Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sherlock Finale

The BBC Sherlock series has finished its fourth season, which might be its last. The series has definitely had its ups and downs, and often there wasn't much worthwhile to critique.

But that last episode was the best Sherlock episode there has been, by far.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Horror Movie Recommendations

I don't usually recommend movies, but I don't really have the tools to analyze what are two very good movies. If you like, or can even stomach, gruesome horror you should really check these two out which have received extremely high critical acclaim.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Rogue One: Characters? Characters!

R1 is a polarizing movie, and of the biggest complaints seems to be its lack of characterization. For example:
The truth is that Rogue One commits the same sin as most modern action movies: there is too much action.
As a result, you can't really tell much about the characters, as they spent 95% of their time being shot at, shooting people, or running away from stuff. The characters certainly seemed serviceable enough, though I don't really remember their names or much about them.
But this isn't to pick on that blog, you've probably had similar conversations with your friends.

But this ignores that in an action movie, the action is the characterization. Part of what has made Star Wars so memorable hasn't been intricate monologues and flackbacks of backstory or other humanist fare, but rather extremely good and brief archetypes. Boba Fett is the epitome of this, but really you have Lando, Palpatine (in the OT), Tarkin, Greedo, Ewoks, Admiral Akbar, Wedge Antilles, General Grievous, Mace Windu, Boss Nash, even Jabba the Hutt. None of these are characters with a "rich backstory" but their character design and costume and appearance gave us a bright image that could stick with us. We don't know Boba Fett's internality, we just know that he is really cool.

Rogue One does this with the entire cast. It plays to Star Wars' strengths.

Image result for rogue one cast

As proof of concept, I'm going to list what we know about these "shallow" characters, just from the brief action they get.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


The new Martin Scorsese film is as good as expected. In particular it delivers a vicious satire of Slatestarcodex's Archipelago (and modern non-political-multiculturalism), that sadly can't really be summarized in any way but seeing the film itself.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Rogue One: Review of Reviews

Walter Chaw's review of Rogue One:
It's beautifully shot and its action is clear--testament to Edwards's bona fides as an action director. It's about self-sacrifice for the greater good and, as in when these films were at their best, it's about human relationships and how positive ones inspire the best in us. There's a speech somewhere in the middle where someone says that when things seem darkest is not when we should surrender, but when we should fight the hardest. The word "hope" is the one bandied about the most. We've elected Presidents on "hope." "Hope," as a concept, is what defines who we wish to be, even as all this venal division and hatred reveals who we are. Hope was the last thing in Pandora's Box; some say it was the only thing. The film sketches its world and ours in terms of light and dark and suggests that it's painful to do the right thing, but it's still the right thing. We're powerful when we aspire to transcend what we are most easily. The picture makes an entreaty to the angels of our better natures.

Armond White's review of Rogue One:
In a tired attempt at making this Death Star battle a quasi-political allegory, Disney’s screenplay hacks (including Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy) cajole the Occupy generation with the phrase “Rebellion is built on hope” — uttered twice, as if Star Wars had not been appropriated by Reagan’s defense department but was now in sync with contemporary student protest. But it’s a deceptive, Machiavellian mantra. Rogue One isn’t sophisticated enough to see past the phrase’s falsehood or adult enough to dramatize the current administration’s betrayal of “hope and change” and how its media sycophants eventually lost public trust in hope or change. Rogue One’s juvenile politics recall how, in Revenge of the Sith (2005), Princess Amidala (Natalie Portman) whimpered, “So this is how liberty dies . . . with thunderous applause.” Liberal reviewers hailed the line as a rebuke of George W. Bush’s reelection.

SMG's commentary on both:
There's no real contradiction between White's leftism and his relatively conservative attitudes. 
White had extremely high praise for Edwards' previous (and similarly-themed) film, Godzilla. His criticism of Rogue One is that it isn't leftist enough; he views CG Princess Leia's appearance at the end as a straightforward endorsement of the liberal Rebellion To Restore The Republic.  
And I think that's a fair interpretation that simultaneously misses the key theme of exploitation of the authentic left by liberals. The nuance of the phrase "rebellions are built on hope" is that the rebels aren't the good guys. They are the Obamas of the galaxy, taking advantage of other people's hopes, building their republic on the backs of the people.  
White shares this interpretation, but simply asserts that the film doesn't do enough to criticize these caped elites, with their gold butlers.
To be very clear: Armond White's very accurate concern, with Rogue One, is that it is easily appropriated by the unselfaware liberals who still perceive themselves as the underdog heroes. 
As White points out in his review of Allied, there's a persistent liberal fantasy of being the last heroes holding back the nazi hordes. Some end-of-history horseshit.
So you need to be careful. Unless read carefully, Rogue One can be - and has been - facilely appropriated as a pro-Hillary narrative. A paperclip to add to the lapel of those who declare Trump the next Hitler and fantasize that roving gangs of redneck stormtroopers are going to lynch Muslim women in the streets. 
See Walter Chaw's review: "[Krennic is] engaged in a kind of political double-speak, in gaslighting--things that until this year were the scourge of banana republics and other backwards backwaters. [...] In a very real way, Rogue One (and much of Disney's recent output) is like Disney's WWII propaganda work. In terms you can understand: Stop it before it's too late. [...] The word 'hope' is the one bandied about the most. We've elected Presidents on 'hope.'"  
My italics. Chaw does not mean this in a critical way. He's straightforwardly praising the film as pro-Obama propaganda from the Disney corporation.
So Jyn - a former insurgent fighting imperialism in space-Iraq, currently an escaped convict - is held up as a Hillary figure. She's presumed to be an American democrat - because she's a girl, right? People assumed the same about Rey and FN: they must be liberals and democrats because of their identities. 
That is what White is responding to.


Having a good discussion about ideology on Tumblr.

I'd should emphasize that this "ideology is contradiction" is part of what makes the Prequels so good.

As we know, most ideological systems are obsessed with a pre-lapsarian past, some Garden of Eden, where everyone was harmonious, before the bad guys ruined it with their excessive greed.

Now a critic can easily point to the factual details, and say "no the 1950's had plenty of problems, there were racial tensions and Cold War paranoia after all and..." as a way to empirically dismantle American traditionalist ideology. And golden pasts are so rare in our history that you could be sure to always find some way to context their details, as a way of critiquing a particular ideology (be it racist, or Capitalist, or Nazi, or liberal ideology.)

But, by operating purely in fiction, the Prequels attempt something much bolder. They say even in the most convenient fantasy of our minds, this myth of a harmonious past is unworkable. Fans dreamed about how awesome the Republic was for twenty years, but since it necessarily had to fail, then it could not have been that great. There must have been serious problems if it became the Empire.

(Or maybe Lucas intended to draw a perfect past, spoiled only by one mischievous Sith Lord. It just so happens that depicting this in detail was impossible, and so the attempt to do so revealed its internal contradictions.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Rogue One: From a Certain Point of View

This comment from yesterday's post is a good opportunity to talk about class and perspective.

The OT is told from the perspective of the protagonist heroes, who are the aristocratic elite heroes, saving the Galaxy in Great Man of History style. They see the bad guys like Tarkin and Vader as roughly opposite-equals.

The PT is told from the perspective of Chancellor Palpatine, a cynical all-knowing point of view that is mostly laughing at the idiocy of everyone else, both the "heroes" and his own pawns, but especially the lowest class scrubs like Jar Jar.

Rogue One is told from the perspective of the low-class grunts. We've got the orphan jailbird, the jailbroken droid, the begging monk, and a space trucker pilot. None of them have midichlorians, or the fastest ship in the Galaxy, or political influence - and they're aware that the people above them make the real decisions and are much more frightening.

Some of this means that their perspective on the aristos is one of awe and terror. Which is how the weird CGI actors fit in so well, or rather don't. Tarkin and Leia and Vader are obscene, other-worldly intrusions with their computer generated difference. They are too smooth for this rough world. This mimics the weird distortion when you and your colleagues are having a normal day and oh shit someone super-famous walks in.

From the perspective of the grunts, these aristos have a lot more in common with each other - note the repeated fashion choice for the upper class of "all white with a small cape". Krennik vs Mothma is Space Jeb vs Space Hillary.

Image result for rogue one krennic Image result for rogue one mothma

But the other thing the working class sees in their managers is how stupid and petty they are. So instead of these chilling board room dramatics we got in A New Hope, now we just see the top brass whining at each other over their various power plays and excuses. They're jokes and we're supposed to laugh along as Tarkin humiliates Krennik, until we realize that these insecurities will cost thousands of lives.

This continues the tradition of Rogue One being a war-movie, or rather, a war-novel like Catch-22, where the average soldier views the decisions and political maneuvers of the officers with satirical disdain.

EDIT: One of the best ways to identify the point of view in a movie is which character is the most competent.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Rogue One: We Got Death Star

Rogue One also provides a good opportunity to ask "What Is a Death Star?"

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rogue One: Fathers

Not only does this movie invite comparison to the other recent Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, but the heavily marketed white female protagonists (with slight British accents*) invite comparison with each other. There are some really interesting story telling in the differences between them.

Image result for rey poster Image result for jyn poster

Monday, January 2, 2017

Rogue One: We Need to Talk About Galen

Rogue One doesn’t leave audiences arguing about much, but one point of contention is the role of Galen Erso. Galen was the leading scientist on the Empire’s greatest weapon of mass destruction, and the Rebellion and the Empire alike treat him as necessary for its development - but Galen insists that it would have been without him anyway (and that working on it allowed him to sabotage the project from within.) We must confront this unpleasantness before moving to our discussion of the themes of fathers and god.

Yes, Galen was responsible for the Death Star.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Just A Reminder

Going through old SMG posts about the Prequels, I saw this image again.

What's that in the lower right quadrant?

Enhance. Lower. Enhance again.

Senatorial Sex-Droid Escorts are canon.

Rogue One: Chain

There's a lot more to say about Rogue One than The Force Awakens, so this blog will hopefully spend the week scratching the surface of this weird, profound, deviation in the Star Wars franchise.

Let's start with explaining the quote from last week:

“We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it."
- Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard

Mikey on Grand Budapest Hotel

Yeah, a second review of his in a row that's worth watching. Keep sticking to the filmic aspects, man.