Lady Bird – Review

vMYzdmdmednGmEr0FZaLFZj2ptZLady Bird is the new film from director Greta Gerwig in a semi-autobiographical work staring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Mefcalf (Gerwig has said nothing in the movie happened to her, but the feelings and core of the movie did). The film is an exploration of the troubled relationship between a mother and daughter, struggling to find understand each other.

Longing

Lady Bird is not actually her name, it’s the name she’s given herself. She’s determined to find out who she is and be that, on her own, with no help from others. She has a profound longing in her soul to be known, loved, understood by herself and others. Her “Lady Bird” moniker is one of her many ways of trying to satisfy this lacking sense of being and belonging. Yet, as we see throughout the movie, her attempts to satiate her desire is through molding herself into what others want. She tries to be what different boys want, reading their same books, smoking what they smoke and this is not limited to just boys. Lady Bird does the same thing with girls, trying to be their friend but “hating” what they hate, telling lies about where she lives to seem “cooler” and shunning her actual life. Her search for meaning leads her from one quicksand to the next, continually finding herself drowning in the disappointment of another false identity.

She works to not only define herself through others, but wrestles with this internally. She  wants to be good at things she already knows she’s not. There’s a brilliant scene that exemplifies this when she’s talking to one the nun’s, at her Catholic school,

Lady Bird: What I’d really like is to be on Math Olympiad.
The Nun: But math isn’t something you’re terribly strong in.
Lady Bird: That we know of yet.

Of course we already do know she’s dismal at math, since we’ve already seen her in math class and the grade she received proves the nun’s point. Lady Bird, like many of us, seeks to be everything she is not because what she is, seems completely incomplete.

Lady Bird is not the only one with this sense of longing, permeating their lives. Her mother grapples with working double shifts at the hospital in an attempt to keep the family afloat. Her father’s depression has worsened because of his inability to find a job, in an culture that sees him as too old to contribute. Lady Bird’s best friend pines over her teacher who is nice to her,  a wishful desire for a father figure that is lacking her life. The film is replete with characters who are aching for something they might not even be able to put a finger on.

The end of the movie beautifully brings all this longing into focus. Lady Bird has gotten her wish to attend college in New York, “…where culture is…”. She’s at a party and starts a conversation with a guy, asks him if he believes in God, to which he says no, because it’s ridiculous and her reply is most interesting. She says, “People go by the names their parents made up for them, but they don’t believe in God.” The next morning, she wakes up on a hospital bed, not remembering how she got there. She leaves and as she walks the streets, asks a man what day it is, he say’s Sunday. She finds her way to a church and as she’s there, you can see the wheels turning in her head. Maybe life is not about being what others want me to be, maybe it’s about being who I was made to be.

To accentuate the point she calls her parents and leaves them a message on the answering machine. She calls herself by her given name Christine for the first time in the movie. She’s dropped all pretense about who she is and begun to accept it. Where she is from, how she was raised, her parents, all of it. It’s a powerful moment.

DI_0SwQVoAAQ9DzA bit earlier in the movie, she’s asked her mother if she likes her. Her mother says to her,

Marion McPherson: I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.
Christine McPherson: What if this is the best version?

At the end, Christine accepts who she is, for who she is and it seems that it will actually free her to finally become the best version of herself. She recognizes the name that her parents gave her, which earlier she equated with a belief in God. Maybe she’s realized that the longing to be loved, known and accepted can be fulfilled, if she’ll will take hold of it. She’s been fully known from the beginning of her life. In that conversation with her mother, she wanted her mother to say something nice and her mother ask her, “Do you want me to lie?”. The ugly truth about love is that it does not lie to protect our feelings, it pushes us to see our faults and loves us too much to leave us in them. It’s only by knowing the bad news about who we are that we can be ready to accept the good news.  Tim Keller puts it this way,

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

 

Conclusion

The more I think about the movie the more I like it and that’s always a good sign. It’s well acted and moving. I highly recommend Lady Bird, it’s rated four and a half out of five stars.

Advertisements

An Open Letter to Zack Snyder

Dear Mr. Snyder,

First I want to say, thank you. I have appreciated and loved you films, especially your work in the DC universe. You were not afraid to take a risk, to explore the depths of these characters, deconstruct them and ask why they are, the way they are. You didn’t just accept the answer, “They are this way, because”. You started at the beginning, built them piece by piece, so we could see their journey and understand why they became what they did. I appreciate that dedication. The journey is what life is all about, even for fictional characters, it’s what helps us relate to them, get in their heads and root for them when they are down or possibly make the wrong choice. You understood that these characters are icons, but dared to show us how they became them.

Second, I want to apologize. No one deserves to be treated as you have. In the end, these are still fictional characters and even though they mean a great idea to so many, they are still just stories. If fans don’t like your interpretation, there will always be another one in a few years, such is the life of comic book characters. You gave your heart and soul to your films and people hated you for it. In much the same way Superman gave his heart and soul in Batman v Superman and people still hated him. Yet, like him, you showed yourself to be a good man, who put the needs of his family above things like work. You know what matters and you help show this world by your actions. Comic book movies and characters are fun and they can be used to teach us things, but they are not as important as family. Thank you for shining a light on the perspective our world is so sorely missing.

Lastly, a huge thank you for the Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman and Justice League arc. I know you didn’t get to finish Justice League, but you have nothing to apologize for. You showed this world much more in your actions by not finishing it. You pointed the way to what is truly important, the hope that we could put what really matters back in it’s place, flesh and blood people, in our lives, who need us. You embodied the characters in your films and for that, I thank you.

Sincerely,

A Fan

Justice League – Review

justice-league-hidden-superman-poster-1040714Listen to The 602 Club review and the Cinema Stories review!

In 2013 Zack Snyder, DC Comics and Warner Brothers started a journey to bring the characters of the comics to screen in a way they had not been seen before. Backed by Christopher Nolan as an executive producer, they began with Man of Steel. Superman’s origin was retold for the first time since 1978, asking the question, “What would it actually be like to actually have this being on our world?”. The saga continued with Batman v Superman, introducing us to a Batman on the edge becoming the villain and an appearance by the enigma known as Wonder Woman. In the end they save the world but lose one of their own. Although Snyder did not direct Wonder Woman, he helped write the story which bookends in the present, to tie into the culmination of all this set up in Justice League.

The Story

The plot of the movie is simple, after the death of Superman, Mother Boxes leftover from a failed invasion by Steppenwolf begin ringing. They sound that the earth is vulnerable and it’s time for Steppenwolf to return to finish what he started. Bruce Wayne has run into the Parademons, scouts for the invasion to come and begins actively recruiting the meta-humans revealed in Batman v Superman to stop what is coming.

Light Shines in the Darkness (Spoilers)

There is a real beauty to the simplicity of the story and it’s themes. Each one of these characters is hiding in some way. Diana’s always been there for the world when it needed her, but she shut herself off from being that inspiration, light and from true human connection after the loss of Steve. Victor Stone (Cyborg) feels lost in the ones and zeros he is now constantly bombarded with since one of the Mother Boxes gave him the ability to be forever connected to all things digital. Barry Allen is socially awkward, living and working with only one goal, to find a way to prove is father innocent of his mother’s murder. Arthur Curry embraces neither the sea or the land, unsure of who he is and still stinging from the perceived abandonment of his mother.

Lastly there is Bruce. He’s hidden so long behind the pain of his parents death, it’s made him, in his own words, less human. He’s hid behind the cowl, which almost completely consumed him. It took Clark to show him the way. Superman’s sacrifice awakens something in Bruce and he begins to slowly reflect the light that Clark had shone so brightly, to others. He shines that light on Arthur and Barry who join the team. He challenges Diana to remember who she is and what she was meant to be and in turn she’s able to nurture that light in Victor.

Coming together, the realize they are not enough. They work to bring Superman back to life with the help of a Mother Box, knowing that he’s truly the world’s only hope. Clark does not take well to being brought back to life until Lois shows up. It’s a touching scene as he’s flown them back to the farm, and they talk in the dawn’s early light. Hope and light are back and in the end he returns to help the team save earth. What makes this so poignant is that it feels like the fulfillment of Jor-El’s prophecy to Clark all the way back in Man of Steel,

You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

The world we live in has been darker of late. Justice League reminds us that it is only together that we can dive back the darkness. Not through the lock-step unity that Steppenwolf would bring, but through the individual gifts that we’ve been given, working in harmony with one another for the greater good, the sacrificial good.

Characters

This is the best thing about the film. Each one of these characters comes off the screen kind of perfectly. Ezra Miller as Flash distinguishes himself nicely from the one on television. He’s young, inexperience and unsure of his abilities. Cyborg played by Ray Fisher is understated and yet it’s perfect for the role. He’s a young man struggling to find the gift in the tragedy that’s befallen him. Jason Momoa is excellent as the guff man of the ocean who’s just trying to find some meaning in life.

Ben Affleck’s Batman has grown tremendously since Batman v Superman, making good on his promise to not fail Clark in death. Affleck portrays the older Batman trying to learn how to play well with others perfectly. Gal Gadot, what more can be said about how good she is as Wonder Woman? She play’s the progression from who she is at the end of Batman v Superman and in light of the revelations of Wonder Woman so well. Henry Cavill as Superman is a vision. Superman has arrived in all the glory that we’ve been waiting to see from the beginning of Man of Steel. His arc has brought him fully to becoming the icon of truth and justice we all love. Each one of these characters make me want more of each of them. You’re left longing for each of them to be given their next solo outing as well as their next team mission.

The Movie

This movie is by no means perfect. It does feel rushed at only 2 hours. There is a lot happening and it does seem like a bit more time with the stories of the villain, Victor, Barry and Arthur could have helped the audience connect even more with the story. The villain is one note, but it does leave us with more time to focus on the heroes and their journeys to becoming a team. There are places where you wish the effects team had more time with the CGI to refine it and make it better. The best comparison that I can make would be the DC animated films that have come out over the last few years or some of your favorite episodes of Justice League United, if you liked those, you’ll like this. Overall, what wins you over is the team, their dynamic and the charisma they bring to each moment. Justice League is rated 4 out of 5 resurrections.

justice_league_all_in_art_by_bryanzap_dbpl8vd_by_batmanmoumen-dbplph6

The Legends of Luke Skywalker – Review

Legends-of-Luke-SkywalkerWith the lead up to the new Star Wars episodes, there has been a marketing push in the literature, “Journey to” which has lead us into The Force Awakens and now is doing the same for The Last Jedi. The latest in this line is Ken Liu’s stories in The Legends of Luke Skywalker giving us a glimpse into the ways the galaxy views this hero and a few of the things he may have been up to after the Return of the Jedi.

Structure

The book is a series of stories that are being told by the work crew of a long-haul, transport barge that’s on it’s way to Canto Bight. The time period seems to be set somewhere near the new film, The Last Jedi. All the tales are of the aforementioned Skywalker, as told by different members of the crew. A couple of them are familiar but told with a twist, whereas the rest of them are new. Like the previous book of short stories, From a Certain Point of View, some of these stories soar, while others range from good to complete duds.

Stand Outs

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 4.11.35 PMThere are two of these stories that are clearly superior to the rest, the first is call “Fishing in the Deluge”. Luke is traveling the galaxy to learn all he can about the Force and arrives on Lew’el where he asks to learn about “The Tide” (their name for the Force) from the Lew’elans. They agree to teach him if he can pass three tests. This story is everything you could want from Luke learning about the Force from another culture who’s views are different from traditional Jedi doctrine. The depth of the philosophical discussions that happen transcend the middle grade level of this book. Luke humbly places himself under the tutelage of these people to unlearn what he has learned in the search of wisdom, it’s quintessential Luke Skywalker.

The second stand out is “Big Inside”. As Luke is traveling the galaxy he picks up a young biologist on her way to another planet to continue her studies. They end up following some space fireflies in an astroid field and find themselves trapped in a space slug. This story does the same thing “Fishing in the Deluge” does, in introducing us to different Force users, this time from the distant past. The story gives readers another good look at many ways the Force has been thought of and used. It connects so well with things like Mortis, the Bardottan mystics or the force priestess in The Clone Wars and leaves readers longing for more stories just like them.

Honorable mentions go to “The Starship Graveyard” and “I, Droid”. Both of these add to the joy of seeing what Luke has been doing between both of the films called Jedi.

Conclusion

The Legends of Luke Skywalker had some real joys but, it also had a couple of complete fails and that hurts the over all. While the good does outweigh the bad, a feeling of disappointment that a third of the book is wasted cannot be shaken. It’s worth picking up for the stand out stories though and is rated 3 out of 5 tall tales.

A Maligned Movie

tsc-153-th-square-1440In the past 20 years there have been a few movies that have been completely lambasted by fans to the point of almost absurdity. One of them was The Phantom Menace (let’s be honest the entire Prequel Trilogy has been treated this way, Revenge of the Sith to a lesser extent than the first two). No film has received more ridicule and hate than The Phantom Menace….. but is that true? I think there is one that has eclipsed the first Prequel and it’s none other than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With this reputation in mind, John Mills and I put this film to the test in the latest episode in The 602 Club. We talk though the whole movie, trying to hit as many points as possible and you might just be surprised where we end. Give it a listen and tell us what you think!

 

From a Certain Point of View – Review

Star_Wars_From_a_Certain_Point_of_View_coverCThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

It is an understatement to say that Star Wars has revolutionized the film industry but it’s impact didn’t stop there. It’s something that has ingrained itself into cultures all over the world. As the movie celebrates it’s 40th anniversary, Del Rey books has released a collection of 40 stories by 43 different authors to commemorate the occasion called From a Certain Point of View.

Format

The format of the book is not just a random anthology of stories that all take place around A New Hope, but a systematic and chronological compilation. Each vignette tells the story of A New Hope from the perspective of people in the background of the movie. Side characters, aliens, creatures, and droids all have their parts expounded upon to create a rich tapestry in, through and around the film. Each entry ranges in length and quality. As is to be expected with 40 stories by so many different authors, some will work better than others. Part of this will be individual, as each person will respond to specific stories based on where their fandom is the strongest in the saga.

Stand Outs

As mentioned above, the highlights of this volume are sure to vary but these are the ones that worked best for this reviewer.

The Red One by Rae Carson was an early favorite, telling the story of R5-D4. Rae gives us a look inside how this little droid saves the galaxy through their unselfish act.

Master and Apprentice by Claudia Grey is phenomenal. It’s a dream come true to finally see the interaction of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon during the long exile on Tatooine. It highlights just how special Old Ben is and why Star Wars fans deserve a book by Grey about these two during Obi-Wan’s time as a padawan, possibly even their adventures on Mandalore with Satine.

The Secrets of Long Snoot by Delilah S. Dawson continues to cement her legacy as a Star Wars author. The same devotion and care that went into her Bazine Netal story, The Perfect Weapon is on display here (not to mention her making Phasma one of the most fascinating characters of the sequel trilogy). Garindan ezz Zavor emerges from these few short pages as a fully rounded character and it’s Dawson’s skill that makes this possible.

Eclipse by Madeleine Roux is greatly helped by the recent book Leia, Princess of Alderaan, which gave readers much needed insight into the Organas and Alderaan. This short story tells the final moments for Breha and Bail Organa and it’s difficult not to get a bit teary reading about the last time we’ll see these two.

Verge of Greatness by Pablo Hidalgo uses Rogue One to perfection to explain how the ghost of Krennic haunts Tarkin, making his time on the Death Star much less triumphant that he anticipated.

vbTime of Death by Cavan Scott receives the highest marks this reviewer can give. Scott tells of Obi-Wan’s last battle and his transition into the force. It’s recommended that the reader have tissues available while reading this one.

Stories receiving honorable mention are There is Another, Palpatine, Desert Son, Contingency Plan, The Angle, and By Whatever Sun.

Conclusion

From a Certain Point of View is a fantastic way to celebrate 40 years of Star Wars and it leaves readers with the hope that each film in the series would be given this same treatment. This books is rated 4 out of 5 destroyed Death Stars.

This review was completed using a copy of  From a Certain Point of View provided by Del Rey.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan – Review

Leia_-_Princess_of_Alderaan_-_new_coverListen to The 602 Club review here!

Leia is one of the most recognized and revered characters in film, yet we still know very little about her upbringing. From the time she was whisked away by Bail Organa, adopted by he and his wife and then shows up in A New Hope, we know almost nothing (we do know just a bit more now, thanks to an appearance by the rebellious princess in Star Wars Rebels). Now thanks to The Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Claudia Gray, Leia’s transition from princess to rebel is now complete.

The Cost

When Star Wars premiered over 40 years ago, the rebellion was more an ideal in the film. Even throughout the next two movies, the cost to those involved was never fully fleshed out. Leia is one of the characters that suffers most from this. She looses her whole planet and we never see the impact that has on her, at least on screen (it is seen in the Leia comic that came out a couple of years ago).

One of the highlights of Leia is the way Gray is able to explore the risks involved for people like Bail and Breha Organa in helping create a uprising against the Empire. The costs for them will be high if they are found to be peddling “treason” to the masses. Bail and Breha know that they are putting their lives and the life of their daughter on the line. In fact, through most of the book, Bail is insistent that Leia be kept in the dark about their defiant activities, with the slim hope that Leia might be spared by the Empire if they are discovered. Freedom is never free. Bail finally resigns himself to the fact that Leia will never be safe, even if she is not involved. The Empire will make an example of them no matter what, if he and Breha are caught, so they might as well allow Leia to be involved. Star Wars has done an excellent job recently of bringing to life the cost being involved in the Rebellion through Star Wars Rebels, Rogue One, Twilight Company and now in Leia.

Another price that we see in A New Hope is the annihilation of Alderaan. That loss has never feel so great till now. Gray does a magnificent job of creating a vibrant society and planet that is the jewel of the Empire, free, open and beautiful. The Organas are not just putting their lives in danger, they are risking their whole planet. If their insurgent activities are uncovered, the Alderaan that is will cease to exist. It’s eventual destruction is more poignant now that Claudia Gray enlivened it in the pages of her book.

Coming Together

Palpatine was a genius at using the selfishness of people to his advantage. His continued use of the Senate was a way of getting his hooks into systems and using their greed against each other. Pork-barrel spending and fear allow him to keep the galaxy divided against itself. Mon Mothma makes this point to Leia in the book when she says,

“More than anything else, I’m honored that you trusted me with this. The Empire’s worked so hard to destroy our faith in one another, throughout the galaxy. Only by daring to reach out will we ever make the allies we need.”

It’s a relevant point, even today. The more we are driven apart into our little tribes and groups the harder it is to benefit the whole. Making those connections, finding common ground and coming together are the only way to make a difference.

Connections

This book is under the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi banner and it uses this to familiarize readers with some things that will be seen in the film. Readers are taken to the new planet Crait, that has been seen in the trailer and also introduced to Amilyn Holdo who will be a Vice Admiral in the Resistance alongside Leia. The story also helps in building the character of Leia, showing why she would be able to recognize the danger the First Order presents to the New Republic and be willing to do whatever it takes to stop it.

Untitled-1

Crait and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo from The Last Jedi.

Conclusion 

Claudia Gray has already written two of the best books in the new canon with Lost Stars and Bloodline. Leia is not quite at that level, but it’s still a good book. The best thing any tie-in fiction can do is to enhance your viewing of the films or show it’s connected to and Leia does just that. In reading this book, you’ll never watch A New Hope in the same way again. Gray’s coming-of-rebellion story for Leia is wonderful and worth the read, especially before The Last Jedi. Leia is rated 4 out of 5 lost stars.