I loved it.  (No spoilers here.)

There’s a moment in this film that encapsulates all of Star Wars. This small, quiet, beautiful moment that manages to draw in, like, everything. The more I think about it the more I love it.

This is not to say it’s a perfect movie. The pacing in the first half is relentless and disorienting. I was watching and thinking, This needs to slow down and give us a moment to breathe or the whole thing is going to be a mess. Funnily enough, about five minutes later the movie slowed down and gave us a moment to breathe and the rest of it opened up. There’s a ton of handwavium going on. If you go into this movie looking for things to pick apart, you’ll find them.

But I loved it. It’s full of hugging and heroes and epic duels and big moments and all the things I love about Star Wars. I got my Poe and Finn on a ridiculous caper story. Lots of Rey and Kylo. I got way more of General Leia than I had any right to expect.

And story…  Here’s a bit of analysis.

I know I said I was never going to talk about the prequel trilogy again. Episodes I, II, III. But I am, because I’m struck by something in them now:  the lack of spirituality. Episodes IV – IX are full of spirituality, the Force as a mystical thing that transcends people, that is always present, that just is. It binds the universe together, it doesn’t just belong to the Jedi, it requires calm and introspection and a personal connection to the universe. In Episodes I-III the Force is almost mechanical. There’s a blood test. The Jedi aren’t mystical shamans — they’re a bureaucracy.

And this may be one of the points of the entire saga. The Jedi of the Old Republic are like the medieval Catholic church, formal and political and bureaucratic. Because of this, their rigidity, they lack the awareness that anything is wrong and the flexibility to do anything about it. And they don’t know how to deal with Anakin. They’ve actually lost a ton of power. (I still think that part of the story is badly told, but the story is there.)

The rest of the saga may be about restoring a spiritual aspect to the Jedi. The idea of individual connection. A more shamanistic Jedi practice.

The prequels kept talking about “balance” in the Force. This film brings that idea back, with the idea that maybe “balance” wasn’t what those rigid practitioners of the Jedi order thought it was.

There’s a lot to think about — if you want to think about it.  Since thinking about this stuff is also one of the things I love about the Star Wars universe, I am happy.

 

It’s Star Wars season!

December 19, 2019

Have to admit, I might miss having a new Star Wars movie to celebrate each December. Then again, when my mother asked if I was looking forward to the new movie, my answer was of course “yes,” but also…exhaustion. I’m really tired of the hype and expectation and online collective freak-out that accompanies these things. I just want to watch the movie.

I’ve got tickets for tomorrow.

In preparation, I watched The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi this week. I love Rey’s story. The Jedi arc in The Last Jedi in particular is so fraught, and so pointed. I just love it.

“We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda tells Luke. The whole saga is about generational conflict, and how generations fail each other — particularly older generations who didn’t quite build the world they set out to and who didn’t successfully mentor those who came after them. And how maybe doing those two things is actually impossible. Because kids are their own people. They have their own arcs, and they don’t exist to complete someone else’s.

So yes, I’m very interested to see how this new movie adds to that story, if it adds to that story. On the other hand, The Last Jedi offers an ending of sorts of its own. There’s closure there, if you need it.

 

Frozen 2

December 16, 2019

So I cried through like the whole third act, mostly because the ice kelpie was so beautiful my heart just ached.  (Google tells me he is not a kelpie, but a Nokk, a Scandinavian water spirit that sounds a lot like a keplie, but then there is a lot of overlap with these things.)

I really loved Elsa with actual superpowers, and then she gets her own Fortress of Solitude. With an actual Campbellian Hero’s Journey descent to the underworld and rebirth. Like, we’re not even trying to hide it.

And then weirdly also like Annihilation, with passing through this wall of glowing mist and being trapped with weird transformative creatures?

I don’t know, the whole thing was fine, just what it says on the tin, but it sure packed a lot in there.

 

Knives Out

December 2, 2019

I think what I like most about this, and part of why this film is getting such universal raves, is that it’s a throwback. It’s a really classic, traditional murder mystery. It’s a pre-CSI, ridiculous forensic technology dependent mystery. It’s an Agatha Christie, Midsomer Murders mystery with big personalities and family drama and a personable investigator from outside who arrives to comment on it all. Anyone can see the clues and piece together what happened just by looking, by listening. If you’re clever enough. I hesitate to call this “Hipster American Poirot.” But, well, there it is.

Much like we’ve been starved for uplifting superhero movies, I wonder if audiences have been starved for this.

The other reason the film’s getting raves is that there’s a lot more going on. There’s also a layer of very pointed social commentary about immigration and privilege and what kind of behavior people are willing to tolerate as long as their own status isn’t threatened. Daniel Craig’s detective, southern gentleman Benoit Blanc (Tell me he isn’t an American riff on Poirot. Go on.) is almost ridiculous (Poirot meets Columbo, just about — this film knows what it’s doing). But also like Poirot he picks the straightforward young woman amidst all the chaos to be his ally. Marta, the nurse who’s been taking care of Harlan Thrombey, whose mysterious death drives the plot, is the daughter of immigrants. She’s an outsider, too. And it’s her choices that matter in this.

The cast is phenomenal. That’s the main reason I went to see this. But what holds the movie up is the classic mystery structure, which comforts us that the truth is knowable and justice is possible.

 

snowpocalypse!

November 25, 2019

We’re due to get 18″ of snow overnight, so the area is in full-on snowpocalypse mode. Combine this with the usual Thanksgiving prep madness, and shopping for basics is kind of a no-go. Seriously, I almost had to duke it out with a woman for the last cans of kidney-health formula prescription dog food. Then she said she has a Great Dane and I’m all, here, have it all, Lily just needs, you know, a can or two.

So, I think Lily and I are set. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, here’s the long version of my very angry review of Ad Astra for Lightspeed. I really only get this angry when a film thinks it’s smart, and is so proud of how smart it is, when in fact it is dumber than a sack of bricks.

Rapid space baboons. Really.

 

Harriet

November 18, 2019

If America had saints, Harriet Tubman would be one of the foremost among them.

The film Harriet reminded me of a storybook I had about her when I was little, which means I think her story was probably where I first learned about slavery. That book is also where I learned about the North Star, moss on the trees, the Underground Railroad, all of it. It’s primarily a story about heroism and courage, so it took a little more time, and the work of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and so on, to get the full horrific story of slavery. But my first education came from Tubman’s story of resistance. And why haven’t there been more movies and TV shows about her? I mean really.

The film is pretty good. It’s uneven, I think. Some of that may be that it’s not quite the film I wanted — but it hints at a movie I really would have liked to see. Mostly, this is serious literary biopic, with all that that entails. And this is where I think it’s maybe a little bit cliche. All the scenes you expect, the heartfelt serious character moments, the standard 19th century serious historical score. This part of the film drags a bit.

But then there’s an action montage of Tubman’s activities with the Underground Railroad, with Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” playing over it. This segment is incredible, high energy, engaging, inspiring. I found myself wishing the film had done more of this, using modern music as a backdrop, going for a more impressionistic feel. Going for action and tension and immediacy. The story mostly focuses on Harriet, her emotions, her visions, her connections with her family, which were all important of course. But what if the movie as a whole had been framed as action/adventure rather than literary biopic?

I wanted the film to be more political. There’s a scene where Frederick Douglass is standing in the room. Like, that is clearly Frederick Douglass! But there’s no dialog from him, no interaction. He’s practically set dressing. I wanted more with the Underground Railroad. Harriet’s Civil War activities — she was a spy and personally led an expedition across enemy lines to free slaves — got all of about three minutes at the end of the film when really, that could have been its own movie. Those bits of engagement, where Harriet is out kicking ass like some action hero — because she freaking was one! — were the best, and I wanted more of that.

I’m glad I saw the film. But now I want a 20 episode TV show about Harriet during the war.

My historical re-enactment friends all agree the costumes were very good. Like, they got the fabric and drape right? And that’s hard to do.

 

two movies

November 4, 2019

It was a two movie weekend, one in theaters and one at home.

Terminator: Dark Fate. This was a lot of fun, and a return to form for a franchise that has gotten rather convoluted and unweildly. (Time travel, gah.)  This neatly cut through all that by being a direct sequel to Terminator 2 and ignoring everything else. This is Sarah Conner’s trilogy, and it feels like it was always meant to be this way.  Also manages to be super topical.  I’ll be doing a long review for Lightspeed, particularly in terms of Linda Hamilton’s/Sarah’s legacy as an iconic action hero. I will say this:  Schwarzenegger has mellowed delightfully, and while I wasn’t sure I really wanted him in this film, it turns out it was really nice seeing him return to this role one more time in a way that was satisfying.

The King.  This apparently had a limited release earlier in the year and is now on Netflix. This is a movie about Henry V.  More than that, it’s a completely revisionist version of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Once I figured out what was going on, I was astonished and completely drawn in. Guys, I love this film.  I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like the filmmakers systematically addressed every point about the play that bugged them and then did it different. Like, Henry speaks fluent French because of course he would have.  Like, let’s say that women in political situations actually have useful observations and opinions about politics. Like, it wasn’t God and righteousness that won Agincourt, it was really good strategy that brilliantly utilized the English army’s particular strengths.  It’s also just a really well plotted and put together story. And cheeky as all get out, like there’s a moment when Falstaff just up and says, “I think the story is better this way, don’t you?” Zing.

And the fighting and battles and stuff is really good. Like, The Last Kingdom good, in that I think it should be required viewing for SCA folk. That stuff we do for fun on weekends? This is what it really looked like and it sucked rocks.

Timothée Chalamet plays Henry. He’s also playing Paul in the new Dune movie due out next year. I was not at all interested in a new Dune movie. Now, suddenly, I am, because of this actor.