An Explosive Christmas
The Bourne Identity (2002): A man is picked up by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and suffering from amnesia, before racing to elude assassins and regain his memory.
Merry Christmas everyone! I have a tradition going here at Enter the Movies. For those who don't know, every year I celebrate Christmas by reviewing a film that has absolutely nothing to do with the holiday, but rather the events of the film take place around the holiday. For example, two years ago I reviewed Die Hard, which is quite possibly the most famous example of this. However a few months ago, (end of October, to be exact) I was watching The Bourne Identity for the first time (yes, I had never seen the film get over it) and realized this film would be perfect to continue this tradition. So, I'll date when I'm writing this review. It is October 26th. And I'm writing my Christmas review. And you think I procrastinate.....
There's a reason this series has become a huge franchise. This movie is excellent. It has an extremely original and well-executed premise. The idea of completely losing your memory and having to figure out why people want to kill you makes for an extremely fun film. Fortunately for the viewer, Jason Bourne is a James Bond-level spy, otherwise this 119 minute film would've lasted about 20 minutes when the first assassin takes him completely by surprise and kills him immediately. But moving on! (Believe me I'm aware I can't actually hold that against the film) Matt Damon is awesome. Man do I love Matt Damon! This may be the role that made him the superstar he is today, and it's easy to see why. He is absolutely awesome as Jason Bourne. The supporting cast is full of 90's holdovers, including a female lead that just screams 90's in every sense of her fashion and style.
Honestly this might be my biggest fault with the film. I mean obviously a film that came out in 2002 and has technology be a key component of the story is going to be outdated 13 years later. But, with the exception of Matt Damon, the acting in this film also makes this film pretty dated. I've always wondered if actors that were big in a certain decade would make that film feel like it's from said decade. And while I think the answer to that question is "It depends on the film." Here it's definitely a resounding yes. Franka Potente, the female lead and a relative newcomer before this film, was the epitome of a 90's female lead even if she didn't mean to be. But other than that fault, there really isn't much else I can find wrong with this film.
Overall, The Bourne Identity is an excellent film. While yes, it is a mindless popcorn action flick, it is definitely one of the best to come out of this genre in the 2000's. And it is very Christmas-y. So why bother with films like Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas when you can watch The Bourne Identity? If you haven't seen this film, change that. It will be 2 hours of your life well spent. Merry Christmas everyone!
The Critique: While rather dated at this point, The Bourne Identity delivers an interesting premise, awesome acting, and great visuals. A great action film even today. And Christmas.
The Recommendation: If you like action films and haven't seen this film, you should change that. 'Nuff said.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great.
Merry Christmas everyone! Now this review gets to sit in my drafts folder for 2 months....
What modern science fiction should be
Ex Machina (2015): A young programmer is selected to participate in a groundbreaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.
Holy crap I love this movie. I almost let it slip by, too. The film was released back in April to great critical success, but little commercial success. So I let it sneak by back then. But, as time has gone on, the film has grown quite the cult following, so I decided to give it a go. And I can see why it has garnered the following it has: it is easily the smartest discussion about the potential consequences of creating a fully self-aware AI ever seen in a film. The directorial debut of Alex Garland, this man has easily established himself as one of the best sci-fi minds out there right now thanks to his amazing writing prowess. Before writing/directing Ex Machina, Garland has also written other cult classics, including 2007's Sunshine and 2002's 28 Days Later. His next film is the film adaption of Halo, and after that he has another interesting film coming out, a biological thriller called Annihilation. To say I'm excited about those films after seeing this is certainly an understatement.
The problem I have though is it is so hard to talk about this film without spoiling anything. And I don't want to spoil it for you! This is definitely a film that you should experience at your earliest convenience, especially if you are fascinated by the idea of the creation of AI. The story here is engrossing from start to finish and full of discovery. Within moments of the 108 minute film I was sucked in and trying to catch everything that was happening on screen at any given moment. Because not only is this story engrossing, but the cinematography is too. Why? Because Alex Garland has a respect for something that has been lost in most films today: mise en scene. (The art of providing hints about the story or a particular character in the scenery around the shot or how the shot itself is presented.) There is so much of this forgotten theatrical element in this film.....I was honestly quite giddy because of it. There is an awesome video essay about this film already on YouTube that you can check out here AFTER you've seen the film, but seeing the clues I missed just made me want to watch the film again even more.
This film is brilliant, but on top of the engaging story we have some phenomenal performances from the three main characters of the film. Once again, Domhnall Gleeson kills it in his role, and Oscar Isaac is phenomenal, (again) but here the one who steals the show is Alicia Vikander. I didn't really buy here character in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but here she is phenomenal as the AI Ava. This is a performance that required every part of her body to be convincing as an AI, and she nails it. Additionally, her costume is spectacular. The design of this AI and the daily preparation the crew had to do for Vikander to play this AI really needs to be commended. They could've very easily green-screened this film or just had someone wear all green on set and CGI her face onto this person, but they took the practical route and actually designed a costume for Vikander to wear. The makeup crew also had to play their part with Vikander, and they too did a wonderful job.
I really can't emphasize this enough, guys: Ex Machina is one of the best films of the year. Easily. I know I've been throwing that around a few times recently, but it's also that time of the year. About the only criticism I have of this film is that, while it delivers a spectacular and thought-provoking discussion on AI, the film does borrow a bit from previous sci-fi classics. I definitely could see some comparisons between this and the legendary 2001: A Space Odyssey. But I think Alex Garland did this intentionally. And do I think this is a bad thing? Absolutely not. Some may also have a bone to pick about the ending, but as its resonated with me I've really come to think it is as appropriate an ending that we could've received. All in all, I believe the criticisms of this film are far too minor to really take note, and the fact that I've been thinking about this film non-stop OVER Star Wars: Episode VII for the past few days really shows just how thought-provoking and resonating this film is. In my opinion it is perfect, and deserves only my second 10 of 2015. Well done, Alex Garland.
The Critique: Modern sci-fi at its finest, Ex Machina is easily one of the most thought-provoking films about AI in the history of cinema. One of the best films of 2015.
The Recommendation: A must-see, Ex Machina is truly worth 108 minutes of your time. Please find a way to see it.
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect.
One of the best films of the year so far
Brooklyn (2015): An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a new romance. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.
Holy crap I love this movie. It's kinda nice, honestly. To be watching something other than Star Wars for a change. I mean, don't get me wrong: I love Star Wars. Obviously. But there's a lot more to the wonderful world of movies than Star Wars, and this film is a fantastic reminder of that. Fantastic direction, writing, and acting all come together to create one of the most emotional films of the year. Seriously, guys, I rocked the ugly cry on more than one occasion, including a moment pretty early on. It takes a truly special film to emotionally wreck me within the first 15 minutes of it. Come to think of it, there's really only one other film that's done that to me, and that's the opening of Up. That's a high compliment to Brooklyn for sure.
There are three main reasons this film does so well: great writing, directing, and acting. The writing is obviously going to be good. It is based off the popular novel from Colm Toibin, after all. I don't know much about books unfortunately, but I know Brooklyn is a standout novel, and one which will become more important as the 1950's drift further and further away. The directing, from John Crowley, is also exceptional. A relative newcomer to Hollywood, I am definitely excited to see what Crowley delivers next. However it helps when you cast Saoirse Ronan as the lead in your film. This young actress first caught my eye in her standout role in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Well, now she's back with a career-defining and Oscar-worthy performance. Ronan is asked to carry a significant part of this movie by herself, and she does so with flying colors. Much of this film is done in close-up, which fails most of the time because the actors involved cannot convey the emotions they need to with just their face. (This was one of the big problems I had with 2012's Les Miserables, by the way.) However incredibly, everyone in this film manages to put in spectacular performances from the chest up. And I don't want to take away anything from Ronan's male counterparts. While she completely steals the show, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are also outstanding as her love interests. While I know very little about Cohen other than the fact that he had a passing role in 2014's awful The Gambler, he was very natural in his role. And Domhnall Gleeson! This guy has been putting on a show since Harry Potter, and he continues to impress me in everything he does. Well, now, almost everything. Thanks Star Wars. Jessica Pare (from Mad Men) and veterans Julie Walters (also from Harry Potter) and Jim Broadbent (from Moulin Rouge! and Cloud Atlas) round out the cast of notables, but they are all excellent, even though they are mostly one note characters.
That's both the best and worst part about this film. These characters are placed before Ronan's character in a pretty obvious way: the film is very heavy-hitting, with a clear agenda about how you should feel at any given moment. But thanks to that emotional early scene, I found myself invested in Ronan's character to the point that I didn't care! And, even though I initially felt like Ronan's return to Ireland later on was pretty forced and that the things that happened to her initially when she returned were a little too convenient, as time went on I found myself more and more on the edge of my seat wondering what she was going to choose between New York or Ireland. This film really is a beautifully written and directed film, and I have very few qualms with it. But let's not leave the other departments out of the praise party! Because this film looks gorgeous on top of actually being gorgeous. The costume crew and cinematography department were both exceptional. The costumes of this film really helped add to the various colors captured by cinematographer Yves Belanger. Who has been on something of a roll recently between this, 2014's Wild and 2013's Dallas Buyers Club. I mean at this point that is a mighty impressive last couple of films. Demolition is next on this man's list, due out in 2016, so we'll see if he can continue to keep this seemingly unsustainable trend going. I'd probably praise him more were it not for what Emmanuel Lubezki has been doing these past few years out of the cinematography department.
In conclusion, this is a ridiculously good film. The 111 minute runtime is a little long because the film sags a bit heading into the third act, but the events leading up to Ronan's return to Ireland, and the events that occur as her stay there progresses as well as her final choice more than makes up for it. Couple that with Ronan's incredible performance and the superb writing of both screenwriter Nick Hornby and novelist Colm Tolbin, and you have one of the best films of the year so far. Honestly, and, I'm gonna get a little political here for once, this film could not come at a better time as it emotionally shows the anguish of an immigrant's journey to America. There are a lot of people who could use a reminder that not every immigrant crossing the pond wants to kill us. If you know one of these people, you should definitely recommend this film to them! That's it. Political statement done. Moving on. Awesome film. Go see it. Star Wars isn't the only film that's good this year.
The Verdict: One of the best films of the year so far, Brooklyn is an emotional roller coaster piloted by an Oscar-worthy performance from its lead, Saoirse Ronan.
The Recommendation: My first true must-see recommendation for 2015, this film is worth every second of your time, especially if you have a significant other, parents, or grandparents. Or loved ones, really. Or that friend who thinks every immigrant is trying to kill us. So, you know, a lot of people. Just be ready to cry.
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Oscar Talk: I expect a few nominations for this film, including Best Actress (which, holy crap is Best Actress gearing up to be a crazy category this year) for Saoirse Ronan, Costume, and maybe even Cinematography. I do also expect a Best Picture nomination for this film, especially since the field is 10 and not 5.
A Triumphant Return to a galaxy far far away
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015): Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.
This. This is Star Wars done right. Losing George Lucas really was the best thing that could've happened to this franchise. I......love this movie. Is it perfect? No. Absolutely not. But is it better than the prequels? Oh you better believe it. The Force Awakens successfully reminds us why we love this franchise and restarts it in a great way. Everything about this film was spot-on, from the great use of practical effects (though this did hurt the film a bit which I'll get to later) to the masterful acting from everyone involved. The story immediately gets you reinvested in the long-dormant post-Episode VI universe, and it immediately gets you invested and asking questions. Which is good! Everything about this film is treated with nothing but love and respect, and it really shines through on the finished project. And while it's not the best film of the year or anything, The Force Awakens will easily slide into the Star Wars lore as one of the best films of the franchise. Welcome to the party, J.J. Abrams.
So, let's talk about what this film does right. First off, the direction from J.J. Abrams is fantastic. This man is becoming, in my opinion, one of the greatest directors of the last 20 years, successfully rebooting two great franchises and directing one of my favorite films of the first half of the 2010's in 2011's Super 8. Not to mention he was one of the creators of Lost and Cloverfield, and even had a pretty big role in Alias from back in the day. His resume is ridiculous already, and with big roles in Star Trek Beyond and the upcoming Portal/Half-Life films, it's only gonna get crazier. But there's little doubt in my mind that without J.J. Abrams directing this film, it would've been a very different experience. Let alone if George Lucas had directed it. I shudder to think what we would've seen had he been in charge. But it's not just the directing. The story here is also engaging and fun. While I obviously can't talk about it without spoiling, I'll just say this story is easily more engaging than the stories we got in the prequels. And BB-8? Adorable. He is what Jar Jar Binks could've been (and should've been, for that matter) from the prequels. He's resourceful, has personality, and cares about the events happening around him. He's not stupid and clumsy for no reason like Jar Jar was. R2-D2 has company, guys. BB-8 just might be stealing the title of the "Galaxy's Cutest Droid" from him. Now I'll throw all sorts of money at the Disney merchandise empire for anything BB-8 related. You win this one.
But it's not just about BB-8. There are people in this film too. And they too are fantastic. Everyone is fantastic, with the exception of Domhnall Gleeson, who struggled to find an identity for his role as First Order commander. He should've observed Grand Moff Tarkin from Episode IV a bit more. His big moment of the film was a bit cringe-worthy, but, to his credit, this undisclosed scene felt kinda forced to begin with. But I know Gleeson can do better, as you'll see in my upcoming review of Brooklyn. Also, Gwendoline Christie's character is also MASSIVELY underutilized here. But she kills it in her criminally brief moments as Captain Phasma. But I'm kinda splitting hairs, because everyone else is absolutely phenomenal. The returning three of Ford, Fisher, and Hamill are all great, and the exchanges between Han Solo and Chewbacca are as nostalgic as can be. Seeing those two get in the Millennium Falcon again gave me chills. They are also the film's biggest source of humor, which is awesome! There's a running gag between the two of them that made me laugh harder than I did at most comedies this year. Adam Driver acts out an extremely well-written villain in Kylo Ren, and thanks to his performance sets up a villain that could potentially rival Darth Vadar, one of the greatest villains in cinema history, for best hero of this franchise. That is the highest praise I can give for this character, and he's not even the best of the newcomers. John Boyega is awesome as Finn, creating a great personality and character arc throughout the 135 minute film. In most films, he would steal the show. But here, he is out-shined by two: Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, and Daisey Ridley as Rey. These two steal the show at their individual moments, with Oscar Isaac creating a character as charming and charismatic as Han Solo and Ridley just, well, acting the sh*t out of her character. I really cannot praise her enough: Daisey Ridley kills it as Rey. Casting her was based off nothing but intuition for Abrams and crew, as she has a single feature-length credit in a student film called Scrawl on her resume before Star Wars. Sure, she was a minor character on various episodes of British television, but those don't count for anything. I cannot praise the crew enough for taking a chance on this extraordinary young actress, as she really does steal every scene she's in. My only hope is that it was her talent that led to the performance and not the direction of J.J. Abrams, because she's gonna be playing Rey for a very long time.
However, this film is not without a few flaws. One of the biggest involves the practical effects. Which are great don't get me wrong, but in a film with such realism, why use CGI at all? This is what I was thinking as I watched Maz Kanata and Supreme Leader Snoke, aka pretty much the only two things in this entire film that were computer generated. And while Lupita N'yongo and Andy Serkis were excellent portraying these roles, they really stood out as odd and somewhat corny characters in an otherwise solid film. Snoke especially was very shallow, but then again so was The Emperor in the original trilogy when you think about it. And there are definitely some holes in this story. While I praise this film and the approach Abrams takes in not explaining/spoon feeding everything to us like Lucas did in the prequels, this film definitely went too far in the opposite direction. This story really could've benefited from just another 5 minutes of film to explain where some of the things in this film came from. That's all I'm going to say here, but I'll hopefully have a spoiler-filled discussion of this film some time next week where I go further into detail on why this film is not receiving a perfect score from me or anything. For now, that's all you get. Additionally, this film did stay a little too close to the original trilogy, with it feeling, at times, like a simple rehash of Episode IV. Which is obviously fine, (I'll take watching the same scene from Episode IV over again over the endless debates of the Senate) but with our perfect 20/20 hindsight there's no reason Abrams and crew could've strayed from the original trilogy a bit more than they did. I know people are saying this is hypocritical, but also keep in mind I never wanted these films to look like the original trilogy. I just wanted them to have that Star Wars magic. Which this film certainly has. Finally, there's the score. Oh boy there's the score. It's weird to me that a "just great" score is a bad thing in a film, but at this point, I expect perfection from John Williams when it comes to Star Wars. This franchise does, after all, have my single favorite score of any film in Episode V. But this film and the score we get fails to capture the magic of previous scores that I've become so accustomed to from John Williams. With the exception of Rey's Theme, the only time this score really stood out in the film was when it was recreating the themes we already new from the original trilogy. Is it still a great score? You better believe it. Will it receive an Oscar nomination? Absolutely. But it is undoubtedly the weakest score from this franchise so far. Hopefully Episode VIII will be a different story.
I should probably wrap this up soon, but I do want to compliment other departments involved in creating this film. The makeup crew did their job with flying colors, creating a film that will easily win Best Makeup at the Oscars in February. Costumes were also incredibly diverse, though I must praise these guys and Abrams for also recognizing when not to go crazy on elaborate costumes: Rey wears two different costumes the entire film! I bet Natalie Portman is sitting there saying, "Why couldn't I have had her role???" And Finn doesn't change his outfit once after he becomes, well, not a stormtrooper. The film also looks gorgeous, with Daniel Mindel, J.J. Abrams longtime cinematographer, capturing some truly spectacular moments with his camera. The chase scene with the Millennium Falcon we saw in the trailers was particularly spectacular. And, of course, the practical effects were also awesome. Kudos to the crew for spending the extra dollar to return to old-school Hollywood with real effects. Hopefully this trend continues in future films, both Star Wars and elsewhere.
In conclusion, The Force Awakens certainly met the expectations that were set for it. Easily the best Star Wars film in 30 years, (and maybe since Episode V) this film revitalizes the franchise exactly the way it needed to. On the backs of a fantastic script, great direction from J.J. Abrams, fantastic acting, and just an overall love for this franchise from the crew, The Force Awakens turns the nostalgia to 11 for the millions of fans and begins a money churning machine for the world's biggest entertainment provider, Disney. But as long as each of the sequels and the inevitable trilogy after this one or the prequel trilogy to Force Awakens or whatever Disney gives us after Episode IX are treated with as much respect as this film was in its creation, it will be a great time to be a Star Wars fan. You've done us proud so far, Disney. And you've set up a fantastic sequel in Episode VIII. Don't turn to the dark side now.
The Critique: The film its predecessors should have been, The Force Awakens rediscovers a magic in the Star Wars universe that we haven't seen in 30+ years. A great film.
The Recommendation: I think when the dust settles this will be the highest grossing film of all-time, so obviously my recommendation means nothing. But I will say 3D adds literally nothing to this film, so see it in 2D or IMAX instead. 3D is a complete waste of money.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great.
Oscar Talk: I do expect a win for makeup here, as well as nominations for the score, visual effects, set design, and costumes. It's too bad Best Actress is stacked this year, or else I'd say there may even be a chance for her to sneak in a nomination. But about the only other category Star Wars may get a shot at a nomination is Best Original Screenplay. I'll be interested to see how the Internet reacts when that's all this film gets.
A polarizing CONCLUSION
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983): After rescuing Han Solo from the palace of Jabba the Hutt, the rebels attempt to destroy the second Death Star, while Luke struggles to make Vader return from the dark side of the Force.
Ok. Weebly sucks. I had this review totally done and it was awesome. I spent a great deal of time contrasting the differences in the writing between George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan, and I complimented the directing of rookie Richard Marquand, and I complimented the acting of Mark Hamil and Ian McDiarmid (great Easter egg there-Ian McDiarmid, who plays Palpatine in the prequels, also played The Emperor back in 1983. And since he, you know, becomes The Emperor in Episode III it makes sense) but Weebly just had to be a butt and not save it. So now I'm starting from scratch and don't feel like talking as much since I'm pressed for time. So, here is an abbreviated review of Episode VI. Sorry.
So I'm not as high on this film as I am the rest of the original trilogy, and the reason for this lies in the writing. George Lucas.....is a great storyteller. But by God is he a terrible writer/director. And this film is the best example of his inability to produce even decent writing. It really shows between him and Kasdan, because we'd go from one incredibly well-written scene to a terribly written scene 30 seconds later. It left me just shouting at the screen from time to time, like during Yoda's horribly written death. Why did he have to spout that extremely important exposition the way that he did??? You could barely understand what he was saying but it was all extremely important. But the biggest fault I had was with the love story between Han and Leia. One of the best love stories of all time in Episode V that concluded with the incredibly emotional "I love you-I know." exchange, this great story line is reduced to "Han is jealous because he thinks Leia loves Luke for some reason despite all the times she says I love you, Han, and kisses him and all the stuff that would make it painfully obvious that she loves him and not Luke." Seriously. SERIOUSLY? No, George, that's perfect. There is literally nothing wrong with that. And their final exchange about it? The one where Leia reveals that Luke is her brother? No, that's perfect. Actually, she should've been like, "Of course I love him. He's my brother! You didn't know that? God I can see you don't care about me at all! D*ck." Ya that would've been better. Look I kid, but we can all agree that that conclusion to their love story was absolutely dreadful, and was almost (ALMOST) as cringe-worthy as the love scenes of Episode II.
But, at the same time, parts of this movie are PHENOMENALLY well-written. For example, the entire exchange between Luke and The Emperor is incredible. The stakes during that sequence are unbelievably high, and you really feel for and see the anguish on Luke's face. And the scene between him and Vadar is also ridiculously well-written/acted. But that's enough of that let's talk about everything else.
As I said there was some excellent directing here from a relative no-name director in Richard Marquand, and I give him a lot of credit for stepping up to the plate and delivering on his career-defining film. The film, from a technical standpoint, is excellent, as the other two before it were, with the speederbike scene on Endor still standing today as a triumph of creativity in what you could do in Hollywood at that time. The smoke and mirrors/practical effects of this film are right there with Episode V and IV before it. The acting, again, is excellent since Hamil, Fisher, and Ford are all actually given some direction from someone other than George Lucas, and Ian McDiarmid is outstanding as The Emperor. Can I just say that I love the fact that Ian McDiarmid played The Emperor back in 1983 and then was cast to play Palpatine in Episode I 16 years later? For once, kudos to George Lucas for casting him again to play the character that would ultimately become The Emperor.
So I did say I was going to make this an abbreviated review, didn't I? You probably think I hate this film, but the truth is I don't. I just found it....frustrating at points. But overall, Episode VI is a good film. But it, like all the prequels, could've been great. Had George Lucas not screwed it up. You may notice I keep blaming Lucas for the problems with these films. Rare is it so easy to point the finger at one individual, but there's no doubt in my mind that Lucas was the reason these films were held back from their true potential. Because of this, the best thing Disney could've done in acquiring Star Wars from Lucas is put him in the position of what he does best: provide an overall story for future films. That's it. (And have someone in a position to tell him no that's a bad idea if it comes to it) And that's exactly what they've done in Episode VII. Because of this I could not be more excited to see this film. The expectations are set. I have reviewed each of the first six films. Now, it's time to see what the future holds for this great franchise.
The Critique: While a satisfying conclusion to a great trilogy, Episode VI again fails to reach its full potential because of its creator, George Lucas.
The Recommendation: Definitely worth a watch before checking out Episode VII!
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
An unintentionally good popcorn flick
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005): Ok IMDB doesn't have a brief summary, so I got this. Lightsaber battles. Explosions. Darth Sidious reveals himself. Lightsaber battles. Explosions! Roll credits. That just about sums it up, right?
I kid I kid. I actually quite enjoy Star Wars: Episode III. However, I think I enjoy it for the wrong reasons. I look at this film and I see a big, silly, and mindless action flick. Nothing more. Nothing less. And while George Lucas is clearly going for a "dramatic" tone throughout the 140 minute film, he fails at this so miserably that he accidentally creates a damn fun popcorn flick instead. And I love this film from this aspect! I really do. This film has some wonderfully shot action sequences, from the first space battle over Coruscant to the final, dramatic lightsaber battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan. Which, by the way, is easily the best lightsaber duel of the entire franchise. Just saying.
So yes. I like Episode III. Easily the best film of the prequels, Episode III is an accidentally good film thanks to the action sequences of it. As soon as the action stops and you're stuck with the cringe-worthy dialogue of George Lucas, then this film screeches to a halt. But then again, don't most mindless action flicks have cringe-worthy dialogue? So, what this film essentially proves is that George Lucas is a damn fine action director. Give him a bunch of action sequences and he can direct the s**t out of that. But a director is truly defined by how he directs the mundane scenes: two actors, in a room, talking. And when those scenes take place in this film they are just as bad as they were in the previous two installments. Once again receiving no direction, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen struggle to create identities for their characters, and while Christensen's character arc is definitely better here than it is in the previous two films, it's because he's fine when he's around either Ewan McGregor or Ian McDiarmid, Obi-Wan and Chancellor Palpatine respectively. But these two outstanding actors can survive without a director, and it's clear to me that they really helped Christensen through their scenes. But when Portman and Christensen were together, we had scenes that were just as cringeworthy as most of Episode II.
Fortunately, these scenes are few and far between. The rest of the time we essentially get one big action sequence after another, and in here this film works. It works really well. Cause, after all, it's Star Wars. That always helps. But these big action sequences are shot well. We are given grand wide-shots to feel the scale of the battles, there are hundreds of people/droids fighting them, and there are plenty of lightsaber battles. All of this makes for an extremely entertaining film. And I must say the story line between Anakin and Obi-Wan is actually somewhat emotional. (Though Hayden Christensen does kinda kill the mood with his infamous "I hate you!" line) All of this together makes for a unintentionally good film, and it's certainly unintentional. If I've learned nothing else from watching these prequels critically over the last few days, I have learned that George Lucas is one of the worst directors of all time. But, thanks to the subject matter that he created, he managed to stumble his way to a good film in Episode III.
The Critique: Accidentally good, Episode III is a fun, mindless popcorn flick, even though this is clearly not what it was intended to be.
The Recommendation: Just watch this film from the prequels. Sure you'll be confused why Anakin and Padme are married, but you're pretty confused about that even if you struggled through Episode II.
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
A sloppy film that never earns it
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002): Ten years after initially meeting, Anakin Skywalker shares a forbidden romance with Padmé, while Obi-Wan investigates an assassination attempt on the Senator and discovers a secret clone army crafted for the Jedi.
Alright. Let me get this out of the way: Episode II is easily my least favorite Star Wars film. I know. The consensus pick belongs to Episode I, but I think it really should belong to Episode II. When Star Wars week began, I looked to this film as the one I was most excited to review. It's easy to praise a film like Episode V when it does everything right. It's another matter entirely to analyze exactly what makes Episode II so bad. Because this film certainly had potential. And while it does deliver some great moments in the final 20 minutes, that does not excuse almost 100 minutes of film that, at times, borders on unwatchable. So, let's discuss yes?
I can't wait. I want to talk about why I dislike this movie so much. Anakin and Padme. This story line, which dominates the majority of the film, is one of my least favorite love stories ever written. But did you notice that part? I used the word written. Is Hayden Christensen bad as Anakin? Yes. Is Natalie Portman bad as Padme? Yes. Mostly. But the man who doesn't get nearly enough credit for butchering this love story and thus the overall film is George Lucas. Yes. This film is the case and point that George Lucas, one of the greatest storytellers ever, can't write a screenplay then direct it to save his life. His attempt at a love story is pathetic, featuring cringe-worthy dialogue and actors who were given no direction whatsoever in how to actually deliver the cringe-worthy dialogue. (Deep breath) Ok. Let's step back real quick. I've been doing this movie blog for, what, 3 years now? I've reviewed almost 200 films. Something that I've learned to sense as I've watched and critiqued (or at least attempted to) film is when a film benefits from a good director, a good actor, or a good writer. I've seen a good director turn a mediocre script into a great film by telling the actors how to deliver the dialogue well on set. I've seen a bad director butcher a good script by doing the opposite. I've even seen an actor take a bad script and bad directing and still turn in a good performance on their skill-set alone. When all three elements come together, you're probably going to have a great film on your hands. But when all three elements fall flat on their face, what you get is a cringe-inducing mess. Those three elements. That's what Star Wars: Episode II lacks. It's only saving grace throughout the first 100 minutes is a wonderful performance from Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he also benefits from not having to act alongside Hayden Christensen for most of the film. But let's not give Natalie Portman a totally free pass. She is pretty bad as well as Padme, and since I've seen what she can do in films like Black Swan and V for Vendetta I know she could've done better than what we got here. But Portman definitely needs a great director or a great script to be great. Neither of which are present here.
I know there's the final 42 minutes of this 142 minute film. I know these final 42 minutes are a blast as we witness the Battle of Geonosis. There's even possibly the greatest fan service ever as we get to watch an exhilarating lightsaber duel between Count Dooku and Master Yoda himself. Not to mention the amazing lightsaber duels/battle before that. But that does not excuse the rest of the film. And, because the rest of the film is so pathetically bad, these final scenes are not earned. You'd definitely be better off starting this film from about the 100 minute mark and just being confused why the final scene of the film is a marriage. Because that marriage is by no means earned during those 100 minutes. Man....how can the love story between Han and Leia be so good yet the love story between Anakin and Padme be so bad? Oh. I know why. It's because George Lucas wrote the love story between Anakin and Padme and had nothing to do with the love story between Han and Leia. It's almost an insult to compare the two. Where's my "I love you. I know." exchange??? All we get here is Padme randomly and almost completely out of left field confessing her feelings to Anakin and Anakin looking like a giddy little schoolboy as she does. It's so freaking painful! Damnit George, why do you have to be something that you're not? You're a great storyteller. There is, once again, a great foundation for a film here. That's what you're good at, George. Laying the foundation for the film. Then, you need to let everyone else make it great. Thank God he has nothing to do with the future of the franchise.
Ok. Another deep breath. Sorry that kinda turned into a rant there. I didn't really touch on a whole lot else with this film, but that's in part because it is not as technically impressive as other films. There are some well-shot sequences, but the George Lucas-trademarked "Powerpoint scene transitions" (as I call them) are everywhere, and most of the special effects are just.....fine. Just fine. And again, while the final battle sequence is exhilarating, there's 100 minutes of pain to get there. All this combined makes for my least favorite Star Wars film. PS-So in terms of watching this film in the "Machete Order," it actually works. Only a few times are the events of Episode I even referred to, which is more than enough reason to ignore the first film entirely, and since this order gives you a chance to "be amazed" by the revelation of Darth Vadar's true identity, there's no doubt that it is the best way to view Star Wars. Alright on to Episode III!
The Critique: Painful at points, Star Wars: Episode II is the weakest film of the franchise because of bad directing, acting, and writing. A potentially great film is butchered at the hands of its creator, George Lucas.
The Recommendation: Just skip to about 104 minutes in and call it a day.
Rewatchability: The first 100 minutes? Low. The final 40 minutes? High.
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad.
The Greatest Sequel ever made
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980): After the rebels have been brutally overpowered by the Empire on their newly established base, Luke Skywalker takes advanced Jedi training with Master Yoda, while his friends are pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke.
Wow. It's hard to truly quantify how great this film really is. It is the definition of a perfect storm: everything bad about the first film (the dialogue, the acting) has not only been improved, but it has been perfected thanks, in part, to the fact that George Lucas took a huge step back from this film and let someone else hold the reins. Yes. This film is the greatest film of the franchise because it was the one Lucas was least involved in. He only laid the foundation for this story, (this is the only one of the 6 films that he does not have a screenplay credit on) and he did not direct this film. He merely produced it. I can only imagine the hype that surrounded this film back in the day, and had it not met expectations the entire franchise could've been dead on the spot. Fortunately, it surpassed those expectations, and in my opinion we have here the greatest sequel of all time thanks to director Irvin Kershner, writers Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, as well as the acting from Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, and especially Mark Hamill. Once again, this film is a technical masterpiece for its time, and, on top of it all, features the (in my opinion) greatest score I have ever heard in a film. So, let's review, shall we?
This film does everything right. Let's start with the acting. One of the complaints I had with the first film was the fact that none of the core three characters were able to really create an identity for themselves. While it certainly didn't exactly help that the writing wasn't the best, I still felt there was a lot to be desired from an acting perspective. However this film is an entirely different story. And this starts with Mark Hamill. Hamill has a truly knockout performance here as Luke, as he's asked to deliver a performance alongside a puppet and a ghost for most of the film. Maybe that's the key for getting great performances out of Mark....anyway, he's not the only one with a great performance. Ford and Fisher quickly discovered their identity, and each delivered iconic performances. Billy Dee Williams also joins the cast, and while he's nothing special, he's more than capable as Lando Calrissian. And, once again, there are wonderful voice performances from Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and James Earl Jones as the menacing Darth Vadar. It also helps that this time around there was some truly phenomenal dialogue for these actors to recite. Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan are two of the most overlooked individuals in the history of Hollywood. They took the overall idea of Lucas and crafted the dialogue and the scenes we got here in Episode V. This film is hilarious one minute, then the next minute you find yourself in tears. These writers successfully control your emotions throughout the 124 minute film like few other films out there can. And of course Darth Vadar's reveal is one of the greatest plot twists of all time. Just saying.
But it doesn't end there. There's so much to talk about from a technical standpoint, and the thanks for this really falls on Irvin Kershner and George Lucas. First off, the locations are absolutely gorgeous. We get to see 3 different planets in this film, and each of them are diverse and interesting. They are also incredibly well-shot. But then we also have to talk about Yoda. One of the most daring endeavors ever attempted in a film to that point, the character Yoda was just a small puppet on the set that the filmmakers had to create and make us love. Besides for the ridiculous hurdle that is figuring out how to put a puppet like that on set and make him believable, he had to be well acted, and the actor who had to act alongside him had to, you know, act well too. All of this comes together between the great performance from Hamill, the great work of Kershner figuring out how to shot these scenes, as well as the wonderful voice performance of the great Frank Oz. Once again, this film could've crashed and burned and brought the entire franchise down with it had this pivotal sequence failed. Fortunately, it stands as an incredible accomplishment in the history of American cinema.
There isn't much else to say about this film. It can be viewed by itself, a quality which many sequels lack, though at the end the film successfully leaves you with wanted to know what happens next. I really have nothing bad to say about this film. While many may argue between this and The Godfather Part II over which is the greatest sequel of all time, my vote is cast. I believe it is Star Wars: Episode V. Oh and dat score. Holy crap how can I go through this review and only mention the score once. It's my favorite score in any film. Thank you, John Williams. There are about 16 songs in this film that I listen to in my spare time (I'm listening to the score as I write this review obviously) with my favorite being The Asteroid Field sequence. If the original Star Wars film didn't make this legendary composer's career, then the sequel sure did. I have no qualms with this film. A true rarity. Man how can Episode II follow this up?
The Critique: Simply put, in my opinion, Star Wars: Episode V is the greatest sequel in the history of American cinema.
The Recommendation: No. Don't watch this again. Watch it a hundred more times instead. Does that make any sense? No. But then again I have to put something in this spot, and just saying it's another must-see seems kind of boring, doesn't it?
Rewatchability: Very High
The Verdict: 10/10 The Definition of Perfect
A creative and unique take on storytelling
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977): Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the universe from the Empire's world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.
It's hard not to love Star Wars. The film that started it all, Episode IV is a visionary piece of cinema. Episode IV can lay credit to many elements of film making we take for granted today. For example, it's hard to deny that Episode IV and George Lucas created the modern special effect that we see in every movie ever today. (Not to mention the effects used in this film laid the groundwork for computer-generated animation, aka Pixar, but that is another conversation for another time.) While this film is one of only a few films I would say is necessary to fully grasp the history of cinema, it is not without some flaws. So, let's talk about the one that started it all, shall we? Just a reminder again I will be taking a look at these films in machete order, so after this there will be a review of Episode V, followed by II, III, and finally I will conclude with VI. Well, I mean the next day I'll have a review of VII so I guess technically I'll have one more after VI.
First off, let's praise the good. Because there is a lot of it. First off, the universe created by George Lucas is absolutely gripping, and there are a few reasons for that. First off, somehow in only 121 minutes of film we actually get to see lots of it. We start on an interesting desert planet, Tatooine, with multiple different non-human species, each with their own set of behaviors and characteristics. For example Jawas are a small and hooded creature that scavenge the planet for parts then sell them to the various other species. (And, on a nerdy note, sound remarkably like Ewoks-but I don't know that yet since I don't know what an Ewok is in this review.) There's some serious depth to this planet alone, and you really want to learn more about it after the film is done. That is some damn fine storytelling. Then of course there are the films other locations: the Death Star and Yavin. While Yavin is not as fleshed out as Tatooine, we do get to see a lot of the Death Star, which is also pretty well fleshed out despite some rather bland hallways. Moving on, there's the special effects, which I really can't praise enough. Really there's the entire technical side of this film, which still somehow holds up relatively well today. Keep in mind that in 1977 none of these effects had ever been done before, so Lucas had to do everything from total scratch with no guidelines whatsoever. And he combined the classic "smoke and mirrors" Hollywood techniques with some crude computer-generated effects to create the groundbreaking effects of Episode IV. This is the best part of the movie, which is saying something because this film also has one of the best scores in the history of cinema. I certainly found myself focusing on the technical/musical side of this film, (this is a space opera, after all) which is good because the acting department certainly left something to be desired.
Pretty much the only flaw of this film is the acting. While there are some phenomenal performances from veteran actors (at the time) like Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan and Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, and the voice-overs from James Earl Jones and Anthony Daniels are some of the best voice-overs in any film, the acting from the core three left a lot to be desired. I'm probably gonna get some gripe about this, but I really feel like Harrison Ford and ESPECIALLY Mark Hamill really struggled to create an identity for their characters throughout most of the film. Well, ok. Let me take that back. Mark Hamill specifically struggled to create an identity for his character, Luke Skywalker, and it was somewhat distracting during the film. (Before you rage on me, I will break "character" and say he absolutely found this identity in Episode V.) Harrison Ford I think struggled in the second/third act to show he was actually torn about leaving the Rebellion. Were it not for his parting line to Luke before the battle, he wouldn't of even remotely earned the last second rescue at all. And Princess Leia was pretty much a one-note character all throughout the film. That single note was....fine, but I'm doing my best to deliver a non-fanboy review of this film, because as much as we don't want to admit it, guys, let's be real: the acting from the core three in this first film is undoubtedly the weakest acting out of these three in the original trilogy. But, other than that? I have no complaints. This is marvelous film, one that is certainly worth watching over and over.
The Critique: A pillar of American cinema, Episode IV is a technical masterpiece. Creative, gripping, and unique, it is easy to see how this film began the Star Wars frenzy we see today.
The Recommendation: This is the definition of a must-watch. But you already knew that.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
Mediocrity at its finest
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999): Two Jedi Knights escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to reclaim their old glory.
Welcome to Star Wars week! For the next wonderful week, we will be taking a look at each of the Star Wars films. However, we will be taking a look at them in the famed "machete" order, reviewing Episode IV, V, then II, III, and finally VI. While this order does officially cut out Episode I, I didn't want to leave this film out in the cold, so I decided to review it first then go into the Machete Order. Ready? Let's go Star Wars!
.......Even though Episode I should be cut out of the franchise all together. Ok. We all know that this film is the weakest of the franchise, but I'm going to review this film as if I have no idea what's going to happen next in the franchise. Each film will be reviewed as it's own entity, and hopefully that will make for at least a somewhat unbiased review of the film. Because there's little doubt that I love this franchise. Anyway, let's get to reviewing, shall we? Oh and spoilers for these first six Star Wars reviews. I'm not going to hide what happens in these, BUT I WILL HAVE A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW OF EPISODE VII I PROMISE. Oh ya. Episode I
Star Wars: Episode I is an interesting film. It's gripping and exhilarating at the best of times, and borderline unwatchable at the worst of times. Moments like the pod race, and the entire third act are an absolute blast, with so many great elements coming together at once. The music in these sections is great. The editing is fantastic. The cinematography is wonderful. And the acting is great. Except when we cut to young Anakin Skywalker, but we'll get to that later. But then there's the rest of the film. This film could've been great. But it falls flat on its face throughout most of the 136 minute film because of some absolutely AWFUL writing. I mean holy CRAP is the writing in this film bad. George Lucas can do action sequences really well, but then he realizes he has another 2 hours of film to shoot and doesn't know what to do. But even in the action sequences, you never really feel like anyone is in danger. You never are on the edge of your seat wondering if Anakin is actually going to lose the pod race simply because the stakes were set too high before the race and there's still 90 minutes of film left. What we got with Star Wars: Episode I was a not animated kids film. And that's fine! There are a lot of kids films out there that appeal to every generation. However Episode I is not one of those. The film goes from 0-100 just in the opening montage and thus as a result you never really get invested with the characters.
However this film isn't all bad. For one, the Darth Maul/Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon lightsaber duel was easily the best part of the film, and there you absolutely felt a lot of emotions. The conclusion of that fight was the only point of the entire film where I felt real actual emotion. And the score over that sequence was breathtaking. (Overall franchise note: John Williams' Duel of Fates used over that fight is my favorite music from the entire franchise with the exception of The Asteroid Field sequence from Episode V.) In that sequence, the film showed true greatness. But then the film just had to cut to the stupid as hell Gungan sequence. And the terribly hard-to-buy sequence with the Queen. The other great moment, as I said earlier, was the pod race. This was a truly exhilarating sequence, even though again I never really felt any sort of emotion or suspense as to who would win. It was just a really really fun sequence. The sets were also fantastic. The sets are realistic and clearly an excruciating attention to detail was paid to them. But these incredibly well-done sequences were surrounded by so much fluff. And too much Jar Jar Binks.
The acting was another strong piece of the film. Liam Neeson, easily the most recognizable star in the film at its release, shines as Qui-Gon Jinn, and a young Ewan McGregor also shined as Obi-Wan. Natalie Portman was great, Ian McDiarmid was excellent, and even a young Keira Knightley is in this. There was just one problem. And this problem just happened to be the main character of the whole damn film. I'm not gonna sugarcoat it. Jake Lloyd is absolutely TERRIBLE as Anakin Skywalker. I can't even imagine how many actors were screened for this role, but I have a feeling that eventually George Lucas just said "F**k it! Let's just cast the next guy who walks in here!" And it was like the water boy or something. Because how anyone could think that this guy was the right choice for this character is beyond me. He's. Just. Bad. Now, to his credit he got some pretty awful lines he had to recite, but even when he wasn't reading awful dialogue he was really struggling to create an identity with this character. Oh well. Ultimately, this film could've been a good film, but awful writing, silly fluff scenes, and the entire Gungan story line keep it from that. Whatever, George Lucas. On to the next one.
The Critique: The definition of average, Episode I shines at points but is held back by too much to make it a truly worthy installment in this franchise.
The Recommendation: Why even do this? We've all seen it. Watch these films in the Machete Order. Moving on.
Rewatchability: Only when you feel like watching the whole franchise.
The Verdict: 5/10 Average.
A touching homage to the twin towers
The Walk (2015): In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.
This is a very polarizing film. On the one hand, it looks gorgeous. There's some great, albeit occasionally distracting, editing that makes this a truly unique viewing experience. The film is a phenomenal tribute to the World Trade Center, offering some very touching moments with the buildings, the last of which did leave me with a manly tear in my eye. (It basically went like this) But on the other hand, this film tells its story extremely poorly. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt's French accent was extremely overwhelming. I could not take his French side seriously. Sorry, Joey. So, let's dive into it, shall we?
Let's do the good stuff first. I want to remember the happy side of things first. While this film failed to treat a lot of aspects of it with respect, including its characters, one thing it did treat with incredible respect was the Twin Towers. There were homages to the towers all throughout the film, as almost every time they were in shot director Robert Zemeckis (yes, of Back to the Future fame) ensured that they were the stars of that shot. The music attached to these shots was also excellent. There's no doubt Zemeckis wanted to do this film for years, but he wanted to wait and give the Twin Towers a very respectful tribute. Which he accomplished. Then there was the editing! Zemeckis handiwork was all over this film, with quite a few unique bits of editing. It's really quite hard to describe, but this was easily the best part of the film, and I do expect an Oscar nomination for this department. Finally, the walk itself was incredibly well shot. Those 20 minutes of the 123 minute film almost made the other 100 minutes worth it. Almost.
Ok. Bad stuff time. Zemeckis has written many of his films, including Back to the Future and Polar Express. I know he can do better than what we got here, because this story is paper thin at best. None of the characters besides the screen-hogging JGL get anywhere near enough time to become unique characters, and by the end I even had trouble telling them apart! None of them even get to explain why they are putting up with JGL's obsession to walk between the towers, and there are several moments in this film where an ordinary human being would throw up his hands and say "Nope! I'm done helping you. Jerk." and yet that never happens in this film because.....? I don't know. I couldn't tell you because nobody besides JGL gets any screen time AT ALL. And let's talk about that, shall we? There are several excellent French actors in this film, and even a good American one in James Badge Dale. Ben Kingsley is in this too for like 10 minutes! So, why the HELL is Joseph Gordon-Levitt the lead?????? WHY???? There are plenty of great French actors out there, but you wanted to have a recognizable American actor. That's fine, but you didn't reign him in AT ALL when he shot for the fences and went for an "Oscar-worthy" performance. Look, I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His program HitRecord is AWESOME, and well worth your time if you're in to ordinary people displaying outstanding talent. It really is a unique show, and I know it's a major operation that is funded almost solely by JGL. The man is a class act. But here he's just......bad. No. He's terrible. He is screen-hogging to the max, and in very much the "I'm going for the Oscar" kind of way, not the "I'm just having a blast in this role" kind of way, like a crazy villain in a silly action flick. It really detracted from the overall experience.
In conclusion, I enjoyed parts of this film, while definitely hating other moments. Robert Zemeckis has been on something of a downward spiral lately. I enjoyed his last film, 2012's Flight, but there were definitely problems with it. And don't get me started on 2007's Beowulf. Forrest Gump and Back to the Future were a long time ago, but I do think Zemeckis has one home run ball left in him. What it will be I don't know, but it is certainly not 2015's The Walk.
The Critique: A paper-thin story and extremely distracting Joseph Gordon-Levitt keep this film from being as exceptional as it could have been, despite a very touching homage to the Twin Towers.
The Recommendation: I think it is worth checking out at some point on a dull night once it hits Netflix, but that's about it.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average.
Oscar Talk: I do expect there to be an editing nomination for this film, but that's about it. Don't hold your breath, JGL.
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