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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’ve seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi twice now. I had initially planned to rush out a hasty review, but I knew I wanted to see it again, and now here we are. Here are my thoughts on the latest Star Wars movie:

“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.”

This Kylo Ren line has been getting a lot run in the deluge of reviews and think-pieces written in the wake of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth numbered episode in the saga. This one from Yoda is just as good:

“We are what they grow beyond. That is the burden of all masters.”

Whichever you prefer, each is a nice one-off line that also serves as a meta-message to the audience in today’s self-aware blockbuster age. With as much lore and time-tested fan devotion as Star Wars has, a very important question now and moving forward will be—how much does “new Star Wars” have to resemble “old Star Wars” to still be good? The Last Jedi while still paying clear fealty to the original trilogy, seems to have primed the franchise to grow beyond its master.

Along this line of thinking, The Force Awakens was a mixed bag. I loved it, but at times, the parallels to the original classic were so surface-level, that it felt like Star Wars Mad Libs. Despite delivering a thrilling, energetic reintroduction to the saga, it still ruffled some feathers. If The Force Awakens felt like an announcement that Star Wars would eventually jump light years ahead with its new batch of characters, The Last Jedi feels like the franchise finally being ready to burst down the door to a new, broader Star Wars universe. Mission accomplished. The world is now a Star Wars sandbox, and we’re all just living in it.

To unpack everything that’s great about The Last Jedi is to consider the possibility that it is the greatest Star Wars movie to date, period. On the other hand, to unpack all the things that might weren’t so great, would be to consider that it is more on par with the prequel trilogy. It’s not perfect, but The Last Jedi reaches a few rarefied heights that allow it to transcend any unevenness and land among the better Star Wars movies so far. Read more…

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A Clockwork Orange – The Stuff Of Nightmares

Malcolm McDowell - A Clockwork OrangeStanley Kubrick made a career of unpacking the darkest recesses of humanity. Along with him, we scoffed at oblivion in “Dr. Strangelove…” We reveled in the ice-cold villainy of computer logic in “2001: A Space Odysey.” We waded the terrors of alcoholism in “The Shining.” Even among those heavyweights, “A Clockwork Orange,” a film about the politics of crime and “big” government, is the scariest film Kubrick ever made.

1971 was the year Stanley Kubrick unleashed A Clockwork Orange on the world. It was still fairly early in his ground-breaking run. Kubrick’s films are uniformly difficult to pin down in succinct fashion, and A Clockwork Orange is no different. While its legacy is probably built on its horrific displays of “ultraviolence” and dystopic hooliganism, Clockwork pivots to a sharp rebuke of big institutions including prison systems and their related politics.

A Clockwork Orange is extraordinary, but it’s not an easy film to love. Its detached portrayal of violent acts is a calculated gambit, turning the stomach and stimulating the senses in equal measure. Even more perverse is how Kubrick sets the scene with a deluge of classical music as the carnage unfolds. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, primarily. An iconic early scene turns a home invasion into a literal song and dance, as Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) does a lively Gene Kelly impression.

You know you’re dealing with something unique when a movie as DNA-level violent as this takes a turn that dares you to sympathize with the offender. Clockwork is a singular Kubrick experience, to be sure. It’s also the stuff of nightmares. Read more…

Discussing Horror Movies (Part 4): Favorites & Holiday Traditions

discussing horror movies part 4 favorites and holiday traditions

Well, we’ve discussed horror movies at length, and we may have even flirted with adequate analysis once or twice. We hope you’ve enjoyed it so far, and now, wind down with the final part of this conversation in which Pat and I talk holiday traditions and some of our seasonal viewing favorites. In case you missed it, click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Tony: Well, here we are: Fall. The dropping temperatures, the crisp air, the color change and the other sensory manifestations of the season, not to mention Halloween, create the perfect atmosphere for watching horror movies. While I do like watching these kinds of movies throughout the year, some just feel enhanced when watched after the shift from summer to autumn.

What are your seasonal favorites? What are your tradition for the run-up to Halloween? Read more…

Discussing Horror Movies (Part 3): An Epochal Breakdown

Discussing Horror Movies (Part 3): And Epochal Breakdown

In our third installment (of four), Pat and I take a beat to discuss the history of horror movies and discuss our favorite epochs and movement.

Tony: Okay, so we’ve talked about what horror means to us personally. We’ve at least begun to explore the definition and limits of the genre. I’m interested to hear what you think about how the genre has evolved. Whether taking it by decade, or by identifying certain movements, do you care to single out any if your favorite, most influential, or most crucial periods in the history of horror cinema?

Pat: I want to start my part of the discussion talking about how much horror the audience gets to see over the years—and pose the questions “how little is too little, and how much is too much?”

During the silent era, movies like The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) had to rely on the actor’s method, crude makeup, and the German Impressionist-style sets to convey the main character’s deepening madness. It was a minimalistic approach that confirmed that continued even into films like  Dracula (1931) when a character stands at a window and describes Dracula’s transformation into a bat without the audience seeing it. Read more…

Discussing Horror Moves (Part 2): Horror vs. Terror, & Is SE7EN Horror? Plus, Spooky Scores.

Discussing Horror Movies (Part 2) Horror, Terror, Se7en

Does “horror,” as a film genre, have a sufficient definition? Can we decide, once and for all, whether or not SE7EN is a horror movie? Plus, Pat and I list a few underappreciated musical scores from horror movies.

Tony: Do you have a favorite segment of subgenre of horror? Are there one or more corners of this universe that you tend to gravitate toward?

Pat: Lately, I’ve found myself liking the mystery genre. Shows like True Detective that teeter on the edge of that Lovecraftian existential collapse, or movies like Seven (1995) that invoke supernatural terror without ever crossing the line into the realm of ghosts and goblins, are expertly crafted horror stories.

The mainstream tends to avert using the word “horror” to describe these well-thought-out narratives and instead choose to call them “thrillers” or “suspense” stories. I’ve always taken issue with that because on some level, the mainstream finds that, by placing these stories in the horror category, they are devalued.

Maybe “horror” still conjures up images of B-movie vampires in Party City capes delivering cheesy lines before straddling the X-rated line of soft core pornography and excessive (and usually terrible-looking) blood effects. Horror though, is not cardboard ghost cutouts and spooky organ riffs.

Tony: Who doesn’t love a good spooky organ riff? Read more…

Discussing Horror Movies (Part 1): Gateways, Themes & Motivations

Discussing Horror Movies (Part 1): Gateways, Themes & Motivations

Why do we love horror movies? What makes them so cathartic? My friend Pat and I begin to scratch the surface of these and other questions in Part 1 of our wide-ranging horror movie conversation.

Tony: Have you seen anything horror or horror adjacent lately worth mentioning? Classic or new? Good, bad or other?

Pat: Tony, I have to say—horror is near and dear to my heart. I use that line deliberately because we usually use that term “near and dear” to express fondness. Horror, to me, truly is near and dear because it is a kind of celebratory ritual. Horror celebrates goodness because this kind of fiction frames our psyche in a way that forces us to imagine what  it is like without the things we love most. Friday The 13th forces us to imagine what it is like to lose youth (as at some point in real life, sadly, we hear about high school friends who never made it into their twenties). Frankenstein forces us to question the foundation on which moderns society is built by scrutinizing its technology (and in turn, its ethics and the idea of what is good).

So horror is near and dear to me because it reminds me of what I hold most dear by taking me through a psychological exercise of loss. And in that way, horror is immediately related to love. Horror threatens us because we love. In my opinion, the best horror stories are, on some level, love stories. Read more…