Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi- Although I don’t think I knowingly maneuvered to make this my 500th film of the year, it may have happened subconsciously. In hindsight I believe I counted wrong and this was the 499th but who’s counting anyway? I mean, besides me, who is counting? Because that’s why we’re here.
For those of you that ARE counting this is the 9th Star Wars film to be released and like all the others it is both frustrating and beautiful throughout. The blandness that was Rogue One is behind us and we can get back to what makes the franchise exciting. Personal journeys! Wait, no that’s not it. Rebel fleet politics! No that’s not right either. Hmmm. The one-percenters gathering to watch Space Kentucky Derby?
No, as we all know the reason we came for Episode 8 is Luke fucking Skywalker but there are a lot of other small elements that strengthen the story. The problem with Star Wars (and why we come to see it) is its reluctance (and ours) to cut ties with what we know and want to know about the universe. For instance, until I saw Solo, there had to be a lightsaber on the screen. If there was no Jedi, there was no movie. Now expand this into the name Skywalker, Solo, Fett or Leia. Alderaan, Tattoine, and Coruscant. As much as I liked Solo (and disliked Rogue One) they are both just extensions of a center point which is the Skywalker friends and family. All that being said, this entry is the first to show that they are trying to distance themselves albeit incrementally. Studio executives are nothing if not risk averse especially when it comes to brand name recognition.
For his part, Rian Johnson (beloved director (of mine) of Looper and Brick) has made a unique and visually rich tableau for his characters to breathe life into. More exciting is that he has been offered (and accepted) his own spin-off trilogy. Pray that he strays farther than this movie has, even if it is the first hint this galaxy is indeed larger than we’ve seen.
Cleopatra- How do you define “epic” as it relates to movies? In the past it usually meant the caliber of stars, the budget, the scope and the length. These days something like Avengers: Infinity War would definitely fit that bill, yet it’s not deemed as such. Movies that big are a yearly if not seasonal occurrence. But in the youthful days of Hollywood, epics were something to be marveled at and Cleopatra is one of the greats.
It’s length (5 hours 20 minutes), budget (334 million, adjusted for inflation) and scandals (the historic Burton/Taylor romance) are just a few of the “epic” boxes it strongly checks off. Despite being panned by many critics and initially failing to make its money back, Cleopatra went on to win a handful of Oscars and reside in the hallowed grounds of other epics like Spartacus, Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia. On a side note, can you imagine showing Infinity War to Cleopatra’s 1963 audience? They would lose their minds. Like in a question-reality sort of way, running out of the theater looking for Thanos and shit.
Bright- Groooooooooaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. Mexicans are Orcs. Fairies are the One Percent. Will Smith is, after turning down the role so many years ago, Neo from The Matrix. Well, he’s The One, anyway. Actually, he’s not even really that. Listen there’s great makeup in this and Joel Edgerton is fucking awesome as usual but the rest of this movie can go suck its own dick and that goes for the inevitable sequel because “Welcome to Netflix, your show is greenlit.”
Dawson City: Frozen Time- While excavating a job site in Alaska in the 1970s, a construction crew unearths a collection of films buried there 70 years ago. The backdrop and explanation to this story only pale in comparison to the telling of it. Presented almost entirely in sparse subtitles, the story is revealed with imagery from those films and accompanied by the music of Alex Somers of Sigur Rós fame. This is not for the passive viewer but that by no means indicates it’s hard to watch. It is history as we’ve never witnessed it, experienced purely through the visual as a reflection of its own subject matter. I can’t imagine ever being moved by such a film again but I could never have imagined this film would ever exist to begin with. In documenting hidden cinematic treasures it becomes one itself.
The Doom Generation- Why do I feel like I’ve written all this before? These words and ideas seem so familiar. Have I gotten lost in the journey? Have all the films begun to blend together? I set out to watch 500 films and one of the few rules I had was that it couldn’t have been something I’d already seen. For some reason I decided to break that rule on a movie that I’ve many times said is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. My thinking was as follows “I’m enlightened now. I can judge these films from a Nirvana-like state of glowing film bliss. Nothing is bad or good. There is only is.” And what did I learn about this long despised and oft cited movie from my pseudo-Buddha pose?
It’s fine. It never deserved whatever vitriol I threw its direction. Made in the wake (or shadow) of Pulp Fiction from a young, already off-the-beaten-path director Gregg Araki, Doom delivers nihilism, mild gore, sex, and apathy in a simple road movie. Some themes feel a bit heavy handed (666s everywhere), but Araki creates a tight little story with a colorful cast on a shoe string budget and I was glad to take it off that verboten list. Next up: Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
White God- They say the worst situations to film with are on water or with children and animals. This movie breaks the animal rule in such a fantastic fashion it may never be topped. It is one thing to watch a movie where fictional animal abuse happens (dog fights, dog catchers, etc) it’s another to actually fear for the animals on screen. To clarify, I wasn’t technically worried the animals were in danger nor did I perceive Poland’s treatment of canine actors differently. No, the way this film’s narrative is constructed, the dogs have so much autonomy of movement it seems like life or death stakes.
For example, in an early scene when the hero canine is attempting to cross a busy street, he is by himself. There are only him and cars, no trainers, no people, nothing. Just him trying to cross the street. Now multiply that tension I felt by 225 because that’s the number of dogs we witness running freely through the streets, terrorizing this town (as you root for them to do so). I don’t love this movie but the time and patience and training it took to create it was so monumental you can’t not respect it.
David Lynch: The Art Life- Has anyone ever tried to explain David Lynch’s films? As in break down each one piece by piece, down to the very minutia? I’m sure it’s been done. It’s probably a college class somewhere. I personally find most of his stuff exhausting with the exception of The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart. I was too young for the first Twin Peaks and too busy for the reboot. To wit, I have mixed feelings about his films but the man himself is another story. I find everything about his presence and existence miraculous. I love that people like him exist in the world and push boundaries even if I don’t enjoy the work. This documentary is a meditation on a person’s work and life which sometimes reverse importance if they’ve been around long enough. (See: Werner Herzog, Elizabeth Taylor, et al.).
Okja- Do you ever see a movie that has a bunch of things you love, you watch it, and then you’re disappointed? It’s like enchiladas. I like taco meat, tortillas, cheese and grease as much as the next guy but in a casserole dish? Keep your soupy garbage. Snowpiercer was like that for me. Chris Evans was the taco meat and it looked pretty but in the end I felt bloated but not happy. Sorry these metaphors are all over the place.
Snowpiercer’s director Joon-Ho Bong’s second American outing Okja left me with a similar feeling. I love all the moving pieces but none of it works for me. And I’m fucking down with The Peninsula, mind you, North and South (Dictators and Directors, respectively). While technically and visually well done Okja is not weird enough to be abstract, funny enough to be comedy or real enough to be believable. Just an odd soupy mess.
The Trip to Spain-
The Trip to Spain- I do not know why I like these movies. The jokes and impressions are limited or recycled. I don’t really care about good food or wine. The side plots are vague and unmoving. Yet I would gladly follow these guys around once a year forever. I don’t know if it’s the direction, the Connery impressions, or the meandering conversations but I am never unhappy while watching these. That is not a recommendation per se but if you like the first one I suggest them all.