Terrible Reviews: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


I love Tarantino movies.

Which is why what I’m about to say is gonna hurt.

I saw Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs within about a week of each other when I was in high school, under the assurances of my actor friend that the movies were “brilliant” and “hilarious” and all the good things, and like a good friend desperate to fit in I dutifully loved these movies in all their fast-talking, self-aggrandizing, slow-mo-walking, perversity-loving and gratuitous-gore-worshiping glory.

I say that with cynicism but I really did love the movies, and for better or worse, they taught me a lot about movies, and especially about writing; I think there’s more than a little bit of a Tarantino echo in my back-and-forth often-anticipating-what-the-other-guy-is-thinking kind of dialogue. (Or maybe I’m just being kind to myself; always an option.)

Anyway, I loved Tarantino in high school but pretty much left it at that until Kill Bill came out, and while I don’t think that one (well, two) reaches the pinnacle of Pulp Fiction for sheer filmmaking swagger, it’s a heck of a good time and hey SAMURAI SWORDS EVERYWHERE and that’s kind of awesome. Not for nothing, too, it sort of establishes a trope in his movies of the “avenging angel” style of heroine, which is a nice flourish, so I went ahead and loved those too.

Then it was Inglorious Basterds and it felt like we were back to master-class form again, with the masterful opening scene and the bloody inspired performance of Christoph Waltz and the avenging angel in full fiery glory.

Some years further on, then, there was Django Unchained, and while I only saw it once (and consequently don’t remember it as well), it felt very much like a natural addition to his catalog: There’s Waltz again killing it, and oh man here comes Leonardo diCaprio killing it, to say nothing of Jamie Foxx killing it (and everybody on screen), and there’s blood and gore and uncomfortable topics right in your face and COWBOYS YEEHAW.

And it’s like, you know, this Tarantino guy, he seems to know what he’s doing.

And then we get Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (Here is where the minor spoilers kick in, so, y’know, heads up and whatever.)

And, look, I’m as skeptical as the next guy. All kinds of things can affect your reading of a book or your viewing of a film: the particular circumstance of your life at the time of the reading, who you’re with when you see it, heck, the leftover pizza you had for dinner before you turned it on. Anything can throw the experience off, can make things strike you in a different way, if not entirely wrong.

But I don’t think that’s what happened here.

My wife and I were super bored by the movie for the entire first half. I’ve never felt bored by Tarantino before, and here, I felt bored. We’ve got Rick, the washed-up movie star, and Cliff, his stunt double, trying to figure out their way in a Hollywood that’s leaving them behind, and … well, that’s about it. Rick bumbles around and Cliff is a badass but there’s no particular sense of where they’re going, no particular sense that they’re actively adapting to this new world, just that they’re scraping by within it.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Not every movie has to have blood and guts and a streak of searing-hot vengeance through its core to hold my interest, but over two decades, I’ve developed a series of expectations for a Tarantino movie, and it ain’t this. It was well done, mind you, and had all the clever dialogue and stuff you want from a Tarantino movie. In fact, taken out of context, each scene could probably be considered masterful, but as a whole, the first half is a snore.

And then we have the second half, which just feels like we were cruising along having a good old time (albeit a boring one) on a peaceful country highway, then suddenly detoured onto a bumpy side road leading up to a satanic church in the woods. The second half feels entirely disconnected from the first in every way except the presence of the main characters; it’s almost as if the second half of the movie is telling its own story independent from the first half.

And that’s … just … not great. As an audience member, I felt like my time had been wasted. And as somebody who thinks a lot about entertainment (specifically, about how an audience feels about their entertainment), wasting your audience’s time feels like the closest thing to an unforgivable sin.

The climax of the film is as unconnected to the rest of the film as the second half is to the first, and it’s nothing to do with either of the two protagonists’ struggles. nor does it test them in any way that challenges who they are or what the rest of the story has taught them. It’s almost as if Tarantino had almost finished the film, then remembered, “oh crap, I’m Tarantino, I’ve got to have some ultraviolence in here somewhere” and that was it.

Seriously. Brad Pitt and his trusty dog go insane on a band of would-be murderers while Leo is zoning out in his pool out back. There’s a flamethrower involved. It’s awesome. But it’s almost nothing to do with the rest of the story. I mean, in Pulp Fiction, you get Jules and Vincent shooting people up left and right, you get Bruce Willis slicing up a serial rapist, but it’s all in service to the narrative. In Kill Bill 1 (the better one), yeah, you get a twenty-minute long orgy of blood and blades as Beatrix slices her way through an entire gang of Japanese mobsters, but the whole movie has been building up to that moment. Ditto when Shoshanna locks a gaggle of Nazis in a theater to burn them alive, ditto when Django shoots up a plantation.

In Hollywood, the antagonists stumble into Leo’s home on a whim.

It’s just so slapdash and haphazard. DiCaprio is crushing his performance, but to what end? Rick doesn’t really go anywhere, emotionally. Pitt’s performance is in the same vein. He trounces Bruce Lee in a sparring match early in the film, so when he curb stomps the killers at the end, we’re just like … duh. Of course he did. Margot Robbie is here, too, and her purpose in the film is … what, exactly?

Contrast that to Pulp Fiction, where you have these two hitmen at a crossroads. They go on a routine hit and it goes sideways; a goon with a gun gets the drop on them and unloads. Shoulda killed ’em. Doesn’t. Samuel L. Jackson takes this as a sign from God and decides to reform his life. John Travolta reads absolutely nothing into it and keeps on mobstering. Later in the film, the two have diverged. Both characters come to meet with other obstacles — dangerous people at the end of their rope — and their actions earlier in the film have consequences. Jackson, with all his serene understanding that he’s on a new path, uses his calm to save not only his own life but the lives of his partner and several others in a restaurant holdup. Travolta goes on from there to get killed by a washed-up boxer because he’s still just blundering around with his guard down. There’s a setup and a payoff. And there is *nothing* like this in Hollywood.

This film is just lost as a story, and it’s frustrating, because as I said some 1200 words ago, I love Tarantino. I love his movies and his characters and the clever way he puts things together and the way little things in the plot pay off. And ALL OF THAT is missing, here.

The film is pretty, the dialogue is sharp, and the individual performances are good, bordering on great. But as a whole, the thing falls on its face like a decapitated Japanese mobster.

Final Verdict: Two out of Five butcher knives shoved into Brad Pitt’s hip.


Early-Man Ennui, ep. 2


Some time ago, I wrote a scene with a depressed caveman in it.

The style of it was fun, and I’ve been wanting to write more scenes, so — here’s another chapter. Please to enjoy!

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Ext: a rock wall at the entrance to a cave. BLOOG, a young, hip, cavewoman stands at the wall, chiseling away with a rock and another sharper rock. She seems to be etching a likeness of a person in something like a seductive pose, though it’s hard to tell, as she is not an artist.

GRAAT, a more reserved cavewoman, enters.

Graat: Hi, Bloog. How you doing?

Bloog: Oh, Graat. Good to see you. Been a few weeks, hasn’t it?

Graat: Yes, it has. (Pause.) What are you doing there?

Bloog: Oh, this? Just putting the finishing touches on.

Graat: And what is it?

Bloog: Why, it’s me.

Graat: Well, okay, I see that, but what I meant was: why are you doing it?

Bloog: This is my InstaCave.

Graat: Your what?

Bloog: My InstaCave. It’s the latest.

Graat: You’ve done a cave painting, I see that. A couple, actually, we’ve been seeing them all about the village, even though we haven’t really got a village, us being hunter-gatherers and all. But, dear, don’t you think it belongs a bit further down in the cave?

Bloog: What do you mean?

Graat: Well, it’s just, they’re called cave paintings for a reason, aren’t they?

Bloog: It’s on a cave.

Graat: Yes, true enough, but we usually put the art down, you know, in the interior of the cave.

Bloog: Nobody could see it in there.

Graat: Well, people might not see it from just walking by, but it won’t last out here. Inside the cave, it’s protected from the elements, you know? The wind and the rain? Wash it right away, wouldn’t they?

Bloog: Who cares if it washes away?

Graat: That’s why we do art, Bloog, dear. For future generations. To tell our story.

Bloog: Future generations can piss off, Graat, I’m in it for the likes. I’m getting monetized, soon.

Graat: But what about posterity?

Bloog: Posterity? What do I care about posterity for? We’re cavemen. If we’re lucky, we’ll kick off before we’re thirty.

Graat: Cave women.

Bloog: Oh, yes, big women’s right movement we are, what with the loincloths and getting dragged about by the hair, and all. Why, next, we’ll all have the right to vote?

Graat: What’s a vote?

Bloog: Never mind. It’s a social statement, Graat. You wouldn’t understand. I’m an influencer.

Graat: A what?

Bloog: An influencer. I set trends. I influence the social discourse.

Graat: By chiseling a tart with her tits out?

Bloog: Well, it gets people talking, doesn’t it?

Graat: Talking about your tits, Bloog!

Bloog: Better they talk about my tits than whatever pedestrian nonsense they’d be talking about otherwise. Oh, did Dag sod up the hunt again today? Did Klod whack his toe with his stupid oversized club? Sure, that’s worth our time. Besides, people like this.

Graat: Nobody likes this! It’s obscene!

(At that moment, a pair of cavewomen — ARK and PROOT — wander past. They see Bloog’s artwork as Graat and Bloog stand aside nervously.)

Ark: Did you do that?

Bloog: Yeah, what do you think?

Proot: (After some consideration) Brilliant, I think. Progressive, even. Real women’s lib stuff. Good job.

Ark: It’s a sight more interesting than Klod stubbing his toe again, that’s for sure.

Proot: Yeah, well done. You’ve seized your femininity and demonstrated that you won’t be a stooge for the patriarchy.

Ark: Right. Totally bitchin’.

(They make to move on.)

Bloog: (to Graat) See? They like it. (Bloog goes after them.) Excuse me? Could you just come back for a minute? See, I’ve got this “like” pebble right here. I wonder, could you just put your mark there? Just there. On that “like” pebble. Just smash it.

(Proot points at Bloog’s chisel-rock questioningly. Bloog nods. She takes the chisel, adds a little mark to the wall. Ark does the same. They nod and grin at each other while Bloog claps delightedly. During all this, Graat rolls her eyes more and more dramatically.)

Bloog: Cheers! Make sure to subscribe! New cave paintings every full moon!

(They leave. As they go, another pair of cavemen — KLOD and DAG — saunters past, glances at the artwork, and immediately — almost automatically — mark the “like” pebble.)

Graat: Excuse me. What was that for? You hardly even looked at the painting.

Dag: (shrugs) Her tits are out.

Graat: Oh, piss off.


On the Life and Death of my Pen


Tools.

Every profession has ’em. Hammer, scalpel, ruler, drill. Depending on the profession, the tools become more or less important. A manufacturer or fabricator lives and dies by his tools; a

Me, I’m not particularly arsed about the tools of my writing. I have some tools that I like — Scrivener being the big one for work on my main project — but I’ve worked with other, less flashy processors in the past. And when it comes down to it, I could work on any clunky old laptop or desktop computer; hell, in my particularly motivated phases I’ve even typed project notes on my phone. Sometimes I’ll use a bluetooth keyboard for that, sometimes the dreaded touch screen. (Though typing anything of substance that’s more than a line or two on a touchscreen is enough to make me want to rip out what little remains of my hair.)

The writer’s tools, it seems, are largely digital these days, no?

I mean, there are typewriters, but I’ve given my thoughts on typewriters before: in short, if you think a typewriter is essential to your process in any significant way, you are fooling yourself and being pretentious besides. They’re not bad, not at all, but they’re impractical, and to use one is to needlessly draw attention to yourself just for the sake of using antiquated equipment.

So. Digital tools. Right?

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Digital tools may be awesome and nigh indispensable, but to me, if you’re a writer, you can’t get away from the written word. The literally written word. You know: you learned to make them in grade school? You hated every minute of it? Your craft for creating it atrophied over time like a vestigial tail until now your written words look like the frenzied scratchings of a terrified animal on your back door?

Handwriting. There’s something almost magical about it, about putting words to paper directly using your hand and an implement designed to put marks on things. I do rather a lot of handwriting lately (and it’s more than a little bit of the reason I haven’t posted here as much in the last year or so — because what I would otherwise be blathering into the digital expanse I instead scrawl into my growing collection of Drivel notebooks) and I have strong feelings about it. A keyboard and computer (or, if you really, really insist, a typewriter… hnngggrrrrrh) is great for getting the words from your brain to the paper quickly — maybe maximally quickly (barring text-to-speech dictation programs but there I will grind my heels into the earth, fold my arms across my chest, and gruffly direct you to GET OFF MY LAWN). But maximally quickly is not always the best way to do a thing.

Handwriting, for me, forces me to slow down a little. Not a lot — I scribble pretty fast, and the crooked, haphazard stumble of my words on the page belies that — but I can’t write by hand as quickly as I type, not even close. When typing the words race out almost as quickly as I can conceive of them; when writing by hand, there are mental pauses as the hand catches up. Each next sentence gets to rest just for a moment, gets to simmer in the cognitive juices for a second or two before it goes on the page. I become more engaged with what I’m writing precisely because I have to slow down and I get the time to think about it.

So I take my writing by hand (but not my handwriting — because YEESH look at that picture up there) pretty seriously.

Then I went and did a dumb thing last year. I listened to a podcast featuring Neil Gaiman. There, Neil talks about process and experiences and all sorts of fascinating things (somehow everything Neil talks about seems to become fascinating to me, maybe that’s a character flaw) but along the way, he talked about his fountain pens. Something, I believe, about writing his first draft of American Gods in these stacks of notebooks using this series of fountain pens, and how he could retrospectively tell where he was and how he was feeling based on the ink and the color and all of that. Really singing the praises of his tools. (And of writing by hand, too, for that matter.)

And I thought, well, I’ve got to try it. This is a thing that a Real Writer does, I want to be a Real Writer, ergo, get out of my way while I plunk down some dollars to get me one of these things.

So I dithered a little bit before buying a fountain pen of my very own: A Pilot Metropolitan in purple, if you must know. I may have posted about it before. I certainly tweeted about it. (Twitter being the perfect place to boast about such trivialities.)


And I loved it! It wrote smoothly, but not just smoothly: like gliding across a frozen lake on skates made of butter. It was heavy and satisfying in the hand like a candlestick before you bash in Mr. Body’s skull, and the tip and the whole feel of writing with it was just so classy even though what I was using it for was so pedestrian and boring. It felt like putting on a dinner jacket to go to the grocery store.

It was my “Writer’s Pen,” the tool I not only wanted to use for my daily writing, but the one I needed, the one that made what I was doing feel special.

And then I broke it.

I mean on the one hand, the glib “this is why we can’t have nice things” quip is made for situations like this. On the other … I really liked my fancy pen.

I was preparing for my morning drivel session, perhaps holding a freshly steeping cup of tea in my other hand and my notebook and The Pen in the other, and it slipped through my fingers. Straight down, it dropped. Like a torpedo, or more accurately, like a Kamikaze pilot. Landed right on the nib (a horrible word for the business end of a pen like this, a word I never knew before I looked into fountain pens, a word that still makes me squeamish and giggly to use). You know when Elmer Fudd points his shotgun at Bugs Bunny, and Bugs sticks his finger in the barrel, and when Elmer pulls the trigger it goes off and blows the barrel out like a spent banana peel? That’s what the end of my pen looked like.

Well, looks like, because there’s no fixing it. These things — these nibs (squee!) — are machined and measured with meticulous precision to allow for air flow and capillary action with the ink and, well, there’s no repairing it. It was broken. Not only was it broken, but you can’t (to my knowledge) buy a replacement nib (tee hee!) for this pen — they’re just not expensive enough to justify it; you’re better off just buying a new pen.

And, sorry, I’m a teacher. Disposable income ain’t a thing I’m well acquainted with. I spent $12 on the thing the first time around, I wasn’t gonna spend another twelve bucks for a second one that I am surely equally likely to break given enough time (enough time, in this instance, being probably about three or four months seeing as that’s how long this one lasted me).

So I did my writing with a lesser pen, one of my old soldier Pilot G2’s. Until, a few days later, I misplaced that pen (having no particularly strong feelings for it) and had to do my drivel with a still lesser implement, a “Clik-Stik” out of a dollar store multipack.

Neandarthalic.

But here’s the thing — as soon as I settled into a groove (which when writing by hand now only takes a few lines — a fraction of a minute) I wasn’t paying attention to the cheap pen in my hand and how it wasn’t my beloved fountain pen. I was paying attention to the words, to the process, to the writing. You know, I was paying attention to what mattered.

And then I rethought the whole thing. Having the fountain pen (and worse, relying on it) sort of flies in the face of my whole oeuvre: that brands don’t matter, money doesn’t matter, what matters is that you make the best out of what you’ve got, and who gives a Fargo if you’ve got the latest luxury sneakers on your feet or if you drive the fanciest car or if you have a full head of luxuriant hair? I’m a barefooted bald guy driving a twenty-year-old Camry, why am I mucking about with fancy pens?

Because I got distracted, that’s why.

I got delusions of grandeur. I got caught up in the tools of the craft instead of the craft itself and then I suffered this blow to my ego when I broke my tool. (Heh, heh.)

Which is easy to do. You don’t have to go looking for distractions: this is the 21st century on the internet, the distractions find you.

And you know? Sometimes a distraction can be a good thing. Sometimes it can be nice to try something new. Sometimes you want to break out the nice jacket for a quick run to the store. But at the end of the day, what matters is that you remember to bring home the eggs.

(Have I butchered that metaphor enough?)

All that is to say, I have been doing my morning pages for a few months since without a thought towards plunking down the cashola to replace my fountain pen, and my writing — and my thoughts about my writing — haven’t suffered a stitch.

(They’ve suffered for entirely different reasons.)

I haven’t thrown The Pen out. It seems too nice to do that, even though it’s now useless, to toss it aside like trash. It taught me a lesson, after all, and it was lots of fun while it lasted. But now, like the smashed-up drunk-driving car out front of the school during Prom week, it’s there to remind me of something.

To stay focused on what matters.


Best of 2019


Best of

It’s been a year of growth around here at ACCIDENTALLY INSPIRED.

It seems like barely twelve months ago subscriber numbers were hovering around the 500 mark. Now inching closer to the 3000 milestone, word is finally spreading about what some of us veteran readers have known for a long time – Matt’s beastly fine little corner of the blogosphere is the place to come for swashbuckling great reads, supreme writerly insights and thrillifying analogies and turns of phrase.

Here’s a sweet sixteen collection of his finest posts from the year –

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# 1. Wordsmithery and Feelings of Inadequacy (July 19)

Pav’s sister said something to him many years ago that lit up his brain like a candelabra. It stuck. It grew. It played on loop. It shaped him. What did she say? You’ll need to read this acclaim-worthy post to find out.
Remember it HERE.

# 2. A Spring Thaw (February 12)

Is he a kindergartner refusing to eat his vegetables? Is he an adult wracked with doubt after reading one too many writing advice books? Either way its tools down for our budding pro-author while his path up Novel Mountain is temporarily halted by the feeling maybe he’s not doing it right. Holed up at base camp with his tent flap bared open for all to see, our momentarily oxygen-deprived story explorer confesses, in a moment of delirium, it may actually be comforting not trying to write every day. We don’t believe him. We know it’s not true. Fool us you don’t! Wrestling with your inner critic you may well be. Yet we know all the while you’re busy fitting steel crampons to your hiking boots and reaching for that trusty ice-axe. The next stage of the climb awaits…

This simply brilliant post includes what surely must be a strong contender for ‘Analogy of the Year’“I feel better when I write. It cleans out the mental pathways like running a Neti-Pot through your sinuses”.
Remember it HERE.

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# 3. The Dawdle (July 8)

Pav treats us to an original short story about an author who puts effort – a lot of effort – maybe too much effort – into setting up the perfect writing conditions. This includes having on-hand a 78 hour long, personally curated playlist of songs. Guaranteed to bring a knowing smile of recognition to every writer and would-be writer’s face.
Remember it HERE.

# 4. On Writing Advice (August 10)

For those who’ve ever been tempted to flip the middle finger at writing advice from successful, published authors and regard rules as something made merely to be broken, this thought-piece will provide pause. In a post-truth world where regard for authority and expertise is not as it once was, Pav wisely recommends the path of “assimilating a little bit of knowledge from the people who have gone before you along the way.” He analogizes about the perils of people deciding to throw the road rules out the window and drive on the left hand side of the road. In my region of the Planet, sorry to be the one to tell you Pav, that’s completely normal. Yet I know what you mean!
Remember it HERE.

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# 5. That’s A Wrap – Kind Of (September 21st)

Always one to consider the feelings and wishes of his loyal readers, Pav explains the reason he’s been feeding us all mere breadcrumbs on the blog of late (posting less) is that he’s been devoting all that writing energy to a higher cause – namely putting the finishing touches on his novel masterwork. Ok, sounds like a reasonable excuse. You’re forgiven – for now! There are greater crimes, I suppose, than moonlighting from your own ‘blarg’.
Remember it HERE.

# 6. Story-Matic #46 (October 17)

Nothing interesting happens in libraries? Wrong! This little short story gem from our master writer features librarian Alise, homeless Gary, and a stoop. Not only that… you also get a twenty year mystery about an unpublished novel that turns up in someone’s backpack. Breath in the musty air of this veritable mind-boggling boulevard.
Remember it HERE.

# 7. Anti-Social Socialites (June 15th)

The next sentence is true. The previous statement was false. But for a real paradox read this post. Pav deems the act of writing to be a type of self-imposed solitary confinement. Yet, as he points out, writers have to know, and know intimately, how people think and act. And in order to do that they have to get out amongst real people and mix with them. Hence the very apt title of the post.
Remember it HERE.

# 8. The Hideout Needs a Name (July 31)

What’s this? A sample passage from his novel-in-progress dangled unannounced for we readers to pour over like cheese morsel thrown to hungry mice? Well… yes it is! Features a character called Dina who opens a bag of tortilla chips by ‘gashing’ it with her ring.
Remember it HERE.

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# 9. The Pill Problem, Revisited (April 25)

The reasoning goes like this: when you have a headache you take a Tylenol. You then have a lie down and the pain goes away. Logically after the pain has gone you don’t keep on taking the Tylenol. All on solid footing so far, right? And yet… he’s getting the skeptical eyes from his wife, which, as he puts it, “is usually a sign that I need to pump the brakes.” Should he take his thumb off the scales or leave it on? Are these bathroom scales or kitchen scales? And will he opt for name brand or generic? The answers to all these questions and more are contained in this fascinating and as usual, brutally self-honest post.
Remember it HERE.

# 10. Early-Man Ennui (June 24)

Two caveman, Dag and Thop (both with British accents) contemplate the very possibly ‘spiritually icky’ meaning of life. Hunger takes over and their stone-age navel-gazing comes to an end. They go out and hunt for antelope.The whole shebang is downright pre-hysterical if you ask me!
Remember it HERE.

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# 11. Story-Matic #63 (October 20)

Two body builders in a gym. In the right light, both with enough popping veins to make them look like human road maps. One’s named Dimitri. The other is Kurtis. Kurtis decides to play a trick on his buddy Dimitri. The trick involves superimposing a certain image over the weights on each end of a barbell Dimitri is lifting in a video. It’s kooky. It’s funny. This fiction piece has ‘Personal Best’ written all over it.
Remember it HERE.

# 12. The Theory of A-Holes (October 15)

We’ve all traveled that rough stretch of human highway; the one populated with inconsiderate, self-centered mooks who irritate like sandpaper. Its part of what it means to be human, no matter what part of the world you live in. Pav puts forward an anthropological theory to try to account for why there seem to be more annoying nitwits around these days than ever before. His thesis references big fish, small ponds, the film A BUG’S LIFE and toilet paper. Searching for profound meaning? The Dalai Lama has nothing on this.
Remember it HERE.

# 13. The Inevitable Pain of Football Season (August 31st)

As a writer, Pav and pain have naturally been companions for some many years. His life as a teacher has no doubt also brought him face to face with a variety of… ahem, for want of a better word… pains. Yet it is the highs and lows of footy season fandom that occupy his thoughts on this occasion.
Remember it HERE.

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# 14. A Superpower You Didn’t Know You Had (July 4th)

Episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale have Matt questioning “Who’s driving the bus?” Who indeed. The answers are bona-fide bristling and certainly worth the re-read.
Remember it HERE.

# 15. A Quick Monologue (August 24)

He feels the need to spell out to his readers that this bit of spice is ENTIRELY fictional. Read it and you’ll see why.
Remember it HERE.

# 16. Signs, Signs Everywhere (February 23)

When does a restroom sign look like a dude putting a baby on a grill? When it looks like this….
Remember it HERE.

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Terrible Reviews: (The Ending of) The Rise of Skywalker


I want to talk about the end of “The Rise of Skywalker”, so rest assured, there will be spoilers ahead in this post.

Not a lot of them, mind you, and certainly not wide-ranging. In fact, the spoilers are really limited to one, and that to a specific moment. Specifically, I want that specific moment to be the final moment of the final movie, itself the final moment of the most recent trilogy, itself the culmination of a trilogy of trilogies. The previous nine films (let’s leave Rogue One and Solo out for the time being — and perhaps for good) all build up to this particular moment.

It must be said first that I was a Disney Star Wars skeptic, but now I’m a convert. Taking on a new trilogy in and of itself was a tall order to say the least, but I think that Disney not only stuck the landing, but they did it in a way that somehow threads a wicked-tiny needle: the new series is awesome, it preserves and reinvents the magic of the original series, and it lays to rest the fear that the prequels gave us that new Star Wars movies were doomed to be crap. The new Star Wars are not crap. Probably not least of which is because the franchise was pried from the grasping clumsy fingers of George Lucas.

But enough preamble. Let’s get to the spoiler and that all-important culminating moment.

The war is over, the fighting done, the survivors gone home, the obligatory LGBT inclusion included and summarily fast-forwarded over. Rey returns to the scene of the crime, the iconic planet of Tattooine, specifically Luke’s hut on said dust mote, to entomb the light sabers belonging to Luke and Leia. She’s approached by an old crone who demands her name.

“Rey,” she says.

“Rey who?” the crone replies.

And after a brief but poignant gaze into the middle distance, she replies, “Rey Skywalker.”

And then we get a lovely bookending shot of Rey and BB-8 silhouetted against those bloody twin suns over the desert world.

And when I first saw it, I was mad. It felt like a whiff on a perfectly good opportunity, a lame attemt at fanservice, a copout to justify the movie title, a phone-in in lieu of something actually clever.

See, there’s this moment near the end of the first act of RoS where the story is actually starting to get some legs. Rey gets approached by this kid in a crowd who asks her for her name, and Rey’s all, “Rey,” and the kid goes “OK but Rey who” and Rey’s like “just Rey,” and it’s a sad moment for her but also a growing one, because Rey has spent the better part of the last two films sort of tied up in knots about her parents, and she seems to be coming to grips with it there, though she still has some feels. So having a parallel moment at the end of the film seemed a perfect time, to me, for her to answer back “Just Rey” again, but with a bit more sass and certainty. “Rey Skywalker” felt … well, just wrong, on first look.

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. And the more I continue to think about it, the more I think it’s the perfect ending to the movie, to the trilogy, and to the trilogy of trilogies. And it’s for much the same reason I didn’t like it at first.

See, by the end of episode IX, Rey has been through it. Faced certain death, become a jedi or whatever passes for a Jedi now that the order is gone, learned the truth of her bloodline, lost friends and mentors and … yeah. Wringer 800, Rey 0.

But the Galaxy has been through it, too. Planets wiped out. Spirits broken. Kids kidnapped and forced into service. A loss of hope. The spirits of the average sentient creature in the galaxy are broken. (This is a huge motif in the new trilogy.) And what rallies people together in hopeless times? A symbol. Something to believe in, something to throw their energy and, for lack of a better word, faith behind.

I mean, in the original trilogy, Darth Vader and the Emperor are out there scaring the hockeysticks out of everybody and it takes the arrival of a new Jedi, a nobody from nowhere named Luke Skywalker to pick up the mantle and a lightsaber, go get trained by a fuzzy little green guy in a swamp and give Vader what for.

Then, in the prequels, the Jedi Order is there, you know, being inept as they strive against the Sith but there’s all this babble, this prophecy, about the One who will bring Balance to the Force (randomly capitalizing words is fun). And they find this podunk kid, this nobody from nowhere, who’s force sensitive, and holy crap his MIDICHLORIANS (let us never speak of them again) are off the scale, and could he be the one?YES HE IS, and his name is Anakin Skywalker and he carries all our hopes and dreams until Ben’s all “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE” and cuts him in half.

So in the new trilogy, we have … what? We have Luke but he’s in the wind, took his lightsaber and his fancy force powers and fargo’d off to a nowhere that wasn’t even on the map. He’s gone, the Resistance is in disarray because of it, everybody’s looking for Luke to save the day, but he’s off drinking green milk straight from the beached whatever-the-heck-that-thing-was and putzing around with porgs. He can’t be the symbol people rally around anymore; he’s old, he’s disillusioned, he’s SCARED maybe.

But then — but THEN we have the end of TLJ, where Luke becomes the legend again, where he single-handedly faces down an entire squadron of First Order walkers and Kylo Ren himself, and the Resistance has their minds blown in real time and the legend spreads and at the end of TLJ that kid force-pulls the broom over and you see that silhouette where he looks like a Jedi and HOLY CRAP the end of TLJ is so damn good.

Except now Luke’s gone again. Dead for realsies, or as dead as a Jedi ever is in this series, which is to say only as dead as he wants to be, but as far as being a symbol, he’s toast, because he can’t exactly go appearing to the galaxy in his little blue outline, can he? No. Ghosts can’t be symbols. The galaxy needs a new symbol.

The galaxy needs … a Skywalker.

Rey groks this. She knows how important Luke was, not just to her for her training, but also to the entire Resistance and to everybody who was too scared to stand up to the Empire. She feels the void left by Luke’s passing, probably more acutely than anybody who’s left alive, and she knows. There has to be a Skywalker.

And it has to be her. Who else is left?

“Rey who?”

“Rey Skywalker.”

God, it’s so poetic and awesome and simple. George Lucas said in that interview that Star Wars is like poetry; it rhymes. That quote is dumb and it pretends to be deep even though it isn’t, but there’s still truth in it, in that while the history of Star Wars doesn’t necessarily repeat, there are those elements that keep coming back. The galaxy needs a Skywalker, and Rey, like Luke before her and Anakin before that, sees the mantle there, abandoned by the one who came before, and says “guess I’ll put this on then.” Never mind she’s not a Skywalker by blood. Hell, Luke even tells Rey in RoS that some things are more important than blood.

But that only leads into the other reason that I love this as the last moment of the saga, which is that my wife read this moment in a completely different way than I did and she still loved it just as much. To wit: as I mentioned before, Rey spent the better part of the past two films in various stages of despair and disillusionment over her parents and not knowing her identity. And the more she learns about her parentage, the less she likes it. First it’s the gut punch that she got abandoned in the first place. Then it’s the big reveal that her parents were … nobodies. (We learn that in TLJ, even though we later learn that it’s only half-true.) And then there’s the haymaker of the truth that comes in RoS.

The parentage, or rather the lack of parentage, that has haunted Rey from the word go turns into the most catastrophic news Rey could hope to learn.

But.

Along the way, she has also gained a family that she never had. First there’s Finn, who “helps” her even though she doesn’t need it, then Han Solo, who recognizes her potential and takes her under his wing, and then Leia who does the same but also bonds with her over Han’s passing, and then Luke who becomes her mentor, and finally her … what, her romance? Weird sibling rivalry? … with Kylo Ren, nee Ben Solo. This is her family. In the strangest of ways, she has become the child of Han and Leia and Luke (that’s a fan-fiction I will not be writing) and so she *really is* a Skywalker.

Rey who?”

“Rey Skywalker.”

Again, it’s all so bloody poetic and beautiful that I could almost cry manly tears if my heart weren’t frozen and shriveled like a womp rat’s testicles on Hoth.

The fact that the new trilogy (and by extension the trilogy of trilogies) manages to end on a note that echoes and reverberates and boomerangs back on itself and on all the movies leading up to it is a master stroke, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Then again, here I stand, having an opinion about Star Wars on the internet, so rest assured I must be wrong.

But you know what? Wrong or not, I don’t care. I got new Star Wars in my lifetime, and I got to re-capture some of that joy that the original movies brought me, and the new movies are good, dammit. Yes, all of them. And yeah, Disney is a horror conglomerate that’s assimilating all of our entertainment like the Blob with Mickey Mouse ears and that’s, you know, that’s a thing that might be a problem that we’ll have to deal with one day. But for now, for today, we have Star Wars, and it is good. Perfect? No – but I promise you, the original trilogy is far from perfect itself. These movies are good. And that’s enough.

The Force will be with us. Always.


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