Thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi

last jedi 2

This isn’t any kind of formal review of the movie, just some personal reactions to what’s been happening in a galaxy far, far away.

When I was ten years old and saw The Empire Strikes Back for the first time (I was a bit too young for the first movie, and had to back-track), I never thought I’d be watching new Star Wars films with gray in my hair. Of course, I never thought I’d have gray hair, or ever be over twenty years old, for that matter.

My point is, when I was a kid, Star Wars was magical. It could do no wrong (although, at the age of thirteen, I had some trouble taking the Ewoks seriously). It had taken a permanent place in my heart as something I held very dear, and always would. Return of the Jedi’s happy ending left me feeling satisfied and that all was well with the universe.

Except it wasn’t. There are no lasting happy endings, and as someone with a little gray in her hair, I understand that now.

Prequels and stand-alone movies never mattered to me. What mattered were the original characters I came to know and love, and what happened to them. So when I heard that Episodes seven, eight and nine were being made, I paid attention.

The Force Awakens, for the most part, pleased me, but you can go here and see how I reacted to Han Solo’s death. I whined and belly-ached that it wasn’t a worthy death. Of course it wasn’t, that was the whole point. It got me engaged, it made me angry and I wanted justice. I was invested on an emotional level, which is what any good story should do.

And The Last Jedi? I don’t know. Despite numerous space battles and personal skirmishes (and believe me, I was a bit battle-weary by the end of the movie), I wasn’t wowed. I understand that part of the appeal of Star Wars is exciting space battles, but maybe we’ve seen so much of it in so many movies lately that we’ve grown numb to it. I have, anyway. In the original films, there was maybe one big battle the story line was culminating to, or it began the film and there was fallout from it. Now we’re just bombarded with explosions and violence and it’s supposed to entertain us. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I need more than that.

There were some character arcs that I found interesting. The whole Kylo Ren/Rey connection (even though orchestrated by Snoke [and where the heck did that guy come from, anyway?]) was illuminating. The internal struggle between Kylo Ren and Ben Solo has been made painfully clear, and it’s equally clear that the minimally-trained Rey is having problems controlling her emotions, namely anger, impatience, fear, and hatred. And we all know where those emotions lead, don’t we, kids? So while one still has a spark of light, and the other is vulnerable to the dark, they both still stubbornly hold to their courses. Still no clue as to who Rey’s parents might be, even though Kylo Ren asserted that they were nobody. I doubt it.

There were several new characters this time around, including Rose, a Resistance fighter who helps Finn on a mission to find a codebreaker to shut down a tracking device so….oh, never mind. I really thought they’d find Lando Calrissian in that gambling city, but they only found this weird guy played by Benicio del Toro, whose character name I don’t remember, if I ever caught it at all. A business man who doesn’t take sides, only the side of money. I’m assuming by the end of the trilogy, he’ll find his heart and do the right thing, like an erstwhile Han Solo.

In fact, I found too many echoes of the original here. I noticed them in The Force Awakens, but I was willing to forgive it in the first movie, as a means of making us feel we’re in familiar territory. Not now. The same exact themes are explored here, which in itself would not be unforgivable, but it is when it’s almost word for word. When Kylo Ren tempts Rey to turn to the dark side and join him to rule the universe, I just had this sinking feeling (I have a really bad feeling about this…). Come on, guys. You’re creative geniuses. You can do better than that.

I think my favorite secondary characters were the porgs and the crystal foxes. Way better than Ewoks. Just wanted to say that.

porgcrystal fox

Of course the most important character to me in this film is Luke. Or, as I like to call him, Dark Luke. Not the Dark Side, just dark. This is not the sunny, optimistic farmboy from A New Hope, or even the newly mature and sober Luke from Return of the Jedi. This is a weathered Luke who’s given up all hope, who’s given up, well, everything. Even the Force. His failure with Ben Solo has crushed him. He is heavy with regret and despair. He’s got a bit of gray in his hair.

I like him.

Mark Hamill himself has made comments on how he was a little disappointed in the way Luke is portrayed in this film. He felt that Luke, a Jedi, would never give up, that he’d be stronger than that. I suppose. But I find that I dig Dark Luke. He’s much more interesting than he’s ever been before. He’s realistic. He’s an older, wiser Luke who’s been battered by life. Just like the rest of us. He’s not a hero, he’s real. I also loved Yoda’s little cameo. I dug Dark Luke, but he did need a bit of scolding.

But naturally, he becomes a hero in the end. I liked that little trick he played on Kylo Ren. Luke’s death was a worthy death, a good death. I’m satisfied on that point.

dark luke

So, while there are certainly flaws in Episode 8, I’m still in. I want to know what will happen. I’m curious to see how Leia’s character will be dealt with considering the untimely death of Carrie Fisher. Episode 9 was supposed to be her showcase, but it wasn’t meant to be. At least we got to see her escape death in the film–even cold, dark space can’t kill our Princess!

 

Are you a fan? What did you think of The Last Jedi? Drop a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recent Obsessions

Here’s what I can’t get enough of lately:

TV: Stranger Things, Seasons 1 & 2.

stranger things

They had me at 1983. I was 12 years old, just like the kids of Hawkins, Indiana. I wasn’t playing D&D (alas, I’m a girl), but I remember the music, the hair, that sense of being, well, a weirdo. I’d watch this show for the pure nostalgia (casting 80s icons Winona Ryder and Mathew Modine was a nice touch, and they’re great here), but it’s so much more than that.

Ryder plays Joyce Byers, whose sensitive son Will has gone missing, literally out of this world. Will’s crew of faithful, geeky friends are determined to find him; they meet a mysterious girl named Eleven who seems to have supernatural powers, and perhaps knows where Will is. Meanwhile, the town’s police chief Jim Hopper (the wonderful David Harbour), investigates, and climbs deeper into the strange happenings centering around the secretive lab nearby. Strange indeed, but addicting, replete with monsters, a parallel universe, and a surprising amount of heart.

(And because I couldn’t get enough, I watched “Beyond Stranger Things”, a series of short interviews with the cast and creators the Duffer Brothers, which was fun to watch, too).

Movies: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

PPzombies

How can I not love this? It blends two of my favorite things: Jane Austen and The Walking Dead (disclaimer: I haven’t watched the last two seasons of WD–I just couldn’t deal with the never-ending heartache). There are Austen purists who sniff at any tampering with their beloved author’s work (and I know some who dismiss any movie version outside of the Firth-Ehle pairing), but I’m not one of them. Let’s face it, adding a little blood and gore to Regency England’s genteel society is just great fun.

Lizzie Bennet’s weapon has always been her words, but here she wields a sword to add to her considerable arsenal. Austen’s story plays out with the usual, well-know scenes: the country dance where Lizzie and Darcy meet, the Netherfield ball, Mr. Collins’ unwanted proposal, the visit to Rosings, Wickham’s deception. But here England has been invaded by a terrible plague that turns people into zombies; everyone must train in the martial arts to defend themselves from the scourge. Darcy is a colonel in the army; the Bennet girls strap knives to their thighs under their dresses and carry swords and guns.

My favorite scene is Darcy’s botched proposal to Lizzie–while they verbally spar, they engage in a physical fight, throwing each other around the room and attacking with pokers and letter openers. I never knew I wanted Lizzie to kick Darcy’s ass in this scene until I saw it! The plot devolves into a weird zombie scheme involving Wickham, but rest assured, the lovers come to each other’s rescue and overcome their pride and prejudice to wed in the end.

Books: Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

dark tower

I’ve been in a King kind of mood lately, just having read Sleeping Beauties (click here for a mini-review). With the movie The Dark Tower recently in theaters, my interest was piqued. I didn’t get around to the movie, so I thought I’d check out the first book of his epic fantasy series, The Gunslinger.

Here’s the premise: Roland, the last Gunslinger in an alternate world, pursues the Man in Black across a desert wasteland in his quest to find the Dark Tower. That’s about all we know. What’s a Gunslinger? What happened to this decaying world that has “moved on”? Who is the Man in Black? What is the significance of the Dark Tower? Answers come slowly and incompletely. King’s writing style here is different than what most of us are used to, dense and perhaps a bit pretentious, as King admits to in his forward. He came up with the idea very early on in his career, fresh out of writing seminars that dictated language over story. But he knew he wanted to combine the quest story (like Lord of the Rings) with a spaghetti western-style protagonist and landscape.

Despite some initial impatience, I kept on reading the book, and found myself drawn in. I’m well into the second book, The Drawing of the Three, which employs the King voice and style we’re all familiar with, and know I’ll continue with the other books (7 or 8 in all), though probably over time, interspersed with other books. Now that I’ve started, I have to know what happens. I have to penetrate the mystery of the Dark Tower.

 

What’s obsessing you lately? Interested in any of these entertainments? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

Book and Movie Recap

Time for my periodic summary of what I’ve been reading and watching the past few months. Because I know you’re dying to know.

Books:

The Changeling, by Victor LaValle.

changeling

This is a wonderfully updated version of the changeling myth: a creature (in this case, a troll) steals an infant and leaves in its place a nearly identical facsimile. That this story is written from an African American point of view adds to its freshness. Apollo and his wife Emma have welcomed a new baby boy to their family, but soon Emma begins acting strangely, perhaps with post-partum depression. But when she commits a horrendous act and disappears, Apollo is left reeling. Soon he begins a quest to find his wife and son, but what he finds is beyond anything he had ever imagined.

My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier.

cousin rachel

Daphne du Maurier wrote dozens of books, and somehow I’d only read Rebecca, her most famous book. With the release of the movie version of My Cousin Rachel (which I haven’t seen yet, but will soon), my attention was brought to this wonderful book. Young Englishman Philip suspects that his cousin and guardian Ambrose has been murdered by his wife, Rachel. He hates her before he even meets her, but when she arrives at his home, he begins to fall in love with her. Will history repeat itself? The mystery behind Rachel is the driving force of this addicting novel.

Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins.

into the water

I loved Hawkin’s previous book, The Girl on the Train, and wasn’t disappointed with her latest. Into the Water takes place in a small town called Beckford, where the Drowning Pool has seen its fair share of women victims, through suicide or otherwise. Two women have drowned in the river within two months when the novel begins: Katie, a fifteen year old girl who drowned herself, and Nel, a woman who had been writing a book on the river and its victims, whose death is being investigated as a possible murder. Hawkins is deliciously good at drawing the reader in with multiple points of view, imperfect characters with secrets, and agonizing suspense. Excellent.

Natalie Goldberg: Long Quiet Highway, Thunder and Lightning, The Great Failure, The Great Spring. I’ve been on a Goldberg bender for awhile, catching up on all of her books I hadn’t yet read. Long Quiet Highway is her first memoir from way back in 1993. Thunder and Lightning is a writing book I had read years ago and wanted to read again. The Great Failure is a memoir exploring the two father figures in her life: her real father and her beloved Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi. The Great Spring is her latest memoir, a collection of essays gathered together exploring her two great loves: writing and Zen.

Movies:

The Light Between the Oceans.

oceans movie

Finally watched the movie version of the book I read several months ago. Excellent performances from Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz. The script stays fairly close to the book, about a couple in 1920 Australia who finds a baby in a boat (along with a dead man) washed up on shore of their lighthouse island. After having endured several devastating miscarriages, they decide to keep the child to raise as their own. Predictably, this leads to heartbreak and anguish.

Her.

her movie

This has to be the strangest, most wonderful movie I’ve seen in a long time. The always stellar Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore, a man who falls in love with a computer program named Samantha, a kind of AI that can learn and evolve over time. It sounds weird, but Samantha has a real personality–she just doesn’t have a body. It’s a great exploration of what it means to be in love, what is real, and letting go.

Manchester by the Sea.

manchester sea

Holy cow. Does anyone say Holy Cow anymore? Let me reiterate: Holy cow! This movie is amazing. I didn’t even know Ben Affleck had a younger brother who acted, but here’s Casey Affleck out of nowhere (at least to me) winning an Oscar for his role of Lee Chandler, who’s been appointed guardian of his 16-year old nephew after his brother dies. But Lee is haunted by tragedy, and he struggles with his newfound role to the nephew he loves. Emotionally wrecking, but worth every two hours and fifteen minutes of it.

Have you read any of these books or seen any of these movies? What did you think? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

By the way, this is also my 200th post on My Writing Journey. Go me!

 

 

Costume Drama

Once I smartened up and changed my Netflix plan from streaming to DVD, I finally got to watch a couple of movies I’ve had my eye on for awhile: Love and Friendship, and A Quit Passion.

love and friendship

Love and Friendship is based on early, little-known novella of Jane Austen’s, called Lady Susan. The story’s namesake is not the typical Austen heroine we’ve come to know and love–in other words, she’s not a young, unmarried woman looking for love with a suitably rich husband, a delightful, spirited woman who nonetheless conforms to her society’s norms and conventions.

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is not that woman. She’s a still-attractive older widow who schemes relentlessly to score a rich husband, for herself and also for her 17-year old daughter, Federica. She doesn’t care a fig about love, at least not when it comes to husbands. Husbands are a means to an end: financial security. She does, however, carry on an adulterous affair with the married Lord Manwing.

Unlike Lizzie, Emma, Catherine, and the Dashwood sisters, Lady Susan is not likable. Her outward charm masks a cunning ruthlessness that one nonetheless has no choice but to admire. Why? Because, despite being a woman in a staunchly patriarchal society, like any true Austen heroine she gets what she wants–not by some fairy-tale luck (having the good fortune to fall in love with and to secure a conveniently rich man). She knows intimately well the system she’s working within, and pulls all of the strings to her advantage. In the end, she scores a rich husband, who is stupid enough to believe the baby she carries is his own; her daughter fits the more typical Austen heroine in that she falls in love with a suitably rich man and blissfully marries him, but she is not the star of the show.

That Austen wrote such a scandalous main character–and have it all end well for her–is just another reason I find Jane Austen endlessly fascinating. She was a proto-feminist that knew Lady Susan could never be published in her time. It only took 200 years for this character to see the light of day, and though we may cringe at her methods, we must concede her brilliance and determination. Lady Susan forged a life on her own terms in a world that afforded her very little choice.

quiet passion 2

A Quiet Passion is a biopic of Emily Dickinson that I’ve been very eager to see. Cynthia Nixon (of Sex and the City fame) plays the enigmatic Dickinson, and she does so brilliantly here. Nixon recites her poems in a voice-over throughout the scenes of the film, and one gets a sense of Dickinson’s brilliance, her sensitivity, her spiritual struggle, her fierce intelligence.

She was extremely close to her family (her parents, brother Austin and sister Vinnie), and was content to live with them forever. She feared being parted from friends and family, either through death or marriage. She quite probably fell in love with both men and women–including a married pastor–but her loves were always fervently spiritual and intellectual in nature, and never consummated physically.

Inevitably, her parents died. Her good friend, the outspoken Vryling Buffam, married (and therefore relented to convention) and was no longer hers. Her married brother Austin commenced an affair with a married woman, and his infidelity enraged her.

“Why does life have to be so ugly?” she beseeches her sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle) at one point.

Near the end of her life she became embittered, and her fear of loss and death caused her to withdraw from life and society, never leaving her home, or even her room, for that matter. She pushed people away with cutting words. She continued to write, however, always struggling with the state of her soul, with the question of whether God existed, what awaited us after death. She was a brilliant, complicated woman who suffered and died from Bright’s disease at the age of 55.

I enjoyed the film, but had a problem with much of the dialogue. I expect witty banter from intelligent people, but these people talked in a way that raised it to ridiculous heights. Did people really converse in this manner? Their conversations didn’t feel at all natural; rather, they seemed artificially constructed, as if they were reading from well-thought out orations or speeches. It wasn’t believable, and actually got a little annoying. The only time it felt real was when characters lost their tempers and screamed at each other (in a very articulate manner, of course). Finally, real human beings!

Have you seen these movies? What did you think? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

Cinematic Scribes

I love movies. I love writing and writers. So of course I love movies about writing and writers. There are countless movies out there about writers, but here are a few of my favorites:

The Wonder Boys. Michael Douglas in a shabby pink bathrobe and Toby Maguire tucked under the covers with Robert Downey, Jr. is enough to get me on board here. Douglas is a writing teacher who hasn’t had anything published since his award-winning novel seven years prior, and can’t seem to get his life together; Maguire is one of his students, a gifted writer in need of guidance.

wonder boys

Stranger Than Fiction. Will Ferrel is an IRS auditor who suddenly begins to hear a voice in his head, narrating his life. Emma Thompson is the writer who is writing his story. To break her writer’s block, she decides she has to kill off her main character. Her character takes exception to this, and trippy madcappery ensues.

stranger than fiction

Sideways. Paul Giammati is Miles, a struggling writer and wine enthusiast who takes his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a trip into wine country before Jack’s upcoming wedding. Miles looks forward to enjoying the wine, but Jack wants one last fling before his nuptials. His shenanigans throws the trip into disarray and jeopardizes Miles’ budding relationship with a woman he meets and connects with (Virginia Madsen).

sideways

And of course, there are the crazy writer/crazy fan movies from Stephen King: The Shining, Misery, and Secret Window, which are enough to make you rethink writing as a life choice.

shiningcmiserysecret window

 

I also love biopics and tributes: The Hours (Virginia Woolf), Iris (Iris Murdoch), Shakespeare in Love, Shadowlands (C.S. Lewis). Many, many others I’ve seen and haven’t seen.

Writers are an odd bunch, and it’s fun to watch a slice of their lives on film, from quirky to creepy.

Do you have a favorite writer movie?

Dumb is Good (And Funny)

I finally watched Dumb and Dumber Too on cable the other day, and I have to say my disappointment completely matched my low expectations.

You have to understand the iconic position the original Dumb and Dumber holds in my family. Every single line in that movie literally (and I use the word “literally” in its literal sense here) is a cultural and comedic touchstone. More than twenty years after its release, we still quote lines at any moment that seems appropriate.

pulloverloser

redeemthe vibe

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

If we’re flicking through the channels and come across D&D, we’ll watch it, no matter where in the movie it is. We still laugh. A lot. Every single time. It never gets old.

Until the same ideas are rehashed and reheated in an unfunny sequel (okay, I giggled here and there), served up as something new, when it’s really just overcooked leftovers. The writers tried to cash in on repeating a formula, and for me, it didn’t work. You just can’t improve on gold; better just to leave it alone–and I love almost everything Jim Carey touches.

This got me thinking about humor in general, and what makes me laugh, specifically. Jim Carey’s goofball slapstick comedy fits right into my long history of loving and laughing at, well, slapstick goofballs. Maybe it started when I was a kid, with a steady diet of Looney Tunes on Saturday mornings, and Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges on Sunday mornings, before the TV38 movie–some horror flick like Hell House or Kingdom of the Spiders. This juxtaposition of the silly and the horrific probably has a lot to do with my weirdness–it might even be the key to my entire personality…anyway, I absorbed that sense of the absurd into my blood early on.

In the eighties, I drank up the Airplane! movies, which spoofed the airline disaster movies of the seventies. There’s a lot of quotes from those movies that fall from my lips now and then (“Don’t call me Shirley,” of course; “She’s starting to shimmy,” and references to Ted’s “drinking” problem). My brother Randy has called me “Scraps” for over 30 years now, based on a bit about a dog named Scraps in one of these films (a kind of sick joke, actually), that we laughed and laughed about together. To this day, he hasn’t called me anything else.

I dutifully followed Leslie Nielson into his Naked Gun movies, where he played the hapless Detective Frank Drebbin.

poopy pants

The eighties and nineties were filled with these stupid-is funny movies, like Top Secret with Val Kilmer, and the Hot Shots movies with Charlie Sheen. I imbibed them all. Even thinking about these movies makes me giggle. At the time, they induced gut-wrenching guffaws and I-can’t-stop-crying-I’m-going-to-pee-my-pants laughter. Lots of other kinds of comedy make me laugh, but this ridiculousness holds a special place in my funny bone.

Some people don’t get it. They wrinkle their nose and look at you as if you’ve lost your mind. “That’s so dumb.” Well, yeah, that’s the point. And I’m sorry, but if you can sit through a performance of Jim Carey’s spastic facial expressions and plasticman gestures without losing it, that’s a little sad. Lighten up, because life is absurd. Let’s laugh at it.

jim carey

What makes you laugh? Do these movies crack you up, or leave you groaning? Leave a comment and we’ll laugh about it!

 

 

 

 

Tormented Genius Women

I have a thing for tormented genius women.

Not because I think I’m a tormented genius. I’m often tormented, but not much of a genius. It just seems like true brilliance often comes with a price, whether it’s tragedy, mental illness or repression or all of these. I’m thinking mostly of women like the Brontes, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and a host of others. Men aren’t immune–think Van Gogh, or Edgar Allen Poe. The myth is that artists and writers need to be a little unstable to create their immortal work.

Obviously this isn’t true for all creatives. But the ones we’re often fascinated with are the ones that suffered and bled out genius.

What got me thinking about this is the recent film A Quiet Passion, about Emily Dickinson, as well as the BBC’s film To Walk Invisible: The BrontesI haven’t seen the Dickinson film yet, but it’s at the very top of my list as far as movies go right now.

Dickinson was famously reclusive, and towards the end of her life barely left her room. She died in 1886, at 55 years of age, of “Bright’s Disease”, commonly known as nephritis.

(Shamefully, I live only 20 miles away from her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts, and I’ve never visited her museum. I’ve put it on my summer to-do list.)

quiet passion
Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson and Jennifer Ehle as Lavinia Dickinson.

A few other wonderful films I like about tormented genius women include:

The Hours, based on the book by Michael Cunningham. Though not a straight biography, this film interweaves three story lines concerning Virginia Woolf, her work and themes. Woolf suffered from severe bouts of mental illness, possibly bipolar disorder. She committed suicide in 1941 by drowning, at 59.

kidman woolf
Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf

Sylvia, based on the life of Sylvia Plath. Gwyneth Paltrow portrays Plath, a young poet in the 1950’s, trying to make her mark in the literary world while still outwardly conforming to the feminine ideal of wife and mother. Plath suffered from depression, and committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30, by carbon monoxide poisoning.

paltrow plath
Paltrow as Plath, with Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes

Cheerful, right?

Luckily, we have other genius women, like Jane Austen, whose dazzling gems of comedy and social satire emphasize the genius rather than the torment. Despite her own life being marked by financial struggles, loss, and the boundaries of her gender, her works are a delight to read. She never married, and died in 1817 at the age of 41, possibly of Addison’s Disease.

I’ve read all of Austen’s novels repeatedly, but never read an unpublished novella called Lady Susan. It’s been made into a movie called Love and Friendship, starring Kate Beckinsale, and it’s also on my must-watch list. As far as biopics about Jane, there’s Becoming Jane, which focused on her relationship with Tom LeFroy. An enjoyable film, but it probably took some dramatic license and exaggerated the romance with LeFroy.

tom and jane
James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane

While I’m talking about women authors and film, I want to mention The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (brilliant in her own right, quite sane, and very much alive). I’m seriously thinking about subscribing to Hulu simply to watch the new series based on the book.

 

handmaid 2
Elisabeth Moss as Offred.

Have you seen any of these movies? Do you have a favorite tormented genius woman author? Who have I forgotten? Drop me a line, and we’ll talk about it!