Sunday, November 29, 2015

Star Wars Review

I've now finished my reviews of the prequels and so it's time to tackle the much more daunting task of writing movie reviews for the original trilogy. Star Wars has been a part of my life since before I can remember. Literally. I was born six years after Return of the Jedi was released and since my whole family were huge Star Wars fans, I grew up watching these movies from a very young age and I've always loved them. In reviewing the original trilogy, I think it's important to mention that I will be reviewing the ORINGAL trilogy. As in the movies George Lucas made before he learned he could screw them all up with modern technology. There's so many dumb things he did in the Special Editions as well as the subsequent DVD and Bluray releases. If it ain't broken, don't fix it. These movies weren't broken, yet he tried to fix them. So I choose to ignore those changes. As such, I will also be referring to to these movies by their original titles. So this first one isn't Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. It's just Star Wars. I think there's a beauty in the simplicity of that title, which is what I will get into. So let's begin!

One thing that really stood out to me as I was watching Star Wars this time around was the simplicity of it. This simplicity starts with the opening crawl. We're given a very minimal introduction, which I think is fantastic. There's an evil Galactic Empire that's planning on building a huge weapon called the Death Star. There's a rebellion that's trying to stop this empire. As a part of this rebellion, Princess Leia is attempting to steal the plans for the Death Star. That's it. This simple introduction allows us to dive right into the action at this space station in the sky where Darth Vader is. Leia is trying to sneak around unnoticed but ends up being captured by the Empire, but not before she uploads these plans onto a random droid called R2-D2. No one from the Empire pays much attention to R2-D2 or his buddy droid C-3PO and thus they are able to escape to the planet Tatooine where Obi-Wan Kenobi is hidden. R2's mission is to find Obi-Wan because, as the message states, he's Princess Leia's only hope. After this opening sequence, the movie is split into three easy-to-follow sections: 1- Obi-Wan, Luke, and Han's introductions on Tatooine; 2- The rescue of Princess Leia; 3-The attack of the rebel forces on the Death Star. That's it. That's Star Wars.

With all this, we are introduced to several amazing characters, all of whom experience beautiful character arcs. First, we have Luke Skywalker. He starts out as a pretty whiny teenage boy who we learn is the son of a great Jedi named Anakin Skywalker. Anakin was one of the best pilots around and was a great friend of Obi-Wan. Sadly, Anakin was betrayed and killed by the Jedi known as Darth Vader, who was a pupil of Obi-Wan's. This betrayal led to the fall of the Jedi, who were defenders of the Galactic Republic for 1,000 years, and the rise of the evil Galactic Empire. Almost all the Jedi were killed. Obi-Wan and the later introduced Yoda appear to be the only two Jedi remaining. Thus the ways of the Jedi, including their use of the Force, are pretty much seen as mere myth and legend that few people seem to believe in. This whole background is relayed to us by a simple conversation between Obi-Wan and Luke, who seem to meet up almost by chance. Because of the death of his father, Luke is living with his Aunt and Uncle on Tatooine and they go to buy some droids. R2 and 3PO are their choices. R2 runs away to find Obi-Wan. Luke hunts down R2. After being attacked by Tusken Raiders, Obi-Wan finds and rescues Luke, the message is relayed. Obi-Wan tries to convince Luke to come with him, but Luke declines until he learns that in his absence, his Aunt and Uncle have been brutally killed by the Empire, so he is in.

This is a really beautiful introduction to this universe. This whole history of the Jedi and their fall paints a great picture in our minds of what happened in the past and where we are in the present. Thus we are immediately submerged into this amazing story. And it's all done through simple conversation between Obi-Wan and Luke. George Lucas decided to turn this beautiful past into a trilogy of movies, but ultimately they fail in comparison to this simple conversation. Thus I feel that it would've been better if the prequels had never been made. Let this picture that is painted in our heads remain in our heads. There is an element of imagination that is actually rather powerful. This is the strength of Star Wars. What we are shown on film in this first movie is a very, very small portion of this universe as a whole. It's just a sliver in time where plans for the Death Star are stolen, which in turn allows for a small group of rebels to attack said Death Star. But this universe that is created is so huge and so beautiful that it literally provides an endless bank of stories that could be told. Think of all the books that have been written. The video games that have been created. The TV shows that have been made. The movies that are being planned now that Lucas has given the rights to his universe to Disney. Yet we've barely scraped the surface of the stories that could be told. Not everything has been deemed as official cannon. These stories still exist and they're still a lot of fun.

That's why Star Wars is so great. It's not just because of the specific story that is told. It's the universe that has been created and the millions of people that it's inspired. This universe has been embedded into our culture. It is a part of our souls. There's a reason why so many people passionately hate the prequels. They didn't live up to the extremely high bar set by the original Star Wars. This universe that is a part of our souls got messed with and tarnished. This backlash represents how important and nearly sacred this Star Wars universe is to so many people. There's a reason why Star Wars: The Force Awakens is about to become the highest grossing movie of all-time. Advertising has led us all to believe that we are finally going to get the follow-up movie in this universe that we have all deserved. Most of us purchased our tickets a month ago. Those who haven't purchased their tickets still plan on going within the first week or so. If the movie is as good as we all think it will be, how many people will go see it twice? Three times? Four times? Five times? More? Getting my vibe? Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon. That's why this review has been so daunting. How do I put this into words? Is it possible to write a review that does this movie complete justice? Perhaps not. But I'm trying my best anyways.

Now that I've gone off on that tangent, let's get back to reviewing this movie. Whiny, young Luke has decided that he's going to join Obi-Wan and learn the ways of the Force. Which by the way, whiny Luke doesn't mean bad Luke or bad acting on the part of Mark Hamill. Bad acting is Hayden Christensen. I'd call Mark Hamill's acting good because the character of Luke goes through a whole lot of progression. Compare Luke at the beginning of this movie to the Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi. It's impressive to see who he becomes. Major kudos go to the writing of his character as well as the acting on the part of Mark Hamill. Same thing goes for Harrison Ford's character of Han Solo. He starts out as a selfish, almost unlikable jerk. He doesn't care about the well-being of others. He doesn't seem to care about this war between the rebels and the Empire. He's only looking out for himself and his money. He has this huge debt to pay off to the mysterious Jabba the Hutt (who does NOT appear in this movie George Lucas) and when confronted about that by an alien named Greedo, he shoots and kills Greedo without even giving Greedo a chance to defend himself. And he feels no remorse about that. He joins Luke and Obi-Wan not because he wants to do good, but because they offer him a huge sum of money. He doesn't even believe in the Force. In fact, he spends his time mocking Luke and Obi-Wan for believing in it.

So now we have the whiny kid, the selfish jerk, two droids, and of course the temperamental Wookie Chewbacca joining the wise old sage on this mission to save Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader. This is quite the underdog story as a very unlikely group of heroes are out to save the day. After a beautiful introduction to this story and universe in the first act of the movie, this second act is quite the blast. Han and Luke dress up as Stormtroopers after killing the ones that were guarding their ship. They use Chewie as their "captive" to get all three of them around. R2 and 3PO play the behind-the-scenes heroes as still no one from the Empire pays them any attention. Finally, Obi-Wan is out to hunt down Darth Vader. Stormtroopers are everywhere making for a lot of fun showdowns involving blasters, since Luke isn't well trained with a light saber yet. When they finally find Princess Leia, she is definitely no damsel in distress. She is a very strong lead female character who actually does most of the work in getting them out since Han and Luke don't really have a good escape plan. At the end of this scene, we get our first light saber fight. Even though it's less exciting than some light saber fights in the prequels, this feels more honest and less choreographed. It also ends pretty quickly as Vader strikes down Obi-Wan, which he'll later regret as ghost Obi-Wan quickly proves to be much more powerful and important that old man Obi-Wan.

Enter act three. Luke has made the decision to learn the ways of the force. Princess Leia has been rescued. Our unlikely group of heroes have succeeded thus far and now it's time to use these Death Star plans that have been stored in R2-D2 to start an attack on the Death Star. Luke joins the rebel squadron in this attack. He hopes Han will help as well, but Han refuses. He collects his money and appears to be gone. Luke and the rest of the pilots board their X-Wings and fly to the Death Star. Once they get there, Darth Vader leads a group of TIE Fighters to stop them and now we're on an intense race to see who destroys who first because now the Empire knows where the rebel base is and is about to launch an attack to destroy them. We saw them early on blow up Leia's home planet of Alderaan, so we know this thing is powerful. In order to stop them, the X-Wings have to have the absolute perfect shot. This makes for a really epic conclusion that captures the essence of Star Wars, or what Star Wars should be. Think of the title. Star. Wars. Wars in the stars. Yeah we have our scenes on land, but those are more or less supplements to the scenes in space. In fact, most of this movie takes place in space. The whole second act is in space. Most of the third act takes place in space. Even a portion of the first act is in space. It's Star Wars. The prequels kinda missed that as most of the important scenes were in land with the space stuff being the supplement or the afterthought.

Wrapping this up, who is the one that saves the day? Luke. Our whiny, young farm boy. While a lot of his team is being blown up around him by Darth Vader's crew, he listens to ghost Obi-Wan and instead of using his own skills of what he can see, he lets the Force guide him and this is what allows him to make the perfect shot that is needed to blow up the Death Star. He's far from the level of a true Jedi, but he already shows a lot of progression in this one film. But he's not the only one who saves the day. Han Solo, the selfish jerk who only cares about himself and his money, finally comes around. Before Luke takes his shot, Darth Vader is onto him and his about to destroy his ship as well. Who stops Vader's crew? Han Solo with his Millennium Falcon. At the very moment when Luke is about to be shot down and the Death Star is about to blow up the rebel's base, Han flies in and shoots the group of TIE Fighters, which allows Luke to take his shot as guided by the Force, destroying the Death Star. Our unlikely heroes have won. The following sequence shows Han and Luke being awarded medals by Princess Leia, which is super epic mainly because of John Williams' fantastic score.

There is so much symbolism that can be taken from this movie. So many lessons to be learned. Not only is this a fun movie from beginning to end, but it's also pretty deep. It's the movie that I have decided to call the quintessential good vs. evil story. When I came up with this phrase, my first reaction was to figure out exactly what quintessential actually meant. defines the word as follows: "of the pure and essential essence of something" and "of or relating to the most perfect embodiment of something." Yeah that's a pretty darn good word choice if I do say so myself. Pure. Essential. Perfect. Those are great adjectives for Star Wars. Many people have attempted to tell a good vs. evil story, both before and after Star Wars, but Star Wars is definitely the perfect embodiment of a good vs. evil story. I could dive deep into the specifics of all the symbolism and how applying the story of Star Wars can really help you out in your life, but I'm going to let your creative juices flow through you and let you come up with that on your own. I'm also excited to share with you my thoughts on The Empire Strikes Back, which takes all of these amazing goodness that this first movie provided and builds upon it, taking this series to the next level. The best level. But that's next week. As for now, it's time to give you my grade for the movie Star Wars. I'm sure you could see this from a mile away, but of course I'm giving Star Wars a 10/10.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Creed Review

The Rocky franchise has been close to my heart for as long as I can remember. My dad has always loved these movies and so has most of my family for that matter. One of my all-time favorite things to do is to sit down on the couch with my dad and have a Rocky marathon. Even the installments that are slightly more cheesy are still enjoyable in my opinion. There's just so much to love about these movies. After growing up watching these movies over and over, when I was 17 years old, Hollywood graced us with another Rocky movie in Rocky Balboa. That was a calming of the beast movie, so to speak. A one last hurrah. I loved it! It was great to see Rocky  back one last time. Or so I thought. Hollywood being Hollywood wasn't ready to let this franchise go and decided to bring us a spin-off following Apollo Creed's son with Rocky as his trainer. A lot of people were worried at first, but I never complained. I didn't expect a masterpiece, but I was excited to see Rocky once again. The trailers appeased many of the haters and made me even more excited. Yet despite all the anticipation, I totally did not expect what I got. Many have said that this movie is as good as the first. I'm hear to tell you that they're right. Creed is a masterpiece, just like the first Rocky.

As a bit of a refresher, Apollo Creed was Rocky's opponent in the first movie. The two faced off again in Rocky II and became allies in Rocky III. One of the most emotional scenes in the franchise is when Apollo Creed died in the ring at the beginning of Rocky IV. In this new movie Creed, our main character is Apollo Creed's son, Adonis Johnson, who goes by Donny. He obviously never knew his father, but boxing was always a part of him anyways. It was in his blood. He was never officially trained by anyone, but rather he trained himself by watching videos of boxers fight, specifically his dad and Rocky, and replicating their moves. When he was young, he was raised in foster homes in Los Angeles mainly until his mother found him and decided to take him in. When he comes of age, Donny decides that boxing is what he needs to do with his life, so he leaves his home in Los Angeles and moves to Philadelphia where he finds Rocky and asks him to train him. Rocky is hesitant at first because he has moved on from that aspect of his life, but he eventually accepts and the two become a small family.

If you reflect back on the first Rocky, you remember that it's actually a fairly slow-moving movie. Yes there is plenty of action, especially at the end, but the training montages and the the boxing matches aren't the main focus of that movie. The main focus is on the character of Rocky. We are introduced to him. We follow his life. We see his struggles. We watch his relationships develop, particularly the one with his girl Adrian. We really dive deep into fictional character's life and because Sylvester Stallone is so good, we immediately develop a strong emotional attachment to him. The movie doesn't rush into the action or the fighting. It takes it's time getting to know the characters and thus when we do finally get to the fight with Apollo Creed, it means a whole heck of a lot more. This is the same exact formula that Creed follows and it works. The character of Donny is so well written and thus his story is so interesting to follow. He knows his heritage. Yet he goes by the name Johnson because he doesn't want to let that heritage define him. He wants to create a name for his own separate from his father. But to be honest, he is a little lost. He has an identity crisis and throughout the movie we watch as he tries to discover who he really is. And the movie takes its time to develop this character. Deciding to take things slow is always a big risk, but in this instance it becomes a beautiful character piece.

Donny obviously isn't the only character we follow in this. We also dive pretty deep into the character of Rocky once again. Thus in addition to serving as a spin-off movie with this new character that we grow to care about, this movie also serves as a seventh movie in the Rocky franchise. I don't want to even touch any details about what Rocky is going through in this movie, but this essentially picks up where Rocky Balboa leaves off as we dive deeper into an older Rocky who's far past the prime of his career and struggling with his own issues. Thus we get double the character development as we follow both of their individual stories. But you can almost call it triple because in addition to diving into their own individual challenges, we also dive into their relationship together. Rocky wasn't ready for this. Donny just shows up and essentially throws this on him and there's some real growth and struggles in this relationship that's essentially an uncle/nephew relationship. Yet it transforms from that at the beginning of the movie into a more father/son relationship as we go on. Donny never had a father figure in his life. Rocky did have a son, but that son is not really a huge part of his life at the moment and thus Donny fills that void.

A well done character piece is hard to pull off, but when it is done right, they are some of the most memorable movies out there. They key component to getting this type of movie right is to have the perfect cast that give it their all. Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone do just that. Michael B. Jordan is an up and coming actor that I've had my eye on for a while now. He was in the TV show Friday Night Lights as well as the movie Chronicle in 2012 and Fruitvale Station in 2013. Every time that I've seen him on screen recently, he's given it his all. He had the potential to break out in a more commercial way when he was cast as Johnny Storm in the recent Fant4stic movie, but sadly that opportunity was crushed when that movie turned out to be a disaster. Wasn't his fault, though, and I was hoping he would get another opportunity to shine. Well he has. I'm happy for him because he blows it out of the park in this movie in what I think is an Oscar-worthy performance. Speaking of Oscar-worthy performances, the other part of this duo, Sylvester Stallone, is probably even more worthy of an Oscar nomination. This is the role that Stallone was born to play and not only is it great seeing him in this role again, but it is amazing to see him once again knock it out of the park with a performance that is equal to the performance in Rocky that actually got him an Oscar nomination. I really hope this movie is able to get him another nomination.

I've gotten this far in this review and yet all I've really talked about so far are these two characters and how amazing they both did in these roles that were so beautifully written. This should tell you something about this movie. If you are hoping for a movie with non-stop boxing action, you're going to the wrong movie. But just like in Rocky, when those boxing matches do come, they are absolutely phenomenal. It's not just your average boxing match. It means something a whole lot more and thus becomes something very symbolic to what the characters are both going through. The cinematography for these scenes are absolutely stunning. There's even one of the matches that goes all out Birdman on us. That was incredible. If you don't know Birdman, that movie had some absolutely fan-freaking-tastic camera work combined with magical editing skills that gave the movie the illusion of being done in one long shot. Not all of the fighting sequences are done like this in Creed, which is probably a wise decision, but when they do go with it, it's phenomenal. Yet when they also go the typical route of plenty of cuts showing different angles and different perspectives, it's also pretty darn good in its own way. It adds some real great intensity to the emotion we are already feeling because of what we've watched the characters go through.

Finally, I can't leave this review without talking about the score for this movie. A good score is always key for any movie, but especially this genre. You need to have the proper build-up during the emotional scenes. You need to have the perfect song in place for the training montage that occurs right before the final fight. You need to have the appropriate music during the fight and when the fight ends. This often makes or breaks this type of movie. There was especially a lot of pressure for Creed because the Rocky movies nailed this. The song "Gonna Fly Now" by Bill Conti is one of my favorite songs and is definitely the best training montage ever. But that's not the only thing, the score in general is simply perfect. And Rocky III also produced the classic song "Eye of the Tiger." Yeah, the pressure was pretty high and they delivered. What I really liked is that the score in Creed was very representative of the type of movie this was. The movie flooded us with nostalgia by bringing Rocky back and continuing his story, yet it was also the dawn of a new potential franchise following Michael B. Jordan as Donny. As such, Creed used a lot of elements of the classic Rocky score and it was great hearing that music again. On top of that, the movie also added a brand new score and new themes for Donny as he progressed and thus the whole score, old and new, was simply beautiful.

In the end, Creed went above and beyond my most lofty expectations. I always go into a movie hoping that it will be great and I love it when I witness a movie that is almost complete perfection. Few feelings in life match the feeling of exiting the theater after witnessing a near perfect movie. I didn't expect the latter to happen for Creed. I expected a fun, Rocky spin-off. In fact, when it comes to this genre, I find that I am pretty easy to please. There's a definite formula that these boxing/fighting movies follow, but it's a formula that works and its a formula that pleases me. I enjoy all the Rocky movies. Not all of them are made equal, but they are all enjoyable. Even other movies similar to Rocky are usually pretty good. Warrior was one of my favorite movies of 2011 and Southpaw still remains one of my favorite movies from this year. I didn't expect perfection out of Creed, but I had no reason to believe that I wouldn't enjoy based on my history. Yet perfection is what I got and that made me super happy. When it comes to boxing movies, it doesn't get much better than Creed and thus I am going award Creed with a very deserving 10/10.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Review

We're finishing up the prequels with this review of Revenge of the Sith. If you haven't already, feel free to check out my reviews of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. I've always been one to say that I am a defender of the prequels, although if you have read those two reviews you'll think that I am a hypocrite and a liar because I was pretty mean to The Phantom Menace and I totally ripped into Attack of the Clones. I've always held the opinion that Revenge of the Sith is actually the best movie of the prequels, so if you are one who loves all the prequels and are tired of me ripping apart your beloved movies, you might be able to breath a sigh of relief. Or you may be disappointed if you hate this movie and you were looking forward to me tearing it apart like I did to Attack of the Clones. However, going into this movie, I kept my mind completely open and I'm not going to give this one a total pass either. It has many flaws. I'm not going to destroy it either. It does have many things going for it. So perhaps I'll appease both parties to a certain extent. We'll see.

First and foremost, George Lucas recently did an interview with Vanity Fair where he explained why he gave up on Star Wars and sold everything to Disney. Said he, "You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized and people try to make decision about what you're going to do before you do it. It's not much fun and you and you can't experiment." He also said that he'll be directing movies still, but movies that generally won't be shown anywhere. On top of that, when they asked him what character he would be, his answer was Jar Jar Binks. Basically I interpreted that as him being a bitter old man who was angry that the world kept criticizing his work and so he just plain out gave up. Here's the thing George. We all love you because of this amazing universe you created with these great characters and deep stories. But then you went and you screwed things up. You kept experimenting and experimenting and experimenting. Changes were made to the original trilogy. Multiple times. New movies were made that didn't live up to their potential. People got mad at all this experimenting. The worst of this is the departure from practical effects and the decision to make movies that were almost entirely done on a computer.

Why do I bring all this up? Because before I say anything good or bad about Revenge of the Sith, I need to address the huge elephant in the room. THIS MOVIE LOOKS FAKE!!!! There is SO much CGI in this movie and almost none of it holds up. I don't know a ton of details about the making of Revenge of the Sith, but I'd be willing to be that there's very few actual sets built and very few practical effects. It's all done on a computer. I bet most of it was done with actors acting in front of green screens. Quite honestly it's distracting because I don't feel like I'm in a universe. I feel like I'm in a computer. An old computer with bad graphics. It feels like I'm watching real actors play in a video game. In fact they might as well have just made this an animated movie like the Clone Wars TV show. It would've made for a higher quality movie. I'm serious. You see, CGI is a great tool. It can help you build worlds that weren't possible before. You can tell stories and create characters in a live action movie that you couldn't do before. But it needs to be used as a supplement to your actual sets and practical effects, not the other way around. When practical effects are the supplement to the movie, that has the potential to be a huge disaster visually speaking. Revenge of the Sith is a prime example of this. In fact, because George Lucas got so carried away with his experimenting, the original trilogy holds up better than the prequels when it comes to visuals. And they're coming up on their 40th birthday here soon.

Now that I got that off my chest, lets talk about this actual movie, because there is actually plenty of good things to talk about, which is a relief after these last two movies. In terms of story, this is the only movie in the prequels that's actually interesting. The point of the first one is for them to find Anakin. That's it. The point of the second one is for Anakin to fall in love. That's it. What else happens? It doesn't matter. No one cares. Except there's an epic battle with Darth Maul at the end of the first one and an emotional scene in the middle of the second with Anakin and his mother. This third one is all about Anakin's turn to the dark side. It dives into his relationship with Obi-Wan. It adds an interesting dimension to his relationship with Padme. It tells the story of how Anakin comes to distrust the Jedi Council and trust Palpatine. We witness the fall of the Jedi and the creation of the first Galactic Empire. We see the emotional fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan in which Obi-Wan owns, making it so Anakin is transformed into the machine of a man that is Darth Vader. Luke and Leia are born and are placed with their adopted families. Obi-Wan and Yoda go into hiding. Everything important in the prequels happens in this third movie.

Here's the problem, though. Too much happens in one movie. It's as if they realized after making the first two movies that they had a long way to go to connect the prequels to the original trilogy due to the fact that they barely progressed the plot forward in those movies and thus were forced to stuff everything into this third movie. Revenge of the Sith had the story. They just didn't have enough time to tell the story. I'm not saying that they should've cut things out of this movie. That might make it as lame as the first two. I'm not saying the sequels should've been four or five movies. That would've been overkill. What I'm saying is the third one should've been the prequels. This is an idea that actually came to me recently. In my review of The Phantom Menace, one of my good friends left a comment in the actual comment section of the review (this is actually a rare thing -- most people just comment on facebook or twitter). In this comment, he shared a YouTube video that you may have seen where a dude shares his opinion of what he thinks needed to happen in order for the prequels to actually be good movies. So I thought about this and realized that everything is in place for the prequels to be good. It's just all in the third one.

Bear with me for a second as I explain this. My point isn't to write the rough draft of a script for a remake of the prequels, but is to rather point out the good elements of this movie that, if stretched out over the course of three movies, could've made for an excellent trilogy. First off, we start off with a scene that is one of the best scenes of the entire trilogy. Anakin and Obi-Wan are flying around in space because Count Dooku and General Grevious have kidnapped Palpatine and our Jedi knights are out to save him. Or something like that. Point is Palpatine is in trouble and the issue lies with Dooku and Grevious. Of course this is a trap because Palpatine is our Sith Lord that the Jedi have been searching for. But they don't know that yet. Overall point is that for the first time in the prequels, something is done right that the first two movies completely missed out on and the rest of the third misses out on as well, for that matter. Star. Wars. Think of that title. I'll dive into this more next week with my review of Star Wars, but in any Star Wars movie, there should be wars in the stars. This is actually the main focus in the original trilogy. Most of those movies take place in space. The prequels are just Land Wars and politics on different planets where they fly through space occasionally. But here for several minutes we have a battle that takes place in the stars and it's pretty epic.

The other thing about this opening scene is that is starts out with Anakin and Obi-Wan. And they appear to actually be good friends who fight with great chemistry. Why is this significant? Because this is how the prequels should've started. We don't need to have a whole movie where the only real point is them discovering boy Anakin. Introduce him in the very first scene as an adult Anakin who is already the apprentice of Obi-Wan. As much as I like Qui-Gon, we can cut his character. The important relationship in this trilogy needed to be Anakin and Obi-Wan, not Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. If we wanted, we could cast Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon and have him play some other role similar to that of Mace Windu. But Qui-Gon shouldn't be labeled as Obi-Wan's master. That's Yoda. But back to Anakin and Obi-Wan, imagine how great it would've been if we started the prequels with them as our two main Jedi with the relationship they have at the start of the third one and build that over the course of three movies. We can cut all the crap in the second one with Anakin being angry at Obi-Wan. Have Obi-Wan be his good friend and have the reason for him turning to the dark side have nothing to do with Obi-Wan, but rather be because of things the Jedi Council decide on as a whole. At some point in this new trilogy, Anakin ends up on the opposite side of Obi-Wan and is forced to fight him, but it's nothing that Obi-Wan does directly to him. This would make for a very emotional duel after three movies of being great friends.

After this opening scene, we start to build a few great story lines. Anakin has this fear of losing the ones he loves. In the second movie, the one good scene is the scene where Anakin tries to save his mother and fails. Now he is having dreams of losing this girl who he has secretly married. First off, we can drop the "secret" part of this. Let it be okay for Jedi to love. Then of course we can cast two people who actually have good chemistry and write good dialogue for them. Make the romance believable. And don't spend a whole movie setting up this romance. Let it be a side-arc. But keep this new story because it's good. If we start with the third one, we can obviously postpone it to the second movie, whenever that is, and implement the mother/son story first. But eventually these nightmares happen and Anakin panics because he doesn't want to lose Padme like he lost his mother and he decides that he will do anything the save her. Getting this story arc right should be on the same level of importance as the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan and the substance for that is here. It's made interesting when Palpatine tells him the story of his master learning to be able to stop someone from dying. Anakin asks if this is possible, but Palpatine lies as says not from a Jedi. This is believable to Anakin because the Jedi Council has already pissed him off and thus his trust in the Jedi is waning.

This is good stuff. This is deep. This is something I can actually follow. This is Star Wars. But once again, imagine if all this was developed over the course of three movies. As is, it's all rushed. But what if it wasn't? What if the relationship between Anakin and Palpatine slowly starts to build? What if the relationship between Anakin and the Jedi Council slowly starts to deteriorate? We can add some other interesting story lines to supplement this that DON'T involve endless politics or endless council meetings where we do nothing but stand and talk. But this could be our over-arcing story throughout the whole trilogy. That would make this a really interesting trilogy where Anakin is slowly brought over to the dark side. If we did it this way, we wouldn't even have to have a scene where Anakin officially devotes himself to Palpatine. This would just happen naturally. Not in a way where Anakin is still good one moment and in the very next moment is completely evil and willing to go kill a temple full of children. You know what I'm talking about. It's the scene that I would argue is one of the worst scenes of the entire prequels. Mace Windu starts a duel with Palpatine and is totally owning when Anakin realizes Windu is about to kill Palpatine and in turn helps kill Windu because he needs Palpatine. After this Anakin feels awful. Palpatine says it was necessary and makes Anakin devote himself to him. Bam. Anakin is suddenly the most evil person in the galaxy.

Ouch. This 180 degree flip to the dark side has always bothered me. Way too fast. The movie before this scene is just fine. The movie after this scene is also just fine. Kinda. I'll get to my problems with the ending in a second. But the transition from good to evil for Anakin is just plain awful. And this isn't a realization that I came up with just recently. These were the thoughts that I had the second I left the theater as a sophomore in high school. I've never liked this scene, just like I've never really liked the whole second movie. But now let's talk about the ending of this movie because this is actually a really emotional ending that leads quite well into the original Star Wars movie. However, once again the problem is that it is rushed. Apparently the Jedi are really close to winning this war, but then Anakin starts his killing spree, Palpatine issues Order 66, and just like that all the Jedi are dead. I don't know how much time this actually takes in the movie, but it feels like it's not more than five minutes. If I'm continuing the theme of this movie being the prequels, this five minutes should be the majority of the final movie. End things off with the epic battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin and we're good. I do like that fight, even though the location looks way too fake and the battle feels slightly like a choreographed dance instead of a light-saber duel. The best part is definitely the Battle of the Heroes song by John Williams. At least his music remains consistently awesome throughout.

One final issue I have to address before ending this review. The death of Padme. This is an event that needed to happen. Anakin spends all this time finding a way to keep Padme alive. Despite all his efforts, she dies anyways. And it's all his fault. Had he ignored these nightmares in the first place, she would've been fine. I think this is a great ending to the prequels. However, there are major problems with how she dies. First off, Leia states later on that she remembers her mother. Yet in this, she dies in childbirth. Some have tried to explain this inconsistency, but I don't buy it. I feel it's simply a mistake made by George Lucas. The other terrible thing about Padme's death is how she dies. Apparently she was perfectly healthy, but the robot doctors state that for some unknown reason, they are losing her and it seems that she's just lost the will to live. In other words, she died of a broken heart after learning Anakin is evil. I've heard other theories explaining it. I don't buy them. Padme dies of a broken heart. That's what I believe. And it's stupid. Even if there is a better explanation, why didn't they give it to us? Why would you leave the death of a main character as an unexplainable mystery? Give her a believable death. Make your ending emotional instead of stupid.

In wrapping up all the prequels, are they horrible, unwatchable movies? No. There is entertainment to be had. Are they great movies? That's also a no. The biggest problem is that they had a whole lot to live up to because of how amazing the original three movies are and they don't live up to them. The backstory to the original trilogy is a great backstory. The path was paved for these movies to be another great trilogy, but they don't live up to this potential at all and thus it really stings to see such wasted potential. The best thing that probably came from the prequels were that fans and critics hated them so much that George Lucas became an angry old man and sold the rights to Disney. Now it seems like J.J. Abrams and company have learned from George Lucas' huge mistakes and are giving us the follow-up to the original trilogy that we deserved. As concerning Revenge of the Sith, this is the best of the three, although that's not saying much. It has a great story. It has some great action sequences. It's super emotional. However, it's also super rushed. As I've shown, if they had taken the ideas from this movie and stretched them out throughout three movies, they might have had something. But I'm not here to give a grade to what could've been. I'm here to give a grade to what is. As is, Revenge of the Sith still isn't great. It's just average. This is disappointing because Star Wars movies shouldn't just be average. They should be great. My grade for Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith is a 7/10.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Review

We are now less than a month away until Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters. My excitement for this movie hit fever level quite some time ago, which is probably a bad thing in the sense that I have so much that I have to do right now that I'm having a hard time focusing because all I can think about is Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars. This has gotten so bad recently that I almost forgot that there's another movie that I've also been super excited for. There's not a whole lot of these young adult crazes that I have been wrapped up in recently, but the Hunger Games is definitely one of them. And the grand finale of this series is here! Yet I almost forgot about it? Seriously, I was sitting on my couch earlier this week when a commercial played advertising that this movie comes out this weekend and it caught me off guard. That's this weekend? Oh yeah. Cool! What a great surprise! Now that I've seen the movie, this chapter in my life is officially closed and so it's time to give you my final word on this great series.

It was just under three years ago when I finished reading the books for the first time. Earlier that year the first movie came out and I loved that so much that I knew I had to read the books. When I finally got around to starting them, it didn't take long before I was finished. Catching Fire was easily my favorite book of the three as a finished that one in just day, which for me is saying something because I'm a slow reader. I had my reservations about Mockingjay, but overall I think I liked it a lot more than many people. Yes, the first three-fourths of the book was rather slow and tedious, but I actually really loved the very end. This wasn't a very popular opinion at the time. Most people that I had heard from didn't like how the series ended. Because of this, I did a rare thing and I wrote a book review for each book, mainly because I wanted to get my thoughts out on the ending. If you want to read that book review of Mockingjay, you can do so by clicking that link right there. In that review I gave some thoughts on how I think the movie version of Mockingjay should go. Now it's time to compare and contrast. That book review has many spoilers, so proceed with caution. This movie review will not have spoilers, but I am going to dance around the line a bit in order to hit some of the main points because sadly this is the worst movie of the series and I want to do a good job of explaining why.

After finishing Mockingjay, I was worried along with everyone else at the idea of splitting the movie into two parts. I know that Harry Potter and Twilight both did that, but that doesn't mean everyone has to. Mockingjay especially doesn't really lend itself that well to two movies. As readers, we are stuck in Katniss' head. This works really well in the first two books as the conflict focuses solely on Katniss as she is trying to survive the Hunger Games twice in two straight years. But in the third book it holds us back because the rebellion decide to use Katniss as a symbol for their rebellion and not a leader for their rebellion. In terms of their military strategy, this makes sense. It's more realistic. Katniss is good with a bow and got lucky in the arena, but she's not a trained soldier. She's a 17-year-old girl who is very emotionally unstable after being through two traumatic experiences in the arena. Because of this, the leaders of the rebellion decide to keep Katniss safe and not send her out into the thick of the action. This is all fine and dandy until you realize that we are stuck in Katniss' head and thus are also held back from the action. In the first two books, we see all the action firsthand because the action is in the arena. In the final book, we get all the action from secondhand sources. People tell Katniss what is happening. Even when she finally sneaks out to the capital, she's not on the front lines.

In my opinion, there was a way to fix this for the movie. We needed to escape from Katniss' perspective on occasion and follow the action. Show us this rebellion. Mockingjay Part 1 actually did a decent job at this. Yes, we still spent most of the movie with Katniss, but there were a few times where we went where the action was instead of staying with Katniss. I was hoping we'd do even more of this in the finale, but we actually did less of it. In fact, this follows the book almost to a t. Normally that's a good thing. In this case, I feel it held the movie back, especially since they decided to stretch that whole second half of the book into one movie. Remember how I said that three-fourths of the book was really slow and boring? Yep. That means when you split into two, you still have the first half of the second part as slow and boring. I was actually really surprised with Part 1. Nothing really happens in that movie, yet they did a fantastic job at keeping it interesting anyways. You can have a slow movie that is still good if you proceed with caution and do things right. Part 1 did just that. I know not everyone felt this way, but I was fully invested in the whole movie. Thus I had no reason to believe that Part 2 would be any different. Unfortunately it's just slow. We have more time to spend with our characters as nothing is happening, but in this instance it is more tedious.

Finally, after a good portion of the movie doing almost nothing, we finally get to the point where our little group of protagonists is sneaking through the capital with the idea of finding and killing President Snow. This is where things are supposed to get really intense and emotional. In reading this section, I was often literally on the edge of my seat and there were several crazy twists that had me dumbfounded and devastated. When I finished, I sat there for about an hour just reflecting and pondering over what I just read. This book does not have a happy, fairy-tale ending. But yet there were still powerful lessons to be learned, which is often the case in real life. Just think about any conflict or war. Often people who participate in war will tell you that there are no winners. Just survivors. Loved ones are lost. Emotions are unstable. PTSD often kicks in afterwards. Even those who "win" the war can have their lives completely ruined afterwards. Yet lessons can still be learned. People can pick themselves back up and look for the positive aspects of life. They can learn that good can come from whatever situation if they are truly looking for it. Without diving into specifics, these are exactly the emotions that are present at the end of the book. With how good the movies were doing up to this point, I totally expected them to pull at all my heartstrings with this final chapter and have me almost in tears. It didn't quite happen like that.

It is possible that the movie was less emotional for me because I already knew what was going to happen. I don't want to completely discount that. However, there have been many movies that I've seen based on books that I've read or events that happened in real life that I knew about that still effected me emotionally even though I knew the outcome, so I highly doubt that me knowing what was going to happen held me back from enjoying this movie. Instead I feel that this movie simply isn't as emotional as it could've been. Without giving anything away for those who haven't read the book, the movies did a really good job at building up certain characters in previous installments. Due to certain events happening in this movie, these certain characters needed to continue to be at the forefront of the film in order for the movie to have the full emotional impact, but instead they felt like an afterthought and so when emotional things were supposed to happen, the emotion didn't hit me like it should've. If you've read the book, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you haven't, I hope I was vague enough to confuse you.

The other emotional aspect of the book was Katniss herself. She was broken to start the book. After what happens in this grim finale, she is even more broken. In fact, she is so broken and messed up emotionally that she's suicidal at the end of the book and it was painful being inside her head as a reader. I was looking forward to Jennifer Lawrence pulling this off in the movie because that girl is a dang good actress. But the emotion wasn't there. Her character was a lot more subdued and way too calm and collected. Sure there was a scene or two where she flipped out, but there weren't nearly enough of those scenes. Thus Katniss sadly becomes a fairly boring character. You don't feel bad for her because of what she's gone through because it feels like she is just going through the motions. This is really disappointing when you compare this to how things happen with Katniss in the book. With Jennifer Lawrence having become an Oscar darling in the last few years, the thought actually crossed my mind before seeing this movie that perhaps she could get consideration for this movie given how emotional Katniss was supposed to be in this. But nope. Not even close. I don't blame Jennifer. I blame the writing.

Speaking of performances, there were plenty of decent performances in this movie, but there was actually one specific performance that stood out from the rest. This was supposed to be Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. It wasn't. It was Josh Hutcherson as Peeta who stole the show. If you are reading this review, I'm assuming that means you have at least seen Mockingjay Part 1 and thus you know Peeta is pretty messed up after being taken prisoner by the capital. Not only have they erased a lot of his memories, but they've added new memories in order to try to make him believe that Katniss is actually the enemy. This makes the relationship between Katniss and Peeta really interesting. Granted, the relationship could've been a lot better if Katniss had been an emotional and broken character, but Peeta's half of it was perfect. Josh Hutcherson really nails it as someone who hates Katniss at the beginning of the movie, but starts to become a really troubled individual once he realizes that his memories have been tampered with. He's the one who I think gives the Oscar-worthy performance. I use the term "Oscar-worthy" in this instance because I know that he has no shot at a nomination. The Academy always does what I think is a dumb thing by ignoring the major blockbusters when it comes to the big awards. But nevertheless, Josh Hutcherson totally steals the show.

When push comes to shove, my final conclusion is that Mockingjay should've been only one movie. They followed a trend with this franchise of splitting the final book into two movies and in this instance it backfired. The first part of this two part finale did a good job, but the second part left much to be desired for. The slow parts didn't do a good job of building up to the finale. They were just boring. In the book, we were prevented from witnessing the action, which was the biggest fault of the final book. The movie had the potential to actually show us the action. But they didn't. They hid it from us and we were told what happened, just like in the book. The action we got from our group of heroes was entertaining, but it lacked emotional power, which is what this movie needed. Most of all, Katniss is a boring character and lacks emotion, which is really disappointing because her emotion at the end of the book is what made the book great, but in this it's almost non-existent. I was excited about this movie. I thought that this might end up as the best of the four. But it ended up as the worst of the bunch. What a sad conclusion to a great franchise. My grade for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 a 6/10.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Review

Last week I started quite the epic project on this blog by reviewing Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. That was the first part in a seven part series of reviews where I review seven Star Wars movies in seven weeks. This has me absolutely stoked. My excitement level for the brand new Star Wars movie has been through the roof for a long time and all these new trailers and TV spots have me convinced that this is going to be a dang good movie. I will admit, though, that I am done with new footage. I don't want any more trailers or TV spots that show new information. I'm ready for the movie. But before we get to that movie, we have to get through these reviews, which I plan on having a lot of fun with. Like I said last week, I'm usually one to defend the prequels. Although you heard me say that and then you watched me bash The Phantom Menace to the ground for the most part. I'm going to be honest here, the bashing is going to continue with Attack of the Clones. I may defend the prequels as a whole, but I do not defend this specific chapter. I never have. I never well. This is the one bad Star Wars movie.

First and foremost, I do have to be fair and say that the idea behind this movie is a good one. I say this because we are told a bit of the back story of Anakin Skywalker in the original trilogy. We know that Anakin was a great Jedi. We know that he was not only the apprentice of Obi-Wan, but they were good friends. We aren't told much of the why he turned to the dark side, but we know it was a devastating event for Obi-Wan that made him very sad. We do know there was a love interest for Anakin. They had two kids that he never really knew about. Those twins were hidden from him in different places. That love interest did pass away somehow, but not immediately after she gave birth because Leia says she remembers her mother. More on that next week. All of this makes for a very fascinating back story. This back story is what makes Darth Vader one of the greatest movie villains in cinematic history and one of the greatest characters in general. He's not just a random villain trying to kill the good guys or take over the galaxy for no apparent reason. He has a whole lot of depth to him. The foundations were laid for them to make a fantastic movie. And that's why this is a bad movie. It totally misses despite the amazing potential.

Even if I were to ignore all the other Star Wars movies for a moment and focus just on this one movie, there are still a whole lot of glaring problems and I'll get to as many of those as I can. But I can't just do that. The original trilogy exists. And it's beautiful. And it has some of the best written characters in cinematic history. Attack of the Clones had potential to be something epic and great. This is the meat of the story. This is where we tell Anakin's back story. This had the potential to be on the same level of The Empire Strikes Back. The characters, relationships, and twists are all right there for them to just grab and take advantage of. But they screw it up royally. It felt like one of those times where a b-level director and screenwriter gets the rights to an iconic franchise and just totally screws things up because they don't really know how to make a good movie. Like the Terminator franchise. Two amazing movies were made and then the original crew lost the rights and three horrid movies followed. Except here's the thing. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, DIDN'T lose the rights to Star Wars. This was HIS franchise. HIS story. HIS characters. And HE was the one who wrote and directed Attack of the Clones. He screwed up his own franchise. That baffles me.

Let's get into specifics here. I want to talk about a few relationships in this movie that really fail. Before I get to the obvious disaster of a relationship, I want to talk about the slightly less obvious one. Anakin and Obi-Wan. This is the relationship that is supposed to be really good. This is the relationship that is supposed to be really emotional. They aren't just supposed to be master and apprentice. They're supposed to be good friends. But they aren't. There's nothing but bickering and arguing between these two the whole movie. Remember Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan from The Phantom Menace? Yeah, that's how this should've been. There were a few disagreements here and there, but overall Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were good friends. They had a very good chemistry. They were great together on the battle field. That's what needed to be there between Anakin and Obi-Wan, but it wasn't. When they were together, they were arguing and bickering. When they were separated, Anakin spent the whole time complaining to Padme about how awful Obi-Wan is as a trainer. When he does give a compliment, he says Obi-Wan is like a father. He doesn't say friend. Yet Ewan McGregor is only 10 years older than Hayden Christensen. It's all wrong.

Now I'm not just saying that this is wrong because it is inconsistent with how the back story was told in the original trilogy. The conversation between Obi-Wan and Luke is very brief and, in theory, could be interpreted in different ways. But in my opinion, this is how it needed to happen. Of course we needed Anakin to be a broken person. But despite being a broken person, that relationship between him and his master needed to be a very strong, positive relationship. Having Anakin complain and whine about Obi-Wan for the whole movie is really ridiculous. There is no relationship there. Not in this movie anyways. I'll continue this conversation in next week's review, but in this movie it's really dumb. Of course I don't blame Ewan McGregor for this. He was fantastic in this movie. It's the writing in the movie that kills it. And the acting, or lack of acting, from our main man Hayden Christensen. Man was casting this guy a huge mistake. I don't know who exactly made this decision to make this guy our Anakin, but that person deserves to be grounded. Granted, the writing of his character was horrible. And apparently George Lucas doesn't know how to direct anymore, which probably didn't help. But unlike Ewan McGregor, who did the best with what he was given, Hayden takes what he was given and screws it up even more.

That leads into our next relationship. The relationship that I would argue is possibly the worst on-screen relationship in movie history. Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. Let me tell you the first reason why this is wrong and I'm going to do so through one of the many awkward conversations that the two have at one point. Padme looks at Anakin and says that he looks grown up. Anakin looks at Padme and says that she looks the exact same as he remembered her. I don't know if laughable irony was intended in that conversation, but it's definitely there. In The Phantom Menace, Anakin is supposed to be 9 and Padme is supposed to be 14. Jake Lloyd was 9 years old. Natalie Portman wasn't. She was 17. Okay whatever. You have a 17-year-old playing a 14-year-old character. Fine. Whatever. But then you set your second movie 10 years into the future and as such, you decide to recast Anakin, but keep Padme. And you cast a guy is the exact same age as Natalie Portman to play Anakin. So the actors have an 8-year difference between them in the first movie and no difference in the second movie. It's just weird and doomed to begin with because Anakin has aged 10 years, but Padme has only aged two or three years. Yet we're supposed to believe that the age difference is the exact same. Nope. Someone screwed up there.

Oh but that's only the beginning of the problems with these two. I think Hayden Christensen was given dialogue that was supposed to be sweet and romantic. To say that he has a big crush on this girl is putting it lightly. He has dreamed about this girl every single night in the 10 years that they have been separated. He is madly in love with her. I don't really blame him. This is Natalie Portman we are talking about. Had Hayden Christensen actually been a charming, loving individual, this could've worked. I know guys that have the ability to just dish out compliment after compliment and have that work. They'll just go up to a girl and say how beautiful she is and how much in love with her he is and because of their charm and persona, it melts the girl's heart and the romance is quick and believable. I've seen this happen in real life. I've seen this happen on film. I think this is what they were trying to go for, because, you know, Luke and Leia had to be born. But this DOESN'T work. Anakin doesn't come off as charming and lovable. He comes off as the biggest creep ever. His delivery and the look on his face as he tells her these things that are supposed to be romantic make him look and sound like a serial killer. I'm not kidding there.

Then someone makes the genius decision to decide to send these two off alone, which makes no sense at all, but I'll get to that in a second. They are going off to Naboo and watching things this time around I honestly felt like I was suddenly watching a crime thriller. This man is a creep. This man has been thinking and dreaming about this girl every day for the last 10 years. The look on this man's face is horrifying. If they were going for a romance, they were way off, but if they were going for a thriller, Hayden nailed the role. Here we have a guy who we know turns into Darth Vader. This man could very well be a psychopath and he's gets sent off alone with this girl who has been visibly creeped out by what he has done and said. She even said it to him at one point that he was making her feel uncomfortable. Suddenly I am envisioning a situation where he tries to go for her because they are all alone and she's going to outright reject him and because he's a creepy psychopath, she's going to end up dead. Then he's going to go back to his master who he apparently hates and he's going to make up some sort of believable excuse as to how she died. Then Anakin and Obi-Wan would move forward with life, Anakin having done something that he knows he can't come back from and he eventually lets the darkness and hate flow through him, becoming Darth Vader.

Of course we all know that this doesn't happen, but that's what I thought of as this "romance" was starting to develop. As I'm typing that up, I'm suddenly thinking that something like that could've been interesting. What actually happened when they went off alone together was much, much worse. The awkward conversations not only continued, but they got worse and worse. It got so bad and so awkward that I wanted to turn the TV off. I wanted to stop the movie. But I continued because I know I wanted to write this review after watching the entire movie. So I continued. But I was writhing in pain. Every single sequence with Anakin and Padme was hard for me to watch. And do you know what makes this even worse? Anakin's serial-killer-level creepiness worked! Padme fell in love with him. HOW?!?!?!?!? What did this man do to win your heart? Nothing! But we had to have a romance, so they had to fall in love. I don't blame Natalie Portman for this. Yes, her acting was as stiff as a board in the first movie, but she actually improved in this one. And just like Ewan McGregor, she was a good actress trapped in a bad movie. And just like the problem with the Obi-Wan and Anakin relationship, Hayden Christensen as Anakin is to blame here. Although Natalie Portman doesn't get a complete pass here. She did deliver the cheesiest line in all of Star Wars. The line is when she finally confesses her undying love to Anakin right before they enter the Gladiator-esque ring. Man is that a bad line.

I said I wanted to talk about a few relationships in this movie, not just a couple. That was a deliberate word choice because there is a third relationship in this that stood out to me in this movie. Except this one is possibly the one thing this movie did right. I'm talking about the mother/son relationship. I may not have been a huge fan of the 9-year-old, annoying Anakin in The Phantom Menace, but the saddest part of that movie is when he was saying goodbye to his mother. "Am I ever going to see you again?" All he's ever known is living with his mother and now he has to leave her, hoping that one day they will be reunited. Now we fast-forward 10 years and suddenly he is having dreams of his mother in pain. Immediately he and Padme go to Tattooine and once he learns where she is, enter the fantastic John Williams score while Anakin is speeding on that bike to save his mother. That culminates in easily the best scene of this entire movie. The scene where he finds his mother, tries to save her, but watches as she dies in his arms. I don't know why, but that scene really got to me emotionally. Sure they ruin the moment when Anakin talks to Padme about what he did, but the scene itself was still pretty good. I'd call that my Darth Maul moment of this movie.

Now I'm this far in and I haven't even really talked about the plot of this movie? That's because these three relationships are the meat of the movie and thus I feel that they are what I needed to focus on most when analyzing this film. But yes, there is a plot. And for the most part it is all fluff. Boring fluff to be honest. Remember in my Phantom Menace review where I talked about it being stuffed full of politics and council meetings? People standing around talking? Yeah, that's the same with this movie. Apparently they still thought that this was the good idea because there are a lot of useless politics in this movie. Something is happening with their government and other people are starting rebellions. For some reason Padme is being targeted by Jango Fett which leads to an opening scene where the assigned bounty hunter is given poisonous bugs to try to kill Padme, which is really dumb mainly because she sat there and watched the bugs crawl around the room when she could've just shot her in the head. Bounty hunter fail. This leads to a mildly entertaining chase scene in which we learn that Jedi have the ability to float in the air when they fall that ends in a random bar in which we get the best conversation of the movie. "Want to buy some death sticks?" "You don't want to sell me death sticks." "I don't want to sell you death sticks." "You want to go home and rethink your life." "I want to go home and rethink my life." You know you've quoted that many times.

This being the second failed attempt on Padme's life, the Jedi Council makes the decision to send Anakin off with Padme to protect her, which makes no sense especially since Obi-Wan knows how obsessed he is with her. If we go with this weird idea that just shows up for the first time in this, the fifth theatrically released Star Wars movie, that love is forbidden for Jedi, then why in the heck would Obi-Wan be okay with this arrangement? Anywho, since the Jedi Council apparently do nothing with their lives except for sit and talk in the Council Room, they send Obi-Wan out on a wild goose chase to figure out where this bounty hunter came from, which leads them to learn that the Jedi now have a clone army in their disposal. In order to use this army for their advantage, they have to get Jar Jar, who somehow made it to the level of a Senator, to be the one to give all the power over to Senator Palpatine. Yep. The eventual near annihilation of the Jedi is all Jar Jar's fault. But now we can use this clone army, which will immediately come in handy because Obi-Wan has now gotten himself captured as do Anakin and Padme when they decide to try to rescue him. We learn that R2 now randomly has a jet pack and C3-PO is now the comedy relief as his head gets put onto the body of a droid.

See all of this is fine. It's not bad. But it's nothing too exciting. It's certainly better than watching the half of the movie with Anakin and Padme, but none of it excites me like the action scenes in all the other Star Wars movies. Even though The Phantom Menace is boring for most of the movie, it at least has an epic finale when Darth Maul shows up. This finale isn't that great. The conveyor belt scene is fine. I don't hate that. The gladiator sequence is kinda fun with the three weird monsters fighting Padme, Anakin, and Obi-Wan. But it's nothing special. I am bothered by how they sexualize Padme in this movie. She goes from outrageously weird outfits and hairstyles to slowly more and more revealing outfits, which culminates in her wearing a very tight and very revealing white outfit that gets partially cut off by the little creature she's fighting, making it even more revealing. This is dumb. The sequence with all the Jedi showing up is pretty cool. Never in Star Wars have we seen that many Jedi fighting at once. But what are they fighting? An army of droids. That's lame. Jedi vs. droids aren't that interesting. They're supposed to be the appetizer for something bigger, not the main course. They are all saved by the clones. That two minute sequence with the clones saving everyone is the namesake of our movie. Title fail.

Now I want to finish up by talking about Count Dooku as the fight with him at the end is the actual finale of our movie. A few quick points I want to bring up. First off, he is completely useless. We a little bit of his backstory. Apparently he was trained by Yoda and trained Qui-Gon. All that is totally messed up. In the original trilogy it is revealed that Obi-Wan was trained by Yoda. That's a consistency error that's always bothered me. The more and more I think about it, the more I conclude that both Qui-Gon and Count Dooku should not have existed in the prequels, which saddens me because I like Liam Neeson and Christopher Lee. But their roles, as written, are not needed. In fact, the prequels would be better without them. Make Yoda Obi-Wan's master like was originally intended. Heck, start the movies with Obi-Wan and Anakin as our two main Jedi and forget about this whole finding Anakin as a kid fluff. And for crying out loud, you had a great apprentice for Palpatine in the first movie. Darth Maul. Keep him! Have him stay around for all three movies. Don't introduce Dooku. He doesn't even shine a light to Darth Maul, especially since we don't even learn why he turned to the dark side after being a Jedi for so long. And finally, for crying out freaking loud, Yoda does not need a light saber. Dooku and Yoda do their little force battle and when that comes to a stale mate, Dooku decides that this can't be solved with the force, but with a light saber. Why? That makes no sense.

So yes, this movie as a whole is a pretty big mess. Even if we pretend the original trilogy doesn't exist, the action sequences aren't that entertaining. The story is kinda hard to follow because it's not that interesting. Every scene with Anakin and Padme is atrociously bad. The best part of the movie is the sequence with Anakin trying and failing to save his mother, but even then they don't do much with that. If The Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars movie ever made and this was the second Star Wars movie ever made, I still don't think that I would like this. But this is in fact the fifth Star Wars movie ever made and it is the movie where we finally dive deep into this fascinating backstory of Anakin Skywalker and see how he became Darth Vader. Had they had a good actor for Anakin and a good script for the story, this could've been one of the greatest movies ever simply because that backstory as given in the original trilogy is so good and interesting, yet the direction that George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, decided to go with this movie is so bad that it is an insult to Anakin Skywalker's character and thus an insult to the Star Wars universe. It has enough semi-entertaining sequences to prevent me from giving it a completely trashy score, but this doesn't even shine a light to The Phantom Menace and so I'm going really low with this. I'm giving Attack of the Clones a 4/10.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Peanuts Movie Review

On March 18, 2014, the first teaser trailer for The Peanuts Movie was released. Yes, you read that right. 2014. March 2014. Nearly 20 months before the movie was actually released. That's insane. We're six months away from Captain America: Civil War and the general public still hasn't received a trailer for that. I remember thinking at the time that the release of the trailer in March meant that we were getting the movie that year. I remembered the movie being announced and I remembered that the release date was in November, so I assumed it was November of that year. Nope. Apparently Blue Sky Animation wanted to make sure that no one on planet Earth forgot that they were bringing the Peanuts characters back to the big screen. I love the Peanuts. I grew up on the Peanuts. But having Blue Sky announce that they were doing a full-length CGI movie of the Peanuts isn't something that I could say I was extremely excited for. I didn't hate the idea, either. It was a wait and see type of thing for me.

If you don't know Blue Sky right off the top of your head, they are one of the main animated studios that now exist. It used to be just Disney. Then Pixar joined the game and transformed the genre completely. Shortly after Dreamworks joined the club. Now we have a ton of them. Blue Sky came on the scene in 2002 with the movie Ice Age. This is their 10th movie now and they've consistently made between $100 million and $200 million here in the United States. Epic is their lowest grossing movie at $107 million while Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is their highest at $196 million. Overseas is a totally different story as the last two Ice Age movies trail only Frozen in the list of highest grossing animated movies of all time overseas. That's why we're getting a fifth one next summer. As far as my personal opinion of Blue Sky, I can't say that I hate any movie that they've made. But they hadn't made a movie that totally blew me away. The original Ice Age would have to be my favorite. Their shorts with Scrat the prehistoric squirrel chasing the acorns are also fantastic. We get another one of those before this movie, by the way, and it is absolute gold. But anywho, all of this meant that I expected something fun and cute out of this new Peanuts movie from Blue Sky. But holy cow they blew this out of the park. I can confidently say that this is their best movie now and possibly the best animated movie of the year.

What is it that makes The Peanuts Movie work so well? This is actually hard to put into words and do it complete justice. Speaking in general terms, the best way I can put it is that they did Peanuts perfectly. This felt like a screenplay that was written by Charles Schultz himself. It sounds like the voices in this movie were provided by the exact same voices who have done them previously. Not just that, the personalities of all the characters are exactly the same as they are in the holiday specials and the comic strips. And above all, it has the magic of the Peanuts. If it wasn't for the fact that Charles Schultz sadly passed away 15 years ago, it'd be hard for you to convince me that this wasn't him in charge of all this. Thus I think that if Charles Schultz was alive, I think he'd be extremely happy with how his beloved characters were treated on the big screen. A ton of credit has to be given to this whole team. So prepare yourself to fall in love with Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, and the whole gang all over again.

As far as the story goes, this is a very simple story. Charlie Brown is a very nervous, socially awkward kid. He's not very good at flying a kite, playing baseball, or kicking a football, but he tries his best anyways. Yet, his confidence level is really low. He's always beating himself up, telling himself he can't do it, and thinking that he can't do anything right. Well, a little red-headed girl moves in next door and becomes Charlie's new crush. He wants to go talk to her. He wants to ask her to the dance. He wants to impress her. But, true to Charlie's character, he can't do it. He's too nervous. His confidence is too low. Every time he gets up the courage to do something big, he backs out at the last second. Sound familiar? It is. It's Charlie Brown done to perfection. He's a very relatable character for a whole lot of people, which is a big part of the reason why he is such a lovable character. It's just a blast watching his journey through the movie as he's trying to impress the little red-headed girl. Woven into this story is the adventures of Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, the themes of which parallel very well to what is happening with Charlie Brown and the little red-headed girl.

If you aren't a fan of Charlie Brown or the Peanuts in general, I suppose I can see how you wouldn't be totally in love with this movie. It's nothing ground-breaking. They don't do anything bold or ambitious. There's no crazy twists. In fact, you can call this very safe and predictable. But that's the thing. Peanuts doesn't need to do any of that. Peanuts has always been very simple, yet it's the simplicity of it all that makes it very profound. There's a whole lot of fun to be had. I had a huge smile on my face for the whole movie. There's a lot of valuable lessons for young kids to learn throughout this movie, thus making this a perfect family movie. Your kids should have a ton of fun with the movie and it will teach them a lot of good principles. That's what you want, right? None of these lessons are shoved down your throat. It's all done very naturally and beautifully. It's also a G-rated movie, which doesn't happen very often. But not only does this movie have a lot of excellent things in it for young kids, all the adults that grew up with Peanuts should love this. Not only is this movie full of nods to the Peanuts that we all loved, but this movie packs a powerful, emotional punch right at the end and for me it hit home.

This is a simple review. I spent most of this talking about the advertising campaign and Blue Sky as a whole and when I did talk about the movie, I didn't give a whole lot of specifics. The thing is, this is a very simple movie and I don't want to talk about too many specifics in this instance because I want you to discover these things for yourself. It's one of those movies where I don't want to say too much. But I will say that if you grew up on Peanuts and you love these characters, you are going to love this movie because it is such a delightful, fun, emotional Peanuts movie that does justice to these great characters that we've all loved growing up. I expected a cute, fun, slightly-above-average Peanuts adaptation, but I was totally blown away with this film. I was smiling and laughing throughout the whole film. In fact, I think I was probably laughing more than all of the kids in the theater with me, who were definitely enjoying the film. In fact, there were a few times during the movie where I chose to look around at the whole theater and it was such a delight watching everyone having such a good time with this movie, adult and child alike. And yes, I was holding back tears at the end of this movie. I didn't expect that at all. Pixar's Inside Out was a pretty dang good movie, yet this challenges that film as my favorite animated movie of the year. My grade for The Peanuts Movie will be the same as that one. I'm giving this a 9/10.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace Review

Earlier this year I made the decision to review all the Star Wars movies leading up to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December. I can't call this an original idea. Others have done it or are doing it. I just thought this was a great idea, so I decided that I wanted to the same thing. The unique part of my set of reviews is that mine will come once a week leading up to The Force Awakens. That'll be seven Star Wars reviews in seven weeks. I'm stoked that it's time to begin this project because that means it's only six weeks until we finally get a new Star Wars movie in theaters. You have no idea how happy this makes me. Actually I take that back. You probably do because you probably are just as excited. But you get the point. New Star Wars is coming!! If you haven't seen Star Wars before, I do suggest you watch the movies in the order they were released in theaters. However, I'm doing this in chronological order because I want my reviews of the original trilogy to come right before The Force Awakens. So I'm starting out with the prequels. That means The Phantom Menace is up first. And yes, there will be spoilers. You've been warned.

A lot of people hate the prequels. I totally understand why. However, I've always been one to defend the prequels because I've never really thought they were horrible, unwatchable movies. Although I really shouldn't declare that too loudly because I will admit that there are a lot of problems with these movies. There nowhere near as good as the original trilogy. First off, you should know that I have been a Star Wars fan my entire life. My whole family have been Star Wars fans for as long as I can remember. Now I wouldn't call myself a Star Wars nerd. I haven't read all the books. I don't know every detail about every side character that shows up for two seconds in each movie. I know very little about the extended universe. I haven't actually watched any of the TV shows. I can't name every planet ever mentioned in Star Wars along with the significance and history. Getting my vibe? I'm just what you call a good old fashioned Star Wars fan. I've watched these movies countless times since I was little and I enjoy them a lot.

As far as The Phantom Menace goes, I was 10 years old when this movie came out in 1999. I specifically remember going with my Dad to see this movie shortly after it was released. And do you know what, 10-year-old Adam loved it. 10-year-old Adam was also admittedly a lot less critical towards movies. It didn't take a whole lot to please him. This was Star Wars and it was a whole lot of fun. Now 26-year-old Adam has a little bit of a different opinion of the movie than 10-year-old Adam because 26-year-old Adam is a lot more critical when it comes to movies. It's still not that hard to please me right now and I wasn't oblivious to the issues with The Phantom Menace when I first saw it or discussed it with friends and family over the years. But if I'm watching it now like I just did and am looking completely objectively at the movie, there are a whole lot of issues with this movie. There's also plenty of good when it comes to this and I will definitely get to those points as well. But I'm putting on my critic glasses right now and thus we're going to dive deep into this.

First and foremost, what's the story of this movie? Okay don't answer that. That's more of a rhetorical question. But seriously. What's the story here? Let's look at the opening crawl: "Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all the shipping to the small planet of Naboo. While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of the peace and justice in the galaxy to settle the conflict." Ok, really? We got trade routes and taxations and political disputes and a whole bunch of jargon like that? This all definitely went over my head when I first saw it and it still kinda does. Someone is mad and there's some sort of dispute and Jedi are going to go solve the problem. Got it. Jedi. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are out to completely own some droids and try to attack some weird dudes that look like they just put on a Halloween costume they found at Wal-Mart meant for six-year-olds. Viceroy Nute Gunray is one of the character's names. I don't know what they other one is. But they are such dumb characters that look horrible and talk like idiots. Even 10-year-old Adam never really liked those guys.

I'm not going to go scene by scene like that, but I'm just pointing out that story of this movie is kinda dumb and hard to follow. So much of the movie is politics, politics, politics. Star Wars politics that is. Someone thought it was a good idea to have a ton of scenes that were just councils. Endless amounts of councils in this movie. People standing around or sitting in chairs talking about things. Politics. Councils. Politics. Councils. Sitting. Standing. Talking. Talking. Talking. Talking. Trade Federation. Taxation. Treaties. Oh. My. Wow. It gets old. And when there isn't councils and politics, it's Jedi Councils talking or the Viceroy talking with Emperor Palpatine, the Sith Lord, and his apprentice Darth Maul. Was the idea of Palpatine being evil supposed to be a surprise, by the way? I hope not. But anywho, moral of the story is that when there wasn't councils with people talking... there were different types of councils with people talking. I mean, Yoda and Mace Windu are two totally boss characters in this movie, but all they do is sit and talk in councils. What a waste. Speaking of Yoda, where's his sense of humor? Why is he such a dark, serious character? Had I not seen The Empire Strikes Back, I would've thought that he was a dumb, unlikable character who is a grinch when it comes to training this little boy.

Luckily we took a few breaks from the endless number of councils in this movie and focused on our awesome Jedi. For some reason they failed in attacking our Wal-Mart characters and escape, running into none other than the beloved and favorite character of Jar Jar Binks. Right? Am I right? Can I get an amen? No? Nothing? Yeah, what a useless character. I have to be honest, 10-year-old Adam didn't hate Jar Jar Binks. In fact, I thought he was kinda funny back in the day, which was George Lucas' original point with the character. Provide comic relief for the 10-year-old kids watching the movie. It worked for me initially. But the more and more I watched the movie, the less and less funny he gets. I still don't find him annoying and awful, but I do agree with everyone that he is a rather useless character. Yet our duo of awesome Jedi become a trio with Jar Jar and oh my word. There are so many facepalms with this Jar Jar character but it keeps going and going and going. Meanwhile a series of events happens that find our heroes stuck on Tatooine with a broken ship. Obi-Wan stays on the ship and Qui-Gon goes out to the town with Jar Jar and Queen Amidala, aka Padme. Why? Couldn't we just leave Jar Jar and Padme on the ship and let the Jedi deal with the ship problems? That would've solved so many problems. But no. Now we get introduced to another awkward character in Anakin Skywalker.

I don't really know what George Lucas saw in this kid. I don't know what Qui-Gon saw in this kid either. I have no idea was he was a super genius. I don't know how this 9-year-old kid managed to build C-3PO or why he's a super expert pilot. I don't know why like 90 percent of the lines in this Tatooine sequence went to Anakin. Who thought it was a good idea to have this kid here that literally won't shut up? And why in the heck did we write in the script that he has no father? Like seriously. Apparently his mom just became pregnant with him. There was never a man in her life that made that happen. That's just weird. But Qui-Gon likes the kid and so he makes a bet with an over-sized fly to get his parts and free this kid from slavery. And in the meantime Anakin starts talking with Padme which begins possibly the most awkward and confusing romance in movie history. I'm not 100 percent sure how old the characters are supposed to be. Weird Al says he's 9 and she's 14. Whatever the case is, Jake Lloyd was 9 and Natalie Portman was 17 when this movie was shot. Tons of foreshadowing of a romance in this and every time they talk, I just want to pull my hair out. The one fun thing about Tatooine is the pod racing. This was great mostly because it created the pod racing video game that was a ton of fun.

When we finally leave Tatooine, the movie is over an hour in. Meanwhile I'm sitting on the couch watching this realizing that the movie is halfway over and honestly nothing good or entertaining has happened. And I spent years defending this? Yikes. And while we're on the negative, can I talk about the wooden acting by EVERYONE? Jake Lloyd isn't the only bad actor in this movie. Natalie Portman is terrible in this. I swear she speaks in monotone the entire time. Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson also don't get a pass. These two aren't bad, but honestly they look bored the whole movie. Neither shows very much emotion in the movie. Samuel L. Jackson is another huge name that just isn't into his role. The weird thing with all of these actors is that they are tried and tested actors. Oscar winning actors in many cases. But something went wrong. Maybe it's the fact that most of this movie was shot in front of greens screens. Maybe it's the fact that the script throughout the whole prequels are bad. Maybe it's the fact that there's a director that seems to have lost his magic. Maybe it's a combination of a lot of things, but it's really baffling. I really can't think of a single actor that does a great job in this. Looking at the cast, Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker might have the best performance in the movie.

You hear me saying that I defend the prequels. You hear me saying that they aren't bad movies. Yet here am I writing this review of The Phantom Menace and I've spent most of this review trash-talking the heck out of it. What's the deal? Here's the deal. The Phantom Menace has a whole ton of flaws. But there is plenty of good in this movie. It just takes a while to get to it. It's a boring slog-fest through much of the movie with wooden acting, awkward dialogue, and tons of councils, but then there's a huge group of people running through some sort of building tracking down the stupid Viceroy character or something like that and suddenly they open a door. Standing in their way is one of the most epic characters in the whole series. Darth. Freaking. Maul. Here he is with this red and black makeup, spikes on his head, shady robes, an evil scowl on his face, and a double-sided light saber. The fact that he is so mysterious makes him interesting. The fact that he doesn't speak much makes him even more interesting. The fact that they kill him off without telling us anything about him is kinda dumb, but hey. I'm talking positives now, right?

The moment they open the door and see Darth Maul standing there is where this movie turns around and gives us a pretty epic finale. The moment when we see him is the moment Dual of the Fates begins. And of course I'm meaning the song. It's one of the best songs of the whole franchise and it's playing during one of the best light saber duals of the whole franchise. Playing alongside this light saber dual between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon is three other sequences that we jump through. The Darth Maul fight is definitely the best of the four, but the others are good too. For the most part. The Anakin accidentally flying into space sequence was kinda dumb and uninteresting, but the droid vs. Gungan duel was pretty fun and so was the sequence with the other group sneaking through the building shooting searching for the Viceroy. Once again, the story behind all this really isn't that interesting, but the individual scenes at the end were a lot of fun. As far as important plot points to take away, there's really only two. Anakin gets discovered and is officially being trained by Obi-Wan and there's this mysterious (but not so mysterious) Sith Lord around that is about to screw over everyone's world. The rest of the stuff is just fluff in my opinion. But yes, there's some pretty good fluff that happens in this grand finale.

I definitely can't end this review without mentioning the amazing score done by the legendary John Williams. Throughout the entire movie, it's excellent. But specifically from the Duel of the Fates on it is legendary. As I said, Duel of the Fates is one of my favorite Star Wars songs. That song alone takes an average at best movie and kicks it into full gear, creating an epic and emotional finale. I also noticed this time around that the lack of a soundtrack during Qui-Gon's final moments battling Darth Maul was super effective. It was just the buzz of the light sabers as they fought for those moments which of course ended with Darth Maul stabbing and killing Qui-Gon. That scene was powerful. Then we get into two final songs that just end the movie on an amazing high. The first is the song during the burning ceremony of Qui-Gon and the second is the anthem right before the end credits. Even though much of the movie isn't that good at all, the fact that we end on an extremely high note is really important as it makes you excited to continue and all this is made possible by John Williams. What a man. What a legend. And of course we have our amazing Star Wars theme to listen to during the credits. Thus I always finish this movie with a positive feeling.

Overall, when I think about my many experiences with The Phantom Menace over the last 16 years, I don't have the bitter taste in my mouth that many people do. If I'm being honest, most of this movie isn't that good. The story is boring and uninteresting. There's way too much standing around talking in councils. The opening act is pretty good, but it goes downhill pretty fast and is mostly uninteresting until the finale when we see Darth Maul standing there in the way. The acting isn't that good by anyone. The dialogue is awkward and cheesy in many moments. Our main kid that we are supposed to care about is mostly just a waste of time and space. But do you know what, this still isn't a terrible movie. John Williams' score is excellent. Darth Maul and Palpatine are pretty good. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are still likable even though they look bored. The light saber dual with Darth Maul is totally epic. In general, the finale of this movie is fantastic. 10-year-old Adam loved this movie and 26-year-old Adam still doesn't hate it, even though he realizes there are a ton of flaws. With everything considered, I think a grade of 6.5/10 is a fair one for The Phantom Menace. Stay tuned next week when I will give you my review of The Attack of the Clones, which is actually my least favorite Star Wars movie.