Category Archives: movies

THE LAST JEDI: What Happened?

By Tom Holste

Jan. 16, 2018

There has been a grave disturbance in the Force.

The new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, released last month to an astonishing level of critical acclaim, with “the best movie in the series since The Empire Strikes Back” being a common refrain. But once fans started seeing the movie, a much different anthem started gaining traction: “the worst movie in the series, worse than The Phantom Menace.”

Rotten Tomatoes, a site that pulls reviews from around the Web and compiles percentages based on positive and negative reviews, has been at the center of the controversy. At the time of writing, Last Jedi’s critical consensus stands strong at 90%, but the Audience Score (which can be affected by any user who signs up and votes) has currently plummeted to 49%.

LAST-JEDI-on-RT

“Oooooh. Triggered, people on the Internet are. Hmm, hmm, hmm!”

So, what happened to cause such a wide gap in reception between critics and audiences? What follows is not a review, but an attempt to objectively show both sides of the argument. (Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD if you haven’t seen the movie!)

It’s Different. A common sentiment after the release of The Force Awakens is that there were too many things that felt like clichés from other movies in the series. People wanted (or thought they wanted) the sequel movies to be different. Writer-director Rian Johnson took the message to heart, and ironically delivered a movie that felt so different in its tone and structure that it became off-putting to many fans. For critics, though, who probably like cinema as a whole more than they like Star Wars in particular, any change was welcome.

It’s Sad. Rather than playing it safe and having nothing bad happen to characters from the Original Trilogy, as one might expect from a major corporation reviving a franchise, Disney-owned Lucasfilm has surprisingly taken a lot of risks, putting the classic characters through the ringer. In Force Awakens, we learned that Han Solo failed to be a good husband and dad and that he went back to a life of crime before ultimately being killed by his son. In Last Jedi, we find a bitter, depressed Luke Skywalker who failed to revive the Jedi Order and enabled his nephew to go on a killing spree. (In fairness, all of these ideas are already in Force Awakens, but in Last Jedi, everything gets spelled out in detail.) In the end, Luke also dies.

These sequels have also shown us that Leia failed in her diplomatic duties to restore the Republic. By the end of this film, the heroes are once again broken and on the run. And since actress Carrie Fisher has passed away, there’s no chance for her character to take part in any happy ending in the next sequel. All of the major classic characters are now dead. While critics enjoyed the risk-taking elements, fans are crushed from watching their childhood heroes meet such sad fates.

Luke-Skywalker-LAST-JEDI

“I hear there’s going to be a new TOY STORY trilogy, where Woody dies, Buzz dies, and Jessie gets written out of the story.”

It’s All About the New Characters. Unsurprisingly, Disney has made the new heroes—Rey, Finn and Poe—the focus of the new trilogy. As already mentioned, the major characters from the Original Trilogy are now all gone (with no mention of whatever happened to Lando Calrissian), and supporting characters such as Chewbacca and the droids have been reduced to cameos in films that juggle a very large cast. Critics appreciate the focus on the new, interesting characters; nostalgic fans come away with an empty feeling.

A Twist or Not a Twist? Poe’s subplot is about trying to stop Admiral Holdo, who he believes to be a spy. He recruits Finn and Rose to help him. Ultimately, their plan fails, but it doesn’t matter because Holdo’s plot succeeds. For anyone who thought that Poe’s plan was going to succeed, this movie has two great twists in it. For those who guessed that Holdo was in the right, though, the Poe/Finn/Rose subplot has no twists.

Elsewhere on the plot-twist front: Virtually no one saw the twist coming that Rey’s parents aren’t anyone famous or connected to the overall Skywalker/Solo saga. For those who enjoyed the feel of the original movies, and remember that Luke Skywalker himself started off as an “everyman” character from the middle of nowhere in the original movie, this twist feels like a return to form. However, with this saga’s famous shocking family reveals, and with the previous director (JJ Abrams) known for crafting mystery stories like the TV show Lost, this reveal fell flat for some.

Another genuine surprise was when the villainous Snoke was abruptly killed off in this installment, when nearly everyone expected him to make it to the last film in the trilogy. Critics loved the surprise and the renewed focus on Kylo Ren as the main villain. Fans who wanted to know more about his backstory were frustrated that he was dispatched so quickly.

Social Commentary. Many critics gushed over the apparent social commentary, with the movie seeming to take an anti-war stance and to criticize wealthy people. Many fans hated this aspect and preferred the saga when it was more mythic in its storytelling. Ironically, Star Trek fans were upset when the new movies became like theme-park rides rather than the social commentary that they’re known for; now Star Wars is criticized for its commentary from fans that are used to the movies being theme-park rides.

Star_Wars_Porg

Star Wars fans: “I hate the Ewoks! They’re too cutesy.” Also Star Wars fans: “Porgs are adorable! I need to buy all the toys!”

With all of these issues in mind, the Star Wars franchise stands at a tenuous crossroads. Last Jedi has made a ton of money despite the backlash (it was #1 for three weeks in a row and quickly became the highest-grossing movie of 2017), but many long-term fans have sworn off seeing Ep. IX. To Disney’s credit, they’ve tried playing it safe and got criticized, and they’ve tried taking chances and gotten criticized. Where do they go from here?

The questions remain as both the studio and audiences find out that Star Wars means something very special to nearly everyone, but we all have different ideas about what exactly it is that makes it special.

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Lucasfilm Entrance Should Have a Revolving Door

By Tom Holste

Sep. 9, 2017

By now, you’ve probably all heard about Colin Trevorrow being removed as director from the as-yet-unnamed Star Wars Ep. IX, the final film in the Skywalker saga. (There will be other Star Wars films, but this will be the end of the Episodic cycle involving the Skywalker-Solo clan.)

This news comes barely two months after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were removed from the upcoming unnamed movie about a young Han Solo, replaced with Ron Howard, an old friend of George Lucas and an accomplished director in his own right. And it also comes after director Tony Gilroy was brought in to do extensive reshoots on Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One last year (although Edwards cooperated with the reshoots and got to keep his name on the film). And this is after director Josh Trank was removed from an untitled Star Wars spinoff movie.

Old-Luke-Skywalker1

“Really? … ANOTHER director gone?”

While it’s natural to be slightly nervous about all these abrupt behind-the-scenes changes, I suppose it means that Kathleen Kennedy (the current head of Lucasfilm) is leaving nothing to chance, so perhaps it’s cause for relief.

As for Colin Trevorrow, I enjoyed Safety Not Guaranteed, and Jurassic World was passable fun, but I don’t think it had very much to do with the direction. As stated in an earlier blog post, I think it had more to do with good timing on a film fueled by nostalgia that offered a nice alternative to people tired of superhero movies. Don’t get me wrong, Trevorrow did his job well, but I don’t think the film’s massive success was about that.

Many people are suggesting that Rian Johnson, writer-director of the upcoming Episode VII: The Last Jedi, should take over Ep. IX as well. Rian Johnson might be a good choice, but frankly, I’ve been a little nervous about his work. Looper is certainly a clever film, but there’s nothing in that movie at all that suggests that Johnson knows how to handle the light-hearted, family-friendly tone of a Star Wars film. And yet, they let him write and direct this Episodic film and co-write the next one. Add in Mark Hammill’s comments about “fundamentally disagreeing” with every choice Johnson made regarding Luke, and I’m a little on edge about this one guy having so much say over my favorite franchise.

Having said all that, Kathleen Kennedy has seen Johnson’s work on this film and kept him around, when she hasn’t done the same for others. We know she takes this too seriously to just let anyone do whatever they want, so I consider it a high compliment to him that he’s been allowed so much creative control.

I’m not outright saying he’ll do a bad job. I’m saying I don’t think it’s wise to hand over direction of the next film to him when we don’t know how audiences have reacted to this film yet. (All that being said, I’m still looking forward to December. Again, I haven’t seen Johnson’s work on The Last Jedi, while Kennedy has, so I’ll defer to her judgment if she picks him for Ep. IX.)

So who should Lucasfilm go with? Here are my thoughts on the other names I’ve heard bandied about:

JJ Abrams: He did direct some Star Wars-y stuff before working on The Force Awakens, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by his work on this franchise. He initially resisted taking on the job because he didn’t think he was the right choice; he thought he was too attached to the source material to have an objective eye. He may have been right on that.

George Lucas: Yes, heaven help us, a lot of fans are insisting that this is the time for George to step back into the franchise. There’s even an online petition to get Disney to hire him. I say: No, no, a thousand times, no! George is great at many things — he’s a creative visionary and a technological genius — but he is not a director of actors, nor is he a good editor.

Joe Johnston: The director of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji and Captain America: The First Avenger — as well as an old-school Lucasfilm employee who created Boba Fett’s armor, among other things — is a solid choice, but he’s working on the next Narnia film, The Silver Chair, and I think Narnia needs him more than Star Wars at the moment. I hope he doesn’t jump ship on that project. I’d like to see him direct a different Star Wars film later on, though.

Ron Howard: He’ll probably do a solid job on the Han Solo movie, but I don’t want him to feel rushed trying to also get Ep. IX out the door.

Brad Bird: Would do a great job, but is busy with Incredibles 2 at the moment.

Steven Spielberg: Gets asked every time. He isn’t interested because this isn’t his franchise.

Robert Zemeckis: The director of Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump is rumored to be in talks to direct DC Comics’ Flashpoint, but if that doesn’t happen, he would be an exciting choice for Ep. IX, and his career could use a boost right now (his recent films haven’t done so well), but I don’t know what his interest level is. He reportedly turned down directing one of the Episodic prequels (as did Spielberg and Ron Howard).

Ryan Coogler: Director of Creed, so he knows how to take long-running franchises and give them new leases on life that are both popular and acclaimed. He’s also finishing up work on the Marvel movie Black Panther. I have no problems with this choice; I only put it at the bottom because I haven’t yet seen any of his movies.

Now here are some names I haven’t heard, but would be interesting choices:

Jon Favreau: Director of the first two Iron Man movies, among others. I know a lot of people don’t like the second one, but I don’t think its problems were related to the direction (and I kind of love the movie anyway).

David Fincher: Yes, as with Rian Johnson, his work is very dark, but he’s also another former Lucasfilm employee (ILM, specifically) that’s gone on to direct movies, which makes him an interesting choice.

Hettie MacDonald or Rachel Talalay: It would be nice to have some women behind the camera, and both of these directors have helmed fan-favorite episodes of Doctor Who. MacDonald worked on “Blink,” nearly everyone’s choice for best episode ever, and Talalay directed the acclaimed season finales of the past two seasons. Yes, TV is somewhat of a different animal than features, but they’ve shown that they can handle special effects and tight pacing while pulling strong performances out of their actors.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this all develops!

 

Mickey Mouse to Leave Netflix

By Tom Holste

Aug. 9, 2017

This news story has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I thought it might be interesting for discussion here.

https://www.gamespot.com/articles/disney-to-pull-its-movies-from-netflix-including-s/1100-6452383/?ftag=GSS-05-10aab8d&utm_campaign=trueAnthem%3A+Trending+Content&utm_content=598a81bd3ed3f00007aca3d8&utm_medium=trueAnthem&utm_source=facebook

This comes just a year after Disney’s content went exclusively to Netflix for the foreseeable future. Apparently, that deal will end in 2019.

I, for one, am getting really tired of every entertainment company pulling out of Netflix to start their own service, or in some cases, multiple services. Warner Bros. has put all their classic cartoons (including Hanna-Barbera and MGM content) on the Boomerang app, and they intend to release another app for all their DC Comics content. And if one wants to watch Doctor Who on streaming, one has to pay Britbox for the classic stuff and Amazon Prime for the new stuff.

Disney has already announced that they’re going to have a separate streaming service for ESPN content. If they have a separate service for animated classics, and a separate service for Marvel, and one for Lucasfilm, Pixar, etc., people are not going to go for that.

Part of what’s great about Netflix is its affordability. But studios seem to think that if we’ll pay Netflix $8 a month, we’ll be willing to pay them $40 a month for multiple different mini-Netflixes. That’s an incorrect assumption.

This strategy may drive some consumers back to physical media, which may in fact be part of the goal of the studios. Even though the rest of the planet moved on to streaming media 10-ish years ago, I’ve seen multiple doom-and-gloom articles from Hollywood experts about how the industry is doomed if consumers don’t keep buying physical media (ignoring the many decades in which the industry did just fine without that).

Nonetheless, having said all that, if enough companies do pull out of Netflix, it may become worth my while to invest our $8 a month in one of these other companies. Much of what my family watches comes from one of Disney’s many divisions; in addition to what’s mentioned above, my kids are big fans of anime from Studio Ghibli, which has been distributed by Disney for a long time. While I don’t want to jump ship — I’d rather pay Netflix a little more to have more content — there may come a point where loyalty to them doesn’t make sense.

I’d also be interested if the Disney streaming service has multiple classic versions of characters instead of just the latest version. For instance, if they have just the new DuckTales and the latest version of Spider-Man, that doesn’t seem very interesting to me. But if they have those in addition to the old DuckTales and the ’90s Spider-Man and so forth, that could be fun. I would also be excited if they would finally release all episodes of The Muppet Show. (The DVDs stopped after Season 3, leaving two seasons unreleased.) They would need to dig in their archives a bit and come up with interesting things.

Anyway, the industry continues to change and evolve, and it’s fascinating to watch the permutations.

READY PLAYER ONE Drops 1st Trailer

By Tom Holste

Jul. 24, 2017

Over a year ago, I wrote an article about the upcoming film adaptation of the novel Ready Player One by Ernie Cline. To my surprise, it’s become the most “Liked” post I’ve made, and I’ve gotten more follows on my blog due to that than anything else!

For those unfamiliar with the source material, the novel is about a young man living in a future Earth where everything has deteriorated so much that the only escape is into a virtual reality “OASIS” where people can be whoever they want to be, and can have whatever they want to have, including their favorite pop culture icons. So, for instance, if you want to look like Batman and fly the Millennium Falcon, you can do that.

Cline’s novel is clever and fast-paced, but I figured with all the different intellectual properties from different companies mentioned, this film would be impossible to make. When Steven Spielberg stepped into the director’s chair, though, the film’s development really started to move forward. Spielberg is one of the few people in Hollywood that could make such a project happen; in fact, he already got multiple companies to work together for the animation extravaganza Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which he produced and Robert Zemeckis directed)That film met with such success and acclaim, it’s not surprising that studios would be willing to trust his instincts with this film as well.

(Also worth noting is that, when the novel came out, we hadn’t seen such universe-jumping franchises as The LEGO Movie or LEGO Dimensions yet, which is why I found such an onscreen mashup unlikely at the time.)

With such a high level of enthusiasm for the project, it’s only natural to share the first trailer for the film here:

A few random thoughts:

–While many different properties are indeed featured in the clips, naturally Warner Bros. put their properties front and center in the trailer. WB owns The Iron Giant, perhaps the licensed character that gets the most screen time in the trailer; DC Comics-owned characters (Harley Quinn and Deadshot) walk through one scene; and at another point Freddy Krueger (whose films were released through Warner-owned New Line Cinema) is also clearly visible.

There are cameos from the DeLorean from Back to the Future (Universal) and the van from The A-Team (Universal again, although Fox did the movie adaptation), but they’re basically blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. (I’m not saying that the trailer doesn’t feature many non-Warner properties, just that these stood out to me more, and I actually had to go and look up articles to find out what was in the trailer.)

Non-Warner Bros. characters and stories may still feature heavily in the completed film; I recall that the 1983 MGM-owned WarGames featured significantly into the plot, and I believe that Voltron was present in the climax, as were some TIE Fighters. But it’s not surprising that the marketing focuses more on the in-house stuff.

Also, I expect that any non-Warner property that’s not absolutely essential to the plot (or anything that they couldn’t get the rights to) will get substituted with something else in the final film.

–Is it just me, or is it really weird to see Freddy Krueger in a Steven Spielberg movie? It’s not wrong or anything; it just seems odd for some reason that I can’t put my finger on.

–It’s been interesting to see the fairly recent shift in storytelling tastes. For a long time, crossovers within a company or on a TV network were common. There were a ton of Hanna-Barbera projects where Yogi Bear met up with Scooby-Doo and the Flintstones and other H-B characters; Magnum P.I. wound up on an episode of Murder, She Wrote; Paul Reiser’s character from Mad About You once showed up at the apartment of Kramer from Seinfeld; and so on.

As time went on, these crossovers began to feel more and more like lame cash grabs without much story justification. And so a lot of TV shows and movies only took place within their respective fictional universes, with creators going out of their way to define why other characters wouldn’t work within the consistency of the universe. (In an interview about the first live-action Scooby-Doo movie, screenwriter James Gunn said that Grape Ape shouldn’t be able to casually exist next to Scooby: “This Mystery Inc. might freak out if they saw Grape Ape and try to pull his head off, thinking it was a mask.”)

However, possibly due to the rise of social media, where we’re used to scrolling through our feed and seeing a Lord of the Rings meme followed by a SpongeBob meme, audiences seem ready to accept crossovers again, and if the reception to Cline’s novel — as well as the aforementioned LEGO productions — is any indication, the idea even gets them very excited.

–Since John Williams ran into scheduling conflicts, composer Alan Silvestri has stepped up to the plate. As much as I love Williams’ work, Silvestri is pretty exciting to have on board. Silvestri’s work includes Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and The Avengers. Since we know at least the DeLorean appears in the film, expect Silvestri to work in a reference to this and possibly other franchises in the music.

–The movie looks visually stunning, and I actually probably would be excited for this film based on the story alone even if it wasn’t this huge mashup (although that is a huge selling point for me). And that really is the best way to go: The movie needs to function as a satisfying story in and of itself, or eventually the novelty will wear off.

Anyway, this first trailer is a rousing success!

Netflix Opens New DARK CRYSTAL

By Tom Holste

May 18, 2017

The Jim Henson Company has been trying to follow up on their cult classic, the 1982 fantasy film The Dark Crystal, for something like 15 years. It’s been in development for so long that it’s become something of an affectionate running joke among Henson fans.

And, now, suddenly, out of nowhere, they’re moving forward on something. And Netflix, currently the savviest network out there, is bringing it to us.

Can I just say…Wow?

The original movie, while visually stunning, is somewhat slow and a little too light on plot. I always feel like I should like it more than I actually do. And yet, this new project seems like such a smart move, I can’t help but be excited.

A new movie could be a huge hit like The Force Awakens, or it could appeal to a niche audience and be quickly forgotten, like Tron: Legacy (which I liked, but didn’t revive the franchise as hoped). But a new series on the streaming network that gave us such diverse projects as Daredevil, Stranger Things, Fuller House, and the revived Mystery Science Theater 3000…that’s going to generate a lot of excitement. I can’t imagine this not being successful.

This is a prequel series; while it may be too much to wish for, I hope that it gives enough context to the original movie that I find myself finally liking and appreciating the film more. If not, I hope it’s at least entertaining on its own terms, which should be the top priority.

Between this and several other projects, it seems like the Henson Company is finally waking up from its long dormancy, and may be entering a new golden age. Let’s hope!

Check out the trailer below.

First Trailer for THE LAST JEDI

By Tom Holste

Apr. 15, 2017

Hey, folks! Hope you’re all doing well. I’m enjoying a beautiful Easter weekend myself.

So the teaser for THE LAST JEDI has dropped, and it’s pretty cool:

(Um, spoilers ahead for the trailer you just watched, I guess, and for FORCE AWAKENS, which you’ve probably seen if you’re reading this.)

Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It didn’t grab me as much as the FORCE AWAKENS or ROGUE ONE trailers, but I still like it. (Keep in mind that a trailer is not always a good indication of the movie. I found the trailer for PHANTOM MENACE exciting, and the trailer for FINDING NEMO boring, but the first movie was boring and the second movie was amazing.)

The teaser starts off a little slow but builds in excitement as it goes. Surprisingly, there’s little of Finn in the trailer. I suppose they’re trying to keep his fate secret as they did for Luke in FORCE AWAKENS, but I hope Finn has more screen time than Luke did.

Luke’s final words in the trailer are worrisome, but I assume that’s the point: to intrigue us by hearing him say something that seems contrary to his nature. My curiosity is definitely piqued.

I may never get the Luke-Han-Leia reunion I was hoping for, but the real return of Luke Skywalker to the big screen for the first time since 1983 (as opposed to a wordless cameo)– yeah, that’s enough of a draw for me.

And if you’re still not excited, hopefully this poster hits all the right old-school, classic saga notes for you:

star_wars_the_last_jedi_poster_1688

Joss Whedon Answers the Bat-Signal

By Tom Holste

Apr. 1, 2017

Hey, folks! Sorry it’s been such a long time between posts. I’ve been working, which is great, but it left me with little time or energy to write. Thanks to everyone who liked my posts or started following my blogs in the past year.

Anyway, something popped up yesterday that surprised me enough to inspire writing: Joss Whedon (of the two Avengers films, among other projects) plans to make a Batgirl movie.

Batgirl

Whedon’s goal: give us a better Batgirl than Alicia Silverstone in BATMAN AND ROBIN. Yeah, I think that’s doable.

The move is surprising, as during interviews for Age of Ultron, Whedon repeatedly expressed a desire to get back to making original projects. In five years, he had worked on two comic book movies and an adaptation of a Shakespeare play, and he was feeling the itch to try something new. Additionally, there was some heavy backlash for Age of Ultron that I thought would keep him away from high-profile projects for a while. (Even though I found Ultron unsatisfying, even I’ll admit that some of the criticism was too harsh.)

All recent mentions of Whedon indicated that he was working on a horror movie set during WWII. So this announcement really came out of left field.

(And for those concerned that I’m posting this on April Fool’s Day, keep in mind that the news actually broke on Thursday. Also, the announcement of Whedon making The Avengers happened to come out on Apr. 1, 2010, even though that news was real, too.)

I don’t blame DC for wanting Whedon in their camp, though. When Marvel brought Whedon on board for their Cinematic Universe, it was still just an experiment with a successful movie or two under its belt. But would audiences really accept seeing multiple different movies until the characters were brought together in one unprecedented team-up movie? Avengers was the film that proved that the idea had paid off.

And for those who think that what Whedon did was easy, I would point you to 2006’s direct-to-video animated release Ultimate Avengers: The Movie that has almost the exact same lineup of characters. If the live-action Avengers had been as “meh” as that movie, I doubt we’d still be talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe today.

So DC definitely had good reason to court Whedon now that he was a free agent. While DC’s own attempts at making a combined cinematic universe have made lots of money, critics and fans have largely expressed their unhappiness with the results. It’s very telling that, last year, the long-awaited, first-ever meeting of Batman and Superman in an official live-action project made less at the box office than the relatively unknown Deadpool.

Meanwhile, what was the incentive for Whedon (other than the probably large paycheck) to put his more personal projects on hold? Word on the street around the time of Age of Ultron was that Whedon and Marvel had frequently clashed on the direction of that sequel. For better or for worse, DC is known for giving its directors more free rein. If DC offered Whedon the opportunity to tell the story however he wants to, that probably sealed the deal.

For fans of DC’s darker approach to their characters who worry that Whedon will make the movie too lighthearted, I would assure them that there are plenty of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly that would convince them that Whedon can go dark when he wants to. Whedon fully admitted that the first Iron Man movie, directed by Jon Favreau, was his template when making The Avengers. I think he’ll be able to adapt well to the tone of DC’s movies, and in fact, do them one better.

So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I don’t agree with Whedon politically most of the time, but I know he can deliver great entertainment. He’s written croud-pleasing projects as varied as Toy Story and Speed, and he did a fine job on an X-Men comic series in the early 2000s. If anyone can answer the call to get DC’s movie series on track, it’s him.