Our son’s name is Luke. I have a ring I wear at all times with his name on it in his memory after he was stillborn nine months ago. And while there were plenty of Luke’s that could have, and did, inspire our son’s name (including the Biblical Luke as well as Lukes Danes and Kuechly), I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t named after Luke Skywalker. It was such an obvious name choice for me that it was set in my mind long before I ever met my wife, and despite never discussing it my best friend still accurately guessed it before we made the name public. My point in all of this is so that when I say that Luke Skywalker is my favorite character from anything I have ever watched, read, seen, or experienced, you understand the depth of what I mean. I’d pick Luke Skywalker over the countless characters who have meant so much to me, from Atticus Finch to Data, more than Hermione, Neville, and Luna, beyond River Tam or Buffy Summers, past even WALL-E or Casey Newton. Luke Skywalker helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life, through depression and isolation. He taught me about storytelling, sparked my love of movies and fanned the flames of my love of reading. So needless to say I had a lot of fear going into Star Wars: The Last Jedi over how my favorite character and my son’s namesake would be treated and used. Ultimately, directory Rian Johnson made a completely different choice than I would have at every possible turn, and the result was a bold, thrilling, adventure that advanced Star Wars in unexpected ways filled with new depths. But I have many, many thoughts to wrestle out with regards to Luke Skywalker that simply couldn’t be discussed in a spoiler-free review. So read on for a more in-depth SPOILER-FILLED look at not only Luke’s story but other aspects of The Last Jedi worthy of discussion.
I really enjoyed Baby Driver. Edgar Wright delivered a tightly crafted, exquisitely choreographed thrill ride of a movie, with a killer soundtrack and some of the best action sequences of the year. I loved the eccentric characters, the chemistry between Ansel Elgort’s Baby and Lily James’ Debora in particular, although at times it felt like it was trying a little too hard to be a Tarantino film, particularly with bits of the dialogue. I’m still amazed by the intricacy of the filming and post production work required to make each moment of the film move in rhythm with whatever song happens to be playing on Baby’s iPod. Baby Driver was a solid A film for me, and I look forward to seeing it again as I know I’ll pick up on many details I missed the first time.
However, I find myself still hung up on Baby Driver’s ending. (Spoilers below, obviously!)Continue reading →
I’ve had all sorts of thoughts rattling around in my head since I first sawRogue One: A Star Wars Story. I gave it an A in my review, and I stand by that, especially as a reflection of how I feel about the film having now seen it twice. On the other hand, I don’t thinkRogue Oneis necessarily that great of a movie either. It has some major character development issues that are for me its biggest shortcoming, particularly when held up toThe Force Awakenswhose greatest assets was its characters. So I wanted a chance to talk about the things I love aboutRogue One, the things that frustrate me about it, and any other observations I might have. (I did something similar for The Force Awakens.) Needless to say there will beSpoilers Belowfor anyone who hasn’t seen the film. Here, in no particular order, are someRogue Onethoughts and opinions that continue to clog up my brain. And of course, keep in mind that all of this is coming from someone who unashamedly loves the prequels.
I should have known. When a lady down in the front of my full theater pulled out her cell phone duringthe pre-show warning to turn off your cell phone in order to scroll through an email full of pictures with her husband, zooming in on each one and discussing it, and continued doing this into Eye in the Sky’s opening credits until I yelled for her to put her phone away, I should have known things were going to go badly. We’ve all had movies ruined by rude audience members, people who won’t put away their cell phones (or don’t know how to put them on silent), never stop talking, eat loud or foul-smelling food, kick your seat, etc. But far more rare is an experience where a movie is ruined because of the audience’s reaction to it, either because they simply did not get the movie’s intentions or because you had a very different emotional response than the people surrounding you in the dark. I endured just such an event while seeing Eye in the Sky, and it not only made it impossible to fully enjoy the film from that moment on but it also destroyed a good bit of my faith in humanity. I was disgusted.
If you were going to vent about the Oscar snub that bothers you the most, there are plenty of popular options from which to choose. You might still get riled up thinking about how Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for best picture, that Forrest Gump won out over Pulp Fiction, or that Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash. Perhaps you’re indignant that Peter O’Toole never won an Oscar, or that Leonardo DiCaprio is still waiting for his. You could have a particular category that always manages to disappoint you, like Best Original Song does for me. Or maybe you’re just baffled that films like Around the World in 80 Days or Oliver! could have been marked among the best films of all time while something as influential as Star Wars was passed over. But given 88 years of Academy Awards history, you probably would not choose to object to the victory of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, arguably the most popular film to ever with the Oscar for Best Picture. But to me, the best film of 2003 was a different long-titled film adaptation of a popular book series about men at war: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
Scientists are often lonely creatures. Between the time they spend in labs, doing research, sorting through endless data, and working on equipment, it’s easy to see why. But while scientists in the real world often work in teams with others, movie scientists typically don’t have that luxury, making movie scientists some of the loneliest characters onscreen. In the movies, scientists are often at odds with society or those in power, often serving as the lone voice of reason in a chaotic story. Frequently they have to pursue their studies alone, whether by choice or because they’ve been ostracized from everyone else, and sometimes their passions and beliefs make it hard for them to connect to others when the opportunity arises. No matter if the movie scientist is a good one, a mad one, or even an evil one, loneliness seems like it’s typically part of the journey for these characters. And in my mind there’s no lonelier scientist on film than Ellie Arroway from Contact.
The idea of “mad scientists” is probably as old as science, and it’s certainly been around since the beginning of cinema. There are countless iterations, from Victor Frankenstein to Dr. Jekyll, and it’s easy to see why the concept makes for such compelling storytelling. They’re often tragic heroes in the classic sense, full of noble intentions but undone by their own ambition or shortsightedness. The mad scientist is of course distinct from the “evil genius”. Where an evil genius is typically the villain of a story, using their knowledge and ability for nefarious purposes, the mad scientist is typically a character with noble intentions who is subject to the tragic flaw of being unable to see the consequences of their actions until they’re too late. (Then there are good scientists who are just kind of crazy or reclusive, whom I wouldn’t typically classify as “mad.) To me, there’s no better use of the mad scientist trope than in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
What makes a scientist “good”? Some scientists cure diseases, other scientists research new technologies that help people, while others fight to protect the planet, and we’d probably call all of these “good” scientists. But what makes a movie scientist “good”? In many films about scientists, they’re often using science to overcome impossible odds, or trying to uncover the truth when those in power would rather keep it quiet, but for me the defining “goodness” of a movie scientist is measured by their devotion to scientific ethics, to using science for the betterment of society rather than for personal gain or glory, and to understanding the consequences of science. And in my book, there’s no better example (outside of Star Trek, of course) than the scientists in Jurassic Park. And the qualities that make them good scientists are all on display in one key scene in the film.
I’ve long been a fan of all things Mel Brooks, and I have a particular fondness for The Producers. Brooks’ first film, which earned him his only Academy Award, isn’t as brilliantly funny as Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, nor as specific a parody as Spaceballs or Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Nevertheless, it’s definitely a classic, anchored by two perfectly matched comedians and featuring one of the most hilarious musical numbers of all time. But until I decided to write about it for the Backstage Blogathon, I had never really considered its portrayal of the entertainment industry and what it has to say about putting on a show (or even a movie). It was always such a silly premise, two producers trying to swindle money away from old women by putting on a sure-fire flop, that the wackiness distracted from the fact that the film is genuinely a satire of getting a show made, specifically in the way it approaches the various players involved in putting on the production: the writer, the director, the actor, and of course the producers.