What I thought of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

From the off there’s going to be SPOILERS, so you’ve been warned…

The Last Jedi has been getting some strange reactions from hardcore fans (this entitled rant sums up much of the negative response from some fans) as if the film they saw was not what they expected, which seems to have been a sort of retread of Empire Strikes Back with lots of lightsabre fights which is sort of is but it also does something different. It’s also about giving up on things and creating fresh beginnings from nothing.

Set just after the events of The Force Awakens, we find the resistance under threat of being wiped out by the First Order, while Rey has found Luke Skywalker in the hope of getting him to return to the resistance and help fight the First Order. At this point what you expect to happen, doesn’t as the First Order virtually wipe out the resistance, and Luke is unwilling to return as he’s wracked with guilt in regards what happened with Leia and Han Solo’s son, Ben, better known as Kylo Ren. In the first third of the film there’s a lot of Chekhov’s guns being cocked and they all go off in the second and third act and its how they go off that’ll shape how much you like this film.

A large chunk of The Last Jedi is about telling you that what you want in life isn’t what you’ll get so Luke doesn’t come sweeping back heroically (initially) but is tired, old and bitter about one fatal flaw he made that let down his sister, his best friend and their son while at the same time helped create a monster that threatens the weak and vulnerable across the galaxy. Luke’s redemption comes because he lets things go, destroys the things he’s collected (the remnants of the Jedi religion) and decides to sacrifice himself to spark people’s imagination to do something off their own back. The arc of Finn and new character, Rose, is essentially telling you the war is being fed by big business and there will always be people there to exploit as long as the war continues.Essentially he big thrust of the film is telling you hard truths about the world that you do have to move on, and that big corporations will exploit you and give you what you want if you let them. It is quite odd especially to see the latter in a Disney film and in the week where they’ve bought 20th Century Fox to become the sort of mega-corp Philip K Dick would have written about.

Problem is in the second act director Rian Johnson drifts. Scenes become overlong, tiresome and boring. There’s too many meaningful stares, padding and exposition not to mention at times one wonders just how crap the First Order are if they can’t work out how to destroy three resistance ships moving in what seems like first gear. The middle of the film is flabby and bloated, and really, 10-15 minutes could be lost from the film and it’ll be a better film.

Here’s a great video to show how the first Star Wars benefited from sharp editing.

Some hard decisions about cutting and rearranging scenes was needed to stop the middle from deflating because the film suffers. It isn’t til we get to Snoke’s death (and gloriously teased to be fair) that the film kicks back into gear and all the threads set up in the first act play out to ends in the third. Not all of them tidily (as after all, another film is coming after this in 2019 to wrap everything up) but that’s ow life sometimes is.

For a film that had to provide a weight to this new trilogy, set up the third film and add some character to the new characters, it pretty much succeeds. Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron is equal parts brave and heroic pilot crossed with a lunatic who should be shot out an airlock. John Boyaga’s Finn doesn’t really do much and he feels underused in the film as his character is the only one of the new characters who isn’t that changed by the end of the film like Rey, Poe and Kylo are.. Daisy Ridley’s Rey comes into her own as she realises her place in the universe, and the fact she’s come from nothing rather than be the offspring of noble or ‘special’ blood makes her a more proletarian hero to lead a rebellion than a princess or the son of a lord…

Adam Driver steals the film though. His Kylo Ren is a mix of emotions and motivations as we realise it was Luke that pushed him towards Snoke with that shameful act that pushed Luke into hiding. We’re taken to think he’s turned back from the dark before realising he’s fully embracing it and becoming what looks like the grand villain of the films.His big showdown with Luke is gloriously shot and is an example of how to edit a film brilliantly.

The legacy cast do what they need to do, Mark Hamill does a fine job as a broken Luke who gradually becomes more like the Luke we know as he’s exposed to what’s familiar to us (the Millennium Falcon, Chewie, R2D2, Rey), and as for Carrie Fisher’s final (?) performance as Leia she has a weight of poignancy in some scenes that comes from not just her early death in 2016. Her meeting with Luke isn’t going to leave many dry eyes.

Overall The Last Jedi works. It needs to lose some of its running time, for sure but as a film that could have lazily just had Rey and Luke turn up, fight Snoke and Kylo as the resistance held on against the First Order before having everything wrap up in a big fight in the last film of this trilogy. Instead Rian Johnson pushed things out of the comfort zone while maintaining a familiar enough structure to not break the diehard fan’s head too much. As a film it also looks amazingly lush, with an eye for flair, colour & light that sets it apart from increasingly homogeneous blockbusters like the Marvel films.

The next test for the film is how it works as part of a trilogy overall and we won’t know that til 2019, so we’ll meet up back here in 2019 to see the final part of this set of films before Rian Johnson embarks on a new trilogy as Star Wars will never, ever end while there’s people out there like us to exploit…

Advertisements

I know what’s coming with the ‘Oumuamua’ asteroid

The ‘Oumuamua’ asteroid is swooshing into the solar system like a deadly giant chocolate finger.

Is it just a strange chunk of space rock? Is it an alien probe? Is it a doomsday machine? Is it a story designed to fill pages and gain clicks as we hit the Christmas and New Year holidays?

I dunno, but I’m hoping it’s this…

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce is a work of demented genius. If we do have a giant alien spaceship full of hot naked space vampires then bring it on. It wouldn’t be any weirder than anything else going on right now.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…The Star Wars

Back in the 1970’s George Lucas was punting a weird little science fiction/space opera film to various studios titled The Star Wars. To help him sell the film he recruited artist Ralph McQuarrie to come up with some concept art for his idea, and much of it did end up in the final version which we all know as Star Wars when it came out in 1977. After that this early version vanished into What If? territory and perhaps somewhere out in the multiverse it got made…

Well, a group of student filmmakers from the DAVE School over in Florida made a short film positing what it might look like and it is indeed, a look at something we know so well from a slightly different angle.

So if you want to see what Han Solo would have looked like as a giant green alien, or Luke Skywalker as a teenage girl heroine enjoy this wonderful bit of work…

Everything wrong with Cinema Sins…

The other night I re-watched the excellent 2016 horror film, The Witch. It really is a splendid film even if you have to keep forgetting that it features Finchy from The Office as the father in the film. It really is a good film so go search it out as from now on there’s spoilers ahead.

After watching it again I wanted to search out Mark Kermode’s review as Kermode is one of the best critics out there, and not just that, he understands genre films and gives them the respect they deserve if the film deserves it of course. It’s a great review.

On the recommendations was the Cinema Sins video for The Witch. I thought I’d watch it as the channel was often funny and in its humour often did some nice criticism. Here’s that video…

Sneery, condescending, arrogant, petty and needless were just some of the things passing through my brain while watching the Cinema Sins video. Unlike what they used to do there wasn’t any attempt to try to criticise the film while being funny which is what a site like Red Letter Media do superbly well. I watched a few more videos of recent films and they’re again, snide, sneery and nothing to do with making you laugh or criticising the film.

Basically if this nice bit of critique from Screen Smart is the top fillet of steak then Cinema Sins is a bowl of kidney soup.

I’m tired of this strand of criticism which is just trying to point and laugh at films for shits and giggles and although I get these people are trying to do Mystery Science Theatre 3000, there was a sense of joy there lacking from these cynical bits of clickbait pumped out by people with neither the talent or the skill to do what they think they’re doing so we end up with far too many wankers on YouTube being something they’re not.

Still, go see The Witch, it really is one of the best horror films of the century. Try not to watch anything from Cinema Sins, they can just fuck off…

Closing the Fleece in Bristol is cultural vandalism

I wrote recently about how the Thekla, a live venue in Bristol, was under threat of closure. The same threats have been hanging round the neck of The Fleece and Firkin, one of the UK’s oldest live venues.

Private developers have been developing office blocks opposite the Fleece for some time, but let us cut through the legalese and say exactly what is happening here. This is cultural vandalism for the sake of profit that isn’t restricted to Bristol, but London, Glasgow, or indeed anywhere across the UK where these venues are either ‘eyesores’ for potentially Millennial yuppies buying their flats next to a pub and are pushed to closure, or pushed to close for future private development.

Cities are being stripped of what makes them special. They’re being turned into places where all character is being stripped only to be replaced by a shadow of what it was but made safe and attractive to be consumed. It’s vandalism that won’t be opposed by any major political party as they too care little or nothing about keeping cities exciting and vibrant, but instead look wide-eyed at the wads of money brought to them by private developers. Fight these developments all you can because what’s coming are cities neutered and emasculated as this is gentrification writ large.

What I thought of Doctor Who:Shada

The Tom Baker era of Doctor Who is for many of a certain age, their era of Doctor Who, and it was always a tragedy that the last Douglas Adams story, Shada, was never completed due to a strike. Various attempts over the years have attempted to recreate it as best as possible with varying levels of success but the new 2017 recreation/completion mixed with original unbroadcast footage is as probably as close as we’ll get.

This would have been Adams final story for Who as at this point the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was just taking off and it really is built round Adams writing a love letter to his time at university in Cambridge. In fact much of the action takes place in a professor’s room not to mention that the action is on the whole, far more intellectual than modern Who’s more action/adventure style. This isn’t perfect, and the script has holes in it that you’d think would have been picked up had their not been the strike but the joy of watching Tom Baker in his pomp, aided by a glorious Lalla Ward (who I hope provides Jodie Whitaker with inspiration) in an adventure together most of us haven’t seen is simply wonderful, not to mention nostalgic.

As for the plot, it is something that adds greatly to Time Lord lore (Shada is the Time Lords prison planet) but on the whole the story suffers from being planned as a 6-parter. It gets a bit flabby in places, and a clever pun gets overused. There’s also the issue of poor monster henchmen and the aforementioned holes in the plot leaves holes at crucial points.When it does work it simply is a thing of genius. Baker and Ward are clearly loving the dialogue which is clever without being smug, or totally outwith of most people’s ability to understand. Adams is having fun here, and the scene where Baker’s Doctor convinces a ship’s computer that he’s actually dead is just pure Adams. There’s also a running joke where poor K9 is frequently treated with contempt which mirrors much of what the production team thought at the time.

Shada is an interesting experiment. The animation doesn’t quite work, but suspend your belief enough and it does the job in giving us an unfinished Douglas Adams work.The extras are a delight, and as for the new scene filmed with Baker? That’s a delight and nicely links forward/back to Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special. Overall Shada is a joyful piece of nostalgia and a celebration of what made Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor so incredibly special.

The road to Brexit

By Monday we should know whether the UK has pulled its head out its arse, agreed on compromises with the EU and saved the prospect of the UK walking away from Brexit negotiations with a ‘no deal’; an outcome Brexiters like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg want as it delivers their free trade, unregulated dream. For the rest of us it’ll be a nightmare, and as we now know, the Tories have no plans to sail us through the biggest thing the UK has done in its history in peacetime which leaves us a bleak future.

The EU isn’t just about trade. It intertwines so much of what we do that if the UK walks it means we’d have to organise things like when planes fly, radioactive isotopes for cancer patients, the shipping of food and tens of thousands of other things overnight and like any disaster, the most vulnerable will be hurt the hardest and first.

Bizarrely both main UK political parties are hell-bent on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn of Labour seems to think that we’re in for a socialist Year Zero upon leaving the EU, and yes, the idea of an ‘internationalist’ party choosing to take a protectionist route is not lost on people. But compared to the clusterfuck which is the Tories, Labour seem vaguely sane. Simply put the Tories are taking us into a recession mixed with a collapse in social decency as ethnic nationalism and imperialism mixed with a hard, rigid form on Unionism drives them towards dooming hundreds of thousands of people to a harder life than they have now.

Brexit makes no sense though. Not unless you think the UK ‘gave away’ itself to the EUSSR and those bloody Polish and Somalians on buses should go back where they came from. Essentially Brexit is based upon irrational madness and we’ve got 72 hours to save the country. Wish us luck, we’ll need it…

”Dad, have we taken back control back yet?”