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Thread: Silver Screen, the General Movie Discussion

  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 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.

  2. #102
    From Esquire online ...

    Black Panther Is the Crowning Achievement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

    This is much more than a superhero movie.


    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."

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