibular, visual, and somatosensory allow equilibrium to be maintained against gravity.   When a patient has their standing surface and visual capability adjusted, deficits with the peripheral system (ear) can be discerned by their performance.   In my clinic I utilize a modified version of the CTSIB as a supplement to the videonystagmography (VNG) test, which assesses inner ear function as related to balance.

A large, dense square of foam is used as the "dynamic" surface.  The patient will remove their shoes and stand first on the floor ("static") and then the foam with eyes open and closed.  The clinician will observe for any sway in any direction during all conditions.  Patients with a central (brain) dysfunction may even begin to fall when attempting to navigate the dynamic surface.   For the unmodified version of the CTSIB, the patient will also perform all of the above with what is known as a visual conflict dome on their head ("foam and dome test").

The CTSIB is especially sensitive for those with an uncompensated peripheral vestibulopathy - one ear that has weaker output for balance information that is causing dizziness.  Interpretation should allow for consideration of co-morbidities, history of falls, as well as visual and orthopedic problems.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Twilight Zone: The Movie

1983's TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is one of the great thundering disappointments of my movie going life. My anticipation for this project was white hot as I was an inveterate fan of Rod Serling's television program. Surely Hollywood could duplicate the sort of  intelligent, compelling tales on the big screen as it had Americans' living rooms? Or so my 14 year old self thought.  Instead I was left with the sort of hollow feeling you experience when the build up is so intense, the promise of What Could Be was so limitless that the crash is nearly equally strong. It was a lesson of sorts, one I would have to relearn with 1989's BATMAN.  And 1999's STAR WARS EPISODE ONE. And....

Boomer directors Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante, and George Miller each contribute a half hour tale.  All of whom undoubtedly absorbed the original series.  All but Landis based their stories on an old episode.  Aside from Miller's take on "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", this project fizzles. Leaves you wanting.  It's not an awful movie, but how deflating to watch a promising idea executed half-heartedly.  There may be a good reason why TWILIGHT ZONE plays more like a filmed obligation than something inspirational.

Perhaps you read about the terrible accident that occurred on Landis' segment, "Time Out".  Actor Vic Morrow, who plays a loudmouth bigot who finds himself mistaken for the very ethnicities he denigrates, was killed, along with two children, when a helicopter spun out of control after a special effects explosion.  The director and several colleagues were charged and later acquitted of manslaughter.  Stephen Farber and Marc Green's Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego and the Twilight Zone Case documents these events and subsequent trial quite thoroughly, with a fascinating (and far from flattering) character sketch of Landis as well.  To say that this tragedy cast a pall on the production is to state the obvious, and you have to imagine the excitement drained for all who participated.  To me, it's entirely evident, right up there on screen.

You see it in the lack of energy in Segment #2: Spielberg's "Kick the Can", based on an episode of the same name.  The material is a perfect match to the director's sense of wide eyed optimism, and could've been a nice companion to the previous year's E.T.  But what an ineffectual, mawkish result.  Maybe you can blame Richard Matheson and Melissa Mathieson's adaptation, though it reads like a blueprint that could be opened up into something beautiful.  Of how a mysterious stranger teaches the residents of a retirement home to embrace what is left of their lives.  Spielberg's lack of enthusiasm is evident in every frame.  The fine cast, led by the wonderful Scatman Crothers, tries their best.

Joe Dante's "It's a Good Life" is based on a few different TZ episodes and scores points for sheer oddity alone.  It would be too easy to spoil this segment's surprises by disclosing too much of the plot.  Suffice it to say that a young boy named Anthony (Jeremy Licht) brings a traveling schoolteacher (Kathleen Quinlan) home to his extremely bizarre family, where TVs are on in every room and seem to be portals into cartoon dimensions.  Matheson and Jerome Bixby penned this tale that does reward a few viewings as one sorts out their points.  The first time you watch it you may just be scratching (or shaking) your head.

But then we come to George Miller's 'Nightmare....", a pulse pounding white knuckler that succeeds in old fashioned movie thrills, pure adrenaline that is certainly more explicit than the episode upon which it is based.  Not that the effects are too much, in fact, it's one of those times where the budget really serves the story of an already ultra nervous airline passenger (John Lithgow) who sees a gremlin wreaking destruction on the wing of his plane.  Matheson adapts the namesake episode quite well, but it's Miller's tense direction and Lithgow's knockout performance that puts it over.

Which leads us back to Landis' segment, a watchable but unremarkable journey through several vistas, from Vietnam to Nazi Germany.  The intolerant gets a taste of his own medicine.  Landis adds some in-jokes for fans of his movies, including an update of one of the characters from ANIMAL HOUSE.  His segment and the entire film were certainly not worth the horrible deaths, as no piece of film would be.   It's impossible not to be reminded of the accident while watching "Time Out", and this makes the entire viewing a stomach churner, and not in a good way.

Despite my tepid review, I realize curiosity will get the better of some of you, invisible audience.  If you do watch make sure not to miss the prologue, which stars Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and some nifty make-up effects.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Straight Story

One of the most effective images of Midwestern decency I've seen was featured in a film directed by David Lynch.  The very same artist who quite unflatteringly looked into the shadows and at the underbelly of small town life in BLUE VELVET.  The man whose films unflinchingly examine the most grotesque of human impulse and behavior.  In 1999, Lynch's G-rated THE STRAIGHT STORY forewent the disturbing elements usually associated with his art with a bittersweet, moving narrative of an elderly man who decides to visit his long estranged, ill brother.  Along the way, he spends the night at the home of friendly strangers who, unlike what might occur in other Lynch tales, do not attempt to abuse or mutilate the traveler.   The next morning, the hosts find a few dollars left by the man for the long distance phone call he made.

A simple image of a simple gesture, but incredibly effective.  A good man does the right thing, what a novelty in contemporary cinema.  And stylist Lynch lets the action speak for itself, sans emotional string sections or gauzy camerawork.  His movie is a beautifully rendered ode to family and faith, told in a manner described by the film's title.

Based on a true story, THE STRAIGHT STORY is about seventy-three year old Iowan Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth, Oscar nominated), who sets out on a John Deere tractor to see his older brother, Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), with whom he had a falling out a decade before, and who lives hundreds of miles away in Wisconsin. Alvin has multiple health problems, a cognitively impaired daughter (Sissy Spacek), and the weight of memories.  He shares those haunting recollections with folks he meets on the road, including a preacher, a pregnant woman hitchhiker, and a group of bicyclists.  He's not merely imparting wisdom, but confessing his sins (old and new) before God and man.

The screenplay by John Roach and Mary Sweeney is never once condescending or riddled with attempts at irony.  The entire project seems almost divinely appointed.  The film is reverent to its subjects and their landscape. Lynch, despite amazing restraint, still adds local color and eccentricity - sometimes in the margins (watch the bar scenes closely), and sometimes in the central action (how Alvin deals with his first tractor, the episode with the lady motorist and the deer).

The idea of an old guy riding a tractor at no faster than 5 MPH across state lines to see an ailing sibling just sounds Lynchian. When I first learned of this project, I was picturing something very different than the result.  THE STRAIGHT STORY never crosses into the patently bizarre or the unwatchable, as moments in films like WILD AT HEART and LOST HIGHWAY do.  Perhaps David Lynch was just waiting for the inspiration to make a movie like this, one that possibly reflects his Midwestern upbringing.  Watch the interviews - he's a real humble guy.  Doesn't even cuss.  Hard to believe this man was capable of creating such outrageous, violent, and even sociopathic imagery in his works.

THE STRAIGHT STORY was a warm surprise from the director, and one to treasure.  

Saturday, September 5, 2015


Subculture, with its cozy interior that includes a curved wooden bar, has served the microroasting needs of downtown West Palm Beach since early 2013. This is some serious barista artistry.   There are numerous choices for those seeking craft coffee or just a comfortable spot.  I'm thrilled for its success, especially as it was co-founded by a Palm Beach Atlantic University (my alma mater) alumnus named Sean Scott.   Check this link to PBA's alumni magazine, the Current, for a profile of him and the roastery:

Current Magazine Summer 2015

Rodney Mayo, long associated with several eateries and nightclubs in downtown WPB and elsewhere, co-founded Subculture which also opened a second location in Delray Beach back in April.  In both spots you can also get sandwiches and bakery goodies which are locally made.  Support!


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

For 2002's STAR WARS EPISODE II:  ATTACK OF THE CLONES, the action and special effects are as strong as the acting from leads Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christiansen, and Natalie Portman, is indifferent and weak.  This is not a shot entirely against the actors, all of whom have done fine work elsewhere.  It is what they have to work with that is the culprit - another blah screenplay by the director.  And marionette George Lucas guides his talent with the hand of an experienced hack, rendering his high profile space opera little better than a made for video B-movie with an unlimited budget.  I'll bet it was dispiriting to be part of this enterprise, and it shows in the actors' performances.  Phoning it in.  Shouldn't this have been a thrill of a lifetime for its cast? To be part of an historical film series?

CLONES was among the first movies to be shot entirely digitally, on a high definition 24 frame per second system.  Speaking of excitement, a group of friends and I drove with anticipation to Orlando for a premiere.  An enthusiastic young emcee introduced the film like a fanboy who could barely contain himself.  He explained the digital process, how film stock was becoming passe. How we were "about to see colors that we've never seen".  Yes, it looked sensational, but hardly unprecedented.  The content defeated any potential for a "wow" experience.  The tech just wasn't enough.  I was reminded that night of the time I went to the Cinerama Dome in L.A. to see WILD WILD WEST, a wretched film.  I had to seize the opportunity to see something, anything in that historical theater with its wide, concave screen, but when the movie ain't there, it just doesn't matter.

EPISODE II picks up ten years after the close of its predecessor.  Obi-Wan (McGregor) and Anakin (Christiansen) are enlisted to protect Padmé (Portman) after an attempt is made on her life.  While Obi-Wan travels to the ocean planet of Kamino and beyond to investigate (and uses the old Jedi mind trick on a slythmonger), Anakin and Padme trek to her home planet of Naboo, where romance inevitably blossoms.  To say that their scenes are wooden is being generous.  A far cry from the sparks between Han and Leia, the latter of whom is of course, Padme's offspring.   That is not to say that mom doesn't exhibit pluck and spunk, but Portman seems lost and bored.  Christiansen is earnest but boring.

Exhibiting considerably more life is Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, a Jedi master and eventual turncoat for Darth Sidious.  His rebellion against the Republic leads to the Clone Wars, a battle involving multitudes of interplanetary systems which have seceded from the Republic. Yep, more droids.  Obi-Wan eventually discovers Dooku's betrayal and nefarious deeds.  Later renamed Darth Tyranus, the traitor engages Obi-Wan, Anakin, and even his old Master Yoda in an elaborate battle with lightsabers, in a nicely articulated sequence. As I said, the action is solid in ATTACK OF THE CLONES, especially the rescue scenes.

Along the way, we also travel to Tattooine where Anakin discovers the fate of his mother and meets his step brother Owen Lars (recall EPISODE IV).  Anakin's discoveries will lead to his unleashing of unbridled rage, a precursor of what's to come.  This story thread does offer some development of the drama of the young man's downfall, but could've allowed more scenes that were less melodramatic to flesh it out.  I realize that the original STAR WARS saga was based on old Westerns and campy serials, but Lucas would've done better to follow that other influence, Kurosawa, a bit more with these prequels.  It seems that the Creator was so enamored with his palate of technology that he forgot what made the saga so compelling in the first place.

And again, what held my interest was the observation of the development of the characters who are held dear from the original trilogy.  As I watch those films, I study the faces of Obi-Wan and Yoda. Think on Darth Vader as he chokes Empire underlings and engineers construction of rebuilding of the Death Star.  By that time, all had endured a lifetime of struggle.  How their thoughts must haunt them. Vader will recognize the shred of good left in him by RETURN OF THE JEDI.  As mediocre as Anakin is drawn in the newer films, it's still fascinating to see the origins, where in the timeline the corrosion began.

But considered overall (along with Episodes I and III), I'm afraid this comic says it best: