(On Blu-ray, March 2018) So the newest mainline Star Wars movie is out and wow is it interesting. After criticisms that The Force Awakens was a carbon copy of A New Hope, here comes The Last Jedi, seemingly determined to outdo The Empire Strikes Back and undercut expectations at every turn. Never mind the mind-warping idiocy of the premise (space bombers requiring gravity? A space chase in which they need fuel to keep going the same speed? Why is this so dumb?) when the entire movie, from plot points to one-liners, seems determined to shake up the Star Wars legacy. Consider the repeated undercutting of the heroic male as represented by Poe. Consider the savaging of the idea that Rey’s parentage was important. Consider Luke as a reluctant mentor. Consider the silly humour of “general Hugs” or the milking sequence, at odds with the series so far. Consider the script, replete with dialogue along the lines of “I didn’t expect that,” “I assumed, wrongly,” “let the past die,” “It’s time for the Jedi … to end.” Heck, simply consider the misdirection in which a steam iron is momentarily made to look like a new ship. Most of the plans hatched in this movie are near-complete failures. Dozens of plot arcs launched in The Force Awakens are cut shot here, usually unceremoniously. The ending is the bleakest in the series so far, even in acting as a counterpoint to The Empire Strikes Back. This is no mere accumulation of coincidences: Official interviews confirm that there was very little overarching plotting for the trilogy—writer/director Rian Johnson was able to go wherever he wanted with this film, with little regard to the intentions of the previous film. Considering that, it’s easy to understand why a number of Star Wars fans were infuriated at the result—it certainly doesn’t fulfill expectations, and arguably destroys quite a bit of the Star Wars mythos in the process. On the other hand … for jaded viewers who have been contemplating a yearly Star Wars franchise unable to take risks, this is a welcome shot in the arm. It’s worth reminding everyone that the trilogy isn’t complete—there may be retractions and further revelations to build upon the earthquake seen here. It’s all very interesting, which wasn’t necessarily something to be said about The Force Awakens (although it was one of the strengths of Rogue One). It helps that the film itself is reasonably made, although with significant issues. At nearly two hours and a half, it’s too long by at least fifteen minutes—the last act in particular feels like an afterthought after the climactic throne room confrontation. The idea of Canto Bight is far better than its execution, and while cutting off dramatic arcs in unexpected fashion is intriguing, it’s also frustrating—the case example here being the somewhat unceremonious end for Captain Phasma. The special effects work is fantastic, the Porgs aren’t as annoying as expected, and the actors aren’t bad either—among the newcomers, the ever-interesting Laura Dern makes a good impression in an unusual role, while Kelly Marie Tran brings a bit of welcome diversity (not simply in ethnicity, but also in class) to the usual cast. Mark Hamill makes the most out of his acting repertoire, while Adam Driver is a bit more than an angsty antagonist this time around. Still, the star here is the plot and its willingness to go against expectations. I’m not entirely happy with the results, but I’m far more interested in seeing where the next episode will take us than I was at the end of The Force Awakens. I’m still bothered by a lot of the world building, but, eh, it’s Star Wars after all. Plausibility doesn’t factor in.
(On Cable TV, January 2017) I have resigned myself to the fact that David Lynch and I will never enjoy a harmonious filmmaker/moviegoer relationship. Case in point: Blue Velvet, often acclaimed as one of his most representative films and almost a bona fide classic thirty years later. For all of my good intentions and Blue Velvet’s overall accessibility compared to other Lynch films, I found myself watching the film in a fairly detached manner, unwilling to try to make too much sense of it given the quicksand trap examples established by his other movies. I’ve never been particularly eager to play the mind games of Lynch’s movies, and found that my best viewing mode for them is purely contemplative, not expecting the plot to make sense. Even in that state, though, I have to admit that Dennis Hopper’s performance is ferociously good: His character, all id and swagger, thunders on-screen and has his way with characters like a tornado. We can only, like the film’s protagonist, watch in awe and hope that he doesn’t notice us. Blue Velvet has, at its core, a long sustained sequence of abuse and voyeurism that can’t easily be forgotten. It’s by far the standout segment in a film dealing with crime and violence in a small town. Kyle MacLachlan is fine as the viewpoint character and Laura Dern does have a few good moments (in-between this and Wild at Heart—perhaps my less-disliked Lynch film—, a substantial part of her best filmography owes much to Lynch) but it’s Isabella Rossellini who earns her acting acclaim in this film as Hopper’s souffre-douleur. It makes, in typically Lynchian sense, for a big surreal ball of moviemaking, although I note with some comfort that there is a level of superficial understanding here that’s not necessarily possible in other more enigmatic Lynch films. When I say that Blue Velvet ranks highly among Lynch’s best films, keep in mind that I’m grading on a curve.
(On TV, October 2016) I’m not a big fan of David Lynch’s film, and even my tepid linking for Wild at Heart shows why. In some ways one of the tamest, most accessible films in Lynch’s oeuvre, Wild at Heart often feels like a wild melodrama pushed to eleven, with graphic sex and violence far exceeding anything that could be considered reasonable. Nicolas Cage is in classic exuberant form as a small-time criminal eloping with his love and gradually being drawn back into a life of violence. Meanwhile, Laura Dern shows more of herself than ever before (repeatedly) as a young woman escaping from the clutches of her mother via a road trip with no clear end goal. Sex and crime figure heavily in the result, cranking the exploitation factor of the film but not exactly helping it being taken seriously. Wild at Heart now feels like a low-octane Natural Born Killers at time, like a softcore thriller at others. It is rarely boring, though but even though I feel as if the R-rated material should help raise my opinion of the film, Lynch’s gleefully obtuse direction doesn’t help. Wild at Heart is far tamer than some of his more outrageous film—still, I can’t help that providing just a bit more guidance to viewers would not be such a bad thing. And that, in a nutshell, is pretty much my reaction to Lynch’s oeuvre: would it kill him to be just a bit more understandable?