STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE Is Still A Miss 20 Years Later

This piece is two years old; I wrote it in February 2017 and posted it on Facebook. Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and I wanted to commemorate it but didn’t have the forethought to sit down and watch the movie again. But this piece, which represents my latest revisit of the film, feels pretty spot-on to me still two years later. I’ve gone back to the Prequels again and again, hoping each time the changes in me have changed the way I see the movies. This has not been the case. In fact, this post came after I bought the Prequels on Blu as an attempt to revisit them in full in a spiritual/Buddhist light. I never made it past Attack of the Clones.

Note: I have made minor edits to this for clarity and grammar, but not for content. This piece is maybe more jargon-y than I would write today, but maybe that’s a problem with me today. I reference a thing I wrote about Yoda’s fear/anger/hate/suffering bit that I have not published on this site; maybe I will at some point. Finally, this was written before The Last Jedi, which I think has a top tier John Williams score.

I just finished the book The Dharma of Star Wars, which finds parallels and examples of Buddhist teachings in the Force and the Jedi, and it really impressed me. Much of the book’s content related to events from the Prequel Trilogy, and it made me wonder if these films – which I had maligned for so long – were actually brilliant Trojan horses smuggling dharma into the minds of impressionable Western children. The book’s pretty good in general – out of all the Buddhist stuff I’ve read/listened to in the last few months it’s the work that moved my understanding of ‘no self’ furthest. So I decided to give the Prequels another shot, with a Buddhist perspective. 

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POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU Is The Most Aesthetically Important Blockbuster Of The Century

We have the technology to create anything on the screen, and we keep using that technology to create realistic things. JJ Abrams helped usher in an era of monsters that are based on real biology, that look like they could really exist, which has led to a glut of boring and samey looking CGI monsters. The Transformers movies gave us robots that had every single gear, piston and rivet that would be needed to change from a humanoid to a vehicle, and that meant incomprehensibly complicated designs that had no personality. And even going beyond CGI, our superhero movies have these depressingly low-imagination tendency of keeping the characters in tactical outfits, basically less colorful and less wild versions of their iconic comic book costumes.

Realism is the disease. Detective Pikachu is the cure.

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This Has Always Been What GAME OF THRONES Is

This has always been what Game of Thrones is. Last night’s episode has torn the internet asunder, but I feel like it was only fulfilling the premise of the entire series; if anything last night’s episode is proof that the show has strayed too far from George RR Martin’s cynical worldview in the past season or two, lulling us into a fantasy football version of ‘who will take the throne?’ But the story has always been suspicious of anyone who wants the throne, and has always shown that those who vie for it, even for the best of reasons, are eventually monsters. 

What you have to keep in mind is that A Song Of Ice And Fire, the book series from which Game of Thrones is adapted, is George RR Martin’s answer to Lord of the Rings. Martin is a huge fan of Tolkien, but he started this series as a critique of the Manichaean good vs evil concepts that LOTR baked into pretty much all high fantasy afterwards. More than that, he took issue with the idea of ‘Happily ever after.’ Don’t just believe me on this, here is Martin himself, talking to Rolling Stone:

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AVENGERS ENDGAME: More Event Than Movie

This contains spoilers for Avengers Endgame.

When is a movie not movie? This isn’t some kind of riddle, but rather an attempt to figure out how to approach a film like Avengers Endgame, which feels not quite like a motion picture as we define them and more like an event. It’s an experience first and foremost, a movie second… and I wonder how much that matters. How much does it matter that the ending works more as fan service than as logic? How much does it matter that the movie completely betrays Steve Rogers’ character to get to a teary-eyed smile at the end?

Thinking about Endgame I find myself thinking about It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World, the epic blockbuster comedy from Stanley Kramer. It’s stuffed to the gills with superstars, and it was originally bladder-shatteringly long (197 minutes! A comedy!). In terms of things like ‘plot’ and ‘structure’ it isn’t strong, but it makes up for all of that with the charm of Milton Berle and Buddy Hackett and Ethel Merman and Phil Silver. It features a stunning parade of cameos, including Jack Benny, ZaSu Pitts and Buster Keaton It’s not nuanced or subtle, and it’s hugeness and broadness is part of the point; it’s a big screen comedy released at a time when the movies were feeling TV nipping at their heels. 

It’s all really familiar. 

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Now On Patreon: THE BEACH BUM Takes Us On The Road Of Excess

“I’m a reverse paranoid. I believe the world is conspiring to make me happy.”

– Moondog, The Beach Bum

This review contains full spoilers for The Beach Bum.

That a new Harmony Korine movie should be morally disagreeable, juvenile and more than occasionally offensive is no surprise. That it should it be joyfully wise, subversively kind and the single most anti-materialistic work of a moment in time steeped in bourgeois socialism is actually very surprising, and The Beach Bum is perhaps one of the most wonderfully and uniquely meaningful movies of the moment, which is also a profound surprise. 

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Last Week’s DISCO Gave Us An All-Time Great STAR TREK Moment

There are great moments of heroism and personal sacrifice in the history of Star Trek, moments that illustrate the best of humanity in the worst of situations. From Kirk allowing Edith Keeler to die in order to save history, Picard holding firm that there are four lights, or Spock quietly getting out of his chair and heading to engineering at the end of Wrath of Khan, these moments are some of the most beloved in the almost 700 hours of Trek canon.

Not every Trek gets a moment as good as these, but last week Star Trek Discovery got its own – and it was a moment that I think ranks high in the pantheon of great Trek. If you’ve been watching the show this season it might come as no surprise that the moment centers around Christopher Pike, new captain of the Disco, who has been such a wonderful and invigorating addition to the show that fans have taken to Change.org to start petitions demanding actor Anson Mount get his own spinoff series.

See, Pike would need a spinoff, he can’t stay on the show, since he’s a character deeply embedded in Star Trek lore, and his future is well-known to fans. It’s a dark one.

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SHAZAM! Earns The Exclamation Point

Being a hero is a choice, one that’s never too late to make and that never has to be made alone. That trinity of concepts is the beautiful and emotional throughline that holds together the light, breezy and fun Shazam!, taking this superheroic riff on Big and elevating it to a place that resonates on the same emotional and thematic frequency as Donner’s Superman, a movie as focused on the small humanity of heroism as the big superhumanity of it.

Based on one of the least cool DC characters, a character who was ingested into that universe in a business deal but who has never quite found his place in the pantheon (not for lack of trying or lack of quality comics), Shazam!opts to embrace everything that makes its source material so out of step. It’s a family movie, a funny movie, a loving movie, a hopeful movie, a movie whose hero earnestly says “Holy moly” a couple of times. Most of all it’s a kid’s movie, just as Shazam (or Captain Marvel as he seemingly cannot be legally called in this film) is a kid’s hero. And I don’t mean that in a dismissive or condescending way, but rather that the character represents the positive peak of the wish-fulfillment possibilities of the superhero genre.

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US: Face Your Jungian Shadow… And A Bad Ending

This review contains complete spoilers for Us.

When Get Out got to the Coagula my heart sank. The movie had been doing so well and then it got to this explanation for the underlying mind-switching and I was deeply concerned. You can really kill the magic of a story by going here, and too often filmmakers don’t understand that we don’t actually care how the magical stuff in a movie happens, we just want to be assured there is a reason.

Thankfully, Jordan Peele kept Get Out moving at such a clip – and kept the Coagula so weird and so aesthetically connected to the film’s themes – that it was only a bump in the road. The movie didn’t get bogged down in the Coagula, and I didn’t walk out with the logistics of the Coagula itching at my brain.

I wish I could say the same about Us.

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CAPTAIN MARVEL Never Quite Takes Off

At some point in Captain Marvel it dawned on me: this movie is set in the 90s. Maybe it was when Carol Danvers stood in front of a wall plastered with posters for Smashing Pumpkins, Bush and PJ Harvey. Maybe it was when she wore a Nine Inch Nails shirt and Nick Fury told her the grunge look was good on her. Maybe it was when every song that played in the movie was a well-worn 90s track. Maybe it was when everybody sat around comically waiting for a CD-ROM to load. Maybe it was when Carol looked up info on Alta Vista. Maybe it was when the movie had a close-up of a record player playing Nevermind.

The movie’s brutal reliance on 90s references could be just an irritating tic, but I think it actually gets at the fundamental problem that lies under the surface of Captain Marvel – this is a movie more constructed than crafted, and those needle drops feel like part of the construction, a knowing attempt to get in on the ‘90s kid’ generation and their desire to have their own childhood chewed up and spit back into their faces. Big parts of this movie feel inorganic and airdropped in, and those big parts are especially frustrating because Captain Marvel is peppered with small moments of absolutely organic beauty and charm.

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APOLLO 11: Audacious, Triumphant And Necessary

Early in Apollo 11 there is this impossibly clear, incredibly close-up shot of the Saturn booster rocket taking off, lifting the Apollo 11 mission towards space. In this shot you can see the enormous nozzles which funnel the thunderous fire created in the main cylinder of the rocket, and the clarity of this shot lets you see every rivet, every overlapping plate, every spot where human hands had to touch and manipulate this metal to create the miracle you’re seeing before you.

It’s an overpowering moment, especially in IMAX. The screen is so huge that you almost get a sense of the scale of the thing (almost – it’s clear that these rockets are so big and the thrust so immense that even the IMAX screen shrinks them down), and the sound is so intense that the deep bass rumble almost disrupts your atoms. But it isn’t just the physical scale of it all that is overpowering; what makes Apollo 11 a brilliant film is how it captures both the material achievement of the mission and the spiritual achievement. In moments like that we are not only in awe of the size and fury of the rocket, we are overwhelmed with the knowledge that humans came together to do this thing, and to do it well.

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