Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Full Analysis Part One

I promised a full analysis of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and why I liked it so much. In order to really get into my thoughts, I’m going to have to delve into the details of the movie.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer:

And here’s a “jump” so that you don’t accidentally see anything:

Continue reading “Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Full Analysis Part One”

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Review, Spoiler Free)

In your travels in the internet over the past few days, you may have seen comments, user reviews, and tweets calling The Last Jedi a bad film. Or a disappointment. Or claiming it “ruined Star Wars.”

These opinions are objectively wrong.

In the coming days I’ll expand on my thoughts of what a masterpiece this movie is. But in order to do so I’d have to reveal major plot points. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m give you one traditional, spoiler-free review.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I like The Last Jedi. The more I think about it, the more I like it. I can’t think of a single Marvel MCU movie that is superior. In fact, The Last Jedi serves as a direct response to those films and their often “paint by numbers” nature. It makes me wonder if any of those films are that good to begin with.

It doesn’t draw from a place that most fans of the modern blockbuster are necessarily familiar with. It draws from the same influences as the Original Trilogy, especially Kurosawa. But there’s a heavy dose of Greek Tragedy and Bergman in there too.

That is to say, despite a surprising number of jokes that land, it is a bleak, bleak movie. Far bleaker than The Empire Strikes Back dared to be. Then again, I’ve never seen Empire without being able to watch Return of the Jedi in short order. I don’t know how bleak Empire must have felt to people who viewed it in 1980.

That said, this isn’t a perfect film. There are legitimate questions about how well the creative choices will hold up if Episode 9 doesn’t stick the landing. These points are hard to get into in a spoiler free review, so I’ll save them for later.

Overall, the Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie aside from the first two. With time to breathe and a well executed Episode 9, it may rank even higher in the end.

You might like The Last Jedi if: You are willing to challenge your assumptions about what a franchise blockbuster should be.

You might not like The Last Jedi if: All you want is a predictable remake of The Empire Strikes Back.

(C) 2017 D.G. McCabe

Dispatches from the Frozen Land: What’s To Be Done?

Otto von Bismarck never actually said that oft-attributed phrase “laws are like sausages,” but I’m sure someone, at some point, said that about showbiz.  It doesn’t have to be that way, it shouldn’t be that way, plenty of us thought it wasn’t that way anymore, but here we are.  I feel like a vile, mocking voice out of the past is screaming, “See, look, for all your thoughts of progress my horrors are still with you.”

I’m not naive enough to think that harassment, exploitation, and abuse were exorcised from the makings of movies – there has been plenty of evidence to the contrary.  What strikes me this week is the prevalence, and the shrugging in the face of that prevalence, of grotesque behavior at the highest levels of Hollywood.   If one of the top producers in the business has been getting away with this filth for this long, what else is going on that hasn’t been reported yet?

It brings me to question what’s to be done, not just with the people responsible, that’s obvious (or at least should be obvious), but what’s to be done with the art?  We could gather a bunch of Miramax DVD’s and burn them in the town square for all to see.   We’d be creating one heck of a bonfire, to potentially no end except for momentary catharsis and permanent air pollution.  Besides, film is a collaborative artform.  Should the hundreds of people who worked on these films be punished for the actions of one of the lead producers?

I think we can separate art from its process by placing it in context.  Once we start censoring and boycotting any artistic expression, that’s the beginning of the end.  That seems easy, but it’s not.  Lauding the art and ignoring the process enables that process.  After all, that’s why Weinstein got away with it for so long.  If his movies had failed fewer people would have put up with his criminal behavior.

So what can be done? First, the industry needs to shine light on other abusers and scumbags.  Second, the industry needs to deny short-term rewards to these people.  This is easier said than done.

The first depends on people working in an industry where the most vulnerable are the least free to speak out.  “You’ll never work in this town again” is a real threat in Hollywood.  The second depends on audiences, critics, and awarding organizations knowing about the behavior and punishing it by staying away.  This is problematic because it potentially punishes a lot of hard-working cinematographers, makeup artists, set designers, etc. who may have had nothing to do with the actions of an actor/director/producer.  Action needs to be taken before these productions start, not long afterwards.

I’m encouraged by the voices that have been out there this past week, but the pressure needs to be kept up.  Things can change, but if we lose focus, that’s how the status quo resumes.  With that, I hope this past week is the start of something big, rather than a blip on the radar.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 150th Birthday, Canada!

As someone who grew up around Buffalo, New York, I’ve been long aware that July 1st is Canada Day, the day that Canadians celebrate the Constitution Act of 1867, which created the Dominion of Canada, a semi-autonomous colony of the British Empire.  While it would take a few more laws to create a fully independent Canada, the last being the Constitution Act of 1982, Canada Day is celebrated as the de-facto independence day of Canada.

Wait!  1867?  That was 150 years ago!  Happy sesquicentennial Canada!  To celebrate further, let’s point out some well-known, and not so well-known, Canadian pop culture facts.

Music

Well Known: Many popular musicians are Canadian.  In fact, by percentage of population, you are far more likely to become a famous musician if you are born north of the border than if you are born in the U.S.A. (pun intended).  Just ask Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Celine Dion, or for better or (mostly) worse, Justin Bieber.

Not So Well Known: 35% of all music played on Canadian radio stations must be Canadian Content, or “CanCon.”  For a primer on the bizarre world of CanCon, here’s an article from “the Ringer:” Strange Brew: The Weirdest Canadian Pop Music From the ’90s and ’00s.

Movies

Well Known: Dozens of popular American films have been shot in Canada, especially Toronto.  Recently I even caught a movie actually set in Toronto, “What If?” with Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, and Adam Driver:

Not So Well Known: There is a unique Canadian film industry that stands apart from Hollywood.  Every ten years, the Toronto International Film Festival makes an all time, top ten list of Canadian films.  The most recent list can be found on Wikipedia here.

Television

Well Known:  Well, Fargo is shot in Calgary, so there’s that.  And no, St. Cloud, Minnesota does not look anything like Calgary.  Think college town, not city-city.

Not So Well Known: When I was a kid there was a show I used to watch on CBC (we got CBC in Western New York) called “The Raccoons.”  It was set in Western Canada and followed the adventures of Bert Raccoon and his friends.  Here, it’s on YouTube:

Anyway that’s what I have on Canada.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe

La-La Land (2016) (Review)

I recently watched La-La Land (2016), the favorite of this past year’s Award Season cycle.  The film ultimately lost to “Moonlight” (2016) for the Best Picture Oscar.  After seeing both movies, the result was warranted – Moonlight is an objectively better film that La-La Land.  But why?

La-La Land is a good movie.  It isn’t a great movie, but it could have been one.  The main issue I had with it was that it begins as an homage to better things.  Remember in The Return of the King (2003) Extended Edition when Saruman taunts Theoden King by calling him “the lesser son of greater sires?”  The first half of La-La Land made me remember that line, so much so that for the first forty-five minutes my main thought was “I’d rather be watching “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952).”

La-La Land gets much better in the second half, when it gets out of its own way and becomes its own movie.  That isn’t nothing.  Homage films like “The Artist” (2011) never go beyond their initial tribute to the classics.  The question becomes, then, why did La-La Land have to start as such a blatant homage to begin with?

One could argue that La-La Land has to set itself up this way – it needs to build up the Old Hollywood musical in order to tear it down.  The problem is that it never builds up the concept of the Golden Age musical enough to really subvert it.  Part of this has to do with the skill sets of the actors.  Ryan Gosling, for example, puts in a yeoman’s effort, but he ultimately can’t dance or sing well enough to really sell his role as a Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly type.  The other part, and probably the more important, is that after the opening couple of numbers the movie abandons the nostalgia aspect pretty abruptly.  The homage to Old Hollywood feels more like an abandoned concept than a theme the film is trying to comment on.

In the end, La-La Land is a strange animal of a film.  It didn’t successfully explore the themes it wanted to explore, but that doesn’t make it a bad film either.  It is exceptionally well made and entertaining after all.  It just missed the mark a bit.

You might like La-La Land if: You’re looking for a well made, original musical film that isn’t based on a preexisting property.

You might not like La-La Land if: You think about it too much.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – First Trailer

First – YES!

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what Luke’s words at the end of the trailer could mean:

  • The Jedi were becoming aloof and corrupt by the end of Episode 3 (as better chronicled by the Clone Wars cartoon series).  He’s saying that it might be time to jettison the order and start fresh.
  • Luke is acknowledging that he failed to create a new Jedi order and is feeling sorry for himself.
  • Luke now sees the old Jedi/Sith paradigm as a force-user arms race that can only end by ending both orders.

We’ll see – fun stuff so far though.

(c) 2017 D. G. McCabe

2017 Oscar Preview

Alas for the days when I could do an Oscar preview week.  Unfortunately, this year I haven’t been paying much attention.  This is probably due to the fact that I haven’t seen a single Best Picture nominee, so I’m really in no place to comment on the merits of the nominated films.  All I can really do for a “preview” is recap the guild awards and make guesses.

Visual Effects

“The Jungle Book” won the Visual Effects Society Award.  While this hasn’t always been the best predictor of the Visual Effects Oscar, I guess it’s the best I can do, since the only nominee I’ve seen was “Rogue One,” and, while its effects were great, they were also pretty standard-issue “Star Wars” effects, which are not very exciting at this point.

Screenwriting

I can’t read the tea leaves using the Guild awards here.  “Arrival” and “Moonlight” won the Writer’s Guild Awards, but for some reason the WGA thinks that “Moonlight” is an original screenplay and the Academy thinks it’s an adapted screenplay.  It’s safe to say that one of them will win for Adapted Screenplay.  As for Original Screenplay, I’ll just go with this year’s “probably will win a bunch of awards” movie – “La La Land.”

Supporting Actor/Actress

You usually can’t go wrong with using the SAG Awards as a barometer for picking the Oscars.  Actors are the largest voting block after all, so their opinion carries the most weight.  This usually holds true more-so for supporting roles than lead roles I think. Although I could be wrong – I say that just because I can think of a few SAG/Oscar differences for lead roles off the top of my head but not for supporting roles.  You (probably) can expect Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and Viola Davis (finally, for “Fences”) to add Oscar-Winner to their resumes.

Lead Actor/Actress

Emma Stone has been consistently cleaning up for her role in “La La Land.”  The safe money is on her.  How does she lose?  Only if there is a significant hype-related backlash against “La La Land” (perhaps prompted by Aziz Ansari style criticism of the movie).

La-La Land Interrogation (SNL)

If Stone loses, the Best Actress race is wide open.

As for Lead Actor, the SAG Awards honored Denzel Washington for his performance in “Fences.”  This might be a matter of Casey Affleck (“Manchseter by the Sea”) and Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) cancelling each other out.  A third Oscar for Washington would certainly be earned, however.

Best Director

Damien Chazelle will probably win if “La La Land” cleans up as expected.  If not, then I have no idea how to call this one.  No one is an established auteur this year like Spielberg or Scorsese, so there’s no default “if X doesn’t win, Y will win.”

Best Picture

“La La Land” will probably win.  First, it’s been winning a lot.  Second, it’s made a solid amount of money at the box office ($135M and counting).  Third, it’s a movie about experiences that Academy voters can relate to pretty easily (living in Los Angeles, making it in showbiz).

How does “La La Land” lose?  Well, “Hidden Figures” won the SAG award for best ensemble so it has a chance.  Also “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” got slightly better reviews than “La La Land” so that’s worth taking into account.

What to Watch Out for

How do you know there are cracks in the “La La Land” wall?  Check out Original Song.  If Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana,” beats out either “La La Land” song, we might be in store for a surprising night.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe