Wednesday, December 20, 2017

THE LAST JEDI: Why I love this movie (Spoilers)

There is so much to love in THE LAST JEDI, and I think the haters are being given way too much attention, though I've found (at least at my office) that there are a number of relatively rational people who just don't like this film. I get it. Hey, it's product. Hey, it's a franchise that's been around for forty years. (One co-worker said it was a little too Guardians of the Galaxy. I held my tongue.) Etc. etc. I get it. Don't care, but I get it.

But here's the thing I love most about the film. And it's a spoiler, but I said that at the start. Rey's parents are nobodies. There's no lineage, she's just super talented. Rian Johnson has returned the Jedi to the people.

Now, I can't say I'm so old that I remember seeing the first film in the theater, I don't, though my parents told me I was scared of Darth Vader. I have scant memories of seeing EMPIRE on the big screen, which I saw at four, and it left such an impression I would hang upside down on the jungle gym and try my damnedest to make objects move (alas, it never worked out, though one girl said she was a witch and chased me around the playground because that's how Kindergartners crush on each other). As a young blonde boy I wanted to be Luke Skywalker more than anything until I realized - around the time of puberty - girls were better than magic tricks. There's a reason I wanted to be a Jedi: In the original STAR WARS, Luke Skywalker isn't the son of the most famous Sith lord, he's just a regular kid whose head is in the stars, and who thinks he's special. It turns out he is.

You could say the big reveal in EMPIRE betrays that, but as much as Luke is related to Darth Vader, it's also about having the narrative rug pulled out from the main character as hard as possible at the end of the second movie, which also means it doesn't really become about bloodline until the next film. Ultimately the twins stuff is where it gets messy, but from a narrative perspective, the son confronting the sins of the father and redeeming the father isn't bad, and as someone who grew up in peak early STAR WARS - I remember going to a mall where a television center was playing the first film and two teenage boys were reciting every line as it played - even I could tell that some of the narrative decisions were based on making the love triangle play out so Luke wasn't a chump. It wasn't planned no matter what Lucas said, and so it was about creating the most difficult obstacles for this young man to navigate, and what is more difficult to maneuver around than finding out the person you think you hate more than anyone happens to be your father?

And here's where it's hard not to kick dirt at the prequels. When you have a writer who says he always had a plan and then makes films that had no obvious plan, and a director (both George Lucas) who was not only off his game, but also had no interest in getting back on his game after he gave up when the only film (THE PHANTOM MENACE) that reflected his interests was rejected by a large section of the audience. Because the storytelling is so shitty, it becomes about bloodline and destiny. There was no tragedy in Anakin's turn, because he's a lackluster character with an unbelievable love story. At no point does Lucas challenge himself or the narrative. He doesn't paint himself into corners and find organic ways of getting out, he enters round rooms and still gets paint on his feet.

Back to THE LAST JEDI. The great thing about avatars is that they can be anyone, and when you tie that to bloodline and destiny, you limit possibilities, on top of suggesting something that history has shown is generally not true. In fact, Episode VIII shows that the children of famous people are often the worst. Rey came from nowhere, yet she's still amazing, Ben Solo had everything, and he'd rather destroy the world/past because he'll always be in the shadows of legends. Modern dynasties give us people like Paris Hilton and the Trump children, and the idea that a bloodline is somehow a determiner of worth or fame is something best tied to kingdoms, and other wholly outdated belief systems. STAR WARS was about, and probably always should have been about, how the force can belong to everyone - as the denouement underlines.


Snoke sucked in THE FORCE AWAKENS, but I loved how THE LAST JEDI made him dangerous and a character, but also cleared him away. If they went another route, It would have been easy to say that Snoke showed the worst aspects of J.J. Abrams's instincts in repeating another round of servants and Emperors - this time with an even more thinly developed character - but by killing him it makes his inclusion in THE FORCE AWAKENS all the better because he proved to be a Macguffin and not a mystery box. Regardless of how this new trilogy ends, we care about Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, because he's an interesting character, and whether he is victorious (never gonna happen), killed, imprisoned or redeemed, that will have more weight than anything that could ever involve Snoke. Even if Snoke was some reincarnation of a figure like the Emperor, that shit isn't interesting.

I loved how Hux becomes a character in this film. He's a toady, he's a bureaucrat, he's a modern neo-Nazi with a tiki torch who is as dangerous as he is laughable. And Phasma gets ditched, which, whatever, she's a costume.

I wish Finn wanted to leave the ship because he thought he was the tracking device. Just saying.

Puppet Yoda felt like a return to form for the character in so many ways. George Lucas never got Yoda like Kasdan and Kershner did, in the prequels it became about bad sentences more than a belief system.

I love how the film starts. At the end of TFA, the first order says they know where the rebels are and the meeting between Luke and Rey needs resolution as well, so that's where you have to start. You can't cut to three months/days/years/decades later. Abrams punted so much, but now I'm thankful he did.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Let's do maths

Transformers 1: $319 Million
Transformers 2: $402 Million
Transformers 3 (3D): $352 Million
Transformers 4 (3D): $245 Million
Transformers 5 (3D): $102 Million (still going)

Transformers 1: $708 Million
Transformers 2: $863 Million
Transformers 3 (3D): $1124 Million
Transformers 4 (3D): $1104 Million
Transformers 5 (3D): $432 Million (still going)

Pirates of the Caribbean 1: $305 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean 2: $432 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean 3: $309 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (3D): $241 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (3D): $166 Million (still going)

Pirates of the Caribbean 1: $654 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean 2:$1066 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean 3: $963 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (3D): $1045 Million
Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (3D): $710 Million

In both cases what we're seeing is that both franchises found their international footing with later pictures, while both peaked with their second films domestically (as likely people loved the first film most and were disappointed with subsequent entries). If we remove 3D from the equation it looks like Pirates dropped around or over a hundred million with each subsequent sequel (until the most recent) while Transformers has a similarly precipitous return on investment. Domestically.

There have been a number of stories about how this is a bad summer for franchise films, but graphing these sequels shows that America had already lost most of their interest in these films and if the studios thought there would be a different result from these films, they would have to be dumber than our sitting president. They were not. America was an afterthought.

But then also, this:

The first film where America counts for most than 50% of the gross? The LEGO Batman Movie at number 16. At number 12? The Mummy, which is being treated as one of the biggest bombs of the summer (that said, it may lose money, but let's also do some quick comparisons. If you look at the worldwide chart outside of the Mission Impossible franchise, this is a solid WW gross for Tom Cruise, tracking a little behind Edge of Tomorrow, which is getting a sequel) . Seven of the top movies for the year (so far) made over eighty percent of their money overseas.

Cars: $244 Million
Cars 2: $191 Million
Cars 3:  $121 Million (Still going)

Cars: $462 Million
Cars 2: $562 Million
Cars 3: $174 Million (it looks like this hasn't opened in most territories).

Pixar knows what they're doing.