You can only pick one: who’s it gonna be?
p.s. Sean’s Rise of Skywalker review below.
You can only pick one: who’s it gonna be?
p.s. Sean’s Rise of Skywalker review below.
Honestly, I never thought this day would come. In 1983 there were rumours in the playground that George Lucas had nine chapters of Star Wars planned, but it seemed made up. None of us would have have predicted that a fourth Star Wars film would be released 16 years later, and none of us could possibly have foreseen that another 12 years after the disappointing prequels wrapped up, the third trilogy would kick off. It’s been more than 42 years in the making, which is essentially my whole life, but at long last Star Wars’ ninth chapter has finally arrived.
Picking up more or less where The Last Jedi left off, Rise of Skywalker immediately confirms that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back and hasn’t lost one bit of his galaxy-dominating ambition. With a whole fleet of Star Destroyers at his command and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) at his side, the Emperor’s goal is to destroy the Resistance’s rebels once and for all. It’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) to lead the Resistance into battle against the Emperor and finally foil his dark plans, with the help of many old friends along the way.
By any objective measure, Rise of Skywalker is probably the weakest film of the final trilogy. Clearly spawned from a checklist of items that needed to be addressed, Rise of Skywalker is exactly the sum of its parts. Fortunately, its parts are very well-crafted and they fit together to close out the Star Wars ennealogy as well as this fanboy could have hoped. Some of J.J. Abrams’ choices are not entirely satisfying on their own, but combined, they provide some closure, some redemption, and a whole lot of Return of the Jedi flavour. The choice to borrow so liberally from RotJ, in particular, grants a satisfying symmetry to the whole affair.
An argument can be (and has been) made that Rise of Skywalker plays it too safe. No doubt that is a conscious choice by Abrams and an understandable reaction to the (unfair) hate The Last Jedi received for trying to take these films to new places. The choice to emulate the final (and weakest) movie of the original trilogy is one such safe choice, and overall, I agree that Rise of Skywalker plays it safe at every turn. But isn’t that beside the point?
Rise of Skywalker takes us to where we’ve been and in revisiting these familiar places gives us a final showdown between good and evil where the fate of the galaxy is at stake, where lightsabers and force lightning flash while a small rebel fleet takes on impossible odds, where working together for the right cause offsets a shortage in numbers, and where good always finds a way to win. That is the only way the Star Wars saga could have ended, and that’s exactly what Rise of Skywalker delivers.
It’s been 10 years since the conflict ended. Jake was born when the world was still fighting the Kaiju monsters, and his father, Stacker Pentecost, gave his life to help win the war. Jake is not his father. He lives in a coastal city that never recovered from its attack, in half a mansion that was destroyed by the creature whose skeleton still adorns the property. He steals to make a living, and nothing pays more than stole jaeger tech (jaegers being those massive, two-pilot robots used to win the war against the giant monsters).
When Jake (John Boyega) is inevitably caught, he’s sentenced to teaching kids to be jaeger pilots where he immediately meets and dislikes fellow pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood), who resents him for having the special privileges granted him by his last name. Of course, Jake and Nate must become co-pilots of a new flagship jaeger meant to reassure people that the world would forever more kept safe, but its designers should have perhaps heeded another movie’s admonition – if you build it, they will come.
And when the Kaiju do attack, it’ll be Jake & Nate & a bunch of kids standing between alien monsters and the earth’s destruction, which is a discomfiting thought. But the most important thing to know about Pacific Rim: Uprising is that it is not directed by Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, who gave us the first one, and this one lacks the conviction and subtlety that made the first so special. Guillermo’s movie about gigantic monsters and robots fighting each other still managed to have a greater message and a lot of heart. The sequel is its empty shell. It’s got all the parts, and plenty of punchy action but it’s missing the movie magic that connects with audiences and transcends the outward trappings. Uprising is intent on being bigger, louder, dumber, and never, not once, equal to, let alone better. It’s content with ticking boxes: one liners, big hunks of metal, migraine-level sound effects, frantic Japanese people. And most egregiously, it sets itself up for a third installment, and if it comes to that, I hope the Kaiju fucking win.
I am not a Star Wars fan. I knew about it peripherally, the way it’s infused into pop culture and stuff, but I’d never seen the movies and never cared to. But Sean has always carried a special spot in his heart for Star Wars, or for the original trilogy anyway. He was just born when the first one came out but as a little boy he was enamoured with the series, with the very concept of space cowboys, and swords made out of laser beams, and cool flying cars. And while I think he respected my stance on keeping Star Wars out of my life for the most part, he kinda sorta took advantage of me when I had massive back surgery two years ago. High on back pills, he screened all 6 movies for me, and I was ambivalent at best. I’m totally okay with these movies existing in the world and I’m happy for anyone who takes joy from them, but they aren’t for me and never will be. But I still experienced vicarious excitement for Sean when The Force Awakens was announced. It felt like we waited forever to get our hands on that one, and it felt a little out of this world to sit in a theatre and watch that famous crawl go up the screen. Ultimately, though, Sean was disappointed by TFA. He felt it was a little too similar to a previous Star Wars film and couldn’t quite work up the same enthusiasm for this retread. But don’t think that didn’t mean our butts weren’t in the seats opening night for Rogue One. And again for The Last Jedi, of course, and this time, Sean was a little more enthusiastic.
I was not. Enthusiastic, I mean. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket on his boyhood nostalgia, and it wasn’t as if the film was without merits. I didn’t think it was bad, I just didn’t care all that much. And at two and a half hours, it was long and felt it, and I couldn’t help but sneer at the scenes that I thought of as bloated – that extended Finn/Rose casino adventure that never went anywhere in particular.
But later, thinking about this one scene between Luke and Rey, I reconsidered. “I failed him” he says of his nephew Kylo Ren’s defection to the Dark Side. No, she says, “He failed you.” And that’s when the movie really opened up to me and I started thinking of the film in terms of theme – that theme being failure. Triumphs are easy. Heroes are tested when things don’t go their way. Rose and Finn are not going to accomplish their mission but they never stop trying, they never stop believing, and that doggedness inspires hope in others. That mission was never as crucial as they believed. Vice Admiral Holdo had another plan in mind the whole time, and she orders the evacuation of her ship. But this plan fails too. The escape pods are picked off one by one and Holdo ends up sacrificing herself to save them. When she reveals to Leia that she’ll stay behind in what will amount to a suicide mission Leia says “I can’t take any more loss” to which Holdo responds “Yes you can.” Never mind that it feels like Laura Dern is speaking for us, the audience, who have so recently lost Carrie Fisher. It’s also a tiny admission by a formidable General that her job is hard, and weighing on her heavily.
Leia looks weary in this movie. The toll of each loss is written in the slope of her shoulders. But her unwavering belief in the cause encourages her to soldier on, as a Rebel and as a Leader – a figurehead who inspires others but also a teacher who is grooming the next generation. Poe seems to be a favourite of hers, though all agree he’s a bit of a hot head who prefers the shoot-em-up approach. Poe’s whole raison d’etre this film is to learn some hard lessons. He too must fail, and learn to put the Light first and foremost, ahead of even his own ego.
And perhaps it is Luke himself who needs most to learn how to continue on in the face of failure. Having failed his nephew Ben, who then serves under Snoke as the formidable Kylo Ren, Luke is so devastated and full of self-doubt he retreats. Not just physically, though he does completely disappear at a time when, arguably, the Rebellion needs him most. But he also retreats from the Force. He cuts himself off completely. And maybe it’s his fear that he’ll fail again that prevents him from giving Rey the help she needs.
In the film’s last epic battle, between the two men who seem to have failed each other, we must contemplate what, if anything, is Kylo Ren’s failure. Though The Last Jedi is a direct continuation from where we left off in The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren seems to have grown quite a bit. He’s more self-assured and he’s more powerful. But he’s still prey to his own temper, which betrays him. He should have been able to pick up on Luke’s misdirection if he hadn’t been letting his rage dictate their interaction. The truth is, temperamental as he may be, Kylo Ren is a contender now. We’ve been underestimating him, and we’re not the only ones. But does he have a fatal flaw? Certainly, Kylo Ren has failed the Light. He’s failed his parents, and his heritage. But is he also failing himself? And if the answer is yes – does he have the means to soldier on?
Now we wait for Episode IX.
The Circle is THE company you want to be working for. It’s a blatant stand-in for Google; the ‘The Circle’ campus and work space looks identical, comes with all the crazy perks we’ve been jealously-not-quite-believingly hearing about for years: sushi bars, yoga workshops, nap pods, etc, etc. Mae (Emma Watson) is ecstatic when she’s hired for an entry level position – the salary is generous, room and board are included, the health plan is fabulous – it’s more than any millennial has the right to expect these days. The only thing The Circle asks for in return is a complete lack of privacy.
And in fact, The Circle doesn’t just ask that of employees, but of everyone joining their network. The Circle is a platform that would link all of your online accounts. You’d have one account, one username (your own, your real one), one password that links to everything, all your aps, your bank, your email, your work, social media, etc, etc. The dream come true starts to feel a little…invasive to Mae. There’s no turning off, no going off-grid. Everyone participates in everything all the time! Horray! So the dream is turning out to be a bit much, but with her father (Bill Paxton) suffering from MS, it’s extremely hard to turn down.
Most of her The Circle colleagues are drinking the kool-aid but she finds a kindred spirit in skeptical Ty (John Boyega). He’s worried about how every single piece of our lives are being accessed and stored, analyzed and monetized, by The Circle: personal data is being mined to make a few people very, very rich. And if you have any presence on the internet at all, there’s nothing you can do about it.
The Circle is a terrific book by Dave Eggers. It’s an urgently fascinating story because our reality is probably only about one and a half paces behind what’s depicted in The Circle, and that’s just what we know about. We’re creeping closer and closer every day. Unfortunately it seems that Eggers’ brilliant books are not that easily adapted into films; A Hologram for the King was also a bit of a flop and that’s too bad because there’s some really thoughtful and thought-provoking material in there that’s getting lost.
The film asks more questions than it answers. In truth, it sort of lets some of the issues it raises fall away without doing them any justice. So that’s unfortunate. I still thought the movie was compelling and watchable, and Tom Hanks is of course irreproachable. I think it’s worth your time. But the book is even more worthy of your time, and if you read it, you’ll see the changes that Hollywood makes to make a story more ‘palatable.’ But I’m pretty confident that you can handle the truth. Right?
This was Bill Paxton’s final film. He died before it was released; a dedication in the closing credits reads ‘For Bill.” Glenne Headley, who plays his wife, died in June. She’s got a couple more movies in post-production.
Detroit, 1967: a veritable race riot is boiling over the streets of the inner city. Buildings are on fire, stores are looted. Cops are on edge and are arresting any black person they see. The force is 93% white; 45% of those working in black neighbourhoods were considered to be “extremely anti-Negro” and an additional 34% were “prejudiced.” Charges of police brutality are abundant. Precincts overflow with black bodies.
On the night of July 25, police converge on the Algiers motel, allegedly because a sniper might be in or around the building. The motel’s 12 occupants are rounded up, interrogated, badly beaten, and humiliated by Detroit PD, Michigan State police, and the National Guard. At the end of the night, three black teenagers are left dead, killed by police.
Director Kathryn Bigelow presents a harrowing, claustrophobic rendition of these events, so tense and brutal that people walked out of the screening we attended. Other than Detroit being extremely difficult to watch, there are some problems with the film: Bigelow’s treatment of the subject is at a pretty cold remove, for example. And I for one felt it was just too long. The film could have ended when the last person leaves the motel, but instead it follows the white police officers who were charged with felonious assault, conspiracy, murder, and conspiracy to commit civil rights abuse. The courtroom scenes are a long, drawn-out denouement that don’t quite jibe with the first two thirds of the film. That said, I still feel like Detroit is an extremely effective film.
First, because it’s so timely. Watching those cops get off scot-free despite confessions, and then be congratulated for beating murder charges that were well-deserved, is infuriating, and familiar. This is not “history,” not when there are unarmed black children being gunned down by the people paid to protect them to this very day. It’s an uncomfortable reminder that in the past 50 years, we’ve done nothing to address the problem. Second, and maybe more importantly, is the way the movie made me feel. I’ve already said it was maybe a little void of emotion and that’s true; what I mean is how it made me evaluate my own filters. As sympathetic to the cause as I am, I’m still a white lady, and I experienced the film and the events depicted within it as a white person with all the privilege inherent in those words. The motel scenes are grueling and I had visceral reactions to them. Occasionally I caught myself frustrated with how the characters were responding to the cops, and I’d have to check myself. This is the fundamental takeaway of the film: my experience with police officers is essentially just very, very different. I wasn’t born with a historical fear of cops. My parents and grandparents didn’t raise me to be afraid of them. The colour of my skin protects me from the worst. My entitlement trusts in my human rights. My privilege demands that people in positions of authority will respect my unalienable civil liberties. The last interaction with a police officer I had was the guy directing pedestrians leaving a Cirque du Soleil show. The last time we were pulled over for speeding, there wasn’t so much as an apology uttered for being caught red-handed. These things don’t feel like privilege because they’re things we believe we’re owed, but it is privilege because not everyone gets to feel the same way.
Maybe it’s not perfect, but Detroit asks some difficult questions, which makes it an important film. It’s excruciating because it needs to be, and you need to watch it.