[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.

Continue reading “[Reprint] Saving What We Love: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI”

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.

Continue reading “MINDING THE GAP: A Beautiful, Emotional Documentary Masterpiece”

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.

Continue reading “BODIED Is The Movie 2018 Needed”

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.

Continue reading “SUSPIRIA 2018: Death To Duality”

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?

Continue reading “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD: The Wizarding World Films Get Their Own ATTACK OF THE CLONES”

A STAR IS BORN And The Crisis Of Authenticity

What does it mean to be authentic? What even is authenticity? Is it a simple, stripped down identity? Is it who you are when you’re alone, in the dark? Is it in an impossible thing that does not exist because whatever you are doing right now, even if you’re faking it, is authentically you?

Authenticity haunts A Star Is Born, the third remake of a movie starring an actor as a singer and a singer being an actor. Authenticity is what Jackson Maine hungers for, what he strives to embody and, in the end, maybe what kills him. He tries to be authentic in his rootsy, bluesy rock n’ roll, always preaching that you have to have something to say, something meaningful. When his protege and wife, Ally, plays Saturday Night Live he is disgusted by the falseness of her pop persona and the shallow repetitiveness of her lyrics. Where’s the pain, where’s the blood? He looks at her and sees a phony, and later he takes out his anger on her, cruelly tearing her down with words. Are the insults authentic?

More importantly, is Jackson Maine authentic? He believes he is, but the script, by Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters and Eric Roth, gives us hints that Jackson is fundamentally full of shit, that he wouldn’t know an authentic person if she punched a cop in a bar for him. Jackson Maine, played with such crusty greasiness by Cooper that I could smell him from the screen, is presenting a persona that is utterly false, and it’s quite possible that he doesn’t even know who the authentic Jackson Maine even is, or if he does, he hates that person and needs to kill him.

Continue reading “A STAR IS BORN And The Crisis Of Authenticity”

HALLOWEEN 2018: The Shape Of Trauma

This contains full spoilers for the 2018 Halloween.

In the original Halloween II there was an elaborate, soap opera-y reason for Michael Myers to come after Laurie Strode yet again – she was his secret sister, and just as he had killed Judith, he wanted to kill Laurie. This kind of explanation was needed to franchise the characters; if you were going to have Laurie and Michael face off again and again you needed to have a reason. As John McClane once wondered, “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” The answer, for decades, was that Michael Myers cared deeply about Laurie.

What Halloween 2018 asks is… what if he didn’t? What if Michael Myers did not care about Laurie Strode at all, but rather Laurie Strode cared so much about Michael Myers that she couldn’t let him go, couldn’t leave him behind, and as such she ends up in the middle of his 40th anniversary prison break, once again being stalked by The Shape who, in other circumstances, would have been happy to just keep killing strangers.

Continue reading “HALLOWEEN 2018: The Shape Of Trauma”

FIRST MAN: Neil Armstrong Is Trapped In A Glass Case Of Emotion

This contains spoilers for First Man (by which I mean bigger spoilers than “They get to the Moon”).

Ryan Gosling has given many performances that are the equivalent of a glass of water that had some fruit briefly dunked in it – he is so stoic and blank that he just gives you the hint of an idea of the concept of an emotion. Often, as in Drive, these performances have left me cold. But in First Man Gosling – playing one of America’s most iconically emotionally distant men – finds another place to go within that stoicism. As Neil Armstrong Gosling lets us get beyond that stoic exterior and gives us the fragile, live wire trauma that is hiding just beneath the surface.

Continue reading “FIRST MAN: Neil Armstrong Is Trapped In A Glass Case Of Emotion”

VENOM: Tom Hardy Knew This Was Stupid When He Made It

Now on Patreon for $10 subscribers: my review of VenomHere’s an excerpt:

Venom is terrible. The script is an atrocity, from clanging dialogue to dim-witted motivations to terrible structure to characters who are lucky to have one dimension, let alone three. It’s a stupid movie, a listless and pointless movie. It has no momentum, nobody accomplishes anything and I’m not even sure what most of the characters even WANT.

I loved almost every minute of it.

This isn’t a ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of movie. It’s just a bad movie. But Venom has at its center a Tom Hardy performance so excellent that he makes the entire movie about two or three hundred percent better. Hardy is watchable in Venom in a way that few movie stars are anymore, completely magnetic while also being completely unhinged. It’s a performance for the ages.

Hardy gets it – he knows what movie he’s making. He understands the tonal line he has to walk to make this work, and he never takes Eddie Brock too seriously… yet he never tells us that he’s anything but serious. It’s brilliant, a totally straight-faced slapstick performance. It feels like a muted Evil Dead 2 era Bruce Campbell, a very straight take on a very ridiculous character doing and saying very ridiculous things. But he’s never broad; I love Campbell, but he’s winking in all his best roles, playing to the back of the theater. In Venom Hardy takes that broadness but crushes it down into a mumbly, naturalistic form. It’s extraordinary – a performance full of emotional resonance springing from a script utterly devoid of emotional resonance. Hardy’s Brock is absolutely non-dualistic – he is at once real and phony, serious and ludicrous, played straight and played as a gag. There’s no daylight between these opposing concepts; Hardy is both things at once.

To read the whole thing, become a $10 patron at Patreon.

Review: SHORT TREKS: “Runaway”

There was this party at Comic-Con one year where I got absolutely hammered and I cornered JJ Abrams. This was when it had been announced that Star Trek Into Darkness was happening, but we knew nothing else about the movie. I had enjoyed the first Abrams Trek, although I thought it was a mess; one of my least favorite things about it was Nero. I thought the character was hollow and empty and violated one of the main tenets of good Trek.

Good Trek, I slurred to poor JJ that night, doesn’t have a villain. It may have an antagonist, but it doesn’t have a villain. This is hard to argue because everybody’s favorite Trek thing is Wrath of Khan, a movie featuring one of the great screen villains. But I would argue that movies like Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, neither of which has a villain, are the most Trek-y movies of them all.

Continue reading “Review: SHORT TREKS: “Runaway””