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 six 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,” including another fight involving dragons, suspenseful action, some nice character interactions, 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 twiddling their thumbs at Dragonstone, slowly bleeding allies and resources in 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. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

“Stormborn” begins, appropriately enough, with Daenerys and company observing a storm on the Narrow Sea. Dany has two scenes in this episode, and each check important boxes that smooth the way for subsequent action. The first important task is to shore up Varys’s loyalty. Their confrontation here is a product of good writing. One of the reasons we like Dany so much -- aside from her dragons, her empowerment, her being fireproof, her humanitarianism, and her rags-to-riches underdog story -- is that she’s smart (for a Game of Thrones leader). She’s cautious and savvy, listens to advice, and routinely ferrets out and counteracts the plans of those who would do her harm. So considering Varys's past, of course she would be suspicious of his loyalty rather than just blindly accept the alliances he arranged with Dorne and Highgarden.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 1, “Dragonstone”

“Shall we begin?”

Daenerys’s question at the end of the first episode of this season of Game of Thrones is an apt one, as last season made it clear that we are now beginning the end game for this series, the broad outlines of which seem more or less clear: Daenerys and Cersei will go to war; Daenerys will likely win (as Jaime speculates); Daenerys will then ally with Jon and Sansa, and all of our remaining protagonists will focus their efforts on defeating the Night King and his army of undead. The order of events might change, and there might be a few surprises along the way, but this seems like the shape of what's to come, more or less, in the wake of Cersei eliminating all of her rivals in King’s Landing last season. The fun of it will be in seeing just how (or if) all of this comes to pass. So yes, Dany, let us begin.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (VS Spider-Man 2)

Spider-Man: Homecoming easily rivals and in some ways even surpasses Spider-Man 2 as the best Spider-Man movie to date, which in my book automatically puts it in the running for one of the best contemporary superhero movies (a crown shared by The Dark Knight and *maybe* X-Men 2). Put another way, this is the best film representation yet of Spider-Man the character, if not the best Spider-Man movie overall.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Master of None, Season 2, Episodes 9 and 10, “Amarsi Un Po’” and Buona Notte”

The final pair of episodes in season two of Master of None focuses largely on the romantic potential established between Dev and Francesca in episode five, thoroughly exploring the bittersweet feelings created by loving someone unavailable. They walk a razor’s edge between bliss and heartbreak as they grow closer and confront the ramifications of their feelings. Ultimately, it’s a moving story about how your emotions and your rationality can come into conflict, and how scary it can be when you don’t know whether or not to trust your feelings. We’re incrementally taken along the path Dev follows from resisting his feelings to embracing them despite the risks they entail.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Master of None Season 2, Episodes 3, 4, and 5, "Religion," "First Date," and "The Dinner Party"

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve seen so far of season two of Master of None, and my enjoyment is exemplified very well by a trio of early episodes. One of the things I like the most about this show is how it addresses subjects that are often not addressed by other television shows, and that it does so in an offhanded, almost casual manner. Season one’s “Parents” is a good example: it’s about how first generation Americans shouldn’t take for granted the sacrifices their parents made to raise their families in America. This topic isn’t addressed in a didactic or moralistic manner, but is simply rumination on how the life experiences of each generation differ, based on where they were raised, and refreshingly, offers both the perspectives of the kids and their parents.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 9, “Goodbye Tour”

This penultimate episode of Girls could have very well served as the series finale: Hannah accepts a professorship at remote New England or upstate college; Hannah and Jessa make up and resolve their longstanding feud, and the four eponymous "girls" actually share a scene together for what might be the first time since the start of season five. Given the way this scene pans out, it will almost certainly be the last scene between them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

La La Land

La La Land has a lot going for it: catchy songs, winning performances, intricate staging and framing, and complex, nuanced storytelling about the compromise that comes with striving for your dreams. It’s also one of the few films I’ve seen that’s moved me to tears.