Tag: Rian Johnson

A personal response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi 2.jpg

I don’t like Star Wars. Wait, stop, don’t go yet. Let me clarify. I don’t like Star Wars movies very much. When I was around 7 years old, I got both the Original Trilogy (hereafter OT) and the Indiana Jones Trilogy on VHS at roughly the same time. I started with Star Wars and found myself enjoying but not falling head over heals with the films. Then I watched the Indiana Jones movies and fell in love with them. Here’s a movie for me! Whips! Nazi punching! The best part of Star Wars given his own films and no whiny kids to muck it all up (ok, well, at least not in 2/3 of them). That isn’t to say that I cast Star Wars aside entirely. In fact, if you looked at my toy collection for the next 5 or so years of my life, you’d think I was the biggest Star Wars fan there was. I did love the extended Star Wars universe. I read a bunch of the books, ignoring the generally bad prose for the pretty fun world-(or universe)-building. As I got older I got really into a few Star Wars videogames, especially the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series and, of course, both Knights of the Old Republic games. When the Prequel Trilogy began I was 11 years old and of course I loved The Phantom Menace because I was the perfect age for it. I came home and fought the classic broom-handle-lightsaber battles with my friends. I played the terrible videogame that followed the events of the movie and the fantastic podracer game. I got Lego sets and the action figures. I made up stories of my own because the stories (and most of the primary characters) weren’t all that interesting to me. This is my Star Wars apostasy, I’m a spiritual Star Wars fan, not a fundamentalist. And that is why The Last Jedi is, for me, the first truly great Star Wars movie.

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5 Jawesome Things for the week of April 27, 2012

Another week with bonus Jawesome to make up for missing last week’s column.

1. Parks and Rec

Recently, 30 Rock has gotten some flack for just being a joke machine with little thought for character or plot. I can’t really argue against that, though I still really like the show. Parks and Rec does not have that problem. At all. The characters are what drives the show and the debate episode (written and directed by Amy Pohler) is glorious proof. It’s full of these people acting as we would expect and still being extremely funny. And then the show ends with an amazing speech by Leslie Knope which isn’t so much funny as it is just a great moment of TV. But that moment only works because we know her and her friends so well. The show couldn’t have pulled off such a real moment in its first or second season because the groundwork wasn’t laid at that time. This is proof positive that arbitrary limits on tv show running times are silly. Yes, the Brits generally like to end their shows before they get bad, The Office‘s 12 episodes and a bonus being the prime example, but just think of how much we’d miss from Parks and Rec if it had ended after two seasons.

2. Babies and weddings

Well, just the one baby. I am, of course, talking about Game of Thrones. Last week we got to one of the most shocking scenes in the second book on the tv show and it was executed much better than I expected it to be. It was a genuinely creepy scene and it gave me even more confidence in the show’s ability to get the book right. Which is good, because I’m also about 100 pages away from the end of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series. There are so many weddings! Each one plays out differently and they are all quite fascinating. It’s an interesting thematic chorus: after each wedding the world is shifted in some small or large way and the next chapters are about the aftermath until the next wedding comes along and changes everything again. I won’t spoil who is getting married to who, but it’s all very interesting and often shocking.

3. Gotye – Making Mirrors

I guess I’m pretty late to this album, but I hadn’t even heard the super popular “Somebody that I Used to Know” until his appearance on Saturday Night Live (along with the very funny digital short parodying the songs strange but wonderful video). The rest of the album is pretty darn good, too. He goes through a lot of different genres, my favorite being his take on old-school soul, “I Feel Better”. He tries a lot of things on the album and the amazing thing is that most of them work.

4. Python

I don’t know why I watched this. I know I have a weakness for giant animal movies, but this one is one of the worst that I have seen. It is, at least, bad in a good way. I think all the proof you need is in the trailer, which shows the two brave choices that make this movie so Jawesome. The first is Wil Wheaton’s Pink Hair and the second is Casper Van Dien’s Miserable Mustache. Never before have two truly ugly folicular mistakes occupied the same screen along with a horribly rendered CGI snake and Jenny McCarthy (who has her own horrible hair). Also, there’s a silly fight scene and a protracted Psycho reference.

5. Catsitting

I catsat(?) for my grandmother earlier this week and man, that cat is Jawesome. Unlike my own cat whose attitude towards me ranges from indifferent to uninterested, Sweetie couldn’t get enough of my attention. She’s a smallish Maine Coon and very playful and purr-y. Here, have a video.

6. Vampire books

I recently finished the second book of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampire trilogy, The Fall. It treats vampirism as a virus and that’s a cool touch but the writing never elevates above being strictly entertaining into the artfulness that GDT is capable of. You can spot his influence, including lifting scenes and plot points from almost all of his films (the subway setting of Mimic, the old man who wants to become a vampire to fix his body from Cronos, the auction scene from Hellboy 2 and so on and so forth) but this series could have been so much better if he’d actually written it. It misses his storytelling touch. I then started The Passage by Justin Cronin. I couldn’t remember if this was supposed to be a vampire or a zombie book and it ends up being kind of a mix of the two. It, too, treats vampirism as a virus but it’s scope is much more epic than The Fall‘s. The vampire apoclaypse happens relatively early and the book turns into a survival horror story akin to The Walking Dead or The Stand. It feels a lot like the best of Stephen King’s work, sprawling and personal at the same time. I’m only about a third of the way through the book and I look forward to seeing where it’s going. It is the first in a trilogy as well, so we’ll see how such a long story works for the topic. Luckily the writing is very good and the characters are interesting, so it’s got a good start.

7. Looper and Prometheus trailers

Looper is the the third film by Rian Johnson and it is getting a big push which will hopefully vault him into the public’s interest. The trailer is fantastic at showing the plot (a man who kills people for the mob from the future by means of time travel gets shaken up when he is tasked with killing his future-self) and the style, which is quite different looking from his two previous films (Brick and The Brothers Bloom, both of which appear on my Top 100 List) which were quite different from each other. Prometheus’s newest video isn’t a trailer, necessarily, but it is an intriguing and very well made introduction to Michael Fassbender’s character. If you want to go into the film knowing nothing I’d suggest that you don’t watch it but it is a very interesting watch. I like this kind of advertising, since this won’t be anywhere in the film itself it isn’t spoiling the viewing experience like seeing that zero-gravity shot from Inception every other commercial did and it’s giving us more Fassbender which is always appreciated.

There you have it, two bonus Jawesome Things. What kind of Jawesome Things have you seen?

Top 100 Films: The _7’s

Today’s portion of the list leans heavily on the romantic side, with 6 of them containing heavily romantic elements. There’s also only two movie from before I was born. And it leans towards the generic side, with 2 period epics, a rom-com, a courtroom drama, a con film, a 2 crime dramas, and 2 films about artists and their works. And dinosaurs.

97. Gangs of New York (2002)

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis

That’s what preserves the order of things. Fear.

Another mini-epic, this film survives thanks to strong performances by DiCaprio and Day-Lewis and remarkable directorial work by Scorsese. He’s not a favorite of mine but here everything works. It is forgotten all too easily.

87. The Scarlet Empress (1934)

Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Starring Marlene Dietrich and John Lodge

I want to play with my toys!

This telling of the story of Catherine II is probably the best looking film on this list, at least in terms of set design. The opulence on display is overwhelming, and Dietrich’s performance matches it. Then there’s the hilarious Sam Jaffe’s over-the-top Grand Duke Peter, amping everything up to 11.

77. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson

I didn’t ask for a shrink – that must’ve been somebody else. Also, that pudding isn’t mine. Also, I’m wearing this suit today because I had a very important meeting this morning and I don’t have a crying problem.

The best Adam Sandler film takes the typical Adam Sandler shtick and puts it in the real world. Mostly. It’s funny and romantic and thrilling and sad. All the things you want a movie to be.

67. Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Directed by John Ford. Starring Henry Fonda and Marjorie Weaver

By jing, that’s all there is to it: right and wrong.

More great Henry Fonda, more great John Ford. And there is another on the way. This one shows a small part of the beginnings of Abe Lincoln’s career. It’s mostly a courtroom drama, and a great one at that.

57. The Brothers Bloom (2008)

Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Rachel Weisz and Adrian Brody

The perfect con is the one where everyone involved gets just what they want.

I’ve not seen a great deal of con movies, though I have seen some of the big ones. This one has a lot more heart to it than any of the others. It’s also hilarious and all of the con stuff works. The ending is super great. So’s the middle and the beginning.

47. Out of Sight (1998)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez

It’s like seeing someone for the first time, and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there’s this kind of recognition like you both know something. Next moment the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Cool and hot, this movie has it all. Clooney’s on top of his game and Jennifer Lopez has never been this good since. A tale of impossible love and criminals, there’s a lot of humor and violence. That’s how you know it’s a good romance.

37. Black Swan (2010)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis

Perfect? I’m not perfect. I’m nothing.

A movie about art, the pursuit of perfection, and going crazy. There’s much melodrama in this film, everything is black or white. It’s not subtle, but I love it. The final performance is one of the best things I’ve seen recently.

27. Fargo (1996)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring William H. Macy and Frances McDormand

There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand.

Sometimes you just gotta laugh at some of the silly things that people do. The Coens know this, which is why their seminal Fargo is at once real and hilariously un-real. The accents just enhance everything to another awesome level.

17. The Fall (2006)

Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru

You should ask someone else. There’s no happy ending with me.

A movie about storytelling and why we do it. With two amazing performances at the center, filmed all over the world in what must be the most beautiful places, this film is something to get wrapped up in. The story within the story doesn’t always make sense, but it shouldn’t, really. The ending is, again, amazing.

7. Jurassic Park (1993)

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Sam Neil and Laura Dern

But with this place I wanted to show them something that wasn’t an illusion, something that was real, something they could see and touch. An aim not devoid of merit.

Dinosaurs always fascinated me. Things that did exist but don’t any more. But Jurassic Park gives us a glimpse at what might happen if we weren’t the top of the food chain anymore. It’s thrilling and thrilling and thrilling. Also, Jeff Goldblum is amazing.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

Top 100 Films: The _9’s

If you don’t understand the title here please check out this post and look there for the first part of the list, the _0’s. And now, the ten movies in the spots that end in the number 9.

99. Thirst (2009)

Directed by Park Chan-wook. Starring Song Kang-ho  and Kim Ok-bin

I don’t kill anyone, you know.

I like to call movies like this “messterpieces,” movies that are kind of crazy and out of control but still fascinating. The final scene is at once hilarious and sad. And beautiful. Like the rest of the movie.

89. Brick (2005)

Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lukas Haas

No more of these informal chats! If you have a diciplinary issue with me, write me up or suspend me and I’ll see you at the Parent-Teacher conference.

The opposite of a messterpiece, Brick is supremely well constructed and thought through to the tiniest detail. The combination of noir and high school shouldn’t work but it does. An amazing debut.

79. Once (2006)

Directed by John Carney. Starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

What’s the Czech for “Do you love him”?

A small little musical that has more heart than most films. The romance is so believable and the moment they first sing together gives me goosebumps. It feels more like a documentary than a typical musical.

69. Hot Fuzz (2007)

Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

You’re not seriously gonna believe this man, are you? Are you? HE ISN’T EVEN FROM ‘ROUND HERE!

Minutely constructed, this movie takes at least two viewings to get all the jokes because the punchline often comes before the setup. It also works really well as a buddy cop movie, thanks to those three guys up there. The chemistry and direction are spot on.

59. The Truman Show (1998)

Directed by Peter Weir. Starring Jim Carrey and Laura Linney

Somebody help me, I’m being spontaneous!

Either before its time or a harbinger of doom that we didn’t heed, The Truman Show is a wonderful film. I love the pathos and the clever little touches like the commercials and the man in the moon controlling Truman’s life like the moon controls the tides.

49. A History of Violence (2005)

Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello

You’re supposed to call me Dad. That’s what I am, your Dad.

Here I’ll declare that I don’t like gangster movies except for the ones that do something other than the rise-and-fall that you find in, say, Goodfellas. A History of Violence is one of those movies. Here’s a man escaped who gets dragged back into his old life, kicking and screaming. There’s even some of the good old-fashioned body horror that Cronenberg is known for in the action scenes and Viggo’s uncomfortable-ness in his own house and family.

39. My Darling Clementine (1946)

Directed by John Ford. Starring Henry Fonda and Victor Mature

Sure is a hard town for a fella to have a quiet game o’ poker in.

John Ford made a lot of westerns. This is the best of the straightforward examples. Henry Fonda is awesome as usual and Victor Mature is way cooler than Val Kilmer’s take on Doc Holliday. And there’s a fun bad guy role for Walter Brennan, who seems to be in every movie that John Ford ever made.

29. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Directed by Steve James. Featuring William Gates and Arthur Agee

That’s why when somebody say, “When you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me,” and that stuff. Well, I should’ve said to them, “If I don’t make it, don’t you forget about me.”

One of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen. You see these two boys go from thinking they’ll be the next NBA stars to an uncertain future. Whether it be medical or motivational, these problems are both universal and unfortunately specific.

19. His Girl Friday (1940)

Directed by Howard Hawks. Starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell

Walter, you’re wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way.

The fastest dialogue I’ve ever heard keeps the energy going from start to end. Cary Grant is king of the screwball comedy and Rosalind Russell is up to the challenge of keeping up and even getting ahead of him. Consistently rewatchable.

9. Alien (1979)

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt

I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.

The ultimate haunted house movie… that’s also set in space. Sigourney Weaver faces off against a man in a big rubber suit, and it’s one of the scariest movies of all time. Ridley Scott understands the Jaws lesson of showing less monster to get more scares. With one great sequel (3), one horrible sequel (Aliens) and one crazy sequel (Resurrection), I can’t wait to see what Scott does in the prequel. The original is an astounding film.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section