31 December 2017

2017 in the Ground: Top Movies of the Year

Here we are, folks. It's the greatest post of the year - the TOP TEN! This is what it's all about - distilling a year's worth of movie-watching into a nice shareable, debatable, arbitrary list. I'm pretty proud of this this year, although of course I'm always shifting this around? You remember 2016? Fuck that, here's a new updated list of how I feel about those movies:


The Witch
Train to Busan
Green Room
The Love Witch
Everybody Wants Some!!
The Neon Demon
American Honey
The Lobster

I want to do something fun this year, which is also sort of a cop-out. I'm going to be honest with you. I haven't seen every movie I wanted to see in order to make this list. Oftentimes I'll just make it up and fake it based on how I think I'd enjoy something, but this year I'm going to be honest. So, to start, here is a list of films I think I might like but did not get a chance to watch, in descending order of anticipation:

The Shape of Water
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Disaster Artist
Get Out
Girls Trip
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Phantom Thread

These are definitely films that will crop up at the end of 2018 in either lists like this or the new evaluation. Anyway, next I ranked all the films I watched that I liked. Sorry, no Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) on this one. This was really contentious and the top four here came in and out constantly:

War on Everyone
The Belko Experiment
The Meyerowitz Stories
A Ghost Story
Atomic Blonde
Wonder Woman
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The Last Jedi
Logan Lucky
John Wick: Chapter 2
Brigsby Bear

So now that you know that I've seen a lot of movies, let's get into the Official Top Ten for 2017, which will be ironclad and unflappable until at least this time next year:

#10: The Big Sick - directed by Michael Showalter ft. Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter

The Big Sick isn't really a comedy, although it's about comedians and has some genuinely funny parts. That's part of what makes it amazing, though. It's like Funny People (2009) without being an overlong and toothless critique of Adam Sandler's career. In addition to deconstructing and updating romantic comedy tropes it also takes a keen look at the casual immigrant experience in the United States, giving voice to the Muslim Pakistani Kumail, who proves himself an adept writer and actor for the story of his own courtship of future wife Emily. Ray Romano is somehow an actor in this and does a stellar job, which is the most unbelievable part to witness.

#9: The Lost City of Z - directed by James Gray ft. Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland

Charlie Hunnam is still kind of flat, to the point where his natural English accent sounds fake. Still, the film surrounding him is gorgeous. It centers on the tragedy and hope of human obsession for discovery, picking the journey of Percy Fawcett through the Amazon, which is still one of the most impenetrable places on earth. It's cautious with its depiction of native tribes, and the core conceit that the people we dismiss as savages could have once had a glorious and technologically advanced civilization serves to expand our perspective and reconsider our own biases and worldview. Also bearded weird Robert Pattinson, who along with Kristen Stewart this year are proving themselves actors as far as Twilight as can be.

#8: Ingrid Goes West - directed by Matt Spicer ft. Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Wyatt Russell, O'Shea Jackson, Jr

This is a more intricate film than it lets on, and surprisingly lets its visuals set up the story better than anything else. Aubrey Plaza effortlessly floats through this film being whoever she thinks she needs to be, obsessive in singular Instagram-stalking focus and ultimately driven insane by chasing what she thinks is cool. It's a sad and tragic film, even its happy ending is caked in eye-opening irony. It's a mix of vapid Californian culture, failed dreams, and constantly faking with ourselves. I dug it.

#7: The Bad Batch - directed by Ana Lily Amirpour ft. Suki Waterhouse, Jason Mamoa, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves

Just Google search any still from this film and you get what I'm talking about. This was a decisive film that constantly bordered on pretentious over-philosophizing, but I think if we read the main character's arc of considering Keanu Reeves' mindless blathering as worse than cannibalism we get what this flick is trying to do. Despite having a slew of A-listers somehow being the most ridiculous of their careers (see Jim Carrey above), this film never loses focus on Arlen, played by model Suki Waterhouse in a tortured role, both literally and metaphorically. She does not make wise choices here, and her final fate is driven by such selfish and horrible feelings that defy catharsis and switch around every character this film set up. The Bad Batch constantly dares you to hate it, and I called its bluff.

#6: War for the Planet of the Apes - directed by Matt Reeves ft. Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson

In a year filled with surprisingly good franchise blockbusters and superhero films, War for the Planet of the Apes stood out. It finds a way to test main ape Caesar to the limit and mo-cap actor Andy Serkis has never been better, which says a lot. The ramifications of war and hatred between man and ape push everyone in this film to become things they don't want to be, and they grapple with these changes for 150 minutes that never feels that long. This is all not to mention the plot that borrows from everything from Spartacus (1960) to The Great Escape (1963), which ought to sound really surprising. Best of all, it takes the campy insane 1970s Planet of the Apes presence and gives it immense gravitas without ever becoming overblown. None of this mentions the CGI ape effects, which somehow has yet to win an Academy Award.

#5: Okja - directed by Bong Joon-ho ft. Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano

Let this forever be remembered as the film that put Netflix on the map. Sure, Bright (2017) is doing fine the last few days, but Okja was actually good. It's a global sprawling epic look at pet relationships, the food industry, and a corporate culture that tries to be your friend while chasing profits. It's also a stern look at revolutionaries with questionable motives and methods despite noble goals. The structure of the film is perfect, Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely nuts, and the madcap chase sequences are thrilling, with stakes no more than the fate of a CGI super pig. It works.

#4: Dunkirk - directed by Christopher Nolan ft. Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, Cillian Murphy

Dunkirk is a sprawling film that never feels so grand. It's meticulous and surprisingly lean, with an unflinching focus on its three major storylines, all more or less depictions of different time spans (this is ultimately thrown out the window). It's a remarkably efficient movie, giving us just enough to know each of the many characters through simple action and reaction, with hardly any dialogue to distract us. They all pull their weight, from the cowardly soldiers on the beach just trying to get home to the civilians on the boat trying to save them, and the pilots in the air trying to defend them. It's the most triumphant film about a defeat ever, and finding new ways to define success is the only thing that makes this story a success. That's all not even mentioning the crystal clear editing, blocking, and cinematography that makes everything feel real and beautiful at the same time.

#3: Baby Driver - directed by Edgar Wright ft. Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx

It's kind of crazy, but my favorite scene in this movie full of gangster shoot-outs and car chases is the one above, particularly their feet in sync. It's such an adorable movie and the best love story of the year. There has been some weird backlash against Ansel Elgort, who I thought was incredibly engaging here. Of course Kevin Spacey. Listen, we can't get too up in arms about Kevin Spacey's last legitimate film here. He is definitively a rapist and awful human being, but it'd be damned hard to discount everything he's ever done. That's probably a debate that belongs elsewhere. Baby Driver is such a positive, exciting, and easily recommendable film in an age where you need to watch twelve movies and read fifteen different comic books to understand the most basic aspects of most other franchises. It's a trip and wonderful through and through.

#2: Colossal - directed by Nacho Vigalondo ft. Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell

I was floored when I saw this flick. Yeah, it's weird. I mean, it's really damn weird, but I dig bizarre high concepts in indie flicks. This is one of the best. For the uninitiated, Anne Hathaway finds out that when she gets drunk and walks through this certain playground during the early morning hours, she manifests as a giant monster in Seoul who mimics her actions. From there it's full of somehow more unexpected twists, mostly centering around Jason Sudeikis, who plays a Jason Sudeikis-type but in a film that understands that he's an asshole. This is not only the best Anne Hathaway movie ever, but a scary look at relationships that teeter that line between helpful and intrusive, friendly or manipulative. It's got tremendous heart at the center of a totally bonkers core conceit that continually works to both distract, then amplify the main story. It's fantastic.

#1: Blade Runner 2049 - directed by Denis Villeneuve ft. Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright

Here's another film that requires a Google Search. Every damn shot is beautiful as hell. If you want to know how to do a good revival film, this is how. Hire one of the best working directors today after he's done a big movie like Arrival (2016) and knows how to handle a budget. Hire the best un-awarded cinematographer, Roger Deakins and tell him to go nuts. Continue the story from the previous installment and honor that story while branching out on your own, improving in every way. Hire a slew of the best actors and give them all characters with sincere arcs and motivations. Cake it all in a fully-developed world that expands from the original. Cake it all in themes as basic and elemental as we've grappled for all of human existence. Should be a piece of cake, right? And dammit, there's sloppiness. I covered it here. So damn extensively. This is a journey to be sure and you need to set aside a whole day to watch it, but if that's too much for you, why are you even watching movies?

That's 2017. We've got about 11 hours to go until 2018 strikes. That's some wild stuff. What did you like this year?

30 December 2017

2017 in the Ground: Groove and Swing

We don't JUST ramble about Star Wars here at Norwegian Morning Wood, sometimes we even listen to music. 2017 was...not great. The cats at the top made some pretty killer albums, but generally singles tended to blur together. The Summer Jam 2017 was actually a decent ride, though. "Despacito" as far as Global Pop Hits go, is pretty damn decent. Let's start with the most popular or notable singles of the year:

And let's just BOLD my Top Ten as we move through the year. You don't want to see all this repeated anyway, and most of what I loved made it into the zeitgeist, or at least my personal zeitgeist.

"Caroline" - Aminé
"Blood in the Cut" - K. Flay
"I Don't Wanna Live Forever" - Zayn ft. Taylor Swift
"Bad and Boujee" - Migos
"iSPY" - Kyle ft. Lil Yachty
"Humble." - Kendrick Lamar
"That's What I Like" - Bruno Mars
"Chained to the Rhythm" - Katy Perry
"Green Light" - Lorde
"Heavy" - Linkin Park ft. Kiiara
"24K Magic" - Bruno Mars
"DNA." - Kendrick Lamar
"Issues" - Julia Michaels
"The Cure" - Lady GaGa
"Feel It Still" - Portugal. The Man
"Redbone" - Childish Gambino
"High" - Sir Sly
"Bad Liar" - Selena Gomez
"It Ain't Me" - KYGO ft. Selena Gomez
"Sign of the Times" - Harry Styles
"Uh-Huh" - Julia Michaels
"Despacito" - Daddy Yankee
"911" - Tyler the Creator
"Woman" - Kesha ft. Dap-Kings Horns
"Bodak Yellow" - Cardi B
"Shape of You" - Ed Sheeran
"Young, Dumb, and Broke" - Khalid
"Boys" - Charli XCX
"Slow Hands" - Niall Horan
"Feels" - Calvin Harris ft. Pharrell, Katy Perry, Big Sean
"Stay" - Alessia Cara
"Who Dat Boy" - Tyler the Creator ft. ASAP Rocky
"Body Like a Back Road" - Sam Hunt
"1-800-273-8255" - Logic ft. Alessia Cara, Khalid
"Rake it Up" - Gotti ft. Nicki Minaj
"Strip that Down" - Liam Payne ft. Quavo
"Havana" - Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug
"Look What You Made Me Do" - Taylor Swift
"Thunder" - Imagine Dragons
"Rockstar" - Post Malone ft. 21 Savage
"Sorry, Not Sorry" - Demi Lovato
"Praying" - Kesha
"No Limit" - G-Eazy ft. ASAP Rocky, Cardi B, French Montana
"Gucci Gang" - Lil Pump
"Bad at Love" - Halsey
"Lemon" - N.E.R.D. ft. Rihanna
"Love." - Kendrick Lamar
"Call Ticketron" - Run the Jewels

That's one decent crop.

Artist of the Year:
I was taking a walk the other day

There are a lot of good people in the running on this one. Katy Perry really tried to have a great year and totally failed. Taylor Swift did better, but is way too partisan. Lady GaGa opened up awesome at the Super Bowl, made a really egocentric movie, and released a few kickass singles that didn't really catch on. Bruno Mars dominated early and held on like somehow only Bruno Mars can do now.

Selena Gomez is silently our runner-up. She keeps making incredible beats that don't seem to get proper recognition and at one point was featured or starring on two massive tracks this summer. "Bad Liar" was a weird ass video, but she's still amazing on it.

But really, this is the year of Kendrick Lamar. He'll get his Best Hip-Hop Album Award from Norwegian Morning Wood a little bit later, but he had a massive crossover hit with "Humble.", some harder tracks here and there and was a non-stop presence in the music world. This was a good year for a lot of newcomers, too, so we might as well announce the-

Newcomer of the Year:
This is the least boob-centric pic I could find

Fifth Harmony breakout Camila Cabello diversified herself and made us question why we were never able to distinguish her from the rest of that group. There are so many other hot artists to come out of 2017. Post Malone had a couple huge hits, Logic is on the scene, Alessia Cara has one of the greatest new voices. It's hard to even remember that prior to 2017 no one had heard of the Migos.

In addition to Camila breaking off from Fifth Harmony this was the year that all the One Direction boys blasted off. They've all made far more tolerable tracks than they did together, which is certainly all about them having some more autonomy and older perspective. Harry Styles we kind of new would be the best, and he was, but Niall Horan is also cranking out great stuff now.

But there's no real contest. 2017, welcome Cardi B. I don't even really like her voice, it's too harsh for me, but her turn on "No Limit" is solid as hell. Going from stripper to global superstar is no small feat, and by September this woman was in charge of the world. "Bodak Yellow" was a massive song and I'm excited to hear her take a lozenge and come out with something else.

Albums of the Year:


I had trouble finding a good Rock album this year. Rock is dead, I suppose. Portugal. The Man did some great stuff, and if you count Harry Styles, which you could, there's some really interesting directions this year. Queens of the Stone Age made some good shit that no one listened to, but there's better stuff out there.

That better stuff is Father John Misty's Pure Comedy. Somehow more commercially popular than his previous I Love You, Honeybear, it's also less catchy and more subversive. He winds around folk poetry, requiring a keen ear and an open heart, flirting with pretension and sometimes crossing that line, but generally crafting earworms in addition to the most socially and spiritually conscious album of the year.

Key Tracks: "Total Entertainment Forever", "Leaving LA", "So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain"


Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. There was a lot of good Hip-Hop this year but no one is proving themselves the master that Kendrick is. I had high hopes for Tyler the Creator's Flower Boy because the singles were so strong, but the album left me wanting. Kendrick meditates on some big ideas, both personal and political, always weaving his own place in the world and connecting it to the album at large. Kendrick expresses his loneliness, desperation, demons, and hope over the sickest beats of the year.

Key Tracks: "FEEL.", "LUST.", "HUMBLE."

Runner-up: Jay-Z, 4:44. Jay-Z doesn't seem to be getting a lot of credit at year's end here. I have a conspiracy theory that DAMN. for all its majesty is better suited for sympathetic white critic ears while 4:44 throws the gloves off and attempts to be a completely black album for black ears. A lot of it can barely be considered rapping, which is why it's tough to single-ize. I mean, is your big track, "The Story of O.J."? That's not nearly radio-friendly. Jay-Z writes a confession to match Beyonce's Lemonade anger and it holds up if not nearly as listenable. That might be why he's favored making short films with barely a few lines of music and more focused on the black experience. It's amazing what an artist can decide to do when he no longer cares about money or sales, and this is a monumental step in a direction away from "Big Pimpin'", even if some of the message gets too obfuscated and symbolic for its own good.


Overall Album of the Year: Rainbow by Kesha. Yes, she dropped the $ and made the most simultaneously hopeful and painful album of the year. This album works in context because you know it came out of such fire but Kesha is phoenix-ing hard. She neglects auto-tune completely and creates a new sound totally free from her party-anthem ways (okay, there's a bit of "stardust" in there). It's refreshing, lovely, and beautiful. Kesha throws off all shackles and judgments and shows us that we too can be happy with who we are, resilient, proud, and beautiful, too. It's a trip.

Key Tracks: "Bastards", "Hymn", "Praying"

Runner-up: Lorde, Melodrama. I guess I never thought that Lorde actually left us, but damn it's been a while since Pure Heroine. I think this is because Randy Marsh never left us. Melodrama is an older (yeah - 21 instead of 17), and that blase attitude towards pop culture is still there, but re-energized and focused like an older artist can reflect on. Yes, an old 21-year old artist. She puts aside any concern she'd be one and done and adds a lot of great radio hits as well.

Music Videos of the Year:

Charli XCX's "Boys" will make you gay, but is also so fun and playful. Also will make you gay. Somehow this has every cute boy in the world.

Kendrick Lamar - "HUMBLE." because of course it's addictive and engaging - money, ho's, and popes:

Tyler the Creator - "Who Dat Boy" Somehow a lot of Tyler got on here despite not doing all that much this year. This is also a video I can't stop watching due to its brutality, identity-playing, and the surprisingly charismatic turn by ASAP Rocky. And Tyler's incredible physical acting.

Portugal. The Man - "Rich Friends" I love a good video gimmick, and this is a creative use of pop-ups and Dennis Reynolds.

Young Thug - "Wyclef Jean" So, Young Thug actually had a great year, but this amazing video speaks for itself. Watch the #1 video o the year:

29 December 2017

2017 in the Ground: Other Movie Stuff

We recounted our Top Movie Moments earlier today, but there's so many more superlatives we need to discuss. Let's get to it, then get the hell out of 2017!

Best Trailer of the Year:

I hardly ever watch movie trailers. I know enough about what is going to come out to usually form an opinion, and if there's something like Annihilation (2018) that I'm like "What the fuck is this weird shit?" then I'll watch it, but usually I'll just go to the theater or rent the shit. For the record, Annihilation should be a solid runner up. But there was one trailer I watched over and over and over again, and that was THOR: Ragnarok (2017), which was perfect, dastardly, sets some sincere stakes (and unfortunately gives away the best, and most marketed character reveal):

Also props to Atomic Blonde (2017), IT (2017), Infinity War (2018), Valerian and the City of Something Planets (2017), and Isle of Dogs (2018). I really loved the Run the Jewels use in Black Panther (2018) and the ruggedness of Michael B. Jordan, but kind of whatever on that, to be honest.

Best Soundtrack:

Let's call this the collective songs chosen to prop up a film. Now, solid contenders include Baby Driver (2017) for its perfect sync-up moments and heavy emphasis on music or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) for pushing the same gimmick as its predecessor while finding its own niche. No flick, though, found such harmony and perfection in melding soundtrack to its period and tone as Atomic Blonde did while thumping through an onslaught of 80s Euro-trash hits, where each needle drop laid a beautiful sonic companion. I wouldn't go out and buy the soundtrack or even listen to it casually, but within the film, it's a golden supplement.

Best Score:

I listened to the Blade Runner 2049 (2017) score on loop while writing my excessively long take on the film and it became a part of my soul. I am totally going against the grain and saying this improves on Vangelis, who only plays one fucking note the whole movie. It's intimidating, beautiful, nostalgic, and futuristic, all an incredible feat.

As you can tell, I've been crying.
Actor of the Year:

When I was thinking about this I didn't even consider The Rock, even though he was in three huge (or trying to be huge movies - Fate of the Furious, Baywatch, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle). Has his star faded? Tom Holland showed up in movies big (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and small (Lost City of Z) that were both great. Hugh Jackman seemed to have a great year until no one cared about The Greatest Showman, and I was even thinking Adam Driver based on a ridiculous range between doofy (Logan Lucky) and dire (The Last Jedi).

None of these feel like 2017, though, right? Actor of the Year instead belongs to the newcomers - Daniel Kaluuya, Timothée Chalamet, Ansel Elgort, and Bill Skarsgard. These four are the faces of horror, romance, action, and uhh...clown horror respectively. The image of Kaluuya crying is the most iconic of 2017.

Actress of the Year:

I had a lot of internal debate over Actor of the year and decided to give it to the newcomers. There was no such inner monologue over Actress of the Year. The winner was clear, as is the overall actor who owned 2017: Gal Gadot.

My girl ate the last fry!
She was only in two films this year and played the same character in both, but this just felt like her year more than anything else. There were others like Nicole Kidman (The Beguiled, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Big Little Lies) and Saiorse Ronan (Lady Bird) who had some great years, but Gal just dominated. Other newcomers who are going to rock the hell out of our world for the next few years include Sofia Boutella, Ana de Armas, and Tiffany Haddish.

So, that's it, folks. Those are all your movie moments and other paraphernalia wrapped up in a bow. Do you agree with this nonsense? Does Dunkirk, Call Me By Your Name, Coco, The Disaster Artist, and The Big Sick deserve more credit? Sound off below!

2017 In the Ground: Movie Moments

We'll get to our official Top 10 very soon, but today it's time to recount all the great singular moments that happened on screen this year. This is oftentimes a nice way to highlight fucked up crazy shit that happened in otherwise terrible films, and this year is no different. There was a lot of zaniness on screen this year that deserves a shout-out. Of course some of these were actually pivotal moments in big great films. Mostly, though, this is properly ridiculous. Here are my fifteen favourite scenes:

Justice League: Flash vs Superman

Listen, there's one good moment in Justice League, and you won't find it acknowledged anywhere else. His whole resurrection is dubious, but that one little eye movement and Ezra Miller's "Oh shit!" face is incredible subtlety in a movie otherwise devoid of it.

A Ghost Story: Rooney Mara eats a pie

You ever want to watch Rooney Mara eat a pie for five minutes? Here ya go! A Ghost Story is all about making us feel Casey Affleck with a Sheet over his Head's eternal ennui and impotence, and there's no better scene in this film then watching someone you love eat a pie while unable to express the most basic communication. It's a parable for a lot of things, and I should love this movie because it does what it wants to do so well. Still...fuck that's a long time to watch someone eat pie.

IT: Bye Bye Georgie

This may not be the most memeable scene in the film, but certainly the most iconic. It somehow improves on dread from the 1990 Tim Curry version, and carries that feeling on for the rest of its run time. No other scene this year so thoroughly demonstrated everything the following movie was going to be.

Logan: "Someone has come along."

I couldn't find the scene because it's otherwise unimpressive in a film filled with knife-hands getting jammed through goons' heads, but whenever I think back to this film I remember this line. It means a lot for your everyday life - anyone can be a hero if they just choose to be instead of figuring someone else will do it. This or the dinner scene, exceptional for its peacefulness, not its violence, is where this movie shines.

The Fate of the Furious: Jailbreak

Hard pick between this or Jason Statham on a plane with a quiet baby, but in a film that somehow finally found a way to push its ridiculousness past the breaking point (misunderstanding Dom Toretto was a big one), this was a thrill.

Atomic Blonde: Stairwell Fight

There's a lot of incredible action scenes in Atomic Blonde that surround a plot that's thin as hell. None are better than this single-take (or cleverly edited) stairwell battle where you feel every hit, bruise, and panted breath more than any other flick in recent memory.

The Bad BatchBye Bye Arm

I still don't totally know how I feel about The Bad Batch, but I do know one thing - when Arlen loses an arm to cannibals near the beginning of the film it's a gross, sickening, uncomfortable moment in every possible way. Especially because her eventual love interest wants to eat it. This movie is fucked up.

Get Out: The Sunken Place

Get Out teeters on the edge of thriller/family drama for ages until it hits this scene, then suddenly the rug is pulled out and we're in full-blown horror, people. Instantly iconic and forever locked into one of 2017's best films. This is everything.

Thor: Ragnarok: Anytime "Immigrant Song" Plays

There's again no good link here - but as a rare case of actually getting the rights to Led Zep jam, after appearing in the trailer, "Immigrant Song" blasts first when Thor and Mjolner fuck up Surtur's day down in Muspelheim, and then comes again full circle when he full accepts his powers and lights up the world against Hela's minions. And that's not even the best part - Valkyrie struts like a fucking boss silhouetted by the Grandmaster Jeff Goldbum's Firework Orgy Ship. That sentence would seem really strange in any other movie.

War of the Planet of the Apes: Shit Throwing

At the end of all things, a decidedly underrated film, but it took us over fifty years to finally get here. Finally, FINALLY we have some apes flinging feces around. I loved it. And it served a story purpose!

Wonder Woman: No Man's Land

This was an early contender for Scene of the Year, and it's still breathtaking. Everything is perfect. We see the stakes, we hear the stakes as Diana and Steve debate, we see Diana's character full of love and compassion, that it fuels her strength rather than makes her soft. We, and the rest of the characters, too, then see Diana become Wonder Woman in full glorious battle attire. The music swells and she does what no man cannot while it symbolically and thematically becomes the greatest metaphor for Fuck You 2017.

Spider-Man Homecoming: The Father Talk

I genuinely did not see this coming. This was an amazing twist that totally makes every coincidence in this movie work. There's actually a really subtle moment about two minutes into this clip - the light turns green, lighting up Mike Keaton's face green in Vulture-y glory (green might as well be a color symbolizing all Spider-Villains [Goblin, Lizard, Scorpion, Mysterio, Electro, Sandman, Doc Ock - it contrasts really well]), as his voice takes a sinister turn while simultaneously showing that he's no longer paying attention to the road or his surroundings. From there it's out in the open and the already contentious boyfriend / father relationship is exasperated to its most extreme. Like Logan, a high-budget superhero film's best scene comes down to a simple conversation.

Blade Runner 2049: Holo-Orgy

There's probably some better scenes, but none that made me truly sit and wonder how the hell they did it. Having Ana de Armas in a sex scene helps. It's also weird as fuck. Ryan Gosling is put on leave after finding out he might be the Dream Child and failing his base test. His whole world's perspective is shattered and he comes home to a blurry orgy with his Google Home and a prostitute. Actually, this should be higher.

Girls Trip: Grapefruit

So this starts off easy enough. Simple relationship troubles. And even as Tiffany Haddish begins describing the grapefruit it seems easy enough. When she begins demonstrating, though, that's when all hell breaks loose and we meet our new breakout star of 2017.

Transformers: The Last Knight: Mark Wahlberg's Sword

That's right, baby! We went there. You want to talk about the most insane, moronic moment in film history? We've got ancient Medieval Knight Transformers about to execute a brainwashed Optimus Prime, but not so fast! Here comes Mark Wahlberg with a sword that somehow fucking deflects a 40 foot robot. I laughed outloud in the theater. No one saw this bloated mess, which is too bad, because this should have been a meme.

What are your favourite movie moments this year?!

22 December 2017

2017 in the Ground: Best Films Seen in the Year 2017

This is something I started a few years ago - it's easy for anyone to make up a Top 10 list of all the films that came out in 2017, but that's not wholly accurate, is it? A more proper judge of my personal 2017 film experience is to rank every film that I actually saw for the first time this year. Most of these are still 2016/17 films because that's most of what I watched, but it's interesting to see what sneaks in.

For my mid-year list, check this out. What's interesting is how much my taste shifts constantly. At the very least, hopefully this offers an inspirational look at catching up on some flicks I've missed for the first thirty years of my life and you might be interested in!

Not enough zombie fighters just simply duct tape their wrists
#10: Train to Busan (2016)

This definitely came out of no where. I saw it on Netflix Streaming without thinking much more than "Korean zombies on a train," this could be a fun Friday night. Train to Busan was an amazing piece of action filmmaking that's also full of class conflict (what articulate zombie movie isn't?) and a very human struggle of a dude trying to get his daughter to Busan. I don't know what it is about Korea and train movies (see, Snowpiercer [2013]), but limiting the geography for maximum terror and action works really well.

#9: Silence (2016)

Marty Scorsese's excessively long meditation on faith and persecution in mid-19th century Japan is brutal, but also stuck with me for a long while. It's somehow one of his best-looking films ever but crafts tension, terror, release, faith, and spits on melancholic redemption brilliantly. It's a slog, one that I probably wouldn't watch again on that spicy Friday night, but it certainly deserves a look at one of the best things he's ever done in his extensive filmography, even if it stands out in time period, setting, and cast.

#8: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

This is another pretty innocuous flick that has stuck with me quite a bit. It's a wonderful romantic comedy that continually proves itself not to be. Its ending is ultimately saccharine, but the road to get there is long and heartbreaking. Joe Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are a couple who aren't right for each other in any way despite the former's inability to understand that. His grand gestures would be heart-throbbing in a Matthew McConaughey / Kate Hudson film. Here he's misinformed and delusional. He wants Zooey to be his manic pixie dream girl, but she's just a human. It's top to bottom underrated.

#7: Patton (1970)

This was my number one film at the mid-year point and it's still gargantuan with hardly a flaw, but probably not something I'm going to recall constantly with fond memories. It's all about George C. Scott giving one of the most insane performances of all time along in a dear love letter to America's greatest, most insane general. It's absolutely badass while also offering a sincere critique of how you can send a soldier off to die on some god-forsaken rock but you can't slap them.

Chad Radwell
#6: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Last year Richard Linklater cobbled together this ultimate bro flick that had some solid fanfare but largely missed any significant recognition. I watched this. I don't know if I've ever seen a film with less of a plot, where nothing happens from beginning to end. There's hardly even any conflict. But dammit...this is the ultimate hang-out film. No movie on this list was as fun as Everybody Wants Some!! and that's a notable achievement. It helps having a supremely likable cast of beefcake baseball players getting black-out drunk three days in a row and while it's in a "simpler" time where 80s college movie-style rape was totally accepted, it never dips into creeper territory.

#5: Shame (2011)

Before Steve McQueen was adored for 12 Years a Slave (2013), he made this wild flick with Mike Fassbender. All of his patient and unflinching style is there as we focus on the worst sex addict of all time, which Fassbender plunges into without any sign of hesitance. The depths of his addiction are pretty clear at the outset, but grows worse the more curveballs are thrown at him, culminating in a festering hypocrisy towards his sister and everyone else around him that tries to care. He'd rather go on YouPorn than have any meaningful relationship, and that irredeemable nature is a total bummer. Opposite of Everybody Wants Some!!.

#4: Baby Driver (2017)

The first 2017 film to make this list, Baby Driver doesn't have the most complex plot or anything, but holy shit this is the most highly articulated film, maybe ever? Ansel Elgort is perfect and holds his own against an incredibly deep cast. It'll be forever tainted as one of Kevin Spacey's last movies before he came out as a gay rapist, but there's still a lot to love. The action sequences are wonderful with an added layer of musical inspiration, but my favourite scenes are the slower ones, the blossoming of an Atlantean Romance and the hope it inspires. I'll be talking much more about this one in my Best of the Year lists coming soon.

Showers not need apply
#3: American Honey (2016)

Here's a tiny film that made a few best of lists last year and was otherwise forgotten. It's a nearly three-hour epic that tells a remarkably simple story, but honestly, no other film this year stuck with me so much. It's so identifiable for my generation - lost, stupid, and wandering the world without purpose, hustling trying to make a living while being scammed and trying to scam others. We're a leech and damn, American Honey lends a sympathetic ear to that. It's a tragedy over anything else, and even when the characters find a moment of happiness your heart breaks for how pathetic and misguided they are. It's a wonderful film that's also pretty damn hard to get through even though ostensibly it's nothing like cancer or racism. It's a keen look at spiritual depression, which is a true tragedy in its own way.

When Bae says she doesn't want to watch Star Wars
#2: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

I had never seen this whole thing before, and dammit, this shoddy 40+ year old masterpiece was a fucking trip. I watched it the Sunday before Halloween and shit, this is a near-perfect movie. It's a terrifying look at a slightly alternate reality, where corpses hang out outside and a constant stream of murders are reported on the radio. Wait, maybe that is out reality... it works because its grungy insane aesthetic totally matches the mysterious, broken down horror of what's going on on screen. None of the prequels or reboots really understood that and go for overt creepiness instead. Nah, set in daylight, offer lots of cannon fodder, some goofy knife-wielding hitchhikers and we're all set. The unending screaming and horror during that dinner scene is a cinematic triumph of uncomfortable editing. Oh, and Leatherface dancing in the sunset is still the most iconic horror image ever.

#1: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

So, #1 most anticipated film, will be #1 of 2017, and the #1 movie I saw in the calendar year overall. The only film on this list that I actually caught in theaters, as well. I love everything about this. I spent 4200 words talking about how much I loved this (except still for that fucking Deckard temptation scene, which is a blight on this movie forever). Just like the original, it's been largely ignored both critically and commercially. We'll come around. Again.

What movies did you watch this year that didn't necessarily come out this year? Have you seen any of the above?

21 December 2017

First Impressions: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I've spent all week psyching myself up for this.

Two years ago I wrote the longest post ever on The Force Awakens (2015). I topped that with Rogue One (2016) (and again with Blade Runner 2049 [2017] but who's counting). I don't really mean to ramble on forever, but I like being thorough. We'll see how this turns out. Let's break this monstrosity down into a few sections:

Movies vs. Brands

So, I want to first direct your attention over here, where I tried to give a preview for The Last Jedi (2017), but without seeing virtually any of the marketing material, gave up and just rambled about the nature of Star Wars for a while. There's both personal and widely felt feelings articulated there, but most importantly, holy shit was I on the money.

Anyone else just stare at her sleeves for like two hours
That preview post was all about our long collective relationship with this brand, and that's what it really is at this point. It's folly to think of any of these films anymore as just movies. You know what I just watched? A Ghost Story (2017). That's a movie. It was an hour and twenty-seven minutes long, a singular experience devoid of fluff, context, or fandom. Fuck that movie was boring, too (that was kind of the point and brilliant in its own way, but this isn't a Ghost Story review), but that's besides the point. For a long time I tried to treat these big budget films the same way. How can we evaluate it as a singular, specific cinematic experience within a defined period of time?

For a long time here at Norwegian Morning Wood we've looked beyond that, and as I continue to meditate and name the best films of the year as those that I've developed relationships with, we ought to rise above that singular experience. That's kind of the point of contemporary studio filmmaking, right? Creating an engaging franchise and a brand is all about creating a relationship with a film, regardless if that's a worthwhile, not to mention moral investment. This makes films like anything else - we have a relationship with whatever soda company or car company we invest in. Whether we know it or nor we develop habits, interpretations of corporate personalities (good or ill), and feelings towards these ephemeral products. Movies are perhaps the most ephemeral of these. We're not wearing them every day or driving them to work or plugging them in. It's a two-hour investment that creates a billion dollar industry.

You can see why this is important for studios. The more they can create a long-term engagement with a film the more they can continue sucking money from their audiences with minimal progressive investment. This shouldn't be new to everyone, but there's a mistake we make with Star Wars. For some reason everyone thinks Star Wars is special to them. I clearly do. I was ashamed the other day when I was reflecting on Ree-Yees and couldn't remember his species (Gran, of course).

None of this is real. Again, it's all ephemeral fiction, more so than any other brand. What is real is the relationships that we have developed over the past forty years of Star Wars and the feelings it generates within us. Other films had of course made toys before Star Wars, but that was also one of the first films to create tangible outlets for these feelings through its insanely detailed toy campaign and expanded universe.

I want to talk about so much here, but let's start with that, because it has informed the initial interpretation of this film among hardcore fans. For some reason, they really really don't want their childhood fucked with. This is all what I was saying in that earlier post. We can get past the surface stupid fact that any of this means anything to anyone, because the obviously flawed "why should you care" question is less important than dealing with what's actually happening. That is simply nerds who feel cheapened because a corporation is ignoring the heavy investment they had made in a fictional reality.

That's probably a more cavalier way of saying it than I mean to, because I re-read Dark Empire like, this morning. What we need to realize, though, is that the existence of The Last Jedi doesn't erase Dark Empire or the feeling we had when we first read it. Those experiences still exist and we don't have to be upset when a brand wants to make more money. It just doesn't affect those experiences or memories.

In this way, the brand comes full circle. Star Wars' initial goal was to make characters and movies so compelling that we'd be so invested in them that we'd come back again and again, until now we're so invested and caught up in their story that when art comes back into the equation that forces us to re-consider some of our interpretations, it's a really jarring experience. And I do think The Last Jedi is some pretty good art and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I'll get to that...at some point here.

In order to not beat around the bush anymore, I should make it clear that the general fan response to The Last Jedi has been tepid at best. Star Wars fans suck, though. It's hard to be anything that's not The Empire Strikes Back (1980). The prequels were shitty because they were sloppy, wooden, and obtuse. The Force Awakens was unoriginal. The Last Jedi goes out on a pretty long limb in the other direction and is lambasted. There's no way you can win. Simply from the fact that these aren't the original (and I say Empire because there's a good deal of Return of the Jedi [1983] backlash that's been around for a while. For the record, I think that's all pretty damn valid). We basically can't make original stories and we can't make unoriginal stories. So, I dunno, why don't you just pop in the theatrical VHS and not worry about it.

Fan reaction has been highly critical of what The Last Jedi does to just about everything in the Star Wars lore, but I loved it. It's derided because it's iconoclastic in some really sincere ways, but that's another fan standard. "This isn't what Star Wars is supposed to be." "This isn't what the thing I love that someone else made up is about." I always think that's kind of bullshit. That was a standard Man of Steel (2013) complaint - "This isn't Superman. Dark works for Batman, not for Superman!" Well, fuck you, we're not beholden to 70 years of character history, we're beholden to just this movie (see, the debate I conjured up in the first paragraph holds some weight, right? Do we analyze based on cultural context or by singular experience?). In this way, we need to interpret based on what does and doesn't work within each individual interpretation of these characters.

Star Wars trips over itself a bit here. Within the context of the story, a conflicted, crusty, jaded Luke Skywalker works, but at the same time so much of this new trilogy hinges on the "Legend" of Luke Skywalker, which might as well be a stand-in for how much our real-life culture has honoured Mark Hamill's fictional character for the past forty years. So there's some discrepancy here and these new films definitely create a need for context, but I'll also hardily argue that The Last Jedi's interpretation of the Force, the Jedi, and especially Luke Skywalker are spot on. With this context out of the way, let's actually start talking about The Last Jedi.

The Nasty Spectre of Plot Logic

From the outset I liked this a hell of a lot more than The Force Awakens. It was as if it was the movie I wanted The Force Awakens to be. Its introduction with Kylo Ren stopping the blaster bolt and Finn getting confused is a bit snappier, but it also held all this random bullshit like Max von Sydow and Poe Dameron seeming like he'd be important, but then ignored for the rest of the film. The Last Jedi opens on a sequence that builds brilliant tension coupled with incredible loads of dramatic irony. Uhh...let's go SPOILERS from here until forever, because I want to talk freely about this shit.

This dude is just Goldmember
I don't really care about shit like, "Why are there bombers in space? There isn't gravity! Why does Poe go alone and say Dreadnoughts are scary when he takes out its defenses?" These are borderline nitpicky, but also caught up on plot logic when we should be focused on character. Plot doesn't really matter that much. No movie plot really makes sense if you think about it too hard. No one stresses out when a giant cliff appears next to Grant and the kids. What's more important is investment in character and creating an engaging sequence of events. The opening does this really well and gives Poe a more solid character than he ever was in TFA.

Oscar Isaacs does a solid job with Poe, but he was totally pushed to the side in the last film after hogging most of the screen time in the first twenty minutes. It's frankly bizarre. He's a constant presence here, and his character is one of the most defined, his relationships with everyone are thoroughly developed (still waiting on that kiss with Finn), and his arc is actually significant and important. One of the largest leaps in logic comes from Laura Dern's Admiral Holdo, who for no real reason at all witholds her escape plan, causing a lot of angst in Poe, as well as the audience. We're totally on Poe's side because this chick is a dumbass. Then it turns out she's really smart. Whoops. I don't even really understand the point of her not telling everyone her whole plan other than it ramping up tension, but in a film that's already far too long I don't know that that internal tension in addition to the First Order pressure was necessary.

Dern does a nice job for sure, but I don't know why her character actually existed. That role seemed fitting for Leia to do, and I was almost thinking that they added her based on Carrie Fisher's untimely death, but apparently nothing was changed? So...the excuse is just...shitty writing? Admiral Ackbar went out like a bitch, didn't even get a "It's a trap!" in. Why not give this dude a powerful send off (especially because it'd be redemption for him being the worst fucking tactical leader ever - seriously, he knows less than this random Sabacc Player they scrounged up). Or give it to Leia. She already has that relationship with Poe and it'd be a great send-off. Now, I know if they already shot everything they had planned and then Carrie Fisher...died, they couldn't really go back and screw with things. Maybe they actually wanted Leia to remain likable so they invented this purple-haired bitch to be terrible. That's all I can really fathom. This may get into nitpick territory, but it really works for Poe's character, so it's hard to be bitchy about it.

And for the record, I was cheering when Leia floated back to the ship after being blown into space. Leia never gets badass force moments and she's always supposed to be Luke's equal, the heir to one of the most powerful Force Users of all time. It's fucking baller. Apparently Episode IX was supposed to be a major Leia show, which just kind of blows now.

After we get past the evacuation of D'Qar we sit tight for some of the most thrilling set-pieces ever put in a Star Wars film...a low speed chase! Why couldn't the First Order just speed up a little bit? Move past nitpicking...must move past nitpicking...this sequence actually works pretty well as a bottle for our characters to sit and figure out how to get out of an unwinnable scenario. For too long after we dig in, though, there's not enough of a sense of urgency. When we finally get that 18-hour time limit, then we got something. I don't know how Finn and Rose were able to go to a whole Casino planet and back within that time period, but that doesn't matter, they fucked up anyway.

This brings us to another gripe, which is kind of solid, but not really reading well enough into the themes. Finn and Rose's plan to nab a codebreaker to sneak onto Snoke's ship to disable their tracker is solid (and for those keeping track at home - identical to their Death Star escape plan in A New Hope [1977], and they actually ALSO fail there, too [they're tracked back to Yavin IV]). See, we still can't escape this shit. Anyway, they totally fuck it up, don't do shit, are captured, and then eventually rescued by BB-8 riding half an AT-ST.

This all ignores the fact that they spent thirty minutes on a damned casino planet and somehow... didn't run into Lando Calrissian? Why wasn't Lando in this movie? The old decorated Rebel General / insane gambler would have fit in perfect here! I was tensing up thinking he'd be the codebreaker... or at least the dude in jail! Lando would definitely be in Casino Jail. He had better come back in Episode IX. This movie has enough gratuitous Chewbacca moments. Nien Nunb has been in two fucking movies so far, where the hell is Lando.

Done Fucked Up

These nun things
Failure is a big part of this movie. That's not really encouraging, but part of it is finding success in failure, or a way to hold on to a part of your dream or reconsidering what's even important. This works on a tremendous meta-level. Rose and Yoda are the constant voices for this shit. Rose is always focused on freeing animals and asshole slave kids, along with saving love itself. Sure, it'd be far more practical to actually save...the Resistance, but she instead works in ideals, which has always been a more powerful aspect in Star Wars. Again, A New Hope had a lot of this. "If you strike me down, I'll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Obi-Wan dies so his ideals live on. There's even Vader's "The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force." None of these platitudes had much meaning before now. Finally in The Last Jedi all of this is applicable. We'll get into what this film does with the Force in a bit, but the film relies on the power of symbols and ideals over physical acts of destruction and intimidation. That's an important thing.

While characters constantly fail, you notice less if you're wrapped up in their adventures. They still arc. Finn's character actually has another decent heroic arc, even if it's overturned by Rose. Those ideals are important and true to her character, though, even if they're impractical to the actual war they're fighting and interrupt what could have been a really cool cathartic moment for Finn.

And we're getting ahead, but on the Battle of Crait what the fuck was their plan, anyway? Someone was going to have to ram Grond the Hammer of the Underworld, right? Did those ski speeders have any weapons? It's a cool moment that suddenly kind of sucks, but again, this film is all about dealing with failure and re-defining what your own legacy should be.

During Finn and Rose's romp through Canto Bight I continually thought about Justice League (2017). That movie's problem was the opposite of failure. Everything came super easy to the characters. Movies should have hurdles, ascending challenges, that's what the Second Act is all about! One major structural problem with this is that it's a bit too much. I very honestly thought the film was going to end when Holdo hyperspace'd Snoke's ship. That's a perfect character climax and huge story moment.

Then we had a whole other fucking battle! I'm grateful because that was one of the visually coolest battles ever on a really unique planet that also gave us a BA Luke moment, but fuck, man. Story structure.

And for the record, check out Ackbar's reaction during the last notable rebel kamikaze. Sure, they could have hyperspace'd the Death Star, but the rebels tend to run low on ships, resources, and lives. This is about ideology. It's not rebel ideology to sacrifice good pilots to win a battle. They'd rather find another way.

If you haven't caught on already, I'm beating you nerds by out-nerding you. There's canonical OT evidence for every fucking one of your gripes.

Getting back on track, it was cool to see Finn match up with a new character, especially one who could challenge his own values (still cowardice, apparently. Or at least wanting to save Rey, probably just to bang her). Everyone seems on board with Benicio del Toro, and I agree here. It provides another front against the black and white ideology of the original trilogy, though. Everyone's gray here. There aren't really good guys and bad guys - just war. That's a notable critique. That whole Casino sequence did a nice job of showing that yes, there is other shit happening in this Universe (good luck, Rian). A lot of this sequence did feel pretty prequel-y, though. Lots of goofy CGI critters, weird shit, big cultural-specific racing. Also, those escaped fathiers are DEFINITELY going to be caught. Like, instantly. But the point is inspiration, right? That's how the Resistance recruits. Plant that seed, baby!

Another reason why this has gotten a lot of gripe is because it lacks catharsis. There are repercussions, but they're unexpected and unsatisfying. There's a fine line creating earned moments. This isn't Justice League where they accomplished unearned triumphs, but it's more like they don't earn anything from their efforts. That kind of sucks.

We've gone so long without mentioning Luke Skywalker and Rey. Holy crap. Let's dive into this shit.

A Whole Section on Luke Skywalker

Getting power converters in heaven now
Like I mentioned earlier, there is a good amount of fan strife because of how this film handles Luke. I agree somewhat, only because it seems focused on projecting more the outcome of the Tatooine Farm Boy Luke and less the Emperor's Throne Room Jedi Master Luke. When we first meet Luke, he really sucks. He's one of the whiniest characters in film history, a real impatient, horny asshole. He's really no different in Empire. Especially on Dagobah he's continually angry, frustrated, and impatient. It's not a tough stretch at all that he'd be a pretty shitty teacher. EXCEPT that in Return he's a total chill badass who mindfully reflects on the Force and defeats Vader and the Emperor through non-violent submission (earning uh...pity I guess) rather than sheer power. So I agree and disagree with where his character has ended up.

What's frustrating with him, Leia, and Han is how depressing it is to imagine the past thirty years. Return ends with a giant Ewok party, everyone's jazzed about the Empire being destroyed, and everyone's got their own thing. Han and Leia are free to bang, Luke's the Jedi Master. It's all cool.

This is thing with any return to a long-standing series. I have just recently got into Ash vs. Evil Dead and was really struck by how little progress Ash has made in the first episode. It's sad! In our imaginations these characters have grown and had great lives. It's depressing to see how much they've fucked up. This is also the EU's fault, because they tend to spin off the Return Master Luke rather than whiny Tosche Station Luke. It's a bummer to see that Rebel General Han Solo is now a bum shipping rathtars to the cast of The Raid (2011). It sucks to see Senator Princess Leia Organa still fighting the same fucking war for thirty more years as if nothing the Rebellion accomplished even mattered, especially when by the end of this film the entire Resistance fits on the Millennium Falcon. It's a thirty-year losing battle, Leia! And it's really disheartening to see just how far Luke has fallen.

His legend is just that - a legend that he doesn't feel he can live up to. It's totally diminished and wasted. It reflects the entire state of the Jedi, which also isn't a new thing. It is clear in the prequels that the Jedi have grown fat, arrogant, and bureaucratic. Lucas always glamorized the Order and definitely fetishized their combat, but that concept was there, except it mostly came out of Anakin and Palpatine's mouths. The ancient mysticism spin that Obi-Wan and Yoda spoke of in the OT is something that the prequels never reflected. Instead they were all about midi-chlorians, Jedi Archives, and arbitrary Council rules. The order needed to be burned down and restarted. Luke was supposed to do it. Hell, it's the Return of the Jedi! Not Return of a Jedi. As in, plural Jedi, as in it's implied that Luke would be the first of many new Jedi.

He somehow got all the ancient texts, somehow written on paper in a book or something, and the movie is clever about how it handles them. Luke is fed up with the fallibility of the Jedi and goes to burn down the tree containing their original Bible. Yoda stops him, then blows up the tree himself. You can read a lot into that - Yoda can conjure lightning now - IS HE A SITH?! No, but it's a callback to the crazy wisdom that embodied his first appearance. Now he quickly shed that doofy Muppet persona when they started really training, but that callback is way better than the bureaucrat we got in the prequels. Yoda always seemed to exist as an isolated hermit who had little use for the ephemeral trappings of Jedi opulence. Nope, he was all about it in the prequels. I wanted so fucking bad for Hayden Christensen to show up here, you have no idea.

But Yoda, probably sensing that Rey had already taken the texts to the Falcon (or he just watched her - that purvey green toad is probably spying on her 24/7) just blew it up, saving Luke the pain while also liberating him from the pressure of preserving the religion. Let's face it, Luke really sucked. He wasn't ready for this shit. If there were a ton of other Jedi around, he'd be the Ki-Adi-Mundi of the group, not the Mace Windu. Hell, he'd probably just be the Saesee Tiin. Brother gets one lucky shot in the thermal exhaust port and rides that shit forever. He's the fucking Star Wars version of Christian Laettner.

Anyway, The Last Jedi denounces this prequel and OT mythology very succinctly and expressly. While The Force Awakens relished in its fan service, The Last Jedi relishes in giving the middle finger to everyone's face. It's rough but not invalid. Luke lays it out. To say that the Jedi are the only ones who know how to control the force is hubris. But where there is failure there is hope. Luke thought he would setback the movement, but he could still be a symbol. There was still room for redemption. And what a redemption, Luke vs. the AT-ATs is as immortal a moment as you can get.

And to be sure, it's very obvious that it's fake. Luke looks exactly like he did when he last saw Kylo Ren, and that's the point - it's all about triggering this childish egomaniac into losing all control and thought of strategy in favor of anger. To the galaxy at large not really knowing that, though, Luke appears as if he has tremendous power - this lone warrior that will stand against oppression and tyranny. The Last Jedi trades in symbols, inspiration, and power that's subtle over overt. It's not a cackling maniac throwing the Senate at Yoda. It's deception and clever manipulation. There's no way around saying that most of the use of the Force is for fucking tricking people, right? Like, the mind trick is a FUCKING UNFORGIVABLE CURSE in Harry Potter. That's not okay.

The New It Couple

At some point we should talk about Rey and Kylo, right? I am all about their sexual tension. The only thing this movie lacked was a hardcore, full penetration scene between the two of them. This is something the OT lacked because the only chick anyone ever saw was Leia. And the prequels, well, we all know how sexy it is to use the Force to cut up pears. It adds something really interesting to their dynamic, and oh man, how I hope they're somehow brother and sister still.

This is just Rian Johnson wanting to beat Gareth
Edwards for the most beautiful Star Wars movie ever
Besides rooting for casual incest, Daisy Ridley's Rey again gives hope to this new franchise. She spends most of the film alone with Luke, and then a good chunk with Kylo. I'll get into this more later, but this is totally Empire-y. You get the feeling when she comes back that it's the big guns swinging (and holy shit! Guess what else JUST did that that I fucking pointed out) and that rock lifting moment is again pretty stupendous (*side note - I always thought that Finn also had the Force based on that look that Kylo gives him during the intro to The Force Awakens and his general competency with a lightsaber. I guess we still can't have Black Jedi besides Sam Jackson. And maybe Adi Gallia).

Rey and Kylo represent something a bit deeper, though, that shakes the foundation of Star Wars. What if we didn't have to be binary? What if we could blend the Dark and Light Sides? We don't need Sith or Jedi or other ancient institutions. The Force isn't something to be defined and distilled and bent to our will. Here's another reason why this is so jarring - Luke explicitly refers to Jedism as a "religion" (for the record, so did Admiral Motti in A New Hope) while condemning it and saying that exact dogma matters less than general faith and devotion. That's like saying, Catholic, Methodist, Muslim, Baha'i, doesn't fucking matter, just believe in peace and goodwill! That's a rough thesis statement for a wide audience to swallow, Rian. I for one, totally believe in that, which is probably why I really enjoyed this movie.

That's what the Force truly is. It binds us, connects us, moves through us. It's not something reserved for an exclusive family of Galactic Leaders and royalty. It's for any scrub on Canto Bight or Jakku to own and use. The revelation that Rey's parents were drunken junkers was fucking spectacular and the only good out that this series was going to come up with. If she was a bastard from Obi-Wan that would piss off people thinking she was Luke's girl. If she was Luke's daughter it'd be shitty she wasn't Kylo's sister. If she was Chewbacca's step-daughter it'd be awful she was the granddaughter of Jar Jar Binks. This film is all about the nature of legacies, failure, and giving the power back to the people. That's what the rebellion is all about. The First Order is the elitist strict assholes. The Rebellion is egalitarian. Rey embodies that like crazy.

Both Rey and Kylo aren't Jedi and Sith as much as just strong Force users who tap into both sides as they need to. Kylo's speech about tearing down everything in the Galaxy is the best part of this movie - for some reason he had to tack on the THIRD fucking "join me and we can rule together" speech in this series. There are some I've talked to who really wanted Rey to join him right there and fuse the Resistance and First Order together. I think that's still possible, but Kylo is still a childish asshole who wants to see his vision of the Universe happen. He's a young dude who just murdered his master and wants to do his own thing. That's solid Episode IX territory as he continues to battle the light and dark within him, a conflict which makes him the best character in this series.

On a side note, I need to admit something. As a child I was terrified that I'd be force-sensitive. I was so angry and felt that dark side temptation. Looking back, it was just like, normal kid-stuff, like pissed off that I had to share my Super Nintendo with my brother. Star Wars scared the hell out of me, though, that that path would lead me down the road to being a Sith, then I'd get all mechanical or gross. This was a legitimate fear! I would love for this new series to blow that apart and admit we can be fucking human and embody both sides in balance.

This is all boiling down to a Rey vs. Kylo showdown, if not in lightsabers than in ideology and egos (oh who are we kidding, J.J. is coming back. It'll be lightsabers). The throneroom scene was not only visually stunning, but emotionally resonant. Kylo not hiding his feelings towards Snoke as he read his intentions was a brilliant, if somewhat foreseeable turn, and a perfect moment to destroy a really unlikable evil character. Their team-up against the Royal Guards is awesome and makes you wonder how shitty Palpatine's fucking guards were that didn't do shit to Vader and Luke when they offed their boss (He actually tells them to go away, but you'd think they'd be monitoring it or run back or something). One major issue structurally is that this is the emotional climax of the film for our two most prominent characters. Then it keeps going on for like another hour. I literally looked at my watch and said "What the fuck?" outloud.

This is just Empire

While The Force Awakens was very blatant about just being a remake of A New Hope, The Last Jedi DOES totally ape Empire, but in far more subtle ways. It's more a mirror image. There's a big Walker battle in the trenches on frosty planet (although Crait is covered in salt, not snow), a casino planet where the heroes are betrayed by a cocky gambler, training on an isolated planet with an unwilling Master (that even has a Dark Side hole where you can face an abstract version of your greatest fear), and a middle of the film space stand-off between Rebels and Imperials. Somehow it never feels like the same movie as Empire, though. This could be because despite all this, there's enough new things here.

The AT-ATs are there but not the focus. They aren't the reason why the rebel base is threatened, they're just support. And they can't really be engaged like Rogue Squadron did in their snowspeeders. Cloud City is admittedly never called out as a Casino, but that's what it is, and Canto Bight is far more overt. Lando and DJ Benicio del Toro are drastically different characters whose function in the story is also drastically different. If DJ comes back and helps Nien Nunb blow up Starkiller Base II, I'll go nuts. The relationship between Master and Pupil on Ahch-To is reversed, likely because Luke is still an impatient asshole. Rey is the disciplined one and her greatest fear is never knowing who her jackass parents are (join Harry Potter, Bruce Wayne, and Spider-Man ya jerk). And there are quite a bit more dynamics at work with a whole ship of Rebels vs. just Threepio, Han, Leia, and Chewie on the Falcon.

I think this makes it work a bit better. For the record if you really sink your teeth into The Force Awakens, the context for the similarities between that and A New Hope are drastically different, but not enough to make it seem like a new movie. Han's delivery on Starkiller Base just sums up the laziness of that film - "Why don't we just blow it up!?" and sure enough, they can just blow it up.


That was a lot.

If you made it to the end of this, I'm really proud of you. I was pretty jazzed up on The Force Awakens and Rogue One immediately after watching them, too (hell, I was fucking pumped for Phantom Menace, but then again, I was 12), so maybe the illogical bits of Last Jedi will sink in over the next few weeks, but for now, I loved this movie. The structure bogs it down, but honestly you can get over that. Star Wars works in bits and pieces and a collective mythology. I don't think Jedi blows that up as much as it clarifies and strips it down to what's really important. That's scary to a lot of people. Insulting even. I'm down for it.

And now we got J.J. to bring us back to some safe fucking Ewok-filled crap anyway. Not unlike James Bond films (now THERE's an article that will take you a few days to read), each of these films seem to be a knee-jerk reaction to what came before, but that's nothing new. I guarantee Revenge of the Sith (2005) wouldn't have been so dark if fans didn't so vocally express their hatred for the cutesy Phantom Menace.

I'm 50/50 on caring about this (clearly), but this is still loads above a lot of the normal blockbuster crap out there. There's an old adage that Star Wars is like pizza - warm or cold, cheese or pepperoni, it's still pretty good and you'll eat it.

16 December 2017

2017 Reflection: The Crap We Was

It's a long mirror to look back in and understand our anticipation of lots of media that dropped in 2017. I tried really hard to not set myself up for disappointment this year. I was mostly pleasantly surprised. This was an impressive year, all things told. It's important to be really refined about what we're looking for, and for all the complaining about the movies being dead or Peak TV uh...peaking, we had some good shit. Let's review the shit that we were pumped up for a year ago.

Taboo (01/10)

I went back and forth on Taboo a lot. In the end I liked it. It was a brutal look at the life of Tom Hardy in the early 19th-Century, full of some insane twists and turns that made for some addictive watching. I continuously got the impression that they were trying hard to be an admittedly scaled back Game of Thrones set in 1814 London. It's full of different parties trying to play against each other and manipulate a grand game of war, ships, slaves, and whore murder. It ended a bit softer than it should have and was never as good as it tried to be, but the acting, impressive production design, and incest are always welcome.

Run the Jewels 3 (01/17)

This dropped in December as I was writing this preview, so dammit, Killer Mike. 3 wasn't as good as 2, but grew on me as the year went on, culminating in "Legend Has It" featured in that stellar Black Panther trailer. I'm surprised they had commercial success with their insanely literate politically charged hip hop at all, but they proved again they're some of the best in the game.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (01/20)

Hahahaa, alright, so there was a pretty specific way this could go. I'm further confounded about the Diesel after this - he is so clearly not in on the joke of his own ridiculousness. It actually had a decent premise, too. This movie was pretty fucking bad, but Ruby Rose was amazing in it. This did not turn into the Fast franchise nobody but Diesel wanted, but that's for everyone's benefit.

Legion (02/08) - FX
Just give him some McDonalds and be done with it

Legion was bonkers and continuously mind-blowing, often very literally. It changed the game for what Aubrey Plaza can do, made a star out of Rachel Keller, and showcased Dan Stevens as so much more than the arbitrary stand-in actor for Beauty and the Beast (2017). That dance scene, man. This leaves all those Marvel Netflix series in the dust by not being remotely concerned with superhero antics. Instead they focus on misuse of powers, mostly through lack of understanding, fear and self-preservation, and personal gain. Ironically, a series focused on mutants is the most human series yet.

John Wick: Chapter Two (02/10)

The most difficult uphill battle was that this was no longer coming by surprise. John Wick (2014) changed the game and a second chapter was neither asked for nor necessary. Yeah, we're glad we got it. From throwing the action to a car, the random mean streets of New York, and then a somehow even more impossibly bleak ending, Chapter Two delivered more action sequences that raised the bar for all other films to follow. We just can't watch sub-par action anymore.

The LEGO Batman Movie (02/10)

I enjoyed this a lot, but am generally less of a fan than I should be. It's an absolute love letter to superhero, particularly Batman tropes and history, which is all sorts of amazing, but there was a moment there when the metanarrative didn't add up with the actual narrative, and the "Joker in love with Batman" subplot (or...main plot?) felt inauthentic. Cramming in every other property that Warner Bros owns seemed forced and resolved far too quickly for how good this could have been. In its defense, it IS probably the funniest film of 2017 and Will Arnett continues to be a revelation in this role.

A Cure for Wellness (02/17)

Kind of like LEGO Batman this film was full of good, interesting ideas that never seemed to go anywhere. Yes, let's compare A Cure for Wellness to LEGO Batman... Dane DeHaan is serviceable enough, but the conspiracy pay-off isn't great. I don't know why we needed a big conspiracy at all. This movie worked fine as a meditation on creepy wellness sanitariums, which totally actually exist somehow and are totally manipulative pseudo-science. There's 3/4 of a good movie in here.

Logan (03/03)

Breathtaking? Amazing? Uncanny. Logan delivered on everything it tried to be and more. In an age of bigger and badder crashing and smashing superhero films, Hugh, Pat, and James found a way around all that. I still hate the doppelganger crap, and wanted Mr. Sinister, but this is fine. I guess. There's enough incredible scenes of tragic superhero downtime and growth, actual fucking growth to make this a great film.

The Fate of the Furious (04/14)

I'm sorry. I'm off Diesel. I promise. That Statham baby fight, tho. And that Statham / Rock prison escape. And the Rock throwing a torpedo into a submarine. There was lots of madness here, but an empty movie with a wasted premise. The Last Knight (2017) wins this year's battle of "Heroes Becoming Traitors" movie twists.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (05/05)

Until my dying day I'll tout this over the original and over most of what else dropped in the blockbuster realm this year. I was hesitant to throw this up here because I'm always disappointed, but this worked in every way. Well, sure the middle of the film just chilling on Ego was a little flat, but damn they rode their characters so true, threw in a random Stallone, and gave us more feels for Yondu than any superhero character ever. How about that?

Dunkirk (07/21)
Don't forget your suntan lotion!

Here's another film that possibly surpassed expectations. We all know that Chris Nolan has to really try to make an outright SHITTY movie (I listed Following [1998] and Batman Begins [2005] among his worst. How is that even possible), but it was great to see that Dunkirk easily ranked among his best ever. It's kind of like when Pixar spits out an Inside Out (2015) that suddenly stand with anything they've ever done. This somehow plays with time more than any film he's done, despite cranking out two huge films that explicitly deal with some form of time travel. It's a wonder of editing, storytelling, and true drama.

Blade Runner 2049 (10/06)

There are a few weeks left of this year to crank out a few more choice films, but right now 2049 is at the top of my list. I don't think I've ever had a #1 most anticipated film actually come out as best of the year. I feel so validated. We'll get into this more when the time comes.

Now, we had a few mini-anticipation previews, so let's go through that:

Rock That Body - became Rough Night, sucked
Baby Driver - ruled
Downsizing - did not see yet, word of mouth has grown lesser since its announcement
God Particle - coming out 2018
Untitled Paul Anderson Fashion World Drama - became Phantom Thread, have not seen, but is evidently amazing
Logan Lucky - Definitely underrated, but a clear Soderbergh lesser work
Annihilation - coming out 2018
The Death of Stalin - US Release 2018
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - nuts, but okay
It Comes at Night - shitty
Mute - 2018
Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter - unknown release
The Coldest City - became Atomic Blonde, ruled
Brawl in Cell Block 99 - Have not seen, but word is it rules
Landline - did not see, relatively little hype
Free Fire - shitty, probably my biggest disappointment of the year.

Well, that's it for the shit we looked forward to. Not too shabby, folks. I could have told myself that xXx: The Return of Xander Cage would suck. I wouldn't have listened. This is the life we chose.

Stay tuned until January when we preview 2018! It never ends!
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