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Thread: Silver Screen, the General Movie Discussion

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  1. #101
    From Esquire Philippines online ...

    Why is 'The Last Jedi' the Most Divisive of the Star Wars Movies?

    Episode 8 is the most polarizing of the franchise, and it's not because of the porgs.

    By MIGUEL ESCOBAR | 18 hours ago

    This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

    Like many others who have seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I recall walking out of the cinema in a daze. At that point, I was only sure that it was an entertaining film, but I couldn’t articulate my amazement quite yet, and was hesitant to pass judgement on how it fared against the expectations upon it as a part of the Star Wars saga. It was great, but it was different - different from any other episode in the franchise - and I wasn't immediately sure about what that meant and how I felt about it.

    As someone who grew up with Star Wars (the prequel trilogy in cinemas, the original trilogy on laser discs), I didn't expect to feel that way. I thought that I would either erupt by the end of the movie, squirming and squealing wide-eyed at new developments and twists and loose ends, or else leave disappointed.

    And yet for everything that it was and wasn't, the movie didn't disappoint. The Last Jedi refused to indulge us in theory confirmations, ceremonious lineage reveals, and Qui-Gon Jinn involvement (okay, this one was just me; I bet hard on it, for no reason), and instead went off on its own path. Still, after a bit of reflection and two more screenings, my doubts were allayed. The Last Jedi really is an incredible film.

    But as it turns out, not everyone agrees.

    The reception has been vastly mixed. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie currently holds a 92 percent Critics' Score and a 52 percent Audience's Score - a stark 40-point difference. Positive reviews glow with the light of two suns; negative reviews have sentenced the film to be slowly digested over a thousand years.

    Entries that comprise those scores have called The Last Jedi "an unfocused, contrived, and inconsistent dumpster fire of a movie," saying it has "butchered the Star Wars mythology," and bemoaning its "feminist left wing agenda". More articulate distaste for the film came from Richard Brody of The New Yorker, a prequel trilogy apologist who called it "ironed out, flattened down, appallingly purified."

    On the other hand, there is an equally resounding chorus of fans calling it the best episode since The Empire Strikes Back, if not the best Star Wars movie ever. The Last Jedi has been lauded for its unique take on the franchise, for nailing "the balance between novelty and nostalgia," and for being "a volcano of creative ideas in full eruption."

    There's about as much praise for the movie's new and forward-moving approach to Star Wars as there is repugnance at it. Which begs the question: Why is The Last Jedi so polarizing?

    One could argue that it's precisely that approach - its newness, its forward motion - that has left fans so sharply divided. Both in its story and in itself as a film, The Last Jedi leaves the past behind and heralds a drastic new direction for the widely-beloved sci-fi saga - one that dares to reflect the world's sociopolitical situation, to assert an opinion of it, and in doing so, to abdicate all the expectations of its own fan base. The Last Jedi lept far, and not everyone agrees about whether or not it stuck the landing.

    Part of those unmet expectations - and indeed one of the main reasons for the great divide - is the film's refusal (to) resolve the burning questions that Star Wars fans have been asking since The Force Awakens: Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? Who are Rey's parents and why did they leave her on Jakku? Who are the Knights of Ren? Because fans staked so much on The Last Jedi providing the answers, they were sorely let down when it didn't. It was, to them, a wasted opportunity, and an affront to the title's mythology.

    Conversely, others feel that the refusal to answer those questions (at least to the standards that we were all expecting) poses an even more captivating and unexpected one: did those questions ever really matter, and isn't it better that they don't? When you consider the film in its entirety, are those questions not just trivial matters of fandom obsession? Isn't there so much more to the essence of Star Wars than just bloodlines and subplots? I myself was looking forward to better answers to those questions too, but now, I'm even more glad that the film didn't yield.

    But there are also more fundamental reasons for the division - perhaps even political ones. More than any of its previous installments, the Star Wars sequel trilogy is loud and clear on where it stands on ethnic representation and gender equality. Both The Last Jedi and its immediate predecessor, The Force Awakens, are characterized by a diverse cast of characters and strong female leads. The Last Jedi is easily the most feminist episode in the saga, with several subtle repudiations of mansplaining through its four strong female characters: Rey, General Leia Organa, Admiral Holdo, and Rose Tico. There's also a little detail in the promotional materials for Episode 8 that suggests Poe Dameron could be Star Wars' first gay character, and at the very least, that's a worthy effort to denounce heteronormativity.

    This installment makes no secret of the bold new politics of Star Wars, necessarily (and perhaps willfully) alienating conservatives, including and especially the conservative baby boomers and gen-Xers who were alive to see the original trilogy when it first came out. Many negative reviews blame SJWs (social justice warriors, a pejorative term for internet liberals) for ruining Star Wars, because as of The Last Jedi, it's clearer than ever to right-wing conservatives that their beloved sci-fi saga disagrees with them.

    This progressiveness also carries over to the movie's greater moral themes. The old Star Wars that conservatives knew and loved was defined by its binary oppositions: the Jedi and the Sith, the Dark Side and the Light, blue lightsabers and red lightsabers. In all previous films, the lines between good and evil were always cut clear. The Last Jedi challenges that duality by recognizing the hubris of its heroes, and allowing us to hope in its villains. In doing so, it also challenges the conservative frame of mind, which is typically more wary of moral relativism. Necessarily, it appeals to the progressive frame of mind, which more readily acknowledges gray areas. For the first time, our real-life political inclinations are reflected by how much we enjoyed or hated a Star Wars movie.

    These disagreements and diametrically opposed opinions are only exacerbated and radicalized by nostalgia, which at this point, is inextricable from any Star Wars movie. Tom Marks and John Borba of IGN.com argue, vis-?-vis The Last Jedi, that nostalgia distorts objectivity, and that it clouds judgement both ways. Citing the very early positive appraisals of The Phantom Menace, Marks and Borba think that it's possible to feel too good about a Star Wars movie just because it is a Star Wars movie, even if in the face of glaring flaws. That deep and abiding nostalgia for Star Wars also fosters an entitlement to the direction it takes, which feeds our expectations, and causes us to feel as if anything else than the fulfillment of those expectations would be a deep betrayal. The result: people on both sides feel more extremely about their opinions, and the divide is even more clear cut.

    The great irony of it all, though, is that The Last Jedi's ultimate message - to me, its greatest triumph - is that we cannot move forward if we are blinded by extremism and absolutism, or if we allow ourselves to get carried away by our beliefs and our differences. It happened to the film's purest protagonist in Luke, who was corrupted by his own vanity and his commitment to the Jedi Order; and to its antagonist in Kylo Ren, who ends the movie as a radical progressive leader so intent on "letting the past die" that he misses his mark. It happened to Rey, who was fixated with finding her parents, and it's happening to the fans who are too consumed by their idea of what Star Wars should be to see the merits of its eighth episode.

    But even that virtue is tempered by the movie's depiction of the errors of moral relativism, shown in Benicio del Toro's DJ, who refuses to pick a side, and only lives for himself. "Good guys, bad guys - made up words," he says, after betraying Finn and Rose. "It's all a machine, partner. Live free, don't join." It's clear through him that while The Last Jedi stands against believing too much, it also stands against believing too little. Balance, as always, prevails in Star Wars.

    This conscientious moderacy is the perfect message for a world divided - and it gets across in The Last Jedi because it is Star Wars, but also because it is no longer the Star Wars we once knew.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  2. #102
    From Esquire online ...

    Black Panther Is the Crowning Achievement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

    This is much more than a superhero movie.

    BY MATT MILLER

    FEB 16, 2018

    There's a line at the end of Black Panther that I haven't been able to get out of my head in the weeks since I first saw the film. At the risk of being too spoiler-y (you will all complain anyway) I'll remove the context, but it goes something like this: "Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, because they knew death was better than bondage."

    It's a powerful moment, one that's tragic and beautiful all the same. This is the moment when Marvel, for the first time, finally transcended the superhero genre. Never has a line in a Marvel movie carried this much weight; it's an idea reserved for great literature or essays, for something much bigger than a Hollywood tentpole.

    Following his introduction in Captain America: Civil War, the film depicts T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he becomes the king of Wakanda (and the titular character) and is charged with defending his nation and its history of isolationism to protect the kingdom's stronghold of vibranium from the rest of the world. This vibranium has kept the African nation protected from racism, colonialism, and the horrors of slavery. But Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an American with mysterious ties to Wakanda, understands that these resources can be used to help oppressed people around the globe, creating a powerful thematic conflict with the kind of nuance and grace never seen in a superhero movie before.

    Taken strictly as an entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther is the franchise's most unique yet. The isolated African nation of Wakanda is depicted as a brilliant afrofuturist utopia where proud traditions are as powerful as their advanced and unplundered technology. So badly I want to wander those busy streets, living in harmony among the towering trees and hovering bullet trains. Hell, I'd watch a sitcom set in Wakanda.

    But the film is more than just the statements of empowerment found in its setting. The characters are by far the most complex of any in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o plays the revered spy Nakia, bringing her acting chops to heighten what could have been a smaller supporting role. Danai Gurira is a standout as Okoye, the respected leader of Wakanda's all-female warrior class. Angela Bassett and Forrest Whitaker play two of Wakanda's fearless and stoic elders, while Martin Freeman brings comic relief as an outsider to the kingdom—and whose presence threatens the nation's security and secrecy

    Relative newcomers Letita Wright and Winston Duke are a commanding presence as Shuri and M'Baku, respectively: Shuri is the young, brilliant tech expert and sister to T'Challa, while M'Baku is the leader of an adversarial Wakandian tribe who proves invaluable when it comes to the ultimate defense of his nation. Even Sterling K. Brown's N'Jobu creates a lasting, tragic presence; his brief minutes of screen time underscores a small, yet pivotal, role.

    And when it comes to the two leads, Boseman as Black Panther and Jordan as Erik Killmonger represent the most complex and fascinating hero-adversary dynamic shown in a superhero film in years. Neither is entirely good or entirely bad. One might identify with Jordan's antagonist as much as they would Boseman's villain.

    Fittingly, Black Panther is a movie is much bigger than the studio—an achievement long overdue in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and tragically rare in Hollywood as a whole. This is a movie that has the opportunity to widen the scope of American storytelling, one that can convince the entire entertainment industry to invest in diverse stories of all types.

    This is a massive burden to put on a film of any genre, let alone a superhero movie. But, astoundingly, Black Panther gracefully takes this place in American cinema. It's a film that eloquently embraces challenging ideas and packages them into a visually stunning veneer for mass consumption.

    Just about every scene - from the dazzling action pieces, the intricate costumes, and Kendrick Lamar's incredible soundtrack—is pulsing with pride and life. This would be a necessary film at any time, and it is now more than ever, when the message of tearing down walls comes as the U.S. senate officially begins its debate on immigration legislation. As T'Challa learns by the film's end, "The wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers."
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  3. #103
    From Esquire online ...

    AND THE BEST PICTURE SHOULD BE...

    Nine critics make their cases for each of this year's Best Picture nominees.

    FEB 23, 2018

    Last year was a tumultuous one, but there was a silver lining: We got to see a lot of great movies. At least one of those movies was born out of the political turmoil in America; a few others seemed to naturally reflect our chaotic times. And out of the many brilliant films that hit theaters last year, nine earned the chance to compete for the top prize at this year's Academy Awards.

    To celebrate these nine nominees - some of which are certainly less remarkable than others - Esquire.com asked nine writers to make the case for why each deserved the Academy's top honor. Eight of these critics will surely be wrong. (Or will they? Considering last year's infamous mix-up, maybe the Oscars will outdo themselves and deliver us a tie - although that's doubtful.) No matter the winner, however, one thing is for certain: It's definitely more fun to argue over which film should win Best Picture.

    CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

    Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name is a touching film story about first love and loss. Dave Holmes writes that the lush summer romance at its center should win over any Academy voter with a heart.

    Call Me by Your Name is two hours and ten minutes of non-stop gay wish fulfillment, and that's only partially because of Armie Hammer's calves. It's a movie that unfolds like a long, lazy summer day, beckons you in with beauty and music and food, and then gently tears your heart out of your chest. It is sumptuous and poignant and fucking hot.

    But what's most startling about it is what it isn't, not really, which is a coming-out story. We've seen those, and we'll see them again, and we should. The closet shapes the personalities of all queer people; it affects how we feel about ourselves for the rest of our lives, and it sits at the wheel as we navigate those early relationships. But we don't see shame doing its destructive work on Elio and Oliver, and the movie is more refreshing for it. There is little suggestion of self-loathing, outside of Elio's awkwardness around his parents' gay friends. The viewer doesn't fear that the boys will get beaten up by Italian townsfolk. AIDS doesn't get a single mention.

    Our heroes are just two beautiful young people, exploring themselves and each other in a world that is blooming, a place where they feel safe and even encouraged to do it. If it feels unrealistic, like a broadcast from a fantasy world, well, fine. At this moment in history, haven't we earned a couple of hours in a fantasy world?

    The movie nails that feeling of being young and so in love - with a song, with a book, with an absurdly handsome nine-foot-tall student who moves into your family's palazzo - you don’t know what to do with yourself. Elio, shrewd and articulate in every other aspect of his life, can only throw his 17-year-old body toward Oliver. It makes a sympathetic character out of someone who could be a cad: Oliver, beautiful and aloof, blithely breaks hearts and moves forward with a quick "later." But as he disappears into a more conventional life, your heart aches for him.

    And then there's Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech, a perfectly melancholy medley of encouragement, wisdom, and regret in which the viewer can't help but feel fathered. There's the delicious Eurotrash soundtrack, which reinvigorates The Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way." There's the formless button-downs and short-shorts and the Sufjan Stevens and the peach. There's a lot to love.

    Ultimately, though, Call Me by Your Name is not really about the queer experience. We don't know whether either of these guys does or ever will self-identify as gay. We assume from Elio's wardrobe (smartly suggesting 1983 Marc Almond, one of the few out gay pop stars in a year when even Boy George was in the closet) and Oliver's casual announcement of his engagement that these two men will move in opposite directions with respect to the gay world (unless the rumored sequel really does happen, we'll never know). We just know that they, like everyone in this unnamed Italian town, gave themselves over to a summer of curiosity and passion and pleasure. Even the resulting heartbreak is suffered exquisitely, in front of a roaring fire with a table being set in the background, every single human emotion passing over Timothee Chalamet's face - just as they did in our hearts.

    DARKEST HOUR

    History tends to repeat itself precisely because we often forget its nuances and complications. Anne T. Donahue thinks Joe Wright's Darkest Hour is the sort of film to remind us how flawed our collective memories can be.

    Winston Churchill wasn't a good person. He was a staunch imperialist who championed British colonialism. He called for the use of "poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes" while serving as the Minister of War in 1919. He ignored the Bengal famine of 1943 which left three million people dead. He could be cruel. His temper was unparalleled. But he was a brilliant writer, speaker, and wartime leader, and that’s how he’s been largely remembered. History of racism be damned.

    But here's the thing about history: We tend to change it to suit ourselves. And while Darkest Hour may seem like just another 2017 WWII-centric offering, it does something the likes of Dunkirk does not: It depicts Churchill not just as flawed, but as semi-powerless. And where so many war films depict him as a shining beacon of light, Joe Wright’s drama depicts him as a simple bare light bulb, dangling from a single wire in the very bunkers from which he orchestrated Operation Dynamo.

    Which is what the 1940 evacuation at Dunkirk was called, by the way. And at the time it was a last resort; a Hail Mary means of saving hundreds of thousands of British soldiers (read: the entire British army) from sure death and capture at the hands of Nazis. The beach was a pushpin on a map and its capture would arguably lead to Britain’s fall. So, to evacuate the troops, all British seacrafts were commissioned by the Navy. And then somehow, everybody made it home.

    And Darkest Hour assumes we know that. We should, obviously, since we’re adults who (I hope at this point) have a loose understanding of what history looks like. It assumes we know that Prime Minister Chamberlain resigned after grossly underestimating Hitler, and that Churchill's own party would’ve preferred another leader. It reminds us that Churchill’s own members were willing to resign unless he agreed to begin negotiations with Mussolini, and how controversial it was for Winston to refuse. In short, we’re meant to understand that his Darkest Hour isn’t the realization of Hitler's power or even the loss of English troops at Calais. It's the bubble of doubt he existed in, so desperate for help and an ally that he - from the toilet - calls President Roosevelt for help.

    Which is bleak. But good! It should be. So quick we are to paint historical figures or leaders as heroes or villains or as good or as bad that we';re also quick to forget that most of the time they are embarrassingly flawed. Through Wright's lens, we watch as Churchill fumbles to communicate without losing his temper or explaining his train of thought. (Which is frustrating.) We witness his refusal to compromise and his attempt to relate to the general public. (Endearing, but goddamn it, just elaborate, dude.) We see him drinking in the bathroom. (And really, who among us?) And while Churchill struggles to prove that he's worthy of leadership are obvious, they also run parallel to the allies' own struggles, too. In 1940, Hitler's defeat seemed a long way off; also in 1940, Winston Churchill was just a guy who spoke and wrote sensationally, but whom nobody wanted as Prime Minister.

    And that's what makes Darkest Hour a true Best Picture contender. This isn't a movie about the moment that made Churchill Churchill™. And it's not about branding Winny as a superhero. Instead, it's a movie about a man fumbling around like the rest of us. And while it succeeds as painting Churchill as a man with a gift for speaking and high-pressure decision-making, he's also presented in a way where you can see the parts of his personality that made him bad, too.

    And that’s the best kind of historical drama - one rooted in reality and the of watching figures navigate the murky waters that you, thanks to textbooks and their legacies, believe to have memorized. That's the kind of movie that makes history real. Because as history's happening, we're unaware of it. To us, it's the story of the decisions that led to the evacuation of Dunkirk. To everyone in it, they were just trying not to get killed.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  4. #104
    ^ Continued ...

    DUNKIRK

    Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is a superbly directed war saga that truly captures both the expansive and claustrophobic chaos of war. Nick Schager explains why this taut war thriller created a new standard for the genre.

    Whether seen in 70mm IMAX at a theater (as its director ideally intended) or on a smaller screen at home, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk stands head and shoulders above most of its fellow Best Picture nominees, delivering a formally audacious, heart-pounding tale of heroism, cowardice, and survival that’ll be remembered - and revered - long after so many of its competitors have become distant memories. That Nolan is himself only just now receiving his first Best Director nod indicates, for the umpteenth time, that the Academy knows not what it does. Nonetheless, it would do well to crown the director’s latest with the year's top accolade, lest it create yet another in a long line of embarrassing historical gaffes.

    This isn’t to say that Dunkirk doesn't have some admirable competition, but in terms of craft and suspense, none can match what Nolan accomplishes with his imposing, unconventional masterwork, a chronology- and perspective-fractured saga that has a blockbuster's scale and an art film’s experimental shape and soul. With no stars to headline it, marginal dialogue to guide it, and little sentimentality to help it comfort audiences, it's a bracing portrait of war as a constant avalanche of horrors - one that thrills, inspires, and challenges in equal measure.

    Of Dunkirk's many unusual elements, perhaps the most stunning (and welcome) is its reliance on image and sound over discourse, thereby bucking Nolan’s general preference for marrying majestic sights to exposition that spells everything out in long-winded detail. Here, Fionn Whitehead’s nominal protagonist doesn’t say more than a few words ("English! I'm English") for the proceedings' first-half hour, and what we learn about him - or about Tom Hardy's pilot, or about Mark Rylance's boatman - comes from deeds far more than from spoken words.

    With an economical, incisive script that emphasizes actions and reactions over spelling-it-all-out utterances, Nolan tells by showing: a silent soldier tying on boots beside a shoeless corpse he’s burying in the sand; Rylance's nod of approval to his son after the boy delivers a compassionate lie to a harried soldier (Cillian Murphy); a sequence of wordless shots depicting Hardy’s soldier contemplating whether or not to pursue an adversary on what will, he knows, be a suicide mission.

    Nolan conveys everything with minimal, meticulous gestures, and he doesn’t hold our hands in doing so. He instead respects, and thus commands, the attention and engagement of his viewers by demanding they keep up with his splintered-storytelling approach. All the while, he presents a harrowing up-close-and-personal outlook on the chaos, carnage and creeping-death terror of those fateful days on and around the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. Be it below decks in a destroyer suddenly struck by a torpedo, in the hull of a ramshackle ship quickly taking water, or in a cockpit high above the vast ocean, he situates us directly in the thick of the mayhem, even as his land-sea-air narrative design grants us a larger overview of the pivotal event's many facets.

    A war epic cast in arresting micro and macro terms, Dunkirk is the sort of grand-canvas experience that can only be delivered by the movies: sensorially immersive, intellectually stimulating, and unbelievably nerve-rattling. It's the finest film of Nolan's career, and the best studio release of 2017. Per the soundtrack's persistent sounds, the clock is ticking on whether the Academy gets this one right.

    GET OUT

    It's rare for a horror film to earn the Academy's attention. Jordan Peele's Get Out doesn't examine the supernatural, but rather a horror most human. According to Steven Thrasher, that's exactly why this film is like no other in this lineup.

    The Oscar for Best Picture should go to the boldest achievement in filmmaking that manages to do two difficult - and sometimes two very contradictory - things well: speak deeply to a substantial audience in the present, and speak in substantial enough of a way that it will engage audiences across time. Clearly, that move in 2017 was Jordan Peele's Get Out.

    Get Out rivals the original Star Wars in immediately imbuing our national conversation with shared cultural touchstones. Within days of Get Out's release, elements from the film - "the sunken place," the stirring tea cup, Rose withholding those damn keys, and the flash activating stolen people's suppressed consciousness - became as familiar to us as lightsabers, the Force, and Darth Vader were to the American zeitgeist in the summer of 1977.

    But though Get Out gave us a new story for understanding race when we desperately needed one just days after Trump took office, it is not simply a film just of its time. Steeped in Afrofuturism, Get Out is a movie that works in historic registers which will hold up over time.

    As 2017’s Best Picture winner Moonlight also did, Get Out flips the script on Black suffering which is usually required for the academy to laud Blackness on film. With pathos and tenderness, Get Out spends more time depicting the rich interiority of Black emotional life than it does exposing us to the torture porn of movies like 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained. Indeed, as I've written before, Get Out is the best movie ever made about American slavery (a subject the academy has loved at least since Gone With the Wind in 1939) because it addresses racism not as safely in the past but dangerously in the present.

    And unlike the typical Oscar-bait that attempts to tackle race and racism in America, Get Out doesn't lecture us about racism; it is a thrilling American horror story which captures an essence of the United States, depicts the actual theft of Black life, and visualizes the drama of what happens when white people want, as critic Greg Tate puts it, "everything but the burden" of being Black. The film puts its Black characters at the center rather than reducing them to cartoons while condescendingly lecturing its audience about racism; it does not use them as tools for their white counterparts to learn half-formed lessons about tolerance.

    Like The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 (another movie released in February that earned the Oscar for Best Picture), Get Out is also a smart thriller that has had a long time to develop an audience on the road to the Oscars. The only misstep its producers have made was submitting it to the Golden Globes as a comedy, because Get Out could have beat Three Billboards in the drama category. But that it didn't win that night doesn't change that it's the most original and bold film of the year, as well as the one we'll be talking about decades from now - and thus, the one that should win the Oscar.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  5. #105
    ^ Continued ...

    LADY BIRD

    Every generation deserves a raw, bittersweet, and ultimately gratifying coming-of-age film. Jen Vafidis writes of Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird and how another person's story can reveal much about ourselves.

    A friend recently said to me that I was "genetically predisposed" to like Lady Bird, as if it were a condition that might exclude me from health insurance. I tried to deny it. For one thing, the Northern California I took for granted was much closer to San Francisco and its "too many hills." I was class of 2004, not 2003, and my hair was kind of purple for a few months, but never pink. My boyfriend wasn't gay, and the boys who read Howard Zinn weren't cute. I never got around to truly alienating the popular rich kids, the ones who threw parties while their parents were in the other room or nowhere at all. And if Dave Matthews Band was played at my prom, I wasn't in the room.

    That’s not all Lady Bird is, is it? A lot of people have felt seen by this movie, and that has been a remarkably big deal, especially because this is a movie about women, written and directed by a woman, and their struggles aren't the end of the world but the stuff of someone’s regular life. ("Different things can be sad," as Lady Bird says.) Instead of something prescriptively empowering or self-consciously serious, Greta Gerwig has made something else - something weird and loose, what she wanted to make. Filmmaking is not a solo act, but it's Gerwig's name on that wonderfully detailed script; it’s her name on the director’s chair. Now the film exists separately from whatever urge she had to create it, which is kind of amazing and normal all at the same time, like Lady Bird itself.

    Joy, excitement, bewilderment, even frustration with this fictional character's strong voice - this is what people mean, I think, when they talk about representation as something sacred. The emotion that washes over a person when they are finally paid real attention is profound. My parents and I laugh about it now (or they laugh, and I smile tightly), but when I was 18, it really hurt to call home, when I was lost and afraid that first autumn, the one that didn’t feel like autumn as I understood it.

    Seeing pain on Saoirse Ronan's face, her mascara running like an ink blot, was a sharp reminder. It hurt to search around at that age for what felt good and only come up with things I used to say I hated. I was noticing where I came from, as only a teenager who is becoming gradually less myopic can do. And I was seeing it suddenly as beautiful, instead of a place to leave, and I felt like an idiot.

    I don’t want to mock this movie with my praise. Maybe you aren't moved by this kind of stuff. Maybe to you, Lady Bird's critical, nearly twee grandiosity is too earnest, too small potatoes, too corny, too feel-good, too… adolescent girl? But I think it’s romantic. What's more romantic than being told that you matter enough to be looked at? When someone is paying attention, giving small things meaning, it’s a kind of glory.

    On screen, these details are more of a comfort than they ever were in real life. When you said you loved the song everyone else hated - and you loved it enough to say so, in defiance and for posterity - it's a relief to discover someone actually heard you.

    PHANTOM THREAD

    Lying under the surface of Paul Thomas Anderson's tale of tortured male genius is a surprisingly tender love story. Judy Berman explains why Phantom Thread proves itself more romantic than any other film this year.

    To cast a ballot in any given Oscar category, members of the Academy are supposed to have seen every nominee on the list. I find it hard to believe that this always happens. Can you imagine recent Academy addition Apichatpong Weerasethakul sitting through The Boss Baby? But when it comes to Best Picture, I wish voters had to prove they'd seen each nominee - twice.

    Think about the worst winners of the past 25 years: Birdman, The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire, Crash, American Beauty, Gladiator, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, Forrest Gump. Whether it's thanks to their historical weight, visual style, charming romance, bland commentary on "the way we live now," or some combination of the above, each of these movies could feel magical at the end of a single viewing. After two, though? Every one of them is revealed to be pretty shallow.

    Of this year's nominees, no film stands up to multiple viewings better than Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread. Like many past Oscar winners, it is a love story. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, in his final and perhaps greatest performance), a London couturier who inflicts his ridiculous perfectionism on everyone around him, finally meets his match in a young waitress named Alma (played by Vicky Krieps, whose Best Actress snub pretty much invalidates this year's awards). Although it's set in the 1950s, Phantom Thread has little interest in railing against the social mores of the era. It simply takes its period setting - a time before TV was ubiquitous and smart women expected to pursue careers - as a given.

    Some crass critics prefer to frame the leads as stock characters, a prickly male genius and his slavishly devoted female muse. But Alma is stubbornly unique. “I love Hitchcock's Rebecca so much," Anderson told Rolling Stone in a conversation about what inspired Phantom Thread, "but I watch it and about halfway through, I always find myself wishing that Joan Fontaine would just say, 'Right, I have had enough of your shit.'" Yes, on their first date, Reynolds wipes off Alma's lipstick and says, "I like to see who I'm talking to." Later, though, she calmly informs him, "If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose."

    So the games begin, and both characters savor them, even when things get painful. But it's her desire that drives the plot. Alma has fallen for a man who is self-involved and inflexible, and she needs to figure out how to love him without surrendering her autonomy. She observes how Reynolds obeys his sister, Cyril (the great Lesley Manville), whose practicality keeps the House of Woodcock solvent, so she’s knows he’s not as independent as he thinks.

    The romance in Phantom Thread is universal - not because it pairs two "problematic" male and female archetypes, but because it magnifies the beauty and low-key insanity of every relationship in which two deeply idiosyncratic people (that is: any two people) learn how to sustain each other. In an interview with W, Krieps explained that she conceived Alma to "be almost free of gender."

    Phantom Thread isn't a story that calls attention to itself with elaborate set pieces or an overt political agenda. But it contains detail work as fine as the embellishments on Reynolds's gowns: immaculate and stifling interiors, inherently humorous moments played straight, performances that demand constant closeups, characters whose skeletal backstories suggest ten different kinds of subtext.

    As Barry Jenkins, who directed last year’s beautiful Best Picture winner, Moonlight, observed, Phantom Thread is "a sublime object… in the sense that, when viewed from different angles, in varying moods, it reveals more and more of itself, other emotions and, for a film overrun with aesthetic objects, deepened ideas." It is the only movie of 2017 that consumed my thoughts until I felt compelled to see it again. When I did, I loved it even more.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  6. #106
    ^ Continued ...

    THE POST

    Was there another movie last year that was so clearly inspired by our own crazy times? Matt Miller shares why Steven Spielberg's The Post has a chance to set us back on track.

    Let's do a brief recap of what was happening in this country between February 2017 - when director Steven Spielberg dropped everything to begin production on his latest Oscar-nominated film - to its completion in mid-November: Trump exaggerated the size of his inauguration crowd and called the media’s photographic evidence fake. He said the press lies about the murder rate in the United States. He said the "very dishonest press" doesn’t want to report on, and covers up, terrorist attacks. He called fake news "the enemy of the people." And those are just a few examples after a fraught election year in which Russian operatives employed social media to spread false information and influence the outcome of the presidential election.

    While the news seemed to happen with roaring intensity, rarely allowing us to catch up, Spielberg gathered a group of some of the most beloved and acclaimed American actors of our time, led by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, in some sort of Hollywood Justice League set out to defend this country from evil - or, less hyperbolically, to make a movie about the importance of the news.

    The Post takes us inside a newsroom at a time when fact and fiction - at least when it came to the media - seemed a little more clear. The publication of the Pentagon Papers was an inarguable moment in American history when the work of a few journalists exposed the government’s flaws and how those in the highest positions of power attempted to cover-up and keep information from a demanding and deserving public. Despite the efforts of the Nixon administration, The Washington Post (and The New York Times, portrayed less heroically in the film as its title isn't The Times) successfully defended the publication of classified documents revealing mismanagement and misinformation surrounding the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

    While many on the left believe the foundation of our democratic system is in jeopardy, and more and more political battles are fought in a more complex and muddied media landscape, The Post serves as Spielberg's best chance to make a lasting social change. And that’s what makes a Best Picture win for The Post all the more necessary.

    The Academy loves to honor movies about journalism, from the Best Picture-winning Spotlight to the Best Picture-nominated All the President's Men, Network, Broadcast News, and Good Night, and Good Luck. The acknowledgement affirms the admirable work of regular, low-paid journalists trying to make a difference in this chaotic world simply by telling the truth. The Post brings a historical perspective, a reminder of the importance of the fourth estate by demonstrating its objective necessity in our society.

    It's simplistic to suggest that a movie will save this country, and its worth cannot be successfully measured. Maybe The Post can change one viewer's mind, forcing one person to think more critically about the facts they consume and what they read. But think of it this way: If the top prize goes to Spielberg and Co., just imagine the manic tweets the next morning. Might it all be worth it?

    THE SHAPE OF WATER

    Sometimes the most unlikely romances can surprise us as the most affecting and tender. John Hendrickson reveals why Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water perfectly defies expectations and remains an endearing and powerful film.

    My girlfriend dragged me to this movie. It's a running joke between us, actually. I usually pick all the movies, and they're always "stressful." (All 101 minutes of Good Time were, for my girlfriend, a bad time.) So The Shape of Water was her pick on a cold night not long after Christmas, when the warmth and nostalgia and omnipresent red glow haven't all been smothered by winter's existential dread. To my complete and total surprise, it only took me about 15 minutes to fall for this movie. That bizarre take on midcentury Americana, the effortless back and forth between Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), Michael Shannon in peak Michael Shannon Large Adult Weirdo form. The sci-fi element barely even registered. What do you mean she fucks the fish-man?

    She does, indeed, fuck the fish-man. Even if she didn’t fuck the fish-man (spoiler: she definitely fucks the fish-man), The Shape of Water would still be a great movie. The consecration of Elisa and fish-man's love is almost incidental; their on-screen chemistry is fantastic. That's really all this movie is: Elisa is mute, and therefore nobody seems to treat her like a real person with real needs - sexual or otherwise. She takes a lonely bus every night to work the graveyard shift at a creepy Cold War lab, where the fish-man shows up one day to be examined as a possible weapon to use against the Russians. He is mostly a fish, but also some percentage man, and, as a bit of parallel structure, nobody treats him like an entity with needs.

    Except, of course, Elisa. She refuses to judge him because he doesn't judge her, and, via a mutual affinity for eggs, they develop a close, secret relationship in which they simply eat eggs and listen to records and be. Their love is more real, pure, and substantive than the marriage of Octavia Spencer and her deadbeat husband, or Michael Shannon and his Stepford wife.

    The film condemns normalcy while simultaneously illustrating everyone’s collective longing for it. The women at the lab wear blueish-green dresses, which happen to be the same color of the bathrooms that they scrub, of the time cards they punch, of the fish-man's tank and his saline water. It all blends together. Any pop of color - Elisa's red coat, for example - looks totally alien in the frame (even more alien than the shrieky fish-man, who is also blueish-green).

    The only character who ventures to break free of this suppressive '50s mold is Elisa’s neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), who longs to explore his homosexuality but struggles to find people or places that will allow him to do so free of consequence. Elisa and Giles care for each other in a brother-sister way, the sort of relationship where you say yes no matter how crazy the ask - even if that question is to help you break a fish-man out of a Cold War lab because you're in love with him.

    This is a film that envelops you, largely thanks to Guillermo del Toro's deft direction, oozing with symbols and subtleties. His script reads like a vintage Hollywood love story (despite the fact that the main character literally fucks a fish-man). There's a swampy mix of rage, fear, and repression buried in the blacks of Michael Shannon's eyes. He doesn’t so much stare at his fellow cast mates as stare through them, which, itself, may be the movie's underlying message.

    You know that thing where people become more beautiful over time the more you love them? That happens here with the fish-man, and in the opposite direction with Michael Shannon. The film explores the complicated interplay between love, fear, and understanding. We're told we should be afraid of the fish-man because no one knows what he will do in a given situation. Elisa comes to love him because he doesn't register her inadequacies as something to fear, let alone judge. What more could you ask for in a partner? This movie makes you feel good.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  7. #107
    ^ Continued ...

    THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

    Martin McDonagh's profane and polarizing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems to be the feel-good, say-nothing movie engineered to take Oscar's top prize. As Corey Atad puts it, it's simply the Best Picture we deserve.

    There are some movies that deserve to win Best Picture because they're genuinely great, the best of the year. I'm talking about your Moonlights, your No Countries for Old Men, your Silences of the Lambs. Some movies deserve to win because they're good, but also a perfect encapsulation of Hollywood's ambitions. (I'm looking at you, Titanic.)

    Then there are the movies that deserve to win Best Picture because they represent everything that on the surface implies quality - but underneath exemplify everything that is hollow and irrevocably conservative about the movie business and American culture at large. Crash, for example, or Forrest Gump. This year, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is that movie.

    Martin McDonagh's pseudo-scathing take on violence, revenge, and redemption in the American heartland is what, on paper, looks like a great movie. And not even just on paper. On screen it’s got all the hallmarks. There are the blistering performances by some of Hollywood's great talents spouting off rhythmically satisfying dialogue and insults while bumping up against themes of gendered violence and racism that would appear at first glance to be rich with subtext. There's even a serene scene featuring a reflective Frances McDormand and a computer-generated deer that might fool a viewer into thinking they've witnessed something profound - an artistic reckoning with humanity in an inhuman time and place.

    I say "might," not to dismiss those viewers duped by McDonagh's skillful blindsiding, but to admit its power. It fooled me. When I first saw the film many months ago at the Toronto International Film Festival I found myself charmed - impressed even! - marveling momentarily at McDonagh's relentless ability to mash tones together in the span of a single sentence without missing a beat. It seemed to me a good film, a very good one, though perhaps not up to the standards of his best plays or his truly great debut feature In Bruges. Here was a film that felt like it was saying something, and saying it with style.

    "Felt" was the operative word. Being at a film festival, with little time to process one film before moving on to the next, my verdict was in: "strong recommend." Months later, as critical reception of the film began to turn, I too began to think more deeply about what Three Billboards actually had to offer. The longer I sat with it, the worse it seemed. While I'm inclined to be generous to McDonagh, particularly in his intentions for Sam Rockwell's maybe-redeemed violent, racist cop, that generosity can only go as deep as the film itself: not a millimeter past the surface.

    Three Billboards, given more than a moment's thought, is a film entirely of surface. Diorama figures in a diorama setting: stand-ins, supposedly, for the ills of real humans in a real country. Not a lick of it is real, though. There's nothing of essence to grab hold of in the film other than some meta-textual notions of what "good" performances delivering "good" dialogue in a "good" film are meant to look like.

    But you must remember that asking Americans, or Hollywood, or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to spare more than a moment's thought about anything is perhaps the biggest folly of all. Seen in that light, McDonagh's diorama of a film begins to look like distinctly deserving Best Picture material - and that we let it make it this far, it's the Best Picture we deserve.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  8. #108
    Why Do Gays Keep Falling for Call Me by Your Name?

    By Miz Cracker

    André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name has twice been hailed as a modern gay classic: in 2007, when the novel, about an unlikely summer romance between two young men in Italy, hit bookstores, and this month, as the languorous film adaptation hits theaters. This is odd, given that the story’s main characters might more accurately be labeled bisexual—if such labels can be applied at all to this Midsummer Night’s Dream–like narrative so insistently aloof from contemporary history or politics.

    Still, the fact remains that gay men adore this story about two young scholars, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), who embrace under the roof of Elio’s intellectual-bohemian family for a handful of weeks. Ten years ago, we adopted the book as an anthem, feverishly passing copies among ourselves, shaming anyone who hadn’t read it. And now critical praise suggests that we might fall in love with the story all over again when we flock to see it in cinemas.

    To repeat, this is strange! Why has Call Me by Your Name attained such an iconic “gay” status when it is anything but? When its main characters seem almost aggressively isolated from gay culture or politics? When its precocious protagonist has to be reminded that it’s gauche to make fun of people who are openly gay? Here’s one theory: Perhaps we gay boys have fallen for this ungay romance because it’s so straight—and if we gays love anything, it’s chasing after straight guys.

    The straightness is everywhere once you clear the lust from your eyes. The book was penned by a straight author who says that he has never had a gay relationship in his life, and it tells the story of two apparently heteroflexible but largely hetero-leaning men who seem to experiment with same-sex sex only furtively in their lives. The film is even straighter. Its leading lovers are played by straight actors who have been winking and giggling on the press circuit about having to pretend to (sort of) fuck. Indeed, all “gay” sex takes place off screen—only boy-girl or boy-fruit sex happens within the frame. And the only openly gay characters—a pair of “boyfriend twin-ed” academics who visit Elio’s parents for dinner—are portrayed as ridiculous Tweedledum-and-Tweedledee types.

    However, despite all this, gay audiences have sought ways to embrace this straight-guys-gone-wild narrative as an authentic gay romance against all available evidence. When Call Me by Your Name first came out, for example, my gay friends made a pastime of questioning Aciman’s sexuality. Sure, we shared copies of the book, but we also shared supposed evidence that Aciman was plagued by repressed desires. I myself obsessed over tidbits from author interviews: He’s saying that he’s never even touched a man? Methinks thou dost protest too much. He’s married with children, but those gay sex scenes are way too real. Just as Elio searches for gay desire in his apparently straight crush, gay readers searched for gay desire in our beloved author. In short, we liked the book, but we loved the mystery of its straight creator.

    One of my favorite gay-world rumors about Aciman emerged while he was still giving readings to promote the book in New York City: I heard that he couldn’t read passages in front of his son. According to the tale, when Aciman’s teenage son appeared at a packed book event one evening, the author squirmed out of reading in his kid’s presence. To be clear, this rumor is likely untrue. (Aciman has asserted in interviews that he shared the book with his kids well before its release.) I recount it only because it perfectly encapsulates what we gays love about Call Me by Your Name—the notion of a tragically embattled straight man. The story can’t just be a well-crafted work of fiction that captures a singular experience of young love. It has to be a confession from tortured closet case. A confession so raw, he dare not make it in front of family.

    Over the past few weeks, media coverage of the film adaptation has capitalized on this fascination with ambiguous straight men by other means, featuring interviews where the straight lead actors describe their total comfort with pantomiming gay love on set. “I’ve never experienced a sense of safety like that,” Armie Hammer says. “I’ve never experienced a sense of making yourself so accessible and vulnerable.” Then later, of Chalamet: “[He] grabs my crotch all the time.”

    We love this sort of playful teasing from straight guys—the grinning suggestion that we might get a swat on the butt or a drunken cuddle as long as we don’t push it too far. So when we consume this film, we’re willing to call it a gay masterpiece without any of the usual demands, such as real gay actors playing realistic gay characters in some sort of gay cultural or historical context. No, we’re going to get all flustered and delight in the straight presence, just like we would if Hammer, as his Oliver does with Elio, unexpectedly squeezed our shoulder during a sporting event in real life. We’re all going to skim these interviews with sweaty palms, searching for more evidence that one of the straight actors questioned his sexuality for just a moment. After all, we readily accepted a straight man’s right to tell this story in the first place.

    Think I’m being too harsh? Just look at Aciman’s cameo: In case you missed it, he played one member of the hilarious actually gay couple in the screen adaptation. There were many moments in this “swirling wonder” of a film that made me laugh—the discotheque dance scenes are uncomfortably stiff; the nebbish father/professor figure (Michael Stuhlbarg) gets around the house by skipping, even though he was a much fiercer presence in the book. But nothing got me like seeing Aciman put his arm around another man, supposedly his longtime lover, while keeping almost a foot of empty space between them. There he is, I thought, the man who gave a new voice to queer love, looking like a dad who accidentally walked into the wrong bar.

    To be fair, I’m not sure Aciman was ready for this book to become such a gay sensation. In interviews, he claims to have scribbled the thing out in about four months, never taking it too seriously because he was fairly certain that it would never be read. And really, on some level, the story is not so much homoerotic as it is autoerotic—it tells the story of two boys with nearly identical intellects and interests who fall in love with mirror images of themselves and then call out their own names during sex. And the book is certainly not tailored for a mass audience, with all its chatter about Heidegger’s writings on the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Who cares about that? (I mean, I definitely ordered Heidegger on Heraclitus in 2007, but still.)

    And yet, here we are, genuflecting as a group before a gay masterpiece that is absolutely not gay. But because Call Me by Your Name so perfectly captures one still-powerful facet of man-on-man desire, the straight crush, it has given us a unifying common text—even though we’re not truly represented within its pages. I myself have three copies: one I bought myself, two were gifts, all now on loan to gays who seemed to need them and also my mom. Sure, it’s a primarily straight book, but it’s so breathtakingly beautiful that just to have it glance in our direction seems like enough.

    Miz Cracker is a writer and drag queen living and werking in Harlem, New York. She was the 2016 Excellence in Column Writing award winner for the Association of LGBTQ Journalists (NLGJA), and she is a contestant on season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. A current listing of her shows and appearances can be found at mizcracker.com.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  9. #109
    Star Wars Fans Fundamentally Misunderstand Star Wars

    The franchise was founded on progressive values, but recent controversy surrounding Kelly Marie Tran proves vocal fans think otherwise.

    By Dom Nero, Jun 8, 2018

    Star Wars, a forward-thinking franchise that’s iconic for its diverse, colorful vision of the galaxy, has always been orbited by an Asteroid Field of obsessive fans with strong opinions. But with the reboot of the franchise has come a new, more dangerous type of Star Wars fan.

    Kelly Marie Tran, who portrayed the scrappy Resistance hero Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, silently left Instagram this week, following a shameful harassment campaign mounted against her by whiny neckbeards from the very vocal minority of Star Wars fans who do not agree with the progressive ideals set forth in the refreshingly inclusive, emotionally-nuanced film.

    Since the earliest promos for The Force Awakens, members of this testosterone-fueled community have flooded the internet with their regressive criticisms that Star Wars seems to no longer be a white male-led franchise. In spite of virtually every movie in the new Disney iteration of the series being headlined by white actors, with white men dotting out almost every frame of the films, many fans feel that there is a “social justice warrior” or “liberal” conspiracy within the new Star Wars films—and it’s no surprise that this level of unrest has come about only when Kathleen Kennedy, a woman, has stepped in to be the new president of Lucasfilm. These fans were especially, as they would say, triggered by Tran’s character in The Last Jedi, namely because she is a) an Asian-American of Vietnamese descent, b) a woman, and c) not the Hollywood female body type.

    Following a barrage of extremely sexist, racist, and downright disgusting discourse unleashed across all major social media platforms, the trash compactor of bullshit that’s swallowed up Kelly Marie Tran is yet another example of the rising current of hatred and discrimination in our culture—and a lightsaber-bright indicator that many Star Wars fans simply no longer understand Star Wars.

    Perhaps inspired by the internet-born movements like the Alt-Right, the “manbabies,” as Last Jedi director Rian Johnson has called them, have gathered on sub-reddits and social media forums on every dark corner of the web to organize and let their “silenced” voice scream across the internet like a raging Tie-Fighter on the brink of destruction.

    The abuse ranges from tiresome petitions on Change.org to blatant discrimination, such as on the Star Wars Wikipedia (Wookieepedia) entry page for Tran’s character, which Huffington Post reported had been revised in December of 2017 to read, “Ching Chong Wing Tong is a dumbass fucking character Disney made and is a stupid, retarded, and autistic love interest for Finn. She better die in the coma because she is a dumbass bitch”

    When Kathleen Kennedy took over Star Wars back in 2012, she successfully revitalized an irrelevant franchise, breathing new life into a series that had been long deemed obsolete after the problematic failures of the early 2000s prequel trilogy. Her new vision for the franchise, which by no means is revolutionary, at least brought the blockbuster films into the modern age, pulling the reins away from tired, masculinity-obsessed, circuses of violence like Transformers or Clash of the Titans, and ushering in a refreshing sense of uplifting, inclusive values to the big screen.

    But despite The Force Awakens’s unprecedented success at the box office, a positively stunning film hailed by audiences and critics alike, the manbabies felt forgotten. Longtime Star Wars fans who may have seen themselves in the negative, anarchic recklessness of Luke Skywalker—or the smug, dickhead antics of Han Solo—felt the new franchise alienated white men from their new mission statement. And thus, they sounded off, on every outlet available, saying the new films have a “racial agenda,” unleashing laughable Twitter campaigns such as #BoycottStarWarsVII, with now-suspended accounts like “@DarklyEnlighten” tweeting hateful messages such as “The new Star Wars movie...barely has any whites in it. It's all muds.”

    It may seem surprising that a cartoonish space franchise like Star Wars could get so absorbed into the tractor beam of our ever-agitated socio-political divide, but in a time when the term “social justice warrior” is considered an insulting thing to call a progressive-minded person, it’s only natural that a series founded on the principle of forward-minded thinking could fall victim to regressive neckbeards.

    When George Lucas released A New Hope in 1977, his shaggy, death-to-fascism blockbuster blew a Death Star-sized hole in a deeply divided culture that was still grappling with aftershock of Richard Nixon, the Civil Rights movement, women’s liberation, and Vietnam. Similar to the then-unresolved existential slog of the Vietnam War, Lucas’s original vision for the series depicted a world that had been at war for what felt like forever. The corrupt establishment ruled the galaxy with a metallic first, and it was up to a group of young, desperately hopeful rebels to overcome the Empire and smash the establishment to space-dust.

    Part of why Star Wars is so prescient again today is that most of these 1970s-era issues have resurfaced at the top of our nation’s political Sarlacc Pit. Today’s political climate is just as agitated, with the Trump administration ushering in an era of new Nixonism riddled with masculine-oriented, fascist notions that are deeply troubling for those of us who care about basic human values.

    When Princess Leia kicked ass and stunned Stormtroopers in A New Hope, she swung the movement of second-wave feminism along with her. Luke Skywalker was a Hippie, an alternative type of sensitive male hero that boldly deflected the stubborn shortcomings of traditional macho heroes. Even Ewoks, for all their toy-obsessed frivolity, represented a minority rebellion that was downright furious to be heard.

    Star Wars has always, always, been deeply political.

    The Last Jedi, especially, saw a return to form for the franchise, because, like A New Hope, the film itself reconsidered what it means to be a blockbuster epic. The values of the nearly half a century-old series desperately needed a re-assessment; what may have been progressive in the 1970s is certainly not revolutionary today. And thus, by expounding on the grey zones of the Empire and the Rebellion, and exploring the failures of the aging war hero Luke Skywalker, director Rian Johnson upended many of the boring traditions that the franchise had been recycling for decades.

    While many of the internet crybabies have decreed The Last Jedi a horrendous desecration at the altar of cinema, the numbers do not lie. The film was a major success, garnering over a billion dollars in box office profit, earning positive reviews from nearly every major publication. The Last Jedi worked because it believed in the good of its audiences, it treated us like intelligent viewers, and didn’t cater to the whims of an ever-flailing group of men hysterically clinging on to their crumbling masculinity.

    The entire phenomenon is reminiscent of the ending scene from the mediocre Revenge of the Sith, when Obi-Wan is forced to come face to face with his former ally, the now-fascist-leaning, emotionally stilted Anakin Skywalker. The wise old master meets Anakin on the lava planet Mustafar, begging him not to align himself with the new authoritarian government, who has corrupted the republic into thinking the Jedi—a colorful, diverse group of monk-like protectors of peace—are now the galaxy’s greatest threat.

    Obi-Wan says, “Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!” To which Anakin responds, “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” Drifting across the river of lava as if swirling into the depths of hell, Obi-Wan responds, “Well then you are LOST!”

    George Lucas never had too much tact for dialogue, but in the case of Star Wars fans who are desperate on reducing the values of the franchise back to the Stone Age, his words sure feel relevant today.


 
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