Tag Archives: Film

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Review

Wont-You-Be-My-Neighbor-691x1024I grew up on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child. In fact, my mother is fond of reminding me that my love for the cardigan can be directly linked to the show and asking for the Mr. Rogers type of sweater when we were shopping. I loved this show as a child. The trolly, the props he used as representations of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the puppets and the man himself. I remember getting a lump in my throat the first time I saw the trailer for Won’t You Be My Neighbor as memories of watching the show flooded back, so I was keen to see the film as soon as I could. I’ll say right up front, it’s brilliant. I may be slightly biased, growing up loving this man and his show, but I don’t think I am. I think this is exactly the kind of movie we need at this point in time.

Love You Neighbor as Yourself

Fred Rogers was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church. He actually put  his aspirations to the ministry on hold when he saw television and was inspired to get into children’s programing. He was disheartened to see the things geared towards children and helped start The Children’s Corner, which aired on the public television station WQED. He would leave the show and finally pursue his theological degree, but he never lost his passion for television. In fact, in may ways, his pulpit for all those years was living out the first and second commandments given by Jesus in the Gospels,

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22: 34-40

You can see the importance of the show even being called, neighborhood. Mr. Rogers modeled the life of love and faith in the way he dealt with his “neighbors” on the show. In a world scared to go out it’s front door most of the time, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a reminder of just what we’ve lost. Fred Rogers treated everyone with the respect they deserved, not because they had “earned” it, but because they were a child of God, created in his image and therefore was his neighbor, who he was called to love. Fred Rogers may never have given a sermon, but his life was one, living out the two great commandments to the best of his ability.

Children

The most striking thing about the film is the way it shows Rogers deep and unwavering commitment to children. Even though he was in television, he actually didn’t like it all that much. He deplored the way it treated children as mini consumers, what was peddled as children’s programing and how it did more harm than good for them. He rightly understood just how impactful what a child sees, is to them.

He spoke to children about subjects many struggle to talk about, assassination, divorce, death, just to name a few. He never talked down to children, but especially through the puppets like Daniel Tiger, he was able to express the deepest feelings of their heart on a plethora of topics. The show was never slow, but purposefully deliberate and intentional. In many ways it helped foster children’s abilities to think about whatever he was saying because it was not too quickly rushing to the next thing, allowing them to ponder and truly mull the subject in their minds.

The reason for all of this was that Rogers believed completely in the solemn responsibility it was to speak into a child’s life. What a child watches, sees and hears will have a massive impact on who they become. Because of this he felt that anyone producing content for children should not take it lightly. In a society full of “children’s” programing, Won’t You Be My Neighbor asks that we as a society reevaluate what we’re allowing our children to be subjected to from the earliest age and and if it’s really appropriate or beneficial for them.

The most important message from Rogers to children ties into Jesus’ second great commandment and it was his consistent refrain at the end of every episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you/yourself. There’s only one person in the whole world that’s like you, and that’s you. And people can like you just/exactly the way you are. I’ll be back next time. Bye-bye!”

Fred Rogers understood the human dignity that was endowed by our Creator because we are image bearers of God and that each person does not have to earn love, but is loved. He showed this to  the children watching is program, everyday, for years and it’s a message needed now, more than ever.

Conclusion

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a 5 out of 5. Seek it out, watch it, encourage others to do so as well. The world sorely needs more Fred Rogers in the world, who’s kindness, vulnerability and grace still reverberate as strongly now as they did when he was alive.

 

Advertisements

Skyscraper – Review

skyscraper_posterDwayne Johnson has solidified himself has a massive star. He’s made his mark with the Fast and the Furious movies and had the surprise hit of last Christmas in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. This summer he looks to continue his dominance at the box office with his latest action outing, Skyscraper.

Hubris  

The movie is pretty simple in the end and it’s similar to Die Hard, man has to save his family from building, only this time it’s on fire, on top there being a band murdering psychopaths with guns on the loose. There is a nice theme in the film from the beginning, as the world’s tallest building is being revealed to the audience, of hubris. The movie even mentions the Tower of Babel as an example of man reaching for the sky and greatness. The building’s owner shows off the tower’s incredible technology that supposedly makes it the safest, most secure and advanced structure in the world. Like the Titanic, it’s suppose to be impossible to take down, even with a fire, as airtight doors are intended to keep floors separated in case of emergency. Yet like all technology, there is always a way for the unthinkable and “impossible” to become reality. It’s an evergreen message that technology is never infallible and is only safe, depending on the hands it’s in.

Family  

This might be an action movie staring The Rock, but it’s all about family. Will Sawyer is a former FBI hostage rescue team leader who was almost killed when a situation turned deadly. He almost loses his life but it’s saved by Sarah, a former Army doctor who later becomes his wife. He does have to have a leg amputated because of the explosion, but from that loss comes joy. If he’d not had something so awful happen, he admits, he’d never have met his wife or had his twins who he credits with saving his life. His family is his strength.

First, the celebration of life here, it’s ups, it’s downs is truly beautiful and the recognition that good can come from bad is relevant perspective. Second, the portrayal of family and it’s importance is wonderful. It’s nice to see a movie that upholds these virtues and remembers that they are worth honoring.

The Movie

The movie may have quite a few action flick cliches, but it also has a lot of heart. One of the best things is that Sarah Sawyer is no damsel, she’s as capable as her husband and just as determined to save her family. The movie does a great job of have them working in tandem, even though they don’t know it, from different sides of the problem to help save the day. Along with this, the films upholding of family, bravery, heroism and sacrifice are worthy of praise. It’s nice to walk out of a movie with the reminder that these things are important. It’s also a fun movie, that is something good almost the whole family, probably safe for 10 and up. Skyscraper is rated 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Incredibles 2 – Review

new-incredibles-2-poster-promises-lots-of-fun-in-the-sun-01Fourteen years ago, Pixar introduced us to it’s world of superheroes and the Parr family. The film was a massive success and with each announcement of new Pixar sequels the question was always, “But when are we getting an Incredibles sequel?”. Luckily for fans, the wait is over and Brad Bird has finally giving fans the long awaited return of the Parr family.

Good for Goodness Sake

Incredibles 2 picks up right where the first movie left off and the attack of the Underminer. Springing into action, the Parr family works to stop him but is unable to apprehend him or keep him from robbing the bank. This puts superheroes in a bad light, again, and causes the government to finally shut down it’s superhero assistance program (who help relocate superheroes after incidents). Rick Dicker, who’s been helping the Parrs for years, tells them, “Politicians don’t understand people who do good things. That makes them nervous.”. It’s a sad state of affairs when the world has become so cynical and distrusting that people who do good, because it’s the right thing to do, even when no one asked them too, are discouraged or even outlawed from doing so. The film shines a mirror on the kind of world we’ve created today and it’s not pretty.

Opinion Polls

The superheroes have an advocate in Winston Deavor who’s father was a massive supporter of superheroes in the past when they were legal. He has an interesting quote as he’s trying to recruit Frozone, Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, he says, “It’s time to make some wrong things right. Help me bring supers back into the sunlight. We need to change people’s perceptions about superheroes…”.

Now it’s said your perception determines your reality and there is some truth to that. Yet, the idea here, that the perception of superheroes needs to change in people’s minds is another frustrating mirroring of our society. It’s not important that superheroes have a right to exist or that doing what is right, is important, regardless of public opinion. What is actually “important”, is just getting people to perceive that superheroes are legitimate. Truth and right are not a factor, it’s really only the shifting sands of opinion that make something “right”. It’s a scary foundation. Late in the movie the villain says to Elastigirl, if you didn’t have these morals and values we could have been friends. Elastigirl and these heroes stand on the side of right and truth, even when it’s not popular because they know it’s the right thing to do and that is a wonderful message.

The Movie

incredibles-2-rgb-z355-15-cs-pub-pub16-507The Incredibles continues to be the best version of the Fantastic Four we have seen on screen. The movie nicely gives each of the characters good storylines. Frozone is less a sidekick and more of a full member of the family now. Elastigirl is front and center as the one working in public to reverse public opinion on superheroes, leaving Mr. Incredible to be Mr. Mom at home. This is a very strong part of the film as Mr. Incredible, who has only really found joy in his superhero work, finds the joy that parenting can be. It’s beautiful to see a movie celebrate the importance of family and show how impactful it is to have  father who is actively apart of his children’s lives.

The movie, may not completely stand up to fourteen years of anticipation, but it’s one of this year’s best superhero movies and an absolute blast for the whole family! Incredibles 2 is rated 4 out of 5 superpowers.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Review

solo-star-wars-story-imax-poster-1108152Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories reviews!

When the fateful sale of Lucasfilm happened and Disney snatched up one of the most beloved franchises, they promised us not just more Episodes, but stand alone films as well. Some of the first ideas they had were what became Rogue One but also names like Solo, Fett and Kenobi began to emerge as ideas for films. Now, let me be honest, the idea of a Solo or Fett movie did nothing for me, in fact I was pretty hostile to it. I just couldn’t see the need for them. Then of course there was the behind-the-scenes drama with the directors getting fired, Ron Howard stepping in and the rumors that 70% of the movie was being reshot. Not the best marketing tool. Then, slowly, the trailers began to appear and something inside me began to warm to the idea and beyond all reason, the film began to grow on me. Now that Solo has opened, I’ve seen it, so let’s dive in, shall we.

Everyone Serves Someone 

One of the most interesting aspects of Solo is Qi’ra’s comment that, “Everyone serves someone” and the way the movie plays that out. From the Dickensian existence of orphans on Corellia, to droids in a death match cage, to wealthy gangsters like Dryden, to an entire galaxy under the heal of the Emperor, everyone is serving someone. The question of the film becomes, “Who will you serve then, and why?”.

Inside Han there is this rebellious spirit that longs to be free, free from the rules placed on him by other people, he’s bound to no one but who he’s chosen, Qi’ra. She is his only love, the one thing he values more than his own life. Han has this instinctual, self-sacrificial love for Qi’ra that will lead him on his goal of freeing her when it’s only he that is able to escape the hell of Corellia.

What makes this fascinating is that Han can never truly escape this innate sense of right/wrong and love for the downtrodden. In a universe where everyone seems to just be trying to survive, Han, because of his early experience with sacrificial love not only wants to survive, but also help others do the same. He does so with Chewie, Qi’ra and others he meets along the way. He can’t seem to help himself. What is nice is that this doesn’t make Han a fool, he doesn’t completely trust anyone, yet he does want to believe that everyone can choose the “right” path. In the end, Han chooses to serve no one but those he cares about. He cares about himself, Chewie and there’s a spark of the “good guy” in him that he just can’t get rid of. The beauty of it all is that Han’s rebellion is being a character that loves other people and is not just selfishly out for himself, he hopes for better. Oh he’ll wear the facade of a swaggering smuggler, but deep down, he’ll find his true calling one day and the film sets up this wonderfully.

The Movie

HSLostLegacy_artThe true strength of Solo is the way it uses the Star Wars lore. This movie has lovingly crafted a story that pays homage to the Prequels, The Clone Wars, Rebels, Rogue One and the Original Trilogy to perfection, all while adding to it in fun and unique ways. There are designs that are reminiscent of things seen in The Clone Wars, story points and even musical cues that all connect back, but they also forge their own path. Honestly, this is how you add to the Star Wars universe. There has been such care taken here to understand the time period they are in, what has come before and how they can link to it, but also build upon it in a way that feels fresh and familiar all at the same time. There are so many examples I could give but they would ruin surprises, so one small easter egg, just to prove my point. In Dryden’s office, you will see the skull from the cover of Brian Daley’s third Solo adventure novel, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy! It is details like these and so many others that make this movie something special.

Ron Howard was clearly the person to direct this movie. You can see the Lucasian influence everywhere and much like The Clone Wars series, this film takes what we know of Star Wars and then infuses it with new genres like the western, mob movies and a bit of noir to create it’s own feel but something that is undeniably Star Wars. Howard gets this universe and he’s greatly helped by a scrip from the Kasdans that also knows the whole saga, inside and out.

When the movie was first announced, one of the biggest question marks was Alden Ehrenreich, could he inhabit Han and bring him to life in Harrison Ford’s shadow? I’m here to tell you, he nails it. Alden is perfect as the young Solo. From the beginning of the film I never once questioned him as the character, he filled the pilot’s seat with ease. There was never a question in my mind that Donald Glover would be a great Lando and I was right. I enjoyed Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra, she’s a good character and by the end, I’m left wanting to know what happens next. In truth, the cast was brilliant and they each breathe life into these character in a way that’s real, fun and engaging, making me want another Solo film (something I never thought I would hear myself say).

Conclusion

There is so much more I could say about this movie. What I’m left with is just how much fun I had. I left the theater buzzing and wearing the same goofy grin as Solo himself. Do yourself a favor, grab some friends and go see this movie! This movie is everything Star Wars fans never knew, they always wanted! I rate Solo, 4 out 5 trips through the Maw! HanSolo5a7e076419ab9.0

Make sure to check out The 602 Club review of the Star Wars tie-in novel Last Shot which is so worth reading!

 

 

Avengers: Infinity War – Review

Infinity_War_Dolby_poster_1This review contains Mild Spoilers. Don’t forget to look for The 602 Club and Cinema Stories reviews out next week!

Never in the history of film has their been a build up like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For over 10 years and through 18 films, Marvel has carefully laid out the pieces to it’s master puzzle for Infinity War and the forthcoming Avengers 4. Now, part one of the juggernaut has arrived and the question on everyone’s mind is, “Does it live up?”.

Thanos

Shrouded in mystery and relegated to end-credit sequences for most of Marvel‘s ten years, he finally comes out of the aether and becomes the saga’s most formidable villain. For all the accolades Marvel has received, it’s greatest area of weakness has been it’s villains. To say this has been fixed in Infinity War is more complicated than a “yes” or “no” answer.

On the plus side for Thanos, he’s what you hoped when it comes to the challenge he presents to these heroes, especially since he does achieve his goal by the end of the film, he does rewrite the universe, leaving only 50% of it alive. The downside is the explanation as to why. Apparently, in the past, on his home planet of Titan, the population had grown too large. Thanos’ solution, just arbitrarily pick 50% of the people, from every walk of life and kill them. Shockingly enough, his people’s leaders reject this idea and it leads to the destruction of his home world.

Ergo he believes the only way to save the entire universe is to enact his aforementioned plan, but on a universal scale. So you could say it does make sense, but only from the most warped point of view and that view is compounded by his god complex. He believes himself to be a god, who is the only one willing to make the hard choice and the power to enact it. He sees his plan as a form of mercy, since those that are left in the universe will have “better” lives as a result.

This leaves Thanos as a middle of the road villain in the Marvel universe. He’s definitely the strongest and most challenging foil for the entire line up of heroes, yet his motivations only raise him slightly above mustache twirlier.

Only Part One

The most frustrating thing about the movie is that it is all set up for the coming, Avengers 4. It’s not bad, but it’s never great. No characters get to truly shine because there is just so much going on, your focus is always divided. And most frustratingly, the “gut punch” moment near the end, is moot, as we know it will mostly be washed away with the coming of part two. Sadly this film feels more mandatory than marvelous.

On top of all this, the action in the movie is rather banal, which is surprising since the Russo Brothers have given us some of the MCU’s most memorable action set pieces in Marvel. There are none of the stand out moments like the Cap vs Winter Soldier or the Cap vs Iron Man moments from Winter Soldier and Civil War, respectively. Instead the action devolves into clichéd CGI battles that lack the heart or character focus which has been a hallmark of the previous Russo entries.

The best thing the movie does is cull the hero herd for part two. Fans know, moving into this final chapter of the first ten years of Marvel, that some of these heroes will not make it past the next Avengers. With the heroes left on the board, the next film will have the time to full make their end what is should be.

Conclusion

Infinity War is a mixed bag that has the effect of one being served a gourmet burger and then only being given a minute to eat it. There is so much happening, yet there’s so little pay off, leaving the audience unfulfilled, wanting a better movie and resolution. We all know the conclusion is coming in 2019, so now that the compulsory is over, we wait and wait and wait. Infinity War is rated 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

Best Films of 2017

filmreel16

This is my list of best films that I saw in the theater this year.

silence-posterSilence is one of the most challenging movies of the year as Martin Scorsese adapts Shusaku Endo’s novel about Jesuit priests in feudal Japan. It asks brutal questions about faith under fire. It’s affecting and powerful. I’d say more but I think it’s something that just needs to be experienced and digested, slowly.

 

 

bb8

How do you say goodbye to one of the longest running comic book characters to grace the screen by one actor, the answer is Logan. Hugh Jackman is a revelation as a broken mutant in a world that’s turned against them. On top of his performance you have Patrick Stewart and new comer Dafne Keen who complete this film perfectly. James Mangold creates not just a good comic book movie but one that transcends the genre. Still one of the very best of the year. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it!

Gal-Gadot-Wonder-Woman-Poster

It would be hard to eclipse what I already wrote about the film in my review so here is a bit of that here.

Gal Gadot is a star. She sells every moment of this film. She has a wonderful, childlike innocence that is needed to bring this character, raised in paradise to life. Diana’s transformation from innocence to a fuller understanding of the real world is powerful and moving. The chemistry she has with Chris Pine is fantastic. They are the heart and soul of this movie and luckily they do not disappoint.

The fight scenes in the movie are incredible. Many superhero movies these days seem to have similar types of set pieces, but Wonder Woman does a marvelous job of making her fighting style feel fresh, leaving you silently fist-pumping in your seat. Even the more CGI-heavy battle at the end has enough emotion built into it, to make you care about what’s happening.

One final note, Patty Jenkins direction is excellent. This woman needs to be given a sequel, as well as more movies to direct. She understands clearly how to make a superhero movie feel serious and fun all at the same time and that’s not always easy to do.

Wonder Women is the first major female superhero to be given her own movie (yes I discount Catwoman and Elektra as they are more side characters) and it’s a triumph. The film is serious in tone, but with laughs aplenty. It’s the movie we all hoped for and deserve. Wonder Woman is rated 4 and half out of 5 stars.

Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it here!

war-for-planet-of-the-apes-poster-5Like Wonder Woman, War is a movie I adored this year and the perfect way to wrap up the Apes trilogy.

This movie has so many other themes I could talk about, but honestly, just go see it. It’s a triumph of filmmaking. The effects are some of the best ever seen on screen. There was never a moment I didn’t believe what was happening. The music was moving and perfectly matched to the film. War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect conclusion to one of the best film trilogies in years. It’s rated 5 out of 5 Bad Apes.

Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it here!

bbay_vert_tsr_intl_2764x4096_master-rev-1Christopher Nolan delivers again. He subverts expectations in the best way by telling the story from three perspectives, air, land and sea. Each of these also take place over different spans of time that collide by the end. The movie left me feeling like I had actually been apart of each perspective. This is a must see from the year. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode here!

 

blade-runner-2049-posterLike Dunkirk, this movie is a pinnacle of cinema as art. The themes resonate with the world we live in and it’s a treat for the imagination. It’s one of those movies that needs to be seen multiple times to truly soak in everything it is doing but that left me breathless in my first viewing. I believe it will only rise in people’s estimation over the coming years. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode here!

 

DCEUnited_2017-Nov-21

No movie was more unfairly maligned than this one in 2017. It had a lot to over come in it’s production, most of all, a studio that would not stop meddling. Yet for all of this, what we got still let me grinning.

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.

Don’t miss The 602 Club episode here!

vMYzdmdmednGmEr0FZaLFZj2ptZ

I love these kinds of movies, small, intimate and affecting. I honestly cannot say more that I did in my review and encourage you to check that out.

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.

595a

Check your cynicism at the door as Hugh Jackman and cast are the perfect antidote to the dourness of 2017. The film and it’s music are a celebration of everything that is good, true friendship, not looking to others for your self worth and not living life as a consumer but as a giver. Loved this last theme, as the movie shows Barnum almost lose everything he’s built because of his selfish using of people to prop himself up. I left the theater with a lighter step and joy in my heart.

Disappointments

2017 also had a few movies that I was looking forward to that I was disappointed in and the biggest was The Last Jedi. My review says it all and The 602 Club and Cinema Stories podcast allowed me to cover it from a few different perspectives. A few other notable letdowns are Thor: Ragnarok, Logan Lucky and The Shape of Water.

Honorable Mentions

Ghost in the Shell was surprisingly good, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 was even better than the first, I really enjoyed Alien: Covenant, Baby Driver was fun, but I did not love it like others and lastly, Their Finest was a nice companion to Dunkirk.

PS. I have have now seen Darkest Hour and Molly’s Game. They both make the list. amazing films in acting and story. Highly recommend both!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Review

ILMVFX_2017-Oct-09Don’t miss The 602 Club  and Cinema Stories reviews!

Two years ago Star Wars roared back into the collective consciousness of the world as The Force Awakens dawned a new era for the saga. The installment left many viewers speechless and eagerly anticipating this return to a galaxy far, far away. Luckily in this era of Disney’s rule, the wait was only 2 years (with a nice side of Rogue One in the middle) for Rian Johnson’s addition, The Last Jedi.

Context 

First, let’s start historically. It is clear that the original “Rebel” generation was unsuccessful in passing on it’s values to the next, as the galaxy has quickly descended back into the universe of pre-prequel. A government that became ineffectual, split into populists and centrists, all the while allowing the First Order to rise, unchallenged because, they’re not really a threat. “Relax, the First Order is the JV squad”. The greed and corruption in the galaxy has returned to what we saw in the prequels, as people line their pockets with ill gotten gain, selling weapons to the highest bidder, on any side. It all boils down to this one truth not being clearly passed on, “freedom isn’t free”, and sadly there are too few in the galaxy who seem to understand that.

Where are you getting all of this, you might ask? Well, not from the movies. All of this has been cobbled together from the ancillary materials that have come out surrounding this new sequel trilogy and that’s only, vaguely been hinted at in the films themselves. The main issue here is that The Force Awakens did very little to set up the context of the galaxy and now The Last Jedi suffers even worse because of it.

Think back to the Original Trilogy, as you watch those movies, you have an instinctive understanding of who all the characters are as well as the overall context of the movies because Lucas based them on archetypes that we know. The heroes’ journey, an evil empire and a a small group of freedom fighters looking to rescue the galaxy. In the Prequels, it’s the fall of a Republic and the story of a man that cannot let go and will do anything to hold on to what he “loves”. Each of these previous trilogies gave us the context we needed to know about the universe as a whole and the characters so that we could understand the journey we were on.

And here’s where this all comes into play, not just with the world building but with the characters. Not only do we not truly understand the state of the galaxy, but we also don’t know the history of these characters and it’s clear the writers of the film don’t either. Say what you will about Lucas, he always knew the history and the future of his creation. Some details may change along the way, but the journey ended up much the same. The same can be said for Rowling with Harry Potter , she knew the end from the beginning, so she understood what each character needed to go through to get them to that end.

8d0b255a-fce7-4718-a50a-bbe1ba16d5e4-screen-shot-2017-12-05-at-121817-pmIt’s been clear from The Force Awakens and now through to The Last Jedi that there is no knowledge of what the end game is for their characters. Writing 101, if you don’t know their past and future, you don’t know how to write their “present”. You can see this in the all of the characters. Take Snoke. We have absolutely no idea who or what he is. We don’t know how he came to power or seduced Ben Solo, he’s a vague phantom menace so that when he goes out like a punk in this movie… well lets just say fans may be arguing whose death was better, Snoke or Boba Fett. Oh and remember Phasma? Well don’t worry, you don’t really need to, turns out she wasn’t all that important any way.

Ben suffers from this same problem we saw with Snoke, he’s completely ill defined and so is his “fall”. As with The Force Awakens, there is still no context to his story other than him having darkness in himself and somehow, Snoke temps him to the dark side. It’s all so nebulous that when he turns on Snoke, I don’t know what to make of it. There is no weight to his decision because I don’t know enough of the history of the character to actually care.

636357292308378766-EP8-FF-000005As bad as this issue is for Ben, my first impression was it was worse for Rey. The ultimate mystery box seemed to still be very much an enigma. The answer we get about her family was vague and unconvincing, I still don’t believe she’s a nobody and while I am frustrated that they skirted the issue of her family, I can see why they sidestepped that to make the focus, who she chooses to be. Her struggle for identity is fascinating. The questions of who we are, is it a product of bloodline, upbringing or are we a sum of our choices and experiences is brilliant. I think the movie comes down on the side of choices and experiences and the idea that personal responsibility is the answer is outstanding. Rey shows us that even though we are personally responsible for ourselves, we are also responsible for those around us, to look after one another, teach each other, guide one another, pass on hope to one another and the chance of redemption.

The most damaged in all of this is Luke Skywalker. We know Luke’s past, how he saved his father, who’d effectively become space Hitler, because he believed there was still good in him. By the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke is the culmination of the collected wisdom of Anakin, Obi-Wan and Yoda but greater because he avoids the mistakes of the past and forges a true, new path for the Jedi. But then, we get nothing. Oh we know Luke started a new Jedi Order and thought he could help Ben, only to be scared by his raw power and darkness. Wait, really? This is the same guy who redeemed Vader but can’t find a way to help Ben? Luke was right, “This is not going to go the way you think.” It’s as if the history of Luke has been forgotten. Now, I get the idea that Luke, like Obi-Wan, feels the pain of taking too much on, but at least Obi-Wan didn’t try to murder his student in his sleep and gave him a chance to change before delivering the “killing” blow.

Now, all that said, the lesson Luke learns about failure being part of life and how to deal with it, is actually a timely one. In life, failure is the best teacher. Yet, again, Luke’s past should have prepared him for this, his knowledge about Anakin and the help of force ghosts like Yoda, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, should have been able to help shepherd him through this ordeal, instead of running away to an island to die, screaming, “get off my lawn” to anyone who comes calling.

It is interesting that Kylo and Luke are actual after the same thing, Kylo wants to burn it all down and so does Luke, but for different reasons. Kylo because of his anger at everyone and everything and Luke because of his own hubris. He sees the Jedi as a failure, as well as himself, yet he’s blaming the wrong thing. In the end, it’s people and their choices that lead them to the dark or to the light, not the teachings of the Jedi. The Jedi texts and code are only a guide, that applied properly, promote peace, prosperity and hope in the galaxy. Over a thousand generations is not a bad run. Even though Luke gives Rey a lesson in humility in relation to the Force, it seems much to learn, he still has.

All of the issues I do have, stem from there being no direction for this trilogy. With no clear plan or endgame, this is what is left, each installment trying to make sense of the last, leading to it not always having fullest depth or payoff. This is post modern story telling at it’s worst, characters and plot without history and context that could have been more cohesive with planning.

Pass on What You Have Learned

ridley-hamill-last-jedi-trailer-ht-jef-171121_12x5_992

Just as the galaxy and the characters in the movie lack context, the original characters fail to pass on their wisdom to the next generation and Luke is the biggest offender here. He seem incapable of passing on what he has learned as Yoda told him to. He’s driven by fear to almost kill Ben, and then the same fear leads him to reject training Rey for most of the movie. When he finally does train her, there is no depth or true substance to what he offers. You’d think someone with access to the original Jedi texts and a few good force ghosts would be able to provide more guidance than what we see.

Just because one has talent at something, does not mean they don’t have to practice, be taught and hone their skills. Rey is never given any of this, in the end, she’s forced to intuit who she should be for herself and from who Luke was, in the Original Trilogy. This may fit into the post modern world of “make your own way and your own truth”, but it’s not Star Wars. Lucas himself said,

Star Wars has always struck a cord with people. There are issues of loyalty, of friendship, of good and evil…I mean, there’s a reason this film is so popular. It’s not that I’m giving out propaganda nobody wants to hear…Knowing that the film was made for a younger audience, I was trying to say, in a simple way, that there is a God and that there is both a good and bad side. You have a choice between them, but the world works much better if you’re on the good side.”

Lucas is clear, wisdom is meant to be passed on, the wisdom of failures and of triumphs.  It’s what both Obi-Wan and Yoda both do for Luke. Yes, they were wrong about Anakin, but that does not mean they didn’t have wisdom to share. Proverbs reminds us, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” And the place to find wisdom is through, as Job reminds us, “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” Lucas was once asked how he felt about the human condition and he said,

I am very cynical, as a result, I think the defense I have against it is to be optimistic and to think people are basically good, although I know in my heart they’re not.

It is clear that he understands that wisdom and goodness must be passed on and taught because they are not something we are born with’. Sadly Rey is left to find her own path, alone. Hopefully the books she saved from the force temple will give her some guidance, now that she is the last Jedi.

Luckily Rey seems to instinctively understand what Luke did at the end of Return of the Jedi, the Jedi are the embodiment of hope and light in the galaxy. Rey allows people to be defined by their choices, not their bloodline or possible history. She does not lose hope in that person’s chance at redemption until they make the choice to turn away from it completely. At that point, she stands on the side of the light, in it’s defense and in the defense of others. I think this is what is frustrating, is that I still feel like Luke should have been the one to show her this and he does, it’s just the Luke from the past not the present.

The only one in the movie doing any actual mentoring is Leia. Her relationship with Poe is a good example of passing on what you have learned. She gives Poe responsibility and then takes the time to discipline him, instruct him and trust him all over again when needed. Sadly the story is muddled with the interjection of Admiral Holdo, but it’s still the best example of someone passing on what they have learned to the next generation and it actually changing the character being taught.

The Movie

The plot of the movie is all over the place. The most glaring issue is with the Resistance story line. They don’t seem to know what to do with them, in the least and it leads to the worst “chase” scenes since Speed 2. There is no logic to what is happening. In space, there is no weight, so it’s all about thrust. If the First Order ships can create enough thrust, they could catch up to the Resistance ships. Another possibility is having a ship jump into the system, in “front” of the Resistance (it’s three dimensional space so there really is no “front”) and take them out. Now here is where context comes in again. Because we have no idea how big the First Order is, are we to assume that all the ships chasing the Resistance are it? And even if they are, could they just not jump “ahead” of the Resistance fleet and be done with it?

1513223317210Another massive plot issue is why Admiral Holdo refuses to tell Poe and the rest of the Resistance her plan. Does she suspect a saboteur or a spy and that’s why? Well, we’ll never know, because the movie gives us no indication what she is thinking. It just creates a bad plot reason for Poe, Finn and Rose to come up with their alternative plan, to give Finn something to do.

As mentioned above, in the previous section, context creates a maelstrom of issues revolving around the plot points between Luke, Snoke, Rey and Ben. This leaves us with not always feeling the fullest weight behind who they are, the choices they make and who they become as the movie ends.

I enjoy the music, the effects are wonderful except that Yoda puppet, not too keen on his look. The design work is not bad here. Canto Bight is cool, but why is it in the movie and why is that not the story for the Resistance? Going to Canto Bight to try and rustle up support for the cause seems like a much more intriguing idea than the universe’s slowest chase. And would it kill the sequel trilogy to have some aliens we know from the rest of the series? What’s it going to take to get a freaking twi’lek in this series?

Another point of contention in the movie is the humor. Lucasfilm seems to be taking a page from the Marvel playbook and has inserted humor everywhere. Humor in itself is not a bad thing and the Star Wars saga is replete with funny moments, but The Last Jedi pushes it too far. So much of the humor that works in Star Wars is the dry, sarcastic kind that is exemplified in The Empire Strikes Back. Here, it feels forced in many places such as the constant porg jokes, Poe’s ribbing of Hux or Finn waking up in a clear suit and leaking fluids everywhere as he walks down the hall. It just does not feel as organic as it needs to, to truly work. The Star Wars franchise has it’s own rules on how things work in it and as Gareth Edwards said, “There’s such a fine line in Star Wars, if you go just slightly to the left it’s not Star Wars, it’s another sci-fi movie that doesn’t feel right. And if you go slightly to the right, you’re just copying what George did. So trying to navigate this thing where it’s new but feels fresh was like the dance that was the process of making the film.”

Conclusion

The Last Jedi suffers under the burden left to it by The Force Awakens. With no clear trajectory or plan for this trilogy, Johnson works to forge his own path but it’s one fraught with plot holes and many times, muddied character motivations. The universe, as it stands, lacks cohesion, history or context and it’s hurting the story. I love that Johnson tired to be different and some of it really works now that I have seen it a second time, while other parts still fall very flat. I love some of the moments in the movie, especially Luke’s noble end and the strong work done with the Rey/Ben/Luke story but Abrams has his work cut out for him with Episode IX. I never thought I’d say this, but J.J. Abrams, you’re our only hope. The Last Jedi is rated 3 out of 5 stars.