Star Wars – The Last Jedi: Worth Every Moment of Your Time

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is all about action, adventure and fantasy on multiple levels with multiple developing story-lines.  This installment of the series includes content that could easily have been stretched into four separate films.  In short, The Last Jedi attempts to cover a great deal of ground and does so with success.

If I were to evaluate Star Wars: Episode VIII on an economic analysis basis it is the: JHL Price Performance Winner of 2017 for Best In Class Initial Viewing Action, Adventure and Fantasy*.

By the viewing time standard of today (i.e., lack of attention span or unwillingness to sit still for any extended-period of time) Episode VIII’s run time of 162 minutes (2.5+ hours) could be deemed as excessive or long in the tooth. Not So – at least for me.  The opening, closing, and development of existing story-lines is rather superb in The Last Jedi.  Writer\Director Rian Johnson and Film Editor Bob Ducsay deserve a great deal of the credit.  Both worked together on the quirky (and highly enjoyable) Looper.

In Episode VIII the old and new characters have life and vibrancy alike.  The movie score from John Williams feels to have found a new hop in its step.  If there is any disappointment it would be that Carrie Fisher’s last performance is muted if not stale, and Laura Dern and her role feel completely out of place.  Dern and her role feel as if it was lifted at the last second from the cutting floor of The Hunger Games.

Any slight disappointment with the Last Jedi is easily snuffed out by a terrific performance by Mark Hamill and the perfect placement of comic relief.  Hamill is nothing short of superb in this film and some sight gags remain etched in my brain!

Ultimately, Star Wars: Episode VIII is as good an installment as any made previously.

*JD Power and Associates and their B.S. and easily obtained (via $$$) “Product Quality Awards” have nothing on me!

Lady Bird – Small Life and the Bigger Picture

Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird is a masterpiece.  Gerwig (Frances Ha, Mistress America) provides us an insight into life and a part of ourselves few films endeavor let alone accomplish.

Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan (Atonement – AAN, Hanna, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brooklyn – AAN) as a high-school senior experiencing all that comes with this time of life.  Instead of being a programmatic re-tread of Hollywood story-line(s) and character(s) presented in out sized and or and overly simplistic form, Lady Bird feels real from start-to-finish.  Ronan – as almost always – is perfect in the role.

Better than any film in recent memory, Lady Bird shows us youth, age, inexperience, experience, warmth, cold, sincerity, insincerity, happiness, sadness, the ability to communicate feelings, and the lack thereof, the lack of appreciation and (ultimately) appreciation.

Laurie Metcalf (Mom’s voice in Toy Story movies, The Big Bang Theory, Roseanne) and Tracy Letts (U.S. Marshals, The Big Short, Elvis & Nixon) are Lady Bird’s parents. Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea – AAN, Moonrise Kingdom), Beanie Feldstein (Orange is the New Black),  Timothée Chalamet (Interstellar) and Odeya Rush (Goosebumps) are Lady’s Birds circle of friends.  Each of these six characters have roles that are rich and well developed.  The actors prove to be more than capable in the role. Some with a level of true brilliance.

Jeff’s Worthless Trivia and Notes:

If you have not seen Atonement (AAN Best Film 2007) do so.  All five films nominated in 2007 (Atonement, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Juno, There Will Be Blood) were worthy of the statue.  Atonement, Michael Clayton and No Country for Old Men are in the Lubeck film library and watched repeatedly.

Gerwig is a strong actor. She is great at appearing to be completely self-centered with a total lack of self awareness.  However her writing and directing skills may win the day.

The personality of Hedges character in Lady Bird is a 180 degree turn from that in Manchester By the Sea – a performance for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.  He is so convincing in both – uncanny.

Detroit

Detroit is finely crafted and quality film.  It covers a tough subject: 1967 Detroit Riots, Algiers Hotel incident, racism and hatred.

The team of Kathy Bigelow and Mark Bolan (Hurt Locker 6 AA 9 AAN, Zero Dark Thirty 1 AA 4 AAN) utilize the same approach and style for Detroit as they did with their Academy Award Winners – real time, almost documentary type feel, with little to no grandstanding for a specific agenda.

Unfortunately Detroit does not offer an arms-length view to separate us emotionally from the issue at-hand. Detroit is not set in a distant country with a highly foreign culture.  Detroit does not provide a common enemy that is greatly despised.  Detroit is here – the U.S.  Detroit presents with blunt force the implication and fallout from and lack of overcoming our country’s original sin – Slavery, Black Slavery and its ensuing racism.

Because the story is so well documented, virtually all of the main characters are portrayals of the real person – not a composite character for dramatic effect. Therefore Detroit presents the actual people involved in the situation – and in Bigelow and Bolan style – with little bias.  These people are good, bad, innocent, guilty, mischief makers, thieves, prostitutes, racists, poorly trained and ill equipped to deal with the problem, who look the other way, are out of their element and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Detroit as in life has people who are innocent and will die. People who are jokesters who will pay for their joke with their life. People who do not understand a ruse and kill an innocent person.

Because Detroit follows a straight timeline, the story does not get better as time passes – it only gets worse.  There is no feel good ending or silver lining to the story.  In fact, the end (the court ruling by a jury) is perhaps most blunt of blunt objects.

The easy thing would be to avoid watching Detroit because of its serious nature, tough to swallow realism, and bluntness.  I suggest just the opposite.  As each moment passes, I am glad I watched this film and that Bigelow and Bolan had the resolve to make it.

Notes and Worthless Trivia from Jeff:

The sets and costumes in Detroit feel astonishingly accurate.  As many of you know, I am picky about this subject in films.  So yes, they did miss-spell Livernois Ave. in one scene and an outside scene did not hide a cellphone tower but that is about it.  Detroit felt like Detroit in 1967.  Quite an accomplishment.  Now if I could only go to the GULF and Sunoco gas stations and pay $25 cents a gallon or by some beer at the Oxford Beverage Drive Through on Mack Ave.

The Holiday Season is Upon Us. How do you celebrate?

 

On the Cusp of Winter on the River of No Return near the cabin (Salmon River, Stanley Idaho).

Goat Creek Meadow at the cabin starts to collect the white stuff.

Goat Creek at the cabin starts to freeze over.

It is December (at least on the Julian Calendar).  And that means holiday season moves into full-force.  How do you celebrate them?  Do they make you happy or excited or do you get stressed out or depressed?

For me, it feels that in the last 25-30 years commercialism of major holiday’s has intensified extraordinarily and the recognition\celebration of the actual event(s) have become highly politicized and muted so as to offend no-one and everyone at the same time.  Was this our goal for the land of the free?

Personally, I want for me (and you) the have the ability to recognize and celebrate holiday’s and events of which we find important.  This should not give us the right to shove the event down everyone’s throat, but at the same time we should not be forced to dilute it to the point of non-recognition.  For me it is Christmas Time and decorating a Christmas Tree with ornaments that allow me to recognize and enjoy (if only for a few days) all that life has provided.  Today it feels as if they have become [insert politically correct title] Time and [insert generic like non offensive term] Tree.

I am not a conspiracy theorist.  So I do not believe anyone (for who we can lay blame) has stole our holiday’s from us. So let’s not blame the government or some group foreign to the concept.  If they have been stolen?  Then it is us who has let that happen and it is us who can get them back.

I also like to be aware and respectful of the holiday’s of others – for which I do not specifically celebrate.  For example: Hanukkah

For 2017, Hanukkah celebration started yesterday (December 13th) and ends on the 20th.  For a a bit of background: Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem from the occupation of Antiochus IV, king of the Seleucid Empire in 165 BCE. There are many traditions surrounding the holiday, including gift giving, eating fried foods, listening to music and playing with dreidels.  A Dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with hebrew letters used for games.

Over the next week, National, Independence, and or Reconciliation type days are celebrated in: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Qatar and one of my favorite places: Anguilla. Note: I own and fly the flag of Anguilla.

So if you want to celebrate?  Celebrate and send me an email about what you celebrate, why, and how?  Educate me, I would like to learn something new.

For 2017, I am going to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  I am going to decorate my Christmas Tree and cheer for my Michigan State Spartan sports teams; Go Green!

Multinational holiday’s in December [here].

Calendar of holidays in December [here].

Spotlight: All The Presidents Men

The state of the world and headlines about it can leave most of us with our heads spinning; seeking respite from (paid) Talking Heads spinning the answer to any question back towards their desired Talking Points on today’s media platforms.

Whoa! Step back, take a moment, a few hours, a day, a weekend out of your busy life and escape the media by the nano-second stuff and read the book or watch the film All The Presidents Men. This recommendation may seem counter-intuitive, but if you take me up on my offer – you will realize you are a sane (and decent) person and that the more things seem to change the more things actually stay the same.

The 1977 Academy Awards (films released in 1976) was packed with nominees for Best Picture that ultimately would lose, including All The Presidents Men.  However, all of them, in my opinion, would win in almost any other year. 1977 was similar to arguably the best of all-time – 1940.  All The Presidents Men is a film that I watch once or twice a year.  It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Network in 1977 – a worthy winner.  All The Presidents Men did win four (4) Academy Awards.  I decided to watch All The Presidents Men recently.

I was reminded of the following:

Political Campaigns for virtually all levels of elected office do whatever it takes to win and stay there. Whatever!  Say it with me; Whatever!  You think the Russians have cornered the market on the highest level of deceit and manipulation.  Think again!  Now, the Ruskies are real clever, and real good at trying to influence almost all goings-on in the world.  However, they are not alone!  You will be reminded of this condition in All The Presidents Men.

A good investigative reporter will do whatever it takes to uncover the facts (and truth) about a story. Whatever!  To be certain, the good one’s verify and confirm – they are not sloppy or stupid – and remember it is their job to find and report NEWS. However, they also will dig relentlessly, interview, ask, cajole, plead, call in favors, and let you fall victim to answering one question when it is really related something else without you even realizing it.  “Are you still beating your husband?”  “H on the list is not for Haldeman… Correct?”  This is why we do not particularly enjoy being THE NEWS.

Watch the movie. While 40 years old – it stands the test of time.  Viewing will remind you – that while all that is occurring right now seems crazy – you are sane.

 

Late Afternoon on the Oregon Trail

I decided to take in the late afternoon sun with a drive on the Oregon Trail (U.S. 20) and catch some of the last colors of fall.  Above is Lava Lake which sits just west of the Craters of  the Moon National Monument.  For the traveller on the trail in the 1800’s Lava Lake was the first water after miles of crossing lava-beds.

Just west of Lava Lake is the Carey Lake Wildlife Refuge.  The Wildlife Management Area sits just east of the town of Carey.

West of Carey is the town of Picabo, Idaho.  I captured this image as the sun fell behind the hills to the southwest.

Fall Colors Starting to Peak

The colors are starting to hit their stride in the Wood River and Salmon River basin.

Are you stopping for a moment in your highly important and very busy day to take in what is changing around you?

The North Entrance to the Valley Club and Jeff’s home in the Wood River Valley of Idaho

All Trips Are Worth It!

By rule the Trip films starring Steve Coogan (Night At The Museum, Ruby Sparks, Philomena) and Rob Brydon (The Huntsmen, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,) should be losing their luster and steam – from an enjoyability perspective.  Not a chance.  The Trip to Spain is arguably the best of the three.

As Producer, Director, and Writer of all the Trips Michael Winterbottom hits his stride with A Trip To Spain.

Similar to the other films A Trip to Spain navigates magically through the real Googan and Brydon playing themselves and their movie script alter egos in a six part road trip that is supposedly occurring to facilitate a food and travel piece underwritten by the New York Times and London Observer.

The real Coogan and Brydon are the best of the best Observational Stand-Up Comic’s and Impersonators in the industry. Their bits in this film are music to the ears and a feast to the mind. As for their movie script alter ego’s, Coogan is the insincere, selfish, ultra defensive entertainer when women or business are involved.  Brydon is the enjoying life to its fullest, family man and deferential second-banana.  The Trip to Spain while wonderfully topical and informational it also provides a dose of highly believable melancholy.

Favorite Scene: A quality background history lesson about the implication of the Moor’s on Spain as told by Coogan to some table-mates while sitting at a magnificent sea-side restaurant with full running commentary by Brydon’s version of Roger Moore on the side.

The scenery, send ups and food are fantastic in The Trip to Spain.

Wind River: Somber, Ironic, Honest & Serious – Even if from Hollywood

Can the Actuarial’s of Hollywood be deceived and let an honest and serious film get by them and be released outside of the time period designated for Art Films to be considered at Oscar time? I think so, at least I do after watching the film Wind River.

Wind River is written and directed by Taylor Sherdian (Hell and High Water, Sicario) and stars Jeremy Renner (Avengers, The Town, Mission Impossible, American Hustle, Bourne Legacy) and Elizabeth Olsen (Avengers, Captain America, Ingird Goes West).  The easy thing would be to take a pass on a viewing of this film if you judge it by the typical typecasting of these three.  Sheridan; the male T.V. Series hunk for the ladies.  Renner; the angry loose cannon (i.e., The Town, The Hurt Locker) and Olsen; the sister of the long ago T.V. Star Twins.  Yes, those credits are correct.

However these three have demonstrated for some time they are top-level artists who have figured out how to navigate commercial Hollywood so as allow them the flexibility to be associated and involved with more intriguing fair.

Wind River is not a downer of a film.  However, it is somber and thought provoking.  What you think happened or is going to happen – likely is not the case.  Will you feel cheated when you learn the details?  No, because the signals were present all the time.  Be patient and watch to the very end.

Notes from a Location Geek:

There is nothing more demanding than a location shoot that is to depict the outdoors at elevation in the winter-time.  It is tough to present -6 degrees in the mountains as it really looks and feels.  Wind River is not bad on this front, but not perfect.

Ask back-to-back-to-back Academy Award Winner for Cinematography Emanuel Luzbeski (2014 Gravity, 2015 Birdman, The Revenent 2016).  He did not even win the AA for his best work:  Children of Men (2012) or A Little Princess (1996).

The Total Eclipse of the Sun – Idaho

The Solar Eclipse occurred as scheduled in Idaho (8/21/2017 11:30 local time).  The eclipse from our viewing point was remarkable.

Our cabin in Stanley was almost dead-center : 100% eclipse and under the full shadow 99.83% (i.e., viewing time well over 2+ minutes).

More importantly, the Lubeck’s were able to host friends that live at distance but are close to our heart and soul.  In short; friends who you can share the best of what life has to offer. However, remain at your side even when the worst of life presents itself.  So to those (or who are associated) with the last name of Bescos, Brice, Connor and Wakeley thanks for coming and sharing in the view.

Also, a shout-out to the Pruder’s who were in contact from Michigan while the gig developed!

As luck would have it.  We got some shots!

 

The Ring. Copyright Jeffrey H. Lubeck – MESH Gallery

The Total Eclipse of the Sun – Full Corona. Copyright Jeffrey H. Lubeck – MESH Gallery