November 2019 in Summary: The Home Stretch!

For those who celebrate it, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving! November proved to be a little hectic, but it wasn’t too bad. I was kind of hoping to get five reviews finished, but that’s not how things panned out. Oh, well.

Films watched in November 2019:

In theaters:

  • Joker (Todd Phillips, 2019)
  • Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold, 2019)
  • Honey Boy (Alma Har’el, 2019)
  • Dark Waters (Todd Haynes, 2019)
  • Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019)

At home:

  • Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (Hiroshi Inagaki, 1954)
  • Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (Hiroshi Inagaki, 1955)

Joker was a film that had a lot to say about class disparity, mental illness, and the negative effects media can have on society. Being equal parts visceral and gritty, there was a surprising amount of nuance to the themes it explores, having a level of applicability lacking in many of its contemporaries. It is therefore not terribly surprising in light of these factors that a significant portion of the current wave of American critics hated it.

Not pictured: Irony.

American critics would have you believe it’s a polarizing film, but in practice, a majority of the common theatergoers ended up liking it just fine. I’ve sought out a few essays that tried to explain why Todd Phillips’s film inspired so much ire in critics, but I wasn’t able to find a consistent answer. One source suggested that the film criticized a lot of the values modern critics hold dear in how it humanizes a faction of people they usually have little-to-no empathy for. I’m not sure what the answer is (or if there even is a definitive answer), but I do think something isn’t adding up here. This is a film that managed to win the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, following the exemplary efforts Roma and The Shape of Water, yet several American critics would have you believe Joker isn’t worth the time of day. I am therefore glad it ended up doing well (the first R-rated film to gross over one-billion dollars, in fact) because it really feels like critics and journalists alike wanted it to fail. Notably, I ended up seeing it several weeks into its run, and the theater was still reasonably crowded. I’m led to believe that by that point, the audience realized they’d been had. Because of this, I liken the triumph of Joker to the triumph of various indie games in the latter half of the 2010s in that it was a case in which the fans proved they had better taste than the alleged experts.

After that, I ended up seeing Ford v Ferrari. Despite not being a fan of auto sports, I really enjoyed Ron Howard’s Rush when it came out, so this was another one I looked forward to. It certainly lived up to the hype, detailing a classic underdog victory – albeit one in which the underdog entity wasn’t presented in a completely flattering light. It’s not often you see a 2010s film have that extra bit of nuance, so I’m glad that it did.

On Thanksgiving, I saw Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy – a film based off of Shia LaBeouf’s relationship with his father growing up. What I want to know is how Shia LaBeouf went from being a complete joke to turning in not one, but two great performances in 2019. I think most people (including me) were ready to write him off as his generation’s Matthew Broderick in that he was great as a young actor, but not so much as an adult. Unless I hallucinated this film and The Peanut Butter Falcon, it appears that the assumption, while not entirely unfair, turned out to be completely wrong.

The next day, I attempted to see Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. This plan hit a snag when I tried to get seats only to learn the remaining ones were positioned right next to the screen. I then decided to see Todd Haynes’s Dark Waters – a film about one lawyer’s determination to bring the crimes of the chemical production company DuPont to light. It made a really good case as to why these major companies need to be open to scrutiny. When they’re not, they often do the wrong thing in the name of making money – even if they themselves end up paying the price in the long term.

Finally, that Saturday, I ended up seeing Knives Out. Rian Johnson became a polarizing figure after The Last Jedi due to his controversial take on the franchise. I can appreciate that he wanted to put his own unique spin on the series, but I am firmly in the camp that believes it to have been a failure. I didn’t think it was a disaster when I saw it, but after hearing what detractors were saying, I ultimately found they were making sounder arguments than the supporters. You know how I consider the media’s approval of A24’s immoral marketing campaign for Ex Machina a “jump the shark” moment for film journalism? Well, I would actually say their assessment of The Last Jedi proved to be a “jump the shark” moment for film criticism. Critics, as with anyone else, are free to like what they like, but their defenses of the film were incredibly weak. From an intellectual standpoint, it’s especially damning that, when confronted with hard evidence of film’s shortcomings (such as Rey being a Mary Sue and the innumerable plot holes), their arguments ranged anywhere from goalpost moving…

…to flat-out stating they’re not a big deal.

[DISCLAIMER: I actually like Rey as a character, but there’s no getting around that the writers’ refusal to seriously challenge her is a gigantic problem with the sequel trilogy.]

Critics had reached the point where they ceased looking at the film with a critical eye and began actively praising weak writing – all while swatting down legitimate criticisms lodged at it by those opposed to them.

I know that has absolutely nothing to do with Knives Out, but those were the factors I was considering as I was placing the order for my ticket. To be fair, The Last Jedi was a lot like the 2016 Ghostbusters in that it was a significant, highly visible misstep made by a competent director. I say that because, like Paul Feig with A Simple Favor, Rian Johnson managed to bounce back big time with Knives Out. With The Last Jedi, Mr. Johnson seemed to buy into the critics’ unusual hostility towards sequels and almost completely disregarded the canon. With Knives Out, on the other hand, he was more in control of the narrative, which was to the film’s benefit given that it was indeed a standalone experience. It’s a stellar murder mystery plot that will keep you guessing until the very end. If you were apprehensive about seeing it after being let down by The Last Jedi, I can tell you it’s worth your time.

Meanwhile, at home, after having taken advantage of Barnes & Nobles’ Criterion sale last July, I began watching Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai trilogy – a fictionalized account of the legendary swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. It really is fascinating as both a character study and a sprawling epic, so if you can see these films, I recommend doing so.

Games reviewed in November 2019:

Context? What’s that?

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is guilty of having drastically and purposely limited what kind of audience it can have. If you’ve played any serious JRPG and enjoyed it, you’re well past the point where it has anything to offer you. I can envision supporters telling me that I can’t really criticize what is intended to be a game-long tutorial. To that, I would respond that even if it could’ve been useful in that regard, there’s no getting around that the genre has changed quite a bit since 1992. Anyone using Mystic Quest as a tutorial now would be overwhelmed when playing a JRPG from the 2000s or 2010s and realize everything they learned from it is either outdated or not applicable. At the end of the day, this is a medium where you need to grab the bull by the horns lest you develop bad habits that prevent you from enjoying it.


Bokosuka Wars II

Bokosuka Wars II may not be the worst game I’ve ever played, but it is by far one of the most pointless. I can’t think of any reason why a developer would completely ignore the thirty years of growth that took place in the medium between the original Bokosuka Wars and 2016 in favor of giving players an experience that would’ve been considered outdated in 1990 after the original Fire Emblem came out. If what Aether has said about it is true, Steam apparently delisted it from their service, meaning it didn’t even meet their standards. Considering they’ve greenlit games that lack executable files, that should tell you something.

Colossal Cave Adventure

Here it is – the very first game I ever reviewed from the 1970s! It was really cool getting to use a new decade tag, and it’s something I’ll probably get to do again next year. Anyway, it’s not terribly surprising for Colossal Cave Adventure to have aged. It’s the first known work of interactive fiction, so it stands to reason that many people would have come along to improve upon the formula Will Crowther established. It would’ve been significantly worse for the medium had Colossal Cave Adventure continued to be the pinnacle of interactive fiction today. Regardless, it is a difficult sell for anyone used to games with graphics, which is to say pretty much every gamer who has seriously pursued the hobby within the past three decades. It has definitely earned its place in history, though, and I have a lot of respect for it as a result.

This screencap will never stop being funny.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Jeez, at this rate, my 250th game review special is going to have bloated sections dedicated to the bad and mediocre works again. I’ll review at least two good games next month, promise. Anyway, I can imagine some fans lamenting that Advanced Warfare’s sole contribution to the gaming sphere is “Press ‘F’ to pay respects”. That would be a legitimate concern if the game were good, but I think that such a moment was able to overshadow everything else speaks to its overall lack of substance. The sheer amount of hype and (retrospectively ill-advised) decision to get Kevin Spacey involved belie a game that you can complete in an afternoon and doesn’t meaningfully challenge the series’ conventions. Really, if you wanted show off what a generic Call of Duty game is, this would be the one to pick. It’s better than Ghosts and doesn’t make as many significant mistakes as Modern Warfare 2, but Advanced Warfare is a real nothing experience that has nothing on the original Modern Warfare.

Featured articles:

Top Ten Tuesday: Science Fiction Reads – Sarah over at Hamlets and Hyperspace looks into ten interesting science-fiction novels. Some are fairly obscure while others are revered classics. Either way, it was great seeing what suggestions she had.

Superman: Year One by Frank Miller – Come to think of it, Frank Miller is kind of the comic-book equivalent of Roman Polanski. Obviously, Miller’s worst deed is not nearly as infamous or immoral as Polanski’s, but they are similar in that, as lauded as they are, they have, in practice, spent a majority of their careers proving they haven’t earned the pedestal their diehard fans built for them. One could argue it’s better to make a single end-all masterpiece than several above-average, but not exceptional works, but there is something to be said for consistency. One weakness Miller has shown throughout his career is that he just does not get Superman. At all. Reading through Lashaan’s review of it was therefore very enlightening.

The Persona 3 Retrospective! Part 1: Introduction – Hey, I’m not the only one discussing the Shin Megami Tensei series around here! If you were taken aback by my 18,000-word review of Persona 4, you should check out Aether’s take on Persona 2, which is over 20,000 words long. The best part is that he’s revving up to do the same thing with Persona 3. Good luck!

Once Was Enough Reads – Every so often, you’ll come across a classic work every critic praises that, while not underwhelming, doesn’t leave you wanting to revisit it. I felt that way about The Great Gatsby, which is coincidentally (or not) one of the books beachbookbunny mentions in this article.

Seven great video game tracks (part 3) – The 2010s has proven to be a rather divisive decade for music. While one could make a fairly defensible case that the mainstream music of the 2010s isn’t especially good, I personally feel the problem is only as bad as you want to make it. I’m compelled to note that good music is still being produced and praised by a large audience – it’s just not necessarily pressed onto a record or CD. On that note, continuing from where he left off, AK of Everything is Bad for You takes a look at seven more great video game tracks, highlighting several deep cuts as opposed to the crowd favorites (which are usually good themselves, though).

Indie Variety Hour: Nintendo Switch Edition – Halfway through this decade, the indie scene gained a lot of momentum. I want to say it’s mostly because they dropped the pretentious, off-putting tendencies of pioneering artists such as Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish and started making things that hit a good combination of experimental and accessible. Sadly, with the rise of the developers buckling down and dedicating their time to creating art rather than touching raw nerves, journalists have done a terrible job actually covering these releases. Fortunately, Nintendo has been especially helpful for the indie scene with their Switch console, giving them a platform with some form of quality control that also happens to be affordable, portable, and easy to design for. They’ve basically become the video-game equivalent of A24 in the process – except they actually respect their audience and promote works normal people would want to experience (okay, so they’re not really like A24 at all, really). Anyway, with video game journalists more apt at starting scandals than promoting art, Frostilyte takes a look at a collection of indie games released on the Switch worth looking into.

Still to come:

Well, this is it everyone – the final month of the decade. I have to admit I don’t really have anything special planned, but I do intend to get four game reviews out nonetheless. By the time you read this, I will likely be in the process of putting the finishing touches on my Pokémon X and Y review. I’m also pretty close to finishing a review of the original Mega Man, which will then be followed up with my take on its sequel, which I consider one of the best games of the 1980s. My goal from there is to get my review of Pokémon Sun and Moon finished, though those plans could change.

Here’s hoping the final months of the 2010s goes well for all of us!

Links to my articles:

Game reviews:

Other posts:

26 thoughts on “November 2019 in Summary: The Home Stretch!

  1. I’ve been meaning to drop in for the past two weeks and just been crazy busy- I’m sorry! That being said I really enjoyed your review of Joker and the analysis of critic reviews. I tend to disagree with critics on most things (when critics rave they loved it, it’s usually good reason to stay away).

    And thank you for the shout out! I had a lot of fun with SciFi Month!

    Liked by 4 people

    • You’re welcome! And you don’t need to apologize; this is a pretty busy time of year.

      And I especially don’t blame you for disagreeing with critics because they’ve done an amazingly good job damaging their credibility in the past few years. The last time I can think of in which I took their side over the audiences’ was with The Lost City of Z in 2017, but ever since then, they have become increasingly hostile. They have excuses aplenty as to why they behave like this, but I don’t believe them for a second. I myself have a new rule when it comes to seeing films (especially ones from A24) – it has to do well with both audiences and critics for me to consider seeing it. Critics especially don’t make themselves endearing when they rave about something only to insist the reason the audiences hate it is because they have poor taste. In extreme cases, it’s an “emperor is naked” situation. I’m sure many of them are bitter over having little influence over their audience considering Joker was a smash hit without their help, but they have nobody but themselves to blame for that.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the mention again! Those deep cuts can always use more love.

    I’d also like to say how much that “_ is a movie/game/whatever made for children, therefore it’s okay if it’s kind of bad or full of plot holes” argument pisses me off, all the way to the core of my being. It’s one of the most intellectually dishonest arguments ever thought up to defend a poorly-made work. To use the Star Wars example, the original movie was also a movie about space wizards intended for children, but if it had been a mess with dull characters and no real conflict, people wouldn’t still be talking about Star Wars today. I’d argue against these people by saying that if children are part of your audience, it’s all the more important to create something good. Those works are the ones that stick with you the most in some ways. All of my early twenties is lost in a complete mental haze, but until the day I die, I’ll never forget playing Sonic 2 when I was six years old on that old CRT at my cousin’s house. If you don’t put effort into entertainment meant for children, what kind of art do you expect them to create when they grow up?

    The issue is that all these reviewers and journalists understand there’s a certain narrative they need to follow — whether it’s that we’re supposed to like The Last Jedi, we’re supposed to hate The Joker, whatever it is, typically because these works promote certain values that we’re supposed to like or dislike. The same is true of games now; I’ve played a few now that received scores in the 40s/50s on Metacritic that I really liked, but they don’t fit the agreed-upon narrative so you’re not supposed to like it, or else you’re branded a weirdo or a contrarian or something. I know we’re facing massive problems right now, especially here in the States with the current political situation, but it’s important to be honest about art as well. Of course I don’t expect everyone to agree with my own tastes, I just wish I could trust that mainstream reviewers are saying what they actually think rather than what they’re supposed to think in the fear that if they do otherwise, they’ll be tarred and feathered on social media.

    I could go on and on, but I’ll save the rest for my own blog. Thanks again.

    Liked by 4 people

    • You’re welcome! All good art does, really – especially in this day and age.

      As you say, the whole “well, of course there are plot holes – it’s a kids film” thing is a horrible argument no serious critic should ever use. I get the idea of things being made for children being held to different standards, but even then, those works can be objectively good or bad. That the original trilogy had such a cross-generational appeal is the reason why they’re still lauded today. I too would say things geared towards kids should be held to a high standard because art appreciation should start at a young age. “This is a movie about space wizards intended for children” is a very openly cynical argument that not only dismisses what the opposition has to say, it underestimates just how bright these kids can be. Truth be told, I think I actually experienced more good works as an adult than as a kid, but I have a few that have stuck with me this whole time such as Majora’s Mask. That was a game with the “E” rating that is way darker than many of the dark works the AAA industry has issued in the past ten years.

      I think that’s just it; critics are so bound by their narrative, they can’t deviate from it in any way – even if it means overlooking glaring problems, dismissing good works, and praising artists for appealing to the lowest common denominator. Indeed, that’s the only reason Bob Chipman doesn’t face more scrutiny despite proving time and again he is not a good reasoner; he just happens to dance to his peers’ tune, so he’s given a free pass. I believe him and his lot to be artistically conservative, but if he were politically conservative, he’d be rightly called out for his numerous shortcomings.

      For that matter, this is a major reason why I feel a lot of today’s critical darlings are not going to age well. They’re so intertwined with the extremist sensibilities of the 2010s, and I am positive more than a few of them will not stand the test of time. Later generations are probably going wonder what the critics and artists were thinking. This is ultimately what happens when, as a critic, you let your emotions get in the way of your assessments. I don’t think it can ever really happen in games because we’re talking about possibly the only medium in which the audience is just as savvy as the journalists (if not, more so). Though I have to ask, what are these 40s/50s games you ended up liking?

      If this inspired you to write a post on the subject, I look forward to reading it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I guess it’s partly the times we live in now that might be causing all this. There was probably some very hacky art back in the 60s that expressed some good ideas but in a way that just doesn’t hold up. It is weird how politically left-wing people can be so conservative in terms of art sometimes.

        That also has to do with the games I’ve liked that didn’t do so well critically. It’s stuff in the vein of Our World Is Ended, straightforward visual novels and games with a bit of gameplay wrapped in a VN shell that many critics disliked partly because of some dirty jokes or borderline sexual content. I do understand why some people would be put off by these works, but the same is true of any work — very few are meant to appeal to everybody. Maybe I can’t really apply this idea to the kinds of niche games I like. I agree that game criticism doesn’t have the same problem as film criticism right now — if a game has awful gameplay, it’s hard to ignore that and praise it for its values.

        And yeah, you might have given me a few ideas for a new post. Thanks!

        Liked by 2 people

        • Well, it has nothing on Hustlers in terms of aging poorly, but I kind of feel Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner fits the bill quite nicely. It was made in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down laws forbidding interracial marriages. That a film came out to say, “Hey, interracial marriages are fine” was exactly what the audience needed to hear in 1967. While I can appreciate the positive impact it had on society, its values are very outdated and difficult to take seriously now. The idea of getting married to someone you met ten days ago would be considered very reckless nowadays. I can believe there were other films like it, but as I’ve said in the past, one advantage filmmakers have over contemporary ones is that they were actually interested in telling stories in addition to delivering important messages. This means even the hokey stuff that was acclaimed back then tends to be better than the preachy stuff we get now.

          Critics are weird when it comes to visual novels, I find. One would think their love of walking simulators would translate to an appreciation of visual novels, but that rarely seems to be the case. I can’t possibly think of a reason as to why they gave Gone Home more hype than Virtue’s Last Reward when the latter had so much more content it wasn’t even remotely funny.

          Liked by 2 people

          • It always helps to have an actor like Sidney Poitier in your cast, but yeah, that movie is definitely a product of its time. As for the preachy stuff we get now — as I’ve said about a couple of similar kinds of games, if I want a lecture I’ll watch a lecture. It’s great for games, movies, and other media to carry good messages, but just about anyone can deliver a message in a straightforward, artless way. What’s the point then?

            You’re right that VNs are still mostly ignored by critics, or else they’re treated as “not real games” or something. Gone Home is a great example to show how hypocritical this view is. Again, if we’re just talking VNs with mainly sexual content, which is admittedly a whole lot of them, I understand why certain reviewers and sites wouldn’t want to cover them. But then what about games like VLR? I don’t understand what that’s about. The only problem I can think of here is that visual novels are still very much a Japanese thing, and there might be some cultural barriers there in terms of the content. I can’t think of a single big western developer that’s even considered making a VN; it’s still just an indie thing here, and even then it’s mainly left to anime fans/otaku/weebs or whatever you want to call them (or us, I should say.) Hell, maybe I’ll write something about visual novels.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Indeed it does. Now, there’s an actor with more charisma than any given cast of many recently lauded independent films combined. But yeah, there’s no getting around that the film’s values are really outdated, though the writers tried to be progressive, at least. I can’t really say the same thing about the preachy stuff we get now. Sure, on the surface, it seems progressive, but I would be more likely to describe it as a freakish combination of progressivism and conservativism given the writers’ inability to think through their implications (looking at you, Hustlers).

              And yes, critics completely dropped the ball by ignoring Virtue’s Last Reward (or its predecessor, 999) in favor of promoting the generally substance-free walking simulators. For that matter, I don’t think they’ve really ever described Ace Attorney as more than “sort of neat” when there are a lot of amazingly good story beats to be found in between the goofiness. Maybe the quality is even a direct result of the goofiness – earnestness seems to be a rare find in today’s arts. Anyway, this suggests that critics talk a big game when it comes to challenging the status quo, but they don’t want to strain themselves to get there. I still don’t get how Polygon considered Gone Home a “quiet triumph in storytelling” only to completely ignore both Undertale and OneShot. This is why I find myself crediting normal gamers more – they actually value innovation and have proven more knowledge of the medium than the journalists. I look forward to seeing what you have to say about visual novels.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. I got the impression from a lot of the Joker criticisms that it wasn’t dislike based on the movie but immediate marks against it because it’s another white male story. The main part of criticism now is in large part like you said whether it fits the popular social media narrative.

    I’ve been around a while and I don’t think I’ve ever seen social media, etc so afraid or against a movie based on the violence or the possibility of violence a double standard which fascinated me in the Joker writings. Especially because when I finally saw it I’ve seen far more violent movies that no one blinked an eye at and in fact showered with awards and defended as freedom of expression.

    It’s going to be interesting to see what sort of critics/audience response Rise of Skywalker gets! Thanks for the link 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever seen critics want a good film to fail harder than Joker. The only other example I can think of in which something similar happened was with The Prestige, but I think the lack of critical acclaim in that case was an honest mistake. Memento was such a monumental film that being able to successfully follow it up with another film with a labyrinthine plot would catch even the most diehard cinephile off-guard.

      How the media handled Joker, however, was downright irresponsible. I’m not contesting the veracity of the threats reported involving the film, but the fact of the matter is that, as of this writing, they got worried over nothing. Ironically, it was a Frozen 2 screening that resulted in violence. I’ve heard some people suggest that the media hated the Joker because it held a mirror up to them and they didn’t like what they saw. I don’t know what the answer is, but there is something very suspicious going on, and you know things are bad when critics, who are supposed to be in favor of artistic expression, are the ones acting like the moral-posturing groups who condemn things without giving them the time of day.

      The way I see it, Rise of Skywalker will either be great or a complete disaster. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My god, I had the strangest time trying to digest Joker reviews after I saw it. I saw the movie, thought it was fantastic (though incredibly stomach-turning in terms of its shocking moments). I go home, look up reviews, and find that they all hated it. I wake up, check my YouTube subscriptions, and most of the content creators I follow had positive things to say about the movie. Bolstered, I go to work, and all of my superiors insist that it is garbage that promotes incel culture.

    I was so confused. I didn’t even attempt to write a review for it because I wasn’t sure how to tackle it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I live in a hardcore liberal community, and everyone I’ve spoken to has had nothing but positive things to say about Joker. Your superiors’ arguments are hereby null and void (feel free to show them this comment for proof!). Anyway, I too thought it was great. If it doesn’t appear on my top 10 list, it will be an honorable mention.

      If you do decide to review it, I will be interested to see what you have to say.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Not gonna lie, I’m a little bummed I didn’t make it onto the ‘featured blogs’ this month. I thought I did some of my best stuff this November… Does that make me petty?

    Anyway, I definitely enjoyed reading your take on Star Wars. I admit I kind of feel bad now that I used the terminology “space wizards” in my review of Phantom Menace, but I didn’t know others had been using it in these kinds of contexts. I’ve simply been saying for years that Star Wars is a fairy tale in space, but I’ve never meant it in any derogatory way. If anything, it’s because of its fantasy and childlike elements why Star Wars has endured. When I brought up “space wizards” and how the series is aimed at children in my review, it wasn’t to jump over plot holes or anything, rather, I was saying why the prequels stumbled so often is because they seemed to betray those very elements. I’ve had people get legitimately mad at me for suggesting Star Wars is for kids and that it’s more fantasy than sci-fi (even though, again, I’ve never said it as a negative). I take it people who get offended by that notion are people who still have the backwoods view that liking something aimed at children is demeaning or emasculating, instead of being mature enough to realize that if something is good, it’s good. Doesn’t matter who its target audience may be.

    I also get annoyed when people try to poo-poo things to the side because something is “for kids.” I think children deserve well-crafted stories/artworks as much as anyone else (if not more so). I was a bit irritated a few days ago when someone was getting out of a screening of Frozen II, and claiming it “took itself too seriously.” Like, why is that a bad thing? Frozen has basically become the movie of a generation of children, why shouldn’t its sequel take itself seriously? It’s still very much kid-friendly, so I don’t see the problem. Do children not deserve serious stories? If anything, it made the film all the better for not talking down to its target audience.

    As for The Last Jedi, I too have come to have more mixed feelings for it over time. I will adamantly defend The Force Awakens, however. Though not a perfect movie, The Force Awakens was everything it needed to be after the reception of the prequels. And for as much flak as people like to give J.J. Abrams for “mystery boxes” and whatnot (*slow clap for the internet types who feel special because they read TV Tropes*), the man makes fun movies. And he unabashedly loves Star Wars, and has been a vocal fan long before the possibility of him making Star Wars movies was on the table.

    With The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson’s idea of “subverting expectations” was way too literal. Perhaps the first example of it in the film (Poe’s recklessness resulting in failure as opposed to the series tradition of acting without thinking being rewarded) was a nice touch. But after a while it seemed Johnson’s idea of “subverting expectations” was just to undo what its predecessor established.

    My go-to allegory for this scenario (which I’ll surely bring up in my eventual review so apologies ahead of time for sounding like a broken record) is that with The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams told a story with a childlike admiration for its source material, like a kid playing with their Star Wars action figures. It may have repeated some familiar beats, but it also threw in elements of its own. Just as a kid playing with Star Wars toys might retell the overall plot of the movie, while adding their own creativity to the equation. Rian Johnson then came along and, like a schoolyard bully, took J.J.’s toys, stomped on them and told him “your characters are dumb!” Also, it was so refreshing in Force Awakens to have four unique villains who ALL SURVIVED THE FILM! After the prequels’ “villain of the week” scenario, it was a breath of fresh air. But we all know Rian Johnson didn’t allow that to last… I legitimately feel bad for J.J. Abrams.

    Also, as for Rey being a “Mary Sue” I once again think that mostly just applies to Last Jedi as opposed to Force Awakens. Sure, in J.J. Abrams’s film, Rey may be ‘overpowered,” but not in a way that no one in Star Wars had been before. Yeah, she was good at a lot of things, but is it really such a stretch that someone who scavenges ship parts knows how to pilot said ships knowing that Anakin – at age nine – could build and pilot a Podracer, and destroy a Trade Federation ship by pure accident? This is the point when I question the complaints, seeing as all these characters are ones who are gifted with what is essentially magic, so why is it a problem when one character is magically good at things when another character already did the same? I know some people like to mention how Rey beat Kylo Ten in a duel, and used a Jedi mind trick without knowing it. But again, I think J.J. Abrams had good setups for these: in the case of the former, Kylo Red had been shot by Chewbacca. He was injured. And in the case of the latter, Force Awakens’s Rey was a case of (sorry, I don’t know the proper terminology) the fantasy device of a character whose powers supersede the character themselves. Like, she’s uber powerful with the Force and doesn’t even realize it. It was actually a fun starting point to draw from. The problem is that Rian Johnson didn’t follow-up on that “unpolished diamond” setup, and had Rey do things like fight off Snoke’s elite guards without the explanations that J.J. provided (yeah, I’m defending J.J. a lot. Again, he’s not perfect, but I’m still in the camp that thinks Force Awakens has a place in the top 3 Star Wars films).

    With all that said, I’m not the slightest bit embarrassed to admit I’m super excited for Rise of Skywalker (stupid title aside). Sorry, even if a Star Wars movie were an utter disaster, it wouldn’t hinder my excitement for another. It’s one of those rare franchises with that level of appeal. Plus, J.J. Abrams is back, so I think it’s a tad unfair of people to hold Rian Johnson’s decisions against it. At the very least it should be a very fun movie with lots of fan service.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nah, it probably means my schedule got the better of me.

      Yeah, it’s interesting how once the franchise began facing scrutiny from the side opposite theirs, supporters began employing a “scorched Earth” tactic. Rather than addressing the detractors’ complaints, they decided to find the quickest way so as to not take them or any subsequent argument they could ever form seriously (not realizing or caring that it can be used against them as well). As you say, the argument is stupid anyway because if a story is good, it doesn’t matter who it’s for specifically.

      And I too am surprised that any serious critic would actually and earnestly use the “well, of course it’s flawed; it’s for kids” argument. I don’t know what these people have against the younger generations, but they really need to learn not to be so hostile to them. They’re basically acting like old men/women when in their thirties.

      I won’t take The Force Awakens from you because I myself still think it was decent. The problem is that The Last Jedi is a rare example of a sequel so bad that it actively robs its direct predecessor of much of its goodwill. While The Force Awakens was made by someone who clearly loves Star Wars, Rian Johnson’s approach reminds me of that insufferable fan every fandom has who goes on endless rants as to how a film should’ve ended and writes bad fanfics to ignore canon. The only difference between him and those fanfics is that he got to canonize his own nonsense.

      Mr. Johnson very much graduated from the “Ex Machina” school of subversive storytelling in that he wanted to throw a series of curveballs without taking a second to think that maybe, just maybe, going off the rails isn’t the best course of action for a given moment. In some cases, he seemed to want to deliberately sabotage what Mr. Abrams did.

      And yeah, I think Rey being a Mary Sue is only a problem that started in The Last Jedi. She did pull of some amazing feats in The Force Awakens, but they didn’t stretch the suspension of disbelief too far. The explanations you came up with are perfectly sound, and beating Kylo Ren so easily was contextualized properly. The problem is that from there, the writers don’t give her any kind of real challenge to overcome. Now, she has defeated Kylo a second time, which means the latter’s status as the main bad guy (assuming Mr. Abrams doesn’t bail him out somehow) utterly lacks any kind of intimidation. He’s already lost to her twice, so the only logical conclusion, assuming it doesn’t end with her becoming the next main villain, is that she’ll win again.

      I get being excited for Rise of Skywalker, though I have to admit I’m not nearly excited as I was for the past two films. Mr. Johnson needs to realize that he let a lot of goodwill spill when he gleefully, as you put it, broke Mr. Abrams’s toys. Then again, Mr. Abrams has a lot of factors against him, most of which aren’t his fault, so it’ll be interesting to see how this goes.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hope you enjoy it! I think what helps is that Rian Johnson’s propensity for subversive storytelling works much better in the mystery genre than it did in The Last Jedi given that it needs to have several twists and turns to be interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. As an auto sports fan, I just watched Ford v Ferrari last week and it was great. Before it they showed the trailer for Knives Out, which I did not even know was a thing until then. It looked awesome, so I am watching it in a couple of days. I hope I enjoy it as much as you did.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I wonder sometimes if certain critics well ever realize how far off they are from the general audience and adjust themselves accordingly. But then I remember how these things work and how they don’t need to be reflective of all, just need to get enough niche views, and then I’m less rosy about things for a while.

    Also, I don’t think I ever realized just how many Pokemon games there are. You’re really cruising through them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not saying it’s completely impossible, but given their track record, it isn’t likely. Paul Schrader was wrong; we have a dearth of good critics, not good audiences. I do have some hope for creative types, but I do feel that the next significant artistic movement will likely come about with zero influence from the current wave of critics. That inability for any kind of introspection really causes them to stagnate fast.

      Thanks! And can you believe we’ve just reached Generation VIII? I haven’t played Sword/Shield yet, but I will eventually check the former out.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Excellent thoughts on the Joker and how it was received by fans/critics. I thoroughly enjoyed it and believe that it arrived just in time in DC’s timeline to prove that they can still have original movies released. Thank you for the shoutout regarding my review of Frank Miller’s latest disaster. Such a shame that he can’t seem to find that groove he had in his prime. Time to move on, huh? For some reason, I can tell how “excited” you must be for the upcoming final movie to the SW trilogy. Will you be checking out in theatres? Will you be sharing a special review for it? 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks! As I said, I couldn’t find a solid explanation as to why they hated it (or at least not one that didn’t sound vaguely like a conspiracy theory), but I do think it was yet another case in which they let their emotions get to them and there was something about it that made them want it to fail. If nothing else, I think it proves my editorial about classic films critics would’ve hated correct given that it directly criticizes many aspects of their ethos. About the only legitimate criticism I could find of the film was from a Cracked article, which made a defensible case as to why it isn’t a good idea to write a Joker origin story and it was the reason why I ended up not seeing it at first; only when someone I trusted saw it did I change my mind. Otherwise, most of the critics I’ve seen lambast the film do so in ways that could easily be applied to half (or more) of their own sacred cows, making them come across as imperceptive (at best) or hypocritical (at worst).

      And you’re welcome for the shout-out! Frank Miller’s been riding his reputation for way too long, I feel. Some people just can’t handle universal acclaim; it goes to their heads, and then they’re suddenly less aware of their faults, causing them to create really out-there stuff that appeals to maybe five people at best.

      I’m not going to discount the possibility that Rise of Skywalker will save the trilogy, but if it’s good, it’s going to be good wholly in spite of The Last Jedi. There is a slight possibility I may eventually review the sequel trilogy, but I have to admit I don’t plan on it right now.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Wow. You have the most thoughtful and extensive comments I have seen so far following a blog post. I do not see many movies but hope to watch Knives Out in support of local-guy-makes-good Chris Evans, whose mom has run a beloved children’s theater company in the Boston area for decades. Thanks for stirring up my brain!


    • Thanks, I try not to settle for doing things halfway – that includes responding to the comments people leave. I especially like how my readers end up writing long comments as well. While it has its flaws, Knives Out is probably Rian Johnson’s best effort so far by virtue of him working in a genre that fits his strengths while downplaying his weaknesses. He’s still not who I would call a master-class director, but he did well with this one.


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