Here they come!
Uh oh, we’ve got incoming!
I saw Last Jedi for a second time, and enjoyed it quite a bit more upon subsequent viewing. Most of the issues I had with it are still present, but I was surprised at a lot of subtle dialog that I hadn’t quite caught the first time around that sets up character motivations a bit better than I’d given the movie credit. I was also more willing to embrace a lot of the silliness, but I couldn’t help noticing many of the same jokes fell flat with this second audience that did with the first. Something about the comic timing in the film is a bit off. The Kylo Ren and Rey interactions felt even more powerful this second time around, as did Luke’s ruminations on his past failings. Even the casino stuff felt slightly more tolerable, although the Rose/Finn adventure is still easily the weakest and most meandering part of the film, even if there’s some okay theme building in it (winning by saving what we love instead of destroying what we hate, and all that). Overall, I think The Last Jedi is a pretty good film if you focus more on what characters are saying and less on what they’re doing (which often doesn’t make a ton of sense). It’s a fairly quotable film! And I still love the scene where Kylo tells Rey her parents were garbage.
Also, has anyone played Horizon Zero Dawn? I recently started playing it and it’s INCREDIBLE.
It’s an Xmas update! And General Tanaka’s got it all figured out.
I saw The Shape of Water, Guillermo Del Toro’s latest cinematic undertaking. It’s hard not to view the movie as a highly niche film that probably won’t appeal to a general movie going audience, as it’s an R rated film that revolves around the romance between a mute woman and a sea monster man. That R rating is for the full gamut of language, sex, and violence, albeit used smartly to heighten tension and flesh out the cast. But as someone who enjoys a movie with great characterization, this one hits the sweet spot, with a relatively small cast bursting with unique personalities. I’ve grown further enamored with small scale storytelling in genre films, maybe because of my own exhaustion over the brutal onslaught of overstuffed plots and expansive casts in Hollywood blockbusters. In that sense, Shape of Water feels like a relief. I also strongly appreciate a lot of the foreshadowing in the script that results in some great setups and payoffs.
It’s not a perfect film, though, mostly in terms of its pacing. There’s a heist sequence about two thirds of the way through the story. Right after that, when you think things are about to kick into high gear, the movie actually slows down quite a bit to expand on the unorthodox romance plot. Although the romance is a major focus, the result is the deflation of much of the film’s building tension. Although that tension eventually does come back in heavy doses as the movie closes in on its emotional climax.
Overall, this is probably one of Del Toro’s most solid films to date. Not as bogged down in tired cliches as his Hellboy films, nor as muddled in deus ex machina plot mechanics and half finished characters arcs as Pacific Rim. Infinitely better paced than the beautifully shot Crimson Peak. Perhaps not quite as masterfully envisioned as Pan’s Labyrinth, but probably more of a narrative crowd pleaser in the end. Good luck finding it in theaters, though. The Shape of Water’s release has been very limited.
Plenty of dissention in the Senshin ranks!
Guess what, I’M GONNA TALK ABOUT STAR WARS!!!! Definite SPOILERS ahead, so don’t read if you ain’t seen it, as there’s plenty of great surprises in the movie (and some not so great surprises)
. . .
I may have raised my expectations a bit too high with The Last Jedi, even considering my cynical opinion of its director, Rian Johnson and his most successful movie, Looper, which is the sloppiest mess of a plot hole ridden time travel script you could imagine. But clearly Disney had a lot of faith in The Last Jedi, and so I started to hope it would be as great as they were claiming. Instead, it turned out to be about on the same level as most modern franchise films; bombastic, bogged down in too much plot, strangled with too little breathing room, and full of good ideas that receive a lot of poor execution due to what feels like a rushed script. I also found a lot of the editing and cinematography comical in its energetic cutting and occasionally awkward camera angles. But I should stress I didn’t hate the film, in fact, many of its ideas I like quite a bit. It’s just in the execution that the film stumbles in the way that most films stumble nowadays.
Before I go ranting about all the stuff I wished was done better or not done at all, I want to talk about all the elements of the movie I liked, or even loved, because there were a lot!
I love Kylo Ren. I think he’s the best part of the new films. This may just be because I love massively flawed try-hard characters who really want to be intimidating but totally are not. I love the juxtaposition of Kylo trying to convince Rey to join him so they can forge a new future while cutting free all of his troubled past, while at the same time Rey wants Kylo to join her in being a good guy because he’s a super broody dude with no chest hair. It’s great fun, and it’s basically my favorite stuff in the movie.
I love that this film essentially jettisons all the baggage of the Star Wars prequels by implying that there is no right way to be a Jedi, other than to channel one’s energy into crusading for good. At one point in the movie Luke refers to ‘the Jedi religion’, which instantly made me angry as I feel the Jedi should be an order of knights that defend peace and justice using the Force as a tool to do good. The real balance of good and evil is entirely tied to the individual, the Force itself is amoral. I feel like Yoda implies this in Empire Strikes Back. I can only hope that the eventual new Jedi order that gets established by Rey and company is a much more secular, less prophecy oriented affair.
I love how this movie handles the big mystery of Rey’s parents. Having them be literally of no importance, and having her be a new player in the story, one that has no connection to the Skywalkers, makes the universe feel bigger, and paves the way for a new order of Jedi knights from around the galaxy with no previous connections. I’d honestly wished The Force Awakens had given us a successful Luke with a thriving new Jedi academy, but maybe we can still get there, consisting of Rey and a mentoring Force Ghost Luke, and some new students.
I love Luke’s moment of weakness that lead to Ben’s turn into Kylo. Luke gives one version of the story to Rey, Kylo gives another, and the truth is somewhere in between. It’s very Kurosawa and it also feels very real. In one moment, Luke set into effect his own downfall and self-exile, that’s a quality dramatic scenario. I wish the flashback scenes themselves hadn’t felt so awkward, but it’s a great concept, even if it doesn’t feel like the Luke we saw in the original trilogy. But that’s okay, I guess.
I love Luke’s big stalling tactic on the salt planet. It’s bold, it’s beautiful, it’s a joy to watch, and it’s probably the best plan Luke’s ever had. I mean geezus, it’s a big step up from his nonsense plan to bust Han out of Jabba’s palace. It’s only real flaw was that he didn’t tell anyone he was intentionally trying to stall the First Order. Honestly, not telling your allies the full plan seems to be a running theme in the film…
So here goes my list of things I either didn’t like or wish had been done better.
I didn’t like starting the movie on a dumb gag. It got a big laugh from the audience, but Poe’s antics felt cartoonish and immediately undercut the drama. In fact, a lot of the drama of the film was undercut by gags. It reminded me quite a bit of Thor Ragnarok, which has plenty of dramatic scenarios, but they’re presented in jokey ways that rob them of all their tension and emotional impact. It results in Last Jedi feeling tonally inconsistent, with too much metaphorical, and sometimes literal, winking at the camera.
Why were the bombers’ payloads directly tied to a big red button on a remote control? Just felt like kind of silly space technology, to me.
The meandering space chase that drags on through most of the movie was meandering. It was weird that the imperial fleet didn’t have any ships that could overtake the Resistance cruiser, but could still match its speed and continue firing from a distance just far enough to nullify weapon effectiveness, but not far enough that the blasts couldn’t keep hitting Resistance shields. What’s even more frustrating is that they had literally the perfect set up for a classic scifi trope that would’ve added some great tension and pacing to the chase: instead of having the Resistance fleet lack the fuel to hyper jump, just have it so that every time they come out of hyperspace, the First Order fleet immediately comes out right behind them and starts firing. Then the Resistance has to calculate the next jump to hyperspace all while taking losses and being unsure how the FO is tracking them. This could lead to great tension building scenes where we cut from Rey back to the Resistance soldiers preparing for combat while counting down to the moment they exit hyperspace, knowing they’re going to take heavy losses but that they just have to hold out long enough until they can calculate the next jump to light speed. It could lead to some thrilling, hard hitting battle sequences, and during the hyperspace jumps in-between, the Resistance characters could be arguing, hoping, consoling, mourning, and emoting in ways that let the characters breath and interact so we can really get to know them.
Finn’s wild casino adventure is a total bust. I mean, it could easily be cut from the movie and the plot would be unaffected. On top of that, it’s just silly and dull. But it didn’t have to be! It kind of picks up at the end, when he faces down Phasma. But what if Phasma had been hunting him the whole time? Maybe the Resistance fleet sends him and Rose on their mission during one of its tense drops out of hyperspace. They take off in a shuttle, and General Hux orders Phasma to take a platoon of Stormtroopers and chase after them. Instead of Finn and Rose being captured by police, they could be captured by Phasma. Phasma could interrogate Finn, and mock him for his inability to function like a good soldier, maybe even make him doubt if he has any worth to the Resistance since he was useless as a Stormtrooper. This could all build to the final confrontation, which would then have far more dramatic weight to it. Instead, Phasma is just there and then she’d dead, big deal.
Benicio Del Toro’s weird code breaker character also feels like a frustrating addition. He’s first characterized as totally self centered, but then later returns Rose’s special medallion, indicating that maybe he has a heart, but then he ultimately betrays Finn and Rose, and we never see him again. The movie already has too many characters, so what was the point of including this one? AND WHY WASN’T IT LANDO????
Yoda’s inclusion in the movie feels like pure fan service of the most pandering kind. His inclusion was mainly so that he could remind Luke that even though Luke failed, he can still learn from his failures, he doesn’t need to just die alone and hopeless. I love that kind of messaging, but I feel it could have happened so much differently. I’m disappointed we didn’t get a training sequence with Luke and Rey. I would have loved to see Luke reluctantly train Rey because she threatens to go face Kylo Ren immediately, and Luke knows she’s not ready. So he trains her only because he feels if he doesn’t, she’s more likely to get turned to the dark side by Kylo. And through his training of Rey, he realizes that even though he failed Kylo, he’s learned from that failure and is able to hold back his doubting visions of a dark-side Rey, which is one of only many possible futures (like, didn’t he learn that lesson in ESB?). So then Rey tells him she’s out of time, and the Resistance fleet will be destroyed unless they face Kylo and Snoke immediately. Luke says “You’re still not ready…but I am” and they go to face Kylo and Snoke together. It could be a powerful moment, and one that reverses Luke’s failure to heed Yoda’s advice in Empire. I will say, though, that if they had to include Yoda, at least it was the Yoda I remember from Empire Strikes Back, and not that prequel knockoff moron.
It frustrates me that Leia and the purple haired lady general don’t share their plans to escape to the old Rebel base with Poe and the crew. There’s no indication they suspect any spies amongst the Resistance crew, so there’s seemingly no reason not to just tell Poe the plan so he stops moronically putting contradictory plans into action. Now if there WAS a spy, all this secrecy would be totally justified, and add another layer of tension as the Resistance tries to root out their betrayer(s) while being doggedly pursued. Could’ve been quite the compelling sequence, with clever red herrings and a surprise twist of some sort, maybe discovering there was no traitor, but that Poe’s ship had had a tracking device stuck onto it during the opening battle.
Who the hell was Snoke? Just a red herring, I guess, a mis-direction to make the audience think he was the real bad guy. Unfortunately, he receives zero context, and acts even more like a cartoon villain than Palpatine (I mean, come on, compelling bad guys don’t talk about ending light and hope, that’s cornball villainy). Every well written bad guy thinks they’re the good guy, but Snoke seems to revel in being evil, and it just makes him comical and unbelievable as a character. It would’ve been great if he’d been given some context. Maybe he could have told a captive Rey that he was a part of a group of dark Force users from the outer most edges of the outer rim, who sought to expand their influence throughout the galaxy. Maybe he could’ve told how one of their members, Darth Sidious, had tried to do this through deception and manipulation, but had ultimately failed. And now he, Snoke, would do it through pure military force. I’m not saying that’s brilliant or even makes a lot of sense, but it adds some context to all these walking cliche villains and maybe expands the universe a bit and even provides a dark, unknown enemy that could be addressed later.
I also wish the death of Snoke at Kylo’s hands had seen a change in Kylo’s demeanor. If he’d spent the remainder of the movie acting stoic and composed as the new supreme leader of the First Order, it would have raised his intimidation level significantly. I feel like Snoke’s death is yet another step in Kylo’s severing of his troubled past. Snoke was just as big a part of Kylo’s conflicted feelings over turning dark side as his parents and Luke. So ending Snoke, who was the true abuser in Kylo’s life, could have centered Kylo emotionally. Don’t get me wrong, I still love try-hard Kylo, but having him spend the last quarter of the film as a composed, intimidating dark figure instead of his angry, tantrum throwing self would have significantly boosted the First Order’s intimidation factor. And, honestly, most scenes involving the First Order characters contain some gag that makes them seem wacky and incompetent, and that’s not great when you’re trying to have a dramatic ticking clock sequence like the one with the Resistance fleet being pursued. The Empire in the OT felt like a sleek, well oiled military industrial complex with little room for outward displays of emotion from its soldiers and officers. The First Order sometimes feels as ineffectual as the droid army from the prequels.
And then there’s just the film’s pacing and editing. The movie is exhausting at two and half hours, with frantic cuts and a lot of overly-CG’d sequences. There are too many set pieces visited in too short a time for much of it to sink in, and there are too many characters and plot threads that prevent the movie from slowing down and letting the characters just talk to each other. This is ultimately frustrating because the actors don’t have enough time to really play off each other, which is, in large part, what makes characters in movies great and memorable. This is ultimately why Empire and the original Star Wars are some of my favorite movies. Because the characters have plenty of time to banters and build off each other, they feel connected like real people. There’s very little ridiculous cartoon nonsense. The Last Jedi has great characters, and great story beats and potentially great dramatic setups, but it just feels like it’s too busy trying to get to the next big thing to let the audience absorb any of it.
I would say that I have to resign myself to never getting another Empire Strikes Back, but we just got Blade Runner 2049 this year and I thought it was pretty damn incredible! It keeps its plot simple and streamlined, but gives its characters plenty of time to breath and talk to each other and ACT (albeit with mostly dour expressions). It’s filled with incredible visuals that stay on screen for long stretches, letting the audience drink it in. It doesn’t fill you with contradictory information that leaves you scratching your head at the lack of logic. And it also completely bombed at the box office… I think my current ultimate dream is to have Denis Villeneuve direct a Star Wars film, too bad it’ll likely never happen. Not marketable enough!
Quickly, gather the fellowship!
SPOILERS for the first season of Strange Things:
I finally watched Stranger Things (the first season). It’s a lot of fun…well, once you hit the fourth episode. The characters are all great, and that is the number one reason to keep watching (the soundtrack maybe being number two). But the plot doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, or at least is too vague for me to embrace. I would say it’s less frustrating than J. J. Abrams’ love letter to the Goonies, Super 8, in which a hyper advanced alien works to repair its interstellar spaceship by terrorizing 80’s small town suburbia. The logic of the alien does not hold up even during the course of the movie. In Stranger Things, the monster can at least be written off as a violent animal that’s simply hard to kill, but my real issues with the plot are the many vague, unanswered questions and frustrating pacing that crams all the most interesting stuff into a rushed final episode, while dragging out the initial setup.
So Eleven is a telekinetic psychic, which, apparently, makes it possible for her to open a doorway to a mirror universe. Or rather the monster opened the doorway, I guess, even though she says she did it? But the monster also opened a doorway in a tree, but that doorway seemed to close automatically. Yet the doorway in the government facility remained opened for the entire show, even after the monster was killed, as Hopper, Joyce, and Will were supposedly able to exit the Upside Down without any issues. So how does this work, exactly? Is the monster the only one opening doorways? And why was the doorway in the facility so large and permanent, while all the other doorways the monster opens, like the one in the Byers house, closed immediately or after a short time?
Why does someone/something moving around in the Upside Down affect lights in the real world? What’s the correlation there? It’s a good thing the only inhabitants of the Upside Down are one creature and occasionally an interloping human. Otherwise lights would be on the fritz all the time in the normal world.
And if the Upside Down IS a mirror universe, why exactly does it have only a single native inhabitant? Who built all those parallel buildings and cars? The monster?? It feels less like a mirror universe and more like another plane of existence that humans can’t perceive. And either way, what does that have to do with Eleven? How does her being used to spy on Russians equate to contacting a parallel world? The series fails to establish any solid rules, and when it does, it fails to apply any logical reasoning to those rules. The final confrontation between Eleven and the monster was pretty much completely random and in no way foreshadowed or explained, it just kind of happened.
Still, Stranger Things’ triumph is in its characters and its atmosphere, which feels both whimsical and surreal, while also being tense and gritty. It’s so much fun watching the kid characters live out their real life D&D campaign while the teen and adult characters struggle through what’s essentially a horror film. It probably shouldn’t work, but it does, and I look forward to watching the second season, even if I don’t hold out much hope for it rounding out the vague logic of the universe.
Back to these jokers!
We saw Pixar’s Coco yesterday and it reminded me that there are very few Pixar films I’ve seen that don’t have me in tears at least once by the end. I’d recommend everyone go out and see it, other than the fact that you have to sit through an anemic 22 minute long Frozen cartoon that is maybe not as offensive as the internet thinks it is, but is certainly no where in the league of the film it precedes. Luckily, Disney is apparently pulling the Frozen animated episode from the beginning of Coco on Dec. 8th, which both removes a sort of slow torture from the movie-going experience and reduces the run time down from what was well over two hours to an hour and forty nine minutes. It’s still on the lengthier side for an animated kids film, but the time flies by.
The basic story of Coco is about a boy named Miguel living in… I guess a fantastical traditional Mexican town. He loves music, but for generations his family has hated music and has dedicated themselves to making shoes. He quickly discovers his the great grandson of a famous Mexican musician, tries to steal the famous dead man’s guitar from a tomb, and ends up transported to the world of the dead during the Day of the Dead, and ancestral family antics and emotions ensue. The soundtrack is also wonderful, as it should be, considering the subject matter, and Miguel is a very plucky, likable lead. The plot takes quite a few twists, and expertly handles some red herrings that kept me guessing until the very end. So basically I’m saying it’s REALLY GOOD, everyone should go see it.
Also we saw it in 3D because of the showtime convenience, but it wasn’t worth the extra price, so I recommend a 2D showing what the vibrancy of the colors won’t be dulled by 3D glasses.
Hey, Ken, are those real human feelings I’m seeing behind your concrete exterior?
So Rurouni Kenshin has potentially been the most influential piece of fiction in my life outside of Star Wars. It awakened in me a continued love of Japanese culture and history that became the impetus for starting No Need for Bushido. A day after I posted the previous comic page, this hit the internet. Nobuhiro Watsuki, the creator of Rurouni Kenshin, was arrested for owning child pornography (apparently live videos of middle school aged girls). I find this reprehensible, and since then I’ve found it hard to even THINK about the series that, up to this point, I’ve treasured.
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the seeming contradiction between a man who seeks out material that sexualizes girls too young to fully understand what’s happening and the narratives he’s woven that encompass redemption, understanding, and overcoming a lack of self worth. But the truth is maybe those themes don’t align with the personal beliefs of a man I can no longer admire. It’s not unheard of for terrible, or otherwise broken people to produce powerful, transformative fiction. Still, I think we all want to believe that when we cherish a piece of media that radiates positivity and hope, we want t believe it comes from a person that embodies those messages.
But when a creator does not match up with the work, for some people it can become impossible to view the work in the same light, and I find that I’m one of those people. I used to love Ender’s Game, but now its messaging reads as far less inclusive after learning of Orson Scott Card’s social political views. Likewise, the seemingly innocent and wholesome relationship between Kenshin and Kaoru was one I never used to question, especially as it’s never sexualized in the narrative outside of some very light innuendo, and nothing as bad as what you see in 98% of other anime. But now I just keep thinking, Kaoru was 17, Kenshin was 28. Did we really need an 11 year age difference between these two, especially with her in the teens? Was this the trappings of a teen-focused genre shoehorning in an older main character to work with the historical timeline? Or was it a preference of Watsuki’s? Regardless of whether such an age discrepancy was considered acceptable in 1870’s Japan, the story itself was written in 1994, and it was a manga series meant to be sold to teens.
Having said that, I don’t want to view the relationships in Kenshin as anything less than pure and positive, and a great deal of the story’s messaging revolves around that. Nor do I not consent of fully grown adults with decade age gaps falling in love. After all, we only get one shot on this blue sphere. And I keep telling myself that manga artists have teams with editors and assistants who collaborate on the writing and story. So maybe it’s a similar situation to George Lucas, a man who clearly couldn’t have made Star Wars the success it was on his own. Maybe Kenshin’s narrative triumphs aren’t entirely of Watsuki’s own makings and I can still feel good loving the series.
But the truth is I doubt I can ever go back to my unconditional love for Rurouni Kenshin. Yet its themes of hope, redemption, and finding one’s inner purpose are timeless beyond any particular piece of fiction. Even though I may never be able to reflect on the series with the same level of reverence, I’m very glad for the many philosophies and passions it instilled that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
But, seriously, GODS DAMMIT!
Come on, Genchu! All Ken wants to do is suppress his more sensitive feelings by focusing on rage! Stop throwing excuses at him, geez.
For anyone expecting me to blab on about Justice League, I have not seen it. I don’t know if I will, as the DC films are a bunch of sloppy messes and the holidays have put limits on my free time! I do have a morbid sense of curiosity as to how the Snyder to Whedon chop job turned out, but if there is anything that may get me to see Justice League, it’s the news that Danny Elfman composed the soundtrack, and slipped in his ’89 Batman theme and John William’s classic Superman theme. I can get behind that.
Oh, Ken, can’t you just be happy to see him?
Do I even have anything to talk about? Just been continuing my quest through Mario Odyssey. Joe apparently 100% the game already because he’s a Mario champ. I played through this weirdo game called Doki Doki Literature Club. It made me wildly uncomfortable and laugh out loud a bunch of times, so take that as you will! But it’s far more of a visual novel than an actual game, so it’s hard to recommend to anyone who doesn’t want to do a lot of reading (or is turned off by cringe worthy anime harem cliches, even if they are eventually magnificently subverted).
Upon many recommendations, I’m also slowly watching my way through Stranger Things. It’s pretty cool, the soundtrack is wonderful, I love the cast, but I wish everyone wasn’t so intensely mopey (although the story justifies it). I’ll probably have more thoughts on it when I’m caught up.
Ken and Genchu meet face to face for the first time since Ken was a wee angsty boy! I’m sure their first conversation in years will be full of pleasant recollections.
I saw that Thor Ragnarok movie that everyone seems to like. Guess I liked it too! This film is super into its comedy. the whole thing is a barrage of jokey jokes, which start to land to more resounding effect the further in you get. I don’t think I really started laughing until Bruce Banner showed up about two thirds of the way through the film and began bromancing it up with Thor. A lot of the jokes revolve around marvel fanservice, with characters referencing previous film events, especially the original Avengers. Much of the big coliseum battle between Thor and Hulk was shown in the trailers, so all the jokes in that scene fell flat for me, as I’d seen them all. That’s also the only coliseum fight in the movie, it does not push its Gladiator trope very far.
Infact, there may be TOO MANY jokes in Ragnarok. There’s some big, dramatic stuff that happens in this movie that SHOULD carry heavy emotional weight, but that’s generally not the case due to frantic editing or undercutting cornball one liners. That’s not to say it’s BAD, it’s good! Ragnarok is a fun time; flashy, colorful, Jeff Goldblum infused, and even legitimately hilarious here and there! It’s easily the best of the Thor movies, although that’s not a terribly difficult bar to reach, and it establishes some big, new paradigms for the MCU. But it’s also kind of a sloppy film, full of loose logic, convoluted world building, and vague relationships and timelines. When exactly did the Valkyries try to kill Hela? How quickly do people age in Asgard? Why did Odin die, or is he dead, or what? Are there only, like, 100 citizens of Asgard? What was Hela’s long term plan again? How come Odin and Loki didn’t share a single word between them even during Odin’s big death scene? Awkward! But, whatever, I’d still recommend seeing the thing, it’s good.
Dramatic stuff that was given little to no emotional weight:
- The death of Thor’s buddies from the previous two Thor films (Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral)
- Thor’s disfiguring wound.
- The destruction of Asgard (the joke that undercut it was pretty funny, though)