W.B. at the Movies: The Star Wars flicks

Last_Jedi

I had a joyful experience watching the latest movie in the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi – more fun than I’d had since the second installment of the first trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back.

Looking back, I think I can categorize the films in four levels. Mind you, I really have enjoyed all of these movies, even the much-maligned prequel films from 1999 to 2005, so I like even the least satisfying ones, but I like some more than others and would probably say I “love” only two, including the latest one.

Top tier – The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi (“Oh, that was awesome!!”)

Second tier – Star Wars*, The Force Awakens, Rogue One (“That was great!”)

Third tier – Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith (“That was terrific but not quite perfect.”)

Fourth tier – Attack of the Clones, The Phantom Menace (“The story is interesting but the movie was kind of disappointing.”)

My general observations: The real home runs were hit in the middle chapters of the first and third trilogies, and I don’t think the first two third episodes quite connected as well as they should have (although Revenge of the Sith is clearly the best film of the prequels.)

The pressure is on for the next film, which needs to wrap up many arcs while setting the table for the next round.

* You can call it A New Hope if you want, but it will forever be Star Wars to me and, I dare say, most everyone who became a fan in 1977.

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W.B. at the movies: The Cloverfield Paradox

cloverfield-paradox

I love the idea of The Cloverfield Paradox. J.J. Abrams produced the film in secret, and Netflix released it unexpectedly – right after the Super Bowl after promoting it only in two short trailers during and after the game.

I love it because they pulled off a surprise in this techy world where everyone can know everything about upcoming pop culture projects. I love it because it disrupts the movie industry – not disruption for the sake of disruption, but because it’s something new that might be an improvement on the old ways – releasing a major film without much hype and direct to our living room.

It doesn’t matter if the film is any good – if it isn’t, one day a great film will be released in this way.

And now that I’ve watched it, The Cloverfield Paradox is better than some of the reviews led me to expect. It’s perhaps not the most compelling of the three Cloverfield movies but it’s easily the one with the most answers. We finally see the threads that tie together the giant monster dismantling New York and the bizarre stuff the denizens of the 10 Cloverfield Lane bunker see when they climb back to the surface.

The reviews I’ve seen say we aren’t motivated to care about the characters – but I cared – and complain about what the reviewers perceive as plot holes – but are they plot holes? The plot isn’t tied up in a tidy bundle, and some things don’t seem to make sense, but how is that different from the first two Cloverfield movies? Hmm?

The Netflix model is fun – so many projects waiting to be discovered, often unexpected, often quite good, with an undeniable edge. This may be the future, migrating from the walls of movie theaters to our family rooms, although few shared experiences are as delightful as watching a brilliant movie with a large and appreciative audience.

Whenever I hear the classic line, “Round up the usual suspects,” my heart returns to the moment when I first heard it, in the early 1970s at a Friday night screening filled with college kids who had never seen the film. The triumphant roar from that packed crowd was exhilarating.

2017 saved the best for last

W.B. at the Movies/W.B.’s Book Report:

I’ve been tracking the books I’ve read since 1994, and no year in this recorded history have I read as many as the 66 books that I devoured in 2017.

Michael Connelly accounted for 21 of those books, and my re-immersion into audiobooks (with a new 45-mile commute starting in March) is responsible for 44 of them. I became addicted to Connelly after deciding to sample his work after falling in love with the Amazon TV show Bosch, based on Connelly’s detective hero Harry Bosch. The books are as binge-worthy as the show, and the latest, Two Kinds of Truth, may be the best yet.

I also discovered Craig Johnson’s series of mysteries about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, and for essentially the same reason: I thoroughly enjoyed the Longmire TV show on Netflix and wanted more. The best thing is that Johnson’s regular reader, actor George Guidall, embodies Walt Longmire even better than Robert Taylor does on screen, so the novels I’ve “read” (the first five of 13 so far) have been a delight.

Unbroken-coverThe last book I “read” in 2017 was Laura Hillenbrand’s page-turner biography, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. I don’t read many biographies, but I was taken by Hillenbrand’s earlier book Seabiscuit and heard good things about this one.

Her story of Louis Zamperini – who carried the Olympic torch in 1990 through a town not far from the Japanese prisoner of war camp where he lived a hellacious existence for nearly two years – is as good as it gets.

Zamperini lived a remarkable 97-year life that saw him compete in the Olympics, survive 47 days in a liferaft on the Pacific Ocean after a bomber crash, struggle through the POW experience and post-war alcoholism, and emerge to find a way to forgive his tormentors. Hillenbrand’s prose more than does justice to an uncommon man.

Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi-posterI don’t keep track of the movies or TV shows I’ve watched (there are too many), but I do know my favorite movie theater experience of 2017 was also the last one: Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi. This film starring Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker was the most fun I’ve had in that long-ago, far-away galaxy since 1980 and The Empire Strikes Back.

Writer-director Rian Johnson filled the story with surprises, some more breathtaking than others, and we had a ball. This is just me, but you should know that back in the 1970s and early ’80s I watched the first three Star Wars films six to eight times each on the big screen. I even watched the much-maligned prequels of 15-20 years ago multiple times in the theater.

The 2015 revival film, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, was tremendous, yet I didn’t watch it a second time until a couple of weeks ago. It was great, but it didn’t draw my inner geek back for repeats. As this latest film reached its climax, however, I felt that old familiar tug of wanting to get back in line for another ride on the roller coaster.

I wholly recommend Unbroken to people who love a great book and Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi to people who love a great space opera. I know some people think Johnson took too many liberties with what they consider the Star Wars canon, but I don’t agree in the slightest. Last Jedi is a rousing flick that adds a small handful of exclamation points to the legend.

W.B. at the movies: Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla

A giant sea creature is burrowing up a crowded urban river, tossing boats aside like confetti and generally killing and maiming everyone in its path.

The government calls a meeting. And there, everyone considers forming a committee, which will build a coalition, which will discuss creating a task force that will develop a report. All along, interchangeable faces earnestly debate the options regarding what should be done. And when the time comes to act or die, no one can make a decision.

Meanwhile, the big monster just keeps on a-coming. Continue reading

W.B. at the movies, at random

Random thoughts while watching Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, for the first time in a theater audience of 5 including the two of us, nearly two months after its debut:

+ The trailers for upcoming films Thor: Ragnarok and Star Wars: The Last Jedi are much more impressive on the big screen with massive sound than on the standard YouTube screen. (Yeah, I know: Duh.) Also, the trailer for Dunkirk did not make me want to see the film; rather, the opposite. It seems to me the audience for Guardians of the Galaxy may not be the audience for a film heavy on hopelessness, despair, and real-life pain and suffering. Or maybe it’s just me.

+ The new Marvel Studios production logo at the beginning of the film uses movie clips instead of a flutter of pages from old comic books – perhaps an appropriate acknowledgment that superheroes are creatures of cinema more than paper anymore, but it made me sad; perhaps nostalgic is a better word.

+ The original Marvel universe was built around Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and everybody else. Later it was the reimagined X-Men and everybody else. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (it’s capitalized now) have made it Iron Man and Captain America and everybody else. To me the real home runs are being hit in the films about lower-profile characters – the Guardians, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man.

+ By the way, I loved the film.

+ The jaw-dropping geek moment in the closing credits for me – “I think I’ll name him Adam” – rivaled Samuel Jackson’s immortal appearance after Iron Man: “I’d like to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.”

+ It has been a true trip these last 18 years or so, starting with X-Men, to see the four-color heroes of my childhood transformed with such care to the silver screen. It’s like a validation – See? I told you these stories were cool.