Tag Archives: Laura Dern

On Second Thought – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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.

Warning: spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, steer away. Maybe check out Sean’s spoiler-free review instead, or my own of the original trilogy.

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 tumblr_oxl4isuDq51ruu897o5_540shoulders. 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.

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Downsizing

downsizingThe world is overpopulated and in the very near future it will become untenably crowded: fact. We don’t have enough space to comfortably house all these people, we don’t have the ecosystem to support them, or enough resources to fund the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed. The rate at which these 7 + billion people consume means we are making waste and pollution like there’s no tomorrow – and if we continue doing so, there won’t be.

Luckily for fictional Matt Damon, a Norwegian scientist will come up with a revolutionary bit of science that’s going to sound nutty at first, but hear me out. He calls it downsizing. A medical procedure will taking a willing human being and shrink him down, to about 5 inches. These small people will live in small towns – dollhouses, practically, taking up little space, generating little waste. A typical person might liquidate all his assets, pay off all his debts, and find that the $150 000 he’s left with is equivalent to about $12 million in the small world. Live like a millionaire by becoming a fraction of your former self!

Occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) are the kind of people to whom this kind of deal appeals. They work but never seem to get ahead. Sure this downsizing is billed as a way to save the earth, but it’s also a way to personally wipe the slate clean, and live the life you could only dream of as a normally-sized person.

As you can imagine, being only 5 inches tall comes with perks, but also some drawbacks. As writer-director Alexander Payne imagines it, there are social and economic impacts to all these people retiring from “normal” society. Illegal immigration and terrorism are facilitated. Downsizing can be used as punishment, against someone’s will. And even if you’re one of those people living in luxury, you’re suddenly vulnerable to insects, birds, even high winds.

Downsizing is a well-timed satire, science-fiction that manages not to feel too fictiony. Credit Payne’s wit for packing as much detail as he does, and if sci-fi feels a little outside the wheelhouse of the guy who did Sideways and Nebraska, he actually manages it with a lot of humour and humanity. Though the film is at times unabashedly absurdist, it stays away from easy sight gags. This is a thinking film that abounds with ideas – you’ll need to digest afterward. It’s an indictment of the American dream, people so disenfranchised that they’re willing to undergo a risky procedure just to find fulfillment. But miniaturization isn’t really the answer it’s cracked up to be, with people’s problems seeming shrinking down to follow them.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as a nice guy who’s just a bit of a loser. But for Sean, it was Christoph Waltz as his playboy neighbour who really stole the show. He plays a Serbian sleazeball who figures that what the small community needs is a small black market, and he’s there to profit. I, on the other hand, was blown away by Hong Chau as his cleaner, Gong Jiang, a one-legged Vietnamese dissident who shows Paul there’s more to life than just keeping up with the Jason Sudeikises (he’s the classmate at his high school reunion who inspired Paul to go for the Big Shrink). When Oscar season starts heating up, I hope her name is mentioned.

Downsizing is a unique film with a lot of style. Despite being the opening night film here at the Venice Film Festival, it likely won’t be a best-picture contender for me, but it’s a film full of ideas that I found immensely enjoyable.

Wilson

Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is a grump and a misanthrope. He has no social filter or skills or clue. He’s just out in the world, spitting old man vitriol. His neuroses aren’t great company and his acidic “honesty” doesn’t do much to help with the loneliness.

But then he gets a chance to reconnect with is ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern), and he finds out that they share a daughter, given up for adoption 16 years ago. This ready-made MV5BMDU0ODI3ODAtMmYxYi00Yzk3LThlNDAtNGRiZjI1MDRiMzgwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SX667_CR0,0,667,999_AL_family appeals to him greatly, though his fantasy diverges quite archly from the reality. And because life isn’t fair, this grown-ass man gets to wreak havoc on the lives of not one but two women in order to finally grow up himself.

Woody Harrelson is an utter delight. Wilson should by all rights be detestable, and yet Harrelson makes our time with him enjoyable. Unfortunately, his great performance is just about the only thing this movie has going for it. It’s not that interesting or concerned with plot or momentum. Is Woody enough? For me, yes. I don’t regret watching Wilson. Harrelson finds humanity and humour in the awkwardness. And Dern’s not a bad counterpoint as a former party girl trying to turn her life straight. They’re a complete fucking train-wreck as far as couples go and completely unprepared to host a houseplant for the weekend let alone a teenage daughter, but by all means, let’s eavesdrop on their bold but bewilderingly inept stab at playing adults.

I suspect director Craig Johnson didn’t quite know what to do with what he had. The film feels a bit episodic and the shtick gets stale after a while. Full credit to Harrelson for making Wilson just charismatic enough to keep us watching. Otherwise, Johnson would have easily lost us with his generous seasoning of sentimentality and a lackluster finale.