Film Review: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Release Date: December 16th, 2019 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Based on: characters by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Harrison Ford (uncredited), Billie Lourd, Greg Grunberg, Dominic Monaghan, Warwick Davis, Denis Lawson, Jeff Garlin, Kevin Smith, James Earl Jones (vocal cameo), Andy Serkis (vocal cameo), Ewan McGregor (vocal cameo), Alec Guinness (vocal cameo), Hayden Christensen (vocal cameo), Ashley Eckstein (vocal cameo), Freddie Prinze Jr. (vocal cameo), Olivia d’Abo (vocal cameo), Frank Oz (vocal cameo), Liam Neeson (vocal cameo), Jennifer Hale (vocal cameo), Samuel L. Jackson (vocal cameo), Angelique Perrin (vocal cameo)

Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm, Bad Robot, 142 Minutes

Review:

*There be spoilers here!

“We had each other. That’s how we won.” – Lando Calrissian

Congratulations, Disney and Lucasfilm. You finally broke me to the point that I didn’t have the urge to see a Star Wars movie in the theater. Nope, I waited on this one because the previous few movies left such a bad taste in my mouth that I didn’t want to sit in a crowded theater with a bunch of normies clapping like seals every time there was a weak attempt at a cameo or minor victory. Also, people have been ruining the theater experience for awhile, so this film had that working against it already.

Now I figured I’d go see it once the buzz calmed down and the theaters cleared out a few weeks later but even then, it just wasn’t worth the trip or the money for me to make the effort.

Well, I finally watched it now that it’s available to rent and because this COVID-19 bullshit has us all trapped in our houses with nothing to do.

Anyway, as much as I anticipated not liking this, it was the best film of the three from the Disney produced Sequel Trilogy. Some of the more angry fans out there may think that’s crazy of me to say but I respect the effort of J.J. Abrams trying to fix the abortion that Rian Johnson created with The Last Jedi, especially with the weak skill set that Abrams has.

Honestly, they should have called this Star Wars: Episode IX – MacGuffins and Mystery Boxes but I guess that would require Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Bob Iger, Disney and Lucasfilm to actually understand humility and that they aren’t the great storytellers that they think they are.

Now this movie had a lot of weird shit that made certain sequences hard to get through. If I’m being honest, there aren’t really any sequences that didn’t have issues. I’ll list out some of my gripes from memory at the end of the main part of this review, as I did for some of my other Disney Star Wars reviews.

If I’m going to talk about what I liked about this film, I guess it’s that it tried really hard to give good fan service. Not so much, soulless, cheap attempts at winning me back but more like an admission that the series fucked up with the previous Rian Johnson stinker and that Abrams felt sorry and embarrassed that his larger vision for this trilogy was skull fucked in the eye by Johnson.

Rian Johnson cared more about his own ego and career than being the trusted custodian of something much larger than himself, which was created by others who were a lot more talented than he will ever be. If that’s harsh, I don’t care. Johnson didn’t care about the responsibility he signed up for, so he can deal with the repercussions of that from the fans who felt betrayed by his piss pigeon performance.

I’m glad that J.J. Abrams kicked Johnson in the nuts though. And his disdain for Johnson’s wreckage was made abundantly clear in the short scene where Luke returns, stops Rey from throwing her lightsaber away and states, “I was wrong.” Then he goes on to tell her what we all needed him to tell her in the previous film. For Luke Skywalker and Mark Hamill’s sake, I’m glad that the character didn’t go out like a weak piece of shit and was somewhat salvaged.

While on the subject of Rey, though, I still don’t understand how she is just simply the best at everything. She has an insanely weak character arc, hasn’t had anywhere near the level of adversity that Luke and Anakin had and you barely see her train at all and then she can barely deal with a fucking tiny laser drone. It’s like these modern filmmakers don’t think beyond what looks cool on the screen in a shot.

Anyway, this movie is a mess, narratively speaking. It’s really two movies wedged into one, as Abrams had to try and course correct while also coming up with a satisfying ending. That being said, he does okay in trying to achieve this but maybe this should have been longer or released as two parts. But I guess he is stuck with the numbering system and being tight within the framework of a trilogy.

Unfortunately, while we do get to see the main three characters spend some time together, it is hard to buy into their bond, as they spent the first two movies apart. I want to believe in it and I actually like the actors but this is something that needed to be done in every film. This is why people love the trinity of Luke, Leia and Han so much. But for whatever reason, Abrams, Kennedy and Iger don’t understand what worked about previous Star Wars films.

As much as my brain was picking things apart, I still found this to be the most palatable of the Disney Saga films. It’s hard to peg why but I think that Abrams genuinely wanted this to make up for the damage that’s been done and he did put his heart into it. But that also doesn’t mean that he was the right guy for the job way back when they announced him for The Force Awakens. He wasn’t and I had reservations about it back then.

In the end, I don’t know if I’ll ever watch any of these films again. If I do, it won’t be for a very long time. Maybe they’ll work better as a larger body of work but I doubt it with Rian Johnson’s big lame turd sitting smack in the middle of it. Honestly, it’s like a cat jumped on the table, took a shit in the middle of a mediocre pizza and you just decided to eat around it.

Assorted notes and gripes:

Watching the film, I was bombarded with a lot of WTF moments, these are the ones I remember. Maybe I should’ve taken notes.

-The opening crawl, immediately revealing Palpatine’s “resurrection” was cringe and the worst written opening crawl in the franchise.

-Who the fuck is manning all of Palpatine’s Star Destroyers?

-Why would the Star Destroyers break through thick ice to reveal themselves? There are hundreds of them and this seems like it would cause a lot of damage? And they’re already on a very hidden planet to begin with.

-Since Palpatine’s appearance isn’t explained but cloning is implied, am I just to assume that there’s only one Palpatine and not like 364?

-Lightspeed skipping? Really? And they land safely within a different planet’s atmosphere with every skip? Really? I’m no astrophysicist but I’d assume a planet’s atmosphere is a small percentage of a planet’s total structure and that planets themselves take up an insanely small amount of actual space in the universe, as a whole.

-“Hey Rose… you coming on the mission?” “Nah… I’m good, bro!”

-The group goes to outer space Burning Man… really?

-Don’t get me started on the jetpack trooper scene. That’s a clusterfuck of cringe and stupidity.

-I’m alright with the healing power but shouldn’t it drain Rey, even just a little bit. I mean, it fucking kills Kylo like two hours later.

-The Rey v. Kylo’s TIE Fighter scene was absolutely, unequivocally stupid. Just crush that shit with the Force, hoe!

-I guess Abrams views Droids as abused house pets.

-Gurl 1: “Not that you care but I think you’re okay.” Gurl 2: “I care.” Girl power! No lesbian kiss.

-So did C-3PO have red LED lights installed this whole time? Where were they when he was attempting to murder Jedi in Attack of the Clones?

-Rey doesn’t feel Chewie “die” on a ship that’s right in front of her. But then Rey feels that Chewie is alive when he’s much further away.

-Where’s Phasma? Is she really dead now? I thought she was Star Wars‘ version of Kenny from South Park.

-Are the Knights of Ren just laser sword thugs who don’t actually answer to Kylo Ren? Sith in training? Palpatine super soldiers? What the fuck are they?

-How does a billion year-old dagger line up with the wreckage of a Death Star that was built well after the dagger. And how was Rey lined up at the right angle and altitude to make it work? This was just a ripoff of the medallion from The Goonies and it was just stupid.

-I’ve lost count of the number of MacGuffins. I think there were five… maybe six? Is this a G.I. Joe miniseries from 1983? Nah… those were much better written.

-Weak as fuck lightsaber duels. Maybe the weakest in the entire franchise.

-Did Leia die because she called out to Kylo or was that just a perfect timing plot convenience?

-Harrison Ford? Why?

-Luke in 30 seconds was the Luke I wanted in the previous movie.

-Rey in a tiny X-Wing had to navigate through tight, dangerous, moving space corridors to reach the Palpatine planet but the Rebels’ big ass warships simply followed her path? It’s space, can’t they fly around that shit? What about the massive fucking armada of “regular people” that just shows up conveniently to win the war?

-Also, a militia of citizens overthrows a corrupt government by force. When did Hollywood become so blatantly pro-Second Amendment? I kid, Hollywood is just stupid.

-When they’re riding horses on the deck of a Star Destroyer, why doesn’t the ship just turn fucking sideways? It would’ve ended the war. One simple maneuver.

-The teleporting physical objects Force power is another lame plot convenience.

-What’s this random fucking Force Dyad thing? Abrams still thinks he’s making up stories with his toys in the bathtub.

-If Palpatine created Anakin and Anakin created Luke and Leia and Leia created Kylo Ren, all the while Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter, isn’t their attraction kinda incest-y?

-I’d watch a Lando & Chewie in the Falcon movie.

-Why bury the lightsabers? A safe would be more secure.

-Why even take the Skywalker name and why did it take her so long to say it? Maybe because a part of her knew it was wrong to just take their name, their personal shit and Luke’s childhood home. Bitch, you ain’t in the will, that shit all goes to the state!

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other Disney era Star Wars movies.

Film Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Also known as: Pacific Rim 2, Solar Rim (alternate titles), Pacific Rim: Maelstrom (working title)
Release Date: March 15th, 2018 (Vue West End premiere)
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Written by: Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight, T.S. Nowlin
Based on: characters by Travis Beacham
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Zhang Jin

Legendary Pictures, UpperRoom Entertainment Limited, DDY, Universal Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

This sequel has been a long time coming. It has been in development since the original came out and was a surprise success in the summer of ’13. Guillermo del Toro was slated to direct it, as he did the first one. However, as time rolled on, he left the project to work on other movies. He still produced the film, though.

I liked the original, even if I don’t feel like it holds up with repeated viewings. I had high hopes that this one would at least be an entertaining popcorn movie. I did have some skepticism, however, as the trailers didn’t due much to peak my interest. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a fair shot because I have been a fan of kaiju pictures since I discovered them as a small child.

To be completely honest, this film that I had some low expectations for, ended up being better than its predecessor. I don’t think that most people will feel the same way but the issues I had with the first movie were mostly fixed with this chapter.

My biggest complaint about the first Pacific Rim is that everything looked generic. Jaegers looked similar and didn’t have exciting designs, all the kaiju were pretty boring and redundant minus a few alterations and every battle was at night giving more visual pizzazz to the cityscapes than the actual titans battling. I liked Pacific Rim but it was pretty unimaginative from a guy as creative as Guillermo del Toro.

Another problem with the first movie, is that it is too basic from a narrative standpoint. Monsters show up, man makes robots, robots smash monsters. Sure, there are a few side plot threads too but it’s a simple movie.

Lastly, the final battle was some shitty underwater thing and the big bad boss at the end wasn’t really that cool.

In this new film, all of these issues are corrected.

The Jaegers have much cooler and unique designs, color schemes and are mostly seen during daylight hours. Also, their enemies don’t just consist of generic kaiju. Our hero Jaegers fight an evil Jaeger, as well as Jaeger/kaiju hybrids and in the end, three powerful kaiju that form into one incredibly massive kaiju like some sort of reptilian Voltron.

The plot was also more layered, had twists and surprises and wasn’t a predictable experience. There were new threats that were unexpected, a main villain twist that was awesome and the mythos was expanded on and enriched by new concepts and developments.

The final battle was beautifully done with a much better final monster than the previous outing. Sure, it is a CGI festival but it is all out in the open, takes place in Tokyo like a proper kaiju movie, moves on to Mt. Fuji and has a pretty incredible final blow to the giant creature.

Pacific Rim: Uprising feels like an anime come to life in the best way possible. It’s over the top, ridiculous and incredible in its scope and scale. But it feels right. And it is f’n fun.

I found myself caring about this cast much more than the one of the previous film. John Boyega and Scott Eastwood were a better macho duo than Charlie Hunnam and Rob Kazinsky from the first film. They had more personality, better charisma and didn’t seem like generic muscle heads mindlessly locking horns, huffing and puffing, to prove who was more alpha whenever there were onlookers.

One aspect of this film that I loved was that regular people are now building their own Jaegers. The girl in the film built a small but very cool and effective Jaeger. Actually, it is my favorite robot from this film series. I hope that this is a concept that is explored more in a sequel. Having hundreds of patched together, homemade Jaegers running into battle would be a cool sight.

I already know that my opinion of liking this more than the original will not be a popular one. People love Guillermo del Toro like they they love Joss Whedon: with blind, undying faith because they created something really, really good once.

This film is also heavy on action… real heavy. People will say it’s a soulless imitation of that “auteur” del Toro’s original vision. Well, even with being action heavy, it has more narrative depth and more creativity crammed into that soullessness than the original film.

There is destruction on a massive scale, lots of battles and once you get to the first big action sequence, the film does not really let up on the high octane intensity. But that is exactly what this film is supposed to be. It’s a friggin’ kaiju movie. It also has giant robots. You don’t go to see these things for anything but entertainment and because it pairs well with a giant bucket of popcorn and a giant bucket of soda pop.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Pacific Rim, the 2014 American Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island.

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

Release Date: December 9th, 2017 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 152 Minutes

Review:

*Warning: there will be spoilers!

“When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power… and beyond that, something truly special.” – Supreme Leader Snoke

Well, it’s been two years since Episode VII – The Force Awakens and while I wasn’t a huge fan of that film, I hoped that its derivative nature was just to set things up for a new generation and that this chapter in the franchise would feel wholly original and tread new territory. So does it? And did I leave this film feeling as satisfied as I did with last year’s one off tale Rogue One?

The Last Jedi, for the most part, is pretty humdrum. There are a few things I like but let me run through it all.

To start, we have an okay movie with a shaky story but at least it’s not a rehash of stuff we’ve seen. Rian Johnson pretty much made this film the anti-The Force Awakens, as it doesn’t need to copy what’s been done already. Sure, there are some similarities with other Star Wars plots but nothing on the level of the grand plagiarism that was J.J. Abrams’ film, two years prior. I actually wrote about that at great length in my review about that film.

However, original or not, that doesn’t mean this is automatically great. In fact, it really isn’t.

So other than this story feeling new and fresh, I liked that Luke and Leia were both at the forefront and not just side characters. Being that this was Carrie Fisher’s last outing as Leia, I was happy to see her get to be more pivotal to the overall story in this chapter. Although, the bit where she is floating in space and uses the Force to float back to her damaged ship was damn bizarre. There were other bizarre uses of the Force in the film that kind of irked me too but this one really stood out. It just didn’t fit.

Luke was shit. I didn’t care for this older version of the character so much. I get his reasoning for why he checked out on the universe but the greatest Jedi ever shouldn’t have the emotional maturity of a nihilistic teenager. So what, his nephew lost his shit and Luke feels guilty about it. That doesn’t mean that Kylo Ren can’t be saved and that Luke doesn’t have the responsibility to try and bring him back.

Getting to the mysteries that people were speculating over for two years, I’m glad that they went the route they did. While most of my friends were entertaining every fan theory since The Force Awakens came out, I just assumed Rey and Snoke were both nobodies and their origins weren’t connected to anything significant to the overall narrative. I was right. Still, with Snoke, at least, I’d like some backstory, even if it’s just in a book or a casual mention of his connection to the Dark Side.

Snoke was also a red herring, in that he was just there for misdirection and to be a pseudo-Palpatine. His real purpose was just to be someone powerful for Kylo Ren to wipe out on his quest to rule the galaxy. And I’m glad to see him out of the way so Ren can toss General Hux, the First Order’s ginger Hitler, around like a dime store rag doll.

I did like Kylo Ren’s evolution and how he is still very much effected by things from his past and it’s his mission to annihilate those things while just looking forward. The dynamic between Ren and Rey was good and they have some solid chemistry, which will only add to the struggle of both characters’ growth in the next picture. Ultimately, when these two do have their final showdown, it should be interesting enough thanks to the seeds that were sown in this chapter. But really, this was just about the only real strength that this picture had.

Finn was a waste. His adventure was a waste and ultimately proved to be absolutely pointless. His section of the film could be removed entirely and the overall narrative and fluidity of the movie would have been much better. If they had nothing for Finn to do, they should have left him in his coma. If I were John Boyega, I’d be kind of pissed.

Poe is still here and at least he gets more to do than he did in The Force Awakens but he still doesn’t feel as pivotal to the plot as he could be. I like Oscar Issac a lot and hope that he essentially becomes the Resistance’s lead commander by the next film. He needs to be more like Han Solo in his General Solo role. But he’s not on a great trajectory when all the women constantly emasculate him for… reasons. If I were Oscar Issac, I’d be kind of pissed.

A lot of people also speculated on the returns of other characters but out of all the theories, only the Yoda one came true. He appears for a short bit just to remind Luke about the bigger picture. Sadly, he wasn’t sitting at a ghost table with ghost Kenobi, ghost Anakin and Ghost-Gon Jinn playing poker. I feel like the Yoda scene may have had more impact if the other three ghost Jedi were there too. But at least we get to see Yoda burn the ancient Jedi tree and cackle like a crackhead about it.

So a big part of the story’s premise has to deal with how the First Order are able to track the Resistance through hyperspace jumps, which was impossible before. So Snoke’s command ship and a massive fleet are trailing the Resistance, who are running out of fuel. I’m not super keen on this being the crux of the story’s framework, as it doesn’t work well for a lot of reasons.

However, the film sort of just ignores the already established physics of Star Wars hyperdrive travel. In this film, the travel feels way to quick and convenient. While this hasn’t been all that consistent in other movies, comics and books over the years, it just feels sloppily handled here. Also, the First Order’s device that tracks the Resistance looks like a giant Flux Capacitor.

There are two really fun showdowns here. One is when Kylo Ren takes Rey to Snoke. The other is when Luke shows up to stand between the First Order and the Resistance. Both were pretty unique confrontations and weren’t just simple lightsaber battles. Johnson did a decent job in writing those sequences in a way that made them different. And each one comes with a good curveball or two. The moment where Luke, all alone, stands before the First Order’s might is pretty friggin’ chilling. But then Luke is just a Force apparition and the coolness of that moment is like air seeping out of a balloon: deflated.

One thing that may create confusion is that half the time characters say “Resistance” and the other half they say “Rebels” or “Rebellion”. They still use the Rebellion logo, so why did they change to the Resistance in the first place and really, why the hell isn’t the First Order just called the Empire? That’s like admitting defeat. Just say, “Screw you, Rebels! We’re the Empire! We’re still here! You didn’t kill us with your teddy bear friends!”

I know that I am being nitpicky about some stuff but ultimately, the film has major problems.

Unfortunately, J.J. Abrams is returning to direct the still unnamed Episode IX, the final chapter of this trilogy. I really hope that his tendency to borrow entire movies is behind him and that he takes cues from… I don’t know… anything other than past Star Wars movies. No more superweapons! At least not for a really long time.

Update:

The more I think about and reflect on this film, the more I dislike it. It just has so many problems and really, it feels like the magic of Star Wars died a long time ago. Maybe it was gone when the prequels came out and I couldn’t accept it but at least those films had imagination. The Disney films rely too much on what has been established and are just cheap and nearly soulless attempts at trying to replicate the magic of the originals. I never thought that Star Wars would let me down as massively as the live-action Transformers movies did but Disney has made it so that Star Wars doesn’t feel special anymore. And frankly, I’m losing interest in this franchise that, at one point, was the biggest pop culture thing in my life.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The other Disney Star Wars films.

Film Review: Detroit (2017)

Release Date: July 25th, 2017 (Fox Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie, Samira Miley, Chris Chalk, Chris Coy

Annapurna Pictures, First Light Productions, Page 1, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 143 Minutes

Review:

“I’m just gonna assume you’re all criminals.” – Krauss

John Boyega has been getting a lot of work lately, which is great, as I have been a fan since Attack the Block. Will Poulter, who I really only know as the virgin teen from We’re the Millers just made his entire career off of the back of his performance here.

Detroit has been released fifty years after the 1967 Detroit riots that it showcases. I’m not sure if that was intentional or just a convenient coincidence. Either way, the film shines a light on an incident that needed to be told and unfortunately, still has relevance today.

The movie uses its first hour to focus on the riots and the social and political climate around them. Although, if you are still alive and well in America today, it isn’t hard to understand. In fact, it makes you wonder how far we’ve actually come in half a century but the reality of the answer to that question is just depressing.

After the first hour of setup and character development, the film really picks up and gets to the story that was the main focus of the film’s trailers. Racist, psychotic police officers storm a hotel and discover two white girls in a building full of young black men and are offended by this. During the process, the main psycho cop (Poulter) shoots and murders a black man as he was running away through the building. The rest of the people in this part of the hotel are rounded up and put against a wall, as the cops threaten them, beat them and even kill some.

Following the hour or so with the cops in the hotel, the movie shifts to their trial and the aftermath of the situation for those who survived it.

Kathryn Bigelow, who is one of the best directors working today, proves, once again, that she can tell an exceptional and emotional tale that is relevant to what is happening in our world today. She also doesn’t box herself in with a traditional plot structure, as this film has three very different acts yet they all work in unison and weave a tale bigger than just the central incident of this film.

Getting back to Will Poulter, his performance as the racist piece of shit cop Krauss, was one of the best on screen villains in a long time. The kid has acting chops that go far beyond anything I could have expected, only having seen him in We’re the Millers. He has a unique look that can play virginal and innocent or intense and psychotic. He has the gravitas to pull off just about anything and I can’t wait to see where his career goes, as this should certainly open up a lot of doors. Based off of his look alone and his sly and sinister smile, I’d rather see him as the Joker than Jared Leto… just throwing that out there.

Detroit is not a perfect film or the best film that I have seen this year. However, it does what it sets out to do and it does it in a tasteful way that is hard for naysayers to argue against. While a lot of people want to turn a blind eye to how cops and the system have historically treated black people in this country, you can’t turn away and be disaffected by this picture. I hope it, at the very least, this opens some eyes.

I also hate the fact that it is 2017 and we still have to have these conversations.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Attack the Block (2011)

Release Date: March 12th, 2011 (SXSW)
Directed by: Joe Cornish
Written by: Joe Cornish
Music by: Basement Jaxx, Steven Price
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, Nick Frost

StudioCanal, Film4 Productions, UK Film Council, Big Talk Productions, Stage 6 Films, Screen Gems, 88 Minutes

Review:

“No one is going to call you Mayhem if you keep acting like such a pussy!” – Probs

I haven’t watched this film since it initially came out in the States. But revisiting it now, I was reminded of how cool and fun this movie is. In all honesty, this is one of the coolest movies of this decade and it also helped propel the careers of a few of its stars. Plus, Nick Frost is in it and Edgar Wright was involved with the production.

Attack the Block is a fantastic picture, to put it simply. It is imaginative, energetic and a fresh take on the tired alien invasion storyline.

The film starts out with a mugging by a gang of London thugs. However, the victim (Whittaker) gets away when something falls from the sky, smashing a car next to the muggers. Investigating, the muggers discover it is some sort of vicious alien creature. It attacks the leader, Moses (Boyega), and gets away. The thugs then pursue the alien in an effort to kill it. You come to discover that the thugs are just young teenage boys and the film peeks into their lives, humanizing them after committing an atrocious act to kickoff the story. As the film progresses, the boys and the victim discover that they live in the same building and have to come together to survive the invasion and a pissed off drug dealer. Ultimately, it is a coming of age story about Moses having to rise up, become a hero and redeem himself from his bad choices and actions.

The thing that makes this picture special is the style of it. The alien creatures are incredibly original and sort of resemble a hybrid of a big wolf and a gorilla with jet black fur and a glowing neon blue mouth full of sharp teeth. The building where the majority of the film takes place is cold and lifeless but the cinematography and lighting are absolutely superb.

Even though all the kids are little shits, they all become endearing in some way and you can’t help but like them, which is the point, really. You have these asshole kids but they are just kids and despite their bad life choices, they don’t deserve to die. The film does a great job of conveying the right sort of emotions from the victim and the thugs while they learn to trust each other and become not just allies but friends.

I don’t think that the story would have worked as well without the casting being just right. Jodie Whittaker, who is now the first female incarnation of the Doctor from Doctor Who, and John Boyega, a household name now because of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, had a wonderful chemistry and they carried this unique and great picture on their shoulders. Franz Drameh, who would go on to be in Edge of Tomorrow and star in The CW’s The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, also held his own as a member of Moses’ gang.

The film also benefits from a prodigious score that is actually one of the best from the past decade. It hits the right notes, keeps the energy flowing and just encapsulates the tone and style of the film in an uncanny way. It is a perfect accompaniment to the visuals.

Attack the Block is a damn good motion picture. It is straight to the point, quick moving and builds up the characters just enough without it getting in the way of the excitement. The ending is also extremely satisfying.

Rating: 8/10

 

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

*Since the second Disney Star Wars film comes out this week, I figured I’d post my review of last year’s The Force Awakens. This is taken from my previous blog.

Release Date: December 14th, 2015 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Greg Grunberg, Simon Pegg, Daniel Craig

Lucasfilm Ltd., Bad Robot Productions, Walt Disney, 136 Minutes

the-force-awakensReview:

“I got a bad feeling about this.” – Han Solo

And here we are! The seventh episode of the Star Wars saga has now arrived! I have seen it! You have probably seen it! And we now know whether or not it was worth the wait, the hype and unrelenting adoration for generations to come!

So did it live up to the hype? Short answer: no. But what could live up to hype that strong? So was it better than the prequels? Yes and no but I will describe why, as I write.

It isn’t as good as the Original Trilogy and that is okay. It is still a nice addition to the overall saga despite its flaws. But I guess you just can’t keep capturing lightning in a bottle.

The problem with this film is that it is very derivative. In fact, it is basically borrowing a bunch of plot points and elements from the same saga it is a part of. This film is a rehash of A New Hope with elements of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Knights of the Old Republic video game series and the Expanded Universe nine part book series Legacy of the Force.

Now I knew that this film was going to look to stories in the EU for inspiration but I didn’t know that it was essentially going to be a remake of A New Hope – extended with new stuff thrown in.

So how is it a rehash of A New Hope?

Well, a hero puts a message in a droid that needs to be delivered to the Resistance (the modern Rebellion). That hero is captured by a black clad Sith lord (or Sith wannabe, I’m not sure). The droid roams a desert planet and meets a stranger that helps it go further on its quest. The hero captured by the Sith is then rescued from the First Order’s (the modern Empire) big Star Destroyer. A new hero meets the desert stranger and they escape the desert planet in the Millennium Falcon. There is an evil General that is a prettier version of Grand Moff Tarkin. Starkiller Base (a bigger, badder version of the Death Star) blows up several planets (not just one). Some half hour filler stuff happens in a cantina full of weird aliens. Sith dude talks to a dude that is pretty much the new version of the Emperor. The heroes then end up at the Resistance base that looks reminiscent of the Rebellion base planet from A New Hope. They decide to destroy Starkiller Base. There is some father/son stuff. Han Solo has to lower the planetary shields so Starkiller Base can be attacked. X-Wings attack the base and fly through its trenches. Big explosion. Ships fly away. People holding hands. No medals handed out though. And Luke Skywalker is hanging out in Ireland and probably doesn’t even have cable. Okay, the Ireland part is new.

Wow, there are actually a lot more similarities than I thought before writing that quick recap.

The best thing that this film has going for it, is that the actors were good and the returning heroes from the Original Trilogy made an impact in the scenes where they showed up. But truthfully, this movie relied too heavily on incorporating everything it could from the Original Trilogy while ignoring the Prequel Trilogy. Furthermore, it didn’t really offer up much of anything new.

Say what you will about the quality of the Prequel Trilogy but at least George Lucas gave us a different story in every chapter. Each film, good or bad, was still something new. There were new imaginative worlds, cool alien species, cool ships, all types of new stuff to look at and experience. This film just wasn’t new and exciting. It was an amalgamation of all the good stuff that came before while trying to make you forget about the bad stuff. That isn’t always a good formula though. It certainly doesn’t work here. Additionally, the rehash of the good stuff isn’t done as well as it was the first time. So what’s the point, then?

The worlds were too similar to worlds we’ve seen already. The ships and vehicles were about the same as the old ones but with new paint schemes. It’s just all been done before and done better.

This film suffers from lazy storytelling and it lacks the imagination of George Lucas. Yes, his imagination was questionable, at times, but again, each installment of his Star Wars was something fresh. And it was his imagination that drove all of us to love the franchise in the first place.

I’m disappointed in J.J. Abrams because he claims to be a huge Star Wars fan and credits it for his journey into filmmaking. He dropped the ball but I don’t really think he’s ever had it and ran with it anyway. His first Star Trek film was also a rehash of sorts of A New Hope. His second Star Trek was a rehash of the original second Star Trek. His kid/alien movie Super 8 was a rehash of E.T. Hell, Lost was the most original thing he did but the last few seasons were awful.

This movie is the antithesis of the Prequel Trilogy. While that might seem great, it is its antithesis in a bad way. It just repackages everything we know and barely gives us anything new to sink our teeth into. If I want the Original Trilogy, I will watch the Original Trilogy. But then again, there are some people that just want the same shit over and over again and if that is you, you will love this movie. It doesn’t try to expand on anything like the Prequels did and it keeps imagination in a safe, tight jar.

This is the least ambitious Star Wars film that has ever been made. It played it safe, it was completely predictable and it didn’t present anything of value to excite you for its upcoming sequels.

The most important thing that The Force Awakens lacked, was fun. It had humor here and there but the film wasn’t a joyous experience, overall.

You see, in the Original Trilogy, Luke was our eyes and ears into a new world. He was excited and dying for adventure. Rey, this film’s equivalent to Luke, was pretty much sad and just yearning to go back to her boring shitty life, not craving adventure and actually running from it until destiny forced her to confront it.

In fact, the film was too much like Rey in that it was dark, brooding and pretty bland tonally.

The thing is, I may be coming off as harsh, but I wanted to like this movie. I have been a die hard Star Wars fan since the time of the Original Trilogy. I do like this film enough to watch it again and it is more enjoyable than the Prequels, even if it is less original, but I can’t honestly say that I like it. But I also don’t dislike it. I just happen to find myself in some weird state of limbo since leaving the theater an hour ago.

Assorted notes:

-The cinematography was weird in places and didn’t match up with the style of the previous six films.

-Abrams also talked about how he was going with more practical effects but there was still an overabundance of CGI.

-After all the hype about how bad ass and cool Captain Phasma was supposed to be, she was a non-event in this movie. She wasn’t even necessary to the plot in any way. But Abrams also needed his Boba Fett. But if he is digging up all the old actors and old plots for nostalgia sake, he could’ve just thrown Boba Fett in the movie.

-Abrams also borrows from the character of Yoda in making a tiny orange female alien that is a thousand years old. She knows the Force but is no Jedi but that doesn’t stop her from mentoring Rey, the Jedi to be. I bet in a future film, it is revealed that she had an association with Yoda.

-Snoke is this film’s Palpatine. For some reason his hologram is a giant sitting on a giant throne. Maybe he will be that big in the flesh but it just came off as weird and that throne room was a bit too much for a place he doesn’t actually sit in. I also suspect that he may be Darth Plagueis.

-I know that the Empire (now First Order) were based off of the Nazis but General Hux’s Hitler-like speech was a bit much.

-Starkiller Base (the new Death Star) is really irritating. It is technically impossible to build something like that in a planet’s surface without having an insane amount of volcanic activity. Also, it sucks power from its sun until it drains out. If that actually happened, the environment on the planet would freeze over, it wouldn’t just turn dark and snow more. And if the base can travel like the Death Star, the environment would alter so much that nothing could live on the planet. Also, the solar energy sucking thing was taken from the Star Forge superweapon in the original Knights of the Old Republic game. Plus, pulling energy like that into a planet’s atmosphere would incinerate everything.

-Finn is clumsy as hell but somehow can hold his ground against a force trained baddie. Also, it wasn’t established that he was a Jedi and therefore it bothers me that he even uses a lightsaber, not to mention that I doubt his Stormtrooper training came with fencing lessons. Also, he left the First Order because he didn’t want to kill strangers (admirable) but he had no qualms blasting his Stormtrooper brothers to bits when escaping with Poe. They are just brainwashed people like he was.

-What’s with the Stormtrooper with the anti-lightsaber weapon? Do they all have those and if so, why? There is only one Jedi in the galaxy. That’s like every cop on the street carrying a bazooka because you never know when a tank may roll into town.

-C-3PO and R2-D2 are barely in the film which misses the whole point of their characters. They are to be the observers of everything and the chroniclers of the Skywalker family saga. R2-D2 was asleep for the first two hours and ten minutes of this movie. And why did Luke leave R2-D2 behind? That was cruel.

-Han’s death was the best scene in the film. Not because I wanted to see Han die but the exchange between him and Kylo Ren was great. For only seeing these two share one scene, you could feel their love and their pain.

-Speaking of Ren, he has certain powers that seem to be greater than Darth Vader but yet he can’t build a lightsaber that isn’t crap? And yes, it still looks stupid. But it isn’t as stupid as Starkiller Base. Plus, he is a total emo bitch and nowhere near as menacing or threatening as any Sith lord before him. But his shuttle is pretty damn cool.

-Rey can’t take off in the Millennium Falcon without trashing everything in sight but she can fly it through a crashed Star Destroyer two minutes later.

-Why couldn’t Chewie drop Rey off at the top of the mountain?

-Even though the Force is what makes destiny happen, things in this film just seem too convenient. Even more convenient than all the other films. This goes back to my earlier point about lazy storytelling.

-Seeing an old planet from a previous film would’ve been nice. Jakku could’ve just been Tatooine, really.

-There should’ve been more of Poe Dameron.

-There was a complete lack of emotion and no feeling of devastation after Starkiller Base’s attack of mass destruction. It was soulless, cheap and irritating like the end of Man of Steel.

-I liked most of these new characters but I’m not completely sold on Ren.

-Rey and Finn’s relationship was a million times less painful to watch than Anakin and Padme’s.

-Leia is fucking great.

-I hope the galaxy expands out more in the next film.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The Disney Star Wars movies.