Category Archives: Movies

Stop trying to make nerfherders happen! My problem with The Last Jedi

Because I was in grading jail (thanks, KD, for bringing that delightful phrase to my attention!) when Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released, I had to wait until Christmas Day to see it with my spouse, two of my siblings, and my dad. I missed out on quite a few of the think pieces that flourished in the initial release and have had to catch up slowly. The consensus is neatly split into two camps: THIS MOVIE IS EXCELLENT; or THIS MOVIE IS NOT EXCELLENT. G, my third reader on my doctoral committee, argues that there is a cut of this movie that is an hour shorter and would thus be the best of all the films, and I am inclined to agree. I didn’t hate this movie, but I didn’t find it excellent, either. This was an enormous disappointment, because while I didn’t LOVE The Force Awakens, I did love Rey and Finn. Especially Rey.

This brings me to my own take on TLJ and why it disappointed me. I was getting ready this morning, and it finally hit me:

The Star Wars powers that be are still trying to make men happen. And yet The Force Awakens has shown that the universe/The Force has shifted in a way that makes replicating some of the cultural iconography of the original trilogy (we’re just going to pretend that the prequels never happened for the moment, mmmkay?) an impossibility and untrue to the direction the story now takes.

From here on out, there are SPOILERS. Come back if you want to be unspoiled going into the movie, which I highly recommend. I’ll be here when you get back.







Star Wars Exhibit

Captain Phasma knows you have no one to blame but yourself if you continue further…


Okay, now we get to the SPOILER stuff.

With the title of The Last Jedi, I was really looking forward to Rey’s training and struggle with/against The Force. When I first saw The Force Awakens, I was firmly in the “this is just okay” camp until a very particular moment.

You know that moment.

Rey Lightsaber

I never knew how badly I wanted to see a woman Jedi until I saw her onscreen. I wanted to laugh and cry and cheer And so, I went into TLJ thinking we’d get more of this awesomeness.

I do not feel that Rey’s story got its fullest justice. I still remember the training sequences in The Empire Strikes Back (my personal favorite of all the films) as some of my favorites in the series. Luke was a bit whiny, and so I had hoped with Rey’s grit, we would get something even better. That whole part felt a little rushed and was heavily steeped in Luke’s personal baggage. There is an intense connection with Kylo Ren that gets a LOT of play, however, and if the third movie sets up their ultimate conflict, then okay. If not, however, we’ve wasted a LOT of time on Kylo Ren, who, let’s face it, is no Darth Vader.

And this brings me to Kylo Ren. I really felt like TPTB tried SO HARD to make Kylo Ren happen, and you do not make Darth Vader happen. He unfolds naturally over time, and the cult follows. And I am sorry, but Adam Driver is no James Earl Jones. Enough with the uncontrolled, angry white man. We have more than we can shake a stick at in the United States in 2018.

And speaking of men, we need to talk about the ridiculous Poe Dameron plot. Oscar Isaac, please forgive me. It pains me to speak ill of anything associated with you…

Nathan Dancing Gif

(we’ll always have the dancing gif)

…but why are we returning to the deep well of angsty men who have a problem with female authority? THAT STORY HAS BEEN TOLD SO MANY TIMES. Basically, Poe Dameron in TLJ is Harry Potter and Plutarch Heavensbee and Han Solo and Tom Sawyer and Matt Damon and DO I NEED TO KEEP GOING. It’s important to see how a male character evolves and changes, but the “send Finn and Rosie off to the casino and the ship” storyline just took way too long and had too little payoff, as far as developing Poe’s character within this particular film. If there is a particular story arc that makes sense in the third film, then I might be convinced to change my mind. And there had damn better not be a ridiculous love triangle where two women are fighting over a man in the third film, because I am done watching strong women fight over a dude, even if that dude is John Boyega.


(He looks like a young Denzel Washington here, and I mean that as an enormous compliment)

Ultimately, it comes down to expectations and preferences. There is a prevailing mythology that Han Solo is the hero of Star Wars and Darth Vader its well-deserving and iconic villain. I enjoy the camp and theater that comes with Darth Vader, but the hero of the series has always–for me–been one General Leia Organa.


Much fandom is dedicated to Han Solo and Chewbacca, and this is not unwarranted by any means. But let’s be real, while Han and Chewie were getting themselves out of tight situations and while Han was trying to talk himself out of the price on his head, Leia was keeping the rebellion alive and orchestrating plans without the same kind of ballyhoo or label of wunderkind that got placed on Luke. As a general, Leia is clearsighted about where the Rebellion needs to head next in order to survive the attacks of The First Order.

The Force Awakens shows the incredibly diverse power that women have in order to orchestrate change and resistance in oppressive societies. And instead of propelling us further into this exciting shift, The Last Jedi seems to be trying to remind us, “Hey, we’ve got a new Han Solo now! Look at the new Darth Vader!” and it’s jarring and a little dated. The Han Solos and Darth Vaders will always have their time and place, but it’s time to move on. Stop trying to make the nerfherders happen.

Instead, my hope is that the third and final film in this new sequence shows us what those of us who are women already know: The Force is Female.






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Filed under Feminism, Movies

The Fault in Our Nerves

I just got back from the movie theater, and it was a profoundly shocking experience. How can a film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars be so memorable as to obliterate the movie from my memory immediately? Well, for starters, we never got to the end.

My friends F and A and I decided that since we had all read the book, it would be fun to go together. F’s husband J and The Chancellor decided to see A Million Ways to Die in the West, a parody of a Western–so what transpired did not even faze that theater.We were only about five-ten minutes away from the end of the film, when we heard loud popping noises coming from what we thought was the theater next door. It’s pretty typical to hear a boom or two from the theater, especially an action or drama, but it kept happening. The theater began buzzing, as people began looking at each other, the movie completely forgotten. F, A, and I were not sure what was happening.

And then, it happened. A young woman, completely frightened, started screaming, and bolted. What ensued was a theater full of teens and adults pouring out of their seats in droves, exiting the theater and jamming the exits. I didn’t know what was happening. Was there a shooter on campus? Were those gunshots? Was The Chancellor  okay? F, A, and I looked at each other as people began cramming the aisles, and our training kicked in. We crawled down and curled up behind the seats, waiting. Waiting. I felt calm and completely disconnected from my body, my adrenaline surging. I thought of very little except a prayer, that I would be calm for whatever happened next, and that The Chancellor would be okay.

It felt like forever, but was probably about the three longest minutes of my life, when several theater officials came in and told us that it was okay. That a hotel down the street had decided to let off fireworks in celebration (of what? we were not sure. A wedding, perhaps?), which caused the loud popping noises. The movie had been paused at this point, and the house lights slowly came on.

As we sat up slowly, processing what had just not happened, I began to cry. The fears and anxieties that surround us when we hear of these shootings, of the violence that sneaks up in our world, had pressed on my heart for a moment, and my mind was filled with images.

Of broken bodies, of blood, of guns, of hate, of terror, of fear.

It was too much.

While we were down, A had quietly called 911, and then explained about the fireworks the minute the theater officials came in. We glanced around the theater, and in the crammed full arena of about 300, only about 20 of us had stayed. The rest had panicked and fled. Had this terror been real, most of them would be injured or dead. That is frightening to me, truly more so than the actual realness of the event.

I am glad that F (a teacher), A (a chaplain), and I (another teacher) let our training and logic kick in, but I am sad that so many followed the herd.

It’s a sign of our times, that when we hear fireworks, we think of something much worse. We panic and flee, and risk trampling each other on our way out the door.

I’m still in a bit of shock, to be honest. But I have resolved a few things: first, to talk to my supervisor about getting some training for incoming teachers this fall and to reinforce safety protocols should this ever happen. And second, to tell my students this story, to teach them not to panic and run and risk their own lives in the process. To be safe and smart in scary situations.

Needless to say, I remember almost nothing about the film itself.

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Filed under Family, Life and Living, Movies, Teaching

Why Race Matters in Catching Fire

I got back from the theater late yesterday afternoon from a viewing of Catching Fire, the second adaptation in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. There are many, many things one could say about this particular film, but I’d particularly like to focus on the race-related aspects that, definitely emergent in The Hunger Games, particularly come to the fore in the Catching Fire adaptation. Note: SPOILERS ABOUND. If you haven’t read or seen it, you are welcome to keeping reading my post, but then you will be SPOILED. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of SPOILERS.

Okay, is that a decent warning? Moving on.

I didn’t think of race as being a huge issue in The Hunger Games trilogy, but when I saw the first film and then read responses, I wondered if maybe the films were on to something. Back when the first film was released, there was a strange outcry that Rue was black. I didn’t understand the response; I still don’t, actually. I thought the book made very clear that she was; in fact, I argue that it matters that Rue and Thresh are black. In the book, Katniss discusses how much Rue reminds her of her sister Prim, the girl whose place she has taken in the Hunger Games. Such a statement reminds us that we are all connected intimately as human beings, that we don’t need to be the same gender, sexuality, or race as someone to see ourselves in each other (which is a major premise of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which honestly could have been a much better book, but that’s not for this post, and no, I haven’t seen the film). In the first film, Katniss covers Rue’s body with flowers and makes her body seem like a viewing at a burial. This visual move reminds me astonishingly of James VanDerZee’s Harlem Book of the Dead, in which individuals are laid out for burial and then depicted in elaborate coffin scenes.

Rue   Book of the Dead

I knew we weren’t done with Rue, because the Victory Tour the Capitol forces Katniss and Peeta to revisit all the Districts and relive the Games. The first on their tour is District 11, home to both Rue and Thresh. The film smartly sets up a view of the district as Peeta and Katniss arrive in a militaristic vehicle to take the stage. In the tank, we glimpse workers picking cotton, surrounded by Capitol Peacekeepers.


The workers are all black, dressed plainly in dark clothing. The Peacekeepers are, you guessed it, white. It’s a chilling visual throwback to the slavery/sharecropping history in the South (which, according to a theoretical map of Panem, is where District 11 is located). Once we get to the “celebration,” which is anything but, Peeta and Katniss take the stage to see pictures of Rue and Thresh on either side. Their families have been forced to stand below these portraits, forming a triangulation with Katniss and Peeta on the stage. This setup makes the horrific scene even more heartbreaking, because you can see Thresh’s parents–alone–under the picture of their dead son. Rue’s mother (no father depicted) stands next to her remaining children, between 3-4, all younger than Rue.

Peeta puts away the carefully constructed speech and stammers out his gratitude and debt to Thresh. Katniss speaks of her relationship with Rue and how Rue saved her life and became her friend in the Arena. Peeta vows to donate a month of each of their winnings to the families for the rest of their lives–a gesture they have no way of meeting, but one they feel they can offer. It’s an interesting and honest depiction of survivors’ guilt (and, I’d argue, white guilt too). And then, instead of applause, an old man offers District 12’s three-finger salute. This gesture is interesting, because it echoes District 11’s response to Katniss’s own salute in The Hunger Games (I’d argue the most moving scene in the first film). In it, the entire district had saluted Katniss, and then a man started a riot (now that I think of it, maybe Rue’s father?). Here, though, violence is not caused by riot. The old man sings Rue’s mockingjay notes, and then, the Peacekeepers sift through the crowd, dragging him up to the stage as Peeta and Katniss are pushed into the building. Just as the doors close, we hear a gun go off in the vicinity of the man, who has been forced to kneel on the stage.


This staging is done very intentionally, I’d argue. Watching someone being (essentially) lynched in the public square is one example of the race crimes taking place in the United States throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. By porting into that discourse, the film has found a way to make our shameful history even more relevant, though the books themselves are works of dystopic fiction.

This sort of violence is also enacted on Cinna, Katniss’s secretly rebellious stylist.


Cinna turns Katniss’s fake wedding dress into the costume of a mockingjay, which is to become the symbol of the nascent revolution. In so doing, Cinna flouts President Snow’s orders, and quite publicly at that. As Katniss is ushered up to the Arena, enclosed in glass, Cinna is surrounded and brutally beaten by the Peacekeepers. She is forced to watch her friend and ally bludgeoned before her eyes. It’s horrific. And yes, Cinna is also black. I was reminded of the unprovoked attacks on black men by white law enforcement throughout our nation’s history. And we wonder why young black men fall into petty crime and a system of incarceration so young and so often…when we consider the history of violence in this country, the inequity with which crime is treated based on which color you are, it should give us pause.

What about Enobaria, the District 2 Career tribute, who had her teeth sharpened? Initially, I was very concerned that the film would depict her as the stereotypical black savage.


Thankfully, the film downplayed any violence associated with her (and in the books, I don’t recall much anyway), AND they depicted the perfect, blonde creepy siblings, Cashmere and Gloss (this franchise’s response to the Lannister twins) as much more cruel and violent. Plus, as My Sister pointed out, Beetee, whose ethnic origins was never made clear in the series, was depicted by the awesome Jeffrey Wright, a black man. As she rightfully noted, we cannot fall into the trap of making every African American character a saint, simply for their ethnic origins. Balance is good. So there’s that.

Is Catching Fire a film solely about racial oppression? No, there are other means of oppression, of torture that occur (and we need look no further than the ways in which Finnick has been exploited for Capitol gain, or how bitter winning has made Johanna, for instance). But I believe that the films saw an opportunity to make a statement about our sordid past and conflicted present and did so incisively. And the response to the first film has indeed shown that we are not, in fact, a post-race America.

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Filed under History, Movies, Outlook

10 Things I Hate about Love Actually

Of all the subtle and strange subgenres of film, surely one of the strangest must be the “Christmas film.” The marketing is shameless and generally geared towards families or couples (one of the few exceptions being Bad Santa, which has bro-homie fratboy written, though I hear it’s raunchily hilarious). I haven’t seen them all, but there is a generally cheesy “holiday” spirit that tends to run through. And if it’s not that overt, then somehow, the movie converges on Christmas and remarkably becomes a “Christmas movie.”

The latter is the case with Love Actually, a film about 99% of my friends love and consider their favorite Christmas movie. I didn’t make it out to the theaters to see it, but the reviews were raves. “It’s so cute!” “I felt like Christmas!” “It’s all about love!” “I watch it every year!” So, several years later, I finally borrowed it from a friend.

I don’t get it.

No, seriously, I genuinely don’t understand why everyone likes it. I’ve had the audacity to criticize it, and everyone looks at me like I’m (a) the Grinch (probably) or (b) insane (not yet, but this PhD isn’t over, either). How can I possibly hate such a romantic, wonderful, Christmas-filled movie??????

In the end, it comes down to the fact that this movie was marketed to me as a delightful Christmas film, and it’s actually got some very sad and dark parts. And the lone movie like that I will tolerate is It’s a Wonderful Life. Otherwise, if you’re selling me Christmas, it had better be sweet and funny and delightful. So, let me present ten issues I have with Love Actually‘s status as a delightful Christmas film (also, a film, if we’re being completely honest):

1. Let’s start with the millions of fat jokes aimed at the Prime Minister’s staff/love interest, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). SERIOUSLY, THIS WOMAN IS NOT FAT. It’s not funny, and from the first joke, it was never funny. I could not see past the fact that everyone in the movie makes fun of a perfectly healthy, beautiful woman who has the audacity to look like she eats an occasional sandwich and not Kate Moss’s steady diet of cocaine. I cannot sign off on this. Nope. Not at all.

2. Colin Firth’s love story was deeply rom-commish in that there is just no way two people with nothing in common, not even the same language, can fall that deeply in love in such a short amount of time. If you don’t even have language to hold you in common, how do you communicate? How do you sustain it? Riiiight, it’s a romantic comedy. Reality has nothing to do with it. Also: I found it odd that the maid character looks a bit like Firth’s own real-life wife, Livia, who is Italian.

3. I hated that, yet again, we reinforce the token sad-cat-lady figure who just can’t seem to get ahead in her love life. I’m sorry, but what is romantic about Laura Linney *finally* able to get it on with a hot designer, just to abandon him in flagrante to rush off to the side of her cognitively challenged brother? Yes, it’s sweet that she loves him. But this is not Parenthood. It’s not romantic. And it’s not Christmas.

4. Can we talk a minute about how we’re still trying to make Hugh Grant as a protagonist happen? I’m sorry, he’s best when he’s stuttering (see Four Weddings and a Funeral or Sense and Sensibility, because…the floppy hair) or when he’s Daniel Cleaver. Seriously, nothing can beat his one-liners in Bridget Jones, and we all know it. Let’s not try and make him the grand romantic hero. He’s better suited elsewhere.

5. I haven’t even gotten started on the Keira Knightley story debacle. It’s actually got nothing to do with her (for once!). When I watched the film and saw the two best friends interacting, I actually believed the Mark character was in love with Peter. Seriously. And it made me feel sad and melancholy, and a bit achy for him. And then, lo and behold, he’s in love with Juliet. Say, what? He goes so far as to give off the Big Romantic Gesture while Peter’s at home, and basically forces Juliet into silently reading his note cards declaring his grand and stalkerish love for her. Ugh. I just can’t even. It’s creepy on so many levels, and it reinforces the “nice guy” trope, when this guy really isn’t nice, and he’s not even a great friend. He goes through the charade of being an awesome wingman and best friend, while secretly pining for the best friend’s wife.


6. I did not like the young man going buck wild in America story at all. It was not funny. That’s all I care to say about the matter.

7. I actually genuinely liked the Bill Nighy singer story. It was a funny takedown of the Christmas album genre, and a very clever glimpse at how the industry views Christmas music—a cash cow with little originality or substance. But is it just me that really wishes the story could have gone a little farther—that Bill Nighy’s confession of his one relationship with his manager could have been an actual love story? Maybe? I was disappointed they didn’t develop it further.

8. Let’s talk about the little boy, shall we? Actually, let’s not. I found it kind of creepy. This little boy is convinced he’s in love with this girl and goes through all these hoops, while his grieving-widower-father plays along. Blah. That kind of precious is too-cute for me, and not in a good way.

9. Thanks to Love Actually, we now have those rotating-cast-movies in which ten stories converge on each other, and we randomly get people together for very little good reason. There’s so little room to develop all the stories that it starts to feel cheap and tiresome after a while.

10. I’ve saved my biggest complaint for last. If you know me at all in real life, you know what’s coming:


No, seriously. This is not a movie about the travails of marriage, or the grimy reality of relationships. It’s a f***ing Christmas movie. It’s about big, romantic gestures and fuzzy feelings. And there is nothing at all fuzzy about an extramarital affair at Christmastime. Nothing. It’s heartbreaking for a woman to realize that the necklace she stumbled upon was not for her, and that there is Another Woman. It’s not even remotely Christmassy.

Also, out of this cast, why are we choosing Alan Rickman as the villain? WHY????? If you want Alan Rickman to be your villain, I will direct you to a different Christmas movie, in which he plays a delightfully sadistic villain, and totally outshone Bruce Willis. Yes, dear Reader, Die Hard. If you want bad-guy Alan Rickman, go with Hans Gruber. Not a cheating husband.


Come holiday time, I will be watching Charlie Brown and the original (and only) Grinch, and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. Movies that are fun, delightful, and make me feel happy inside. Because, let’s face it, if I wanted to be angry and depressed and emotionally beat up, I’d just as soon get punched in the ovaries—that way, I can avoid watching Alan Rickman be a scumball on my TV.


Filed under Marriage, Movies

What about The Help?

I’ve long avoided reading and watching The Help. I shrugged it off as white feel-gooder fare and sneered at the seemingly well-intentioned, earnest white character who wants to make a difference.

After watching it tonight, I realize that I’m right and I’m wrong all at once. While The Help is certainly not a groundbreaking, incisive look at race relations in the South, it’s an interesting mainstream-friendly depiction of one aspect of life that has often been overlooked. Certainly some stereotypes creep in. Several characters are one-note, especially women. And it is very sentimental. But I can’t hate it like I wish I could. Why is that?

First, the things that trouble me. Let’s start with the depiction of racism. While the film alludes to the killing of Medgar Evers, there’s no real sense of danger that pervades the lifes of the many African-Americans forced to live and work in subpar conditions, all while under the ever-present threat of lynching at the hands of the KKK. In fact, the KKK never even gets a mention. Why is the biggest racist manifestation in the movie the wealthy women’s insistence that a separate bathroom be built for their help (with flushing toilets and a roll of toilet paper to boot? Wouldn’t they realistically have insisted on an outhouse in the backyard? But I digress).

And then, there’s the many wishful-thinking anachronisms present. To be honest, The Help is neither the first nor last offender in this case. But it’s present. I can’t help but think that the homes depicted on the “wrong side of the tracks” were probably on par with, if not better than, several middle-class white homes. Did the ramshackle homes African-Americans were forced to live in have telephones, electric stoves, electricity, or several rooms? I’m not so sure. I’m not sure that all homes have all those conveniences now, come to think of it.

But the subtle, nuanced performance Viola Davis gives saves many of the melodramatic, Disneyish elements of the film. As someone who fights bitterness and pain, she keeps journals of her thoughts, hoping someday to write. She loves her young charge, but admits the conflicted feelings towards her employer. She is neither sassy nor platitudinal nor Mammy-esque. This portrayal does add some interesting complexity to what could have been a Lifetime movie role.

And it’s just so hard to hate something that’s so earnest. As a former history major, I may roll my eyes at the optimistic, oversimplification of history. But it’s given me something to think about. And if it gives the legions of so-called soccer moms reading and watching it something to think about too, then perhaps it’s not such a bad thing altogether.

*For an excellent, balanced review, I highly recommend film/culture website Pajiba’s take.


Filed under History, Movies