Thursday, December 28, 2017

In Defense of The Last Jedi

By now it should be no surprise that The Last Jedi was an extremely polarizing film, some loved it, some hated it, me?  I thought it was an extremely satisfying film, I loved how it shook my expectations. Of course, I had expectations. We all did. I remember having movie buff conversations around each one’s theories of what was going to happen with Luke, Rey, Kylo and Snoke. Still, no matter how many theories we had, what was going to happen in the film was a mystery to us all. But boy was it fun to speculate! We should have took heed of the trailer for the film which did warn us “This is not going to go the way you think!” And that was the problem, everyone thought the film was going to go how they wanted and when it didn’t they labeled it as “bad”. The reasons people gave for hating the film weren’t truly convincing for me because they came of as either blind hatred, or simply hatred because the film didn’t make their fan predictions true. Here are some of the reasons I heard from friends and read on the internet. Do you agree with them? For those of you who haven’t seen the film yet, do not go forward, this is an article that’s FILLED WITH SPOILERS! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

The Film is Feminist

I understand what you’re saying with this, but it’s something that’s happening in cinema and in society in general. Women are finally being put in the forefront and given major roles in films and you primates out there who don’t agree are part of the problem. Since forever, women were always relegated to playing ‘damsels in distress’ in films, always holding the man’s hand as he went ahead and solved the problem. Well, not anymore. Cinema is changing and hopefully the world with it. Now women are leading the rebellion. Though when you think about it, Leia was always leading the rebellion, so Star Wars has always been fighting to put women in the forefront in a way. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. This is something I always applauded about The Force Awakens and it’s something I applaud with The Last Jedi. Women are in the leading roles, they are at the crux of the plot, they are making the big decisions, they have something to say, it is they who are saving the galaxy. They are not being “bossy” they are simply saying what they think and making things happen. If you don’t like that, it’s time you checked your ways of thinking. I have no problem with the ladies taking the spotlight, it’s about time.

The Porgs Are There for Selling Toys

From day one Star Wars went hand in hand with merchandising. It has always been part of the equation. It’s why Ewoks exist. Now I’ve never been one to hate the Ewoks, because dammit I’ve always dug them. Those murderous cute fur balls. And I’m not one to hate any of the creatures that pop up in the Star Wars universe (Jar-Jar Binks excluded). I mean, cute cuddly creatures have always been a part of Star Wars, and you can’t deny The Porgs are actually cute, so I don’t get this hate either. Plus they are part of the indigenous life forms of the Island, it actually makes sense that the island is so alive and filled with all these different lifeforms.  

The Comedy Doesn’t Fit

Again, most of the things people hate about The Last Jedi have always been part of Star Wars, take for instance the comedy in it. Some have gone as far as calling it “intrusive”, as if it didn’t belong. Others felt like The Last Jedi was closer to Spaceballs than Space opera? Hey people, wake up, there’s always been comedy in Star Wars. Remember Luke saying “I used to live here you know” and Han replying “You’re gonna die here, convenient!” Or how’s about Lei calling Han a “Nerf Herder” or Yoda acting all goofy? So what if Poe calls General Hux, Hugs? So what if Luke has funny looking nuns helping him out? So what if Chewbacca has a funny moment with the Porgs, a little comedy has always been part of the Star Wars formula. It’s never overbearing. 

Leia Using The Force

Leia Organa has always been strong with The Force. It’s why she hears Luke’s voice in her head when he called her while hanging from the rafters of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s how she “felt” that he hadn’t died inside the Death Star when it exploded in The Return of the Jedi. So why does it create such a reaction when she finally uses it to save her life in The Last Jedi? Is it because audiences thought she looked stupid or silly floating through space? The Force has always been used by characters to float from here to there, why wouldn’t Leia use it to save her life in that particular moment? Also, for me it was a cinematic, symbolic and moving resurrection of Carrie Fisher and it became an impactful moment for me in the film.

Luke Would Never Become a Murderer

Now this point here is about interpretation. The big deal here is that Luke pulls out his sword on Kylo to kill him because he considers him too big of a threat. You have to remember, Luke only considers killing Kylo for a second, only because he’d seen Kylos future and he knew all the chaos and destruction that Kylo was going to bring to the entire galaxy, all the millions that would die under his yoke as ruler of The First Order. But Luke only considered killing Kylo, he didn’t actually do it because Luke knew Kylo might have some good left inside of him. Same as Darth Vader had some good in him left at the end of Return of the Jedi. And don’t give me the “Luke would never do that” shtick because Star Wars has always been about that inner turmoil we all go through, that battle with our inner demons and our dark side. I can feel the conflict within you, but remember, Star Wars has always been about that very thin like between the Light and the Dark.

The Casino Scene is Too Long

The Casino scene on Canto Bight is actually a very important scene in the film, in fact, it’s the one with the most social commentary. It’s the scene that’s making a statement about the society we live in. Child slavery does in fact exist in our world, and its one of those things that’s extremely wrong with our reality, yet there it is. If director Rian Johnson wants to make a comment about that and take a good chunk of the film to do it, then so be it. It’s a statement that matters. And it’s not unheard of in the Star Wars universe either, The Phantom Menace shone a light on similar subject matter by having Anakin be a slave child as well. And who’s profiting from those races? The rich scum of the earth, who sell weapons of mass destruction, to both sides. So yeah, there’s something to be said there. On top of that, it’s an amazing sequence filled with a bunch of creatures! I didn’t know where to look at with so much coolness up on the screen. It was on part with the Cantina scene going all the way back to A New Hope, so yeah, it fits right in there in Star Wars universe.  

Rose is a Weak Character

There’s something to be said with Rose as well. Aside from the fact that Disney is making a huge effort to make these films ethnically diverse by including people of all colors and nationalities in their films, Rose also fulfills the role of representing the working class. Her character (as well as Finn’s who used to mop floors on the Dark Side) show how anyone of us can make a difference and become a hero, we can all do something important with our lives if we chose to. And that’s also a statement that matters. She saves Finn from sacrificing himself unnecessarily. And it’s her dead sisters medallion (which she unselfishly gives up) that ends up saving the day at one point. So, I guess she isn’t as weak a character as you all might think.  

They Shouldn’t Have Killed Off Snoke

Star Wars is famous for killing off cool villains. Remember Darth Maul and how we all thought he was the coolest looking villain in Star Wars? Remember how we thought we’d be seeing a lot of him in future films only to see him get sliced in half in The Phantom Menace? Or how about Boba Fett dying in the Sarlacc Pit? The same can be said for the good guys. I mean, I was so freaking sorry to see Qui Gon Jinn dying in The Phantom Menace! Of course I was as shocked as the next guy when Snoke bit the bullet, but come one guys, Lucas had been playing that game since forever. Plus, I like the fact that Snokes death shook things up to the point where we have ask ourselves what the hell is The First Order going to do now? In this movie no one is safe! I loved that about it. 

The Film is Boring

Now this is just a lame ass comment. Really, a film that gives us juicy character development and has all these amazing events taking place, how can you even say this film was boring. Rey meets Luke, The First Order is on The Rebels ass, Finn almost bites it, Snoke is split in half… and that freaking battle in Snokes Throne Room, that scene is the reason they invented phrases like “worth the price of admission”. This comment about the film being “boring” seems like blind hatred to me. Moving on…

It Doesn’t Feel Like Star Wars (It’s Too Disney)

This isn’t true in my book for various reasons, but number one being that Disney has actually made sure that these films feel a lot like the first trilogy, like those first three films that came out. Some mentioned that some of the creatures were too Disney, namely the caretakers, the crystal doggies and the Porgs…to that I say whatever, Star Wars has always had cute little creatures. How could it not feel like Star Wars when The Last Jedi shares similarities with both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? It has Luke and Leia. It has The Millenium Falcon, Yoda, C3-PO and R2. This is very much a Star Wars film my friends. It’s another brainless excuse to spew blind hatred.

So that’s my take on it dudes and dudettes. I think that what is going on is the film destroyed all theories and didn’t give audiences exactly what they wanted, which is what The Force Awakens did. J.J. Abram’s film gave audiences exactly what they wanted. The Last Jedi did the opposite of that and to me that’s the genius of it. J.J. Abrams is apparently going to direct the next one, so let’s see what he does with this universe left in tatters. Maybe audiences will like Episode 9 more because J.J.’s the kind of director who loves to give you guys what you want, but to me Rian Johnson made a bold and risky film and as a result ended up making one of the most talked about entries in the franchise. To me that’s something worth noting.

The risk taker, destroyer of worlds, Rian Johnson. 

When Empire Strikes Back was released, it had a similar reaction to The Last Jedi. Audiences thought it was too dark and like Last Jedi, it wasn’t immediately loved by all.  What we need to remember as audiences is that in Hollywood, the second film in a trilogy is always the one in which everything goes to hell. This is the chapter in which everything becomes complicated and sad and all our heroes are left in dire straits. This is all done so that it all resolves itself in the third and final chapter. This is George Lucas 101. This is screenwriting 101. So, don’t worry my friends, I’m sure Episode 9 will be a bit more uplifting and J. J. will be considered the savior of the Star Wars universe because his film will be the “happy ending” to this new trilogy. I also bet that like Empire Strikes Back, decades down the road, The Last Jedi will be considered by many as one of the best in the series, mark my words. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi (2017)

The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Ryan Johnson

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hammill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyongo, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Anticipation is always high for any Star Wars movie and The Last Jedi wasn’t going to be the exception. People just can’t wait for that Star Wars logo to flash on the screen while John William’s legendary score blasts through the speakers, it just starts things out with such a blast! Of course, I was as excited as everybody else. Where the hell was Rey and Finn’s story going to go? Who’s going to go bad, who’s going to “turn”? The interesting thing about this particular Star Wars sequel was that directors were going to change. J.J. Abrams passed the baton to Ryan Johnson who took the reins of the series with relentlessness. I wasn’t floored when I heard that Johnson had gotten the gig because to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Brick (2005) or The Brothers Bloom (2008). The only light at the end of his cinematic repertoire was a film called Looper (2012) which I did enjoy a whole lot. So, where would a new voice, a new director/writer take the series? I was extremely curious.

This time around, the rebels are escaping the ever-nearing death grip of The New Order. After the destruction of Star Killer Base, the Order is desperate to wipe out the last remaining members of the Rebel Alliance. But rebels are not so easy to kill. Meanwhile, Rey is trying to convince Luke to rejoin the fight, to lead, to train more Jedi. Sadly, Luke has all but given up on the force and the training of Jedi. He wants none of the responsibility. Will Rey convince him to come out of seclusion?

When I say that Johnson took the franchise relentlessly, I mean it. It feels as if its writer/director, Ryan Johnson is scrapping everything J.J. Abrams set up in The Force Awakens (2015) and doing his own thing. And by scrapping, I mean, completely obliterating a lot of what makes The Force Awakens what it is. So creatively speaking, that was so interesting. The Last Jedi is the polar opposite of what The Force Awakens was. If Force Awakens was giving fans everything they wanted, then The Last Jedi is defying what you expected from this sequel. It’s almost as if Johnson is saying, if we follow what Abrams set up, we’ll end up seeing the exact same films we’ve already seen. And Johnson obviously doesn’t want that, so he’s shaking things up almost to the point of starting anew. And I must admit, I dug this direction Johnson took a whole lot. With this movie, you’ll feel like no one is safe. It’s not like when you’re watching a movie and you know nothing is going to happen to the good guys, so let’s just enjoy how they go about doing what they got to do. Nope, in The Last Jedi you will feel like every single person on the screen is in danger of being obliterated, or killed or blasted into infinity by some freaking giant laser. In that sense, for me, the film succeeds. It takes away that feeling of safety towards the characters.  

The film succeeds in many other ways as well. It is a darker chapter in the franchise and in this way it is similar to The Empire Strikes Back (1980), but it’s not as blatant as The Force Awakens was with its fan service. This isn’t a Xerox copy of The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, though we hear and see echoes of both films. So it gives you a bit of that familiarity, but without becoming fan service, which was what The Force Awakens was guilty of. The Last Jedi has many new things going for it, old fans will be thrilled at how well they go about explaining exactly what The Force is but will also be surprised at the additions that Johnson makes to the mythology.  

Thematically speaking the film is all about the new wanting to stamp out the old, trying to forget it, leave it behind to start anew, which is kind of what the entire film attempts to do as well. I thought it was amazing how the film was mimicking what its characters were feeling. I loved where the characters were going and was surprised at every characters story arc and ultimate fate. I mean, Rey and Kilo, awesome! Snoke! Leia! Finn! Poe! So cool to see them all going through their own intense thing and then coming together in the grand finale. With each passing movie I love Rey even more. The new characters like Rose and Benicio del Toro’s DJ were welcome additions. I was especially proud of Benicio’s performance because he is one of Puerto Rico’s best actors, and he's up there in Star Wars and he represents. So, cool for Benicio!   

 The film is like a long trip you don’t want to end. When I thought it was just about to be over, boom, it wasn’t and a whole other chapter opens, and it’s also awesome. Final thoughts on The Last Jedi is that yes, it’s a very satisfying sequel. It is a dark chapter that shakes things up like crazy and attempts to put our characters in an incredibly difficult situation, therefore it is going to polarize audiences. Some will love it, others will hate it, or perhaps even find it “boring”, though honestly, I can’t agree one parsec with them. I kept thinking, boy, whoever ends up directing the next one is going to have a hard time doing it because this Ryan Johnson guy just left things in pretty dire straits! Ryan Johnson was like a hurricane that just passed through the Star Wars universe and left said universe in tatters. Where are these characters headed now? That’s what I want to know! We have to wait a couple of years to find out, so patience my young Padawan’s. Patience.

Ratings: 5 out of 5  


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffallo, Anthony Hopkins, Bennedict Cumberbatch

Within the Marvel movies, there’s the huge hits that everyone loves like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and The Avengers (2012), then there’s the ones that people liked but don’t go bananas over, like the Thor movies. The first film was directed by Kenneth Branagh and I was really pumped for it because he’s known for doing Shakespeare adaptations and so I was like, cool, he’s going to bring that Shakespearian quality to the Thor universe, which he did. That first film was all serious and tragic in true Shakespearian fashion. It was followed by a less then spectacular sequel which really didn’t do much for me. Which is probably why the Thor franchise has never been the one to light the Box Office on fire, well, at least not as spectacularly as the rest of the Marvel Universe. Thor movies made money, but didn’t make as much as the rest. Which meant something had to be reworked, something had to be fixed, because people weren’t reacting as favorably to the Thor franchise as Disney hoped they would. So what’s a studio to do? Well, Disney did what they had to do, they tried something new for this third film to ensure its success. They made it funny. Did it work?

This time around Thor faces the takeover of Asgard by his evil sister Hella. Unfortunately, he accidentally ends up stranded on a distant planet where people are obsessed with Gladiator fights featuring The Incredible Hulk as the star of the show. Oh, and Thor’s also without his magical Hammer Mjolnir. Can he get back home to fix things in Asgard before his sister begins her reign of terror? Will he ever get Mjolnir back? And can he win in a fight against the Hulk?

With the success of films like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Deadpool (2016), suddenly offbeat movies that didn’t take themselves so seriously were the big money makers. And so, this new Thor movie is a thrill a minute, fast paced, joke fest. It’s lighthearted and crazy and I love it and so has the rest of the world; Thor Ragnarok has turned into one of the biggest money makers in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. A huge part of the successful formula for this enjoyable film is the guy behind the camera, Taika Waititi. Who the hell is Taika Waititi you might ask. Well, he might not be a household name yet, but Waititi has been making movies for a while now. In all honesty, he’s a rather gifted storyteller. If you want to see what he is capable of, I recommend you check out a movie he made called Boy (2010), a touching and beautiful film about a boy who misses his father. Waititi acts, writes and directs his own films, yes my friends, Waititi is a creative force to be reckoned with and I have a feeling we’ve yet to discover what he can really do. I mean, if this is him working with a studios ideas, imagine when he does a project thats purely his. I predict good things from Waititi. You might remember him best for his performance in a faux Documentary What We Do in The Shadows (2014), a super funny film that follows a group of vampires who are all house mates in a flat in London. Just hilarious, highly recommend checking that film out. After seeing Waititi’s repertoire, you’ll understand perfectly well why Thor: Ragnarok is so hilarious. So remember, if you enjoy the funny in Ragnarok, Waititi is the guy you have to thank.  

What Waititi does with some of his films is he turns things around, he puts a tired idea in a new unexpected situation. I mean, there’s no more tired genre than the vampire genre and Waititi made it work. He made us see vampires in a way we hadn’t seen them before. I mean, did you ever think you’d see vampires squabbling over who should do the dishes? “Fuck that! Vampires don’t do dishes!” Did you ever think you’d see Thor being traumatized after seeing Hulk naked? Well, in this movie he does, and that’s what I’m talking about, he puts the characters we know and love in funny, unthought of situations. Situations you’d never imagine seeing them in. Situations that most movies would avoid. Not only is the film funny, but it shatters the foundations of the Thor universe to their very core. Thor goes through a life changing journey, more so than any previous films. Ragnarok shakes things up good. Nothing is sacred. All while spewing one liners. You wont feel danger or peril, but you’ll have one hell of a good time. You’ll bust a gut with the banter between Thor and The Hulk.

Speaking of the films look, well, it’s very bright and colorful. It’s very much in tune with the look and feel of two very important comic book artists who helped shape the character of Thor in the 60’s. I speak of  Jacky Kirby and Walter Simonson. Kirby and Simonson did some of the more seminal runs on Thor, they helped shape and define what Thor eventually became, the way he would look. Waititi and crew paid homage to these classic artists by giving the film a very classic look with regards to set designs and the wardrobe of some of the characters. Thor himself has a more contemporary feel, getting away from the long hair, the capes and the hammer, making him less of a Viking. So the film is a bit of the old and the new.  Speaking of the old and the retro, If you love the 80’s then you’ll love the soundtrack which is pure 80’s synth stuff. It has a John Carpenter/Stranger Things vibe going for it. Thor: Ragnarok is a film that is showing us just how important it is to put the right person behind the camera, because without Waititi, this would be a very different film. This film shows movie studios can realize when something didnt work and that they shouldn’t be afraid to go in an entirely different direction to try something new and freshen things up. Who knows, it just might work. This is a lesson the DC Universe could learn from.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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