Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi - Spoiler Filled Thoughts

I already wrote a review of The Last Jedi, but I came away disappointed with my own words, or lack thereof. See, this is a film that is very challenging to articulate exactly why I loved it without delving into spoiler territory, so that's exactly where I am going to go now. The following is going to be filled with spoilers, so you have been warned. I'm going to type the word spoilers again right now, and again, spoilers, so that I don't get yelled at by anyone who reads this without yet seeing the film.

There is always a chosen one. In the Star Wars universe alone, I grew up watching the original trilogy on repeat, the story of Luke Skywalker, the chosen one, the Jedi warrior that would bring balance to the force. Before him it was Anakin Skywalker, the chosen one. The man who would bring peace to the galaxy, and that ever elusive balance to the force. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and announced a brand new trilogy of Star Wars films, a continuation of the so called Skywalker saga, the immediate question was what kind of story would they go with? Luke defeated his father, Palpatine is dead, the Empire crumbling into ruins, and the Rebellion threw a god damn rager of a party on Endor with the Ewoks. It was over. The chosen one served his purpose, stronger than his father before him, able to resist the temptation of the power of the dark side and bring forth the light. So was the story simply going to be a new evil is born, the resurgence of the Empire under new leadership, and it would be up to a much older Luke to vanquish them again? After all, he is the chosen one.

In The Force Awakens we meet our new hero, the young, resilient Rey, much like Anakin and Luke living each day on a desert planet only instead of Tatooine she is left scraping together enough parts to sell for food on Jakku. Our assumption of Luke being the chosen one was wrong, as clearly his ability to turn his father and destroy evil wasn't enough to keep it locked away for good. A new foe called the First Order has risen from the ashes and it will be up to young Rey to save the galaxy. She is the chosen one, or at least that's what J.J. Abrams lead us to believe in The Force Awakens, the defining moment that would announce her arrival as the one being that epic shot of her with the lightsaber after striking Kylo Ren to the ground in the snowy forest on the Starkiller Base. The incredible power, the ability to channel it with essentially no training. Rey is the chosen one, and clearly her parents are Luke Skywalker and the daughter of Ben Kenobi because that's the only possible combination of characters in this vast, mostly unexplored universe that could create such a bad ass.

Two years of fan theories about who Rey is, who her parents are, why she is so force sensitive, and here comes writer/director Rian Johnson with his new film, the 8th installment of the saga The Last Jedi, and he completely turns his back on any of that stuff and it was the single most brilliant thing that he could have done. Anakin was not the chosen one. Luke was not the chosen one. Rey is not the chosen one. There is no chosen one. This film is out to tell the world that the force isn't inside a few select characters that make up a family lineage, the force flows through everyone, around everything, and it can be all of ours. When Kylo Ren reveals the identity of Rey's parents, that they were pathetic deadbeats who literally sold their daughter for drinking money, it caught so many people off guard who are now online demanding that this nine film saga be perfectly tied up together, that Rey must connect to Anakin or Luke or Leia or Obi-Wan somehow, but the franchise is so much better off because of this revelation and its implications, that a revolution doesn't hang on the fate of a Skywalker or a Solo or a Kenobi but rather a girl left to rot away on a remote planet, a girl that happens to be force sensitive and strong enough to search for her place in the universe and determined enough to do what she must to save it all.

The most stunning scene in The Last Jedi, both visually and narratively, takes place in the throne room of Supreme Leader Snoke. Rey has flown straight to them by choice, believing that she has seen the good inside Kylo and can turn him, and having his power on their side would be the turning point in this war. Luke, both referring to what will happen to Rey if she follows through with this plan and also foreshadowing what was to come for the audience and their expectations, says "This is not going to end the way you think!". Some predicted that Rey and Kylo would end up working and fighting together, and during that brief incredible sequence they likely thought they could brag about being correct, but in actuality Kylo Ren has never been more evil. He kills Snoke, a character that also spawned numerous theories about who he is and how he fits into the grand scheme of the universe and as of right now appears to simply be a deformed force sensitive piece of shit who preys on the vulnerable to turn them dark on his quest of evil domination (which is pretty much exactly the grand total of what we knew about the Emperor by the end of the first trilogy too), but Kylo turns the lightsaber on his master not to save the Republic but rather to burn everything down. He does this because Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo but now completely turned away from his previous identity, doesn't care about the First Order or the Resistance, Sith or Jedi. He cares only about his own power, his own place in all of this, his own story. Kylo Ren killed Snoke because he doesn't want to answer to anyone, doesn't want to be manipulated by someone, doesn't want to have to bend the knee and vow his allegiance to the Supreme Leader. Kylo Ren is the only big bad guy heading into the final film of this saga, and that's the way it should be.

The most common response I have been seeing when someone compliments the direction Johnson took Luke in this film is the fact that it is known that Mark Hamill personally didn't care for the way his character was handled, and therefore it most have been a poor screenplay because no one would know Luke better than Luke. Hamill of course is currently saying all the right things, clarifying that while he took issue with it when he first read the script, talking it through with Rian and then actually seeing it through allowed him to see why this vision made sense, I am curious what a really candid and honest Hamill would say now that he has seen the whole thing. Perhaps I am being a pessimist by not taking him at his word, perhaps he isn't merely saying the right things but rather his honest feelings at this moment. I hope so. I hope the man who plays the character sees what I see, because not only was this Hamill's finest performance of the saga and probably the single greatest performance by anyone throughout the now 9 Star Wars movies, but it just feels right. I can appreciate what Johnson conceived here, the idea of a legend broken by his failures, choosing to shut himself off from the force and the resistance and the belief that Jedi are good and necessary because it is accurate to point out that past Jedi moves had only lead to more darkness. It feels right that for a fleeting moment he would stand over his nephew with his lightsaber ready to strike because it feels like an honest piece of storytelling. Drop your deeply held beliefs that Luke isn't capable of such a thing for a second simply because he rose above it 30 some years ago and consider what it would be like to live in a world of peace and harmony after so much death and destruction, so much galactic turmoil, only to see it happening again inside the mind of someone with so much power and potential. Think of how scary that would be. Ultimately, after only a brief moment of being overcome by the fear of a renewed resurgence of evil, Luke realizes that this is the wrong path, that striking him down in his sleep is not who he is, and the scene when he lays out this truth is filled with such authentic pain and deep regret. The look of fear in Ben's eyes when he awakens to see his master standing over him ready to strike haunts Luke to that day. It's the moment that shaped who Kylo Ren is now, a man capable of killing his Jedi master and his Supreme Leader because his trust in others is broken. This is why I don't think Kylo ever intended to kill Snoke when he entered that throne room. It wasn't some master plan. I think something snapped inside him when Snoke admitted to playing both he and Rey into setting up that moment. Kylo Ren was done being tricked by elders, done bowing down to legends. It was time to kill the past.

Ultimately I think time will be kind to The Last Jedi. I think years from now, hopefully aided by a terrific conclusion with the 9th film, the vast majority will see the decisions made by Johnson were beneficial to both this outstanding film and also for the future of Star Wars. The subtle and very quick moment at the end when the young oppressed boy working in the stables in Canto Bight is telling the story of Luke Skywalker standing up to the First Order to the other children only to be ordered to get back to work, and he uses the force casually to grab his broom from the wall, succeeds and resonates because of the revelation of Rey's ancestry. The next hero, the next "chosen one" doesn't have to be from the stories we have already been told which while wonderful and original were undoubtedly narrow in scope when you consider just how little exploration of character and setting were done through the first six films. It could be anyone, from the daughter of drunks left for dead to a slave boy abused in a stable, surrounded by a city filled with nothing but selfish greed. As long as that spark of hope created by the resistance survives somewhere in the galaxy, the next hero will rise.

Now just please, for the love of god, someone stop J.J. from writing a gotcha twist into the 9th film that her parents are actually Luke and Maz Kanata and Kylo was just lying to her and manipulating her mind, and don't let the film include the First Order building a new Starkiller Base. Rian Johnson managed to push the Star Wars universe forward in such an exciting way. Don't ever go back. Kill the past.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

"This is not going to end the way you think!"

I recall walking out of the theater energized over the return of my favorite cinematic franchise two years ago when The Force Awakens exploded onto screens across the world and dazzled the majority of viewers, myself included. I got home and contacted a buddy of mine, a friend so close throughout life both in the strength of our bond and in literal proximity as he was my neighbor since the age of 5, only now in adulthood we reside thousands of miles away. See, he and I grew up on the original trilogy, we practically breathed them in to stay alive for years, and we reconnected even as we grew ever so slightly apart to see all of the prequels, so our journey through this galaxy was a shared experience. 

We had always agreed on the six previous films, and here I was, ready to gush about Episode VII, about new characters and old, about new planets and familiar ships and fan service dialogue and callbacks that were undeniably forced yet still made me smile. He hated it all. I had never heard him so disappointed about a film, and the bizarre thing is while my opinion of the movie remains unchanged, as after maybe 8 viewings I still maintain a deep love for it, I can't disagree with anything that caused him to feel completely the opposite. Yes, The Force Awakens was essentially a reboot of A New Hope in terms of character and setting and plot. Yes those callbacks were a little cringe worthy, placed only to get a reaction and to invoke nostalgia with no actual benefit to the progression of storytelling. Despite this, I wouldn't be budged from my feelings and neither would he, and that's okay, but I would be lying if I said that for two years now I haven't been hoping that the next film wouldn't just follow the exact same beats as The Empire Strikes Back, the work of a studio that saw such major success by bringing back the old and deciding to just do it again and again. 

I haven't spoke to that friend tonight since my screening of The Last Jedi ended, honestly I don't know if he even saw it tonight or if the stink of his feeling of the last episode pushed him away from making an immediate run to the theater, but one thing I do know, that I feel fucking great about right now, is he certainly can't hate this one for the same reasons that the last left him so cold. Never before has a Star Wars film felt so bold, so willing to take more than a few steps out of bounds, away from the constraints that can sometimes be created due to corporate earnings and suits with little vision beyond the bottom line, afraid of a new direction. This is not a reboot of any kind, more of a reawakening, a film that still embraces it's predecessors by utilizing aspects of them that were done with perfection while also being willing to light everything before it on fire, unafraid to say that this is a franchise that will not die anytime soon, and you won't be able to guess what's coming next. The Last Jedi absolutely rocks, one of the most entertaining and satisfying trips to the theater I have had with moments that pay off so perfectly and without predictability that I couldn't help but quietly say wow to myself aloud surrounded by so many others doing the same. 

I will not spoil a thing here because I couldn't possibly do anyone such a disservice. Honestly, over the years i stopped getting so upset about being spoiled regarding the plot of upcoming films, as I found with most movies the payoff of seeing how artists get to that point is still worth the price of admission even when you know it's coming, but god damn am I glad I had no idea what to expect at any point during The Last Jedi. I can't wait to take my wife and kid back for my second viewing, their first, and watch their reactions.

I cannot say that Rian Johnson directed the best Star Wars film, because after one viewing The Last Jedi still cannot rise to the levels of A New Hope and Empire, but I can say that Rian Johnson is the best Star Wars director ever. I was over the moon when he was selected for the job given how much I admire and enjoy his most recent previous work, the superb science fiction film Looper, and he did not disappoint here. As I sit here now, I not only understand why he was chosen to lead his own new Star Wars trilogy in the future, I am appreciative that I get to step foot in a new world he will create inside this galaxy, and again without spoiling anything, a revelation in this film that has been discussed and theorized for two years now serves as a brilliant reminder as to how much we don't know and how little has been explored beyond the legacy of the name Skywalker.

Speaking of Skywalker, Mark Hamill returns in a big way in The Last Jedi, for me probably the shining performance among a whole lot of very talented people delivering throughout. His portrayal of an emotionally broken Luke, hidden away from the world by choice, is so nuanced and fascinating, filled with the pain of what he feels he has done wrong overshadowing the pride of everything he heroically did right during those original three films. He mostly works side by side with Daisy Ridley here, as their story picks up right where it left off at the end of The Force Awakens, and they are wonderful together. What a choice Daisy was to play Rey in this new trilogy, she is an absolute star and a wonderful character to fall in love with and root for and give a shit about, much like Luke was all those years ago. 

I don't want to go into even the slightest detail regarding plot, as even the basics I didn't know much of and it was a deeply rewarding experience. Just see it, although even typing those words seems silly because I assume you either planned on seeing it already or you didn't and a single review won't be the motivating factor for a person to buy a ticket to a movie that will make over 2 billion dollars. I just hope you love it as much as I did, and I can't wait to see it again. 


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #10 - #1

Finally we have arrived at the top 10 of my 100 favorite films of all time list. I think my favorite thing to do on this site is compiling and publishing lists, and I am very much looking forward to my usual 50 favorite films of the year list, although unlike many professional critics I can't help but fall behind on seeing every movie I want to so expect that list out in February, and also my 20 favorite television series of the year list as well.

For right now, here we go, my 10 favorites, the films that hit a certain sweet spot for me that only the absolute best can.

10. Paris, Texas

The image above is my Twitter avatar simply because it is a shot that is so hauntingly beautiful that it stuck with me the first time I watched Paris, Texas and I've never been able to shake it. A simple shot but it is filled with so much pain and loneliness, it's just a tiny example of the perfection displayed by director Wim Wenders throughout this masterpiece from 1984. 

9. The Big Lebowski

Back in 1998 the Coen brothers released what is, in my opinion, the greatest comedy to ever grace the screen. The Big Lebowski is endlessly quotable and one of the finest written films ever, with performances to deliver those lines perfectly littered throughout the film from the starring roles of Jeff Bridges and John Goodman to the supporting work from Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Turturro and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, and many others. I can't tell you how many times I have watched The Big Lebowski and I hope I can watch it like 30 or so more times.

8. Se7en

I am a David Fincher superfan and my love for his work can be unquestionably traced back to Se7en, his sophomore directorial effort after the much maligned (yet I truly really enjoy it) Alien 3. A cold, calculated, brilliant thriller about a serial killer (played perfectly by Kevin Spacey, boy do I miss the time not long ago when I could watch his work and appreciate it without feeling the undercurrent of sadness for his victims) and the cops out to catch him (Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman), I have probably realistically watched Se7en 20 or so times by now. It never gets old.

7. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

Two days away from seeing The Last Jedi, one thing this top 100 list has proven is that I really, really love Star Wars, considering 4 of the 8 films from the franchise up until this point made the cut. Here's to hoping that the next time I do one of these lists The Last Jedi is included as well. Anyways, of course the original had to be in my top ten, it's an iconic piece of science fiction fantasy filmmaking that I spent just as much if not more time with as a child then I did friends. 

6. Vertigo

Hitchcock was a genius and Vertigo was his masterpiece. Does anything else really need to be said? This film is perfect and if by some chance you haven't seen it, do so soon.

5. The Social Network

I was just raving about David Fincher a few films up, and now we have arrived at his greatest achievement, The Social Network, a film that in an alternate more just universe would have won Best Picture and Best Director over The King's Speech and that film's director Tom Hooper (I still can't believe it. I'm not upset. I just can't believe it). Every single second that I watch every single frame of this beauty is a blessing.

4. Singin' in the Rain

Speaking of blessings, checking in at #4 is easily the most joyous and intoxicating cinematic experience ever created, the classic musical Singin' in the Rain. I watch this film whenever I want to smile and feel good and it literally works 100 percent of the time. Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and the late, great Debbie Reynolds, this is a sublime work that gets better and better with age.

3. The Silence of the Lambs

What numbers 3 and 8 on this list demonstrate is that I am a sucker for a serial killer focused film done right, and The Silence of the Lambs is done really, really, really right, a tremendous work from director Jonathan Demme whom we unfortunately lost earlier this year way too soon. 

2. The Tree of Life

A work of arresting, stunning beauty by director Terrence Malick, a film that funny enough I turned off halfway through the first time I tried watching it and announced that I hated it. I will forever be grateful that I gave it a second chance. The words "life-affirming" are overused in criticism of art in my opinion, just seems like something people say a lot to try to prove how powerful a work is. Well The Tree of Life is life-affirming, as I found a part of myself I didn't know existed upon revisiting it: a belief in something more. I am not religious and I likely never will be, but what Malick accomplished here is a holy experience for me, a declaration of the beauty we can find in this world and the randomness that lead to the miracle of our existence, something that is difficult to chalk up to mere coincidence.

1. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

As you can see, it is going to take an awful lot for The Last Jedi to become my favorite Star Wars film...because it would have to dethrone my favorite movie ever made. For a while I had The Tree of Life in this spot because of what it meant to me personally and emotionally now, as an adult, but after a lot of thought and consideration the movie that was the greatest thing I had ever seen when I was a kid and somehow, inexplicably, is even BETTER when watching as an adult, has to be my all time favorite because it just is. There is something about the way I feel watching Empire that is difficult to put into words, like I can still connect with my inner child yet bask in the aspects of cinema I love as an adult as well, like the phenomenal pacing that somehow allows every memorable piece of storytelling that exists in this one movie to move with perfect fluidity during a mere two hour run time. Nothing is rushed, nothing drags, and everything is just so damn excellent.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #20 - #11

Finally moving into the top 20 here with my next batch of 10 favorites, a mix of horror, comedy, silent, epic, erotic and bizzare, cool, iconic and even a dash of superhero mixed in. Plus this list includes some back to back Oscar Isaac. Every list could use more Oscar Isaac.

20. Halloween

The original masterpiece that jump started a franchise, and the finest straight up horror film ever made, John Carpenter's Halloween is brilliantly paced and sublimely creepy and I have always admired the way the first half of the film utilizes daylight rather than Myers constantly lurking in the shadows, but because of the fact that he can get away with stalking the streets in a mask on Halloween, it never seems silly. Because of this, I have been terrified of the idea that a real maniac could roam nearby in costume on October 31st and no one would question it. I thank Mr. Carpenter for that fear, because it makes his film that much more effective.

19. The Passion of Joan of Arc

By the time I watched The Passion of Joan of Arc, a film by the legendary Carl Theodor Dreyer, I had already seen and loved plenty of silent cinema like the listed only two films ago Metropolis, some of the Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd greats, but this masterwork was the first to truly take my breath away. The lead performance from Maria Falconetti is one of the most powerful and perfect ever delivered, and when I watch it I think about the fact that she passed away over 60 years ago now and yet here I am, moved to tears by her own in 2017. What an incredible gift we received that people work so hard to preserve art so future generations can appreciate it.

18. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Before you think to yourself, this must mean that Return of the King is even higher on the list because this guy listed The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, let me just get it out of the way that The Two Towers is in my opinion easily the finest of the trilogy, and that Return of the King is actually the most flawed. Yes I said it.

The Two Towers has a flow to it that feels almost poetic, like every beat is in the perfect place and every musical note is in the perfect pitch and every line of dialogue is perfectly said, and here's the real kicker for me: this movie actually ends exactly when it should, unlike the third film of the trilogy. Even as much as I love Fellowship, it starts to wear out its welcome ever so slightly by the time it wraps up, but not The Two Towers. When this beauty ends, I want more.

17. The Dark Knight

You know how every single time a new superhero film comes out that gets outstanding reviews, a new batch of articles appear online questioning whether it will be the first of the sub-genre to receive a Best Picture nomination from the Academy? I love film awards and I follow them closely, but I don't get upset about any of them because frankly, who cares, love what you love regardless of who does or does not win a trophy...but The Dark Knight should have already been the first superhero picture to be nominated for that top award. Approaching the 10 year anniversary of this caped crime caper and still nothing comes close to topping it.

16. Take Shelter

A film I have watched maybe 4 or 5 times and I reflect upon each viewing with amazement over how perfectly and delicately handled the subject matter of mental illness is handling but the outstanding cinematic storyteller Jeff Nichols. He has made other great films but Take Shelter is his masterpiece, featuring supremely powerful and important performances from Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain.

15. Inside Llewyn Davis

Up to number 15 on the list and this isn't even my favorite Coen brothers film, so yeah, I'm kinda a fan of their work. Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie that continues to age like a fine wine, my love for it growing with each passing year and each subsequent rewatch. When I first watched it four years ago I don't think I even ranked it in my top 10 films of that year, and now I am putting it all the way up to 15th ever because there is so much to chew on beneath the surface and so much nuance to catch by watching it again.

14. Drive

I am not exaggerating when I say I have watched Drive ten or more times in the six years since the film was released, and yet my first reaction when I found the image above from the film was, man, I need to watch Drive again. A stylistic neo-noir crime masterpiece from director Nicolas Winding Refn, this baby cuts into your life in a lean 95 minutes and between the music, the visuals (and I include looking at Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in perfect lighting when I say visuals), the style and the sleek, perfect direction from Refn, Drive is stunning. 

13. Eyes Wide Shut

I'm not usually much of a contrarian. I'm the guy who usually loves the films that dominate at the Oscars (important to note the word usually, because this is not always the case), but when it comes to Stanley Kubrick, my favorite of his films is many peoples least favorite. The final film of a legendary career is chalked up by many to be his biggest mistake, but man I love every second of this bizarre, beautiful beast of a picture, from the performances to the unnerving imagery and musical score. There is no moment of Eyes Wide Shut that takes a wrong turn for me.

12. The Godfather

I know exactly what you are thinking right now. You are thinking, Scott, please explain this film to me because I have never heard of it.

Kidding, of course.

No, what you are probably thinking is, of course The Godfather is ranked highly on a best of list, how typical. That's because it is iconic and easily one of the greatest achievements the medium has ever encountered. Nothing else needs to be said.

11. Gravity you hear that? Listen really closely. Do you hear it?

It's the sound of me sitting in the theater crying from four years ago. You can still hear it echoing off the depths of the universe because I couldn't control myself. 

Gravity was released at a time when my daughter had just turned 6 and this Alfonso Cuaron metaphor for overwhelming, incomprehensible grief set in space just punched me in the god damn gut. Something about it all clicked the first time through and I simply couldn't stop crying, and I loved every single second of it. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Justice League Review

I was driving home from the theater, daughter in the back seat behind me, and we discussed what we thought of the new film Justice League. We both agreed that it was a fun, enjoyable time at the movies, myself applauding the fact that there was surprisingly no bloat whatsoever on it (although maybe it actually could have used some, but I will get to that later), as this superhero team up picture runs less than 2 hours and moves briskly with plenty of very entertaining scenes. The kid continues to love Wonder Woman, and who can blame her, although I will take Gal Gadot teaming up with director Patty Jenkins over her fighting alongside Batman and Superman any day, and she thought The Flash was really funny.

After our mini discussion ended, I thought about it for a second and I looked in the rear view mirror and asked, "Do you remember a single thing the bad guy does or says the entire movie?".

She couldn't. Neither could I.

That villain is Steppenwolf and frankly, he's terrible. The sub-genre is riddled with examples of completely uninteresting bad guys, so it isn't solely a DC issue, but if they want to tell compelling stories they are going to need some new actually interesting blood on that side of the fight going forward. Man of Steel cast Michael Shannon as General Zod, and I love Michael Shannon a whole hell of a lot so I assumed that would be assume, but it really wasn't. He was fine, certainly not the worst of the bunch, but I can't fathom anyone walking out of a Man of Steel screening saying "Zod was so awesome!". Batman v Superman went the best direction with Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in concept at least, playing him as a young ego-maniacal billionaire who's lost his damn mind was a cool idea, but I didn't care for the performance as I found him to be too much, too often. Suicide Squad is entirely made up of bad guys and it is an atrocious film, so that is a good example of bad villains. Wonder Woman is a great film with so-so bad guys, sort of stock World War I evil characters and one super villain in disguise, but the rest of the movie is so beautifully handled that I completely forgive it for lacking any form of epic opposition.

All of those examples though, even the awful Suicide Squad, are better than two specific characters that have popped up in the two team up pictures. First it was Doomsday, who was basically a giant, ugly pile of shit but he isn't enough to really bring BvS down any notches because he isn't THE bad guy, he is just A bad guy. Steppenwolf is the worst failure of a adversary thus far in the DCEU because he is the force that the Justice League is fighting throughout the entire film, and he is just a total waste. He's another grey CG thing thrown into the frame, as aesthetically and narratively exciting as watching someone paint a room beige, and I legit couldn't remember a single interesting thing he did throughout the movie. Nothing.

Let me get another issue I have with this movie out of the way right now. I remember like 18 months ago when a Facebook/Twitter debate was whether or not Ben Affleck was the best Batman. On November 18th, 2017, I exited the theater and declared his portrayal of the Bat deceased. I have zero interest in seeing him continue the character in any way. No life, no charisma of any kind to be found in Justice League and even the demons that haunted him in BvS seem to have vanished, as I gave him some credit in the previous film for seeming tortured and complex. I'm the one who feels tortured now trying to figure out some way to enjoy my personal favorite comic book character in this movie, because he gave me nothing. Let's move on to someone else for Matt Reeve's The Batman, thank you.

I mentioned in the first paragraph how perhaps Justice League could have used a little bit more fat on his bones in terms of its story because it flies by so fast basically, well, without a story, but I'm not sure I mean that. I have no issue with the fact that there wasn't much story to tell here, honestly, which sounds odd but maybe I just really wanted an action spectacle that hit the right notes for me, and a lot of the time Justice League did. The problem here is that you can't do a film with no story while introducing 50 percent of the league without previous origin story solo films. You just can't, as proven this weekend, it doesn't work. Aquaman lives and fights in the ocean and Amber Heard plays someone, I'm sure we will learn more about that next year when his movie comes out. The Flash has no friends and his dad is in prison, which sounds like it could be the foundation for a story that I would care about, but when you dedicated roughly 7 minutes to building it up, it is hard for me to feel anything in the end when they spend 2 more minutes on it again wrapping it up with a nice little bow. Cyborg is a machine monster man who ended up that way because of an accident that also killed his mom, but that's the extent of information we gather on him. I guess we will know more when Cyborg hits theaters in 2020!

Despite all of this complaining I have done for multiple paragraphs here, I liked Justice League? No, no question mark needed. I liked Justice League. It was a lot of fun, some of the action sequences specifically involving the Flash were extremely well done, but being totally honest, this isn't a good movie. It's fun, which is something that couldn't be said about the DCEU until Wonder Woman came along, and the characters are all good minus a kinda brooding but mostly boring Batman, but removing my own desire to be entertained and accomplishing that, this is otherwise a misfire.


Friday, November 17, 2017

A Ghost Story Review

It has been one week since the first time I sat down and watched A Ghost Story, and exactly 90 minutes less than that since the second time I watched it. For the first time since my first viewing of Stanley Kubrick's masterful war film Paths of Glory (not comparing the two works, just stating a fact), I sat in the same spot and watched the same film twice consecutively and my mind never even skipped a beat as to wondering whether I should or not. There was no, but my time could be spent better doing this or that, or I could watch something else instead. I couldn't. My mind was swimming through a vast ocean of WTF after witnessing this extraordinary film from writer/director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon), and I knew instantly I needed more time to dive in and try to understand everything. All I knew through my first 90 minutes was that I absolutely fucking loved it.

A young couple is shown living in a small home, C (Casey Affleck), a struggling musician and M, (Rooney Mara) his wife. Early on in the film they are awoken to a loud bang sound on their piano but upon closer inspection, there doesn't seem to be a explainable reason as to what caused it. They return to bed, and based on the title of the film, if you didn't know the type of narrative you were about to explore with A Ghost Story, you might have thought that the piano scene was the beginning of a typical horror genre picture, one that sets the table slowly and builds the terror. Nothing about A Ghost Story is typical, horror, or a genre pick of any kind. This is a wholly original, fascinating work.

The camera cuts to a straightaway look at their home, with a bit of smoke floating through the frame from the right hand side, and we pan over to see what is creating it: a car accident. C is the driver of one of the vehicles, his lifeless body resting on the steering wheel, and Lowery lingers his shot on him to make it abundantly clear that this is not a wreck he will be walking away from (alive, at least).

The film is slow paced, focusing on love and what it means to lose it, how much it hurts, and how it can haunt those left behind, in more ways than one. I'm certain that some viewers will be turned off by the way time can seemingly stand still during specific moments on the film, like watching M break down eating an entire pie, and we just sit and watch like a fly on the wall seeing something deeply private, deeply personal. Time is a tricky thing through A Ghost Story, the way a moment can feel like an eternity and an eternity can bounce by in a blink.

I found every damn second of A Ghost Story to be ravishing, a film that touched me personally and honestly quite profoundly. It's why I had to watch it twice back to back and why I haven't stopped thinking about it for a week now. It might just be the best movie of 2017 thus far.


Friday, November 3, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #30 - #21

Getting closer here, entering my top 30 favorite films. If you're not familiar with the image above, then you obviously weren't as haunted and confused by this scene as I was growing up. Either that or you haven't seen the film, which if that's the case lord what are you doing, go watch it right now.

30. The Matrix

I recall actually wondering after seeing The Matrix for the first time, which crazy enough was already 18 years ago, whether or not it would withstand the test of time. Sure, for 1999 standards it felt like a piece of revolutionary filmmaking, but eventually what we were seeing would not only become the norm but it would continue to be outdone. What's truly remarkable is that it not only holds up, it hasn't lost a step. 

29. Zodiac

The box office performance of David Fincher's Zodiac is a god damn tragedy. 33 million domestic on a 65 million dollar budget and the film is a work of art. The good news is, the picture seems to be appreciated now 10 years after its release, finding a home in a lot of collections which is good considering it deserves numerous rewatches in order to catch as much of the nuance as possible. If you still haven't seen Zodiac, see Zodiac

28. No Country for Old Men

2007 was a terrific year for film, with back to back entries here coming from that year and another pretty substantial piece of cinema that was featured much lower on my list also being a 2007 release, that movie being There Will Be Blood. No Country for Old Men is a masterful adaptation of a great book by Cormac McCarthy with the Coen brothers channeling the perfect tone and all the necessary substance from the page to the screen while still managing to make it their own. 

27. Mad Max: Fury Road

I admitted a few films ago that when I first saw The Matrix, I had doubts as to whether it would hold up over a long period of time. I have no such doubts about George Miller's batshit crazy action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road, as it absolutely will stick around for the long haul, a dizzying, brilliant movie that leaves you feeling bruised and tasting the dirt and dust of the landscapes in your mouth even though you watched it from a theater or the comfort of your own home.

26. Pulp Fiction

On the last list of ten I included Inglourious Basterds and I mentioned that I not only understand with some recent complaints about the work of Tarantino, I actually agree with some of them. Pulp Fiction, however, is pretty much a perfect film, the one piece from his filmography that continues to rise above the rest and will likely always be regarding as his most important masterpiece.

25. The Shining

Still won't be done with Kubrick on this list, even after his horror masterpiece The Shining makes the cut at the back end of my 25 favorite films of all time. If you haven't been paying attention to my previous lists, you might assume that 2001 is the remaining film of his. You would be wrong as that checked in at number 37. No, I have a favorite Kubrick that most people are shocked by, and many consider to be a lesser achievement of his. Obviously I disagree.

24. Psycho

Back to back horror classics make the cut with Hitchcock's incredible Psycho just in front of The Shining. Just an iconic film in every sense, while much like The Shining isn't my favorite Kubrick, Psycho isn't my favorite Hitchcock...

23. Aliens

Ranking Aliens in front of the original Alien feels like an invitation to be asked what the hell is wrong with me. To be fair, it's not like it's an easy decision or a clear cut preference as I had Alien ranked only 9 spots lower, but Aliens always seems to gain the edge for me, probably because of the nostalgic value of it. When I was a kid, it was Aliens all the way, watching it on repeat while Alien gathered dust. It wasn't until I got older that I figured out why the first film was a masterpiece, but 25 years after seeing it for the first time Aliens still hasn't lost a single step, a horror action extravaganza that utilizes expert tone and pacing to deliver every possible thrill at exactly the right moments.

22. Boyhood

How the hell is Boyhood three years old already? I just realized this. Seeing it for the first time feels like yesterday. Richard Linklater's masterful 12 year cinematic experiment paid off beautifully, a heartfelt and astoundingly real feature that told the story of a boy growing up, but the greatest aspect of this was that Linklater didn't feel compelled to focus in on all the expected "big moments" in life but rather the little, quiet ones in between the cracks that seem like just another day at the time but shape who we become. 

21. Metropolis

This film is 90 years old. I repeat, 90 years old. Fritz Lang's brilliant science fiction wonder of a film Metropolis was far ahead of its time, a stylized and insane silent experience that amazes me each time I watch it. Obviously I wasn't alive when this was released, but I have to imagine at the time Metropolis was a pretty mind blowing peak behind the curtain as to what cinema was capable of achieving in the future.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #40 - #31

Alright, let's keep this going here. I've got some rare time to kill and a chance to list movies, two things that go together extremely well.

Moving into the top 40 films of all time:

40. Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko rolled into my life the same year as David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and both introduced me to a style of narrative that didn't feel compelled to assemble all of the pieces for the audience in the end, and it took me some time to realize that this wasn't just okay, it was welcome. It wasn't until maybe the 3rd or 4th time that I watched Donnie Darko that I formed an opinion as to what it actually all meant, and who knows if I am even remotely correct? It doesn't really matter. The beauty of ambiguous storytelling is it allows each person to form their own theories while wondering if writer/director Richard Kelly was going down that same path.

39. Taxi Driver

It wasn't until recently, maybe a couple of years ago, that I realized with a rewatch that Taxi Driver was a stone cold masterpiece. Scorsese's crime drama about a Vietnam war veteran suffering from mental instability and insomnia, seeing a world around him that pushes him closer to violence with each day, is a piece of astonishingly effective cinema.

38. Jaws

Jaws is a film that literally never gets old. I don't think it's possible for this one to wear out its welcome with me, as I have seen it lord only knows how many times and I can still watch it any given day with the same enthusiasm as years ago. The first of two Spielberg films to make this set of ten.

37. 2001: A Space Odyssey

For the longest time this was my favorite Kubrick, a cliché pick to be certain but one that was only cliché because it is so worthy of the recognition from so many different people or publications. It no longer is my favorite from quite possibly the greatest filmmaker of all time, but that doesn't take anything away from the greatness that is this master class example of abstract, brilliant science fiction.

36. Inglourious Basterds

I haven't always been on board with Tarantino in regards to his most recent work. Django Unchained is a pretty excellently crafted film from top to bottom but my initial huge praise after my first viewing has toned down a bit, and I flat out didn't enjoy The Hateful Eight all that much, a piece of his filmography that I cannot promise I will ever feel compelled to revisit. For me, we are 8 years removed from the second best film he has directed, and potentially (but hopefully not) his last great picture. Inglourious Basterds is a treasure from the opening frame to the final shot.

35. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

I am still such a sucker for this franchise, although I am sure it would surprise many that the only film of three to not make my top 100 is Return of the King, the piece that dominated the Oscars and is likely the top choice of the majority. For me that is The Two Towers, but we will get to that later. This trilogy just feels like a wonderful, epic cinematic event, a sweeping, magical and exciting set of films that for some odd reason I always feel compelled to revisit around the November/December time of the year. Something about the weather outside getting cold and having no where to go for hours makes me think of getting comfortable and popping in The Fellowship of the Ring.

34. The Shawshank Redemption

One of the biggest victims to the online push to declare various forms of art as "overrated" has been The Shawshank Redemption, a film that got pushed to the top of the IMDB top 250 list and therefore has become a popular thing to hate (why people take the IMDB ranking seriously, I have no idea, every popular new movie that comes out immediately becomes a top 50 all time). My love has never even slightly shifted because I don't concern myself with where movies are ranked in other places or what people are saying about them. The Shawshank Redemption is a spectacular, beautiful film with one of my favorite final acts of all time. From the moment Andy crawls through the river of shit and comes out clean on the other side, to that final shot on the beach, is peak cinema for me.

33. Jurassic Park

Saying they don't make them like they used to is an overused phrase that probably leads to some eye rolling, but in regards to Jurassic Park, really, they don't make them like they used to. The pitch perfect summer blockbuster feels almost impossible these days, but back in 1993 this one hit theaters and has cemented its spot in the history of cinema forever.

32. Alien

My oh my what an incredible film Alien is. I got a chance to see it at midnight a few years ago at the old classic theater near my home and that was an experience I will never forget. The movie that started a franchise that is still going today, that introduced us to characters like Ripley and Ash, a creature as menacing as the xenomorph and an iconic ship like the Nostromo. 

31. Rear Window

A Hitchcock classic rounds out this list of ten, the unforgettable film Rear Window that took a single set piece and a man in a wheelchair with binoculars and managed to create incredible tension thanks to one hell of a screenplay and perfect performances.