Monday, December 18, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

One of the criticisms lobbed against The Force Awakens was that it was derivative of the original Star Wars trilogy, repeating many of the plot points and character types from the first film and some of the second. I still enjoyed it because it remixed those elements enough that it felt fresh, and because it was fun to experience a competently written and directed Star Wars film again after the letdown of the prequels. But one of my questions surrounding The Last Jedi concerned whether it too would be a derivative remixing of the original trilogy, or whether it would take Star Wars in new and interesting directions. The answer seems to be both yes and no.

Like The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi repeats many elements from the original trilogy, particularly The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The film begins like Empire, with the villains catching the heroes in the middle of an escape attempt; also like Empire, a pupil seeks out training from a Jedi master, has a reflective experience in an enclosure laden with the dark side of the force, and abandons their training to confront a villain. Like both Empire and Return of the Jedi, villains and heroes attempt to turn one another to their causes, and a villain is betrayed by his apprentice, among many other similarities.

Yet even more than The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi spins this material in new directions, remixing it until it resembles the original trilogy only in passing. The rebels' escape attempt, for instance, is drawn out into an ancillary plot that lasts the length of the film, and the equivalent of the battle for Hoth is moved from the beginning of the film to the end. More than this, however, The Last Jedi goes far beyond The Force Awakens in introducing new and exciting narrative elements. The result is a film that most certainly feels like Star Wars, but one that also revitalizes the series, yielding a largely stellar -- although not unflawed -- entry in the saga.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

American Vandal

I just binged all 4+ hours of Netflix's brilliant American Vandal, and I loved it so much I felt compelled to jot down a few very brief, spoiler-free notes. It begins as a hilarious, spot-on parody of true crime documentary, but then turns into a smart and insightful commentary on documentary itself -- sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly -- touching on a host of ethical and rhetorical issues that are central to the format, including (but not limited to):

Monday, August 28, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 7, “The Dragon and the Wolf”

After all of the problems with story logic and character behavior in last week’s episode, “The Dragon and the Wolf” is for the most part a pleasant return to form: a series of satisfying narrative turns and excellent scenes, many of which are in competition for the strongest of the episode. It doesn’t completely justify all of the nonsense parts of “Beyond the Wall,” but it reveals the problems of that episode to be mere hiccups rather than fatal flaws. Add to that the resolution of one prominent plotline, and the laying out of a clear path for the final eight episodes, and “The Dragon and the Wolf” is largely an excellent season finale.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall”

There’s a lot to enjoy about “Beyond the Wall”: another fight involving dragons; suspenseful action; some nice moments between characters, and more terrifying developments with the Night King. However, as fun as these things are there’s also a lot to bemoan about this episode, which suffers from some plot developments that reveal the machinations of previous episodes to be mere delaying tactics, as well as really clunky and poorly motivated interactions between characters in Winterfell.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 5, "Eastwatch"

After last week’s thrills, this week features another piece-moving episode. Unsurprisingly, Jaime survives his plunge into the lake, but I was disappointed to find him escaping capture by the Dothraki, as I thought it would deprive us of the Lannister reunion I had hoped for. Thankfully, we still get that reunion later in the episode, just under different circumstances. And considering what Daenerys decides to do with her prisoners, it’s ultimately a good thing.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 4, “The Spoils of War”

Well, what a marvelous twenty minutes of television the end of this episode is! After three episodes of Daenerys and company biding their time at Dragonstone, twiddling their thumbs and slowly bleeding allies and resources by pursuing a failed war of attrition, Daenerys finally takes to heart Olenna’s parting advice about being a dragon, and strikes at Cersei’s forces in a thrilling and fulfilling twenty-minute battle. This scene is extraordinary, featuring everything I want out of a large-scale confrontation involving dragons and important characters on both sides of the conflict. Its combination of epic scope and riveting character moments is Game of Thrones at its absolute best, offering up grandeur, majesty, suspense, and surprise unparalleled elsewhere on television.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

Rest in peace Olenna Tyrell. Your frankness and wit made you a fan favorite, and you died as you lived, speaking truth to power. Her scene with Jaime, and the warfare that led to it, are the highlights of an otherwise slow, piece-moving episode. With nothing left to lose, Olenna gleefully reveals to Jaime what we’ve long known -- that it was she who orchestrated Joffrey’s assassination -- souring Jaime’s victory at Highgarden. Before she goes, Olenna also probes the dynamic between Cersei and Jaime, and the potential conflict simmering between them. Jaime might love Cersei, but there has been tension between them ever since Cersei took out her rivals at the end of last season. He’s questioned her decision making, and has looked on wearily as she’s made her alliances, even if he presents himself to everyone else as unwavering in his devotion. Jaime’s love for Cersei is his Achilles heel. Shrewd until her last moments, Olenna likely senses this, and feeds the voices in the back of Jaime’s head: she’s a monster and will kill him too, eventually.