All posts by MargeTheLarge

I graduated from James Madison University in 2013 as a Communications major. A child of the 90's and lover of movies, video games, books, tv, and music.

Why are Christian Movies So Cringey?

 

Christian films are, by and large, terrible. The writing is terrible, the dialogue is terrible, and the special effects, if any, are cheap and minimal. They try to hard to be “hip” and “with it,” causing them to fail spectacularly. There is no sense of self-awareness or any desire to answer difficult questions, so many ventures boil down to flimsy affirmations and comforting pity parties over supposed religious persecution, all because they can’t force all children to pray in schools. If you’re drinking, take a sip for all of these being present in a film, and one extra if there is at least one jerk “atheist” character.

I say “atheist” in air quotes because oftentimes, it’s a character who does in fact believe in God, but is mad at him for some reason. Note to the writers: that’s not atheism. That’s called misotheism.

 

C Me Dance, God’s Not Dead, Left Behind, I’m Not Ashamed. They remind me of environmental movies. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, we were inundated with film after film about man destroying the planet, with humans fitting into one of three categories: man who has “seen the light,” man who has yet to “see the light,” and evil man. Misguided humans had a chance of redemption, but otherwise, you were either with nature or actively fighting against it. No shades of grey, and no subtlety.

It’s a shame to me to see this happen to Christian films. I was raised as an Episcopalian, and the strongest lesson in my memory has always been “love thy neighbor as thyself.” My church focused less on “repent ye sinners” and more on the idea of being kind to one another, encouraging us to make the Earth a loving place on par with Heaven itself.

I have also seen some very good and interesting movies based on Bible stories, such as The Prince of Egypt and The Ten Commandments. Comparing the effort that was put into those films with the slog of awful, cheap pandering films that have come out in recent years feels like comparing a fillet mignon steak with a Hungry Man T.V. dinner.

 

Even something like Oh God was less preachy and demonizing, mostly because it could be genuinely funny. And God was just so likable!

It made suggestions for interpreting God’s motivations and laws, and didn’t paint its skeptical lead character too harshly, or too positively after he started to really believe. Its tone was curious and wondering, seeking to understand what a massive, enigmatic figure might be thinking about His creations, whereas Pure Flix movies and their ilk want you to never question God.

As someone who still considers herself a Christian, I don’t want weaksauce pandering. I don’t want to see wimpy arguments and enemies being straw-manned just to make myself feel superior. I actually like difficult questions and being made to think about what I am being given, though I am sure that is not to everyone’s taste. But still, could we maybe try a little harder? Make an actually compelling argument, outside of “Christianity good, everything else bad because we say so”?

 

Really, these movies are prime wish-fulfillment. The makers and their audiences want to believe that they are the good guys, and that anyone who opposes them is just bitter and Devil-enabled, trying to block their righteous path. They see the world as an awful place full of sin and temptation; you know, violent video games and sexually-charged media and the like. They want wholesome, family entertainment, but hey, maybe they’ll find a Christian rock band to throw in there to give it the barest facsimile of “coolness.” That way they can draw in the kiddies, and pretend that they aren’t completely out-of-touch with the world they fear so much.

On some level, I get it. I understand that times and standards are constantly changing, and that can be scary. But it also speaks of a level of selfishness, wanting things to stay exactly the way they are, and only wanting their own religious beliefs to be catered to and validated. My biggest issue with modern Christianity is how many of its practitioners seek to control people and stamp out any dissent, any questioning of authority or text. Some of them also use their faith as a status symbol, propelling them above the rest of their fellow men because they are “God’s chosen people.” That is not what I was raised to value, and when I see how much actual persecution occurs in the name of Christianity, it makes me sick and angers me deep down in my core.

Christian movies are bad now because they’re hypocritical. They attack science as if it’s some kind of faith that people blindly follow, instead of replicable, established series of theories and experiments. They attack atheists and non-believers for being rude and mean without a word about how many Christians snub those outside of their circles. They want to be able to preach in schools, but God help you if someone of Muslim or Hindu faith requested the same privilege. These films don’t understand basic laws or structures, put in place just as much to protect them as to limit them. They just want to cry persecution and smirk smugly when their characters win in the end.

What was once a decent enough sub-genre is now a ghetto of thought and creativity. There are also some pretty unsettling ideas about gender roles in there too, as you might imagine.

 

In my opinion, tested faith is stronger and more substantial than blind faith. Conversion by well-reasoned arguments is so much better than that by threats of death and hellfire. If you really want to convert more people, think of how to appeal to their curiosity, and the critical side of their brain.

Well, that, and don’t be a pompous jerk about it.

The Incredibles 2: Less Gritty and More Fun

 

Upfront, I think I might like this more than the original.

Let me explain.

The original The Incredibles is a great commentary on the average white American’s blue-collar family life, mixing with great superhero satire. It is a classic film with some great jokes, but as strange as it might sound, I found it needlessly mean-spirited at times. I liked all of the characters, and that is exactly the problem. Watching Helen and Bob’s marriage teeter around on the rocks and Bob’s struggles with fitting into the regular world was depressing. Watching a man break down in tears of despair and then nearly snap a woman in half because he thinks his entire family was murdered, all while his children are being hunted down to be murdered is pretty dark, even if Bob does learn a lesson from it in the end.

It’s almost like the movie relishes the unpleasantness, lingering on it long after I’m ready to move on to the next scene. Bad things just keep on happening, and they only really let up completely at the end or during the brief “Bob’s Secret Life” montage. Hell, the movie even includes a suicide attempt at the beginning, and the man then sues Bob for saving his life.

Comedic gold, am I right?

 

Also, with each passing year, I’ve been learning more and more about the world. After multiple viewings, Bob becomes more selfish and even somewhat frightening in my eyes, as I watch him put himself above everyone else in his family and displays violent, dangerous lapses in judgment, even before his tragic breakdown. The man has some serious unchecked anger issues, and he never acknowledges the fact that he could have easily killed his boss at the beginning of the movie. The worst he gets admonished for is being pig-headed, overprotective, and living in the past.

The sequel gives much more development to Helen, showing her capabilities as a hero and a person without Bob being there to upstage her. It even chastises Bob for being reckless, destructive, and thoughtless, which he refuses to acknowledge or take personal responsibility for in the first film. That’s very refreshing.

It also gives more personality to Violet, who seemed like a shy, socially-awkward potential stalker in the first film. In many ways, she is shown to be just as immature as Dash, but she and her brother get moments of competency as well.

 

The political commentary isn’t quite as punchy or poignant this time around, but it does raise an interesting point about human laziness and complacency, as many people are hypnotized into certain actions using T.V. and monitors. The villain is decently menacing in his anonymity and ability to take control, and while there is a point to be made, Helen also demonstrates how people with “power” should do the right thing if they are able to help. There is a certain complacency to be found in leaders and political officials as well, if they sell their influence without question and never have to make tough decisions. All people need to take responsibility for their lives and the lives of those for whom they care, further illustrated by Bob becoming a house dad and managing a demon baby.

There’s no indictment of political correctness this time around, but that is fine in my opinion. In today’s climate, 14 years after the previous movie, it can sometimes seem like a flimsy excuse to be a jerk, or just defend the status quo. Strength has always been valued over sensitivity to other’s feelings, as femininity is something to be avoided by men at all costs. But this movie feels like a progressive answer to that mentality, empowering Helen, the flexible, intelligent wonder woman, and forcing Bob to appreciate all that she has done in service to him and the family. Bob is left alone with only himself and his children, which leads to him growing as a man and a father, and showing him that his way is not always the best way. He opens himself up to vulnerability, and while it is a hard process, he becomes stronger in a different sense.

 

Brad Bird, the director of both films, has told us each family member’s power and what it represents about their character. Helen stretches because she’s a mom and needs to accommodate others, while Bob is strong because he’s the man of the house. While the first film seemed to reinforce this as the norm, the sequel challenges those traditional age and gender roles, giving each character a chance to be more than who they were initially, all while keeping them likeable and relatable.

The Incredibles is still great, don’t get me wrong; I am very glad it exists. But the drama is heavy and often sadistic in the pursuit of biting social commentary. It’s somewhat odd in a film that spends so much time satirizing goofy comic book tropes, like villains giving long monologues, allowing their captives ample time to escape and stop them. It’s probably the closest thing to a black comedy that has ever been marketed to kids, and I think adults appreciated it more than their children did, for the most part.

The message of your work is very important, but for once, I’d like to remind filmmakers that they are also here to entertain us. Darkness and drama are good when they serve the story, but too much of them just for their own sakes runs the risk of turning people off. The Incredibles 2 dials back the cruelty of its predecessor while still keeping the essential heart intact. It’s not quite as memorable, but it comes closer than I expected.

 

7/10

*Note: The images in this post do not belong to me.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Rant

I went into Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom expecting an entertaining, brainless, B-movie romp with decent special effects. What I didn’t expect was how much the movie would piss me off in the end.

Allow me to explain. Spoilers ahead.

Oh sorry. Wrong picture.

Anyway, the plot is ripped straight from The Lost World of Jurassic Park.“Let’s save some dinosaurs in a preserve!” cry the tree-huggers who clearly haven’t witnessed these creatures trample and eat people. Or if they have, they somehow ignore that little fact. But some evil guys want to trap the dinosaurs and sell them to the highest bidder, which totally makes our heroes better people when they decide to set them loose. A little girl joins the two mains, and after a bunch of stuff on the island, the killer dinos then end up in the United States.

…Oh, and Ian Malcolm is back too, albeit in two cameos. That’s another glaring similarity.

The characters are generally less annoying than in Lost World, but one guy in the new cast makes up for that. Franklin, the shrill, screaming, constantly-moaning-about-who-talked-him-into-this twenty-something activist who hogs every scene he’s in with over-the-top reactions and whining. I think that he is meant to be comedic, but for all that I am willing to accept from fearful characters in danger, this gent is supremely annoying.

Pro tip: you can have an annoying character without thoroughly annoying your audience. It’s something of an art, but it’s not impossible, given a little thought.

The villain and plot are, as usual, predictable. I’d give the movie points for trying to hide it better than some of the Jurassic Park sequels, but basically it comes down to this: the rich guy is evil. It’s always the rich guy or the military guy, if not both of them. They don’t even have to do anything suspicious at first; you just know. Jurassic World has this in common with the Alien series, and quite a few other sci-fi movies, actually. We could use a shake-up in the formula.

Also, when did B.D. Wong scientist become such a jerk? He seemed nice in the original movie, but since Jurassic World, he’s officially on Team Evil. I guess you shouldn’t trust the scientists either…

The effects are okay. They’re about as good as its predecessor’s, and those were fine. Not Jurassic Park good, because the use of CG is too frequent and noticeable, but passable.

There are a few scenes reminiscent of the first Jurassic Park, which I admit I enjoyed a lot.

The acting is fine. Again, it doesn’t measure up to the classic Spielberg actors and their charisma, but it’s fine. I don’t want them to die at least, which is essential for drama and tension in any good story. There’s more “will-they-won’t-they” from Claire and Owen, but I can’t tell you how little I care about their relationship. It’s so low that it might be hovering near the center of the Earth by now.

A problem I have with the story is that it raises a few interesting ideas and then completely ignores them, opting instead for the answer you’d expect out of one of those really out-of-touch, militant vegans.  The film certainly knows that the dinosaurs are dangerous; it reminds you of this almost every five minutes once the characters reach the island. And yet it constantly also tries to make you feel sad for them, which accounts for the very few poignant, emotional moments in the story. The tone is all over the place, which is confusing, and much like in Lost World, the preaching about animal welfare from the characters often comes across as ignorant or whiny, as the dinosaurs trample, bite, and tear apart numerous people, some of whom I assume were just doing their job.

I can get behind putting some dinosaurs on a preserve island where humans can’t bother them and they can’t harm humans.  Now that they exist again, they might as well be left alone, supposing that they can be successfully contained. But once the dinosaurs are in California, and it’s a choice between letting them go extinct again or setting them loose in vastly human-populated land, the main characters allow them to go free and terrorize the night away… Well, Claire and Owen almost allow them to go extinct before the clone child they picked up makes the decision for them, claiming she “had to” for some unclear reason.

Yes, by the way, the movie brings up human cloning, and it sounds like it should be a big deal, but the characters barely react to it. It’s almost as though it was a pointless addition that served no purpose at all.

You can’t have it both ways, movies! You can’t keep preaching at me about playing God when you make thoughtless, blockbuster action thrillers entirely reliant on that premise and expect me to keep taking those preachings seriously! You’re clearly not going to stop anytime soon! And now you’re trying to push animal rights and welfare on us too, with the characters doing something utterly loathsome and reprehensible for the sake of these animals? I hope they get sued for every man, woman, and child that is harmed because they thought “dinosaurs are cool” was a good enough reason to commit mass murder.

I was astounded when they opened up the cages and gates to the holding facility. I love animals and believe in caring for and preserving them, but there is a limit to my compassion. There is a limit because, as far as scientists and behavioral psychologists can guess, animals don’t possess the same level of awareness and thought that we do. We don’t debate much about their potential souls or the nature of their existence. If this were to change, then maybe my limit would change, but at the moment, I value human life higher than that of animals, and so too, I think, do most sane people.

You might be able to cheer when “comeuppance” happens to the bad guys, but it’s a a lot harder to ignore when it’s heavily implied that hundreds of innocent people will die from this.

The movie doesn’t even bother to tie it into the clone girl Maisie’s existence or feelings in any way. She commits the heinous act, but we get no insight as to why or what this might mean for her or the dinosaurs up to or after what she does. About halfway through, the film does try to say that Blue the Raptor has amazing capacity for empathy and thought for her species, but that’s about it. Barely any set-up and no concrete payoff.

Basically I’m mad because I wasn’t here to think, God damn it! I was here to see dinosaurs chase people and destroy things; exactly what you promised me, movie! Why are you trying to make me think? And moreover, why are the attempts so half-assed?

4/10

*The images used in this post do not belong to me. Also, #NotAllVegans

The Wicker Man: The Good and the Bad

Happy belated May Day, everyone!

The twist to The Wicker Man (1973) is not all that surprising. It’s essentially given away in the name, and you can take your best guess at who its intended victim is.  But where The Wicker Man shines is also where it is most problematic: its demonizing fear of Paganism.

The basic plot is this: upon receiving an anonymous letter about a missing child, Sergeant Neal Howie ventures to Summerisle to investigate. All that he knows about the remote island initially is that it is famous for growing delicious apples, but upon arriving, the pious policeman finds an isolated community deeply entrenched in Pagan practices, and surprisingly short on apples for the coming year. The people behave strangely when questioned, offering various unhelpful answers about the child’s whereabouts, almost as if they are trolling him. Some even say that she is dead. But Howie is particularly disturbed by the traditions he witnesses, some of which are related to the upcoming May Day celebration.

Everyone in the tavern sings bawdily about having sex with the landlord’s daughter, and it is presented as a rite of passage into manhood. Children talk about the phallic significance of maypoles in school, and dance naked and jump over fires to increase fertility. People have sex in open fields and breastfeed their babies in the cemetery. Frogs are even stuck in your mouth to cure a sore throat. Everything seems to be very old and based on old-world beliefs and superstitions.

 

The cinematography shoots everything from the perspective of an outsider, with many shots cutting back to Howie’s stern, unamused, or horrified face. The camera lingers on the taboo and strange to emphasize how alien and uncivilized it is, and yes, even for a bit of scandalous titillation. Despite his revulsion, Howie is somewhat tempted by the shameless, uncomplicated society that Summerisle has cultivated. If most horror movies represent a cultural anxiety of the times in which they are made, this complexity in the main character may represent the mutual disdain and desire to return to a life of ignorance, where people can live, at least in part, as animals.

That said, much like with A Quiet Place, I think this film would be better suited by the Suspense-Thriller genre label, as most of it is more unnerving than outright, in-your-face horrifying. At least in comparison to most horror films.

Lord Summerisle, played by the immortally awesome Christopher Lee, explains that his grandfather bred new strands of apple trees while encouraging the island’s inhabitants to practice their beliefs, saying that their old gods would help them grow and prosper. It is unclear how much he personally believes, but he clearly benefits off of the people’s labor and happiness, so he encourages them as well. In addition to the mystery of potential child murder, this lends an extra layer of creepiness to the island, as if it is a hive mind with a conniving, manipulative puppet master.

 

I find this somewhat funny as a modern-day Episcopalian who sees elements of manipulation and ignorance in Christianity, as well as all other organized religions. The Wicker Man is not subtle in its condemnation of Paganism as a whole; we are meant to side with Howie – despite how prudish he is shown to be – and be horrified by the archaic, bizarre activities we see on the island, as if Christianity has no repurposed Pagan traditions and celebrations incorporated into its own, and many of its ministers don’t also encourage blind faith and adherence to rules over critical thinking. But then again, this movie came out in a different era, and we still live in a time in which many people refuse to examine their beliefs and doctrines, so who am I to judge?

Christianity is not the oldest religion alive, but given its age, it is funny to me that it would be presented as the “modern” and “proper” world fighting against the old, “lawless” world of Paganism. Is this meant to be a change vs rigid tradition story? That’s a laugh. And hey, unless Lord Summerisle’s grandfather kept the people completely in the dark about his agronomy, which is not explicitly stated, we can assume that the island’s people are not completely against innovation. It gave them new trees off of which they could profit.

In fact, Howie is shown to be the person who cannot tolerate differences, the “changes” he sees from his life on the Scottish mainland. So is it just “Christianity good, anything else bad”? Because even if Howie is laughed at by his coworkers, being too Christian is shown to be better than too Pagan. We don’t even see a middle-ground Pagan, unless you count Lord Summerisle, who may or may not believe anything that he’s selling.

But I digress.

 

The main tension of the film comes from what happened to Rowan Morrison, the child in question, and whether or not she is dead or being held somewhere, perhaps waiting to be sacrificed, and it is very effective. A secondary tension arises from the strange words and actions of the people, whose suspiciousness feels increasingly deliberate as Howie explores Summerisle. Even knowing that the wicker man is going to come into play, you just want to know what makes them tick, why they live and behave so differently than what you, the viewer. It’s a very Alice in Wonderland kind of story, in which the effect can sometimes be that, despite being told that the answer is ignorance and madness, you can’t help but think there has to be another reason there. It can be just as fascinating as it is creepy, at least to a person like me.

Sergeant Howie is a compelling character in some ways, but he’s also a stick in the mud who has to speak up about every little thing that he doesn’t agree with. The problem with having your main character be a “straight man” reacting to weirdos all around him, especially one as strict as Howie, is that sometimes, that character ends up with no personality as a result. We know that he loves God and that is about it. Unless you’re onboard with his one character trait 100%, it’s hard to form a strong connection with him, so you only want him to escape this endeavor alive is because…he’s a person. On a basic level, human beings don’t want other human beings to die, but if you don’t feel connected to him (or worse, find him actively annoying or unpleasant), he may as well be some random guy in a crowd, about to get stomped on by Godzilla. Sure, it sucks, but you’ll get over it quickly.

He also doesn’t bring any backup with him to the island, which, even for what might be a short-staffed police force, seems glaringly unwise on his part. At least in this day and age; maybe it was totally different in the 70’s.

 

As I mentioned, a consequence of this movie is believing that all who identify as Pagan are backwards, immoral, and scary, and that they endorse animal or human sacrifice. This is, of course, not true, and I doubt that many Pagans appreciate the fear mongering. In reality, Paganism is vast and diverse. It is just another group of beliefs that people choose to follow in the course of their lives, and those individuals are no more prone to immoral or violent actions than anyone else.

Unfortunately, some downsides of the horror genre are that some people either miss the nuanced commentary, or they interpret it correctly, but it’s only real message was “othering and fearing this person/group is justified!” Not every director chooses to criticize and challenge societal paranoia, and while the resulting movies like The Wicker Man can still be good movies on their own, they then encourage or exacerbate trends that are problematic and potentially harmful to real people. For a similar example, check out Lindsay Ellis’s video essay My Monster Boyfriend, in which she talks about the racial coding of monster movies, dating all the way back to Birth of a Nation.

So yes, while I think The Wicker Man does a good job maintaining some suspense and tension, despite giving a lot away in its title and DVD box art, I also think that it presents an overblown, unfair stereotype of Pagans. And some things that the movie wants you to be unnerved by are less evil than they are just generally frowned upon in a prim and proper society with Judeo-Christian roots. Willow, the innkeeper’s daughter, is painted as an evil siren seductress, and we’re supposed to be shocked by how much sex she has. I’m sorry, but isn’t this taking place in the 70’s? Wasn’t there a big sexual revolution around that time? I mean, how dare she be active and consenting in her relationships with men and like it as much as she does!

I watch this movie once a year, usually on May Day itself, and I think it is worth watching because it’s more complicated than it appears. Also, Christopher Lee is arguably the best thing about the whole production. He even gets a song in the extended version!

 

7/10

*Note: None of the images used in this post belong to me.

A Quiet Review

 

A good horror movie knows how to set an atmosphere. It doesn’t rely solely on jump-scares, loud noises, and manipulative music. A good horror movie knows that fear of the unknown and things that we do not see can be much more effective than overly-creepy imagery shoved right in your face.

A Quiet Place feels more like a suspenseful thriller than a horror film – more akin to Jaws and Cujo rather than A Nightmare on Elm Street or The Exorcist – but even so, John Krasinski and his team make it wonderfully creepy as well.

The premise is simple: aliens that hunt almost exclusively by sound have landed on Earth, decimating most of the U.S. population in a matter of days. It is unclear how many other countries around the world have also fallen. One small group of survivors is the Abbott family, and they adapt to the new, hostile environment around them by making as little sound as they possible can. Luckily for them, they are all fluent in ASL, as the daughter Regan is deaf.

This leads to the most interesting aspect of the film: 80% of the dialogue is unspoken. Background music is also used sparingly, at least in comparison to most other movies.

Admittedly, this is somewhat of a gimmick. Regardless of genre, most movies have speaking all throughout, so A Quiet Place stands out and markets itself on that standing. But the reason for the silence in the film’s universe doesn’t feel cheap or poorly thought-out. Rather the reverse; I think its implementation is actually very clever.

 

It reminds me of what I learned in school; when it comes to human beings communicating, about 93% of what we convey, intentionally or not, is non-verbal. It’s very engaging to watch, and I’ll tell you why:

The tension in every scene is organic, as even the most minor things can draw the creatures to the family. Regan is particularly at risk because she can’t hear her own noises, let alone those of the approaching aliens. A toy falling off of a shelf could result in an attack, so the father, played by Krasinski, is almost constantly alert, trying to keep his children out of danger. They can’t even eat with silverware anymore, out of fear that the clinking could attract attention.

The setup and other little details in the beginning are given to viewers though visuals; newspapers, scribbled notes, actions, etc. The film requires the audience to pay attention and deduce things on their own; what does this information mean for the characters in the moment, and what does it mean for them in the long run? Even small things like what the kids have replaced their original Monopoly tokens with shows you how fearful and devoted to safety they are. As always, some things are up to your individual interpretation, but the story is by no means unclear as it unfolds.

The characters are likeable. That seems like a weird compliment, I’m sure, but you would be surprised how many horror films within the last decade have boiled down to “stupid, rude teenagers or twenty-somethings go somewhere secluded to party and something comes after them.” Despite speaking very little, the actors conveys a lot of emotion with facial expressions, body language, touch, and proximity. Krasinksi is particularly good at this; it’s what made him a fan favorite on The Office.

 

This is not to say that the characters have no negative traits. They are just very sympathetic, portrayed in a very human and understandable way. It is easy to believe that they would feel or react the way that they do, especially for the kids. They are clearly mature for their age, and even more for this apocalyptic situation, but not so mature that they understand and support all of their parents’ choices. Everyone has a hang-up of some sort, just like in real life.

The Abbott family is not quiet Spielberg-ian, but I like them and want to see them survive, which I would argue is damn near crucial in a good horror film.

Also, it’s interesting to me that John Krasinski and Emily Blunt are actually husband and wife. They have really good chemistry onscreen, so their married life must be pretty good as well. I guess if you’re not an actor though, it’s probably not a good idea to cast family members in leading roles. Right, Kevin Sorbo?

And speaking of “Christian films”, there is at least one religious theme that gets brought up in A Quiet Place. It seems to be very pro-life, but it’s not explicit or in-your-face-preachy about it. That’s exactly what I want from a movie: subtlety. Nuance. Almost a suggestion, but it makes you think, rather than just shouting down opposing opinions and definitively saying that yours is “right.” Again, looking at you, Kevin Sorbo and Sean Hannity. Let There Be Light was pure, propagandistic crap, and I say that as a self-proclaimed Christian, your target demographic.

But I digress. That film was unintentionally horrifying.

 

A Quiet Place is a thrill in theatres. It left me wanting more when it was over, but better that than wanting less. Just make sure you find a quiet place to watch it. Talking is super disruptive and annoying during a movie like this.

 

8/10

*Note: None of the images used in this post belong to me.

A Few Thoughts on Star Wars and The Last Jedi

The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both receive ample criticism. The first new film was panned for being just a retread of A New Hope with fresh paint, while The Last Jedi was panned for being “too different” from all previous Star Wars installments. I won’t pretend that either of these movies is without flaw, but I liked that The Last Jedi felt challenging and self-critical. Not to mention stressful, with the Rebellion constantly a hair’s breadth away from total annihilation.

But one criticism that remains consistent with both films is that Rei, the main character, is a Mary Sue. Guys everywhere love to hate on her because she’s just so perfect and talented, whereas Anakin and Luke had to work to master their Jedi powers.

Well first, how does one define a Mary Sue? According to Wikipedia, “A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience.” As a connoisseur of bad fanfiction, I would also add that any flaws, imperfections, or tragic backstories displayed by a Mary Sue are usually exploited as ploys for sympathy, or pithy attempts to hand-wave away complaints of said perfection. And to be clear, the perfection is often relative to what other characters in the story think of the character; ex. the only people who don’t like the Mary Sue are either villains or portrayed as being bitter, immature, what-have-you.

I would argue that if Mary Suedom is true of Rei, it would be equally true of Luke and Anakin, but whatever. I’ll play your game.

Rei is impulsive, impatient, and honorable to a fault. She is also somewhat naïve regarding the First Order, while Finn is presented as something of a grounded coward. He knows the capabilities and cruelties of his previous employer, whereas Rei does not. Rei has an immediate, admittedly somewhat questionable aptitude for the Force, but the only difference between her and the Skywalkers, confirmed by The Last Jedi, is that she is a nobody. Her abandoning parents don’t pay off as great Jedi warriors; she’s not part of the grand space soap opera that somehow always designates Skywalker descendants to be chosen ones who are great at everything.

Personally, this makes Rei a more compelling character for me, and it makes sense that the Force would be less picky, and possibly more hurried, in this new Jedi-less era. Just like the darkness keeps coming back, the light side needs to regroup and come back as well, with or without practiced, spiritual trainers. Maybe Rei’s talent is all her own, or maybe the Force feels a sense of urgency in keeping the light’s influence from being effectively snuffed out forever, what with the First Order constantly bearing down on the Rebellion.

Either way, at least Rei’s not being hailed as a Messiah, and especially not before she’s even really done anything yet. *cough cough* Anakin *cough cough*

“I’m a pilot and a slave and a builder and a dreamer and poor and a racer and a Jedi and a chosen one who can’t act like any of those things!”

In the expanded universe, there exists the concept of the Light Sith; members who still supported the Sith cause while also caring about light and balance. There were also the Gray Jedi, who toed the line between light and dark without falling to the dark side or sucking up to the Jedi Council. Now in the movies, we are seeing a “good” character who can also lean towards the dark side, similar to Luke, and a “bad” character who struggled with being called to the light side, similar to later films’ Anakin. I like that it feels a little more fleshed out than the previous films’ general take of “light always good, dark always bad.” Not completely new, but heading in the right direction.

I think people get upset about Rei, Finn, Rose, and the trajectory of the new Star Wars films in general because they’re becoming less of a “boy’s club.” Outside of the expanded universe, female and other minority characters in the movies didn’t get a lot of lines or things to do, and now they’re taking the center stage away from overpowered white boys, who are basically there by the providence of Divine Right. The Skywalkers are cool because they just are, damn it, and no one else can be cool unless they know or are related to the Skywalkers in some way!

…Except for Leia, I guess. And sure, Leia saving herself from being blasted into space was kind of weird and awkward, but she’s a Skywalker and has been established in previous films as having a strong gift as well, even if it wasn’t really shown. Couldn’t Luke have given her some pointers before he ran off to be a hermit? Couldn’t she have possibly trained herself, or at the very least, have her great power triggered by distress or pure survival instincts?

I’m not saying that implying things offscreen can’t be cheap and lazy. I’m just saying that it’s odd and somewhat suspicious how so many people immediately got upset by a woman, even of Skywalker blood, displaying a mere moment of powerful Force ability, as if this came from absolutely nowhere.

Speaking of coming from nowhere, there’s a line in Rogue One about hyperspace tracking becoming a future possibility, so that wasn’t just a dramatic asspull either.

The prequel films, for all of their terrible writing, dialogue, story structure, direction, and overreliance on CGI, at the very least continued the story of the Skywalkers, and praised the Jedi blindly despite their many, many flaws while portraying the Sith as unambiguously evil and corrupt. The new films are still trying to capture the magic and fun of a galaxy far, far away, but they are being more inquisitive and critical of their own universe, and asking the audience to think a little bit. And also to be less exclusionary, guarding their precious franchise from newcomers and Disney! Oh, the horror!

So Luke made a mistake and became an old, grizzled bastard hermit to try and escape his failures. People try to downplay or escape their failures in real life all the time; it’s not just a dramatic plot device. So what if the casino scene ended up amounting to nothing? Not everything in life gets rewarded, even if you try really, really hard. So what if Porgs are annoying? They’re no more or less distracting than the Ewoks were.

At least the dialogue isn’t cringey. At least the new main characters only really whine when they have a reason to whine. At least Jar Jar Binks is gone.

So to those who say the prequel films are better than The Last Jedi, I’m going to have to disagree. Vehemently. Those things are terrible, and I can only look at them now as a cautionary tale about making men bury their emotions. Anakin’s whiny teenage impotence and sudden transition to violence is almost understandable when you look at it that way.

Black Panther Review

 

Warning: This post is political. This movie is political. If that bothers you, feel free to say so or go quietly away. No name calling will be tolerated.

Black Panther is spectacular. That is the gist of my assessment.

As a white woman, I feel very ill-equipped to talk about how many boundaries this film breaks and why; my personal experience with racism is limited or non-existent, and it’s small potatoes. Like, one lady at a restaurant being rude to me because she didn’t like white people…probably.  Outside myself, I only know what I have heard and seen from others, and it’s not very much even then.

I don’t want to diminish the suffering of others by pretending I know exactly what it’s like. I can only say that I hope that more films like this get made (both politically and with diverse casts), and I can tell you what I personally thought after seeing Black Panther in the theatre on Friday, February 16th.

I like this film because it runs on a smaller scale than some of Marvel’s other fare. I may have said this before, but there is only so big you can go with universe-threatening villains before it begins to feel silly, or the previous movie villains look like tinker toys in comparison. Do kids these days still know tinker toys?

 

Regardless, there’s a concept called “Power Creep,” in which the constant need to one-up the last villain or super power makes earlier movies and series less awe-inspiring, and therefore they won’t hold up in future viewings.

I like that the cast doesn’t look like me. Really, I do. I don’t have an issue relating to someone with another background or skin color than me, maybe because I tend to focus more on common human experiences that we all share. I like films that try to capture those more universal topics, and people’s differences make them unique and fascinating, keeping them from being too same-y. They also provide a good learning experience, which I was told from a young age to pursue and value, even if it’s – God forbid – “outside of the textbook!”

I thought I might mention it, if only because some people can’t seem to acknowledge and relate to someone else’s basic humanity when too many differences stand in their way. Personally, I think that perspective is depressing and limiting, and in this case, they’re missing out on a great movie because of it. But c’est la vie.

I like that Black Panther is political. It really couldn’t avoid being so, from the race side of things, and I’m glad it didn’t shy away for fear of turning off the Caucasian audience.  People who complain that movies, celebrities, athletes, and other “entertainers” shouldn’t be pushing politics onto their audience are usually in a position where they can comfortably walk away from the discussion at any point, and they get annoyed when someone makes it harder for them to do so. They don’t want to accept that person’s individuality as part of their whole package; they just want a show, damn it! Why is it coming with extras that they didn’t order?

Because other people cannot escape having these discussions. Their lives and families are affected every day, and they can’t just walk away. It’s called systemic oppression for a reason; it’s so ingrained in our society that we on top don’t think much of it and don’t have to, because we benefit. We, whether by direct actions or passive complacency, force others down so that we can be raised up, and that’s not right.

That is part of the human experience I mentioned previously; just because I haven’t personally experienced things like racism, slavery, and families being torn apart, it doesn’t mean that those topics can’t resonate with me. I am an ignorant outsider, but I care.

 

I like the story in Black Panther. In short, and sans major spoilers, Prince T’Challa returns from the events of Captain America Civil War to assume his place as the king of Wakanda. Wakanda hides its technological advances from the world by posing as a third-world country, and there is friction among many citizens, whether to reveal their country’s true nature or to keep it safe and secluded, despite constant threats of theft and potential discovery anyway. They owe their success to an alien metal called Vibranium, and the Black Panther’s powers to a heart-shaped plant that was effected by the coming of said metal.

The film’s politics come from that above-mentioned tension: will Wakanda reveal itself, and if so, could it become a haven for other African countries and peoples around the world? It’s an empowering narrative, and not just because it’s a superhero movie.

I like the costume design. I’m mostly ignorant of African cultures (I’m sorry. Japan came into my heart first), but I can see how much effort was put into every piece of clothing worn in Black Panther. The fighting outfits are distinctive and visually interesting, but still practical, especially for the women. That’s rare. *cough* Wonder Woman *cough cough*

That’s another thing: I love how many prominent women are in this story. I also liked pretty much all of them as characters, even if I forgot one or two names during the course of the movie (just for perspective, I forgot Martin Freeman’s character’s name at some point too, and simply started mentally referring to him as “Secret Agent Watson.”

Some people might find this politically charged as well, having so many women in the cast, and so many of them kicking ass. I invite them to go suck their thumbs and sit in the corner. The girls on screen can hold a scene just as well as any guy. Get over it.

 

Much like The Last Jedi, there seems to be a theme about your mentors disappointing you, leading you to one day surpass them. You may also have to clean up the mess that their pride, fear, or hubris has left behind. This is becoming a common refrain in movies and television recently, particularly revolving around male characters and their pride as men. Personally, I agree with those messages, as I think that valuing pride and hypermasculinity over being a secure, healthy person with a good understanding and control over their emotions is a problem that affects all kinds of men in modern society. Depending on how those feelings manifest, it can also affect their partners and other family and friends that surround them, so I like seeing more of these stories becoming popular.

Again, there’s a human experience to be found there, and the smaller threat makes the story feel more personal and relatable. I actually felt bad for the villain in the end, because he had clearly gone through so much pain to become the way that he was.

Black Panther will speak to different people in different ways, but some of the takeaways aren’t that far off from each other. I didn’t feel alienated or preached at when I saw this film; I felt enthralled and spoken to, in a perfectly frank and engaging manner. I’m happy to see that the opening weekend proved so profitable, and I hope more directors will tell these kinds of stories, and many more, in the future. After all, the population is always changing, and the “small voices” are growing too loud, too numerous, to be ignored.

 

*8.5/10

Note: All images in this review belong to Marvel and Disney.