The idea of a heist where no one knows each other is maybe the best representation of internet life in film. I was immediately drawn to the characters in Reservoir Dogs, who were all dressed the same and brought together for the same reason, and also veiled their identity with the same pseudonym, ‘Mr.’+‘color.’ The whole practice is so Tarantino-cool and added weight to a heist that had no background or build. An amazing storytelling tactic.
Yet, by the end of the movie, as we learn more about the characters and they reveal more about themselves to each other, this cool practice also becomes vaguely ridiculous because when the heist went to shit, none of that mattered anymore. In other words, when they needed their anonymity the most, the mode of providing that anonymity was destroyed. That’s what’s so tragic about Mr. White crying over the body of Mr. Orange. At the only point in time where it would have served him to not know the truth, he found out the truth, and the points where it would have benefited to know the person, he did not know enough.
This all feels a bit too analogous to our own existence in both the concrete world and the abstract one we create on the internet. We join this heist together, all looking the same and here for the same reasons, hidden by pseudonyms and constructed personas, weighed down by an unjustified sense of importance, and yet too often those personas and identities and flattened images of ourselves leave us inappropriately ignorant, or gluttons of information we’d be better off not knowing.
The long and the short of it, the philosophical and the bare bones, is that the pseudonyms in Reservoir Dogs are awesome and they suck, they protect and they harm, they feel like the double-edged sword that is so often wielded when we venture into public discourse on the internet.
As an ode to the two-sided nature of this world, I have adopted the pseudonym Mr. Blue on this site because I think its cool (and maybe for other reasons, but if I told you those that would be defeating the point now wouldn’t it?). As I do so, I imagine anyone who reads this will get to know me devoid of background or build, based solely on the identity constructed through my words and thoughts about the stuff I write about, which is also cool. And it could be a great representation of who I am, or this might be a poor representation of who I am, and you could end up cradling my bleeding body as you put a gun to my head to end my rat-bastard life (Too much? That was probably too much).
The Reservoir Dogs got to shoot the shit at the diner without any preconceived notions, and Mr. Orange claiming tipping is ridiculous made him look like a complete asshole, and they all got to feel like they were in it together without any of the messiness that comes with relationships. But those relationships formed anyone despite their misguided attempts at isolation. I want my writing to be like that.
Enjoy it if you like it and hate it if you hate it. Either way I hope we get a cool poster made of us strolling down the street, looking like badasses, that every kid in college puts on their dorm room wall. And now this analogy has officially gone too far.
Anyways, these are the conversations I want to have on this site. The stuff that transcends the ‘is it good or bad’ bickering of most internet conversations about media. I love talking about the things I blank, but I don’t love the internet’s discussion about those things. It too often gets all blanked up.
I would like to have the strange and useless conversations we have in real life after blanking something. Where we sit on crappy couches with nothing to do, so we talk about the uselessness of the pseudonyms in Reservoir Dogs. Those are the moments that make blanking so much fun. If you also enjoy these types of conversations come back as much as you’d like. After all, now we are all in it together.
I posted on Tuesday about Signs and the beauty I saw in its message. I then, as I usually do, shared the post on relevant sub-Reddits, one of which being r/horror. Little did I know, there is a bit of a controversy about a certain ‘plothole’ in the film. The conversation in the comments went something like this…
User: I like Signs’ commentary on belief and unbelief, it’s delicate build of tension, and the intricate story weaving.
Other User: bUt WaTeR
I’m paraphrasing, but in a nutshell more than a few people take issue to the aliens being harmed by water and it leading to their eventual retreat from Earth. Why you might ask? Well there are a few reasons.
Reason 1: Why would aliens come to a planet that is [insert number around 70%] water, when water kills them?
Reason 2: Why didn’t this advanced species build armor to protect themselves from the water?
Reason 3: Earth’s atmosphere, consisting of water, would hurt them, which it did not.
No lie. Those were the top three reasons given. You can see them for yourself here.
I want to respond to these claims in an organized fashion (one by one in the comments was not doing it for me) so this post is a response to the disorganized conversation that began in the comments of that post. I will start with Reason 1- why did aliens come to a planet of water when water hurt them- seeing as it was the most posited.
Here’s my response… are you ready?
They didn’t know it hurt them.
Crazy right? An alien species that doesn’t interact with water not knowing it would hurt them? The problem with Reason 1 is that it has a human-centric premise. It assumes that these alien life forms live on a planet like ours because we decided that a planet needs to have water to sustain life. And to be sure, a planet needs water to sustain a lifeform like ours. However, this alien life clearly does not need water to survive in lieu of the fact that it kills them. So why are we still assuming they had water on their planet or that they know what water is?
To be fair, anyone can choose to assume that they know what water is and came to earth anyway, but it is just as easy to assume they do not know what water is, so at best when you ascribe to the logic in Reason 1 you are choosing to operate from a premise (not any more likely than another premise) that creates a plothole. In other words, you are actively searching for a plot hole.
This reason- why didn’t they build armor to protect themselves- is more intriguing from a storytelling standpoint, but less of a problem for the movie. I find it intriguing because the answer reveals information about the aliens and relies on the story as it was told in order to answer it (unlike Reason 1 which is just a shot from left field). The reason, as presented from the rest of the film, appears to be because these aliens are body snatchers, looking less for a long-lasting war that may kill a large portion of their own species, and more for a hit and run attack, guerilla warfare if you will. The moment they start getting toasted by water, the mission no longer seemed worth the effort. In other words, they most likely could have created the armor to protect themselves, but what for? They didn’t appear to want the whole planet, especially after they found out that most of it (somewhere around 70% as told by Reddit users) would kill them.
This one is fun. This reason is even more of an indicator that people are actively looking for plot holes. Here is my thought, and it is going to sound a bit absurd to match the initial argument… Can you get hydrated from Earth’s atmosphere? No. So clearly water in a concentrated liquid state has stronger and more impactful properties than the liquid in the atmosphere. Therefore, it is likely that someone who was burned by liquid may not be affected by water in the atmosphere, even though water in liquid form may do them much harm. Come on guys…
Sure, we could look at the water device and poke holes in the movie, but just as easily we could adopt a view of the water device that creates no plot holes in the film, so at the end of the day, whichever one you adopt reveals more about your feelings on the film than about the film itself.
So why should you adopt one over the other? The answer is related to another nitpick a Reddit user presented to me. She or he pointed out how strange it was that, when the night of the alien invasion began, the family locked themselves in the house but gathered no weapons to protect themselves. They just kept ceding portions of the house to the aliens.
It took me a bit to reconcile to this fact as well. But I managed to do so because the movie was never about alien invasion as an external conflict. As per my previous post, the story is about the internal conflict in Graham, who was struggling with his unbelief. The movie was about coming to grips with ‘seeing’ the world in a new way, not about fending off an invasive alien race (internal conflict not external). Therefore, their first inclination was not to fight. The fight wasn’t the story.
This is at the core of all the reasons why people may have liked or disliked the movie, found plot holes or felt like they were easily explained. What were you watching the movie for? Did you want to follow the internal conflict as Graham vacillated between being someone who ‘saw’ or someone who believed he was alone? Or did you want an alien invasion movie, and all the external conflict that came along with it?
If it is the second, I understand why the water device would seem annoying and cause you to view it as a plot hole. It sent the aliens away, causing less external conflict, and then easily remedied the climactic scene in the movie, which was one of the only physical confrontations in the film.
But if you were watching for the first, the water device was a beautiful ‘sign’ planted early and then left alone so you would forget about it, and then recalled later as more important than we initially thought, rewriting the way we watched the movie.
In many ways, the debate over the water device is the same conflict that raged in Graham, are we going to be people who see the signs or not? Because if you do not see the water as a sign of something greater, it just becomes a stupid plot hole. That’s the brilliance of the story.
I’d never watched Signs before this past weekend. The reasons are easy enough to enumerate. I am not a big horror fan, and upon the movie’s release, the people I knew only talked about how scary it was. I therefore imagined a lot of jump scares and stress, and I rarely find myself in the mood for those two things.
I also was nonplussed about the whole ‘aliens conversation,’ especially aliens as a horror movie monster. A horror movie with a monster as the prime instigator of horror, and that monster pre-declared as an already tired trope, did not and does not draw me into a theater near me. The only thing worse would be to not declare that the monster is aliens and then reveal the source of horror as that tired trope after an hour of teasing it (I’m looking at you Super 8).
I should have realized sooner, however, based on the critical acclaim the movie received, that it was more than a tired alien movie. It is so much more. And it took a national reckoning with unidentified flying objects for me to hit play and experience this for myself.
I did not consciously choose to watch Signs because the Pentagon had just released their report on all the UAP that they still cannot explain and will not attribute to domestic or foreign intelligence or alien life and cannot explain via means of science or camera tricks (not much left by way of explanation guys). But I do believe my subconscious was at work, and that provided such a delightful convergence with the theme of Signs.
Signs is not about aliens. And Signs is not a horror movie whose goal is to scare. Signs is about the way we see the world, or if we see it at all. As Graham puts it in the movie, there are two types of people, those who believe in signs and miracles, and those who believe we are all alone. And more than that, those two types of people can look at the same thing and walk away with completely different stories about what they saw. And I am sure many people walked away from Signs and told the story of a ‘scary movie’. Indeed, the movie was a masterclass in building tension, and it did a great job revealing enough of the monster to not be disappointing, but not so much of it that we felt like there is nothing to reveal at the climax. But others saw a commentary on the lens we choose to view the world with, the signs we miss and those we see and how we explain them away.
I watched Signs because the country is talking about aliens. And as the country is talking about aliens, it shows a thirst for something greater than what we are experiencing- a secret hand guiding our actions, an outside observer monitoring our situation, an intelligent life greater than our own. It both comforts and horrifies us.
Graham was in the midst of being horrified at the idea that we are not alone. As a Reverend, this manifested in his horror that a God in control of the universe, a benevolent God mind you, would allow the senseless and brutal death of his wife. Any man who had the final conversation with the one they love in that manner would walk away questioning the validity that there was anything greater than our masses of flesh bouncing into each other while here on earth. The thought that there is a being who could have stopped it, would be worse than believing we have no greater purpose.
Shyamalan understands the thin dividing line between belief in aliens and belief in a higher power. They both are outside our planet, they both can choose to intervene in our affairs, they both are usually ascribed with greater intelligence than our own, and they both challenge our worldviews and presuppositions in a fundamental way. If we saw the existence of a god or of aliens, we end up asking ourselves similar questions. What do they want with me? How should I live with this new knowledge? What does this mean about being a human?
Obviously, it would lead to different answers, and in some ways is a totally different line of questioning, but only because the answers are derived from the evidence. They both present similar existential crises. So Graham, already in an existential crisis as he asks questions of the God he has rejected is now confronted with alien life forms invading the planet, and throughout the movie one can never quite tell which conflict he is dealing with. Because at the end of the day, Graham needs to decide if whatever he is seeing, god or aliens, are signs, or if he is all alone.
The nuance of that internal conflict is beautifully told. At first Graham won’t even admit that the crop sign is from extraterrestrial life. He figures there is some other earthly explanation. And along the way, little does he know, he is observing other signs, nonsensical though they may be- asthma, water glasses, ‘swing away’, the death of his wife and her final words. But he is closed to all of them. He is closed to any possibility that something might be out there, alien form wishing him arm, or deity looking to aid him.
But as the movie progresses, Graham must admit that there is extraterrestrial life, whether he wants to or not, and the fact that he is absolutely not alone almost breaks him. Just as the loss of his wife shook his worldview, now the appearance of aliens is shaking it again. Faced with almost certain death, and maybe the death of all humanity along with it, he must decide if he actually has disavowed his faith in God. And he wasn’t ready to answer that questions quite yet.
Shyamalan attempts to tell a story with the most difficult internal conflict at the heart of its main character, a man going from belief to unbelief and back again. There may not be anything so fundamental to humanity than their religious faith or lack thereof, it changes the way we view everything, if we see signs or if we see accidents and coincidences, how we view death and our roles here on earth. And because of this, that conflict resolution can often feel trite, as if the person had never actually descended into the bowels of unbelief in the first place. However, Signs falls into no such trap. The death of his wife and Mel Gibson’s performance show him in deep unbelief. He is mourning and angry and so very sad. The challenge would be to find a way to realistically tell the story of a man coming out of that unbelief.
The final scene does this. It tells the beautiful story of a man who had been provided signs all along, even in the midst of his chosen blindness, even when he had blocked out any iota of something greater, the signs were still there. And they all coalesced beautifully in a wonderfully surprising way. I had forgotten about the water glasses, I assumed the asthma was for a different plot device, I assumed Merril swinging away was for backstory and to develop that character. But even all of these signs wouldn’t be enough to deliver a man from their unbelief. However, delivering that message through the dying words of his wife in the act which caused his unbelief, was storytelling at its finest. “See…. Tell Merril to swing away.”
I did not see the signs. Only upon reflection can any of us look back and recognize the signs that got us to where we are (like Pentagon reports getting me to watch a movie and write this post). And none of us will reflect on how we got to where we are, if we don’t have faith that there is something greater.
Even in Graham’s lack of faith, when face-to-face with that alien, he couldn’t deny something greater than our world, and he found both aliens and a god.
The Sopranos has been my favorite show for some time now, sometimes switching with The Wire but mostly staying on top. So my journey to write “Long Overdue Recaps” of each season was long, but a joy. This post is meant to consolidate those reviews in one place, and to offer some of my key takeaways from the experience.
James Gandolfini’s performance is the best of any actor or actress in any television show. It comes down to quantity. We could go line for line on best TV moments between, let’s say, Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Gandolfini as Tony and the comparison would be close. But whereas we could capture most of Cranston’s best moments- because he also shares the series with a co-lead- we would be lost in a sea of Tony Soprano moments because he dominates the entire series with his giant frame and huge presence. He is on the screen so damn much and is asked to deliver time and again for 6 incredible seasons, and he just never freaking misses.
I alluded to this in a couple of my posts, but I just absolutely cannot understand why Game of Thrones has the rep for killing main characters. Side characters? Maybe… but time and again The Sopranos developed characters richly and deeply, enmeshing them in the plot and the viewers lives and then offs them with more build and precision and significance than maybe any death in Game of Thrones other than Ned Stark’s.
Pacing matters and characters matter. If you want to make a great drama series, take two things from The Sopranos (as I think most do). The first is to develop, really develop, all of your characters, significant and insignificant. Give them quirks and backstories, conflict and comedy. Give them sub plots and interweave thosd into the main plot. Make me feel something about them as much as possible and then every part of your story gets raised. The Sopranos shocked audiences and maybe themselves, by developing a character in the wings until all of a sudden they were the star of the show, like Vito and AJ and Phil and any number of characters. The show went for six seasons and never ran out of steam because it never ran out of characters to help complicate Tony’s life. As much as Tony was the focal point, he was never the only point./ And the second takeaway is to pace it out. The Sopranos always had storylines that spanned the series that was fed by storylines that spanned a couple seasons, fed by storylines than spanned for a single season, supported by storylines that spanned an episode or two. Too often series don’t have the clarity and foresight to balance all of those at once, and the show grows off balance from having only storylines that last an episode or two, or boring storylines that are insular to a season but take so long to develop any number of issues. The Sopranos is a masterclass in pacing.
Lastly, I loved writing about The Sopranos. The only challenge was trying to clearly articulate the intricacies in the story and the meaning it conveys. It was a fun challenged, and I think that sometimes I may have even done it some justice. So I hope you will check out some of my thoughts on The Sopranos long after anyone is asking…
Big Little Lies season one found a decent splash in the online world, and I followed along as the season played out. I even read the book by Liane Moriarty afterwards, a wonderful companion to the show. However, season two was announced with little fanfare beyond the addition of the legendary Meryl Streep. I am not even sure I realized the season aired and passed, there was so little conversation surrounding it.
But now I’ve watched season two, and I am shocked at the lack of acknowledgement the series received. It’s pretty freaking good.
The lack of acknowledgement could probably be ascribed to the negative association viewers make with a series extending beyond where a book ends, or the series declared it would go. Everyone still feels the sting of Game of Thrones after the point where George RR Martin’s laziness took over and there were no more books to base the show on. And we all fell asleep during the first episode of True Detective season two, and were told we should try season three, because its ‘actually pretty good.’ And we transpose that malaise in our reaction to series like The Flight Attendant, where our excitement for the quality of the series was diminished by the fear of a second, significantly worse season. I would guess, something similar happened with Big Little Lies, the unexpected announcement of a second season was met with indifference, since the quality of any addition to a set story seems dubious.
But this does not explain why, as the season played out, the quality of the show did not raise it into the public discourse. This may be because not as many people watched it, like me, because of low expectations. The story seemed complete, and in a world with tons of TV shows to watch, nothing compelled me to begin season two. This may also be because the series is heavy, focusing on tough issues like rape and adultery and family abuses. The series has its moments of levity, but they only serve to break up the harshness overall. Couple these aspects together, and it could make a case for most people not continuing with the series.
However, I began wondering most about what this might say about me, that I like this show disproportionately, probably, to most others.
There may be a few reasons why. I am a big fan of psychology narratives. Not psychological thrillers, but movies and books that focus mostly on a character and their story in order to explain some extreme, but also mundane and everyday, actions and behaviors. Big Little Lies is mostly introducing a bizarre behavior, spousal abuse, adultery, an interaction that seems off, and then telling the stories of those characters in a way that makes sense of that behavior. Then the whodunnit nature of the first season and the detective role Meryl Streep’s character plays in the second season, are bolstered and sometimes eclipsed by the story’s presentation of the psychology of the characters, even if it doesn’t lead to who committed the final act.
I also love this cast so much, and it only got better. Not only did they add the greatest actress of all time, Meryl Streep, but they doubled down on Nicole Kidman. And since Streep plays Kidman’s mother, their interactions are electric. They also added Crystal R. Fox, who dominates her role, and elevates Zoe Kravitz’ performance as well. This was, in season one, and still is one of Reese Witherspoon’s best performances. And no one can possibly say enough about Laura Dern. Seeing her as an over-the-top, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar, helicopter mom is delightful, but the conflict her character traverses in season two puts her acting prowess on full display. And I cannot say I have loved Shailene Woodley’s work in the past- I have not seen much of it, and that which I have were in movies I was destined to dislike (although she was terrific in The Descendants)- but she is perfectly cast and brings a different emotional tone to the series as a character who is vastly different from her co-characters.
These tour-de-force of actresses add weight to a show all about the complex issues unique to women in marriage, motherhood, and work. We often walk into movies, connecting the actor or actress to the character they play. Most movies or shows try to overcome this predisposition, however, sometimes the movie or show want the actress to lend weight to the character. This happened in Red and Wild Hogs and Bucket List and others to varying degrees of success. Big Little Lies does this well. In an era where the exploitation of women in Hollywood is on full display, this series brings a cast that runs the gamut of the female experience, and whose fame and history does not draw the audience away from the story but helps tell it.
So I am not sure why more people are not talking about Big Little Lies, but maybe I just really like this kind of stuff. If I am not alone, let me know in the comments. The show deserves more conversation.
Mare of Easttown is phenomenal for many reasons, one of them being the tour-de-force performance by Kate Winslett as Mare. And that performance creates a strong representation of women in the series, focusing on Mare, but extending out to Siobahn, Helen, Lori, and Dawn and smaller characters like Betty and Beth, and in some ways, tragic characters like Carrie and Erin.
And I appreciated this representation of women even more than usual because it didn’t feel like fan service in an era where the underrepresentation of women is now acknowledged. There was something true about the pivotal role of women in the heart of Easttown. Women footed the bill for the sins of the town, and in a lot of cases, the sins of the men.
This is not always the case. Frank seems to have been the stronger pillar in the wake of Kevin’s death. However, it did appear like Mare was the one who had to face Kevin’s addiction and hatred the most while he was alive. And there are other smaller instances we could point to of men sharing the load because nothing is true all the time. But the story in Mare of Easttown certainly contains male figures who are listless, unaware of their identity in their community, and searching for something else that can provide them with meaning and support. And in the wake of not finding that ‘thing’, the women bear the burden of the male’s mistake.
Mare of Easttown is about Mare, but the story revolved around Erin, and in close revolution around her is a gaggle of males who don’t seem to understand their role in society and thus lash out in absolute bullshit decision making. Viewers need look no further than the two closest to her, her baby’s father Dylan and her own father Kenny. Kenny seems to be an almost stereotypical male figure in small town America, and thus enters and exits quickly. He holds some labor job, undisclosed, maybe his actual skill set is being displaced by automation or clean energy or some other national interest he finds overblown, only fueling his hatred for rule and law. He has no woman in his life to temper him, so he is violent, and drinks and becomes more violent. But he also believes himself to be a good man, though he seems dangerous and purposeless. And after Erin’s death, his grief attempted to portray his relationship with his daughter as pure, the last remnant of his love for his wife- revisionist history.
Dylan seems to be a younger version of Kenny’s timeline- a stereotypical version of youth in small town America. He has parents who are trying their best and providing him with everything he needs, making him only more despicable for his ennui and angst and teenage rage. He only kind of takes care of the child his poor decision making begat and seemed to learn nothing from said poor decision making as he continues to do drugs and drink, leading him closer and closer to a Kenny-like adulthood, making more bad decisions that will lead to more problems like the ones he is trying so freaking hard not to deal with.
In both these cases, Erin is left picking up the pieces, making mac and cheese and keeping the house, loving DJ for two people and footing doctor’s bills. Because the males seem… purposeless. They don’t seem to care what’s going on. They seem to have no stake in even the issues that are intricately woven into their lives, borne of their own decision making.
Mare’s life is similar. And as the main character, she weaves even the smaller male figures into the larger narrative. Frank is the most put together, but even he shows his weakness by making a poor choice in both helping Erin in secret (teachers can’t buy stuff for and walk it into the home of young female students) and then lying about it in a murder investigation. It reveals a vulnerability in him left in the wake of the loss of his son, wife, and nuclear family structure, that not even a fulfilling job as a teacher and a blossoming new relationship could fill. Even this paragon of maleness in the show struggles to adapt to his new role in the community.
After him there’s Billy and John. John can’t stop cheating on his wife to try and feel strong and supportive when he doesn’t feel that way for his family, and Billy’s life feels so useless to him he was willing to take the fall for a murder, effectively ending it. Mare even introduces us to Freddie, our example of drug abuse that is still alive, revealing the ravages of the opiate epidemic that all of rural America has become scarily familiar with.
This male disillusionment trickles down into the next generation. Kevin committed suicide while struggling with addiction and Ryan committed murder trying to protect his family, struggling to find his role in his father’s abdication of his. We can’t help but ask ourselves, with mild horror, what will become of DJ and Drew? Two young boys who everyone is trying so hard to shelter. Who will they be? Can they avoid the trap? Or is it only a matter of time?
Maybe the most interesting instance of this male-disillusionment is the Deacon. His storyline is so shrouded in mystery. We don’t actually know if he committed that which he was accused of at his last parish. And though he was vindicated of any wrongdoing in the murder of Erin, what in the actual fuck are you doing picking up a young girl in the middle of the night and driving her around alone before dropping her off at a park and then driving away? And all of this after having to run from previous accusations of sexual abuse while being a Catholic priest, which by itself paints a target on his back. So we don’t actually know if this guy did anything wrong, but his actions scream that something is not right. He needed to feel fulfilled by helping and supporting this young girl against all proper decision making which would dictate that he shouldn’t even pick up the damn phone when she called. Something in him needed to pick up the phone and help her, and that’s terrifying.
The first conversation Collin and Mare had with Deacon reveals why this might be. In their ruthless interrogating of him there is zero good will offered to a man of the cloth both during and after the questions. It reveals a changing perception of religion, one colored by the sins of the Catholic church and by the decline of religion in America. And the Deacon, who should see himself and his vocation through the eyes of God, struggles to realign his duties to the community causing bad decision making overlayed with extra scrutiny on his every move.
To me, these male figures only become more interesting when you compare the men of Easttown to the men who are just in Easttown. Richard and Collin are both essentially visiting, and they are an entirely different breed. They both have their careers figured out (kind of), at least they are secure in their careers. They dress nice, they are kind and compassionate, they make mistakes, but they also deal with them immediately. Richard ran out to the car after acting like an asshole at his party, and Collin demands of Mare, “how do you know what I want?” when their relationship sours. They don’t seem as disillusioned and searching. And Collin gets a bullet to the brain, and Richard eventually leaves for greener pastures. They just couldn’t stay. They didn’t ever seem to belong.
In my last post about Mare of Easttown, I wrote about the community-based social structure that Easttown uses to try and overcome the massive issues of modern small-town life and how it is doomed to fail. It is based on an old school belief that we are enough to help our families, friends, and neighbors despite overwhelming societal issues that continue to prove that wrong. If I may posit that of men and women, men more than women have either believed or been taught that they are enough to provide for their families, friends, and neighbors. I am not a sociologist, so I will not speculate on any reasons why this may be true, but it seems like a fair premise that for centuries men have placed themselves, or society has been structured in a way that places them, as the ‘provider.’ But the idea of one provider who can protect and save those closest to them from the harms of the world is outdated, not just ideologically, but socially. At the heart of Mare of Easttown is that no one can do that anymore. This is what Mare knows that others don’t, and it makes her an outcast in her town. Mare, and in some ways Erin and Lori and Helen, were able to come to grips with this fact. They were able to be more effective and adapt to what Easttown and small-town life became. But the men in Easttown didn’t seem to know how to adapt. They turned to drink and drug and anger and young girls to try and find importance, strength, a sense of duty, an ability to protect, which is what they grew up believing their role would be someday when they watched their father’s and grandfather’s lives play out before them.
This selfish turn inwards to try and fill a role of the past only begets more problems that, in this story, the women must attempt to fix. Ultimately, there is an abdication of duty in the males of Easttown as they search for what might just be extinct in their town.
Tony killing Ralphie felt destined, but in true The Sopranos fashion it caught the viewer off guard- not that it happened, but when and why it happened. It didn’t happen after Ralphie killed Tracee and it wasn’t because of his disrespect, not because he wet his beak too much or pissed off the wrong person so badly Tony didn’t have any other option. No. Ralphie was killed because Tony thought he may have killed a horse, and in the course of Ralphie’s denial of horse-murder, he disrespected said horse.
We know Tony loved the horse, and we know Tony did not love Ralphie. But that seems like an oversimplified recipe for murder even for a gangster. After all, Ralphie was a good earner. Tony had already had lots of trouble finding captains for Ralphie’s crew so replacing him would be difficult. Tony had spent two seasons of the show separating himself from prosecutable offenses of which murder is pretty high on the list, and on top of that, murdering a made guy creates infinite complications for Tony as a boss. So despite Tony’s hatred of Ralphie, he had tolerated him thus far under less complicated circumstances for far worse, and that hatred alone wouldn’t seem to be enough to flip the switch from tolerance to murder.
However, the other factor in the equation is Tony’s love for Pie-O-My, a subtler and more powerful emotion, more mysterious in nature. We know Tony has a soft spot for animals as per his love for nurturing his ducks in his pool in season 1. But the way he views Pie-O-My seems fundamentally different than why he loved his ducks. The ducks represented family nurturing and love, that which Tony was afraid of losing at the time. Tony loved Pie-O-My, but he did not nurture her or raise her or even train her, he came late to the racehorse party and inserted himself into it. But, in Ralphie’s absence as a horse owner, Tony often had to take care of the horse’s health issues, and he found himself cleaning up after Ralphie’s messes by paying doctor’s fees and being there when no one else was.
His attachment to Pie-O-My was borne out of Ralphie’s callous disregard for that which could not help themselves- a common thread in Ralphie. He was laissez-faire about Jackie Junior’s plight, even providing him with a gun rather than counsel him to avoid the gangster life and pursue college like Junior’s dad and Tony wanted him to. Ralphie beat Tracee to death after ignoring her and taking advantage of her. He made fun of Ginny’s weight behind her back. And his son was shot with an arrow playing in the backyard as Ralphie spent the little time he had with his child taking a bath and pedicuring his feet. On top of that, all of these situations, including Pie-Oh-My, had to be cleaned up by Tony. Tony dealt with the repercussions. Tony had to come down on Jackie Junior for his sins against made men (although he chickened out somewhat), Tony helped Tracee out with her son and had to get rid of her body, Tony got it stuck to him by Johnny Sack over the Ginny joke taking money out of Tony’s pockets, Tony had to separate Ralphie from his ex-wife’s husband in the hospital. Tony looked the burnt Pie-O-My in the face before it was dragged away via a chain and a tractor.
Over and over again, Tony came face-to-face with the callousness of Ralphie’s treatment towards those who could not defend themselves, but most of the time, it was someone else’s problem. Sylvio had to bear the loss of revenue due to his investment in Tracee, Johnny Sack had to live with knowing Ralphie disrespected his wife, Ralphie himself and his ex-wife had to deal with his son’s incapacitation. But when it came to Pie-O-My, that fell squarely on Tony’s shoulders.
So as Tony walked into Ralphie’s house, suspecting him of committing arson and killing Pie-O-My he was carrying with him all the instances of Ralphie’s carelessness and heartless actions that cost others so much and cost Tony as well. And Ralphie’s sin wasn’t that he killed the horse, it doesn’t even seem like he did, but that he didn’t care that it happened at all.
Meanwhile, Jason seemed to be on the mend, Ralphie was collecting the insurance on an ailing horse, and everything seemed to be coming up aces, once again, for the heartless bastard. Meanwhile, Tony was left to look the dead horse in the eye, to see that beauty and innocence destroyed. And he wasn’t going to let him off so easy this time.
The complexity of life in the modern age is overwhelming. A community has so much to consider: climate change, mass incarceration, system inequality, wealth gaps, drug addiction, foreign affairs, and the list keeps going. Our lives are interwoven with the most intricate fabric, and it becomes easy to feel inextricable from these massive issues that we now acknowledge but still struggle to overcome. Some choose to try and ignore these issues and pretend as if they are overblown, made up, or incorrect. On the other extreme comes a call to live every moment as an apology for the social injustices of the world. Somewhere trapped in-between these two sides are people trying to figure out their lives while they are ravaged by some or all of those issues. Regardless of if people acknowledge them as true or if we called it by the right name on our socials, the issues continue to complicate real people’s lives, to intertwine them with their neighbors and families and friends in a way that cannot clearly be unraveled. Mare of Easttown tells that story, the story of the social issues we fight, not as discourse, but as reality.
There is an underlying social code in Easttown: family and friends take care of each other. If someone asks something of you, you do it for them, or maybe more accurately for that community, you do something for people when they need it, because they probably won’t ask. And once you do, there is a ledger, and the ledger is no longer balanced. And someday, when you are in need, without asking, they will do something for you. This tit-for-tat creates an intimacy that is the closest our 21st century world will come to the 1950s suburbia we have enshrined in our memories. This is community in the modern age, and it’s at the core of how Mare’s ex-husband and his new fiancée ended up living in her backyard, why Mare calls up Kenny’s cousins when she needs to break the news to him about Erin’s death, why Siobhan was afraid to go to Cal Berkeley, why Helen moved in with Mare, why Lori took in DJ, and why Billy was willing to take the fall for John, and why Lori was so mad that Mare was unwilling to just leave it all alone, why Dawn was so critical of Mare for not finding Katie, why the whole town was mad at her.
In all these communal interactions, a person was in need and another person or persons were in a position to fill that need, so they did. In some instances, whether the story acknowledged it or not, they were filling the need because the friend or family member they were doing it for had done a favor for them earlier, and the ledger needed to be balanced. But as Mare tries to solve Erin’s murder she ends up unraveling the ledger, and in so doing, her own grows increasingly out of balance.
Easttown is just trying to get by, and they don’t understand why Mare wouldn’t just allow them to cope in the best way they could. This is why Mare is an outsider even though she is so enmeshed in the community she knows someone on every call. Mare realized, with the death of her son, that what Easttown was doing was not coping. It was complicating an already fraught social dynamic and resulting in Siobahn feeling trapped in Easttown and maing her feel like she couldn’t go to Berkley because she needed to help her family, tying Dylan down to being a parent far before he was ready to, taking Drew and putting him in the home of a recovering addict and hoping it all worked out okay, trapping Kevin into an addiction that led to the taking of his own life. It creates adults like Kenny out of Dylan, Lori out of Siobahn, and, in her worst fears, turns Drew into Kevin. Mare is a walking paradox. She is the heart of the town, and the town is trying to rip her out.
Mare had done what she was supposed to. She grew up in Easttown, son of a cop, darling of the town- the Ladyhawk herself- she followed in her father’s footsteps, she took care of Kevin during his treatments as a child, she was connected with her community, and her son still left her, her family and her life was still in ruins, and her community was still just barely getting by, ravaged by addiction and teenage parents and crime and prowlers and all of the social complexities we fight about and they live.
Mare knew that with our social problems, there is more than one way to lose a person. She lost Kevin, and Kenny lost Erin, but Carrie also lost Drew due to addiction, and Mare lost Frank because of her inability to grieve her son’s death, and Deacon Mark lost his parish due to skepticism about his role as a priest, Erin and Dylan lost their futures due to an unexpected teenage pregnancy, Dylan’s parents lost their son due to poor choices, and Lois lost Ryan due to a rocky marriage, lies, and a misplaced sense of duty. And all these losses were in some way because of the system of tit-for-tat in place in Easttown.
The problem is not friends and families taking care of each other. The problem is that friends and family are oftentimes no longer enough for something like the opiate epidemic or mass poverty or teenage pregnancy in an age of social media. And when we think they are, the sense of duty they feel towards each other becomes more profound and misplaced, and their failures become even more intense and unforgivable.
As Mare put it, “Doing something great is overrated. Because then people expect that from you all the time. What they don’t realize is you’re just as screwed up as they are.”
The truth in the fiction of Mare of Easttown is that people are struggling to unravel all the ties that bind them to a place in life, station or location. And in their struggles, they turn to their loved ones and ask them to be great. When that person fails, they feel betrayed, and when they succeed, they believe it will be enough, when that one person can’t possibly be enough. After all, they are living in the same world as everyone else, struggling with the same issues, needing the same help.
In some ways the most unsettling moments in Mare of Easttown are when, after finding Katie Bailey in the attic, the town starts believing in Mare again. People ask for forgiveness, Dawn hugs her, she is reinstated into the force, but Mare is not triumphant in her vindication. She keeps going to therapy. She keeps trying to figure her life out, and she rejects the praise. She knows she can’t heal Easttown by herself, and more than her fear of Easttown rejecting her because she won’t play by their rules, is her fear that they will accept her once again and expect her to be a part of their broken system of broken people in a broken world.
One of my favorite by-products of Themed Readings, is when a series of books align on an idea I’d never even considered before, creating a through-line that is resonant and significant, but had since gone unnoticed. My best example of this was when I started considering the implications of ‘cultural memory.’ I hadn’t thought about it much, but after reading certain books it became an idea I apply to life quite frequently. So here are the books that made me consider deeply something I had never thought about before.
Fiction- The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
All of Ishiguro’s books address memory in some way. And most of his books also deal with how a culture deals with memory. But usually this perspective is provide through an individual’s personal recollections and so the memory of the collective feels secondary. However, with his book The Buried Giant, Ishiguro thrusts the memory of a group to the forefront, and then puts the memories (or lack thereof) of individuals into the supporting role. This was my introduction to the topic and its inherent tough questions. Is it better to remember the wrongs done while a society developed? Or is it better to forget- to move on and try to make the most of the future without dredging up the wrongs of the past? In The Buried Giant individuals of Medieval Britain and the country as a whole confront these questions. Should they ignore the real harm done in its creation, or leave it all buried beneath them in the hopes of a better future? The correct choice is left ambiguous, almost doomed for failure. The success of any society will be on the bones of those who were wronged, and those bones don’t often remain buried.
Fiction- The Giver by Lois Lowry
I found the convergence of this complex theme, and this popular middle grade fiction work to be one of the most delightful examples of unexpected theme overlap. The Buried Giant, a relatively new book, got me thinking about the idea of a cultural memory. But then reading The Giver for the first time- admittedly really late in my life- made me realize we had been asking children in middle schools all over the United States to think about a culture’s memory for years. The Giver and Jonas must bear the memories of the society, the positives and the negatives, simultaneously protecting them from what was wrong and taking from them all that is vibrant. Jonas recognizes the downside of forgetting, even after having lived in a society that chose to forget- a seeming paradise at that. And he elects pain and heartache and the uncomfortableness of acknowledging their cultural past, the good and the bad.
Nonfiction- Begin Again by Eddie Glaude
The best part of these themes is when they jump from fiction into nonfiction. And the concept of a cultural memory became a point of contention for all of us in the past year as a portion of the United States asked the country to acknowledge the sins of our past and reconcile with it to create a better future. In response, more than a few Americans questioned the merit of focusing on what we had done wrong, claiming that it would only further the already considerable divide, and questioning what could meaningfully be done about those sins anyway. The conversation was often not held well or civilly, but it is a good conversation nonetheless. How do we talk about what we did wrong, like racism, without growing the already existent bitterness? And how can we move past our past wrongdoings when those who were wrong still feel unreconciled and/or we refuse further conversation on the topic? These are the complicated questions that Begin Again, a book about what James Baldwin, has to teach us about our current racial reckoning. James Baldwin focused on how America can overcome racism of the past and present to have a future we can push towards together. He confronted the past head on and through reflecting on the impact racism had on black people who experienced it and the white people who perpetuated it, he teaches us a better and more accurate story about who we are.
Fiction- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Similarly with The Giver, this tough topic about cultural memory (this time as it pertains to race) has been packaged for younger readers as well. The Hate U Give was a sensation upon its release and will continue to be read for years to come. Dealing specifically with the impact a police shooting has on a community, The Hate U Give tells a story about racism’s impact on Starr Carter, and how she navigates both the black community that still has not healed from the scars of police violence and discrimination, and a white community that has not confronted it. There is truth in fiction, and this book does not shy away from any of the complexities of this conversation- including police killings, the portrayal of those who were killed, and the rioting and looting that so often follows, presenting it with the special type of profundity that is unique to books for children.
Fiction- The Fifth Season by NK Jesmin
The Fifth Season the first book in the groundbreaking (pun intended) Broken Earth trilogy, is not about cultural memory per say… but understanding the way cultural memory is at play in any society helps add dimension and layers to this already terrific book. The book revolves around the same character at different time periods in her life, after having renamed and recreated herself as someone new. She traverses a land that constantly refreshes itself after devastating climatological disasters, the only consistency between ‘Seasons’ is the stonelore which maintains history and the prejudicial hatred against the main character’s magical people, the orogeny. The Fifth Season is built on the premise that in order to make a society work it often is on the backs of oppressed, and the difficulties of trying to break that cycle when you experience the oppression.
One of my biggest entertainment wishes is to go back in time and watch The Sopranos finale live. I want to experience that blackout like those who watched it for the first time. I know I’d be furious. I know I’d have a temper tantrum. I know I would have smacked the side of my TV hoping to get the picture back on. But I also hope, as time settled, I would’ve recognized two things. 1. That Tony Soprano was for sure dead. 2. That it had to end that way.
The separation of season 6 into two parts is an odd choice. It obviously is in some ways a production decision. But there are also distinct thematic differences between part A and part B. As I wrote previously, part A was full of remembrance and nostalgia. It fit the mold of a more traditional series finale by casting glances backwards in order to bring closure in a “remember the journey” kind of way.
There are elements of that in part B. Some characters like Hesh are given a final wrap up, but much more of the finale is focused on death and ending. That tone was set in the fantastic first episode when Bobby and Tony were on the boat talking about offing guys. Tony asks Bobby what it’s like, to go, and Bobby replies, “At the end, you probably don’t hear anything, everything just goes black.” Goes black… sound familiar… like the finale. On top of that, there was Silvio’s moment in a restaurant where a guy from New York got whacked. The sound went out and everything slowed down. And at another point Tony tells Carmella that there is usually only two ways out for guys like him, on the slab or in the can. Or there is the moment in Dr. Melfi’s office when Tony asks, “Is this all there is?”
All of these are illusions to Tony’s ultimate end, but they also make death a theme that brings the narrative to a conclusion.
After conversations about killing and dying in episode one, the crew confronts death head on when Johnny Sack meets his end due to cancer. The vacancy at the head of the New York family leads to a series of whackings. Then there is Junior, who shows us death might sometimes be better than life, and Anthony Jr. who actually puts that thought into action by trying to commit suicide. Tony contemplates offing Paulie, mostly because he annoys him, and Paulie can’t stop thinking about his own almost-death due to cancer while he mourns the loss of his mother. And all of the conflict with New York (the core of the season) was rooted in the unfortunate taking of life-Tony B killed Phil’s little brother, and then Phil killed Vito, partially in retribution. And we learned that nothing is harder to overcome than the loss of life.
So as the series separated the last season into two, and part B plodded its slow trek towards concluding, season 6B uses finality and the ending of life to tap into the heavy emotions any long-time viewer feels as the characters they have come to know and/or love don’t necessarily die, but do cease to exist.
We get introduced to what will be the ultimate conclusion to the show, with Chrissy’s death, which is as shocking as any death in all of television (Game of Thrones fans can lay off), and becomes a precursor for the penultimate episode, one of the most heart-wrenching episodes of all time, and also the finale, which should be seen through the vein of what the season laid out, not what we hoped would happen.
I appreciate the distinction between Chrissy’s death and those of Bobby and Sil (though he was still technically breathing). First of all, from a show and character standpoint, Chrissy deserved an episode dedicated to his death (Game of Thrones could learn from this too). Doing this also spread out the slow demise of Tony and his crew. This last part of the last season is about Tony’s sins coming back to haunt him. These sins laid beneath the surface in part A, haunting moments that should have been special, but they surfaced in part B. Seen through this lens, Chrissy was always a different mistake from the politics of the family. He was an interpersonal mistake, a failure to understand and love someone who was in need, an inability to see someone as more than a means to an end. Chrissy’s demise was the product of Tony’s selfish nature, and Tony needed to reconcile himself with that separately than his mistakes with New York and his crew. Chrissy had always been separate from either family to which he belonged, in fact that was the frustration with him all season. He was only half in. And to see Tony decide he wasn’t worth the trouble, was powerful and devastating.
Equally as powerfully and devastating was the penultimate episode (which wrecks me every time I watch it). Bobby’s death- and that damn ringing cell phone he left in the car- surrounded by trains, the symbol of his purity and innocence and desire for a simpler and better life, will never not shake my soul. And then seeing Sil in the car, a mess, blood marring his perfect suit, the opposite of his normal perfection, is uncomfortable at best. It breaks the nature of the show. But what gets me the most is seeing Tony, on the lam, surrounded by his guys in a safehouse, and seeing who those guys are. Where is Pussy, where is Chrissy, where is Sil and Bobby or Vito or Ralphie? They died so fast we didn’t even get to know Carlo or Walden or any of the other guys who now hold Tony’s life in their hands. And it stands to reason, Tony doesn’t either. It’s just Paulie, a guy he had considered killing a few episodes prior.
The world The Sopranos established was dead in that episode. There was no going back. Any deals or negotiations in the finale, would be a band-aid on a wound that needed surgery.
And this was the theme of the show from episode one. What happened to the Gary Coopers? What happened to the old ways? What happened to America? The Sopranos ended in a time where war, terrorism, and a poor economy made America seem like it was on a similar slide to that of the Soprano crew, and these were all themes David Chase deftly wove into the show. Tony never saw a better tomorrow, and as the series played out, we saw he was incapable of creating one either. American life was just too complicated. There is no going back to a simpler time.
So when the final scene played, and Don’t Stop Believing roared in the background, and Meadow couldn’t park her car for shit, our anxiety built. We hoped for a positive end, promises of a better tomorrow, leaving off with hopes that Tony could rebuild despite his losses. Maybe Sil will wake up, maybe Carlo has a reason for his disappearance, maybe AJ straightens out. But then it all fades to black. And, in our heart of hearts, we know we have lost the promise of a better tomorrow. But we also can’t help but deny what is plainly in front of us. We wish and hope he is still alive, that only the narrative has ended.
I love ranking things (as you can tell from a lot of my prior posts). But I have stumbled into a contentious debate with this particular list. However, I decided to lean into the topic and not pull any punches, not for the sake of argument, but because when the kitchen’s hot, make sure you bring some steaks. So here is my unvarnished opinion on my favorite Star Wars films that I 100% believe no one will agree with.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
Does anyone not have this as number one? I am not interested in being ‘think outside the box’ guy. I might have takes that are hot here, but I am not trying to revolutionize anything. This is the best Star Wars movie.
2. A New Hope
If this movie wasn’t great there wouldn’t be a list. It may not be as good of a ‘movie’ as Empire Strikes Back, but it is THE Star Wars film, and is almost perfect all by itself. I think it is safe at number two.
3. The Force Awakens
I don’t know how hot this take is. I definitely surprised myself by putting it at number three, but I think it’s right. After its release there were only positive vibes about it and the direction of the Star Wars saga in its newest rendition. Sure, some people decried its similarity to A New Hope, but I felt it did so in an appropriate way that reintroduced Star Wars to the world in a new direction that was also rooted in the original movies- which notably the prequals did not do. Did it revolutionize Star Wars? No. Did it need to? No. Do I understand why some people would like The Last Jedi better? Yeah, I do. But choosing to make a great ‘Star Wars’ movie without revolutionizing Star Wars by using the archetypes and themes of Star Wars without turning them on their head is not a negative, even though doing the opposite can be a positive. In short, the entertainment value was sky high, even though we could nitpick The Force Awakens about as a quality *raises nose in the air* film.
4. Rogue One
Another surprise for myself. I wouldn’t have thought Rogue One would be four, but I think every film after this one has some serious issues and Rogue One boasts an interesting story, appropriately rooted in the original Star Wars lore with some awesome moments, including probably the best space fight scene in any Star Wars film. My knee jerk reaction is to have it lower because it wasn’t one of the elite 9, but most of the elite nine had more flaws, and apparently the serious flaws of Rogue One are sitting on the cutting room floor. This movie is entertaining, feels like Star Wars, well-made, and a solid Star Wars addition.
5. Return of the Jedi
Endor is weird. I’m sorry but it is. It feels disjointed, and the fight scene is scattered and often nonsensical. The Ewoks are legends but probably for the wrong reasons- watching Storm Troopers die at the hands of rocks that swing like coconuts is disengaging at best. But the Luke-Vader stuff with that green saber flashing will always be what I remember about Star Wars from when I was a kid, and the intro with Jabba and the sarlacc pit is as Star Wars as it gets. I could see you saying it should be four, but there are enough excuses I have to make on behalf of the movie (like a totally forgettable middle) that I think it stays at five.
6. The Last Jedi
Now we get into the Star Wars movies that have serious issues. And I know The Last Jedi is revolutionary, and projected a new direction, and tried something different other than the Abram’s fan service, and boasts some of the best cinematography in any Star Wars movie. And those points are all valid. But movies are supposed to be entertaining and fun and engaging, and The Last Jedi feels more like reading an essay than a form of entertainment. It just so happens that a lot of us love essays, but even I, who likes the movie can recognize that maybe Star Wars, in a reboot, after a terrible prequal, could have used some good, safe entertainment value. And if anything, this movie tended towards turning Star Wars into films rather than movies and flirted with being boring. It also had some jarring moments. Super Leia was and will always be dumb (even though it fit with the themes). The Luke shoulder brush was juvenile, and the entire Finn story did not work, and gave rise to my theory that Harrison Ford is the #1 indicator of a good Star Wars movie (Rogue One is the exception).
7. Revenge of the Sith
The prequels are something man. They are deeply flawed movies held up by the legacy of the originals and the hype of recreating a story that was long thought dead. On some levels they are incredibly fun and engaging, but they are plagued by a bad lead actor and poor execution. Revenge of the Sith, maybe because of the lessons learned from the first two, is the most enjoyable, and often breaks into the upper half of people’s Star Wars Movie rankings, depending on their feelings about the direction Rian Johnson took the sequels. But maybe I can’t get over the poisoning of the well that the first and second provided. I guess the best way to look at the movie’s strengths were that it was a pretty darn good conclusion to the first two. Tieng up the storylines from the prequels nicely, as well as setting up the originals (that didn’t really need setting up). But that sword cuts both ways. Because saying it is as good as its ability to wrap up bumbling storylines, is not a ringing endorsement. And it is hard to feel the awe, and importance of the scene where Anakin awakens as Darth Vader, only to immediately remember what happened to Padme (a moment that should have been an all-timer) after two movies worth of a petulant and whiny teen playing the greatest villain in all of movie-dom. Unfortunately, to me, Revenge of the Sith will always be held back by its predecessors.
8. Attack of the Clones
This movie was an improvement… Like it wasn’t as bad as the first one. But it also boasts the least memorable moments in any Star Wars film. Upon reflection, I immediately think of the Colosseum scene on Geonosis, but more for the visuals than for anything that happened. Attack of the Clones is a safe movie. No big risks, no big failures. But that also means it whiffs on some pretty spectacular opportunities, like meeting Anakin Skywalker as an ‘adult’ for the first time, like seeing a group of Jedis fight again (I loved the Yoda fight as a kid, but as an adult it feels like a reduction of the character, so I guess that’s a wash). This isn’t a terrible movie, but I wouldn’t say it was good.
9. The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace was bad almost all the way through. But Darth Maul and specifically the duel of the fates was an unreal scene full of hype and adrenaline. If the rest of it wasn’t so hard to watch, it probably would jump up a few spots from that scene alone. And what makes it even more frustrating is that I actually kinda like the storyline. To me, it feels like a good way to reintroduce the movies. A bit more political by necessity, a bit more adventurous and exploratory, just enough intrigue and conflict. But outside Obi Wan and Qui Gon, it all fell flat. When 50% of your scenes have either Jar Jar Binks or Ani or both, it was doomed no matter the great climactic moment, well-constructed plot lines, or exciting developments along the way.
10. The Rise of Skywalker
This might be the one people think I have too low. Visually, this movie is stunning. Aesthetically this movie nails Star Wars in the modern age. The plot is pure Star Wars. But it doesn’t make any goddamn sense… It’s bizarre and disengaging. If I look real close and squint my eyes a bit and turn some portions of my brain off, I can just enjoy the Star Wars-i-ness of the whole thing. Or maybe if I just played the Babu Frik scene for the allotted time of the entire film, but if I try to think about this story for more than two minutes I am out. Stuff…just…happens. Characters just do things without any real build to their actions. I felt like I missed an episode in a TV series only to find all my characters on brand new story arcs. I know The Last Jedi was not everyone’s cup of tea, but we didn’t need to switch to vodka. So I get it… every Star Wars movie is great because we get to watch Star Wars, and we got incredible fight scenes, and we got to see Leia as a Jedi, and we got to return to the ‘fun factor’ that The Last Jedi took a shit on, but if we are judging this thing as a movie as well as an installment in the Star Wars franchise, we also have to question the script of this puppy. Did they just sit at their table-read yelling ‘Watch out’ and ‘Over there’ and ‘NOOOOOOOO’ at each other for two hours and think this was gonna work? Halfway through the movie I tried to count how many times a line of dialogue responded to another piece of dialogue. I didn’t need to take off my socks, that’s for sure. The great irony is that this movie felt no need to respond to the movie before it either. Thus a director who thought he was saving the franchise, didn’t.
This smelled like a money grab (necessary to make up the purchase of Star Wars by Disney), but outside of Lando it was a convoluted mess. I would’ve loved if the entire movie was Han Solo needing to complete the Kessel Run. That seems within the range of where this movie could have succeeded. It would’ve been sufficiently steeped in Star Wars to justify its creation, and a simple enough storyline that Star Wars writers could imbue it with all the fun Star Wars problem solving and obstacle dodging. But they made it so much bigger to try and make it a summer blockbuster style film (which it was already going to be) and to open it up for sequels (its Han Solo, if you do it right you can make as many sequels as you want). But no one wants to go to a movie that isn’t good, and they sure as hell don’t want to go to its sequels. No one asked for a clever reason he is called Han Solo. No one needed a Chewy-Han origin story. Keep it simple.