Sunday, January 28, 2018

BEST MOVIES & TV: 2017


The Great, The Good, and The Interesting!

R E Y,
a spark for the fire
that will burn the First Order down.



Shortcut links:
BEST MOVIES: 2017
BEST DOCUMENTARIES: 2017
BEST TV: 2017


FILMSTRUCK




"And...Action!"


B E S T
M O V I E S :
2 0 1 7




T H I N K



-MUDBOUND
✭✭✭✭✭
A wrenching and complex character drama tracing the poisonous toll of the bigoted 1940s American South on everyone involved, told commendably from multiple points of view: spouses, landowners, tenant workers, soldiers.
Dee Rees (Pariah) directs a powerful cast into a decisive statement for human compassion.


-PLANETARIUM (France/Belgium) ⇧
Bernard Natan was a prime architect of the French film industry.
A mistakenly underrated film, Rebecca Zlotowski's fictional take on his apex is entrancing, shaded, and poignant.
Natalie Portman is masterful, and Lily-Rose Depp makes a strong debut.

-DUNKIRK
Despite some lazy press comparisons, Christopher Nolan's intense WWII epic is not about British triumphalism or isolationism.
It is instead very clearly about desperate individual struggles against war's barbarism turning into pointed solidarity against the forces of suffering.
(Translation: It's not pro-Brexit, it's anti-Fascism.)

-THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE
The harrowing true story of Polish zookeeps who smuggled Jews out of Nazi-occupied Warsaw.
A moving film adaptation by Niki Caro, starring Jessica Chastain.



-PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN
The secret polyamorous relationship of Wonder Woman co-creators William Marston, Elizabeth Holloway, and Olive Byrne was their private unknown.
But Angela Robinson ("The L Word") admirably molds the scarce facts into a sympathetic tribute to fluid relationships, sex-positive roleplaying, First Wave feminism, and progressive creativity as a tonic to all forms of spiritual and social oppression.
Live and let love.>

-DETROIT
A film that couldn't be more timely and relevant.
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), emerging as an auteur about ethics during aggression, directs this true story of police brutality during the 1967 rise of inner-city revolts against poverty and oppression.
Tough to watch and absolutely necessary to see.

-MARK FELT: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
A film that couldn't be more timely and relevant.
Watergate is the modern moment when the American people first realized democracy was being hijacked by the greedy and the cruel.
A corrupt President trying to steal elections through traitorous espionage needs to be taken down by independent lawmakers, whether it's 1974 or now.



-MARSHALL
A solid, if basic, civil rights story based around pre-Supreme Justice Thurgood Marshall.

-CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
An idyllic romance, told with understated sensitivity.


Mural art by Federico Archuleta
-SONG TO SONG
The Tree Of Life (2011) was so astounding because of the compassionate core story interlinked with the cosmic big picture.
Terence Malick's follow-ups since have been interesting stretches in style, with excellent cinematography spinning around actor improvs of spiritual disconnection; explorations in new narrative forms perhaps less fulfilling yet always fascinating to watch.




S M I L E



-THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Outrageous and hilarious.
This wild farce acts as a tonic to TV sitcom fantasies, showing actual struggling people trying to survive in a Orlando side motel in the shadow of The Magic Kingdom. Constantly startling, touching, and uproarious with a documentary-like naturalism that is breathtaking.
Bria Vinaite as the trash/star mother and Brooklynn Prince as her charmingly feral daughter are both riveting.


-LADY BIRD
Greta Gerwig's indie triumph about class struggles and coming-of-age in 2002 Sacramento satisfies on all levels with accomplished ease.

-COLOSSAL
This sorely overlooked comedy, connecting small-town Anne Hathaway's angst with a massive reptile in Korea, starts winningly, and becomes bravely edgier and more complicated halfway in.

-OKJA
Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) throws a fun curveball.
'Too edgy' for an average children's movie, 'too preachy' for the unconscious, but -in truth- far too good not to see.
Laughs, with some serious punch.

-THE BIG SICK
Stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his partner Emily V. Gordon's fictional take on their courtship is great fun, with a terrific cast, agile turns, and inspired lines.


-BRIGSBY BEAR
A left-field zinger.
Starting from a surprise premise, the film spins out into a fun and smart fable about connection through creativity.
Made by a cast of crack SNL regulars as a personal project, but stolen by Mark Hamill.




D R E A M


-STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
✭✭✭✭✭

THE LAST JEDI, the second chapter of the final STAR WARS trilogy, inverts the elements and themes of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK inside out to open up new breadth and depth that no one expected.

It is newly edgy, complex, upending, and outright traumatic, and a brilliant move forward into unexplored territory.

> Why EMPIRE and LAST JEDI are actually the Best of the STAR WARS films





-BLADE RUNNER 2049
Everyone missed Blade Runner when it came out.
Everyone missed Blade Runner 2049 when it came out.
Here's why both will triumph anyway.

In 1982, Blade Runner took its bow during 'the best SciFi Film Summer ever'.> In the days when movie theatres were the sole option and lines rounded the block for months, Star Trek II, E.T., and Poltergeist devoured all the money, while The Road Warrior, The Thing, and Blade Runner got scraps. But in the next two years, the latter three films found their audience through word-of-mouth, the first affordable VHS rentals, and premium cable showings. As a cult hit, Blade Runner blueprinted virtually all of Tech Noir and CyperPunk that followed. After a decade's build-up, Blade Runner became widely acknowledged by the '90s as a visionary breakthrough and a fine film classic beyond genre or era or receipts.

In 2017, the excellent sequel Blade Runner 2049 came out to universal rave reviews and moderate box-office after a long summer of blockbusters. In the USA, that is. But 2/3 of its total money came from international release, meaning that as usual the local American "Opening-Weekend-Cockfight" myopia failed to recognize it as the global hit it truly was. And will continue to be further, because of word-of-mouth, streaming and renting, and cable showings. Quality is timeless and wins for the long, regardless.

Catch up to the future, again.



-WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
The ascendingly great prequel trilogy (Rise/ Dawn/ War) is complete, ending in a grand zenith.
The second film, Dawn, was essentially the Godfather II of Apes films, and this crescendo escalates the scope and depth admirably.
Andy Serkis is again Oscar-worthy as Caesar, leader of a new age of evolution.


-THE SHAPE OF WATER
Amelie meets Abe Sapien.
Guillermo Del Toro's lush romance and moral fantasy enchants the senses.

-WONDERSTRUCK
Todd Haynes' weave of two stories, a girl in 1927, a boy in 1977, is a beguiling mystery and visual opus great for head and heart.

-MARJORIE PRIME
This confident adaption of the Pulitzer-winning play rings like the best of Arthur Miller and Rod Serling.
Speculative fiction working within the strongest tradition of character stage plays, challenging our sense of connections, ethics, and memories.
Amid compelling perfomances by Jon Hamm, Tim Robbins, and Geena Davis, it's veteran character actor Lois Smith who steals the show.



-THE DISCOVERY
Both Marjorie Prime and The Discovery should be of interest to "Black Mirror" fans.
A speculative character drama about the ramifications of the scientific confirmation of an Afterlife, with Robert Redford, Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, and Jesse Plemons.




N I G H T M A R E



-A GHOST STORY
Following a forlorn sheeted ghost longing for a life past, this slow-burn meditation on loss, memory, time, and love is quietly heartbreaking and thoughtful.


-THELMA (Norway)
Thelma is waking up to new possibilities within herself... but is that a good thing?

-THE LURE (Córki Dancingu) (Poland)
An inversion of Andersen's "Little Mermaid".
The most interesting horror-musical-fantasy-satire-art film that 1986 should have made.





G R A P H I C
I M A G E S


(Full reviews for the following films
will be forthcoming from the review site, Four Color Films).



Art by Tym Stevens

-LOGAN


-WILSON

-GHOST IN THE SHELL

-WONDER WOMAN

-SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

-GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Vol. 2

-THOR: RAGNOROK




-SLEIGHT
Perhaps the new CHRONICLE (2012).
The basicness of this indie film is its charm, grounding a semi-superhero in urban settings and character drama. Solid story, good heart.


Underrated, Dept.:
-JUSTICE LEAGUE
Your honor, I can explain.
No one dislikes MAN OF KILL and B/S more than me.
And yet this Course Correction Checklist hinges (just barely) into generally good.


See Also:
> Four Color Films,
THE Comic Movies Review Site!




A R T F L I X


-LOVING VINCENT
The world's first fully-painted film, with oil-painting still frames by 125 artists across 5 years, feeds the head and senses. And it's a fine Rashomon-style mystery story, as well, conveyed in multiple twists by an ace cast, pre-filmed and rotoscoped.


-YOUR NAME (2016; Japan)
A conventional body-swap comedy anime that (like Colossal above) becomes abruptly more interesting and dramatic in the middle.
Excellent backgrounds and camera effects.

-COCO
One of Pixar's best.
A movie so rich -in story, details, and invention- that it's intoxicating.



TV:

"She's got a lot of spirit."

-STAR WARS: REBELS 3b / 4a
The CG-animated series, which embodies the best qualities of the original first film, begins dovetailing nicely into the era of Rogue One.

-STAR WARS: FORCES OF DESTINY 1 ⇧
A fun new animated series of three-minute shorts, focusing on Rey, Leia, Padme, Jyn, Sabine, etc.
Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Felicity Jones even return to do their voices!
> Watch them here.







B E S T
D O C U M E N T A R I E S :
2 0 1 7



-I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
The words and wisdom of James Baldwin about the ongoing Civil Rights struggle.

-WHOSE STREETS
The Ferguson, Missouri, uprisings against bigoted police brutality.



-THE VIETNAM WAR
Ken Burns.

-AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: Truth to Power
Al Gore. Because honoring the truth is crucial to survival.



-BATMAN AND BILL
It was actually Bill Finger, and not Bob Kane, who created every aspect we love about Batman.

-BOMBSHELL: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Glamour Age actor, scientist who invented WiFi, inspiration for Catwoman.

-THE TOYS THAT MADE US: Episode 1, STAR WARS
The crazy story of how Kenner toys revolutionized the toy industry like the 1977 film remade the film industry.


-KEDI
The freerange cats of Istanbul.

-FACES PLACES
Two singular artists tour France creating portraits of those they meet.






B E S T
T V :
2 0 1 7



(The season number follows each title.)





D R A M A



-TWIN PEAKS

An 18-hour film, testing every limit heedlessly.

The original "Twin Peaks" series (1990-'91) reconstructed television, and this return deconstructs itself.

David Lynch and Mark Frost once blew your volts like a blackout... and it is happening again.

> TWIN PEAKS: Its Influence on 25 Years of Film, TV, and Music!, with 5 Music Players!




-BETTER CALL SAUL 3
Quietly, "Saul" is the most mature and contemplative show on television.
As if Tennessee Williams or Lillian Hellman were writing the prequel to "Breaking Bad".


-THE HANDMAID'S TALE 1
Margaret Atwood's classic 1985 book is a dystopian rallying cry for the ages. She achieved it through insularity: the interior monologues and isolated environs of one person, which make the book both intensely personal while temporally universal.

And hard to dramatize. The Hulu series adaptation takes an insane risk to expand it by literalizing and lateralizing it: literal in the sense of current events and specific settings, lateral in new multiple characters with different outlooks. What could become clumsy or strident is most often deft and sure. What holds it together is the core message, now more necessary than ever... to hold onto your humanity in the midst of repression.

-ALIAS GRACE (maxi-series)
Margaret Atwood's faceted parable, based around a true 19th century murder mystery, pivotes around the inscrutable and mesmerizing performance of Sarah Gadon.



-THE DEUCE 1
This is about far more than the birth of the Porn industry.
It's the the gateway to how the rich have stolen democracy using gentrification.

This series helmed by David Simon ("The Wire") does an amazing job of reconstructing seedy 1971 NYC, as the sex trade morphs into the mainstream breakthrough of Porn chic. But that was only the beginning. Whether the show will address it or not, the corraling of the sex industry by corrupt police was engineered by politicians and land barons, who let the inner city rot and burn (birthing Punk and HipHop sideways)>>, then displaced the immigrant poor, gentrified the urban ruins, and used their realty riches to commercialize Times Square and purchase power as Mayor, Governor, and now President.

For those who know history, The Deuce is subliminally about the corrupt rise of the Oligarchy that rules us.


-MR. ROBOT 3
Thankfully, we have this finely-wrought series to challenge all forms of corporate fascism.
Sam Esmail's cinema-quality epic dismantles itself as much as the power structure in this essential Punk molotov.


-FEUD 1
The first season of the anthology series is a riveting telling of the bitter feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
By Ryan Murphy ("The Shield"), with excellent performances by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange.




W O N D E R



-STAR TREK: DISCOVERY 1a ⇧

The precise Star Trek series we really need.

Wild > tame > wild.
The original Roddenberry Star Trek series (1966-1969) was a wild frontier of action, edge, and ideas. The Berman-era spin-offs The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise (1987-2005) were more formal, stylized, and sober. The Abrams film reboots (since 2009) and the Fuller-initiated Discovery series (2017) unleash the untamed spirit of the original, now ramped and rethought.

Mod > New Age > PostPunk.
The '60s version channeled the vibrant and challenging possibilities of its renaissance zeitgeist. The '80s+ versions apologized past experimentalism into stylization and sobriety. The '10s version rips it up and starts again> looking for new edge and wonders.

Bradbury > Clarke > Dick.
The '60s show was Ray Bradbury, a Dada collage of disparate classic elements in alternative vistas. The '80s was Arthur C. Clarke, a boosterism mural of streamlined futurism. The '10s is Philip K. Dick, a krylon wall throw-up of rebel reassessments.

Roddenberry > Berman > Fuller.
Roddenberry invented the alphabet of modern SF shows. Berman produced formal essays. The Fuller-associates* make cut-ups out of all of it.
    * Bryan Fuller concieved the new show, but it was actualized by his associates, Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts.
Raw > Refined > Raw.
Interpreting Roddenberry's template, the Berman series were each valuable and rewarding for their expansive reflection. But it's past time to drop the polite formalism and bright comfort, to strip off all the shellac down to the raw wood. Discovery disorders the order: sideways crew focus instead of the bridge ensemble, two ships in different times, confliction and conviction, blood and bruises, every turn upendings and inversions of character, loyalties, canon, time, and space.

This is precisely what we need, a show that recalls where we started from to go where we have yet to go.

Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
Strange new worlds. Out there, thataway...




-THE ORVILLE 1a
Seth MacFarlane's homage spoof is basically ST: The Next Generation under a heat lamp, with nyuk jokes.
It's no Galaxy Quest, but somehow, because of its actual veneration of all things Trek, it begins to work on its own accord.

-BLACK MIRROR 4 ⇧ Netflix
More typically and topically razor-sharp allegories about tech nightmares from Charlie Brooker.
The opener, "U.S.S. Callister", is such an inspired rethink of the alternate possibilities of Star Trek that it rightly deserves a spin-off series of its own.



-AMERICAN GODS 1 ⇧
It's not enough that Bryan Fuller ("Wonder Falls", "Hannibal") has done a letter-perfect adaption of Neil Gaiman's book. He also is expanding it with 70% of new material that is just as good.
A great thing greater.

-SENSE8 2 Netflix
Cut off by Netflix, the Wachowskis are forced to wrap up their 5-season plan in a compressed season.

-Philip K. Dick's ELECTRIC DREAMS 1
Philip K. Dick was the experimental anarchist of SciFi authors whose works have been filmed as Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, and "The Man In The High Castle".
This canny anthology series adapts his challenging short stories.



-COLONY 2
The overlooked rebellion-against-alien-overlords series stays firmly grounded in character, politics, and real settings.

-INCORPORATED 1
This parable about a future Corporate dystopia was exactly about right now.
And, criminally, got cancelled. Still worth the trip.

-12 MONKEYS 3




H O R R O R



-STRANGER THINGS ⇧ 2 Netflix
Confident in its momentum, the show expands its cast and scope, for richer results.


-THE EXORCIST 2
No one is more dubious than me of any attempt to follow The Exorcist (1973), a timelessly brilliant book and film.
But this series (generally) holds onto what matters to make it work: deep character build, belief and doubt, science and supra, punctuated by jarring intensity.
John Cho gives his best performance here.

-FORTITUDE 2
Daring or debacle?
YesNoBothOther.

-DARK (Germany) Netflix
It is
It is happening
It is happening again




U K



-OUTLANDER ⇧ 3
OUTLANDER is one of the finest shows being made.
And my favorite romance, ever.

-GAME OF THRONES 7
The penultimate season is on rabid overdrive, blazing through shocking revelations and turnovers like a molten scimitar.

-ORPHAN BLACK (Canada/BBC) 5
Tatiana Maslaney bows out in a smart finale, particularly in its last grace notes.

-DIRK GENTLY'S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY (Canada/BBC) 2
A complex and chimeric overhaul of Fantasy vogues, in full-on breathless Douglas Adams-style flair.

-DOCTOR WHO 10
Peter Capaldi's adroit swan song.





H E R O E S



-IRON FIST 1 Netflix
-THE DEFENDERS 1 ⇧ Netflix

Some helpful context for those coming in.:

The fruition of 1975, 1981, and 2002.

Luke Cage; Iron Fist; Misty Knight;
Colleen Wing; White Tiger; Shang Chi

Comics heroes became much more culturally diverse in the early '70s because of the inclusion activism of the counterculture. By 1975, Marvel had unveiled a pantheon of action street heroes who soon became intertwined: Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, White Tiger, and Shang Chi; much of this reflected blax/plosion films, the martial arts craze, and the backgrounds of the young New York creators themselves. (On the occult side, there was also Blade the Vampire Hunter.)

In the early '80s, Frank Miller brought hardboiled severity in with Daredevil, Elektra, and The Hand.

In the '00s, Brian Michael Bendis joined them all together with his Jessica Jones in adult noir arcs influenced by Tarantino and "The Wire".

Elektra and Daredevil, by Frank Miller

The current Netflix shows of the Hells Kitchen pantheon -"Daredevil", "Jessica Jones", "Luke Cage", and "Iron Fist"- are the sum of these specific three classic revolutions. Each show was world-building the total pantheon to meet together in the "Defenders" team-up series; each was never only singular, but part of that evolving gestalt.

(Each also directly reflects the eras, styles, and inventions of their best comics creators; e.g., the ninja noir of Miller in Daredevil, or the early '70s Black Chic of Luke Cage.)

The Bendis era,
1: Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Daredevil; art: Alex Maleev
2: Luke Cage and Jessica Jone; art: Michael Gaydos

The quality of each show speaks for itself, but the pantheon is still mutually evolving. An appreciation of those 1975, 1981, and 2002 sources can abate any misunderstandings of who the pantheon is or where it is heading. So no, Iron Fist shouldn't be recast as Asian, because in the eclectic wider pantheon that was Shang Chi and Leiko Wu; two people are destined to become the Daughters of the Dragon; and while one person is becoming Hellcat, another is stealthily morphing into a new White Tiger. (How many of you caught that one?)

Just as The Avengers conjoined the Marvel films into the gods of Olympus, "The Defenders" is taking the people's pantheon to the streets.




-LEGION ⇧ 1

Logan isn't the revolution, it's "Legion".

While Logan sands superheroes back down into Ford and Peckinpah, "Legion" burnishes them into Kubrick and Lynch.

New Mutants #26 (1985);
art: Bill Sienkiewicz

Legion, a schizoid 1985 X-Men spin-off character, was made memorable by the art of Bill Sienkiewicz; a surreal blend of Neal Adams naturalism, Bob Peak flair, and Ralph Steadman slash.

Taking the cue, showrunner Noah Hawley ("Fargo") channels this fine art into select cinema. "Legion" creates a world of its own, molded in 1968-1974 Mod futurism, throbbing with art-prog, projected in panavision. It's Tarkovsky scored by Pink Floyd, A Clockwork Orange staged by Matthew Barney, Fellini ghostwritten by Ken Kesey. This is a higher better level, a postmodern symphony shot in ultraviolet.

Logan is the nihilist brutality of Miller, but "Legion" is the mature sophistication of Moore. That's always the better revolution, before and now.


-THE GIFTED 1
This X-Men spin-off is generally solid, with an attention to character.

-RUNAWAYS 1
Based on Brian K. Vaughan's comic, this series has more expansive craft and scope than "The Gifted".



-AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. 4b/ 5a
The supernatural fourth and cosmic fifth seasons have been the best yet.
Ghost Rider, virtual reality, and Time And Space.

-INHUMANS 1
Actually a generically decent show, if uneven.
If a comics adaption this boldly faithful had come out during "Smallville" and "Heroes", it would have been a step forward. Now in an decade spoiled for quality and range, it lags far behind.

-THE TICK 1a
Creator Ben Edlund teams with Wally Pfister (cinematographer for the Nolan Batman trilogy) to kickstart The Tick better and battier than ever.


The pleasure of the DC-TV shows is seeing the Silver/Bronze Age Of Comics come to life.
As a desperately needed antidote to the dour Snyder-verse films, any formula loops, teenie focus, or dumb missteps involved are forgiven in the fun of it all.:
-SUPERGIRL 2b/ 3a
The third season is tighter, more mature.
-THE FLASH 3b/ 4A
The Fourth season is balancing strengths: cast chemistry, edge, fun.
-LEGENDS OF TOMORROW 2b/ 3a
"Doctor Who" meets "Firefly". A freeform tonic to the formulas of its sibling shows.
-ARROW 5b/ 6a
The examination of Oliver's unnecessarily violent past is finally well-addressed through his new vigilante crew.



See Also:
> Four Color Films,
THE Comic Movies Review Site!




D E T E C T I V E S



-FARGO 3 ⇧
The "Fargo" anthology series helmed by Noah Hawley is like a master class in how to do cinema quality for longform television.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, David Thewlis, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Ewan McGregor (in a dual role) are spellbinding.


-SHERLOCK 4
The anti-concensus is wrong: this is the finest season.
The handling of Moriarty before wasn't convincing, and this season upends that with enlightened panache.

-ELEMENTARY 5b
The fun of this stealth alternate to Sherlock is its gleefully serpentine mysteries, dry social satire, and the impish chemistry of Holmes and Joan Watson.



-BROADCHURCH 3
Chris Chibnall brings his sterling trilogy to a fine close.

-AMERICAN CRIME 3

-TOP OF THE LAKE 2
If Jane Campion's sharp first season was David Lynch done straight, this odd follow-up is Robert Altman done seemingly for the hell of it.





C O M E D Y



Borstein and Brosnahan.

-THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL 1 ⇧

Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino ("Gilmore Girls") is on wanton fire with this lava avalanche.

Set in 1958 NYC, the series channels Lenny Bruce and Joan Rivers through Midge, an acerbic woman who's had enough, letting it all out in scandelous stand-up routines in Greenwich Village. The dialogue is endlessly quotable, the delivery breakneck, the commentary serrated, and the ensemble better than Broadway.

And they caught lightning in a bottle twice, with the brash Rachel Brosnahan as Midge and the brusk Alex Borstein as her manager Susie.

Insanely funny, unrelentingly smart.


-BROAD CITY 4
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson crashing into everything.


-PEOPLE OF EARTH 2

-THE GOOD PLACE 2
Bright absurdism with an undertow bite.






* * * * *
F I L M S T R U C K
* * * * *

Some folks think Netflix has everything.
Actually, Netflix has 2% of some things (mainly solid original shows).

But if you're serious about learning the true canon of full quality cinema, the classics beyond all, there's only one place to go.

The Filmstruck film-streaming site is the best cinema from around the world and every decade, along with the Criterion Collection and first-rate documentaries. If you've watched Mark Cousins' "The Story of Film: An Odyssey" documentary series as a primer >, this is the true library to enjoy the actual film classics that matter most.

Skip Starbucks and imbibe culture.





THINGS TO CATCH UP ON, Dept.



Hey, who has time (or money) to see everything?

MOTHER
MARY SHELLEY
THE CURRENT WAR
AQUARIUS (Brazil)
I AM NOT A WITCH (Zambia)

DOWNSIZED

LIFE

SPLIT


UNDERGROUND 2
RICK AND MORTY 3



© Tym Stevens



See also:

Four Color Films, THE Comic Movies Review Site!


BEST MUSIC: 2017
BEST COMICS: 2017

BEST MOVIES & TV: 2016
BEST MUSIC: 2016
-BEST COMICS: 2016

BEST MOVIES & TV: 2015
BEST MUSIC: 2015
BEST COMICS: 2015

BEST MUSIC: 2014
BEST MOVIES & TV: 2014
-BEST COMICS: 2014

BEST MOVIES & TV: 2013
BEST MUSIC: 2013
-BEST COMICS: 2013

BEST MOVIES & TV: 2012
BEST MUSIC: 2012
BEST COMICS: 2012

BEST MOVIES & TV: 2011
BEST MUSIC: 2011
BEST COMICS: 2011

BEST MOVIES: 2000-2010
BEST COMICS: 2000-2010
BEST MUSIC: 2000-2010



How STAR WARS Is Changing Everything!


"Cut!



Sunday, January 7, 2018

Why EMPIRE and LAST JEDI are actually the Best of the STAR WARS films




Fringe fools are dismissing THE LAST JEDI for the same wrong reasons that THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was dismissed before.

But they are mistaken, because both are actually the best.

Here's why:
Appreciating EMPIRE
Appreciating LAST JEDI
Appreciating the new STAR WARS trilogy


(This essay speaks generally,
with no direct spoilers.)



Prologue:



I've been a STAR WARS fan since before the first film even premiered.*
    *(The novelization, comics, and SF mag coverage came out months early.)

Having come through all forms of the entire experience in real time, I offer some perspectives that might be helpful.

"When 900 years old you reach,
look as good you will not."


See also:
> How STAR WARS Is Changing Everything!







The Three STAR WARS Trilogies:
A Reference Guide

  • Episode I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
  • Episode II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES
  • Episode III: REVENGE OF THE SITH

  • Episode IV: A NEW HOPE
  • Episode V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
  • Episode VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI

  • Episode VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS
  • Episode VIII: THE LAST JEDI
  • Episode IX: --------------------






I

A p p r e c i a t i n g
E M P I R E :


"You must feel the Force around you;
here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes."


STAR WARS (1977) was a feel-good fable loved by everyone so much that it became the biggest film of all time. The general expectation was that creator George Lucas would take the easy path and do a retread with STAR WARS 2.

Instead, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) did the opposite in every way, challenging the material and the audience while it expanded and deepened its potential. It was edgy, complex, upending, and outright traumatic.

Rather than a secondary adventure, Lucas had repositioned it as the second chapter of a second trilogy: the new plan was to make three trilogies across nine movies. Each trilogy would be structured like a traditional three-act play:
  • the first act introduces the characters and the setting, open with possibilities
  • the second act advances the breadth and depth leading to a dramatic peak needing resolution
  • the third act synthesizes the basics of the first with the complexity of the second to culminate in a higher fruition

And the second trilogy ultimately did exactly that: STAR WARS canvased the cast and settings; EMPIRE navigated edgy drama; and RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) combined the structure of the first film with the edge of the second into a more sophisticated, intense culmination.

STAR WARS (1977)

So, true to first and second acts, STAR WARS was bright and clear where EMPIRE was noir, murky, and claustrophobic. STAR WARS was a childrens crusade against evil that got lucky while EMPIRE earned its title as the realistically harsh blowback from taking on the repressor. It tormented and separated its heroes, tested their convictions, and climaxed with one of the most shocking reveals in the history of cinema.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)

[Note how the second act of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, THE TWO TOWERS, also expands the range, deepens the drama, darkens the tone, separates the characters, and sorely tests all of them.]

Sharp critics and stunned fans hailed the film for its bold audacity to throw away formula and turn everything inside out for a deeper, richer result.

"I have a bad feeling about this..."

There were also those who didn't dig the film for well-considered reasons that they could defend. That's fine; we each make our tastes and choices, live and let live.

But some of the grumblers at the time were more reflexive than reflective. Some thought the second film was cold, brutal, fragmented, dispiriting, or incomplete. Some complained that it betrayed their upbeat hopes, conventional expectations, or some entitlement to a snappy wrap-up. There were gripes about retrofitting the backstory, bewildering Force manifestations, the dark tone and introspection, and the unexpected turn in the romance triangle. The rudest said new director Irvin Kershner had soured Lucas' vision. The dumbest hated “the muppet”, the lowest hated “the black guy”. Unaware of the three-act structure, some felt the cliffhanger ending and three year wait for a resolution was the worst betrayal.

"I don't know where you get your delusions, laser brain."

And time left them behind. In retrospect, EMPIRE is often considered the best of the films for all these very qualities.

Context is everything, and -like kids complaining in the middle of a journey- these doubters hadn't exercised the awareness, maturity, or patience needed for a complete perspective.

"The Force is strong with him."


"Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world -all things and beings- are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they rise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve."

-Joseph Campbell, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces" (1949)






II

A p p r e c i a t i n g
L A S T
J E D I :


"Balance and energy. A force.
Inside me, that same force."


THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) kicked off the new third trilogy as a slyly sophisticated rethink of the initial 1977 film, recapturing the original magic in fresh new ways with spectacular success.

The general expectation, with no sense of irony, seemed to be that the second act would be a walk-through of EMPIRE. But knowing that, THE LAST JEDI (2017) did the precise right approach by instead inverting the elements and themes of EMPIRE inside out to open up new breadth and depth that no one expected. It was newly edgy, complex, upending, and outright traumatic, while staying true to the second act's spirit by changing the possibilities of what that second act could advance.

THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

The creation of the STAR WARS films has now become a generational hand-off. There was a long period when it was in doubt that there would ever be a third trilogy. To our benefit, the new films are being created by uberfans-turned-pros who are blessing us in threefold actions: they are resetting the possibilities, challenging the expectations of the past and the future, and ultimately defining the resolution of it all.

THE LAST JEDI (2017)

So, true to first and second acts, FORCE AWAKENS was bouyant and invigorated where LAST JEDI became sober, conflicted, and moody. FORCE was a tumble of chutzpah and charm while LAST JEDI sewed doubt within each person's hopes and plans. It separated its cast while bonding them in unexpected ways, tested their actions while evolving their resolves, and climaxed with one of the most startling and enigmatic showdowns in the series' history.

Alert critics and aware fans roundly praised the film for turning all of STAR WARS' conventions inside out to open up profounder, newly-rewarding results.

"You have no place in this story."

Not everyone dug it, and had their reasons worked out. Fine, live let live.

But, inevitably, a new round of reflexive grumblers also struck back; those who never knew history are condemned to repeat hysteria. So some felt it didn't fit their perfect expectations, while others griped about retconning the canon, bewildering Force manifestations, the dark tone and introspection, or turns in the romance matches. The rudest said new writer/director Rian Johnson had soured J.J. Abrams' promising vision. The dumbest hated “(insert cute thing)”, the lowest hated “the chick star” or social commentary or cast diversity [reality]. Unaware of the three-act structure, some felt the story set everyone up for a fail without a tidy comforting pinnacle.

"Every word of what you just said was wrong."

But let's be clear at this point: anyone has a right to point out why something doesn't work for them, and hearing multiple views is vital to improve everyone's perspectives. So if broccoli or hula hoops or LAST JEDI aren't your thing for your own reasons, that's of course fine and deserves respect. The operative word here, all around, being respect. The distinction juncture here is that there's a difference between a dissenting view with considered reflection and a reflexive view rooted in hostility or ignorance. The former isn't a problem, the latter is.

Dissenting opinions? Sure. Hate campaigns? NO.

Dissent is good and necessary, but 'to criticize' doesn't simply mean to tear things apart. There are two paths you can go by:
  • a Constructive Critique respects someone's intentions while offering them some possible options to explore.
  • a Destructive Critique dismisses with disrespect while offering no solutions.
[Maturity vs. Immaturity, Selfless vs. Selfish, Jedi vs. Sith]

Just like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK before, THE LAST JEDI earned its share of dissenting reactions. In EMPIRE's day, you could write a differing opinion to your newspaper or magazines or friends. That is the normal process of fandom working out its individual takes.

This is different from outsider sabotage. Now, in the internet era, it is too common and easy to rig Fake Narratives of negativity against positive movements simply to undermine quality and progress. The evidence is clear now that THE LAST JEDI was targeted by a deliberate hate campaign by right-wing zealots and sexist bigots meant to undermine its credibility and success. [see also, FakePrez]
Research Finds 50% of Last Jedi Backlash Was Political Trolling, and >, and >

These Darth Vandals attempted to overthrow reason with hostility. But the Kylos of the world are wrong; we don't need any more Sith Mind Tricks meant to divide and conquer us. We should always be mindful, and sort the dark from the light, the helpful from the hurtful. It is only the voices of hate, aggression, or disrespect that have no place in the STAR WARS fandom story.>

"Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they."

And history proves that any fringe haters will lose. Seen in perspective, THE LAST JEDI is a superior film because of its disruptive qualities: it exceeds expectations at every turn, converts every familiar element into an untrod breakthrough, and challenges both the series and the viewer to grow with its advances.

Context, perspective, awareness.

"You have the spirit of a true Jedi."



"...if the personality is able to absorb and integrate the new forces, there will be experienced an almost super-human degree of self-consciousness and masterful control."

-Joseph Campbell, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces" (1949)






III

A p p r e c i a t i n g
the new STAR WARS trilogy:


"It surrounds us and penetrates us;
it binds the galaxy together."


Too often it's been said that, "THE FORCE AWAKENS is just a remake of the first film."

This is actually untrue, and shows a consummate misunderstanding of the actual cyclical structures of STAR WARS films.

Here are some different ways of seeing.:



••• Each trilogy is constructed like a three-act play.

The first film/act of each introduces the characters, their goals, and the backdrop. The second film/act complicates their lives with adversity and hard choices that need to be resolved. The third film/act combines the basics of the first with the depth of the second for a climactic crescendo.

Joseph Campbell described this universally common myth cycle as "Departure, Initiation, Return."

Another way to see this is thesis/antithesis/synthesis.


_________



••• But each trilogy has also now become an act in a three-act arc.

It will ultimately be a trilogy of trilogies, with each one equalling a first, a second, and a third act.
  • Intro: The first trilogy/act introduced the central basics of the family and an initially positive universe, and where that led.
  • Conflict: The second trilogy/act deals with the aftermath transition for the heirs within a compromised universe, and their crusade to change it.
  • Resolution: The new third trilogy/act follows the struggle of a third generation to reconcile the paths of the two pasts and transcend them in a conclusive fruition.

_________


"All his life has he looked away...
to the future, to the horizon."

••• Each has the same structure, but changes the results.

The retroactive first trilogy deliberately mirrored the story structure and arc of the second, but changed the results to contrast how one person went wrong while another went right. The third trilogy now works within these familiar goalposts while deliberately challenging, expanding, and changing every aspect between. Just as the same ingredients become unique meals in the hands of different chefs, the three arcs set up the same frameworks from which each veers into unique terreigns.

In this way, the STAR WARS films have gone unrecognized as being spiritual cousins to other such films, where a repeated sitiuation takes different outcomes: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, GROUNDHOG DAY, RUN LOLA RUN, EDGE OF TOMORROW, etc.

The STAR WARS saga uses lineage as the narrative line of descent (or ascent) for this recombinant cycle: Parent/child/grandchild. Same blood, different lives.

"You'll find I'm full of surprises."

_________



••• It's about the cycle of life, through lineage and maturity.

Mentors, students. Guardians, youths. Adepts, novices. Wisdom, learning.

The thematic throughline of Lucas' career is passing knowledge through lineage, and how the maturation cycle is repeated in the process. It's inherent in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, STAR WARS, and the RAIDERS films, but most especially in his essential and underrated INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES TV series.>

The films have become generational along with the audience, and continually inform each other.

"Luminous beings are we."

_________



••• Each trilogy follows a female and a male.

But STAR WARS isn't simply a boys-only tale about a particular lineage. It's a story for everyone about offset yin/yang spirits trying to find balance and communion, centered around a unique heritage.
  • Padme and Anakin
  • Leia and Luke
  • Rey and Kylo
"There is another."

_________


••• Visual and thematic rhymes are constant for a reason.

If something seems familiar, it is a deliberate marker for culmination, contrast, or abrupt deviation.

  • "I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny!"
    -STAR WARS (1977)

  • "Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil, the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is... it's true. The Force. The Jedi... All of it... It's all true."
    -THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)
Same space, changed outlook.


At its best, STAR WARS uses these internal rhymes as pivot points or saga bookends.

(At its weakest, in any media, it recycles its past highlights too heavily without innovation.)

"You must unlearn what you have learned."

_________


"In my experience, there is no such thing as luck."

••• For every familiar element, there are many more new elements.
or, "Why THE FORCE AWAKENS is not just a remake of STAR WARS"


The STAR WARS trilogies are a premise retelling itself differently each time.

The second film trilogy began with STAR WARS (later retitled "A New Hope") and ended with RETURN OF THE JEDI. Because of the logic of the third act, the third film is structurally the same as the first -from Tattooine to the Death Star- but is far richer and more complicated because of the emotional maturity and epic scope advanced in between by the second act, EMPIRE.

Thesis/antithesis/synthesis. Dreams/challenges/maturity.

But at the time, grumblers dismissed RETURN as a remake of the first film, without recognizing either the logical structure of a three-act trilogy or that the film was exponentially more progressive than the first in new ways. For every familiar thing, there were several advanced things.


The STAR WARS trilogies are a premise retelling itself contrarily each time.

Dramatically, the prequel/first trilogy is a distorted mirror of the second: a dark path versus the light. As an alternate fork off the same path, its structure echoes the other while changing the outcomes along the way.

But because the structure of the first act THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999) parallels that of STAR WARS: A New Hope, many at the time said it was just an expansive remake of the original film. This failed to recognize that PHANTOM was doing internal rhymes on purpose, so that the second act ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002) could lead off into different outcomes. Familiar, then renewal.

Familiar also leads to reversals, which is why the title of the third act, REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005), is the exact opposite of the title of the second trilogy's third act, RETURN OF THE JEDI. The counter rhyme was like the other shoe dropping, a poignant binary summing up each trilogy's differing outcomes.


The STAR WARS trilogies are a premise retelling itself more sophisticatedly each time.

Being the first act of a third trilogy, THE FORCE AWAKENS naturally has the same basic structure as the previous first acts, PHANTOM and A NEW HOPE. But just as they differed in actions and outcomes, so too does FORCE. Between the familiar goalposts of Jakku (Tatooine) and Starkiller Base (Death Star), something new happens at every turn: every detail now challenges, advances, and escalates what has happened before into what has never happened.

The original/second trilogy began as a radiant allegory of light versus dark and became more complicated, more mature as it went. From the kickstart, FORCE immediately updates this to a richer spectrum and more realistic approach, exchanging shooter games for bloody warfare, humanizing stormtroopers, complicating the villain, amplifying the character depth, and diversifying the repressors as well as the rebels.

While the details have freshly expanded, the plot arc has expressly accelerated. FORCE actually has crucial elements of both A NEW HOPE and EMPIRE, hastening and intensifying the war between the players of light and dark. Because of this surge, THE LAST JEDI likewise hyperspeeds and inverts elements from both EMPIRE and RETURN, leading the endgame for the final trilogy's third act into somewhere we've never reached before.

THE PHANTOM MENACE and A NEW HOPE and THE FORCE AWAKENS are the same set-up... but they are not the same story. They are counter-verses in a longer song. Same rhythm, different statements.

[This is all conterpointed in composer John Williams' use of recurring character themes, motifs, and anthems in all the films' scores.]


"Always in motion is the future."

For all the hasty comparisons to the original movie, the new films THE FORCE AWAKENS, THE LAST JEDI, and the standalone prequel ROGUE ONE (2016), more directly epitomize the radical spirit of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, by embracing complexity, broadening diversity, challenging assumptions, complicating motives, subverting doctrine, and amplifying mature edge. The new movies have become far richer and more complicated because of the emotional maturity and epic scope advanced by the previous trilogies... and also by the passage of real time.

The audience and the creators have matured, and the movies have become more sophisticated to match. We loved the films in our youth/ we've grown with our own challenges over time/ the movies reflect that summation.

Thesis/antithesis/synthesis.
Dreams/challenges/maturity.


_______________


"We are the spark,
that will light the fire
that'll burn the First Order down."


Fringe fools are dismissing THE LAST JEDI for the same wrong reasons they dismissed THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK before.

But they are mistaken, because both exemplify the best of STAR WARS: brilliant craft, brave innovation, realistic complexity, and the triumph of compassion.

Let's join together with awareness, maturity, and patience for a complete perspective.


"May the Force of others be with you."





© Tym Stevens



See also:

How STAR WARS Is Changing Everything!

-STARSTRUCK Strikes Back!
-STARSTRUCK: The Roots and Branches of Elaine Lee & Michael Kaluta's space opera

-THE CANON 1: 50 Books That Created Modern Pop Culture
-THE CANON 2: 50 More Books That Created Modern Pop Culture


-The Real History of Rock and Soul!: A Music Player Checklist
-FourColorFilms: THE Comics Film Review Site!