Fangirl Loves Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

So, I’m one of those people that gave a hearty shrug to The Last Jedi. I absolutely understood the movie. I got what Rian Johnson was going for, and applaud him for the attempt. Deconstruction of something as woven into the culture as Star Wars is a bold thing to swing for.

And here’s the thing with The Last Jedi, I don’t think he quite pulled it off. Which isn’t to say I don’t admire the attempt, I do. Some of the stuff, well, some of it I absolutely adore, I think it’s wonderful. I really enjoy Vice Admiral Holdo, and the way the movie plays with Luke and Leia’s connection. (Mirroring it in Kylo and Rey.) I think it’s visually stunning. I think Luke’s ultimate fate was brilliant and lovely and deeply in line with what we know of him as a man and his Jedi training.

I do think the movie tries to do too much. Insisting that we have to move forward but doing so at the expense of stories that had been built up in it’s predecessor feels arrogant. It’s also hypocritcal to say “we’re burning down the past” while transforming the more underground Resistance into the outright Rebellion of the original trilogy. (You can’t have both, Johnson!)

Some things that I didn’t like initially have grown on me. I initially didn’t love Benecio Del Toro’s DJ, who I now think is kind of delightful. (Still think he should have been Lando…but ya know…beggars and choosers.) My anger at how Poe became a more cliched “I know better” hothead this time around has cooled so I was able to see what Johnson and Isaac were actually going for with this performance. Poe’s given it all to the Resistance, he’s exhausted and frustrated. His mentor may be dying. His boyfriend (STORMPILOT LIVES!) is off on a dangerous spy mission. He has no information about how this is going to end. He snaps.

One thing that’s held up every time I’ve watched the movie is John Boyega’s performance. It’s mind blowingly charismatic and fun. Finn’s transformation from selfish survivor to team player/leader is beautiful executed. It’s the part of the movie I always liked best.

Which brings us to Kylo and Rey. I think Kylo Ren is a brilliantly rendered villain, and Adam Driver plays him well. He’s all raw emotion and easily triggered anger, with the power to back that up. It’s so different for this series. Rey is desperate here, she just wants answers. And while I’ve had so much fun in the past six years playing with “who is Rey?” theories. While I’ve always been fond of “Kenobi” as a theory, watching The Last Jedi this time, brought me around a bit to  “clone.” (I don’t think she’s a gender swapped clone of Anakin of Palpatine, but I think she might be a clone.) Her lack of answers about her past, her overall competence (almost as if she’d been programmed, like a Kamino Clone), and that scene where she sees herself reflected over and over again in a line while communing in the cave.

Not to mention the “Dark Rey” images from the Rise of Skywalker trailer.

There’s a lot going on in this movie, which is part of why I think it doesn’t work quite as well as it could. Rian Johnson is trying to do a lot here and some of it therefore comes out a little bit half baked. I’m also immensely gratified that J.J. Abrams has insisted he’s not going to walk back Johnson’s decision in The Last Jedi. He could have, but he’s happy with the status quo he’s got to work with.

We shall see in a few months how this all shakes out.

We’re still a few weeks from The Mandolorian so I’m not sure what will go in this spot quite yet. Taking suggestions!

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They Don’t Care About People Like Me

There’s a moment at the end of Joker where I literally burst into uncontrollable giggles.

I was pretty sure going in I wasn’t going to enjoy the film. I hate when movies feel the need to apologize for what it is. And Joker feels like this Batman fellow sure is ridiculous and we’re sorry we have to reference him at all in this story about a murder clown, but AH, Superhero flicks are the only thing that get greenlighted anymore even though they aren’t real cinema.

Anyway, that moment is during the riot that’s being caused by Arthur Fleck, AKA Joker’s murder of talk show host Murray played by Robert DeNiro, we zoom in on a movie marquee, and it reads simply, “Zorro: The Gay Blade.” I glanced at my friend Margarita who was sitting beside me and we both shrugged and started laughing.

Sure enough, Bruce, Thomas and Martha Wayne emerged from the theater, and are forced by the crowds into an alley. One of the rioters follows them calls them out and shoots. The pearls go flying, Bruce weeps over the bodies of his parents.

Because heaven forbid we don’t see the Wayne’s die a millionth time.

Anyway, that’s just one thing about Joker which is a messy, unfocused, derivative flick, that think it’s deeper than it is, and has some showy acting that’s cool to watch but not enough to make it sing.

Believe the hype about Joaquin Phoenix here, he’s very good. The movie isn’t but his performance is quite impressive, eerie and off putting from jump, not a version of the character I’d ever come back for more from (I prefer my Joker on the zanier side of menacing) but interesting and stunning.

Amusingly the only scenes that I found remotely interesting were the ones that involved Bruce Wayne. Due to some plot stuff that barely matters because this is a garbage movie with a script that makes no sense at all, Arthur becomes convinced that Thomas Wayne is his father. (He also might be? But Unreliable Narrators abound in this flick. And not in a fun interesting Fight Club or Gatsby way.) So he shows up to Stately Wayne Manor, and does clown tricks at a baffled Bruce by the gate. (I think I said out loud, “Why doesn’t Bruce just punch him in the face?”) Eventually Alfred comes out (he is not identified as such, but he is a middle aged British man and protecting Bruce, so you know, Alfred.) and basically tells Fleck to take a hike and also that he’s a deranged weirdo. Arthur doesn’t like that at all, so he later stalks Thomas to a gala fundraiser to watch Modern Times which you should definitely watch instead of this movie because it is excellent. When Arthur confronts him, Thomas punches him in the face, which is of course, the start of a wonderful family tradition. (I don’t know of a specific instance, but I’m sure Damian and Helena have both punched Joker in the face several times.

Anyway, in summary, movie bad, Phoenix, pretty great in it, Batman parts, ridiculously hamfisted and deeply enjoyable if you are like me, and will take your Batman content wherever it is offered. (I was also the only person on planet earth who stopped watching Gotham because, “I would like this show to focus on preteen Bruce Wayne staring into the middle distance.”)

Rankings

  1. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  2. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  3. Avengers: Endgame
  4. Rocketman
  5. Detective Pikachu
  6. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
  7. Downton Abbey
  8. Joker

Trailers:

My disappointment at Birds Of Prey not being here was quite large.

The Rise Of Skywalker: That John Williams music is basically an emotional grenade for me. My God, I can’t believe how soon this is coming up.

Doctor Sleep: I swear I’m going to read and review the book soon. The movie looks excellent though, and I love Ewan.

Richard Jewell: I remember the bombings (We were in Atlanta for the games) but I don’t remember any of this. (Being 9, I didn’t really follow the story, just was glad that my family didn’t get blown up.) This looks interesting though.

 

 

 

60 Books In 2019 #51: Hotel On the Corner Of Bitter And Sweet By Jamie Ford

This is a book that I remembered seeing in Barnes and Noble and Borders a lot when it first came out. I never quite knew why we never picked it up. I think it was on the “I’ll get around to it,” list for a while.

Anyway, I’m glad I got around to it. Much like The Stationary Shop last weekend, this is another story of first love disrupted by reality intruding on the sweet bubble of teenagerdom, and the way life goes it’s own way, growing in around those cracks.

As I said last week. This is a theme that I’m very very fond of. This time, the world that’s disrupted is the Asian community of Seattle, Washington in the 1940s.

Henry Lee is the child of Chinese immigrants, who are strongly nationalist Chinese, but they want their son to be as American as possible, without forgetting who he is and where he came from. Such a delicate balance for immigrants. Henry is the only Asian kid at his school, until one day, Keiko Okanabe, a seceond generation Japanese American girl joins his class.

Keiko and Henry bond over art, and their outsider status and jazz. It’s touching and innocent and lovely and then of course everything falls apart. Henry’s father doesn’t approve of his friendship with a Japanese girl. And then of course, Keiko and her family are interred.

If you don’t know about Japanese internment, I really don’t know what to say to you. I’ve been darkly fascinated by this very dark chapter of our national history since I was twelve and it’s well worth researching if only so you can know how easy it is for people to turn against their neighbors. (BTW, Disband ICE, close the camps, ETC.)

In the 80’s the Panama Hotel, where Keiko and her family stored their valuables during internment is reopened and Henry goes looking for a gift, a secret, and in turn comes to understand himself, his past and his son.

Seriously, I love this sort of book and this was a very good version of it. I suggest picking it up.

Up next is Cavedon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford, I picked this up before Downton Abbey was a dud, but I’ll still disappear into the fading glamour of the between wars era in Britain. I’ll always go there. Every time.

Fangirl Loves Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Last Friday night I sauteed a chicken breast, and boiled some spaghetti, popped a bottle of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and settled in to watch The Force Awakens for the first time in quite a while.

I mentioned the meal because I was so excited to watch the movie again and I wanted to breath it in and fall in love all over again. I was going on a date with Star Wars. 

I fell in love all over again. I really love this movie. I can see where the criticisms come from (though people criticizing a franchise that’s always been about remixing tropes and archetypes for doing it again feels like a reach…) but I can’t help but love it.

So much of that love belongs to Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, who are both so unfathomably wonderful. Rey and Finn aren’t particularly deep characters on the page. They are, as Luke, Han and Leia before them, archetypes, two searching orphans looking for home and belonging, and they find it in each other.

This would be wooden and dull and frightening if it were given to two actors with less charisma and less chemistry. Daisy and John click well together, so well, in fact, that they’re instantly connected, but they feel like family, not lovers, which is rare in a Hollywood blockbuster, and so so worth celebrating.

And then there’s the Kylo Ren issue. I think that Kylo is a pretty good villain, if pale in comparison to Darth Vader, but that’s kind of an impossible standard and is also the point of Kylo Ren. He’s not supposed to measure up, but he’s trying desparately to get there. The pressure of being from the greatest family in the galaxy broke him, and he reached for quickest connection to that legacy. It’s reiterated over and over again in Star Wars that the Dark Side is powerful and it’s quick. The light side requires patience discipline and letting go, allowing The Force to do the work. Ben Solo lost that battle because of the weight of expectation placed on his shoulders so he gripped to quick easy power.

THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT.

And, I saved it for last, you guys, I promised I wouldn’t spend this whole era dwelling on Poe Dameron, so I’m going to put it up here, and leave it at this. I am in awe of this character, who was shaped largely because of the actor they wanted playing him. (Oscar Isaac said he’d do it but not if he died.) Who became a focal point of the series because he was popular, and who models a kind of dedication and joy rarely seen in this trope of character. The hotshot pilot is supposed to be cocky, obnoxious, and out for himself, not quietly confident, deeply dedicated to his cause, and kind beyond reason. You keep waiting for Poe to be a dick. And then he isn’t.

I love Poe.

Alright, next week we talk about The Last Jedi, which should be great because no one on the internet ever talks about The Last Jedi right? We’re wading into new territory.

 

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…GULP.

60 Books in 2019: #50 This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

Being twelve is weird. It’s always weird, but what I’m so glad for lately, is that I’m starting to find fiction that documents how weird that times is specifically when you’re a girl. (For boys it is territory well covered.)

This One Summer captures the sort of impressionistic memories of a preteen summer in a magical blue haze of art that fully captivated me. It never takes me particularly long to read graphic novels, but this one I breezed right through in just over an hour, even sleepy after working at the day job all day.

It follows the summer that protagonist Rose spends at a beach house with her parents, the same house they’ve always rented. Rose and her friend Windy, who’s a little younger than Rose spend every year together. And this year, Rose is dealing with a rough patch in her parent’s marriage, so she’s feeling a little sensitive.

There’s so many  of the things that felt real to me. The obsessions with death and sex, but not quite understanding either. Renting rated R movies and holding your breath that the clerk doesn’t make you get your parents’s permission. A crush on an older boy that you don’t quite understand.

I melted into this book. I’ve made some good choices off my TBR in the past week. (Karamo excepted. Sorry Karamo!) I kind of wish that I’d read this one a few weeks ago, when summer was in it’s twilight.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad that I’m mixing more graphic work back in.

Up next is Hotel On The Corner of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford.

60 Books in 2019 #49: The Stationary Shop By Marjan Kamali

The Stationary Shop is the kind of book that is exactly what I would describe as my favorite kind. A historical fiction novel about a culture different from my own, about young people and lost love, and the way lives curve turn and intersect.

The Stationary Shop is the story of Roya, a sixteen year old high school student in Tehran in 1953, who falls in love with Bahman, a politically minded 18 year old of a slightly higher social class. They get engaged, the difficult politics of Iran and his mother’s disapproval eventually split them apart and Roya goes to America, lives a full life, always haunted by the lost love of her youth.

It’s a beautiful book and quick to read and consume, which is for the best with this kind of thing. It needs to either be fully epic, or readable in an afternoon. Also, Iran before the Islamic revolution is one of my favorite topics for explorations. (Thanks, Reading Lolita In Tehran!) Marjan Kamali invokes her Tehran beautifully, and Roya is a wonderful lead.

Like all of these kinds of books, there are generational secrets and abuse at play, manipulation and tragedy and life lived unfulfilled, but still lived. I don’t quite know what it is about these kinds of stories that really entrance me, but I do love them. The stories of those shining, glorious romantic moments that just can’t last, for what ever reason. (If you want a pure American example, I suggest Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere) so I heartily recommend The Stationary Shop.

Up next is This One Summer by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki. It’s Comic Con week, so y’all are going to start seeing more and more graphic work creeping into things.

60 Books in 2019 #48: Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope By Karamo Brown

Man I flew through this book, and man is it garbage.

I’ve read a lot of memoirs and many of them by “celebrities.” Some are better than others, but when you find a true turd, like Karamo it’s worth celebrating. I was expecting to at least enjoy reading the book, since I’d liked Karamo since his Real World stint and love what he does on Queer Eye. 

But Karamo is a third memoir, a third essay collection and a third self help book and it all kind of sucks. Which is too bad. Karamo has an interesting story to tell. He’s a gay black man in America, for one thing. He’s a father, husband and television personality. He was a reality TV pioneer. But there’s a weird sort of self sanctifying at work here, Karamo believes he was born to save the world with feelings or whatever and it’s kind of a lot.

Most infuriating of this tendency is his rant about Tan France and his name. Karamo starts the book with the story of his own name, and the power he’s derived from it (His full name is Karama Kerego which means “Educated Rebel” in Swahili which is AWESOME.) which is a great and valid story to tell. Names are powerful signifierers of identity. He then talks about how he and Tan discussed Tan using a shortened Anglicized version of his Pakistani name. Karamo disapproves of this.

BUT IT’S NOT HIS FUCKING NAME OR HIS FUCKING CALL. This is one example of just an overall sense of the book’s preachy tones. I do like his exploration of being a queer Christian though. It’s something I’m still negotiating myself, so I’m open to reading ALL THOSE STORIES I can get my hands on.

Anyway, this one was not what I wanted it to be. Too bad.

Up next is The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali. This was literally a “judge a book by it’s cover” situation. It has a very pretty cover.