Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 11/13/20

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LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (CREDIT: Star Wars/YouTube Screenshot)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Freaky (Theaters) – A bloody good body swap slasher.

TV
Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun Season 1 (Premiered November 11 on Netflix) – Sitcom/sketch hybrid from some silly Australian dudes.
His Dark Materials Season 2 Premiere (November 16 on HBO)
-The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (November 17)

Music
-AC/DC, Power Up

‘The Rise of Skywalker’ is Frustrating and Deeply Satisfying – It’s So Great to Be Alive!

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CREDIT: Lucasfilm

This whole review discusses plot points in detail, so … spoiler warningggggggggggg!!!

I guess J.J. Abrams isn’t the one to cure Star Wars of its reputation for clunky and/or imaginative dialogue. So many of the lines in The Rise of Skywalker are variations of “Go! Go! Go!” or “I love my friends.” Except for C-3PO. Man, that guy is golden! Does Anthony Daniels write his own dialogue? I would like to nominate 3PO for Most Consistently Charming Character in Franchise Movie History. I mean, quips like “You didn’t say my name, sir, but I’m all right” – how can one droid bless us so much?!

I liked The Rise of Skywalker more than I didn’t. But for a movie that I like (love even!), there sure are a lot of elements that drove me  batty! And some of them could have been just fine (or brilliant even) if they had been carried out a little differently. I’ll get to the big one in a bit, but first off, why is the first hour or so of this movie a hunt for a McGuffin? When characters are on the run in Star Wars, their purpose is clear and meaningful. It’s not just a hunt for a whatever device. Maybe it wouldn’t have felt so McGuffin-y if the danger weren’t dispatched so easily…

Speaking of, I’m fine with the “death” of Chewbacca turning out to be a bait and switch, but maybe give us at least five minutes to think that he might have actually died, so that it can resonate when we discover that he’s actually fine. Similarly, I think it’s perfectly okay that C-3PO’s memory wipe isn’t permanent, but let’s draw out some more mileage of the recovery of those memories. I’m sure they can easily get a tight five out of R2-D2 catching him up to speed.

Now for the big Big BIG one: I suspect that J.J. Abrams had decided that Rey was Palpatine’s granddaughter when he made The Force Awakens. But since he didn’t convey that explicitly, that left The Last Jedi free to say that her parents were nobodies. So Skywalker combines both origins, which tracks logically enough, but changes the message. Rey rejecting her Sith parentage is resonant, though it’s not as unique a message as the idea that powerful Jedi can come from anywhere. That message isn’t refuted, but it’s not underscored as much as I suspect would have been beneficial. So if JJ was married to the Palpatine-Rey connection, what if he were to instead make it a King Herod situation, wherein Palpatine senses Rey’s remarkable power and becomes dead set on hunting her down and either recruiting her or destroying her?

Hey, here’s another question I have: what did Finn need to tell Rey? My suspicion was that it was a confession of love, since he was obviously so smitten with her when they first met, and I think they’ve always been great together. But then he had possible sparks with Rose and then he has a connection with Jannah (not to mention Poe, although any romance there was only ever speculative). Meanwhile, Rey and Kylo Ben are getting ever closer to form that dyad. So maybe I misread what Finn needed to say. But whatever it was, it was clearly important to him, and it just never came up again! Why not add 30 seconds for some unburdening?

But for all those miscues, I am massively satisfied by the ending, particularly Rey declaring herself a Skywalker and the entire trilogy-wide resolution of her arc. When all those Jedi voices reach out to her, it’s transcendent. Why not have more moments like that?! But what we got is enough to leave me happy, and The Last Jedi‘s contribution of the conviction that great Jedi can come from anywhere remains intact. And the aesthetic Star Wars qualities like droids beeping and Babu Frick tinkering are as lovely as ever.

TL;DR: increase the bleep-bloops and good kind of mystical woo-doo, decrease the bad kind of mystical woo-woo.

Is ‘The Last Jedi’ the Funniest ‘Star Wars’ Movie Ever?

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CREDIT: Lucasfilm

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2017.

Spoiler Alert: This article discusses details from specific scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

In the opening scene of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) makes contact with a First Order ship and uses the opportunity to mess with General Hux’s (Domhnall Gleeson) head. Their tele-connection is fine, but Poe pretends that he cannot hear anything Hux is saying, driving the general to spiral out in frustration. This is a classic crank call routine, which begs the question: has even Star Wars adopted the Marvel penchant for overly practiced humor? Ultimately the moment is wrapped up with diction that assures us this is still a sufficiently lived-in Star Wars setting, as a First Order fleet member explains to Hux, “I believe he’s tooling with you, sir.”

This scene sticks out less when the remaining 2-plus hours of Last Jedi prove to be just as filled chock-a-block with so much humor. (Not to mention it fits Poe’s impish spirit.) Just about every scene is punctuated or punched up with a joke, a physical gag, character-based humor, or just plain weirdness. Which leads me to wonder: is this the funniest Star Wars movie yet? It is not like this series has hitherto been devoid of humor, far from it. But it is surprising when the hype of this middle entry was that it would be all Empire Strikes Back-style, dark-night-of-the-soul middle edition, but instead there is so much hilarity.

Here are just a few of the many memorable gags and laugh lines: BB-8 informs Poe that Finn is “naked” and “leaking,” Luke concurs with Rey that Jakku is “pretty much nowhere,” Poe is told to get his head out of his cockpit, Chewbacca attempts to eat roast porg while distraught porgs beseech him otherwise, an alien gambler at Canto Bight slots some coins into BB-8, Luke wipes metaphorical dirt off his shoulder. Honestly, this article could just be a list of every moment that made me laugh and it would be long enough to merit publishing.

I could worry that Last Jedi overdoes it with the humor, but that would miss the inherently subversive point of this film. Poe’s punking of Hux gives us our first taste of the chuckles, but it is a particularly anticlimactic moment a little bit later that really sets the tone. The Force Awakens ended with a lovingly shot tableau of promise, as Rey held out Luke’s lightsaber to summon him back to his Jedi/Rebel destiny. The Last Jedi returns us to that moment by having him callously toss his iconic weapon over his shoulder like a stinky old sneaker. Yes, it’s funny, but the laughter co-exists with a despair that the hope that has held this universe up is dissipating.

What makes this particular humor successful is that it is not a distraction from the scene’s dramatic and thematic significance, but rather part and parcel of it. And that is why the comedy works as well as it does throughout the film. Just consider: while Rey is on Ahch-To training with Luke, she blows a hole through a cave with her blaster and later carelessly knocks down a structure, and on both occasions we see the amphibious Caretakers forced to deal with the fallout, plowing on with bemused frustration. Or when Rey faces Snoke, he utilizes his Force powers by boomeranging a lightsaber to hit her in the head with it. Dressed like a ’70s glam rock god, his vanity is just as, if not more, important than his thirst for power. And then you have Snoke castigating Kylo Ren for his Darth Vader-style helmet, inimitably demanding, “Take that ridiculous thing off.”

It is not as if the previous Star Wars movies have completely lacked humor. Indeed, who can forget C-3PO’s famously bad timing, or Yoda rummaging through Luke’s belongings, or BB-8 zapping anyone who crosses him with an electric shock? But what is uniquely notable with The Last Jedi is that the most consistently funny characters – the droids, the puppets, and the furries – have relatively less time than in earlier films. The traditionally flesh-and-blood folks carry a greater share of the comedic weight, whether by narrative fate or by design of characterization. Now, it is not as if the droids are completely absent from Last Jedi, and when they do appear, they make the most of it, as when C-3PO calculates the very specific unlikely odds of escape, or when BB-8 rolls around under cover of a (trash?) can, or when BB-8 blows the “smoke” off his “gun,” or when Poe scratches BB-8’s “belly” (so basically anything with BB-8).

I would argue that Star Wars loses its way when it loses its humor. I am of the (apparently minority) opinion that the prequel trilogy gets progressively worse with each successive entry. The much-maligned Phantom Menace wins out over the relatively better-regarded Revenge of the Sith because I think it is better to err on the side of dorkiness than to go all in on overly deathly seriousness. Or at least if you’re going to be deathly serious, be weird about it. Several elements of The Last Jedi do not necessarily count as comedy, but they are so strange and unprecedented that all I can do is laugh. What to make of Benicio del Toro’s scoundrel DJ, who speaks with a whimsical, practically Seussian stutter and drops zingers like “blip-bloppity-bloop”? And of course how can we forget Luke squirting and drinking green milk out of the bosom of an alien creature lounging by the sea?

To answer this article’s question, I would need to thoroughly re-watch every Star War and make a detailed inventory of every bit of humor. The Last Jedi may or may not be the funniest of the franchise. It is certainly near the top. But a better and more readily declared conclusion is that it is the Star Wars film with the most important humor. This is the most democratic of the series, making it clear that anyone can be one with the Force, no matter what their origins. The Last Jedi sticks its nose at the slavish devotion to format that preceded it, not because there is anything wrong with the old way, but because there is a whole variety of alternatives that are also worth exploring, and as we get to them, it only makes sense to have as much fun as possible.

My Favorite Movie Couples of All Time

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princess-bride-westley-buttercup

Right around last year’s Valentine’s Day, I declared to the world my favorite TV couples of all time. So this year, how’s about I do the same thing for movies?!

This list appears to be a little more exclusive than my TV one, perhaps because TV tends to be more intimate.

Anyway, here’s the cream of the crop:

Westley and Buttercup (The Princess Bride)

“AS…

YOU…

WISH!”

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This Is a Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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star-wars-rogue-one-rebels

I like the prologue (little Jyn is a great cinematic runner), and the last 10 minutes burn with the fiery passion of “gotta get this done.” The acting is great, but I don’t really care about any of the characters.

I give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 4-6 Cameos out of 6-9 Transmissions.

(For more of my thoughts on Rogue One, click here: http://newscult.com/why-cant-rogue-one-be-a-half-hour-shorter/)

Why Can’t ‘Rogue One’ Be a Half Hour Shorter?

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot

This article was originally posted on News Cult in December 2016.

SPOILER WARNING – This article discusses major plot points from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

After seeing The Force Awakens, my initial feeling was one of gratitude that a new Star Wars movie could actually be good. After seeing Rogue One, my initial feeling was a desire to trim the fat. I generally do not get too hung up on the “right” running time for a movie. Sure, I’ll have an opinion about pacing, but there are usually more significant issues to discuss. And in this case, the running time is not my hangup so much as it is the hangup of the whole blockbuster template.

The best part of Rogue One is the last ten minutes, when the Rebels manage to transmit the Death Star plans expressly to Princess Leia (thus leading directly into A New Hope). The pace of this sequence is electric, which is as it should be in a heist film, which is indeed what Rogue One is. The driving purpose of such a film is a plot with a very specific purpose. The most obvious, and usually most effective, way for the audience to feel the urgency essential to this genre is by compressing the runtime.

So what could be lost in a hypothetical shorter Rogue One? The character work is uniformly unimpressive. Plenty of time is spent examining whether or not Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a true rebel and if the others are willing to accept her into the fold. But that conflict is never all that interesting, nor does it especially matter. This story is not a hero’s journey, like the rest of the Star Wars saga.

But perhaps there are some viewers who appreciate the time given to Jyn’s arc, or all the time spent with Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) that does not really affect the ultimate direction of the plot. (I can certainly understand the latter, thanks to Whitaker’s off-kilter performance.) It is not an absolute requirement that heist flicks must be on the short end of feature running times. If the character work of Rogue One were more impressive, I could very well be singing a different tune.

My real issue, though, is the implicitly accepted, rarely examined convention that big-budget action blockbusters must hit that sweet spot between 110 and 140 minutes. That standard holds true across all the numbered Star Wars episodes as well as Rogue One, and nobody has ever really stopped to ask, “Why?” One might suggest the old saw of “getting your money’s worth,” but a film’s value decreases when it has 30 minutes of padding.

Rogue One is just one example. My larger point is that major franchise films should be more adventurous. Star Wars does appear to be interested in such variability. The one-off nature of this film and the upcoming Han Solo prequel are evidence of that. As for other franchises, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done an admirable job of exploring various genres within its own overarching template. But diversity of running time has hitherto been neglected in this approach towards diverse filmmaking. And I am not just arguing for kinetic short blasts. Three-hour plus, Godfather-esque generational sagas are also welcome!

The point is, this is not TV. There is no categorical need to fit within a strict temporal box. In a series that can travel long distances at the speed of light, I see plenty of yet explored possibilities.

This Is a Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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ForceAwakens

-I cried from anticipation during the first spaceship shot after the crawl.
-Daisy Ridley’s facial expressions convey a constant state of surprise. It is terribly endearing.
-It is the rare Star Wars character who can say that his decision in a moral quandary is simply the right thing to do. John Boyega has the earnestness to pull that off as ex-stormtrooper Finn.
-There is a bit of a potential romantic spark between Rey and Finn. He is clearly smitten the moment he sees her warding off scavengers. True, she yells when he keeps grabbing her hand, but that is more about practicality. (Come on, Finn, it’s not faster for either of you to be holding hands while running.) Right now, they have an intense friendship borne out by surviving death-defying adventure together, and it can develop or not develop however should be most natural.
-Rey’s desert attire is perhaps the best outfit in Star Wars history. Dressing decisions ought to be made based on comfort, functionality, and style; these three elements all feed into each other in this case.
-Adam Driver as Kylo Ren gives the performance that Hayden Christensen was supposed to give in the prequels. His petulant manchildishness is also reminiscent of Spaceballs’ Dark Helmet (in a good way).
-As Resistance pilot Poe Dameron, Oscar Isaac is the least tortured he’s ever been. Interesting.
-BB-8 does not disappoint. “Droid, please.”
-All your favorites are back! Even more than you might expect. They mostly pick up right where they left off, R2-D2 more than anyone else. Harrison Ford looks the most comfortable he ever has been as Han.
-Wow, this is exactly the same movie as A New Hope. Thankfully, the characters are so great that it is just thrilling to watch them (sky)walk through the beats.
-A few dramatic moments may happen too quickly, but they play in a way that might make you think, “perhaps there is a way to do it differently than the precedent that has been set.”

Star Wars vs. Football

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bb-8

On last night’s @midnight, Chris Hardwick claimed that he was tricked into watching football to see the Star Wars trailer and then compared it to a Hungry Man commercial airing during Project Runway. I must take exception to this, because while there are plenty of general differences between the football and Star Wars fandoms, they are both so popular that they have plenty of crossover. It is more like a commercial for a Christmas special airing during a Halloween special. Those are probably the 2 most popular American holidays (maybe Thanksgiving is second or first, but Christmas and Halloween are definitely both top 3), but they are definitely significantly different. One’s more of a friends holiday, the other a family holiday. Some Halloween lovers probably hate Christmas, and vice versa. But there are folks who love ’em both.

Colts4thDown

For me, football and Star Wars were two of my earliest fandoms. I’ve grown a little disillusioned with both, though, thanks to concussions and rah-rah tribalism in the case of the former and Jar-Jar Binks in the case of the latter. But when I see something like the stupidest ever trick play from the Colts, I gotta keep watching. And when I behold BB-8 rolling along, I’m like, “I guess you better get me a ticket.”