[Reprint] Saving What We Love: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out one year ago today. It quickly became one of the most controversial films in a famously controversial franchise, even as it is the absolute best since the 1980s. A reader recommended I celebrate the anniversary of this great film by reprinting my review, and I liked that idea (thanks, Scott!).

I wrote other things about The Last Jedi – a piece about how Rose Tico’s widely derided quote is the greatest wisdom yet found in Star Wars, a piece about Vice-Admiral Holdo’s smarts and a piece examining the connection between the Jedi and Taoism – but this initial review contains a lot of my thinking on the film, thinking I still hold a year later. 

For Star Wars to live, Star Wars must die. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrilling, layered and goddamned fun meditation on the tension between our need for legends and myths and the ways those legends and myth constrain and reduce us. Star Wars is the film series that popularized the monomyth in the modern era, and Johnson walks right up to old Joe Campbell, kicks him in the nuts… and then gives him a hearty bear hug. The Last Jedi struggles with and embraces the paradoxical duality at the center of the meaning of legends and heroes, leaving thoughtful audiences with more to chew on than any other blockbuster in recent memory.

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MINDING THE GAP: A Beautiful, Emotional Documentary Masterpiece

Of course the best movie of the year is a skateboarding documentary. If that sounds weird to you, you may not know skateboarding culture, a truly unique and consistently revolutionary subculture that has fueled so much else that happens in the larger pop culture for decades.

For one thing, filmmakers come out of skateboarding. That’s because skateboarders are obsessed with capturing their tricks and moves for everyone to see; every gaggle of skaters ahs the one dude who is filming EVERYTHING. Those guys often grow up to get into the movie industry, as did Rockford Illinois’ Bing Liu, director of Minding the Gap.

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The Movies Are Still Saving My Life

When I was a kid the movies saved my life. I grew up in a single parent household with a mother whose emotional neglect bordered on abuse; I suffered from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and the parts of my brain that were not broken operated so differently from the other kids that I had a hard time making friends or forging any connections. I found a lot of solace in TV and comics and books, and on TV I began watching movies, which our local stations ran all weekend and after school and late at night. Then I began going to the movies, to the little Main Street Twin (which now somehow has like eight screens), and eventually I took the train into Manhattan to see older and weirder movies. VHS opened the world up for me, and it was off to the races from there.

The movies offered a refuge and an outlet, they let me dream and hope. I was a troubled, poor kid from Queens who couldn’t have been farther from the movie industry, but in that world I saw meaning and in those movies I saw my fears and my dreams reflected back at me. I was so alone all the time, but not when I was watching a movie. 

I spent all of my free time immersed in movies. Eventually I spent ALL of my time immersed in movies, making an unlikely career out of them.

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Nobody Cares That DIE HARD Is A Christmas Movie

It’s the most wonderful time of year: the time when people show up on social media to fight for the idea that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The thing is… there’s nobody to fight. Nobody really DISAGREES with that position; at most people like me respond to “Die Hard is a Christmas movie!” arguments with “Sure… okay. Whatever. I guess.”

This comes to mind because I saw this tweet from a friend of mine:

 

And I thought it was very funny, but also very true. And not just true about Die Hard As Christmas Movie, but about all things in our lives.

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BODIED Is The Movie 2018 Needed

Joseph Kahn is a provocateur, a bomb thrower, a shit-stirrer. On Twitter he almost consistently trolls pitbull owners, retweeting and sharing stories of the breed mauling babies and other innocents. But it’s clear that Kahn isn’t just fucking around, he also believes what he’s saying (even if I fundamentally disagree with him on this topic)… although he’s also fucking around. Both of these things are true at once.

If you know that about Kahn, you’ll get Bodied, a movie that is about the battle rap scene but that is also about race and free speech and the consequences of your words. Kahn is capable of coming at a subject from multiple angles at once, and while Bodied may begin like a juvenile exercise in profound verbal offensiveness, it eventually becomes something weightier, more meaningful and more interesting.

What’s more, while the film seems to be on the side of gleeful irreverence and begins almost like a pro-triggering manifesto, by the end it gets way more nuanced. Bodied isn’t telling us anything, it’s asking us things, and in today’s binary woke vs ‘free speech’ online culture that’s absolutely revolutionary. Bodied isn’t walking up to you and making statements of fact, it’s presenting you a lot of different arguments and sometimes pulling the rug out from under you in terms of whose argument it finds most convincing. But in the end the movie gives you the space to come up with your own ideas and beliefs, rather than finish up like an After School Special with a tidy moral lesson.

Kahn is throwing bombs here, but he’s throwing them with tactical accuracy, trying to blow up the barriers behind which we’re all crouched. He’s trying to get a conversation started.

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Being Mean Jesus

As you proceed down the spiritual path some things become clearer to you. One of the great understandings you come to is that most of what people do or say to you is not personal; they’re not out to get you, they’re just acting on the conditioning and mind states in which they’re trapped. You can depersonalize a lot of the interactions you have, and suddenly things get less painful. The guy who is a jerk to you is acting out of his own pain, and you can bring compassion to the moment rather than feel bad or mad.

It’s so freeing, and it opens up the world in a whole new way. When you don’t have to take everything so damn personally a lot of negative moments can just pass by you like clouds passing by the sun. You don’t have to get hung up on them, and they only slightly darken your day for a second.

But the spiritual path ain’t that straight and narrow, and if you’re like me there’s nothing your fucked up conditioned mind can’t weaponize. And so this freeing understanding that everyone around you is wounded, is doing the best they can in that moment even if their best isn’t that good, that they are all just behaving in the ways that their genes and their parents and the world and their experiences taught them to behave, that they think they’re doing or saying what they need to do or say to protect themselves… it becomes a whole new way to be shitty to people.

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The Ultimate Vengeance Of Professor Death: A Novella

And now for something completely different.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a novelist; over the years my writing found other outlets, but recently those old fiction muscles have been twitching. I’ve answered their call by writing some fiction stuff, and I’ve not known what to do with it, so I’ve decided to just go ahead and publish it on my Patreon.

Here’s a sample of The Ultimate Vengeance of Professor Deatha post-superhero novella in twelve chapters. You can read the remaining chapters by becoming a $10 patron on my Patreon – www.patreon.com/cinemasangha. If you’ve been thinking about supporting the site, this is a great time to do so!

And, full disclosure, I may put this up as a Kindle Single if there is enough of a response. Yes, that cuts into possible new subscribers, but I’m not trying to rip people off, just make a living.

Without further ado, the first two chapters of…

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SUSPIRIA 2018: Death To Duality

This contains spoilers!

To remake Dario Argento’s Suspiria is an act of madness. The original is as much defined by its visuals and its soundtrack as its plot or characters; in fact, as is the case with some of the great Italian master’s films, it’s the filmmaking that makes 1977’s Suspiria as consequential as it is. What’s the point of remaking a movie that so fully is marked by its creator, that is so much the product of one mind, one filmmaking industry, of one time?

The point, Luca Guadagnino contends, is to do the same again – to make a movie whose filmmaking is as consequential as its plot, whose style is as important as its characters, whose soundtrack is a living part of the whole, and whose style is absolutely unique and specific to its new director. Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria is a masterwork on its own, but it’s also one that approaches Argento’s movie – and his entire Three Mothers mythology – with just the right mixture of reverence and revisionism. I love the 1977 Suspiria, and I love the 2018 version as well, in its own way.

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Being Negative Is Lazy, Easy And Safe

If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that people who are positive and sunny are generally phonies, fakes and full of shit. They are wearing masks that cover that the dark rot at the center of their souls or, if they’re actually happy, they’re only that way because ignorance is bliss. We all know that the darker, more cynical and more depressed someone is the more real they are, the more truth they see and the more they have to say.

I regret to inform you that this is all bullshit. Maybe not the part about the phonies – we live in a society that values image above reality, and so many unhappy people put desperate masks of positivity on, like serial killers spraying perfume to hide the smell of the rotting carcasses of their victims. These people may be giving positivity a bad name. But the rest of it – the idea that only the depressed and the morose and the negative people have truth, especially in the arts, is nonsense.

In fact it might be the exact opposite. The more I learn – or more specifically, the more I unlearn 40 years of cultural conditioning – the more I realize that being negative and cynical is actually living on easy mode. It’s the default setting, it’s the simplest way to be. It’s using your brain exactly as it was evolved to be used and not going above or beyond in any way. It’s lazy, in fact.

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THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD: The Wizarding World Films Get Their Own ATTACK OF THE CLONES

I walked out of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with one burning question that I hope to see answered at some point in the next of three more planned film in this Harry Potter prequel franchise:

Why the hell are these movies about Newt Scamander?

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