Tuesday, January 2, 2018

STAR WARS Episode VIII : The Last Jedi

Sigh.

 Finally sitting down to jot down some of my thoughts after watching Spaceballs 2, AKA 'The Last Jedi'.
Seriously, Disney Lucasfilm has taken this franchise to LUDICROUS SPEED.
Just as most agree that 'The Force Awakens' was in large part a re-hash of 'A New Hope', TLJ is clearly a rehash of both 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'Return of the Jedi', with a lot of crazy mixed in. It’s ironic, since a major recurring theme in this movie is to ‘kill the past’.
Any remaining, lingering thread of hope that Disney Lucasfilm could turn a new leaf and get Star Wars back on track is now as dead as Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, IMHO. By the way, I’ve seen TLJ twice now.
With that, let’s begin.

spoilers spoilers spoilers



No new info was brought to us within the iconic opening crawl. That’s part of the problem with starting this Star Wars movie right where the last one ended, and something that I had wondered about. How are they going to pull this transition off? They didn’t. Then there’s the fact that you could replace this crawl with that from Empire, and it would be damn near the same situation.

I wasn’t engaged throughout the opening battle scene vs the dreadnaught the first time around. It was a little better with the 2nd viewing only because I better understood what was going on. And the prank call from Poe to Hux, gotta admit I chuckled the first time because it was unexpected, but ultimately that type of humor feels out of place in a real Star Wars movie, just like the opening of TFA with Poe’s “who talks first? You talk first? I talk first?”. It may be amusing, but it’s too jokey for Star Wars. The tone of Star Wars humor is more situational and less vocalized; less… forced (no pun intended). 
When Rose’s sister Paige closed her eyes and held her necklace before ultimately knocking the bomb detonator down, it was such an eye roll moment. Was it the Force? Was it her love for her sister? Was it dumb luck? Regardless, it’s such a movie cliché and a very lazy move on Rian Johnson’s part.
 After that cliffhanger at the end of TFA, with Rey holding out Anakin’s lightsaber to Luke, and which many have been speculating on and waiting for what the next moment would bring, I hated – hated – HATED the payoff. Having Luke simply toss it over his shoulder and walking away without a word, in what appears to be an intended comical moment, was horrible. This is the first of what Kevin Smith calls many “F U  J.J. Abrams” moments in this film, undoing what J.J. has set up.

It’s a minor thing, but why did Luke change his clothes in the middle of the day right after he met Rey? It felt like Rian didn’t like another choice that J.J. made, Luke wearing the light colored robes from the ending of TFA, and preferred to see him in his darker robes for the majority of the picture. This is a small example of a much greater problem: that Disney Lucasfilm has not had an overall vision for this story, and are just making it up as they go along. This wasn’t a problem when Star Wars was overseen by one singular storyteller with a vision, George Lucas.

I think it’s fascinating that Snoke actually acknowledges one of my biggest problems with TFA, telling Kylo that he was “bested by a girl who had never before held a lightsaber”. However, the movie still didn’t EXPLAIN why Rey was able to accomplish that, or any of her other feats. (see lack of vision above)

Geek side note: I love that Luke called a lightsaber a “laser sword”, because that is what George Lucas always calls it.

Very disappointed that we saw no reaction, response, any moment on screen whatsoever of Luke dealing with Han’s death. You can argue that what he says to Leia later sort of deals with it, but that was primarily for her, and it was definitely after Luke made any kind of “peace” with the news.

Luke’s “daily routine” of milking and fishing while creepily staring at Rey was a big awkward waste of time, and I’m convinced that the only reason it exists is so that Rey can later tell him, “I’ve seen your daily routine. You’re not busy”.

I enjoyed the performances and dialogue between Luke and Rey inside the tree.

The new idea (a miracle!) that the First Order can track the Resistance through lightspeed was an interesting new challenge, and I didn’t mind it.

I really cannot believe that they didn’t have the courage to just let Chewie go ahead and eat the Porg. I mean, it was already dead. Would have been such a satisfying moment. And doesn’t anybody remember ‘Return of the Jedi’? Han says, “Great Chewie, always thinking with your stomach”. It’s like Disney is crapping all over the Original Trilogy characters from Day 1.

Probably my favorite scene, and the only one that isn’t offensive in some way, is when Luke is reunited with R2-D2. 
That being said, Artoo and Theepio are once again underused in this film. Threepio barely gets an opportunity to finish a sentence. These two beloved characters were always designed to be the witnesses, the “custodians” of the Skywalker saga.

The WORST MOMENT in this story is Leia’s Force spacewalk. I’ve always felt that it would be appropriate, and even neat to see Leia use the Force in one of these movies, something we’ve never seen her do (aside from briefly communicating with Luke in Empire). She’s untrained, and she’s not a Jedi, but she has this potential as a Skywalker. But whatever she does would have to be SUBTLE. Using the Force in some small unexpected way would be dramatic enough for someone who we’ve never seen use the Force. Could have been very satisfying. But instead, the first time we see her using the Force is after she’s blown out into space, essentially dead, wakes up and proceeds to launch herself safely back to the ship, (again, while in space). It. Was. Too. Much. Unbelievable and again crapping on the mythology of a beloved OT character. Then there’s the fact that it technically looks horrible, the way she is seen flying through space. Unnatural and bizarre.

It was unrealistic for Rose to be so star-struck over Finn. Was he really a Resistance "hero" at this point? I didn't buy it. 
The plan to find the computer slicer on Canto Bight to get them past the shield to find the tracker and shut it down came about way to quickly and easily, sort of like the spontaneous plan to destroy Starkiller weapon in TFA.

I didn't find the casino planet scenes to be all the exciting or memorable. Also, why do we see Finn the "Resistance hero" become so excited and distracted by the casino, when the fate of the Resistance (and galaxy) is apparently in their hands?
The freeing of the "horses" subplot was out of place and such a waste of screen time in an already long movie. Did anybody care about this, again, with the fate of the galaxy hanging in the balance?

The Kylo - Rey connection that allowed them to see/hear and even touch each other was ridiculous, making no sense and serving no purpose other than the writer/director wanting more Kylo/Rey screentime together.

I really did enjoy the first "lesson" Luke gave to Rey, when he was messing with her about "feeling the force". Funny scene and one of the only highlights from the film. 

I'm not fully supportive of the taking of our beloved, idealistic, beacon of light and hope Luke Skywalker, and turning him into such a grumpy, cynical, dark failure who has turned away completely from the Jedi and from the Force. I know what they were trying to do here, but it didn't feel true to me. This guy who looked into Ben Solo's heart and decided that Snoke had turned him completely, was the same guy who believed there was still good in DARTH VADER, and proceeded to bring him back to the good side. Much of this movie feels like nobody over at Disney Lucasfilm has ever watched a Star Wars movie.

Minor complaint, but did anybody else notice how much more makeup Daisy Ridley was wearing than she did in TFA? Seems like now that she is a star, it was important to make her more glamorous looking. 

Continuing with the "Rey is amazing despite no training" theme from TFA, we watch her literally "train" herself in this movie, waving the lightsaber around without any direction. This is not believable storytelling, in Star Wars or not.

Rey's experience in the dark-side hole of the island was as boring as it was informative. 

It was nice seeing Luke's green lightsaber (my favorite of any lightsaber seen in the movies) make an appearance during the Luke/Kylo flashback, but it adds to the disappointment at the end of the film when he "returns" with Anakin's lightsaber instead. More on that later.

I really hate the fact that Kylo's ultimate fall, followed by Luke's dismissal of all things Jedi, leading to the rise of the First Order, the fall of the Republic, and the annihilation of several planets, is in part the result of a simple misunderstanding. Sure, Luke went to Kylo to kill him, but he changed his mind at the last moment. And because Kylo awoke at that moment, without knowing Luke's change of heart, it all went south from there. Millions of people died. Because of this misunderstanding.

Though it was nice and appropriate to see Force ghost Yoda again, Rian Johnson did not get his character right. Yoda acted silly and playful, the way we were first introduced to him in Empire, when he was PRETENDING to be silly and playful while testing Luke's patience. This is not his true personality. This was a noob move by someone who doesn't seem to know the very basics of Star Wars. Why didn't Frank Oz step in and say to Rian, "um, this ain't right fool". 
In addition, if a Jedi Master Force ghost can call on a massive bolt of lightning to burn down a tree, why in the Maker's name don't all Jedi Force ghosts show up and reign fire upon Kylo, or Snoke? 

Holdo keeping the Resistance fleet plan from Poe was stupid, pointless and ultimately dangerous. That is all.

Have you ever watched 'Return of the Jedi'? Well Rian Johnson apparently has because the Rey/Kylo/Snoke scene was 90% plagiarized from the Luke/Vader/Emperor scene. Seriously, actions and words were identical throughout most of the scene. The only thing that was different was Kylo not going with Rey at the end, but that's only because we still have one more movie to get through before this "making it up as we go" story is over.
So Snoke is the all seeing, all knowing, all powerful Oz, but he can't detect a lightsaber sitting right next to him turning in his direction? 
Once Snoke is killed, why do the Praetorian guards attack? Who are they protecting? When the Wicked Witch of the West was killed, her guards bowed down to Dorothy.
It was such a weird transition to last see Kylo and Rey fighting for Anakin's lightsaber, only to return to find Kylo unconscious and Rey missing. I felt like we needed a more satisfying resolution there. Is there a deleted scene we don't know about?

Does anybody really care about the Finn/Phasma conflict? Or Phasma? Or Finn? Was it a satisfying fight? Resolution? My answer to all is 'no'.

Why setup BB-9E as the anti BB-8, and show him discovering the Resistance team in disguise, but not go all the way with a BB-8 / BB-9E showdown? Are they saving that for Episode 9? Well I've lost interest.

I did find that Holdo taking the cruiser into lightspeed through the First Order fleet pretty cool; haven't seen that before. Would have been more powerful if that decision was also a sacrificial one for Holdo, but she was already sacrificing herself just by staying back with the ship. So, double sacrifice? Side note: Can't help to think that it would have been a satisfying way to see Leia go instead of Holdo, knowing what we know now.

Anybody else notice that the visual motifs from the opening of Empire were obviously reproduced for the end of Last Jedi? Walkers approaching low-flying speeders over a white surface.  Get some new ideas. In the prequels, Lucas introduced us to dozens of new environments and set pieces. In addition, what was the point of having a new style of AT-AT's, dubbed the "Gorilla walkers"? They did nothing but bring us a new toy line.

I didn't see any romantic chemistry at all between Rose and Finn, making her final words, "saving what we love" before kissing Finn, fall completely flat for me.

Okay. I've already stated my worst moment in the film, being the Leia Force space walk, but my biggest disappointment in the film is Luke's Force projection. Luke was the single most thing I was excited about seeing in this movie, especially after his lack of use in TFA. I'm not against seeing him use Force projection at some point, something we haven't yet seen in a Star Wars movie but has been around in the Expanded Universe. As a fan of the OT, of Luke Skywalker, I wanted to see him back. Not alone on an island, but BACK. Back with Leia. Back with the Alliance. Back fighting the bad guys. He never came back. He wasn't there with Leia, or with Kylo. And that was a hugely disappointing decision on Rian Johnson's part. 
Then the fact that the projection used Anakin's (now destroyed) blue lightsaber? Was that supposed to give us a (not so subtle) hint? How did he even fool Kylo with that lightsaber. I understand what they were trying to do there, but it missed the mark and was entirely unsatisfying.

So Rey's big climactic feat was that she used the force to move a bunch of big rocks? Okay. Next.

After all this, it was disappointing that Luke was killed off, just as Han was, in a very unsatisfying and pointless way. Crapping. On. OT. Characters. 
Speaking of... RIP Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb.

Disney Lucasfilm does not have a story for new Star Wars. They are simply creating moments that they feel are either familiar, or shocking, but with no overall arc to guide the story along. Can't even imagine what brand of bantha poodoo we are going to get in Episode IX.

May the Force Be With Us All

Friday, January 1, 2016

STAR WARS Episode VII : The Force Awakens (Part II)

(the "Lighter" side)

SPOILERS AHEAD
  • Daisy Ridley as Rey is pleasing to the eye and ear. I like the choice made to keep her native accent, whether or not this means she's a Kenobi. Her performance throughout is strong and fun to watch, only diminished by the ridiculousness of what the writing enables her character to do at times.
  • The performances throughout the film are generally very good, with only a handful of badly delivered lines (primarily by Finn), which is also the fault of the directing. I like Poe early on, but due to poor character writing in the 2nd half, he became less interesting to me. I like BB-8, but don't like how R2-D2 was written out to make room for him.
  • Han Solo. Harrison is great in everything he does, including the reprisal of one of his most iconic roles. Though there were a couple of awkward moments in his performance, they were the result of sub-par writing. He does deliver my favorite moment in the movie; "That's NOT how the FORCE works!!", he tells Finn. 
  • Chewie was used well in the film, with a few stand out moments (my favorite being his shrug response after being asked if that is Han Solo "the war hero"). I feel that his 'injury' was the result of a temporary solution to keep him out of the story for a while when the writers had nothing for him to do. I also wonder if there were changes made to his character during production, after having seen the early leaked concept art of Chewbacca's mechanical arm.
  • Seeing a lightsabre battle in the snow, as it snowed, was aesthetically pleasing, regardless of the MAJOR problems I have with that scene in general. 
  • Seeing Stormtrooper blood in the opening scene was a welcomed addition to this film, as we generally (and intentionally) didn't see blood in the previous Star Wars films. Because of that, it was a powerful image which signaled from the start a different tone for this movie. 
  • The idea of making a Stormtrooper who defects a lead protagonist in the story is interesting, though I'm not fully satisfied with the direction that the character was taken in. Hoping for better development of this idea in the next one. 
  • I was surprised to appreciate the extent at which JJ utilized practical locations, creatures, and effects. This was their 'selling line' from the moment production was announced, which left me cynical, but which was ultimately delivered upon, mostly. That being said, they still missed the mark on what was more important: story. Also, good call on using left-over McQuarrie concept art for the film. I like how all the wreckage on Jakku looks: Star Destroyer, Tie-Fighter, X-Wing, and especially the AT-AT.
  • Kylo Ren, as a Star Wars villain, is both interesting and still alive after one film (or so). That's more than can be said about other Star Wars villains besides Vader. 
  • Love the opening crawl: simple. Luke Skywalker is missing and Leia is looking for him. That's it. No senate or trade federation drama in sight.
  • John Williams' music is good, stronger from scene to scene than a lot of the music used in the prequels. Only difference is that there is no new stand-out track theme like "Throne Room", "Imperial March", "Duel of the Fates", "Across the Stars", or "Battle of the Heroes" - nothing that is just fun to listen to on it's own. But as a soundtrack to the film: solid.
  • Probably the best moment's for me were when Rey and Finn were star-struck at meeting THE Han Solo and hearing about Luke Skywalker, etc. I feel like I'm IN their shoes at that moment, and the gravity of the situation almost brings me to tears. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

STAR WARS Episode VII : The Force Awakens

My initial reaction... (the Dark side)

SPOILERS AHEAD
  • With an infinite selection of planet environments in the Star Wars universe to choose from, and with only the limits of the storyteller's imagination to stop them, why are we back on a desert planet? Each of the previous 6 episodes introduced us to a new environment to play in. We've seen sand; we've seen ice; we've seen forest. Why not take us somewhere we've truly never been before? Is it because Rey is a Skywalker, and so there's a symmetry to putting her on Jakku? Nice idea, but it's Star Wars. If you're going back to the desert, then at least take us back to our favorite sand planet: Tatooine.
  • Captain Phasma did nothing in this movie. What is the point of her. Seemed like she was going to be the new "Boba Fett", but instead she was a waste of space. Is she just being set up for something greater in VIII? If so, then why not introduce her in VIII, instead of taking up precious screen time in the Star Wars movie that I'm watching now?
  • Everybody loves Andy Serkis, but why was his Snoke character motion-captured? Seems to me his look could have been achieved easily and more effectively with modern prosthetics, and without losing any of the performance. Snoke is seemingly a vital character to this story, and I don't believe he's real. Also, where did he come from anyway, after the fall of Palpatine and Vader? Will that be explained later? In my opinion, he should be Darth Plagueis, who was introduced in Episode III. I hope that's the case. It's the only thing that would make sense, and would tie all the Sith we know from the movies together.
  • Finn should not have been able to wield a lightsabre as well as he did, or hold his own as well as he did against Kylo Ren, even if Kylo was injured, conflicted, and holding back. It's just not believable for a non-Jedi, let alone someone who's never seen a lightsabre before.
  • Same thing goes for Rey, though she obviously has the Force in her. But still - no training with the Force or a lightsabre, and she basically beat Kylo. Come on man.
  • And Rey's ability to pilot the Falcon the way she did, even poorly, and with the Falcon in as bad shape as it was in, and EVEN considering her (untrained) Force-sensitive skills, was unbelievable. It's a miracle that she didn't destroy the Falcon. Speaking of, the Falcon took so many BAD tumbles in this movie (I cringed every time) and somehow kept going. This movie tested my suspension of disbelief  beyond it's limits.
  • Shouldn't powerful Jedi (Master) Luke Skywalker have forseen the death of his friend Han Solo, and come to the rescue? In Empire he's a barely trained Padawan, yet Luke foresaw the pain of his friends on Bespin. I think Luke should have arrived and intervened during the Rey/Kylo battle, saving Rey (which I would have loved, and which would have been more believable than Rey doing as well as she did). It would have also been such a better intro to Luke Skywalker in the movie than that final scene was. Only thing I can think of is that Luke did foresee Han's death, but remained in hiding for fear that he would be captured by the First Order, preventing him from bringing the Jedi back and defeating them for good. If that's the case, they better sell the shit out of that in VIII. I need to BELIEVE it was worth killing Solo for. 
  • Speaking of that final scene, it didn't fill me with the emotion that I think was intended. The whole movie was leading up to that moment, and there was no satisfaction for me when I actually saw Rey find Luke. It was too predictable, and didn't feel organic. I would have at least had Luke take the lightsabre from her hand - some interaction. He just stood there. As much as I wanted to see Luke Skywalker again, it would have been better I think to give us the Empire ending, with Rey and Chewie flying off in the Falcon to look for Luke. 
  • Han Solo. Shit. I'm still working out the good and bad of his dying, and the only thing that makes me okay with it is something that I haven't seen anyone else mention: Han risked his life to bring back his son --- for Leia. That kind of makes me okay with it, though it's a hard pill to swallow. Maybe if he went out a little more heroically, saving someone else's life in the process, it would have been easier to accept. But as I'm writing this, I think I'm becoming more accepting with how it happened. I said going in that in order for Kylo to be taken seriously as a dangerous character, he'd have to kill somebody important. Well, he did. (But HAN?!?) And I guess it's fitting that Kylo had to face his father and kill him in order to advance as a Sith lord, much the same way that Luke's final test was to face his father before he could become a Jedi.
  • Most of the movie "looked" pretty good, but the CG creatures that Han and Chewie are transporting stood out like a sore thumb.
  • Star Wars usually introduces us to a memorable new species of creatures: Jawas, Ewoks, TaunTauns, etc. What was the memorable new species from TFA? Can't think of any. 
  • I'm amazed that soon after Disney bought Lucasfilm, they officially de-cannonized all of the Expanded Universe stories that came after Return of the Jedi, only to STRIP MINE many key elements from it for use in this movie! - In the EU, one of Han/Leia's force-sensitive kids (Jacen) is trained by Luke, and then turns to the darkside. In the EU, Luke has a kid named Ben. In the EU, the Empire builds a Death Star like weapon called the Sun Crusher that can take out multiple planets at once by destroying their sun. Why, with all of the money and creative talent available for STAR WARS EPISODE 7, is there a need to take from other sources? They can literally write any kind of story they want, but instead opt to re-use elements from other writers who will get no credit or $ for their ideas that have ended up in one of the biggest movies of all time.
  • Not only were important elements reused from EU content, but the overall plot of TFA, as many have pointed out, is basically the plot of the original Star Wars: A New Hope. The Empire = The First Order. Rebels = Resistance. Death Star = Starkiller Base. Unsuspecting Force-Sensitive desert-living protagonist Luke = Anakin = Rey (all Skywalkers I believe). I want originality, especially in a brand new Star Wars film. They basically pulled a Jurassic World. Such a waste of an opportunity. Taking risks can pay off - just ask George Lucas how his risk called "Star Wars" turned out. And bringing something new to this Star Wars film isn't even a risk (financially) because the movie is going to be a huge success no matter what.
  • There are plenty of proven Star Wars motifs that I do like to see again and again in every Star Wars film, like a good cantina scene, but the cantina scene in TFA was not very memorable. There are so many memorable scenes from the original trilogy; cantina, trash compactor, trench run, Hoth battle, Dagobah training, carbonite chamber, Jabba's palace, Sarlaac pit, Endor battle, Luke vs Vader vs Emperor climax, etc. How many memorable, original scenes have you taken away from TFA? Most of what I took with me was based on nostalgia from the originals, not so much new ideas, themes, visuals or emotions.
  • Lastly, many of my reservations I've mentioned can be traced to the movie's apparent dependence on Episodes 8 and 9 to fulfill satisfaction. As Part 1 in a new 3 Part series, though it's okay to set some exposition up for the following Episodes, EVERY MOVIE should stand on it's own as satisfying from beginning to end, without exception. Even Empire, which ends on a bitter note and leaves several important loose ends, manages to succeed as a satisfying standalone film.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Skyfall








Casino Royale is one of the best films of the last 10 years, largely due to the fresh performance of Daniel Craig as 007, as well as the excellent craftsmanship from director Martin Campbell and his production team. It's followup, Quantum of Solace, was also good but slightly disappointing for me since expectations were so high after Royale. This brings us to Skyfall, which for me, falls somewhere in between it's two predecessors.    

It's character-driven and quiet for the most part, which is good, but it may be just a little too quiet for a Bond film. Craig continues to evolve the character, and there are some dramatic changes with other characters in the story which may or may not set up an interesting reality for Bond to live in as the series continues. 

The A-Team-style third act was a nice change of pace for Skyfall, but again, it needed a few more fights and explosions to make it fully satisfying. I will look forward to the next 007 film with the same anticipation as I had for the previous two, but in reality we may never see another one as good as Casino Royale. At least Daniel Craig will continue to wear the tuxedo, for a few more anyway...



Skyfall (2012)  




If there's a movie you'd like me to review, past or present, 
send me a request and I'll see what I can do. 






Wreck-It Ralph







Wreck-It Ralph is great. Those who don't know a thing about early arcade games or modern video gaming will really like this movie... and gamers will love it. The characters, relationships, visuals, and action would entertain anyone. 

Though it is a Disney Animation Studios production, it feels like a Pixar film. This is the first time I've felt the impact of Disney's acquisition of Pixar several years back. John Lasseter of Pixar was put in charge to oversee all Disney animated film projects, including Pixar productions. Now, not only do we continue to get Pixar quality storytelling and animation from Pixar, we also get it from Disney. This is good. 

This movie is in my Top 5 of 2012, and though animated films weren't a big attraction for me as a kid, Wreck-It-Ralph makes me hopeful for future animated films from Disney. (Did I just say 'hopeful' and 'Disney' in the same sentence...?)



Wreck-It Ralph (2012)  




If there's a movie you'd like me to review, past or present, 
send me a request and I'll see what I can do.