erik lundegaard

Tuesday January 23, 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your (OK, Their) 2017 Oscar Nominations

2017 Oscars

Well, I guess have to see “Darkest Hour” now. Sigh. 

Yes, the 2017 Oscar nominations are out! And yes, it's the 2017 Oscars. To quote the all-knowing Nathaniel Rogers, it's “not the 2018 Oscars, bitches. Oscars are for the film year, not the calendar year in which they take place.”

Amen, brother. 

So one of my faves of the year, “The Big Sick,” got an original screenplay nod in a stacked category, but no best picture (I had fingers and toes crossed but wasn't expecting it) and, shockingly, horribly, no Holly Hunter in supporting! And yes, that's another stacked category, but I'd tap Hunter over, say, Octavia Spencer, whose work in “The Shape of Water” was fine but hardly memorable. 

Speaking of: “Shape of Water” led the way with 13 nominations. 13! Guillermo del Toro, with his love of the dark, should like that unlucky total. It's just one off the record, which is shared by “All About Eve,” “Titanic” and “La La Land.” First two won best pic, the last, famously, didn't.

Meanwhile, these are the pics with 13 noms that “Shape” is now joining. Best picture winners highlighted:

  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008)
  • “Chicago” (2002)
  • “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)
  • “Shakespeare in Love” (1998)
  • “Forrest Gump” (1994)
  • “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)
  • “Mary Poppins” (1964)
  • “From Here to Eternity” (1953)
  • “Gone With The Wind” (1939)

So by no means a done deal. I mean, all that love for “Benjamin Button”? Talk about curious cases. 

Should we just do a little category by category breakdown? Not Foggy Mountain but worth something:

PICTURE (# of total nominations in parentheses)

  • “Call Me by Your Name” (4)
  • “Darkest Hour” (6)
  • “Dunkirk” (8)
  • “Get Out” (4)
  • “Lady Bird” (5)
  • “Phantom Thread” (6)
  • “The Post” (2)
  • “The Shape of Water” (13)
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (7)

My tops in this category: 1) “Call Me By Your Name” 2) “Lady Bird” 3) “Three Billboards.” Don't get the “Dunkirk” love. I guess it's an old-fashioned spectacle war drama by a boffo box-office director, but the characters are nothing. “Get Out” is wholly original but its metaphor falters with its big reveal. “Phantom Thread” is a suffocating, beautiful story with the stench of murder in it, and as perplexing an ending as you'll find. “The Post” was straightforward but without much of an engine. What's missing? “The Big Sick.” 

ACTOR:

  • Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
  • Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
  • Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
  • Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

I'd rather see Roman J. Israel get nominated for “Denzel Washington” but maybe that's me. Has anyone seen that movie? The only guys who now have more acting noms than Denzel (who now has 8) are: Jack Nicholson (12), Laurence Olivier (10), Paul Newman (10), and Spencer Tracy (9). We got some kids in the mix, too. Chalamet, at 22, is the third-youngest best actor nominee (after Mickey Rooney and Jackie Cooper), while Kaluuya, at 28,is the 20th-youngest. (See here.) I just saw “Phantom Thread” and in a perfect world, where no one had won anything, the Academy would be giving it to DDL. But this is apparently Oldman's to lose. Who's missing? Some say James Franco in “The Disaster Artist,” but I wouldn't have gone there. Same with Hanks in “The Post.” Both playing real people, btw. As is Oldman. 

ACTRESS

  • Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
  • Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  • Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
  • Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
  • Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Interesting stat from Nathaniel: “This is Meryl's first time in a Best Picture nominee since Out of Africa (1985).” Sad, not shocking. Since WWII, the Academy has relegated women's pictures to “less than best.” Two real people in the mix (Graham and Harding), and a tough vote. Don't know who would get mine. Either Hawkins, McDormand or Ronan.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
  • Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  • Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
  • Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
  • Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Missing: Michael Stuhlbarg in either “Call Me” or “Shape of Water.” Rockwell is getting the love, which I love. I'd go him or Harrelson, whose work in “3B” was underrated. 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
  • Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
  • Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
  • Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
  • Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

One of my favorite cinematic moments this year was Holly Hunter's by-the-way smelling her daughter's jacket as they entered her apartment for the first time. We'll always have that, Holly. Also missing: Betty Gabriel from “Get Out.” 

DIRECTOR

  • “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
  • “Get Out,” Jordan Peele
  • “Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
  • “Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
  • “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Missing: Martin McDonagh for “Three Billboards.” Making it no longer a best picture threat? Once upon a time, yes, but “Argo” went there a few years ago. That said, I think del Toro will probably join his “Three Amigos” companions, Inarritu (2014, 2015) and Cuaron (2013), with a best director statuette. If so, it would mean best director has gone to someone from Mexico four of the last five years. And Taiwan the year before that. (Don't tell Donald.) Not bad for a category that always used to bet on white.  

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • “Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
  • “The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
  • “Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
  • “Molly's Game,” Aaron Sorkin
  • “Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Future trivia buffs: Name the only superhero movie that won a best screenplay nomination. The answer is there, “Logan.” The lesson is apparently to go dark and dystopic. My vote is on Ivory all the way. 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • “The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
  • “Get Out,” Jordan Peele
  • “Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
  • “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

Another stacked category. I get the feeling Peele will get it as a sop for not getting director, but I'd go either Gerwig or Gordon/Nanjiani. Hey Academy! You can honor both women AND men of color if you vote “The Big Sick”! Just saying. 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • “Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
  • “Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
  • “Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
  • “Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
  • “The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen

No “Phantom Thread,” huh? Historic note: Rachel Morrison is the first woman nom'ed for DP. This will also be poor Roger Deakins 14th nom. Without a win.

The Oscars are Sunday, March 4. Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. Party at my place. 

FURTHER READING

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Posted at 11:57 AM on Jan 23, 2018 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Monday January 22, 2018

Your 2017 Oscar Picks, Courtesy of SAG

If you're in an Oscar pool, these should probably be your picks in the acting categories this year:

  • Actor: Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
  • Actress: Francis McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  • Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  • Supoorting Actress: Allison Janey, “I, Tonya”

They should be your picks because they were the winners at the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild/SAG Awards last night, and because SAG has predicted—or, to be fair, preceded—the Oscar choices in at least three of the four acting categories every year since 2009. Often it was a clean sweep. Here are the SAG choices, with differences with Oscar highlighted:

Year Lead Actor Lead Actress Supporting Actor Supporting Actress
2016 Denzel Washington Emma Stone Mahershala Ali Viola Davis
2015 Leonardo DiCaprio Brie Larson Idris Elba Alicia Vikander
2014 Eddie Redmayne Julianne Moore J.K. Simmons Patricia Arquette
2013 Matthew McConaughey Cate Blanchett Jared Leto Lupita Nyong'o
2012 Daniel Day-Lewis Jennifer Lawrence Tommy Lee Jones Anne Hathaway
2011 Jean Dujardin Viola Davis Christopher Plummer Octavia Spencer
2010 Colin Firth Natalie Portman Christian Bale Melissa Leo
2009 Jeff Bridges Sandra Bullock Christoph Waltz No'Nique

In 2011, the Academy went Meryl Streep for “Iron Lady” rather than Viola Davis for “The Help” (bad choice, Oscar), and in 2012, it opted for Christoph Waltz reprising his cooky Tarantino villainy in “Django Unchained” rather than Tommy Lee Jones' 19th-century gravitas in “Lincoln” (another bad choice). Two years ago, it tapped Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies” over Idris Elba's straight-to-Netflix monstrous commander in “Beasts of No Nation,” which, being straight-to-Netflix, wasn't even nominated by the Academy (I lean Rylance). And last year, it went Casey Affleck in “Manchester By the Sea” over Denzel directing himself in “Fences” (another wash, but, given my preference for “Manchester,” and Denzel's closetful of awards, I lean Affleck). 

So: 28 of 32. Almost a lock. 

It actually feels like more of a lock than that. It doesn't take Ta-Nehesi Coates to see that three of the four differences between SAG and Oscar involved race: SAG chose African-American actors, Oscar didn't. Only in one (Jones/Waltz) was white traded for white. And of course Jones was one of the Men in Black.

So now we're at 31 of 32. Tough to get better odds.  

Oscar nominations announced tomorrow morning. 

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Posted at 07:42 AM on Jan 22, 2018 in category Movies - Awards
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Sunday January 21, 2018

Pick a Pose

A lot has been written about the Minnesota Vikings thrilling, last-minute victory over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, but I particularly like this piece by Barry Svrluga in The Washington Post. He goes into the background of game-changer Stefon Diggs and the “late-round guys” that make up the Vikings offense. It's classic underdog stuff. Here's the end:

There are paintings of Ahmad Rashad and Jim Marshall and Fran Tarkenton and so many others hung in different spots around U.S. Bank Stadium. Pick a pose for Diggs now — leaping to grab the ball, balancing himself with his hand, spreading his arm as a disbelieving stadium pulsed around him, flinging his helmet in celebration afterward. The kid from Gaithersburg, Md., who felt slighted all this time needs to feel that way no longer. His life changed Sunday night, and he will forever be a hero here.

Stefon Diggs TD

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Posted at 09:09 AM on Jan 21, 2018 in category Sports
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Thursday January 18, 2018

Movie Review: Call Me By Your Name (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Can anyone watch this movie and not be reminded of their first overwhelming love? For me it was in college with a girl named Kristin; and just as Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) dance around each other for weeks here, repelling and attracting, repelling and attracting, so I did the same with Kristin—but for years. There was always an excuse—she with someone, I with someone—but mostly I felt unworthy. I couldn’t imagine it. Then I couldn’t imagine not letting her know, so I told her the spring of my senior year. And then suddenly, magically, we were seeing each other, in the few weeks before I graduated and she left for a summer job on the coast of Maine.

Another parallel: Near the end of the movie, and near the end of Oliver’s stay in Italy, the two are walking and kissing at night in the nearly deserted cobblestone streets of Bergamo, a northern Italian/Germanic town, and they come across some locals listening to music (“Love My Way” by the Psychedelic Furs); and Oliver, overcome by it all, and with his usual boundless enthusiasm, dances with the girl, while Elio, overcome by other things, stumbles to a nearby trashcan and throws up.

I doubt it was the drink; I think it was the love. I think that because that was me. When I realized my case with Kristin wasn’t hopeless, what did I do? Dance? Shout with joy? Sure. I also returned home and threw up. For a time, it made me think our anatomical symbol for love was all wrong. It shouldn’t be the heart, I decided, but the stomach. We should send each other cards with stomachs on them. Our love notes should read “I (stomach) you” and “You make me nauseous.”

Keeping the lovers apart
Call Me By Your Name reviewCan anyone imagine a more languorous film? That’s the word that kept coming to me: languid. It’s a movie that feels like a summer day with nothing much to do.

It’s a slow dance. It’s circular. There’s the doors that open and close—literally and metaphorically. In this impossibly beautiful Italian country home in Lombardy, Italy, Oliver is using Elio’s room, and Elio is forced into the smaller room on the other side of a shared bathroom, and the doors are like invitations or refusals. Generally when one is opening the other is closing. It’s red light, green light, keep away. There are little verbal attacks, snarky little bites that confuse the other, and probably the biter. The two men show off and compete with each other, and, for a time, each sublimates his desire with a pretty Italian girl. (As sublimation goes, that's not a bad way.) The point of the love story is to keep the lovers apart, and dramatists often bend over backwards to find ways, but “Call Me By Your Name” reminds us that we do a pretty fine job of it on our own.

You keep the lovers apart because once they get together it’s fairly dull business for the viewer. Here, too, a bit. We’re no longer building toward something, we’re just at something. I found my attention wavering.

But screenwriter James Ivory (of Merchant/Ivory) and director Luca Guadagnino (“A Bigger Splash”) still keep it interesting. Maybe because we know it’s ending shortly? Because they go there with the fruit? Because there’s always the specter of possible gay bashing—that it’ll end in violence and pain? Thank god, it doesn’t. It ends traditionally, at a train station. No violence, just pain.

I was confused by the title before I saw the film but not after: “Call me by your name,” one says, “and I’ll call you by mine.” The wish to subsume yourself in the other, to be the other. Is it stronger in homosexual relationships? Where it’s easier to be the other? Oliver and Elio trade names and clothes and secrets. Then again, Kristin and I traded shirts. Or maybe she just wore mine.

Yes, the privilege here is immense. The Perlman family has cooks and gardeners and (the greatest privilege of all) lives with meaning. The father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an archeology professor, Oliver is his graduate student, they are living lives of the mind. They have the dining table outdoors, and the meals served without fuss, and volleyball on the grass. Friends drop by. I envied the place, and the privilege, but mostly I envied the intelligence. Most movies make me feel too smart; this made me feel the opposite. Like I hadn’t studied enough. Like, at 54, I really needed to hit the books again.

L’interloper
In that final phone conversation, in winter during Hanukah, when Oliver tells Elio he’s getting married, he also tells him how lucky he is that he has parents who are so understanding—so open—about his homosexuality. “My father would’ve carted me off to a correctional facility,” he says. And Elio is lucky. To be who he is and where he is with the people he’s with. He's particularly lucky to have a father who gives him “the talk," the real talk, that every son needs to hear. I certainly needed to hear it in the summer of 1987. I still need to hear it. I want his speech on an MP3 file. I would like to it weekly:

We rip out so much of ourselves, to be cured of things faster than we should, that we go bankrupt by the age of 30, and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. 

And this:

Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out. And as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it.

Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill it, and with it the joy you’ve felt.

Staying open is so tough. Most things in life push us in the opposite direction. Most movies, too. “Call Me By Your Name” opened me up in a way I have not felt in a long time. It’s the best movie of the year.

At the start of the movie, as Elio first watches Oliver arrive, he jokingly calls him an interloper. So he is. For life.

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Posted at 09:15 AM on Jan 18, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Wednesday January 17, 2018

A Succinct Answer to a Convoluted Question

Yesterday on NPR's “Morning Edition,” host Steve Inskeep talked with two top ethics lawyers from previous administrations, Richard Painter (Bush II) and Norman Eisen (Obama), about the lack of ethics of our current president. I know: shocker. Both men are on the board of CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has sued Pres. Trump for violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution:

No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

I.e., you can't make money from being prez. Trump is ignoring that. Ironically, at his apparent financial peril

CREW's first lawsuit was tossed out because the judge ruled the org lacked legal standing. They're appealing, and states, which do have legal standing, are now suing on the same grounds. All of which led to this exchange:

INSKEEP: I want to ask about another aspect of this because as I understand the judge's ruling—throwing out your lawsuit—the judge said, really, this ought to be up to Congress to police, among other things. Congress, of course, is controlled by Republicans. They've said they want to hold the White House accountable. They've been accused of actually defending the White House.

But, you know, we're just been discussing immigration, and it's an issue in which it appears the president was at one point ready to compromise with Democrats, and conservatives realized they needed to stay very close to the president and talk to him a lot or he was going to wander off and not support their policies. You have an example of why Republicans in Congress need, politically, to stay close to the president. What would you advise them to do when it comes to ethics and this president?

PAINTER: Do their job.

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Posted at 07:56 AM on Jan 17, 2018 in category Media
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Tuesday January 16, 2018

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Despite the thrilling ending, that whole “Every word you just said was wrong” triptych ticked off by Luke Skywalker, which not only upends Kylo Ren’s worldview but our subtitle, since the last of the three is “And I will not be the last Jedi”—which, let’s face it, we all knew it going in, Rey being the ray of hope and the Jedi idea worth billions—despite all that, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” disappointed me. Mostly for this reason:

They had 35 years to figure out what happened to Luke Skywalker, and this is what they came up with? I vant to be alone? Sulking for a long time, at the edge of a galaxy far, far away?

Luke was my guy. And look what they did to him. Look what they did to my boy.

Most likely to succeed
Star Wars: The Last Jedi reviewIn the summer of 1977, when I was 14, I must have seen “Star Wars” half a dozen times. I had “May the Force Be With You” and “Darth Vader Lives” iron-on T-shirts. And if I knew anything I knew this: Luke was going to wind up with the girl. The other dude? Han? A jerk. A hot-rodder. Besides, it wasn’t his story. It was Luke’s. He had the true heart. I knew that. Everyone knew that.

But that was before a car accident disfigured Mark Hamill’s pretty face, and before George Lucas—who had already invented something that binds his universe together—decided to tie it all up in a way-too-neat bow by making the villain, Darth Vader, Luke’s father, and the girl, Princess Leia, Luke’s sister, which created all kinds of complications for the original—the least of which is the kiss. I mean, Darth tortures his own daughter? He tries to kill his own son? Without knowing it? What good is the Force if it can’t fathom that?

But at least we got Luke’s heroic journey: rise and savior in the first movie; training and setback in the second; rescue and ... OK, so he doesn’t exactly stop the Emperor in the third. Daddy does that. He surrenders, hoping he can bring Darth back from the Dark Side, and he does, in the most-telegraphed, worst-edited change-of-heart in movie history. So Luke kinda-sorta gets credit for stopping the Empire. And by the end he’s a Jedi master. Also secondary to Han/Harrison Ford, who became the bigger star by far, and whose bad-ass ways were apparently more appealing to both men and women. Talk about your upended worldviews! “Wait, women want the jerk? All women want the jerk? Damn, this is going to be a long life."

Really, what heroic thing did Luke do after blowing up the Death Star in the first movie? He gets clocked by a wampa, whines with Yoda, loses a hand to Darth, gets trapped by Jabba, and is zapped by the Emperor. Still he’s treated as a legend, rather than someone who never lived up to his promise, so he sets up a Jedi camp to train the next generation, including his nephew, Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia. And he screws that up, too. And he screws it up in the exact same way Obi-wan did.

Obi-wan took a kid, Anakin, trained him in the Jedi ways, lost him to the Dark Side, then lied about it to his next pupil, Luke: “A young Jedi named Darth Vader...betrayed and murdered your father.”

Luke took a kid, Ben Solo, trained him in the Jedi ways, lost him to the Dark Side, then he too lies about it to his next pupil, Rey, leaving out the part about thinking of killing him. Which woke up Ben/Kylo and completely turned him.

And what about that anyway? How exactly does Kylo, the student, best Luke, the Master? All we see is Luke looking horrified, falling backward, “Noooo!,” then waking up to flaming ruins. Is it that Luke was off balance by his earlier murderous thoughts, while Kylo was enraged? But OK, since it happens, here’s another one: Why doesn’t Kylo take the opportunity to kill Luke here? He killed everyone else—why not Luke? He certainly hated him enough.

That’s not even the worst of it. Imagine you’re Luke amid the wreckage and the bodies. You’re a legend, a Jedi Master, and now your nephew is the disciple of Snoke, who is rebuilding the Empire as the First Order. What do you do?

You flee to the edge of the galaxy, live like a hermit, and cut yourself off from the Force. Of course.

Faux feminism
Admittedly there’s a kind of symmetry to it. Luke begins the saga desperate to leave the desert planet, Tatooine, and join the rebellion, and he ends it on the water planet, Ahch-To, refusing to join the rebellion. Except the latter part isn’t exactly heroic. And if he didn’t become heroic, what was that hero’s journey all about? What was my childhood all about?

Dude isn’t even wise or resigned in his hermitage. He’s bitter. He went from whining to bitterness. The wisdom we get comes from ghostly Yoda, appearing in cackling, crackling form, talking about failure. Luke can’t even burn the ancient Jedi texts; ghost Yoda has to do that for him.

Wait, isn’t this true: Yoda is to Young Luke in “Empire” as Old Luke is to Rey in “Last Jedi”? So why is Rey’s mission to recruit old Luke to battle while young Luke’s mission was to just get trained by Yoda? How come Obi-wan didn’t instruct him, “Luke, go to the Dagobah system and find Yoda and bring him back to lead the rebellion because that dude can seriously kick ass”? Why weren’t the Emperor and Darth worried about Yoda returning the way Snoke/Kylo Ren are worried about Luke? Because Yoda was super old? Because his powers were weak, old man? Maybe. But at the time, his powers were still greater than young Luke’s.

Are Star Wars’ powers getting weak, old man? We keep seeing the same movie. Once again we watch our young hero (Luke/Rey) tossed about by the wizened Sith Lord (The Emperor/Snoke), while the Dark Side disciple (Darth/Kylo) stands to one side deciding whose side he’s on. At least the editing was better this time around. At least victory was a matter of intellect—hiding your true intentions. And at least Kylo did what he did for dark reasons: power. Still, I’m curious: Didn’t Snoke know the story of the Emperor’s fall? And doesn’t this galaxy have its version of George Santayana? Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it. Ditto those who have lousy screenwriters.

You know what really bugged me about that scene? The throne. Dude’s sitting on a fucking throne in the midst of a big red empty in the middle of a spaceship. Can we get past this throne trope already? How about a desk with some paperwork on it? How about a comfy couch with two corgis? Where’s the pleasure in a big red empty? And what is Snoke doing while waiting for his 1:1s? Does he have hobbies? Has he tried moisturizer? Visine? 

The movie does go off in some new directions—notably with Rey’s lineage, which isn’t related at all to the Skywalker/Kenobi clan. Thank god. She’s a nothing from nowhere. She’s the exceptional borne from the unexceptional. In this way, the Force is being democratized. Cf., the kid before the end credits who uses the Force to grab his broom.

“Last Jedi” also trots out the subversive—in the sense of subverting usual tropes—with its newfound feminism: Rose Tico schooling Finn; Leia and Holdo schooling Poe Dameron. But it feels like faux feminism to me.

Let me get this out of the way first: Leia slaps Poe Dameron for losing lives while destroying a dreadnought? I get the demotion, or worse, for not following orders; but a slap?

Besides, the whole “hot-dog flyboys wrong/calm women right” dynamic feels forced; it feels like the movie stacked the decks to make its “gotcha!” point. First they cast Laura Dern (never a good sign) as Vice Admiral Holdo; then they doll her up with purple hair and an odd turtlenecky dress so she looks like a cross between a “Hunger Games” socialite and an “Alice in Wonderland” sketch. Military rep aside, she seems like the unlikeliest admiral in the world. Which is why Poe leads others in a mutiny when they discover she’s abandoning ship. Actually that’s not why they mutiny. They mutiny because she doesn’t explain why they’re abandoning ship. To anyone. It would’ve been so easy, too. “Hey, let’s take these undetected transports to the rebel base on Crait so we can fight another day. Who’s with me?” But nah. And the movie doesn’t own up to this. The movie thinks Poe is a hothead, and wrong, and she’s a leader, and wise.

Doesn’t Poe also get the (dis)credit for the idiot Canto Bight subplot? But that’s a Rose Tico/Finn/Maz Kanata operation from the get-go. And how stupid is Finn in all this? The place is Vegas, full of rich, drunk, gambling fools, and he’s luxuriating in it. He needs RT to tell him look beneath the surface to find the exploitation. I wanted to smack my head—or his. That whole subplot is a longshot that never pays off. Worse, the partner in crime they pick up, DJ (Benicio del Toro, the best thing in the movie, btw), gives away Holdo’s plan and the transports get zapped like so much popcorn. Which leads to Holdo’s big sacrifice.

How come this hasn’t been tried before? Hyperspace the shit out of a giant Imperial/First Order ship? Kamikaze it. Cut it in two. Of course, for all the destruction, no main characters buy it. Fancy that. Finn and Rose are over there, as is, I believe, Rey. Not to mention Kylo Ren and Gen. Hux—the perpetual Abel to Kylo’s Cain. All survive. They don't even lose a hand. 

On Crait, Finn attempts his own sacrifice. He’s going to ram his speeder down the throat of the First Order, but at the last minute Rose’s speeder comes from the side to clip his and take him out of harm’s way. A few objections:

  • Attempting to rescue someone by ramming your vehicle into theirs at full speed? In the real world, the odds are pretty high both of you will die.
  • How is this logistically possible?

She veers off but he keeps racing in a straight line. But somehow, taking a circuitous route, she beats his straight line and gets ahead of him? That only works if: 1) her speeder is speedier; 2) she’s a better pilot. And if it’s 2) add that to the list of things Finn can’t do. One wonders, between this, and the Vegas infatuation, and constantly trying to run away, why we care about him at all.

But at least Luke gets to go out with a bang.

Old tech
I’m not the only one who had a problem with Luke’s outcome, by the way. Luke himself wasn’t thrilled. From a Vanity Fair piece on Mark Hamill:

“I at one point had to say to Rian [Johnson, director], ‘I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.’”

That said, that final battle, with its twist, is pretty good. He gets to fight, or “fight,” but remain true to his last-act “plague on both your houses” persona. He gives the rebels the time to escape in the Millennium Falcon, which he called “a piece of junk” a long time ago, and which just keeps going. Chewie just keeps going. But he’s a bit player now, as is C3PO and R2D2. They come on, play their greatest hits—“Help me Obi-wan”; “The odds against our survival are...”—then are shown the door. They’re old tech and no longer supported by the machinery.

Anyone know why Luke buys it? Is it the strain of projecting his form across the galaxy? Or was it just time to die? For all my problem with his hermitage, they give him a good end. He gets to stare at the setting sun one last time—as a young Luke once stared at the setting suns of Tatooine, longing for adventure. He certainly found it. He’s seen things you people wouldn’t believe.

Luke Skywalker staring at the sunset on Tatooine

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Posted at 06:18 AM on Jan 16, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Monday January 15, 2018

'This Doesn't Happen to Us'

“In the moment, when there is ten seconds left, you start preparing your mind with all the past conditioning; you start saying, 'It doesn't matter' and 'We are now free to stop watching and caring' and then boom Diggs is up in the air, he catches the ball. Does he run out of bounds for the field goal? No, there is no time. Does he step out of bounds? Did one knee touch the surface after the catch? Where's the flag? There has to be a flag that brings it all back? ... This is the life and legacy of being a Vikings fan. It can't be real. This doesn't happen to us.”

-- Robb Mitchell, long-suffering Vikings fan, the day after Stefon Diggs' incredible 61-yard touchdown that propeled the Vikings to the NFC Championship. 

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Posted at 09:15 PM on Jan 15, 2018 in category Sports
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Presidential MLK Day Message: 'I Am Not a Racist'

“I am not a racist.”

Could there be a more profound message from the president of the United States on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend? 

Via CNN:

In remarks to reporters at a dinner photo opportunity with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in West Palm Beach, Florida, Trump said when asked if he is a racist, “No, I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”

No need to bring up the litany of racist behavior again. Probably enough to mention the Central Park Five case, in which a woman jogger, a white investment banker, was brutally beaten and raped in Central Park in 1989 and five black kids, ages 14 to 16, were charged with the crime. They were innocent. DNA evidence later proved it. It proved it then, if we were willing to look at it. We weren't. Neither was Donald Trump, who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times urging a return to the death penalty. Can you imagine if we'd put these kids to death? Then found out? Then realized all the signs we'd missed? 

You now what doesn't get enough attention about Trump's walkback lines like the above? How it plays with his base. He's got a core constituency that's racist at its heart but such declarations don't ever make them waver in their support for him. I guess it means they know he's lying. And they're fine with that. They're fine with the president of the United States lying on a regular basis to the American people—as long as he stays racist. 

Happy MLK Day. 

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Posted at 08:31 AM on Jan 15, 2018 in category Politics
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