Category Archives: Movies

What I’ve Been Up To Recently

My vision for 2018 is for it to be my most ambitious year yet. 2017 was all about recovery; it was about finding my productivity and finding my happiness. But none of that was planned from the outset. It just sort of happened. And because of that progress, I now hold myself to a higher standard. I figured out that I want to live and do something with my life, and now it’s all about getting to work to achieve what I want.

One of the ways I want to improve my life this year is simply to do more. My problem the past few years has been my tendency to hibernate between my travels to the USA, counting down the days until I get to taste root beer again, until I hear cicadas at night. Now I want to make up for all the time I wasted while I was still in the UK and refusing to get out of bed. I want to fill my life full of vivid experiences. I haven’t got much money, but I have been looking to do small things in my spare time. I don’t want my weekends to slip by in a haze of basketball highlights and potato chips. It’s as simple as just saying “Yes” more often. It’s things like going for a walk with my kid brother Frank before he moves out, traveling to Stamford Bridge to watch Kanté tear it up with my old writing buddy from Winchester, or finally trying out Bingo and Trivia Night at the pub where I work.

Of course, I’m most interested in things that are creative, that light a fire in my soul. So here are three things I’ve seen this year so far, that I consider to be of artistic value:

 


Humanity – Ricky Gervais Stand Up Tour

050

In January I went to the Colston Hall in Bristol- the place where I both sang and danced in three separate shows when I was a kid- to see my first stand up gig. I just couldn’t turn down the chance to see one of my favorite all-time comedians in the flesh. What was great was that Ricky Gervais was in the best form of his life- the quality of his material hadn’t dropped at all since the likes of Animals and Science. I can see how a comedian might not be able to keep up with the times, but Gervais is as sharp and relevant now as he ever was. During Humanity he told stories about celebrities, which to the average person like me, was so interesting, because it was like he acted as bridge between the real world and Hollywood. He’s worked with so many famous people, and yet he comes across as a very down-to-earth guy. It was like he was our man on the inside, sharing the juicy details of the bizarre existence of the famous. I don’t want to spoil any of the material, so go watch this show now (it’s on Netflix!).

 


Loveless – Andrey Zvyagintsev film

051

About a ten minute drive from where I live is a cinema called The Curzon, in a Victorian seaside town called Clevedon. It’s one of the oldest continually-running movie theaters in the world. They’ve got this old organ from the 1930s and sometimes a fellow in a bow tie comes down to play it before the movie starts. I went to this cinema a few weeks ago to see a Russian movie called Loveless. It was the only night they were showing it, and I really wanted to see the film. I think it’s the first foreign-language movie I have seen in the theater, and maybe the first I’ve seen since my days in Film Studies class at City of Bristol College. The film was beautiful and bleak. It’s all about a kid that goes missing during his parents’ bitter divorce. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in recent times, and it gives a very cynical portrayal of domestic life in Putin’s Russia. It’s not about Putin or politics per se, but you can feel it ticking in the background. Fleeting glimpses of current affairs, from car radios or TV sets, contribute to a general impression of national sadness. The dialogue in this film was great; the adults rip into one another like Siberian Lynxes. It’s a whole lot of sex, swearing, and darkly-humored nihilism.

 


Macbeth – Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory

051

The Tobacco Factory in Bristol is one of our go-to theaters, along with the Old Vic. I try to see Shakespeare as often as I can, and so far I’ve seen about 15 of his plays (almost half!). However until last Thursday, I had never seen Macbeth. I’ve wanted to check out this gory tragedy for years and years, but it just kept eluding me. In 2016 I saw the Michael Fassbender film adaptation with my roommate Aaron, but I loved it so much that it only made me want to see the narrative on stage even more! I got my chance this week and went along with my dad and brother. The Tobacco Factory is a modern theater, but it’s perfect for Shakespeare because the seats are arranged around a small, central stage area. You get to see the actors up close and it gives the plays this real sense of intimacy. I liked this adaptation of Macbeth– the stage floor was covered with a deep layer of blackened wood chips, the sound effects had the diseased, deathly tone of buzzing wasps, and the WW1-inspired costumes were low-key and utilitarian, in a way that contributed to the bleak atmosphere. Best of all were the three witches with their heads wrapped in gauze. It was creepy as fuck. Also, the play featured my favorite stage actor- Simon Armstrong- who I have seen in Bristol dozens of times in everything from Moliere to Chekhov. I also only just realized that he plays Qhorin Halfhand in Game of Thrones (the Night’s Watch ranger that Jon Snow serves under in Season 2!).

Advertisements

My Thoughts on Phantom Thread

I can’t remember the last time there were so many movies out at once that I’ve really wanted to see. I still need to see Loveless, Hostiles and I, Tonya. I’m also looking forward to seeing Annihilation, You Were Never Really Here, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, which come out very soon. I’m confident I’ll enjoy them all. So far the only movies I’ve had the time to see are Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri and Phantom Thread. The former was good, the latter was better. And it’s the latter of those two films that’s inspired me to blog today.

At first glance, Phantom Thread didn’t look to be my kind of film. It’s set in the couture business of 1950s London. It’s a romantic period drama about a fancy dressmaker who makes fancy dresses for the fancypants people of high society. The kind of movies I usually watch tend to have a higher density of people face down in a gutter drowning on their own blood. But then I noticed something: this film starred Daniel Day-Lewis and was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The last time these two hooked up we were given a brutal drama set against the harsh backdrop of the Southern California Oil Boom, ending with the unforgettable image of a preacher getting his head caved in with a bowling pin. There Will Be Blood is a contender for my favorite film of all time, so I knew I had to give this a go.

And Phantom Thread did not disappoint.

0122

It’s a slow, meditative drama that’s admittedly not for everyone. But what really makes this film is the intensity of the performances from its two leading actors. Daniel Day-Lewis demonstrates yet again that he is the most talented and versatile actor of his generation, and he brings this absolutely dominating screen presence that turns even the most subtle scene into a hair-raising, edge-of-your-seat affair. You can feel the goosepimples crawling up your arms every time he does something as seemingly mundane as giving his opposite number a closed-mouth glare. And as good as Day-Lewis is, I thought that his co-star Vicky Krieps was right there with him. She matched his raw intensity and produced one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen in years.

Day-Lewis plays a famed dressmaker, and Krieps a waitress who sort of becomes his mistress and his muse. He’s wholly dedicated to his art, but Krieps is determined to have a piece of him for herself. The movie essentially follows her attempts to have a relationship with him- one that she gets something out of. She doesn’t want to ruin his art, or stop him from making dresses, but she just wants a little piece of him that is hers and hers alone. The film is a fascinating portrayal of the struggles of having a relationship with an artist. Day-Lewis is kind of a narcissistic- yet brilliant- genius, but Krieps has a profound effect on him, and ultimately he is shocked at how she changes his life and completely disrupts his routine.

Phantom Thread reminded me a lot of another film I watched recently. The other week I finally got around to watching the 2013 documentary Salinger. Funnily enough, Salinger was originally meant to be a feature film with Daniel Day-Lewis in the starring role. In Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis’ character is very particular, adhering to a strict and exact sense of routine. His every waking day, his every living breath, is dedicated to the art of dressmaking. And it pushes anyone away from getting too close. There’s no room in his life for intimacy; everyone comes second to his art. And it’s this aspect of the film that reminded me of Salerno’s documentary of one of my favorite writers- JD Salinger. The film portrays the novelist as being so obsessed with his art that it pushes away his wife; he would supposedly spend weeks at a time writing inside a windowless bunker, which neither she or anyone else was allowed in. Both movies seem to raise the question: is that lack of intimacy the price one pays for achieving true, lasting greatness? Can you live a normal life and be dedicated to your art? What are you willing to sacrifice for immortality? The most touching part of the documentary, for me, was a reported quote from Salinger to the effect that he wished he had never written The Catcher in the Rye. It made me sad, because it suggested to me that perhaps he wished he had lived a more normal life, without all the media scrutiny and the burden of being America’s greatest novelist.

Phantom Thread, however, ends on a much more optimistic note. In the end, Day-Lewis and Krieps have found a way to make it work. Theirs is a dark love in which he willingly allows her to feed him poisonous mushrooms so that he becomes so ill that he is completely dependent on her. It’s a crazy kind of passion, but then genius often comes hand in hand with madness. Despite all the difficulties of living in his world, she is determined to make a place for herself- and that’s what makes Krieps’ character so compelling.

We Need To Talk About That BIG Star Wars News

We need to talk about Star Wars. I don’t want to say that “This is the best time to be a Star Wars fan” because the sequel trilogy has been nothing if not divisive. But in terms of the sheer amount of Star Wars we are getting, and the staggering financial investment being pumped into the franchise, this is undoubtedly the Golden Age of the franchise. Disney have already made back the $4 billion they spent to acquire the Star Wars license from George Lucas, and have decided that the popular science fantasy name will replace Marvel as the dominant blockbuster property for the foreseeable future. I think that Disney are starting to recognize the potential the Star Wars universe has for fresh stories that will bring in the megabucks. The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi have all been a resounding success at the box office and maybe, just maybe, we are going to see a little more experimentation on their part.

The more I look at the sequel trilogy, the more I think it’s a hot mess. However I adored Rogue One. It felt different and edgy and interesting, and that’s why I’m cautiously optimistic about Solo: A Star Wars Story. The first anthology film was styled as a “war movie” set in the Star Wars universe, and in May we’re essentially getting a heist movie. I think the creative freedom afforded these new movies taking place outside the Skywalker saga could result in some really intriguing narratives- as was the case with Rogue One. There are supposedly two more anthology movies in the works, and by the looks of things they are going to be an Obi-Wan movie and a Boba Fett origin story. But even though these anthology movies represent a break from the Skywalker saga, they still feel close to the main films.

Over the last few months there have been several exciting announcements. Disney is now interested in telling stories completely separate from the characters, places and events we are used to. It’s like they’ve answered my prayers and finally realized the potential in the Star Wars universe. For the sake of coherence, I’m gonna break down the announcements in bullet points. These are the confirmed projects in the works:

  • At least one more anthology movie to follow Rogue One and Solo.
  • A new Star Wars trilogy directed by Rian Johnson, completely separate from the Skywalker saga.
  • A live-action Star Wars TV series, developed for Disney’s upcoming streaming service.
  • A new series of Star Wars movies written and produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, separate from the Skywalker saga and the Johnson trilogy.

Goodness Globb. That’s a lot of Star Wars. The news came in yesterday that the creators of the Game of Thrones TV show would be working on this new series of Star Wars films, and it’s encouraging to me that Disney would choose them for their experience with complex characters and darker, more nuanced narratives. The language used in the press release deserves close attention. The fact that they are producing a “series” suggests to me at least 3 films, but the fact that it’s a series and not a “trilogy” indicates that it may not be a singular narrative. It could mean that we’re about to get a new anthology series of standalone films, only this time more removed from the familiar Skywalker saga. I’d say we’re looking at about 7-8 Star Wars movies guaranteed to be coming our way all in all, which is a lot of Star Wars. And in addition to these films we’ve got a TV show in the works as well, which we probably won’t see until 2020. I’m interested to see what Benioff and Weiss come up with. They said in their statement that they will get to work on it as soon as Game of Thrones is finished, so I’d say the absolute earliest we could see the first film would be late 2020, and I think even that’s pushing it. With all the Star Wars we’re getting, Disney are going to think carefully about the timing of each release, and at the moment we don’t know what we’ll see first- the first of the Johnson films, the Obi-Wan film, or the first of the Benioff & Weiss films. Whatever one comes out first, the next surely won’t see theaters for at least 6 months after. I think we’re probably looking at 1-2 Star Wars movies a year, and the box office performance of the upcoming Solo film will probably be a good indicator of how Disney will want to space these movies out.

I think it’s good to be excited. However I’m not under any illusions that all of these projects will be just wonderful. One thing we know for absolute certain is that not a single one of these upcoming Star Wars projects will please all the fans. The Star Wars fanbase can be charitably described volatile, and each generation of fans will never be able to replicate the joy they experienced in their childhood. As I said earlier, I’m not overly thrilled with the sequel trilogy- though there are plenty of good moments I enjoyed in the films, such as the praetorian scene in The Last Jedi. And a lot of people like the films. It’s important to remember that Disney will be making these new movies for a new generation of fans, and they will be different to what we’re used to. This ain’t your nan’s Star Wars.

At this point it is pure speculation what these stories will be. I would love to see a Star Wars narrative that focuses on a padawan’s training- a sort of Harry Potter style, coming-of-age Jedi story. I’d also love to see more of the criminal underworld of the Star Wars galaxy. But what do you want? Let me know in the comments all your wishes for the new Star Wars narratives we are getting!

My Top 10 Movies of 2017!

Today I’m continuing my series of festive blog posts to close out 2017 with a definitive power ranking of the best movies I have seen this year. A couple of these films technically first came out in 2016, but did so right at the end of the year and were still in theaters in 2017, so I’m allowed to include them under the Federal Statute of It’s-My-Blog-And-I-Can-Do-What-I-Want. So grab yourself a mince pie, a tall glass of milk and enjoy!

 


#10 Logan

zo999

I only discovered X-Men in the last two years or so, but I tend to latch onto things quickly. I was looking forward to a super-hero movie that was based around harrowing character development and horrific, nauseatingly-realistic gore. Logan didn’t disappoint, but at the same time I wasn’t quite as engaged as I thought I’d be. However for superb acting, cinematography, and writing it deserves its place on this list. Put simply, it’s just extremely well-made.

 


#9 Hidden Figures

zo99

This might be my feel-good movie of the year. It might not have the indie tones and raw artistry of Logan, but it just about edges it in my rankings because I found it to be more engaging. It’s a heartwarming, intelligent story that fills in the blanks of our history. If you enjoy 20th century historical dramas- this is for you!

 


#8 1922

zo9

Netflix have been balling recently, producing a slew of dark, close-ended drama series and nuanced arthouse features. I watched 1922 a few weeks ago on the basis that Stephen King is a genius, whose works have been so well translated to the big screen in such classics as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. I loved the minimalist, claustrophobic setting and the dark narrative, and the motif of the rats was both chilling and masterful.

 


#7 War for the Planet of the Apes

zo8

I love this franchise because it proves that not all summer blockbusters are devoid of self-awareness. It has the budget and look of a Hollywood action flick, but to be honest this movie has an emotional depth and complexity far beyond something you would expect about a movie based on talking apes whacking humans over the head with two-by-fours. It’s a depiction of a post-apocalypse that feels fresh and interesting, and Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of the deranged, Kurtz-esque isolated military leader was perhaps my favorite performance of the year!

 


#6 Fences

zo7

This was the only movie I watched on my 10-hour flight from London to Houston in May of this year. I love the stage, and this is a mesmerizing adaptation of the great August Wilson’s drama of the same name. Denzel is unforgettable as the jealous patriarch Troy Maxson, and his performance alone makes this the most intense movie I have seen all year.

 


#5 Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

Before this year I had never seen a Pirates of the Carribean movie, but a bunch my bestie’s fellow therapists asked us if we wanted to go see it with them, so I watched the very first one the night before. Missing the next three installments didn’t ruin my enjoyment of Dead Men Tell No Tales however, and I had no idea just how much I needed a swashbuckling pirate adventure in my life. This movie was a barrel of laughs and just pure, summertime entertainment.

 


#4 Spider-Man: Homecoming

zo5

When I saw that there was a new Spider-Man film coming out, I asked if the world really needed one. It was War for the Planet of the Apes that I was begging my roommates to take me to. However I ended up enjoying the new Spider-Man more than I ever thought possible, and it’s easily my favorite summer flick. The fact that the main villain was the evil mastermind behind the stealing of the McDonald’s brand from its namesake made it all the more sinister (and hilarious).

 


#3 Manchester by the Sea

zo4

The top three on this list are all masterpieces that are all worthy of a Best Picture Oscar trophy in my opinion, and- for what it’s worth- the TumbleweedWrites Film of the Year Award. This character-driven drama was the first feature I saw in the movie theater this year, and it got 2017 off to a fantastic start. I loved every aspect of it, and it kept me engaged from beginning to end. Out of all the movies on this list, it’s probably the most “quintessentially Michael”. I love stories about family, personal tragedy, and working class neighborhoods. This movie didn’t so much tug at my heartstrings as it did bloodily rip them out.

 


#2 Mudbound

zo3

When I said that Netflix was straight saucin’ this year, I wasn’t kidding. Mudbound is the latest entry on this list- I watched it this afternoon in fact. It’s a powerful, exceptionally well-written drama set in the Mississippi Delta. It follows two families, one black and one white, and follows their struggles before, during, and after World War 2. It’s a poignant, heart-wrenching depiction of race relations, poverty, and PTSD. Oh, and any fans of Breaking Bad– get ready to hate Jonathan Banks’ character a lot.

 


#1 Blade Runner 2049

zo2

While it’s true that any of my top 3 are TumbleweedWrites Film of the Year Award caliber movies, there was really only going to be one winner. Choosing Blade Runner 2049 was easy because it displayed such excellence in almost every category measuring the quality of a movie might have. It is probably the most visually-stunning film I have ever seen, and every minute of this 3-hour epic was one of intense enjoyment on my part. It was so good that it didn’t even feel like a long film at all. The performances of Gosling and Hoeks in particular were stellar, the sound effects, musical score and clever use of colors so perfectly captured the essence of a Philip K. Dick post-apocalypse, and the inclusion of the Elvis Presley hologram was the cherry on top of the birthday cake as I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my birth watching this masterpiece.

10 Thoughts on The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi might be the most polarizing and controversial Star Wars movie ever made. I considered doing a spoiler-free review of the film, but soon realized that whatever I came up with wouldn’t be worth a dang. Whether or not you will like the eighth installment of the Skywalker Saga largely depends on what kind of Star Wars fan you are. The best way to approach this post, in my opinion, is to simply list my thoughts on the movie. I think every reaction or takeaway from the film is valid, and I’ve spent hours poring through the conclusions of others- from friends and family to my go-to Youtubers like Angry Joe and Emergency Awesome. Because my thoughts on this film are so mixed, I’ve been able to actually enjoy opinions that are not only infused with zealous outrage but also wildly different from one another. The Last Jedi has received almost universal acclaim from movie critics, but its audience ratings are shockingly low, and one only needs to scroll through Twitter to see just how the film has struck a nerve with the Star Wars ultras. All I can do at this point is offer my impressions and see how they hold up in this blood-soaked arena. Needless to say, there will be MAJOR SPOILERS for The Last Jedi.

 

zzz

 

  1. For starters I need to quickly establish the kind of Star Wars fan I am. Ultimately I would have preferred that Disney loosely adapted the books of the Expanded Universe and given us a darker sequel trilogy featuring deranged, murderous clones of dead Jedi Masters and a Luke Skywalker struggling against a burgeoning libido and the dark manipulations of the restored spirit of Emperor Palpatine. That doesn’t mean that I’m a “true” Star Wars fan, because I believe that you can take whatever you want from the Star Wars universe and enjoy it in whatever way appeals to your specific tastes. But it is relevant information going forward, because The Force Awakens left me very jaded- a fact that invariably affected my experience with its sequel.
  2. When I exited the theater I was warm with the Star Wars afterglow. I enjoyed it as a piece of cinema and the events of the movie occupied my thoughts for the rest of the weekend. But things get complicated when we realize that we aren’t just judging this as a movie; we’re judging it as a Star Wars movie. And that’s why it’s so hard to tell you whether you’ll like it or not- it all depends where you’re coming from.
  3. One thing I did note was how much of a departure this is from The Force Awakens. And this, I think, is one of the biggest dividing factors of the film, and perhaps the best indicator of whether or not you will like it. The biggest criticism of The Force Awakens was that it was too familiar. The effect of its sequel however, is one of not being familiar enough. A lot of people won’t like this film on the basis that it doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie. There are three aspects of the film that I think are alienating fans- the portrayal of established characters, the approach to humor, and the apparent change of emphasis in regards to its themes.
  4. Luke Skywalker has always been my hero, and I actually liked the portrayal of him as flawed, cowardly and emotionally-jaded. For me, it made him more interesting and compelling. I don’t like any character in any fictional universe to become so powerful they border on godlike. A lot of fans wanted Luke to have “a badass scene” but it wouldn’t have been a movie of much substance if they built the plot around making the old characters do all the ass-kicking for the new ones. I liked the way Luke became one with the force and ended up being badass in a much more subtle way. However: the complaint I am most sympathetic to is also the biggest one- the idea that Luke would try and assassinate his nephew instead of saving him. It doesn’t make too much sense that the same guy who surrendered himself to Darth Vader (the most powerful Sith Lord in history) in order to turn him back to the Light would later be so afraid of the dark potential in his student that he’d go so far as to slit the throat of his sleeping nephew- the only child of his twin sister and best friend. I like the idea of a darker Luke, but they were too vague and rushed in developing his character. How did he get to that moment of weakness? What’s so terrifying about Ben Solo’s potential that Luke would go bat-shit crazy and think the best solution is carving him up into little pieces of pubescent angst?
  5. As for the humor, I had a similarly mixed reaction. Rian Johnson opted for the kind of comedy that works so well in the Marvel movies- jokes that are sharp, slick, trendy and capture the zeitgeist of the modern world. Jokes that could easily work word for word in any genre of film. However, I think this shift may have upset the immersion of some scenes, due to the fact that the humor feels too close to our own world. Usually Star Wars has a brand of campy “sci-fi comedy” that doesn’t feel at odds with its fantastical environment, a humor that feels unique to its galaxy and couldn’t really be replicated outside of it- perhaps best epitomized with sassy lines such as “scruffy-looking nerf-herder” or “I’m programmed for etiquette, not destruction!”
    Lines in The Last Jedi like “Put me on hold” and “Never said it was a page-turner” perhaps threatened the immersion a little too much. The sequence at the beginning, in which the former is used by Poe in his exchange with Hux, really didn’t work with me. It felt like a parody of Star Wars. Part of it has to do with the fact I don’t like the Hux character at all. Instead of the next Grand Moff Tarkin, we’ve got a bunch of clean-skinned college students cosplaying to that effect in control of the Imperial fleet. The dialogue, in conjunction with the casting for Hux and the other officers, made it feel like a Star Wars fancy-dress party rather than a tense moment of battle. We need someone with presence filling the Hux role, someone like Woody Harrelson or Jeff Daniels, who could replicate the sense of terror that Peter Cushing brought circa 1977. As for the “page-turner” remark, nothing undercuts the willing suspension of disbelief faster than the idea of Yoda kicking back with a copy of Big Little Lies.
    I will say, however, that I liked the scene where Chewie was about to eat the roasted porg in front of its family. That worked, and I also appreciated the acknowledgement that everyone’s favorite walking carpet has to eat, and those fangs more than likely aren’t for chomping down berries.
  6. The third aspect of the movie that really seemed to anger the fanbase is what I like to think of as the changing or evolving themes of the sequel trilogy. George Lucas envisioned 4 trilogies, 12 films, and had written story treatments for what he said was a “family saga”. It’s been assumed that Disney’s sequel trilogy would similarly be a continuation of the Skywalker line. I think everyone was expecting Rey to be a Skywalker, and many people took to the internet to vent their frustrations at the fact her parents were basically two junkies of no name worth mentioning. Personally, I didn’t mind it, and the idea that the Dark Side mirror-thing was going to reveal some secret affair Luke had in-between the films would surely have been too far-fetched. I do like the idea that anyone can be special and that to be a hero is not contingent on having the right genes. It’s a good message and it makes Star Wars a little more Humanist and a little less Christian. I especially liked the scene at the end where the little slave kid uses the force. Taking the final image away from the legendary heroes and focusing on some random orphan was a nice touch, and it felt different to the end of other Star Wars movies like A New Hope and The Phantom Menace which were less nuanced.
  7. I don’t think fans of The Force Awakens will like The Last Jedi, because the movies don’t gel together very well at all. One might reasonably think that Rian Johnson hasn’t even seen episode 7. A lot of the hype that the first film in the trilogy builds up is discarded in the 2017 sequel. Again, I had a mixed reaction. On the one hand, I disliked The Force Awakens, so I appreciated the idea of drawing a line under it and trying to diminish it. However, it is nevertheless part of an overarching narrative and a lot of the sins of the previous movie hold back the latest installment. Starkiller Base- perhaps my least-favorite element of episode 7, is rendered almost meaningless. What did we accomplish by destroying this absurdly overpowered superweapon? The movie starts off with the Resistance reduced to about 4 ships and the entire galaxy under the thumb of what is ostensibly a remnant of Palpatine’s Empire. It might make sense if there had been a significant time gap between the two movies, but Rey’s storyline seems to take place exactly where episode 7 left off. It’s a bit of a mess and I think a definite theme of the complaints against the movie is one of questions going unanswered. Even the flashbacks to Kylo’s fall to the Dark Side still feel rushed and lacking in detail- perhaps that might have made for a better first installment of the trilogy. Now we’re two-thirds of the way through the sequel trilogy and we still have no idea where the First Order came from or why they are so powerful. Maybe it was intentional on Disney’s part to set up The Force Awakens as being a retelling of the same story only to subvert that in episode 8, but if that’s the case it could have been handled better. A lot of fans were pissed about the abandonment of episode 7’s teased concepts such as The Knights of Ren, the big reveal of Rey’s parentage, Snoke’s power and origins, et cetera. I’m torn, but I can definitely understand the reaction.
  8. One of the biggest talking points of the movie was the twist of having Supreme Leader Snoke getting lightsabered up the biscuits. His assassination at the hands of his apprentice Kylo Ren outraged many fans who were looking forward to seeing more of the mysterious, powerful figure teased to us in episode 7. I’m not gonna lie, but this was actually my favorite part of the whole movie. It felt like they were driving a lightsaber right through The Force Awakens’ bushy front-bottom. I was never a fan of Snoke and I thought his death was a great way to subvert the formula. I think many people expected a retread of Return of the Jedi for the end of this trilogy, which would end with Rey and a redeemed Kylo joining forces to take him down. I’m glad they didn’t go down that route. Ultimately, it’s Kylo we’re interested in- it’s his journey that the new trilogy wants to showcase. Snoke is uninteresting as a character- a wholly evil villain who served his purpose in seducing Ben Solo to the Dark Side. The entire scene felt very Game of Thrones-esque, and it sets up the potential for Kylo to ascend to the position of the main villain, which he was always meant to be. Snoke was only important insofar as he affected Kylo’s character arc, and his death was the greatest thing Disney have done yet. As I said earlier, I don’t like any character to be godlike- I’m a fan of surprising and understated deaths like Boba Fett falling into the Sarlacc Pit, Yoda dying of old age, or Palpatine getting thrown down a massive hole. Not every powerful character needs an over-the-top send-off where they take down a dozen enemies and finally get defeated after a 20-minute fight scene. Yawnarama.
  9. Last week I wrote a post about the necessity of realism in fantastical stories. One of the things that did bother me about The Last Jedi was the disturbing presence of what I now call “Walking Dead Logic” in honor of a beloved show that decided to shit all over itself in its latest season. I was annoyed by the fact that Poe was able to simply destroy all of the Dreadnaught’s turbolasers in just one small ship and render it completely defenseless. It was too contrived an attempt to show off his piloting skills. Revenge of the Sith was able to make Obi-Wan and Anakin seem like great pilots whilst still ensuring that they weren’t untouchable, and the opening space battle of that movie is an example of how to create real tension by making the heroes’ feats greater in the face of tangible adversity. The surrounding Star Destroyers just sit there, and the idiots on the bridge can do nothing but mutter “Oh no, he just destroyed all our turrets”. Why aren’t TIE fighters already keeping them safe? Why is it that, later in the movie, the Supremacy is able to shoot past the resistance capital ship that is supposedly out of range at transport vessels FURTHER AWAY? Sorry, but if the audience is having to ask these questions you’ve got the immersion thing wrong again.
  10. In conclusion I liked The Last Jedi but it was not perfect. My favorite scene was the fight with the Praetorian Guards. It was well-choreographed and I liked how the fighters gave both Rey and Kylo a good run for their money; their skill reflected what you’d expect from elite super-soldiers. The horse-things on Canto Bight were cute and majestic, loved seeing them run free. As for the Yoda scene, I liked it on the whole because it gave Luke a Mufasa moment that was genuinely a well-written and complex piece of character development. I also liked that they stuck to the eccentric version of Yoda from the original movies- whose genius is offset by the way living as a hermit shitting in the woods has severely addled his brain. Lastly, I want to say how much I liked the more nuanced exploration of the force and the idea that the Jedi are hypocritical and imperfect. That was interesting and added to the lore in a good way.

Thanks for reading. What are your opinions on The Last Jedi? Comment below! I want to get as many opinions as I can and all are welcome here at TumbleweedWrites.

My Star Wars Essay

I’ve been thinking about Star Wars a lot lately. Last weekend my brother and I booked our tickets to see The Last Jedi, and between my tepid enthusiasm for that and the debacle that was Battlefront 2 last month, I’ve been reexamining my relationship with the franchise as a whole. When I was six years old and the little apple-cheeked incarnation of Satan, my mom took my best friend Tristan and I to see The Phantom Menace. I fell in love straight away and Tristan lent me the original trilogy on VHS. The universe of Star Wars has felt like a second home to me ever since, manifesting itself whenever I needed it in the form of movies, video games, toys, comics, board games, novels, and so on. It seemed to provide an almost limitless amount of entertainment. When my brother and I were little we would go for walks in the woods and the countryside and use sticks as lightsabers to fight against imaginary droids. When my teenage years came around, I would spend hours in my room devising self-insert fan fiction; I would write stories of my adventures that fitted in with the accepted canonical timeline and draw pictures of myself as a Sith Lord with my very own Star Destroyer-esque capital ship. I subscribed to the Official Star Wars Magazine and to date it’s the only magazine I’ve ever subscribed to. And then, when I was 20 I realized that the franchise still had me by the bollocks because no sooner had I read on Facebook that all of my teenage wishes were coming true and they were making a sequel to Return of the Jedi than I found myself sprinting out my dorm room and into Aaron’s to gush about the news.

But this post isn’t just about my relationship with Star Wars. I’m interested in what it means to all of you. It’s trendy to hate on the Prequel movies, but I feel like a little perspective is needed when doing so. The Phantom Menace, as a children’s movie, is absolutely perfect. The soundtrack is excellent and it has the best choreography of any lightsaber fight in the franchise. If you’re going into the film with the expectation of Citizen Kane in Space, then you are bound to be let down. Characters like Boss Nass and Sebulba are whacky and over-the-top, but in the context of a kids’ film they are right at home. As much as I try to forget that Jar Jar Binks exists as a part of Star Wars, I can’t deny that when I was a kid I was laughing along with every other little nose-picker in the movie theater. And in terms of pacing, the movie is great and entertaining. Attack of the Clones is often regarded with disdain for its romantic focus, but at least it’s original- which is more than I can say for The Force Awakens. I remember seeing it twice in the cinema when I was nine years old, and I remember appreciating the slightly more mature tone it had compared to its predecessor. Despite its flaws, it’s always been my favorite of the Prequel movies because it’s the only Star Wars movie that’s a thriller. It starts out like a noir full of intrigue and mystery, and builds nicely towards the best battle in the trilogy. I consider Revenge of the Sith to be the worst film of the franchise, or at least the most poorly-executed. The dialogue was at its absolute worst, the plot was a mess utterly without the structure or pace of the first two movies, and the genuinely sinister space warlock that was the Palpatine of Return of the Jedi was reduced to a shrieking Saturday morning cartoon villain.

I can be both apologetically soft and unreasonably hard on the Prequels, depending on what day of the week it is. But I cherish that my relationship to each of the movies is my own and that it belongs to me- and I accept that it means something different to me now than it did to me as a child. And that’s the message I want to get across in this post- firstly that whatever your opinions on Star Wars are, they are valid, and secondly that it’s always good to have a little perspective. The Phantom Menace resonated with me as a kid, so to disparage it so wholly at this point feels like a betrayal of my younger self. It’s telling that I liked Rogue One so much, because it’s probably the darkest Star Wars movie yet- and in the context of being an adult at the time of watching it, its more nuanced approach appealed to my changed tastes. We got to see Rebel extremists, willing to commit immoral acts in order to bring down the Empire.

My favorite Star Wars stories are ones that don’t take place in the movies at all. The Expanded Universe is full of books and video games that resonate with me on a much deeper level than the movies ever have. To me, Star Wars is a balancing act- something that serves as both a strength and a weakness to the franchise. There’s something for everyone- the movies for families, the cartoons for kids, and the novels for angsty teenagers with a vitamin D deficiency. The problem is that the movies- forever the centerpiece of the franchise- will never fully satisfy each subset. Nothing else in the franchise has come anywhere near as close to the darkness and philosophical complexity that is Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords– which tackles the very nature of the force and turns its status as a magical all-purpose problem-solver into an interesting debate on individualism and free will. But as much as I love it, it’s not for everyone. Many people won’t enjoy it because it pushes the limits of what Star Wars can be, which, if pushed any further, would simply be better suited as its own IP. But it’s important because it’s proof that there is room in the Star Wars universe for more nuanced and original narratives. The worrying tone that Disney set with the Sequel trilogy highlighted the company’s lack of faith in the Star Wars universe to go somewhere new. Don’t get me wrong, as a movie I think The Force Awakens is much better written and acted than the Prequels, but it’s let down by the fact that it’s a reimagining of A New Hope. I like Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, but the folks over at Disney are wasting their potential on storylines with no ambition.

Of course, I’d love for some of the future Star Wars movies and the planned live-action TV series to go somewhere really different. The Expanded Universe has some of the most nuanced characters in Star Wars history; the likes of Thrawn, Ulic Qel-Droma, and Kyle Katarn are crying out for a gritty, Game of Thrones-style HBO drama series- but I’m not so convinced we’ll get it. If you’re like me and you will always see the books of the EU as the true Star Wars timeline, then that’s OK. Like I said before, Star Wars belongs to each of us and no one should be judged for whatever version of it they choose to enjoy. It doesn’t bother me that the Sequel movies are the officially licensed canon. I can still enjoy them as well as all the books that depict a post-Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker reinventing the millennia-old Jedi Code in order to have hot sweaty sex with a curvaceous, red-headed Imperial assassin. Ahem. Sorry, lost my train of thought for a second. Ultimately, my point is that arguing about “canon” is as sterile a debate as it is embarrassing. You can’t say “Oh, but the events of the EU never happened”, because none of it actually happened. You’re arguing over events that aren’t real and never will be. All one has to do is look upon the many contradictory timelines of super hero comics and movies, or the way the new Star Trek movies take place in an alternate universe. Neither the events of The Force Awakens or the EU are real because none of it is real. Star Wars was created for us to enjoy, so it’s only as real as you want it to be, and only relevant for as long as you enjoy it. Don’t waste your time getting in a pathetic debate with nerds on the internet when you could be sat on a beach somewhere reading RA Salvatore’s Vector Prime…or at least sat in a dark room eating Funyans and playing through user-created mods for Knights of the Old Republic on Steam…

10 Takeaways From The Last Jedi Trailer!

The Star Wars franchise is nothing if not formulaic. I’m pretty sure there’s a guy at Disney with a clipboard that reviews the scripts and ticks off the necessary items. “Lightsaber duel- check. Bad guy says “It’s your destiny” at some point- check. Cute things make whacky noises- check. Spicy undercurrent of incest- check…”

And so on. I thought the Force Awakens was well-made and all that, but it was too much of a retread of A New Hope for me to really enjoy it the way I later enjoyed Rogue One. But what does this have to do with The Last Jedi trailer? Well if we assume the Sequel Trilogy will continue to follow the pattern of the original films, then we can get a good idea of how things are going to go. I just hope Disney have enough self-awareness not to end the film with Rey getting amputated.

 

  1. It looks like we can look forward to more impressive battle scenes, perhaps on the scale of Hoth or Geonosis. The trailer hints at this with a shot of the First Order launching an assault on Crait with a row of walkers. It looks beautiful and I’m excited, but this is what I meant in my opening paragraph about the Sequel Trilogy mirroring the Original. They are very clearly evoking the Battle of Hoth, which of course is a key feature of the second film in the Original Trilogy. The prospect of such a battle in and of itself excites me, but it also makes me cautious about the narrative as a whole. Hopefully the order of things is different and there are a few surprises in store.
    044
  2. Notice something different about the walkers? This is the equivalent of the Nazis invading Russia again but outfitting all their soldiers with woolly turtleneck sweaters and thermal earmuffs. They’ve learned from their mistakes and reinforced the armor of the new walker models. I don’t see any air speeders giving these behemoths any trouble.
    045
  3. If the echoes of Hoth didn’t already make you suspicious, then perhaps the shots reminiscent of Dagobah will. We already knew that a large part of the movie would be about Rey coming to terms with her destiny, her force powers, and learning to control them. So the parallel to Empire was already there. But the curious shot below made me instantly think of Luke’s test in the Dark Side Cave on Dagobah, and I’m not the only one. Most fans seem to agree that this is somewhere on Ahch-To (that planet named after a Scottish person sneezing apparently); my bet is it’s underneath the island in some kind of cavern system.
    046
  4. But maybe the retreading of the past is intentional, forming some part of a complex meta-narrative? After all, Luke in the trailer looks traumatized by the past, saying “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before,” and I think it’s safe to assume he is talking about Rey. He’s worried about history repeating itself, and Star Wars has always been interested in the cyclical nature of things and returning to the equilibrium of the status quo by “restoring balance to the force”.
    047
  5. The trailer as a whole is deliberately trolling us. We see a very distinct dichotomy between the training of Rey and Ren (who I am seriously tempted to put money on as being related). The trailer hints at both of them struggling with the teachings of Luke and Snoke respectively and has fans questioning whether Rey will fall to the dark side or if Ren will fall to the light. Personally I don’t see that happening, because I’m not yet convinced that the Star Wars franchise wants to be anything other than safe. It would be an awesome way to subvert the formula if they really did switch sides and Ben Solo emerged in Episode 9 as the true hero of the narrative.
    049
  6. One of the things I really did like about the Force Awakens was the characters, and I love the way the trailer for The Last Jedi highlights the next phase of each of their journeys. Yes, the filmmakers are trolling us by making it look like Rey is considering joining the dark side, but what’s really nice here is the impression we get that both Rey and Ren are struggling with their sense of identity and purpose. Their questions and anxieties are largely the same, and there’s definitely a kinship in that which feels fresh and interesting.
    048
  7. This trailer just can’t get enough of teasing us, can it? It’s been cleverly edited in a way to make it seem like certain characters are talking to certain others, and nowhere is this more evident than in the glimpses of the movie’s space battle. We are to assume that Kylo Ren is targeting his mother’s capital ship, and maybe he is. But the shot stops short of revealing whether he pulls the trigger or not. What is interesting to me is how things will end for Leia in this film. A year ago I would have felt certain that they wouldn’t have Kylo Ren kill his mom, as it would lack the necessary shock and impact given that he just murdered his dad in the previous film. But with Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing last December, I don’t see how they can avoid killing her off. She’s just too big a character to be left conspicuously absent in Episode 9. I’d love to hear your theories on this one, so let me know in the comments what you think will happen.
    050
  8. One character we can be a little more sure of is Finn. It looks like his storyline will see him go undercover in the First Order, as he is pictured in one of their uniforms. We then see him fighting Captain Phasma, a scene that Gwendolyn Christie absolutely deserves after her talents were so underused in The Force Awakens. I think it’s important to have deadly villains that aren’t force-users- kind of like Boba Fett. Hopefully they do her justice this time around.
    051
  9. We’ll definitely be seeing more of Snoke. I find it interesting that he’s wearing gold robes and as opposed to the more Gothic fashion sense that’s usually so popular with Sith Lords. It makes him look more ostentatious and maybe a little androgynous too. There’s been a lot of speculation about who and what he is exactly, with some fans suggesting he might not be a Sith in the traditional sense. He might simply be very knowledgeable of the dark side, or a wielder of a similar but different kind of sorcery. We can see in the below shot that he gets a hold of Rey at some point, and we can also see what appear to be Imperial guards in the background, clad in red.
    052
  10. What doesn’t the trailer show us? It’s worth remembering that if something’s not in the trailer, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Clearly the focus of the film is Rey’s journey, so we don’t get much of Finn and Poe. Will their romance be further explored in this movie? It’s been repeatedly suggested by the producers and the actors themselves that Star Wars’ first gay relationship is on its way, but no indication of that is given here. It’s been confirmed that Finn will visit a planet with a casino city modeled after Monte Carlo, but we didn’t see any of that here either. I definitely think Episode 8 will draw upon Empire for inspiration, and given that the First Order took such a thorough whooping last time around, I think this entry will conclude on a much darker and ambiguous note. Overall, I’m excited to see this film when it comes out on December 15th!

053

What did you folks think of the trailer? Let me know in the comments! I want to see your predictions and reactions.