Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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The word “fan”, short for “fanatic”, is derived from the Latin “fanaticus”, meaning insanely but divinely inspired. No wonder then, that the most common use of the word is associated with religion. Indeed, “fanaticus” originally pertained to a place of worship, a temple, places marked by intense, uncritical devotion.

To be a fan is no bad thing. We should all be so lucky to have something or someone we deem worthy of our loyalty. History shows certain fans’s troubling behavior towards others, albeit usually in a small scale. Fandoms, general wisdom goes, are pretty harmless. It is not until the advent of the internet when cracks begin to crumble the facade.

I’ve written elsewhere how the internet has exacerbated virulent behavior in our species, but I now wish to revise that statement. By itself, the internet is a wonderful tool. Bullying, harassment, threats and violence are the result of our own failings, not some coding problem within the system. There’s a quote that goes something like, if you give a man enough power to do whatever he wants, and he ends up using that power for evil, then you’ll know evil is what he’s always wanted to do.

At this point you might be wondering, what does Latin, the internet and moral failings have to do with Star Wars?

Reddit and Twitter run the world. Perhaps one of the most baffling turn of events in this young century has been the capitulation of corporate America to the tumult of the internet. No sooner has a user lifted a complaint about anything, and there go multi billion dollar companies vowing to do better next time, swearing to make them happy in just the exact way they demand. There is no accountability in this process, just an endless litany of requests. This reveals corporations as spineless and amoral, breathing just to make a buck, and users as grandstanding self-appointed arbiters of good taste.

The Rise of Skywalker illustrates just how pathetic this new order we inhabit really is. Disney has destroyed every good thing that was built by The Last Jedi, not because it was bad but because some people kept making Reddit threads about how their immaculate childhood had been obliterated by a movie. Film insiders chose to appeal to angry people rather than continuing the threads of a good story. This movie means nothing, it stands for nothing, it is vacuous and soulless, a monument to cowardice. Any redeeming value it might have comes in the form of a warning. Today it was a movie that was dictated by the whims of social media. What’s it going to be tomorrow?

C

Journey’s End

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Here’s a story for all of you.

A few years ago a friend invited me over to play the latest Battlefield. There was a lot of buzz surrounding the release; adjectives like “immersive”, “hyper-realistic”, and “true to life” were being tossed around. The gaming community is keen on using hyperbole, so I was understandably cynical.

But sure enough, the game was true to life! Or at least is what I imagine being in the trenches during the war must have felt like. It sickened me. I shot a bunch of nameless enemy combatants, saw even more running around, heard their screams, the whiz of the bullets and the explosions; I hated every moment of it.
I actually could not stand playing the game for more than ten minutes. Getting joy out of a scenario that killed millions of real people a century ago felt profoundly twisted.

Journey’s End provides a similar look at the travesties human beings do to each other in the name of war. It’s handsomely mounted, smartly shot, and occasionally moving.

B

The Pianist

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Pictures such as these lay bare how pointless any rating system with regards to art is. Whether you love or hate it makes no difference to the enormity that’s been portrayed on screen. You can look away, either in disgust or heartbreak, but the episodes the camera has captured are so monumental to the history of our species that little does it matter. This is us, and whether or not you think it’s important to drown yourself in misery for two and a half hours depends on the view of the world you hold.

So why am I awarding a rating to this, after I mentioned how silly it was? Near the end of the film Szpilman (Adrien Brody) plays the piano for a German SS captain, and the officer is so moved by the beauty of the music that he saves Szpilman’s life. Led to believe that Jews were no better than wild beasts, the captain was now seeing Jews were as human as anybody else, capable of creating haunting and arresting art. I think that’s what this movie is: haunting and arresting.

The Death of Stalin

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The story of the betrayals, crosses, and double-crosses of Soviet Russia could only be done justice if given the Game of Thrones treatment. Barring that, the next effective step would be comedy, and that’s what Armando Iannucci provides us with. The Death of Stalin is a sharp and hilarious farce, displaying at once both the absurdity of power and the frightening ways man will employ to keep it.

B+ 

Downfall

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There have been thousands, if not millions, of words poured across the decades in an attempt to decipher Adolf Hitler’s mind. Adding any more to the conversation would be superfluous, unless I felt I had something fresh to bring to it.

There is one thing I will say, however, and that is in regards to Hitler’s followers. For the duration of this great film, and throughout my college history courses, I asked: “How could so many people follow this fool? Truly it would not happen in this day and age.”

But then I looked around me. I saw religious leaders endorse political players who do not display Biblical virtue; I saw adherents to an ideology validate violence in the name of freedom.
Is this is the new norm now, why would it have been any different back then, when societal conditions were much worse?

A-

 

City of God

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A despairing thought that pops into my mind every so often has to do with the plague of violence that has been overrunning my country for over a decade now. My nation, which shall remain unnamed, harbors similar social and financial conditions as to those displayed in City of God. As the camera cut from one subject to the next, unrelenting in its energy, I had that thought again.

It goes like this. I do not think that the violence and crime epidemic of my country will ever go away because it is much easier to point a gun at someone and steal a pair of shoes in a matter of minutes, than it is to work five times a day for a meager salary in order to afford one.

More than any other movie that I can remember, and probably because it was made in Latin America, where the devils they fight are much more different than the demons of the United States, City of God perfectly illustrates the culture of death and corruption that is so ingrained in our poor, destitute nations.

A+

Munich

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The tragedy of Steven Spielberg’s masterful Munich resides in the hearts of men. A Jew and a Palestinian are arguing about the necessity of armed conflict between its people in order for goodness to come out of it, when the Palestinian declares something along the lines of “In the end, it will all work out. It took Jews thousands of years to get a home, it will be the same for Palestine.” Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) shoots down his reasoning.

Later in the movie, before Avner and his crew embark on a train ride to Holland, Avner turns to one of his men, who is displaying increasing signs of reluctance at all the killings they are doing, and says “Eventually, it will all end. What we are doing will be worth it.” But it is not only that Avner has turned into a version of the Palestinians he’s fighting against, or that the Palestinians have turned into the Jews they try to emancipate from; that would be too shallow a read, and Spielberg is too much a genius to leave it at that. The scene displays the incapacity for empathy that characters in the movie possess.

During the opening sequence, there is a perfect cut which delineates this idea. When the news broadcasts that all the Israeli hostages are alive, the action moves to the wives and families of the athletes, cheering with relief; the action then moves to a living room where the wives and families of the terrorists are gathered, which mourn the death of their loved ones once the news broadcast the death of all of them.

“This is what’s missing in the world”, Steven Spielberg tells us in that brief scene. “There is no peace at the end of this because the human heart doesn’t cut back and forth between both sides and realize that all of us weep”

A+

300

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The final episode of the most incredible television series of all times is titled “Victory.” In it, Spartacus and companions are slaughtered by the hordes of Rome, after putting up the bravest of  resistances. It is a heartbreaking finale all around, with all but one of the main characters in the show’s 4 season run still alive. Why then, title the episode with such an upbeat word?

Something similar occurs in 300, when King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) speaks of victory shortly before facing down death in the form of a rain of steel arrows. Can victory really be found in defeat, or are they just noble excuses to make the audience feel better that the characters they’ve come to known and love did not survive?

In the case of Spartacus, and having watched the entire series multiple times, I feel victory was never achieved. From start to end the story is a tragedy, peppered with rousing moments of celebration, but ultimately ending the way it was always meant to, which was death and crushing defeat. The fact that the series follows a man who eventually leads thousands of people to their death is just another testament to how unlike anything else ever seen this television series really was.

In the case of the endlessly quotable 300, I feel Leonidas was right. Their betrayal at the hand of one of their own only further amplified their epic deeds, and only aid in cementing the support Sparta would receive from the rest of the Greek city states. This, of course, ended up in ultimate victory.

B