Tenet (2020) Trailer #1

The first trailer for the long awaited Christopher Nolan film has finally arrived. As with most of his films, there was a lot of mystery surrounding the project and not much released beyond the cast. A cast boasting some heavy hitters, familiar faces, and some newcomers that are about to hit it big. Lead by John David Washington, standout from last year’s Blackkklansman, we follow what seems to be a character who has his hand in some kind of espionage maybe? We see him scaling a building and what seems to be breaking into it but that’s not entirely clear. He then meets a mysterious character played by Andrew Howard who seems to give him something that appears to kill him. In the next scene he wakes up with a “welcome to the afterlife” greeting by a Howard’s character. There are some other action shots and brief glimpses of some of the other cast along with some great action sequences. Robert Pattinson finally makes an appearance towards the end of the trailer in an action scene and what looks like an investigation scene with Washington. It’s in this final scene that we get our first real hint at what this story could include with the final line from Washington stating “it hasn’t happened yet”. 

There’s still a lot of mystery surrounding the plot, but one thing is clear, it has something to do with the reversal of time. Not time travel per say but where our characters run in reverse while everyone else runs forward. It’s a curious angle to take and one that seems to stem from his first feature film Memento. Good news is that for the most part, Nolan has proven himself time and time again of releasing a great movie. This one seems to have a wide scope and some fantastic action, but only time will tell whether this is another big hit for him. 

Hot 100 Review: All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey

Watch the video: https://youtu.be/yXQViqx6GMY

Okay, so apparently the claim that The Weeknd had returned to stardom was premature. He rose high at number one last week only to drop all the way to 17. That’s still in the Top 20, but that is a hard hit to take so soon into a songs lifespan.

Meanwhile, The Weeknd’s closest competitor, Post Malone’s Circles stayed consistent over the last few weeks. It did not claim the number one spot this week, and Heartless didn’t stay on top so I could cover it, no. At time of posting Christmas is coming in fast and cold (I want to say hot. I mean global warming is a thing. Losing the point here). With Christmas time means the ever-present return of everyone’s favorite song “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey.

It really feels like we as a society only likes Mariah Carey at Christmas. Can any of you name a time she had a big song on the radio (or VH1 for me). The last one with any real air play was back in 2008 with Touch My Body (just watched the video to be sure. 1: song holds up but is a little long. 2: oh my god that’s Jack McBrayer. That hysterical). She’s had many albums come out, but none of the singles broke into the public consciousness and embed itself there like today’s song.

Okay, enough preamble. The song itself is… infectious. It really does stay in your brain. I mean obviously, it’s a song from 1994 getting big active air play in 2019. It has survived so many pop phases and still stuck around. Why is that?

There are many reasons. The most central of them is that it’s 4 straight minutes of Christmas cheer injected into your ear veins (ear veins? Yeah we’ll keep that. We don’t have an editor here, no one can tell me I can’t. On a side note if you want to be an editor contact us). Every beat and cord resonates back to songs of Christmas pasts.

It puts you into the holiday mood immediately with the intro. The operatic singing, mix of resonant bells and jingle bells, and strong voice all feel cozy and welcoming. When it transitions to the first verse of the song its constant jingle bells, upbeat piano, drums, and base make the song feel gigantic and important. So much of the visualization in the song’s lyrics paints the perfect picture of Christmas (Eve)ning. This is all helped by Mariah Carey being an amazing vocalist. You can really feel how much she loves the holiday, and how much she wants you to enjoy it too.

Now, this is an obvious point because it is indeed a Christmas song, but boy, Mariah Carey really loves Christmas. That’s the reason you make an original song, because you love it, but man she loves it. She loves it in the very genuine. She knows the reason of the season and is expressing that from the snow-covered rooftops. She wants someone so badly that she does not care about any part of the holiday except spending it with a person you really care about. That is accomplished through the massive vocals making the song feel like an event. Both Mariah Carey and the song care about Christmas and they will make you care through its perfect production and mix.

All of this praise is great until I pull the rug away a bit and say that the song is kind of bare lyrically. It’s super catchy (the second I saw I’d have to write about this song it all came flooding back to me), but does not have a lot going on in it. This feels like a concession to the genre. Most Christmas song are like Christmas trees. They’re purposefully bare. They are made beautiful by the decorations put upon them. This song just doesn’t have a lot of branches and pines to start so it had to be over decorated to compete. This makes the songs theme repetitive, like all the presents are wrapped in the same paper. It is not subtle in any way, and that is why it works. It gives just enough detail to be malleable for everyone, but not enough to paint a full picture.

(Oddly enough, Baby it’s Cold Outside was one of the least bare songs lyrically, and one of my favorites. Now with its controversy it feels to like the song is forever tarnished, but lots of duet singers make it feel like more flirtatious where we know what will happen, but in a playful way.)

The video is an excuse for Mariah Carey to play in the snow with her dog and show off her tree and presents (wait she gave those up for you). It’s basically showing how she celebrates or wants to celebrate Christmas. Seems odd when the song gets the meaning and video doesn’t. But presenting a good ole California Christmas would not look good on video and set the tone for one of the most Christmasy songs ever.

So a couple paragraphs with no real ending, and just affirmations. I’d say to listen to the song, but you have already. It is on every playlist imaginable. It feels timeless and like it has always existed (So timeless I thought it was a cover done by some artist totally eclipsed by the gigantic success of Mariah Carey). It will continue to exist. It might be a bare tree, but it is decorated so well you can’t look away.

Star Wars: Episode VIII- The Last Jedi (2017) Review

Undoubtedly and without question the most divisive film in the Star Wars franchise. This is the film that split the fandom in two and created a toxicity that is unwarranted and downright uncalled for. Fandom in general whether it be Star Wars, Marvel, or DC has become a toxic cesspool of scum and villainy with many trying the hardest to attack people personally for liking something. It was a clear problem during the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and heightened with the release of Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad for DC. Controversy is no stranger in the Star Wars fandom, but the toxicity eclipsed the other two following the release of The Last Jedi. There are of course fair arguments to be had for the film but it’s the hate and attacking between the fans that has made this one of the most dangerous movie franchises to talk about. Coming off of a great sci-fi original Looper and a few episodes of Breaking Bad, Rian Johnson was brought on to helm the next installment in the Skywalker saga. He was already a praised director for his previous films and work on Breaking Bad so he seemed like an excellent decision to bring him on. The Force Awakens set up the characters and left us wondering what was going to happen next after the Rey and Luke encounter. It seemed like everything was in place for him to take off running with the next story, but then the film was released and the hate and divisiveness began. Many saw it simply as, you either love it or hate it with no in between. Those that loved it hated the ones that hated it and those who hated it, hated the ones that loved it. It was as if we were in a fandom war with shots fired being each stroke on a keyboard. Reviewing this movie is no simple task but it must be done to complete all of the Star Wars movie reviews preceding The Rise of Skywalker. There are Jedi (the light) and Sith (the dark), and there are also the Gray Jedi (the balance). 

The easiest way to explain this what this film does is answered in our first scene with Rey and Luke. Rey hands him the familiar lightsaber and he simply tosses it over his shoulder and walks away saying nothing. It was almost a slap in the face when I watched it but not necessarily a harmful slap in the face but more of a wake up call to what this movie was going to do. It was going to subvert our expectations and keep us guessing throughout the whole movie. If that wasn’t the moment where you took a second and wondered if this was going to be a different style of Star Wars movie than maybe it was in the very beginning when Poe is making jokes about Hux’s mother in an attempt to add some levity and comedy. While there are comedic moments in the other films, this was a different kind of comedy that felt more in line with Marvel comedy. For some it works but for others it just didn’t feel right in a Star Wars movie. What it also told us in these two moments was that this wasn’t going to be a safe attempt like what JJ Abrams did with The Force Awakens. You could say that these moments were what sparked the controversy and divisiveness that only grew for many as the film continued on. For myself, the comedy is clearly out of place but it also works to a certain extent because it feels like something the Poe character would say, but it did take me out of the movie for a moment and question whether it was necessary to have that in there. It was the moment where Luke tosses the lightsaber that actually worked for me the most out of the two. It was a moment where I laughed inside because it wasn’t what I was expecting, but at the same time added a certain new edge to this character we all grew up with. It was in that moment that I thought to myself, “It’s been decades since this character was his former self in Return of the Jedi, who knows what kind of crap he’s been through since then”. I feel like it was this particular scene out of the two where fans were either on board or they weren’t. Some were still unsure and waited until further on when Luke talks about how he blocked himself from the outside world and the force and how he wouldn’t train Rey. And if not, then it was definitely when we learned how Luke contemplated killing Ben after seeing a dark future for the young boy. Any of these could’ve been the moment where you stayed on or jumped off, but these were all key character choices that divided the fans. It didn’t take long for me to make that decision. After watching him toss the lightsaber, I knew I was on board. I could tell that Rian Johnson was going to give me a bold and different take that seemed fresh and a great contrast to The Force Awakens. I guess maybe it worked more for me because one of my biggest issues with the previous film was how safe it was and how few risks it actually took. It wasn’t anything that I hadn’t seen before and with this one I really kind of wanted something new and different. Obviously it wasn’t the same for everyone, so I can only speak for myself. In studying the character of Luke, I actually found his character arc to make some sense. There’s a particular bit of dialogue he has when talking to Rey where he talks about how the Jedi at the height of their power allowed Palpatine to rise and kill them all. He didn’t know that information in the original trilogy so it was something he learned in between the two trilogies. Given that knowledge, it would seem that as the leader of the new Jedi order, Luke would take the mistakes that were made before and not repeat them. This goes back to his vision of a dark future for Kylo where he contemplated killing him, but instead decides to not do it. He decides not to do it because killing him would then make him evil and against what it means to be a Jedi. Unfortunately for him it was this action or thought of taking action that ultimately sets Kylo down the path of the dark side by feeling betrayed. The one place where I don’t agree with Luke’s actions is when he decides to distance himself and to go into hiding. This seems more like a move of the old Jedi ways like how Yoda failed in defeating Palpatine and decided to go into hiding. Reverting back to the old Jedi ways does make sense in a certain sense because after that moment it seemed that his new way wasn’t working either and he was ashamed of his decision. It isn’t until later on when Rey makes him realize that he was wrong and doing that and eventually reverts to both his way and the old Jedi way to save our heroes. His actions as a whole are understandably divisive. Fans wanted his character to go in a different more simple direction where as he actually goes down a different path, a more complex and layered path that does more with his character than what the simple direction could do. This whole character arc that he goes through is what made me love him even more as one of my favorite Star Wars characters by actually making him flawed. 

Old characters and new characters bring about some of the divisive parts for myself. This movie is a character piece for our main hero and villain, Rey and Kylo. It gives them the most engaging moments by introducing a new force power. I’m not sure if you can even call it a force power rather more of an aspect of the force. The force itself connects the two through a “force bond” that allows them to communicate while being in totally different locations. It allows them to see each other and connect to each other in a way that allows for more character development. I’m actually a big fan of all of these moments because I find it hard for them to really connect like this in person. If they came across each other in person they would more than likely just start fighting each other until one wins or escapes. Introducing this aspect of the force allows these two actors to play off of each other and to really allow them to flesh out their characters. There’s also a real arc that is created through this connection and could only happen because of the connection. In the first moment they have together, they immediately attempt to fight and argue, but while Luke isn’t exactly the perfect person to talk to, Rey instead has personal moments with Kylo expressing how she feels and building a bond with the conflicted villain. This leads to her belief that he will turn back to the light side and his belief that she will join him instead that comes full circle when they finally meet face to face in the final act of the film.

While Rey has a compelling storyline, all of the other heroes have a much less compelling storyline that seems to be out of place and just something for them to do. We get introduced to a new character, Rose Tico who has a thing for Finn. It seems like she has a good heart which she does, but her thing for Finn seems to be a thing that turns into nothing, but then back into a thing. I’m not sure. I feel like she was introduced only as a counterpart to Finn as they go through this whole plan of finding a hacker on another planet. The whole Canto Bight sequence where she and Finn have to find this hacker is the biggest fail of the whole movie. It’s the one part that really doesn’t work for me and reeks of feeling like a bad prequel moment. First off, the Resistance is just playing a slow game of catch me if you can, giving Finn and Rose more than enough time to go to another planet without being spotted, spend time there, and make it back with time to spare. All of that just seemed like lazy writing and a lack of care for any of those characters since the sole focus seemed to be on the Rey, Luke, and Ben characters. Back to the Canto Bight stuff. It seemed too much again when they get to the planet to find one specific code breaker but get captured only to find another code breaker locked up with them that just happens to be able to do the same thing. I find that very hard to believe could actually happen. It’s only when we get back to Snoke’s ship when everything finally seems to come together. The throne room scene is reminiscent of the one in Return of the Jedi, but takes a turn and a big surprise when Ben simply kills Snoke to his shock. I know many people had a problem with the handling of Snoke and how we didn’t get any of his backstory, but honestly prior to the prequels, the Emperor was no different. I also have the feeling that Snoke was killed so easily because he was meant to be killed by Kylo. I’m not sure yet if that has anything to do with the Emperor who we know is being brought back for the new film, but it does make sense. The following sequence of events with Rey and Ben teaming up to fight the guards is absolutely one of the coolest moments in all of Star Wars and one of my top three moments of this film. All three happen to take place very close to each other. The other happens right after the defeat the guard. Admiral Holdo reveals her plan for the rebels to escape to a planet below while she distracts the First Order ships. She doesn’t just distract though, instead she does something that gives us one of the most memorable visuals in the series when she jumps through hyperspace right through the ships. The use or lack of sound is perfect and the straight up visuals are breathtaking and something we’ve never seen before. This brings me to my third favorite part and that is when Luke uses all of his force power to be more Jedi like than any Jedi we’ve seen before. Not only does he use the power of the force to project himself, a power that only he has shown to be capable of doing, but he also sacrifices himself and fights Kylo without once striking at him. It’s an awesome and emotional reveal that is a baton pass to our last Jedi in Rey.

There are many moments in this film that simply don’t work for me. Unfortunately most of those scenes take place with Finn, Rose, and Poe. All of whom are characters that I really cared about and wanted to learn more about, but just had a very fragile storyline that doesn’t hold up. Their whole mission just doesn’t work for me and I feel it was a poor decision by Johnson to take the characters in that route. It should’ve been more than just an extra-long slow chase scene. Where the film makes up for that is absolutely every scene involving Rey, Luke, and Ben. They are some of the best moments in the whole series and while many will disagree with me, it gives us our best version of Luke that we’ve seen on screen. It delves deep into the characters of Rey and Ben and gives more layers to their relationship that was nothing more than a few encounters in the first film only to be expanded on greatly in this film. The Last Jedi is the most divisive film in the series and rightfully so. I can see many reasons why fans wouldn’t be on board with this movie and some of the decisions it made and I can see why some fans love it. Either way, this is a film that divided a fanbase more than it had ever been which is unfortunate. For me, this movie expanded on everything in the previous movie and made it better minus that Finn, Rose, and Poe stuff. It’s more rewatchable than The Force Awakens for myself and I absolutely love watching the majority of it every time I turn it on.

Grade: A-

Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens (2015) Review

The force has awakened after a long slumber that many thought would be forever. With George Lucas closing the book on his Star Wars saga, many of us thought that we would never get another movie again despite his questionable claims of having plans for a sequel trilogy. Years pass after the release of Revenge of the Sith and it really did start to seem like a false claim from the creator. In 2012 however, it was announced seemingly out of nowhere that George Lucas had sold his company to none other than Disney. There was a lot to take away from this news that included the announcement of a sequel trilogy to be released starting in 2015. There were a lot of people that didn’t approve of the acquisition and didn’t trust the mouse house being able to handle the famed property. From the start there was already a lot of controversy, but for the most part there was a lot of hype. I remember that very first trailer that was released a little over a year before its release and how excited it got the fans. I remember watching that trailer at least a hundred times and I remember all of the questions we all had. It was uncharted territory for fans that weren’t around when the originals were first released. For many, this would be a new trilogy of absolute mystery. More than that though, the movie was going to have to live up to an impossible amount of hype.

The Force Awakens is easily on the surface a retread of old themes and plot points from the original trilogy. It hurts from its lack of originality and lack of risk taking or traversing into pushing the boundaries to tell us a story that we weren’t expecting or hadn’t already seen in the series. What it did do differently was that it gave us a mysterious new character with Rey and a totally unique character in Finn. Rey having spent most of her life on the planet Jakku being a scavenger and having to struggle for food every day gave us a different background to that of Luke and even that of Anakin. I did find issue with the planet being completely new. I just don’t understand what the point of doing a desert planet that looks incredibly similar to Tattooine is when you could’ve just done Tattooine. There’s nothing significant about Jakku being Jakku that sets it apart from Tattooine, so why create a whole new planet. I just never understood the point or thought process. Back to Rey though, I’ve heard the complaints by some people saying that she’s a “Mary Sue”. Look, I’m not going to expand on this too much because there’s no point arguing a point that people just don’t understand. She survives on her own, she scavenges on her own, she fights on her own, she flies a speeder on her own, and she very clearly is strong with the force. All of these traits are character traits that she had prior to the story bringing her in. Therefore, in simple terms, she’s not a Mary Sue. She’s a character who has gone through life having to do so much on her own and has the force that does give her an edge on certain things especially as it grows within her. There are so many other characters in movies that have way less background information as to what they can do and why and yet we don’t talk about them. The reasons for her being able to do what she can do are right there in front of you and those character traits that she has are what makes her such an engaging character. She’s strong willed, skilled, and independent that makes her completely opposite to either Luke or Anakin. This movie repeated many themes and plot points from previous movies, but this was not one of them and that’s an important factor. She’s a breath of fresh air to the franchise and gives a different perspective into this familiar universe.

The second breath of fresh air is from the new character Finn. He was formerly a stormtrooper who “awakened” and decided that he didn’t want to be a stormtrooper. From the start it’s a great new perspective on the stormtroopers and gives them a little more humanity now that we know someone that was actually one of them. He’s frantic and goofy in a lot of scenes and has no urge to want to be a hero. My biggest complaint about him is how he got his name. It makes sense for someone in Poe’s shoes to just come up with the name based off of his designation as a stormtrooper being FN2187, but it seems like they could’ve figured out a better way. Finally we get to Poe who is confident and brash. He plays the Han Solo type role but is a far different character than Han. He has great moments and I enjoy his love for the Resistance and how dedicated he is to fighting the First Order. 

This film did a really good job of setting up these three new heroes that were to lead our new trilogy. They all come from different backgrounds and all have different character traits and motivations than the heroes that started this franchise. It’s a breath of fresh air that is only brought full circle by having a good villain. Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo is a divisive character among fans in this first film. He has a unique character design and is played by the great actor Adam Driver. I don’t think his age was ever given to us in this movie but he does seem a little too old to be having his tantrums when things don’t go his way. It also seems like that emotional whining is a trait carried through the Skywalker lineage since both Luke and Anakin have their moments acting in similar ways. Some people will complain about that, but for me I can see why it fits his character. Despite being an emotional character when things don’t work out in his favor, he’s also an extremely powerful character that we see from the first time we meet him. He uses the force to stop a blaster bolt in mid air and is able to keep that concentration even while having a brief interrogation with Poe. It’s quite impressive but of course the force is strong in his family. While I like the look of his mask and the meaning behind wanting to have one to kind of imitate his grandfather Vader, I much prefer the moments without the mask. In those moments we actually get to see the raw emotion and great acting by Adam Driver who can say a lot on his face without saying a word. The only other villains in this film are General Hux, Captain Phasma, and Supreme Leader Snoke. Hux is ok at best, he has some moments where he seems important enough but then moments where he’s sort of just thrown to the side. He’s a character that’s just kind of there for the movie. Phasma on the other hand is a character I have a problem with. The design alone is absolutely awesome and is also played by the great Gwendolyn Christie who is a great actor. Unfortunately she’s not given screen time, meaningful dialogue, or moments to do anything other than stand there and look menacing. It was disappointing that they didn’t give her more to do given the opportunity they had to really make her a significant adversary to our heroes. That would for the most be all of the important characters minus our original heroes Luke, Han, and Leia. Luke is only in it for maybe a minute, Leia does absolutely nothing in this film except say a few lines, but Han was the big key here. My biggest worry was that Harrison Ford wasn’t going to fall right back into that character but instead was going to be himself. Surprisingly he proved me wrong because he fell right back into that charming smuggler we all love. He is part of the core of this movie and is essentially our guide for our new heroes Rey and Finn. He has an unfortunate death that for the most part carried no weight because we never got a chance to feel the relationship between him and his son. It hurts because we all love the character and he dies, but it doesn’t carry as much weight or meaning as it could have if we just had a few moments to understand the relationship they had together. Overall though I very much enjoyed his character being brought back and made a focus. 

Going into the story, I started to realize that this movie was more for the characters than it was to tell a compelling story. Everything that happens only happens to drive our characters to the ending which I guess isn’t necessarily a bad thing because that’s what a movie should do, but it’s clear that the focus was on setting up these characters rather than tell a great compelling story. Like I said before, many of the plot points are rehashed ideas originally used in the other Star Wars films, A New Hope in particular. We get Starkiller base which is a super weapon built into a planet that sucks the energy out of a star and can shoot a beam that can split into five beams that all completely destroy five different planets. Honestly, that seems like a bit too much and too far trying to top what the Death Star was. I would’ve almost rather they just build a new Death Star. The problem here is that it poses a lot of questions like how a planet could sustain being completely transformed into a weapon and how exactly the technology works. Although, Star Wars has never been a series that tried to explain the technology which is part of why it works so well so I won’t knock it too much for that. The biggest issue with the weapon is that it destroys these planets similar to how Leia’s home world is destroyed in the original film which is fine and dandy but why does it matter? Okay, so they have a big weapon that you have to destroy. That’s it. There’s no emotion or care or worry with this weapon because we had no reason to care about the people on those planets that were all destroyed. Oh and if you didn’t know, apparently one of those planets was the base for the New Republic. Again, why does that matter if we don’t have a reason to care. Okay it’s an issue because the government is destroyed but it has no effect on our care of the issue except for how it affects our characters going forward which it doesn’t until the next film. For the most part it was a pretty standard story of trying to get BB-8 back to the Resistance which brought us to Leia and our heroes to the war. The only parts I really cared about that had depth and intrigue were the parts where Rey begins to find out who she really is. I feel the moments with Kylo and Rey are when this movie is at its peak. The Jedi and Sith were always the more interesting parts of the films for me because there were more layers and depth. We never get an answer in this film to who Rey is but we get a progression of her character as she slowly starts to understand this power she has. This to me is a better flow than what we see with Luke. People complain that she just knows how to use the powers even though she’s never used them before, but I argue it’s the force itself helping here and guiding her. It’s very evident in the interrogation scene between her and Kylo. 

Ultimately, this movie has issues with story and some logical problems, but none of those issues are bad but instead are just safe. This movie is a safe movie that doesn’t give us too much that’s new but instead gives us a movie that lays the groundwork for this new trilogy and these new characters in a way that’s engaging and entertaining. In the end the film as a whole is a fun time that is only held back by it being a safe retread. The highlight moment for me was the duel between Rey and Kylo. I know there are complaints as to how he’s able to beat her but if you watched this movie then you would have noticed how injured Kylo was going into this duel. Prior to it, he took a shot to his body from Chewbacca’s now caster that was shown previously to penetrate stormtrooper armor and throw them into the air. If you can’t understand how injures Kylo was in that duel then I’m not sure if you’re even wanting to give the movie a chance. It’s not one of the best movies in the franchise, but it’s an entertaining fun ride that really sets up everything to come. It has some key highlight moments and gives us brand new characters with interesting character arcs to come. The Force Awakens was my first time watching a new Star Wars movie as an adult and it didn’t disappoint in giving me what I was looking for. It’s a movie that will hold up with less controversy than some others many years from now. 

Grade: B+

Star Wars: Episode VI- Return of the Jedi (1983) Review

Return of the Jedi is a mixed bag of decent and amazing. This movie has some of my least favorite parts of this trilogy and some of my most liked moments of the trilogy. It’s a hard placement on my ranking of Star Wars movies. I know a lot of people think this is the best of all of them and some not so much. I always watched this movie after watching Empire but my thoughts back then even as a kid seemed to stay the same as I continued to watch it growing up. I remember always enjoying the last third of the movie when the heroes make it to Endor and the climactic finale starts. I also remember not paying much attention to the beginning with Jabba because it just seemed to drag and wasn’t and wasn’t as exciting until they are about to be thrown into the Sarlaac pit. I enjoyed all of when Luke goes back to see Yoda, but I didn’t like the beginning of them showing up on Endor. All in all I just remember the pacing being a big issue in this movie for me. At the time I was too young to really understand pacing and how important it is to a movie, but as I got older I understood it more and the issue stood out significantly the more I watched. I know not everyone has this feeling and many enjoy it, but that’s just a difference of opinion. I also hadn’t watched this movie in a little while until before doing this review so maybe my thoughts changed? 

It’s always hard to go into a movie with a blank slate in your mind especially when you’ve already seen it numerous times but I tried my best to go into this fresh. With the cliffhanger of Han being frozen and taken away by Boba to deliver to Jabba, I knew that they were going to have to address that. At the time, they weren’t sure if Harrison Ford was going to be back for another movie so they had to end Empire in a way where they would be covered no matter what. It was going to have to be a rescue mission and it begins with Luke sending in C3PO and R2D2 to barter with the slug like gangster. A hologram of Luke shows us a much more confident version of this character. Fair enough, he’s been through a lot at this point and it’s a rightful progression of the character although a little jarring considering where we left him in the previous film. We didn’t really get the development of him from Empire to him in this film. It’s not a big deal but it was a point noted when watching it this time. I then found myself asking “how many people does it take?” The droids go in with no success, then Leia goes in and unfreezes Han but gets caught so she fails, then Luke goes in and ultimately fails until they all escape later on. It seemed a little too much to have someone try to save everyone three times. There’s also a few points that don’t make sense logically. Lando is already there so if the droids barter was successful, does he just walk out and reveal that he was undercover? If Leia is successful in leaving with Han then how do the droids and Lando get out? Now if Luke was successful then it would be easier because they could all just walk out, but that didn’t happen either. Now I wonder, was this Luke’s plan the whole time? Have Leia unfreeze him only to get captured? What if the Rancor killed Luke? Now the rest of our heroes are stuck with Jabba forever. The whole rescue plot just seems convoluted and makes no sense when you think about it. Also, how does Han magically shoot Boba at the right time and in the right spot so that his jet pack goes off and he falls in the pit? Also (again) why would you kill Boba like that so easily? There’s just a lot that doesn’t make sense hence why I’m not a fan of this whole beginning act. There are some good aspects of the beginning like Luke’s new outfit being all black. It’s an interesting contrast to who he is mentally having become a fully realized Jedi Knight and yet the black represents more of the dark side feel. I also like how he force chokes the guard in the beginning. I find it odd that you never see a Jedi do that except in that one scene. I suppose it comes off as being not very Jedi-like to use the force for harm, but I do like that Luke is one of the few Jedi that actually embraces all aspects of the force. He is you could say the first Gray Jedi we’ve seen on screen. I won’t go into the lore of what a Gray Jedi is, but if you look at The Last Jedi, you can see that his teachings and learnings lean more towards Gray Jedi.

It is interesting how less complex this movie is till you get to the final act. After escaping and killing Jabba, they split up so Luke can go visit Yoda and the others go meet up with the rebel fleet. During this we finally get to see the Emperor with Vader as they discuss the new Death Star. Which of course they just had to add another Death Star because they couldn’t come up with something else for them to fight. It couldn’t just be an Imperial fleet or some kind of other super weapon? I guess it would make sense that the Emperor would have other stations built around the galaxy after the success of the first one but unless they started building it before A New Hope than the building time frame doesn’t make much sense. This may be something that’s only harmed by the prequels and might have worked better without the prequels showing the early stages of its creation. Luke finally gets to visit Yoda again to complete his training, but of course Yoda says that there is no more training for him. Okay, so wait a second. Luke hasn’t seen Yoda since Empire where he didn’t complete his training and failed miserably against Vader, and yet he requires no more training after a relatively short amount of time between these two movies. That didn’t make much sense and the reveal of Leia being his sister is kind of cool, but feels like it was just added for the sake of another twist. I do like the death of Yoda, but really all this feels like it happens to no point. Ben tries to explain his lie about Vader being his father, but doesn’t give a very compelling reason. The more I talk about it, the more I start to realize how little sense a lot of this movie makes so far.

Luke finally meets up with the rebel fleet as they work out a plan to take out the Death Star and to defeat the Empire for good! They arrive on the Moon of Endor with Luke almost giving the team away by just existing as they try to sneak onto the planet. Vader has a dumb dumb moment by allowing them to land when he could’ve just ordered the ship to be destroyed, but that goes back to the light side coming out of him. It’s a fair reason that really shows him as a deeper character and sets up his turn for the end of the movie. The speeder bike chase is pretty cool with Luke and Leia and we’re introduced to the native Ewoks. There are a few things I have to say about the Ewoks. I would have preferred to have Wookies in their place like it was supposed to be in the original drafts. They would have been more fearsome and would have made for a far more exciting end fight against the Stormtroopers. With that said, the Ewoks are terribly underrated. All of the times I watched this movie before this time, I always felt like the Ewoks were too cute and not threatening enough for me to care so much about them fighting with our heroes. In all honesty I absolutely hated the Ewoks for the longest time. On this viewing I realized that the Ewoks are scarier when you actually look at their actions. While they are cute little teddy bears, they are actually small fierce little murderers. Their cuteness takes away from what they actually planned on doing to our heroes and gives an idea of how they are as a species on a normal day. They were going to burn our heroes alive and eat them without a second thought. They were savages that decided to help our heroes thankfully and instead fought the Empire and likely murdered and ate the stormtroopers. So we skip the whole C3PO story time and get to Luke telling Leia about their sibling relationship which of course she felt like was true the whole time and then Luke leaves to go face Vader.

The finale. The big climactic war of all wars. There’s really not much to say about this. It’s a great space battle considered by some to be the greatest space battle ever on the big screen with some key moments from Lando who is flying the Falcon. We also get some classic Han moments in the fight on the forest moon and a roll your eyes moment when Leia steals Han’s “I know” moment. The Ewoks somehow completely destroy the surprisingly small fleet of Imperials that went down to the moon. Why would you not send more troops down to completely annihilate them? You literally have so many troops but you only sent a small group that were easily handled by a bunch of murderous teddy bears. Okay, enough of all of that. We get to the part that we actually care more about and that is the finale between Luke, Vader, and Palpatine. For all of you people complaining about The Last Jedi and Snoke’s use in that movie. Newsflash, Palpatine does even less than Snoke. He sits there and tries to lure Luke to the dark side and then tries to turn on Vader and is finally thrown down a reactor shaft and “exploding”. (Since he is alive in The Rise of Skywalker I guess he didn’t actually explode). I guess I’m a fan of this final battle even though it nowhere near matches the duel in Empire. And the father son moments between Vader and Luke is compelling and heartfelt and a great way to end the reign of the Empire. Other than that I actually can’t say much more about this film.

In the end, this movie for me is a disappointing follow up to The Empire Strikes Back. Many loves this movie and many consider it to be the best Star Wars movie of the whole series. I disagree. I don’t see where the elevation in quality is in this film unfortunately and while there are some enjoyable moments that work for me, on rewatch it just doesn’t work as a whole. There’s not as much depth or layers to it or the characters. It also has pacing issues and several logic issues that honestly reeks of somebody trying to do too much. It really just didn’t have as clear of a vision as Empire and A New Hope. Unfortunately this film did not exceed my previous feelings and honestly may have come out lower on my list of these films ranked.

Grade: C+

Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Review

One of the best sequels of all time. My favorite Star Wars movie and my second favorite movie of all time. The Empire Strikes Back for many including me, is peak Star Wars. For the franchise this was uncharted waters of whether or not George Lucas could actually pull off making a successful sequel in an era where sequels weren’t that common especially successful sequels. He took a different route in bringing in a writer to help script in Lawrence Kasdan and bringing a director to direct his vision with Irvin Kershner. The advantage of this was that George was handing over the reins to a new crew to produce his vision but with more technical skill than what George himself has. The Empire Strikes Back ended up becoming the most successful sequel ever at the time and is widely regarded as the better film between itself and the original. It hosts what some would argue being the greatest movie twist of all time and “the last great movie twist”. It also ends on a cliffhanger with many questions left unanswered only to be revealed in another sequel. Ultimately this was a big gamble. Although the first movie ended up being a massive success, there was no guarantee that the sequel would perform as well as the original and ending on a note that requires the success of this film is bold and an incredible success. I actually have more fun with some other movies in this franchise, however Empire has always been my favorite. Does it hold up after rewatch?

This almost a perfect movie in my mind. It’s not your typical kind of sob story or based on a true story drama kind of perfect Oscar movie, but as far as a summer blockbuster goes, this is really the best of the best. This movie takes everything from the first movie and completely elevates it to another level. Going back to my feelings towards the previous movie, I couldn’t quite figure out why I always went to this movie first rather than go to the original to begin my rewatch. I think this is definitely a major reason why. While the original film is very good and a classic and in some eyes the best of the series, it’s this movie that absolutely elevates every aspect and brings us an overall better movie. It has more depth, more character, better action, and more iconic moments. It’s not the big twist that does it for me. It really is the character development and the depth that impact my perception the most. Following a timeskip we are brought back to our heroes who have taken more to their roles in the rebellion. Luke is more confident and not who he was when he first started his journey, but still clearly has much to learn. Han is still the overconfident smooth talking smuggler that is just trying to get away from the rebellion, but his plans are thwarted by his own personal feelings towards Leia. Leia isn’t just your princess in distress, she’s also more confident but with more genuine emotion than she had in the first film. Surprisingly she has more genuine emotion when going back and forth about his and her feelings than she does after watching her homeworld explode. That would be a point for Empire. It gives us these updated version of our characters early on in the film, but needs to set up moments and storylines for them to grow, but before that we open with an awesome action scene on the snow planet Hoth. The rebels aren’t going to win the battle so they begin their escape with Leia going with Han and Luke going on his own with R2.

It took only a few minutes into the movie for us to get Luke’s setup with the ghost of Ben showing himself and telling Luke to go find Master Yoda. While Han and Leia’s storyline sort of just happens, it is good that slowly elevates to being highlight moments for the movie overall. With Luke going to find Yoda, we know we’re going to get time for him to train to become a Jedi which means we’re going to get more depth and information into the Jedi lore. This is immediately and elevation over what we got in the first film. A New Hope set up the groundwork and the mystery, but it was Empire that took that groundwork and solidified a foundation for the Jedi that we know today and fall back on when trying to understand them. There is incredible depth with the symbolism and the meaning behind the meaning in Yoda’s lessons to Luke. Not only for Luke, but for us, this movie teaches lessons of a Jedi and lessons of the real world. A simple line from Yoda “Do or do not. There is not try.” This line alone says so much about perseverance and personal drive to accel at what you do and to keep pushing forward. Not to just do something with no confidence, but instead, if you can feel it to be true than you can do it. That was just one line. While I find some of the other films being good case studies, this one is a case study on a totally opposite spectrum. You could study everything about this movie from each individual line to how certain scenes are executed and interpreted. There are so many layers that you could get a different meaning each time you watch the movie.

This brings us to the “other” story. I say “other” because it’s clearly not as compelling as the Luke arc that is going on opposite of the Han and Leia storyline. They’re trying to escape the Empire because the Hyperdrive doesn’t work so we get some chase and some hide and seek, but all of it is to give time for Han and Leia to have moments to grow on each other more and to develop that deeper relationship. There’s nothing wrong with that because it is a logical progression of their characters from where we left them in the last movie, but I just wish they could’ve had more to do in the middle of the movie. I was never a big fan of the space slug and the bat like creatures in its stomach. This story only gets more interesting when they finally make it to Cloud City followed by a sneaky new bounty hunter. We get introduced to Lando Calrissian (Billy D. Williams) Who may be more smooth talking than Han. It’s a very interesting dynamic and angle to take because with every move Lando tries to pull, we can see the subtle push back from Leia and eye rolling from Han because they now both have those feelings for each other. The first unexpected twist is when we find out that Vader has beaten them there and has made a deal with Lando. It shows how grey this world is where we can have a new character clearly connected to our hero that we feel like we should trust only to unfortunately betray us as soon as we meet him. It’s a perfect way to subvert the expectations of what a character like that would do in a typical movie. This all leads to one of the most iconic and emotional moments in all of history and arguably one if the most memorable moments ever in cinema history. Leia says “I love you.” And Han gives a simple “I know.” It’s improvised and on the surface seems like nothing more than an eye rolling line, but in reality it has comedy and heart in it at the same time. It’s funny because that’s something his character would say rather than “I love you too.” It’s heartfelt because as soon as he says it, you can feel the significance of that love between the two characters. He then is frozen in carbonite and taken away by Boba Fett. It’s amazing to me how much of an impact a character like Boba after can have with little screen time and hardly any dialogue. He’s now one of the most famous characters from the series.

We finally get to the final confrontation. Luke vs Vader. This is where I fell in love with Star Wars. While A New Hope gave us our first lightsaber duel with Ben vs Vader, it was slightly lackluster and made me want more. The duel between Vader and Luke however was absolute gold. Luke was nowhere near the level of Vader at this point as you can see with Vader mostly toying with him the whole time, but he put up a fight and gave what I believe to be one of the best lightsaber duels in all of the series. Obviously not because they were an equal match (because they weren’t) but instead because of the visuals involved. The Ben and Vader fight was more calculated due to their superior knowledge of wielding the laser sword. This fight was raw and gave more untamed ferocity between the two. Luke was fighting with emotion while Vader fought with tamed precision attempting to parry each of Luke’s strike. It was more so a game for Vader who was spending more time testing Luke and attempting to lure him to the dark side. All of this happening with incredible backdrop of that Cloud City carbonite room with its faint orange glow in a mostly dark room illuminated by the red and blue beams of energy from the lightsabers. All of this culminates to an incredibly appealing sequence that only gets deeper as we close in on the finale of the duel. With Luke cornered, Vader finally goes on the offensive and cuts off Luke’s hand. In a last attempt to lure Luke, Vader finally reveals one of the greatest twists in cinema. He is in fact Luke’s father. This performed expertly by Mark Hamill as we see pain and realization sink in with facial expressions alone. He decides not to join Vader and rather leave his fate up to the force as he lets go in falls below only to be saved by Leia and Lando. It’s at this point you start to realize how far our characters have come and what makes this movie so incredible. All of our characters go through in arc in this movie that changes who they are in a compelling manner and leaves us with more questions and even more character growth for the next film. It’s an incredible feat that not many movies achieve off of a sequel. 

The Empire Strikes Back is one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s my favorite Star Wars movie and it’s the most impactful movie on my life. It’s the movie that I remember the most and the one that really solidified my love for the franchise. If I wanted to, I could find issues in this movie but to do that would be to just look for an issue, not blatantly see one. Therefore, I find this to be the least flawed and most perfectly crafted of all of the Star Wars movies. 

Grade: A+

Pokémon Needs to Fix its Endgame

Pokemon Sword and Shield (I played Sword) were mired in controversy all the way till release. These controversies ranged from claims of reusing 3D models from other games, cutting back in graphical quality, and Dexit (removing the National Dex and many of the 800+ pocket monsters). It seemed like the hardcore fans would to tear the Pokemon Company a new one, and make this the lowest selling mainline Pokemon game ever. Then it came out to great reviews and strong sales numbers.

Now, just because most reviewers liked the game (and it was one of the fastest selling games for the console) does not mean the critics did not have any points. The game is good. It has great characters, strong art design, some great new monsters, fun new mechanics, and also has many repeated and lazy animations (Why does Scorbunny kick his opponent when he’s doing headbutt?), terrible pop-in, and less than stellar graphics in comparison to other games on the console (Dragon Quest XI). It also has a middling and underwhelming end game experience that makes continuing on after beating Hop a daunting task.

It’s not just Sword and Shield that have this problem, but all (really most, but all sounds better) of the mainline games have this problem.

What do you do after you’ve beaten the gyms, the Elite Four, and the Champion are often where Pokemon? That question is where the games fail hardest. The solution is to write it off and say catch and evolve the remaining Pokemon and hypothetically complete your Pokedex. After, raise them all up to lv 100. Now that professional and competitive Pokemon is a thing the other option is to raise a perfect team to compete in tournaments by digging into the IVs, EVs, personalities, and general min-maxing optimization of the game.

Those end game options do not sound so pitiful and middling. I just have a follow-up question: What is the easiest way to level all those wonderful creatures to level 100?

If you want to be pedantic (you can, I physically can’t stop you) the answer is just to battle. I mean obviously. But that answer of “to battle” is where everything breaks down for me. That solution of battling really means to just go to the place where the highest level monsters are and continually grind through them, or go through the Elite Four over and over. And… isn’t that sad?

Let’s back up a minute. The first Pokemon game I played to completion was Pokemon: Emerald. It was a great time (it was Hoenn, so of course it was). After you caught Rayquaza, Kyogre, and Groudon, beat Steven, and unlocked the Reggis it had the PokeNav – Trainer’s Eyes. This mechanic allowed you to activate it in a trainer heavy area and see if any of them wanted to battle you again. When you went to battle them again they were stronger. The other function of the Trainer’s Eyes was the ability to battle stronger versions of the Gym Leaders. Furthermore each time you battled through the Elite Four and Champion Steven they got progressively stronger until they capped in the 70s.

The potential for increasingly more intensive battles made it easy to level up your Pokemon to higher levels. It was great and they never used this system again.

Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (I played Ruby. A chance to actually get Zangoose, of course!) did not even have the PokeNav as it was used in the originals. You could rebattle the Elite Four like usual and you can go to the Battle Hotel island to rebattle pretty consistently. You just couldn’t rebattle everyone like the game it’s a remake of. Pokemon Sun and Moon (I didn’t play Ultra Sun or Moon so tell me if I’m wrong and it does all this right) had no way to have rematches with trainers at all. You could only battle high level encounters.

I don’t want to make it seem like the PokeNav – Trainer’s Eyes was perfect. It capped all non-Elite Four members after the first time, and it seemed random as to who was ready for a new fight and those who were not, but it had potential.

Sword and Shield has released with new ways to level up. The ability to camp, send Pokemon out on jobs, and farm rare/exp candies have helped to remedy this problem. They’re all fine, but it doesn’t help build the world out after you catch you Nobel Wolf and beat your rival for the last time. Everything is stagnant. You can go to the Battle Tower and make your way to the top and beat Leon again, but after that there is nothing.

The PokeNav – Trainer Eyes had the potential to expand the world outside of you and give you a stronger impact on the world as both player and character. Pokemon Emerald was a GBA game. That came with obvious limitations but as they expanded to DS, 3DS, and now Switch those limitations are obsolete. Endless evolution in the trainers is an obtainable possibility, and something Game Freak has messed around with before

The Let’s Go Pokemon games innovated in many ways on the classic formula. Those innovations were the active catching (let’s call it), and the master trainers. The master trainers had a single lvl 100 Pokemon and only wanted to battle the best version of that same Pokemon you caught. That went in tandem with the active catching where the more you caught a single Pokemon the stronger the subsequent ones got. This fleshed out the gameplay and delivered on the mottos of “Be the Best” and “Catch them All” to their logical end points.

Those systems could not be taken wholesale without adopting and adapting the Let’s Go model. If Game Freak doesn’t want to do that (staying traditional is fine) making Pokemon masters from other regions, or master of a Pokémon type, who arrive after the game to challenge is an option. OR what really should be done is rebattle all the trainers, gyms, and Team Yell hooligans. Give them a level boost to be competitive with you (low 60s at the start) and then battle through them again. You beat them through your playthrough. They took that loss you gave them to grow into stronger trainers. That story can continue until everyone is at level 100. You (the player) invigorated those around you, pushed all of them be their best, and in turn they pushed you to be your best. That is part of what Pokemon is all about.

The Pokemon master or leveling trainers would keep the game consistently engaging as you go and battle old, stronger foes over and over. Once everyone is at level 100 the same problem of dwindling enjoyment due to decreased challenges would arise, but (hypothetically) they could be used to farm level ups for competition Pokemon, or just complete and have lvl 100 for all Pokémon (along with jobs and everything else Sword and Shield has).

That could be asking for too much. That would be for sequel (a new mainline game, a remake, or Super Sword and Shield) so what could be done in the game as is, is make the tournaments at the endgame more impactful. It is easy to have level 80s and 90s sweeping an entire team or whole tournaments without Dynamaxing (Dynamaxing doesn’t totally click. Its presented as being dark and monstrous with the evil legendary causing it and being the catalyst for The Great Darkness. After catching Eternatus and cleansing him Dynamaxing still makes the sky dark and the giant versions of the Pokemon evil. Does not make a whole lot of sense and doesn’t totally work out). They’re supposed to be the strongest trainers Make them strong and level up to 70s (like Emerald) at least.

Pokemon is great. Pokemon Sword and Shield are good games that I want to play for the same 200+ hours I did when I started Emerald, Diamond and all the others. The controversies these games had to endure are inconsequential in comparison to the fact that I completed the campaign and am ready to turn it off ( to play the Digimon Cyber Sleuth Two Pack) and wait for the next main line release to come out instead of sink hundreds more hours into the one I got. It’s easy to say “Just keep playing it then!” You can hit the bottom of the barrell and try to keep going, but you’ll just be destroying the barrell by that point.

Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope (1977) Review

This where everything started. This is the movie the laid the groundwork for the Star Wars universe we know today. There have been many video essays that cover the excellence of this movie. I do agree that this movie is fantastic and accomplished so much with the struggle it had just getting made. However, unpopular opinion, A New Hope is right dead in the middle of my rankings of all of these movies. As far as quality goes, this movie is a masterwork of all of the technical aspects whether it be editing or sound design, but what my list comes down to is the actual enjoyment factor and the urge to watch it again. It’s a classic and a staple in the history of cinema for everything it was able to do and the boundaries it pushed, but because of how tightly controlled this movie was from the studio as far as where the story could go and how much leeway George actually had, it suffers some. Going into watching this movie again for the review, I thought back and remembered all of the time I spent watching this movie and all the rest growing up, but then I started to realize that I actually hadn’t seen this one in a while. I’ve actually seen every other Star Wars movie, maybe two times over since the last time I watched A New Hope. There wasn’t a reason or anything for it, I love the movie! There’s just some deeper reason in the back of my mind that made me skip to what is my favorite of the series with The Empire Strikes Back. I’m hoping my feeling haven’t changed overall for this movie since the last time I’ve seen it, but let’s find out!

 

The first thing that struck me was the hilarity of  remembering how viewers of this film when it originally came out always praised the fast pace, but in our present day its actually relatively slow in comparison to today’s movies. That isn’t a bad thing per say, but I do believe it’s an important factor into why some of the younger generation aren’t as big a fan of the older movies which is unfortunate but just a progression of the business. While the film does feel slower in comparison, it still has a quick pace that engages you. The first ten minutes doesn’t introduce you to our main character, but sets up so much in such little time that you don’t realize it until you actually look at it and process all of the information that is actually given to you. There’s a rebellion that’s fighting an empire, a princess that has plans to a planet destroying battle station, a black clad villain that steels the screen, and two droids that take us through these events. It also sets up the plot in the first five minutes which is a feat that a lot of movies tend to take too long to do. This is where the pacing is important and really holds up regardless of how old the movie is. This may be the best paced movie of the whole series, but is often overlooked. Why its overlooked seems to come down to the simplicity of the movie while not simplistic at the same time. It’s not simplistic because of the new world that we aren’t familiar with (if you watch this movie first before seeing any of the others) but it’s simplistic because it can be broken down easily into the heroes journey. It doesn’t stray too far from this formula, but shrouds that simplicity with all of the lore being created and given to us at the same time. Where this tends to stand out to my brain or thought process now is that without thinking too much about it when I’m deciding which movie to watch, my brain leans more towards the other movies because of the formulaic simplicity of this movie. That’s not a knock on the movie at all, but it is an important factor that plays into not only the success but also the failure when it’s trying to bring in new fans. From a personal perspective, I know many people that I’ve introduced this movie to that tend to like the newer movies or prequels more than the originals and I think it’s because of these points I’ve made that are a reason for this issue.

 

Back to the movie. This is easily the worst version of Luke that we have in the movies. I think some people forget how whiny Luke is in this movie. He’s very clearly a fish out of water from the point of him leaving with Ben to begin his journey in this much larger universe. I was never a fan of Luke in this movie because of how insignificant he is until we get later into the movie and he actually gets to do some things. The acting is also not the greatest in this movie from Mark Hamill which progressively gets better with each installment following and that tends to happen when an actor sticks with a character for more than one movie. The more time they spend playing that character, the more they embrace and understand that character which carries over to the acting. It’s only highlighted more by how easily Harrison Ford embraces the Han Solo character that almost seems like his own personal life in another world. Han Solo is one of the most recognizable characters ever and gets that stardom by how well Ford plays the role. He’s the badass smuggler that has a soft side but seems to be the most relatable character for the casual viewer with his feelings towards the force and Jedi. His development from the first scene we meet him in to the end is fantastic along with Luke. While I gave Luke some crap about how his character was in the beginning, he does go through a great character arc that brings him around to being a complete and more mature character that is set up for success for the sequels. Leia and Ben both come off as one note characters with great moments. They don’t go through much of a character arc and don’t have a lot to do or opportunity to do much, but they both have great moments that define their characters. It’s these moments that define who Ben Kenobi is and what keeps his legacy as a character timeless. Leia however doesn’t gain her timelessness for me until the next film The Empire Strikes Back, when she actually is given more material to work with and goes through an excellent character arc. Darth Vader is arguably the most iconic villain in all of cinema, however I feel this falls along the lines of the Leia character also. Vader doesn’t have a whole lot to do minus being threatening and killing our heroes mentor, but he doesn’t get his real moments to shine and solidify his icon status until the next film. Finally we get to our tour guides R2D2 and C3P0. R2D2 is fine because he doesn’t have dialogue and just does his own thing which I find hilarious while C3P0 has always been a character that I could do without. I know people love him and he does bring comedy, but sometimes it’s just too much and over the top. The movie wouldn’t work without him, but I’m just not a fan overall of the character.

 

Unless you get down to some specific aspects of this movie, it’s pretty much a near perfect film. There’s easily some issues with the writing, acting and character development and there’s some problems with logic like how Luke’s photon torpedo’s make a ninety degree turn. It’s things like these that you just have to ignore and move past because. The story works overall for what it is and what it does. It’s a great setup for the following movies and a great setup for characters that we want more adventures with, but doesn’t go much further than that. I think that this movie gets a pass from most people from the fact that it’s the first Star Wars movie in the series. It’s the most formulaic and most simplistic of all of them, but manages to tell a story in a way that keeps you engaged and makes you excited for what comes next in the story. It seems like a knock against the movie but it’s not. I consider this a win for the movie because it does so much without having to do that much and still keeps its quality in a timeless way. It really is a great study trying to understand this film and Rogue One. They both have more to say the longer you look at them. I could keep going into trying to nitpick this movie or do a complete study, but this is just an overall review of the movie that certainly stands up and is timeless and a necessary staple in the history of cinema. This is absolutely a must watch for anyone that likes movies and I feel it’s a movie that should be taught in classes because of how you can study it.

 

Grade: A-

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Review

While not the best Star Wars movie in the franchise, I find it by far the most underrated of all of the movies in the series. It had one of the biggest challenges being the first Star Wars movie that wasn’t an episodic entry. They took a fairly safe route of having it take place in a familiar time period between episodes three and four. It also told a story of something that while not very significant at the time, it did make us wonder. The release of the original Star Wars film started with an intro crawl stating that rebel spies had stolen plans to the Death Star. While the preceding movie covered what happened with the plans after Leia was in possession of them, Rogue One took us backwards and showed who those rebel spies were. Watching the trailers it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be your typical Star Wars movie with the force and lightsabers, but instead took a thrilling wartime approach that certainly gave us a fresh view into this universe. My excitement was on another level with the release of The Force Awakens like most fans, but I found myself more hyped up to watch Rogue One. The biggest reason being that I felt I could relax a little going into it. For the most part I knew where the movie was going to end and what would likely happen to our main characters, it was just a matter of how the story was told. I actually found that being the biggest thing going for it. It just had to tell a good story set in the Star Wars universe, but was it able to accomplish that task? 

The most jarring moment right off the bat for me was the lack of an intro crawl. The movie instantly starts with a scene set in the past for our main character then immediately cuts to showing us the title of the movie and then bringing us right into the present. Immediately you can feel a sense of urgency for the mood of the film. This is easily one of the best aspects overall by making you feel like there’s a ticking time bomb planted in every scene. There’s a quick pace that’s only slowed down by exposition when we’re given a sense of the issues at hand and where the characters are having to go. It also doesn’t give you your typical Star Wars heroes, instead it gives you a woman in Jyn (Felicity Jones) who wants to keep her head down and just live her life away from The Rebellion and away from The Empire. We also get a man in Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who is with The Rebellion but very much a grey character who will do what is necessary, including killing an informant. They’re very far from your typical Star Wars characters and I appreciate that approach as it gives us a much more grounded and real feel to this universe. 

Jyn is thrown into an unwanted situation when she’s brought in by the rebels due to her father’s involvement with the development of The Death Star. She was not aware of him still being alive and her own motivation is to get to him, while the motivation of the rebels is to retrieve a pilot who defected from The Empire with a message to the rebels regarding a way to destroy the Death Star. All of this is set up early on and puts us on pace to a non stop adrenaline rush through a boost on the ground perspective. I appreciated the more mature and realistic insight and perspective into The Empire’s reign. The first most memorable moment comes when they retrieve the message and pilot on Jedha, a planet that soon becomes a disaster. The biggest standout on a technical aspect are the visuals and camera work that come from a director in Garett Edwards, who is known for his ability to give a real sense of scale like he was able to do with Godzilla (2014). What he’s able to do in Godzilla and in Rogue One is give you a first hand experience into how big something really is. What I’m saying is that when they finally test the Death Star on Jedha, he shoots it in a way where you actually see the totality of damage and destruction that is being brought to this planet full of people that you knew were there but have now clearly been completely obliterated. In doing this he’s able to make you feel like the world is collapsing around you the same as our characters are feeling trying to escape the destruction. It’s really something that I don’t find much in any of the other movies that actually choose to show the destruction from a distance rather than the real boots on the ground feel. 

This quick pace continues as we get to the “rescue” of Jyn’s father Galen (Mads Mikkelson). This is an important moment in the movie for both Jyn and Cassian. Jyn has emotional disappointment watching her father die in her hands, a key moment that doesn’t hit as hard in any other Star Wars movie. This also is a turning point for Cassian who becomes more human and emotional himself by defying the orders of the Rebellion to kill Galen and instead watching to see the events play out. This is a moment that really brings him closer to Jyn and give his character much more depth. It all comes to a ahead and comes full circle when Jyn pleads to The Rebellion to go through with stealing the plans so that they can bring down the Death Star. This shows the development of Jyn who fully embraces her role in the universe and also brings in Cassian who now supports her and is willing to do what is necessary to get the plans which brings us to our climactic finale. This is the moment that I was waiting for. A full scale war like sequence with the fate of characters that we can all see coming to a sad and emotional ending. It’s when the hilariously honest droid K2SO sacrifices himself that it sinks in what’s really going to happen. Our characters are going to die. Unfortunately they do and while I could see Disney deciding to leave them alive for the sake of not having a depressing ending, I am so glad that they went with the better choice of killing them all for the sake of this mission. It adds so much more meaning to what they did and what it took just to get those plans. It adds more meaning to the plans in the following movie A New Hope. I don’t think I have normally felt this way about movies preceding an older movie, but Rogue One actually enhances my experience watching A New Hope. 

A few things that I haven’t gone over yet: Vader, Krennic, and Tarkin. A big question mark was how they were going to handle the Tarkin character. We were told well before the release that the character would be created using an actor and CGI. There was a lot of skepticism and while it works for the few scenes he’s in, it’s hard not to be taken out of the movie when you can clearly see that he’s not entirely real. I don’t dwell on this too much because it’s such a small factor but it is a downside to our technology not being quite right yet to the point of completely recreating a person. Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) gives us a fantastic villain that has a purpose of wanting to prove himself but has it all taken away. In the end it makes me feel for him because of all of his failures. He’s very clearly a villain and you shouldn’t care about him but it’s a testament to how well they wrote his character for you to end up caring as much you do about him. Finally, we have Vader. Vader shows up in one scene with Krennic and give us some classic Vader with an awesome backdrop of his castle which I would very much like to see more of and he gets a scene at the end. There’s a few things about that scene that strike me. 1. The scene was necessary given the timeline of events between this movie and A New Hope. 2. This scene takes away from the rest of the movie. While I personally love the moment he has striking down the rebels, I think it took some shine away from the rest of the movie. It seemed like people were talking more about that scene than the rest of the movie because it was just Vader being awesome. I really wish people would go into this and look at the movie more as a whole rather than that one memorable scene. 

To go into negatives would be to go into nitpicking and getting down to the details as far as editing or pacing in some places. I have to move past that because when I really sit down and watch this movie and every time I’ve watched it since release, I’ve loved it even more and find it being easily the most rewatchable of all of the new Star Wars movies. I find extremely underrated because it’s never talked about as much as any of the others and as a complete movie I just think it’s simply the most consistent from start to finish. It’s the kind of movie that in ten years will become a more spoken about and more looked at movie as people come around to revisiting it and looking at it in a new light. I can’t recommend it highly enough and really hope if you’ve only seen it once to at least try and give it another look. 

Grade: A-

Jumanji: The Next Level Review

Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black return to what should be a familiar.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a nice surprise treat for critics and audiences the year it was released. It’s a real enjoyable film with well realized characters, clever writing, and good jokes. It was not held back in any way by the movie that came before. It did its own thing and did it well. It pulled off the same trick Shazam did masterfully this year, making two distinct actors feel like the exact same person and killed that too!

It was also a movie I just kept seeing in theaters (I probably went three or four times with people who just kept wanting to go).

Jumanji: The Next Level finds our team of teens reuniting for the holiday. Only, when Spencer feels lost he decides to try and find himself and returns to Jumanji. The rest of the team goes into save him and accidentally bringing two new players, Spencer’s grandfather and his business partner. Now the new team must find Spencer and beat the game again, but new surprises await.

They have a winning formula with this new rebooted series. Character drama to set up the arcs, use the in-game characters to help work through the problems, go through an inventive and heart pounding action scene, repeat.

It works so well.

The team of writers have found a way to mix up what needs to be mixed up and keep what worked. New game means new location. Those all work. The in-game avatars get some new powers and abilities to help with the new adventure that work out in interesting ways. The best move is introducing two new players, and old men at that, as well as having the characters get body swapped with new in-game avatars.

The changes provide the perfect catalyst to get some great banter, fun character moments, and let the a-list stars get to play different people. Getting Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson playing old men is hysterical. The same is true for Jack Black, who gets to play one of the other teens this time around. Their back and forth does get old (ha! Pun), but they’re so enjoyable together it goes by easily.

The action scenes this time around are still just as exhilarating but lack some variety. There are two hordes of animals chasing them. It works great in the scenes, but it’s still animals that want to kill them. It’s annoying once you notice, but still really enjoyable.

This team also gets how to do fan service in very enjoyable ways. There so many great moments that they save till the right time to spring on the viewer. They all work and don’t feel like they’re just copying what was good last time, but building on it.

Where the film fails is in two places. One, it’s not as big a surprise that it would be as solid as it was. The first in the reboot was a surprise. This keeps it up to that level but even with the mixups it didn’t shock in many ways. That is in part due to, well…

Second, the character arcs. Last movie everyone got a really satisfying set up and pay off. This time the old men have a great arc as they rebuild their friendship on this adventure, and Spencer’s is okay. It is predictable and obvious. The biggest problem is a literal plot river that undoes the switched bodies in time for the climax. Doing that is a missed opportunity. It sets them back to normal instead of help these people show where they are weak and new ways they could grow. The villain also isn’t great again. More memorable, but not by much.

Despite those grievances it is still a real blast. It has a great sense of adventure and thrill. Getting to see Nick Jonas ride in literally made me air fist the sky cause I did not think it would go there. I am invested, and with the cliff hanger at the end, this series has an interesting place to conclude.

You should see it!