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Category Archives: Movies
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Is About Making Mistakes, But the Trip to the Casino Planet Isn’t One of Them
Even viewers who loved The Last Jedi tend to point to its trip to Canto Bight — the luxurious planet full of well-heeled gamblers and wealthy libertines — as a misstep. It’s been decried as pointless, indulgent, and ultimately inessential to the other major events of Episode VIII.
But while not the strongest element of The Last Jedi, that sojourn to the casino planet is vital to Finn’s arc, to the animating ideas at the center of the film, and to the movie’s parting shot, in a way that fully justifies its inclusion in the movie, even one already pushing a 2 ½ hour runtime.
Throw away the past. The rap on 2015’s The Force Awakens, the film that revived Star Wars for a new generation, was that it was too derivative, too indebted to A New Hope, too bound to the blueprint that had launched the series. There was a sense that in its second outing, this new incarnation of Star Wars needed to break new ground, that having established this new setting, these new characters, and its new conflicts and mysteries, it was time to break from what had come before.
This December can boast the release of a pair of films from two very different franchises. The first is Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the inescapable cinematic behemoth set to capitalize on the new, Disney-fueled era of Star Wars. It’s primed to tell the next chapter of the new trilogy that began with 2015’s The Force Awakens. The second is The Disaster Artist, a movie, based on a book, based on the making of another movie. That other movie is The Room, a transcendently bad, gloriously inept film that is the modern challenger for the title of “The Worst Movie of All Time.”
And on the surface, Star Wars and The Room have nothing in common. One is set in a distant galaxy, and the other is set in San Francisco (and not even the futuristic sci-fi version of the city from Star Trek). One features magical warrior monks doing battle with laser swords, and the other features (comparatively) average people, mostly tossing footballs at one another. Star Wars shows off imaginative new technologies on a cinematic scale, and The Room includes someone secretly recording their fiancée with a Nixon-era tape recorder.
But look past those surface-level differences, draw down to the core elements of each franchise’s installments, and you’ll discover something shocking — Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is just The Room in space. Search your feelings; you know it to be true.
In the wake of disquieting fan revolts over superhero films, video games, science fiction awards, and genre works of all stripes, there’s been an ensuing debate over who “owns” art. Whether you’re talking about a particular release, a broader genre, or even an entire industry, there’s an ongoing discussion to the tune of “who does this belong to?”
And the responses are legion. Is it the creative individuals behind these works? Their most ardent fans? The would-be arbiters of taste? The studios and publishers who fund them? Is it the dye-in-the-wool traditionalists or the boundary-pushing innovators? Who among these gets to decide what’s acceptable and what isn’t, let alone what’s good, great, or even art in the first place? These are questions at the heart of Ed Wood, the 1994 film from director Tim Burton.
Justice League Tries to Thread the Needle Between The Avengers and Batman v. Superman and Turns Out Generic
It’s impossible to process Justice League without considering Batman v. Superman, the film’s literal predecessor, and The Avengers, its spiritual one. The DCEU’s latest team-up movie is so much in conversation with these two prior films, so much reacting and responding to them, that it almost doesn’t make sense without them.
Some of the best aspects of the original Star Wars movie were its characters, its humor, and its surfeit of enjoyable, individual moments. The film’s special effects were innovative, and its famed myth arc was substantial, but the hero’s journey and all that technical splendor might have fallen apart if we hadn’t felt the warm, jostling connection between Luke, Leia, and Han, or laughed at their antics, or been able to so enjoy their interactions even apart from the larger story. Thor: Ragnarok, while not nearly as good as A New Hope, can rely on the same saving grace.
Caution: this review contains major spoilers for the film.
It’s hard to talk about Arrival without spoiling the film. So much of what makes it more than just a well-done first contact story is tied up in its later developments. They recontextualize enough of the prior proceedings that trying to discuss the import or quality of the film without taking it as a whole is like trying to give someone directions without letting them know the destination.
But its premise is deceptively straightforward. In the world of Arrival, aliens have come to Earth in twelve ships scattered across the globe. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist brought by the U.S. Military to a ship located in Montana, in an attempt to help humanity communicate with this extraterrestrial presence. With the help of theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a buffer provided by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), Banks slowly but surely finds ways to speak with these seemingly unknowable beings, with the American team alternatively working with and against similar groups around the world attempting the same.
The great promise of Agents of Shield and Netflix’s Defenders series was the idea that these shows would examine what happened when The Avengers weren’t around to save the day, in the spaces below their notice. The pitch went that these shows would dig into the meat and potatoes work of facing down threats in a world where aliens attack, as well as the street-level problems that can’t be solved with energy blasts and theater-shaking explosions. But while each of the MCU’s television series have done their share of noble work, they’ve rarely felt connected to their cinematic brethren. Rather than exploring what it means to live in the shadow of Marvel’s biggest heroes, more often than not, these shows feel as though they exist within their own separate worlds.
Enter Spiderman: Homecoming, a film devoted to exploring the lives of people who live under the pedestal that Tony Stark and The Avengers occupy. Despite Spider-Man’s dive into the fray in Civil War, Homecoming spends most of its runtime with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) yearning to be more than a momentary part of that super-team. The nascent web-slinger feels like he’s on the outside looking in and not significant enough to rate much attention from Tony Stark (or his driver, Happy Hogan, who’s the “point man” on the Spider-Man project). But the script, credited to a six-man team, smartly parallels Peter’s sense of being beneath his idols’ notice with a villain who’s motivated by the sense that the Starks of the world don’t care about the little people like him.
To call Wonder Woman the best DCEU film is to damn it with faint praise. It’s certainly a true statement, but limiting it to those terms does a disservice not only to how the film stands on its own, but how it represents a notable achievement (and hopefully turning point) for the representation of women in superhero cinema.
But even on its own merits, the film succeeds when it breaks away from the conventions cemented by its Bat- and Super-brethren, and stumbles when it gets caught in the same muck that has hobbled the movies of Wonder Woman’s D.C. Comics stablemates. The end result is the DC Extended Universe’s first legitimately good film, but one still weighed down by the cinematic baggage of its predecessors.
Caution: This article contains major spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
One of the best things about storytelling is that it offers a chance to walk in another person’s shoes, to step outside of oneself and have experiences that are not possible in most people’s day-to-day lives. But films, television shows, and novels also offer fantasy; they offer escapism and the chance to live out an existence, in two-hour chunks, that is wilder and more fantastical than our own. Some of our culture’s most prominent stories present a particular, alluring version of that idea — the fantasy of the ordinary person discovering that they are, in fact, more special than they ever could have known.
When Luke Skywalker gazes out at the twin suns of Tatooine, the sight evokes his longing for adventure, the unshakable feeling that the universe has more in store for him than just the inner workings of a moisture farm. When we meet Harry Potter living under the thumb of the Dursleys, it’s to establish the lowliness of his position, the improbability that the boy who lives under the stairs could, in reality, be the chosen one. And Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 presents its own orphan protagonist in Peter Quill who, after a lifetime of hoping and wondering, discovers that he too is more powerful and unique than he had ever imagined.