Review: Star Wars:Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Theatrical Release Poster

After watching this movie, I had to take a few moments to pick my jaw back up and compose myself long enough to write out just how much I loved each and every moment. Irvin Kershner’s sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, manages to improve and innovate on what its predecessor did in amazing ways. The story follows up with our motley crew of heroes as they’re on the run from the Galactic Empire. Except this time, things aren’t going to be nearly as easy.

Just like A New Hope, the practical and visual effects in this movie are off the charts. Spaceships look gorgeous and the chase scenes in this movie genuinely had me clamping down on my knuckles. I don’t know if it was just my love for what I was seeing or if there was an actual improvement, but the light sabers feel more “solid” in this movie which I appreciated a lot. It gave them the impact I thought they deserved. There’s also an pivotal character (I’ll avoid naming them for those rare people who have somehow avoided all spoilers) done exclusively through CGI/puppet work and the attention to detail with said character makes them feel almost even more well realized than some of the human characters. If that isn’t good special effects work I don’t know what is.

That isn’t a knock on any of the characters by the way. They all feel more realized and grounded in this movie. Whereas in the last movie, we had to watch our main group constantly stay on the run, this movie affords some time to help develop new interactions and milestones. It’s not that the arcs themselves are revolutionary. Rather, they’re just presented and executed so masterfully that I couldn’t stop getting giddy at watching them unfold- especially in regards to the Han and Leia scenes. The acting by our main cast is also stellar and makes these moments more engaging.

However, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention how much the Empire gets developed in the aptly titled Empire Strikes Back. Vader’s motivations and choices are interesting and paying attention to differentiation in his actions helped me infer quite a lot. I appreciate that he’s not a “big bad.” He’s brutal and cruel, yes, but there’s also an underlying nuance to him that makes him mesmerizing. I also enjoyed getting to explore more of the political side of the Empire and how communities respond to their presence in more direct ways. It makes the evil organization feel as grand as it really is and a far more menacing presence than the one that allowed a Death Star to blow up.

Despite knowing certain spoilers (most people would if they weren’t living under a rock the past 40 years), the impact of certain key moments are rewarding. There was a scene that made me tear up quite a lot and another where a character reaction made the movie feel more akin to horror than anything else. These aren’t feelings I felt in the previous film. Somehow, this movie managed to deliver these feelings in conjunction with the same sense of wonder and adventure from the past movie. The emotional resonance this movie creates is what makes it a true masterpiece.

Rating

TLDR: The Empire Strikes back might be one of the first times where I’ve thought a sequel was better than its predecessor. This film takes everything I loved about A New Hope and then decided to add more while fine tuning other elements.

Final Rating: 10/10. This movie is so good that you should watch A New Hope, just so you can experience what this film has in store. I can’t express how much more I loved this movie.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Doctor Sleep

Theatrical Release Poster

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. I’ve never been someone who read any of Stephen King’s books growing up, so my only experience towards The Shining has been through Stanley Kubrick’s iconic movie. The way the movie ended was satisfying and emotionally resounding. As such, the idea of any sequel felt iffy, even if based on a book by the original author. On top of that, the initial trailers made me feel like the movie was just going to be a series of Shining references without real substance. Thankfully, Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep manages to stand on its own two feet and genuinely surprised me in its depth and presentation.

The story follows Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as he attempts to get over his horrifying experience at the Overlook hotel. He’s a rugged adult now and the film takes time at the beginning to really flesh out what we know about him and his motivations. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while now, you know that I’m okay with the dreaded “slow burn” movie. However others may find this first hour slow and uneventful. There’s no real inciting incident or immediate answers to the events that we witness. Instead, we’re forced to take time getting to know the primary cast and their motivations. This makes the more serious and tense moments in the second and third act that much more exciting. I felt scared because I cared about the characters and knew what they were thinking and going through. Character decisions do get more “interesting” in the third act, but they never brought me out of the moment during the watch so I didn’t think too much about them. Even now they don’t seem like major issues and don’t detract from the more important moments, but it may annoy some viewers.

Acting is great all around. Ewan McGregor really sells the trauma that motivates and influences Dan’s actions. He’s asked to be a man at wit’s end in one moment and then a confident leader in another. Likewise, Kyliegh Curan’s performance as Abra stone manages to cover a wide range of emotions. She’s confident and bad ass when she needs to be, but when she’s scared it’s understandable. As a child actor, I’m even more impressed and appreciated how well Curan and McGregor played off each other. Their relationship is really cute and helps give the story a lot of it’s emotional weight. However, any review of Doctor Sleep that didn’t mention Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as as the main antagonist, Rose the Hat, would be horribly remiss. She absolutely captures the camera whenever she shows up. She oozes charisma, intelligence, malice, but also a deep emotional attachment to her “family.” It makes her a nuanced villain. Yes, she’s evil – but she’s so fun and suave with it that you can’t help but appreciate the lengths of what she’s willing to do.

I appreciated Flanagan’s recast of the Shining characters. I watched the movie with a friend, who thought that the dis similarities between the new actors/actresses versus the original actors/actresses was distracting. I can understand why and this may be something that puts viewers off. However, I do think each of the recasts captures the “spirit” of the original character. I could believe each of the actors/actresses as their characters , even if they weren’t great at cloning their original actor/actress as that character. There is one scene in the third act where I thought the differences were a bit too strong, but it didn’t distract me too much. Honestly, considering the alternative – a ton of CGI – I’m glad the more practical option was used. If IT 2’s de-aging showed me anything, it’s that technology still has limits.

The movie is crisply shot like all of Flanagan’s previous works. Nothing really surprised me in terms of composition or sound. However, that is not to say that scenes do not look cool. The movie has a lot of action moments that absolutely looked stunning and felt like they were ripped out of an manga or comic book. If you’ve seen Naruto and ever wanted to see real genjutsu fights, this movie has them and they are gorgeous.

I did appreciate all the homages to the original film in both the shot composition and track design. The third act honestly felt like a huge gush of fan-service, which I personally enjoyed. It felt like a nod at fans of the original and I liked it for what it was. It didn’t feel like it took anything away from the plot of the movie at hand. I do think some of the references could’ve been taken away because the movie felt like it could have been a tad bit shorter, but I didn’t mind it.

Thematically the movie focuses on responsibility and the extent of what our obligations are to others. The question is made more interesting by the philosophical questions raised by the scope and use of the “shining” power. I was surprised by how much the movie was making me think about how I would react in similar situations. Although , I think that some of the threads are answered haphazardly, the way the movie ended had me smiling. Based on the discussions I’ve been having, I definitely want to read the source material for both films and go through the experience again. This adaptation deserves that.

Rating

TLDR: Doctor Sleep is a beautiful movie that manages to balance both horror and action. It features one of the best villains of 2019 and is a fun ride the moment psychic shenanigans start happening.

Final Rating: 9.4/10 . This is the best King adaptation of 2019 and there have been a lot. If you ever wondered what happened to Doc after the events of The Shining, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Parasite

Theatrical Release Poster

I’ve never seen a movie by Bong Joon-ho before I saw Parasite, and if any of them are even remotely close to the cinematic masterpiece that I witnessed, I’m definitely going to have to check them out. If you can’t guess already, I absolutely adored every second of this movie and couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen. This is probably the best class consciousness movie I’ve ever seen and I’m already ready to watch it all over again.

The movie follows the Kim family – a group of incredibly skilled and intelligent scam artists. Because the family is poor and lives in an incredibly impoverished location, they each have to make full use of their wits in order to cling to their lives. The movie really gets started once the son, Ki Woo (Choi Woo-shik) infiltrates a rich family and slowly helps his own family infiltrate and take from his rich clientele. However, unlike the traditional rich evil character type we’re used to, the main “antagonists” of the film seem fairly normal and even nice at times. There are moments, especially closer to the third act where you can get why the main characters don’t like them as much, but they’re never overbearing. The best part? The characters don’t know their counterparts are actually nuanced and distinct from the archetypes they have formed in their head. As a result, interactions between the groups are comedic and thought provoking. The juxtaposition of the smart and poor with the rich, non-malicious, but ignorant creates this wonderful interplay of previously unseen class interactions. There are a lot of moments that forced me to recognize certain moments in my own life and unpack the assumptions and biases I had. Expectations are subverted , but it never feels like it’s done for no reason. It all calculated, but comes off as natural.

As a result, the movie can be funny when it wants and serious when it needs to be. Jokes hit well because of the way expectations are set up. There are always good punch lines but what elevates them to the next level is their thematic significance. After finishing the movie, I knew I had to watch the movie again to see how the earlier jokes figured into the way things unraveled.

The movie also shines on a technical level. Camera work is off the charts. There are gorgeous shots of the characters traversing treks of the city. These moments help to drive home the social positions of different character groups. The impoverished are geographically positioned lower compared to the rich who are placed higher. Pan and tilt shots are expertly used to amplify this feeling. The score naturally flows and accompanies the different sections In particular, the more epic musical tracks helped sell the tension in a lot of the latter parts of the film. The architecture of the house the majority of the action takes place in is also beautiful. The layout of it helped reinforce themes while providing eye candy. It’s relation to the sun and other sources of light was also something I wasn’t expecting but thoroughly enjoyed. All these elements always help reinforce one another making the whole experience feel more textured.

This is a film I think almost any one can relate to because it is fundamentally a story of a family’s struggle to survive under capitalism. Though the first part of the movie is more lighthearted, the movie never takes the characters predicaments lightly. Any possible mistake can risk upending everything. That’s the real beauty of the movie. We actually end up cheering for a group of con-artists swindling a naive wealthy family. Whenever something felt like it was going to fall apart, I felt genuinely scared, because I cared for and wanted everything to go well for the Kims. I could see large swaths of my life in theirs, and I think a lot of people will feel the same way. That’s why the tale never feels long or unbelievable. Take away the names and location and suddenly you have the tale of billions of people around the planet. That’s powerful.

Rating

TLDR: Parasite is a masterclass film. Every element from the story to set design helps sell a thought-provoking and bold story about class consciousness and the human condition.

Final Rating: 10/10. If you’ve ever felt like the world has had it out for you then you owe it to yourself to watch this cinematic masterpiece. It might be one of the most relatable and human pieces of art I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode IV – A New Hope

Theatrical Release Poster

I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t the most optimistic about watching all the Star Wars movies. My previous (AKA my first) experience with the franchise had been watching Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace , and it hadn’t left the best taste. Even after being told that the original trilogy was better than the prequels, I was left wondering by how much and entered the disc for A New Hope with anything but hope. Thankfully for me, George Lucas’s magical space tale filled me with a sense of adventure and awe I haven’t felt in years and had me grinning for most of the run time.

The story, as most of you know, follows Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as he embarks on his journey to become a jedi and learn the ways of the mystical “force.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like every main character I saw. Mark starts off as a self-centered teen who lacks a more robust understanding of the world and watching his journey unfold was rewarding. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is the perfect blend of cocky and charming and despite my annoyance at some of his antics, I couldn’t help but appreciate how much I jived with him. C-3PO and R2-D2’s relationship was also surprisingly heart-warming. Despite being droids and having one of them not being able to speak in a normal sense, I was surprised at how much agency they had. I could go into how much I loved every character in a similar fashion, but then the review would go on too long so I digress – I loved most of them and can’t wait to see what they end up doing.

On the topic of characters, dialogue in the movie was hit-or-miss. I thought some lines felt strange? Characters would go from feeling real and personable, to feeling strange and wordy. However, this issue wasn’t that pervasive and most of the lines were cool and provocative.There’s definitely dialogue from this movie I won’t be able to stop saying.

Lucas nails aesthetic. This movie looks and feels immaculate most of the time. The practical effects really shine through and the moment I saw the huge ships in space, I was amazed. The fact that the movie can still stand up with current movies despite being released over forty years ago speaks to how spectacular the craftsmanship on display is. I can only guess how shocking everything must have seemed on the big screen back when the movie came out. Some of the digital effects seem a bit dated- lightsaber transitions, certain explosion shots, space lasers, etc, but the intensity of the action and the real feel of the universe around make those issues seem less important. From the two suns on Tatooine to the bar in Mos Eisley, the environment always feels like it’s filled with magical and other-wordy creatures. It feels real and as such, actions feel meaningful and incorporated.

The soundtrack and shot composition is also stunning. The main theme is something I couldn’t get out of my head despite never watching any of the movies, and I highly doubt that I’ll be able to get the song out after having experienced the magic myself. John Williams’s score sells the epic feeling the scenes necessitate and make every bit of action feel that much more special. The only thing I found tacky was some of the transitions felt out of place and elementary- almost like they were placed from the old school Windows Movie Maker.

The movie feels awkward in certain sections, particularly in the first act. Thankfully, like most elements of the movie, everything only gets better as the film progresses. Every time I felt even slightly irritated about something, another event would happen that would immediately knock the nit picked thought away and force me to just enjoy the experience that was going on.

Rating

TLDR: A New Hope certainly ignited a hope for me in this franchise, and I can say I’m eagerly looking forward to Episode V. If you can get over some minor annoyances, and resist the urge to nit-pick, you’ll find a world of wonder and adventure beyond your dreams.

Final Rating: 9.6/10. I get why people like Star Wars. If you, like me, have never given the movies a chance, at least spare a moment to watch this one. There’s something magical and relateable about the galaxy far far away.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Halloween 2k19 :Marathon Retrospective

Introduction

I’ve loved horror movies for a long time, but I’ve always found it hard to talk about it with others because of my lack of familiarity with the western cannon. As a kid I started off with horror movies like The Ring and The Grudge and subsequently got into Asian horror. Because of this I never ended up watching common American classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street.

This challenge was my chance to play “catch-up” and improve my understanding of western horror history. I thought it’d be hard because of how many slashers I’d have to watch. I’ve never liked blood – it always makes me feel queasy – so slashers were my natural enemy. However, I did look forward to movies like The Silence of the Lambs and The House of the Devil, because I like supernatural and psychological movies and I find them easiest to get lost in.

The biggest part of the challenge I was scared about was actually forcing myself to watch a horror movie everyday and then write a review within the day. Yes, I tell my friends what I think of movies all the time but writing my thoughts out is a lot more time intensive than casually speaking them. My biggest concern was having a competent review for each movie.

Now that the challenge is done- I thought it’d be interesting to go ahead and analyze the results and experience overall. Did I meet expectations? Was it everything I wanted and more? How did my reviews compare to aggregate sites like IMDb? Tune in and find out.

General Statistics

I went to Metacritic and IMDb and found the aggregate ratings for each of the movies I saw. The Metascore on Metacritic uses a scale of 100. I scaled it back down to a scale of 10 to make comparing the numbers easier.

The sample size is only the 32 movies I saw during the challenge, so take the numbers as you will. As I get more reviews up here I can do more robust analyses. This particular retrospective might seem more trivial, but it’s a fun journey nonetheless.

NOTE: Ratings may change as more reviews are added over time so if you view this well after the posted date- keep that in mind.

Title My Rating IMDb Rating MetaCritic User Score MetaCritic Meta Score
Hour of the Wolf 8.5 7.7 N/A N/A
Scream 9.3 7.2 8.8 6.5
The Thing 10.0 8.1 8.8 5.7
Zombieland 8.8 7.6 8.6 7.3
The Shining 10.0 8.4 8.8 6.6
Poltergeist 9.0 7.3 8.5 7.9
Green Room 8.3 7.0 7.2 7.9
The House of the Devil 9.2 6.4 6.9 7.3
Night of the Living Dead 9.5 7.9 8.5 8.9
Texas Chain Saw Massacre 10.0 7.5 8.0 7.5
A Nightmare on Elm Street 9.1 7.5 8.8 7.6
The Cabin in the Woods 9.3 7.0 8.1 7.2
The Silence of the Lambs 10.0 8.6 8.8 8.5
Shaun of the Dead 9.0 7.9 8.7 7.6
In the Mouth of Madness 10.0 7.2 6.8 5.3
Saw 8.1 7.6 8.1 4.6
An American Werewolf in London 9.1 7.5 8.8 7.6
Joker 9.4 8.8 9.2 5.9
Nosferatu 9.5 7.9 N/A 7.9
Cube 9.2 7.2 7.3 6.1
Black Swan 9.4 7.5 8.1 7.9
28 Days Later 9.5 7.6 7.7 7.3
Candyman 10.0 6.6 N/A N/A
Event Horizon 7.4 6.7 7.2 3.5
Friday the 13th 7.2 6.5 5.6 2.2
The Devil’s Backbone 8.8 7.4 8.7 7.8
The Others 8.4 7.6 8.7 7.4
Jaws 10.0 8.0 8.8 8.7
The Lighthouse 10.0 8.3 8.3 8.3
Hell House LLC 8.2 6.4 N/A N/A
Zombieland: Double Tap 7.5 7.2 5.3 5.6
Ringu 9.7 7.2 N/A N/A

Personal Analysis

Based on my ratings you can tell that this month was good for me. Out of the 32 movies I saw 8 movies that I would classify as a 10. Those movies were:

  • The Shining
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
  • The Thing
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • In the Mouth of Madness
  • Candyman
  • Jaws
  • The Lighthouse

Even though I’d say I’m more willing to give 10’s than other critics, I still find it amazing how many of the movies profoundly impacted me. On top of these 8 “unicorns”, an additional 4 movies made the A+ squad meaning that 37.5% of the movies I saw were good enough for me to want to recommend then to everyone. These additions include:

  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Nosferatu
  • 28 Days Later
  • Ringu

The distribution of these movies genre-wise is also something I’m surprised by. I didn’t think that I would rank any slasher up that highly, but Candyman and Texas Chain Saw Massacre were both so nuanced that I couldn’t help but be entranced by both movies. I love supernatural and psychological movies so that part makes sense.

Genre Count
Supernatural 3
Psychological 3
Slasher 2
Monster 1
Science Fiction 1

The movie I ended up liking the least was Friday the 13th, which I gave a 7.2. After A Nightmare on Elm Street, I was hoping that one of the other great slasher series could give me something meaningful to bite into. Unfortunately, despite having a few nice moments, the movie didn’t hit me the way I wanted it to. It’s funny- before I started the marathon I didn’t want anything to do with the movie, but after being spoiled by some great ones, I started looking forward to the ones on my list. Congrats slasher movies – you got a fan in me.

Relational Analysis

Review Source Mean Median Standard Deviation
Me 9.09 9.25 0.81
IMDb 7.49 7.5 0.61
Metacritic – User 8.03 8.3 0.96
Metacritic- Meta 6.82 7.3 1.56

My friends have always said I’m a film snob, and I’ve always maintained I’m not. But everytime I end up loving a horror movie (The Witch, It Follows, The Babadook…) it ends up being one of those divisive movies that gets good “critic” reviews but not so great user reviews. That’s what made the comparison of the major statistics so surprising.

My ratings were closest to the Metacritic – User ratings and also furthest away from the Metacritic – Meta ratings. It’s also interesting that that’s the only source that had a standard deviation well above 1. It seems like “critics” are more broad compared to a more “in tune” user base. I’d be interested in finding out why that’s the case, but that’s for another time when I have more data and better codding knowledge.

I also wanted to check out just how different my A+ movies differentiated from the way my counterparts ranked them. Maybe my self perceived greats were so good that they elicited similar reactions in others. I’ve excluded Nosferatu, Candyman, and Ringu because they have missing Metacritic data.

Title IMDb Difference Metacritic Meta Difference Metacritic User Difference
The Shining 1.6 1.2 3.4
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2.5 2.0 2.5
Night of the Living Dead 1.6 1.0 0.6
The Thing 1.9 1.2 4.3
The Silence of the Lambs 1.4 1.2 1.5
In the Mouth of Madness 2.8 3.2 4.7
28 Days Later 1.9 1.8 2.2
Jaws 2.0 1.2 1.3
The Lighthouse 1.7 1.7 1.7

The differences are promising in a certain light. Though my final rating for most of the above titles is higher than my counterparts, their position comparative to other movies on the list remains similar. I may give higher ratings – but those ratings are in line with (for the most part) the trend of rating horror movies. The biggest exceptions to this rule so far are The Shining and In the Mouth of Madness. Both movies are cult classics and I appreciated their depths into darker, more Lovecraftian themes. After looking it up, I found out that they’re part of John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy”. When I found out I still had one movie, Prince of Darkness, to watch I felt tremendous jubilation.

In a more general sense, the ratings for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Lighthouse have the closest score distributions out all the movies. The Lighthouse is the most striking given that every source sans myself had given the movie an 8.3.

Review of Writing Style

When I first started writing reviews, I thought the process was overwhelming. I’ve always been someone who just focuses on plot and interpretation. I’ve always appreciated things like score and camera angles but never thought about how they impacted my viewing experience. Trying to find a way to incorporate discussion about all the elements was my first big hurdle.

My earlier reviews like , Review: The Hour of the Wolf, exhibit the issue clearly. When I mention certain things, they come off as static and feel more like statements that have to be there as opposed to streams of natural thought that followed from the previous one. This is mainly because I’m not the best at using commas, so translating my spoken thought into proper written work is… difficult to say the least. If you’ve been reading for a while, you may notice I use a lot of “-“‘s in my work. I don’t know how correct it is, but the feeling it creates feels natural.

Thankfully, my more recent reviews are more fluid, even if the difference isn’t as big as I wanted. Sentences extend for longer and there’s more voice and expression in everything. There’s probably a lot more, but I’m more interested in seeing where my writing is at in a year, so I’ll wait until then to take a deeper look.

Final Takeaway

Overall, this experience was great. Watching a movie and writing a review everyday was challenging but was also incredibly rewarding. I was forced to critically inspect each movie at multiple levels and ended up appreciating the craftsmanship at work.

The hardest part of the process was feeling like there was a constant deadline for each movie. Some of the movies hit emotional beats pretty hard and it was difficult to force myself to watch a movie the next day. Balancing a movie a day on top of work and everyday life was also challenging and something I should’ve prepared around more.

The more serious movies that were playing in theaters proved to be the hardest to review. Joker and The Lighthouse both moved me and brought up a lot of interesting points, but I couldn’t pause, write out my thoughts, and rewind to catch up with certain points like I could do back at home on my PS3.

I’m definitely planning on doing this challenge next year, but now I think I have some good changes to make the process more manageable. I definitely need more fun/cheesy movies to lighten the mood. Being scared and philosophically boomed is great but there’s a charm to less serious movies. At the very least, they would serve as a much needed change in current that would keep the experience fresh.

 

Approaching Reviews

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Why Write Reviews
  3. Context Matters
  4. Evaluating the Elements
    1. Story
    2. Characters
    3. Cinematography
    4. Interpretation
  5. Rating Process
  6. 10’s
  7. TLDR

Introduction

A cursory glance at my ratings would imply that I’m prone to giving incredibly high scores. In fact, one of the most prominent concerns I’ve heard from friends who have been keeping up with the site, is that my reviewing credibility felt shaky because my ratings seem inflated in comparison to counterpart ratings on aggregate review sites like Metacritic and IMDb.

The objection has never bothered me because I approach my ratings methodically and carefully. However, I can understand the concern and want to clarify how I approach reviewing. I’ll go through my though process and break it down. Hopefully, this will make my ratings make more sense. Everything is written in the context of movies, but the spillover to other forms of media should be intuitive.

Why Write Reviews?

Reviews are ubiquitous. Rotten Tomatoes. Metacritic. IMDb. Forums. YouTube videos galore. Everywhere you go, you can find someone talking about how they perceived or interpreted a work. For me, I originally watched reviews to find the “good” movies. After watching a string of movies I didn’t care for too much, I decided that I’d let the internet help me out. Before watching anything myself, I’d try and find a review first, so I could “ensure” the experience would be curated.

I learned the hard way, that just because someone has a review online, doesn’t mean that their interpretation of the content will line up with yours. That’s because our perspectives and interests obviously affect our priorities and our takeaways. Case in point- me.

For me, community and notions of belonging have been at the forefront of my thoughts, so when I see a film that attempts to grapple with the concept in cool ways, I tend to geek out. It’s why I loved and watched Aster’s Midsommar three times in theaters and am praying that the Director’s cut gets released in the states on Blu-Ray. But back to the point- despite my love for the film- I just could not get a lot of my friends into the movie. The same kind of love wasn’t there, because they didn’t have the same kind of predisposition.

The point here is that my reviews are indexed towards concepts and ideas I enjoy and find illuminating. I try and remain “objective”. That’s why I try and pay attention to every small detail and evaluate each element of the film on its own merits aside from my own personal taste. Despite that, biases are impossible to control. They come through and pervade through my thoughts and subsequently my reviews.

So why do I write despite knowing this? Catharsis.

Fictional media provides an escape and a refuge for different emotional intensities. The display of raw emotion and the ability to manipulate events and aspects of reality to highlight and bring hidden thoughts to light is something that only fictional representation can do. Whether it be a song, film, or written work – story elements can evoke something deep within. For me, the works I remember the most are the ones that resonated with a metaphysical presence inside . When I find a review, and the critic in turn brings up those themes or mentions elements that I find important, it creates a spiritual kinship. It’s like someone else gets it. But a lot of the times I couldn’t find those thoughts for certain films. So I write these reviews in the hopes of evoking the same sense of kinship I found. Maybe someone out there likes what I say and gets a good movie recommendation. Maybe they read my review and leave their own recommendation. Either way it’s a win-win.

Now that you get the why, it’s time to get the how.

Context Matters

Whenever I watch a movie, I evaluate it in the context of when it was released. A lot of the movies I’ve reviewed on the site are older ones and may seem outdated to people who only watch more modern films. To counteract any bias against older material, I try and place myself to the time when the movie was released.

A good example of this is Nosferatu. I personally didn’t enjoy having to wade through blocks of narration. But that was a limitation to film making in 1922, because audio technology hadn’t advanced enough to reliably allow for spoken dialogue. Holding the lack of audio against the movie would be my idea of an unjustified criticism because it targets an element of the media that the creator could not control.

However, this does not mean that bad visual effects/CG are okay. If a movie seems corny compared to movies now, it could have still seemed mind blowing 2 decades ago. If it seems bad in relation to its contemporaries, then criticisms are fair game. In this way, I keep praise and criticism of the finer elements in line with the expectations present during the films initial run.

Evaluating the Elements

There are a few key elements I look for and evaluate to determine a piece’s rating. They’re listed below along with some of their sub-components that make each of them up.

  • Story (~30%)
    • Exposition
    • Pacing
  • Characters (~20%)
    • Development
    • Consistency
    • Acting
  • Cinematography (~20%)
    • Score
    • Camera Angles
    • Color Palettes
  • Interpretation (~30%)

The percentages next to each of the elements roughly equates to its importance when it comes to my rating calculations. Obviously things like interpretation may or may not be prevalent depending on the nature of the work, but it would be equitably distributed among the remaining categories. This isn’t a definitive guide to my thinking, but should explain why certain problems I have are more or less impactful on the final score. In the sections below I outline my reasoning on the importance of each element and their relative influence on my enjoyment of the overall piece.

Story

The most important thing about any media – movie, television show, music video – is the story. Without a plot, none of the other elements have a sense of coherence. Thematic elements can’t be isolated as well because there’s no relation to some grander narrative. This doesn’t mean that the plot has to be robust. Some tales can be bare-bones and serve purely as a vehicle for more artistic elements. All that matters is that the story helps combine the elements into an accessible and meaningful package.

However, most stories take place in their own fully-detailed worlds with characters going on about their own lives. As such, any good creator needs to find a good way to give the audience background information without making it feel boring or out of place. Bad exposition scenes are a plenty and usually indicate bad writing in other portions of the movie. The rule of show don’t tell becomes more explicit here. Details and background moments become more powerful when we associate them with an event as opposed to a description of the same. I understand

No matter how deep a story wants to be, consistency in pacing is always a necessity. If certain portions feel rushed, then the impact of consequent moments may feel uneven or unearned. Personally, this is why I tend to forgive movies that are classified as “slow-burners.” This does not mean I like slow movies or prefer them. If a movie feels too slow, I get sleepy and irritable. Choppy pacing often leads to this feeling. For example, even though I enjoyed watching Shazam! , a lot of scenes linger on for too long, especially in the middle portion of the movie , which made the experience feel drawn out. I felt like I had been in my seat for 2 and a half hours instead of the actual 2 hours 12 minute run-time.

Characters

Stories are only as good as the characters that inhabit them. I’m someone who prefers strong dynamic characters that exhibit growth, but I don’t dislike static characters as long as they’re done well. Characters like Saitama from One Punch Man are static, but they’re so fleshed out and interesting, that the depth they present makes up for the lack of changes they go through. Good characters can make even messy plots bearable. They give me a point to latch onto and serve as the primary source of emotional investment. When they’re not present, the entire plot becomes less resonant.

When a character is dynamic, their growth has to feel natural. Their actions need to be in line with our their motivations. If they do something unnatural, it needs to be done for a thematic reason and recognized. Nothing feels worse than having a character go through a certain arc, to have that arc promptly reversed or ignored for no other reason than “the plot.” Suspension of disbelief requires a notion of predictability that comes from power scaling in the story and character decisions. When either of those tenets is deal with too haphazardly, disbelief sets in a lot quicker and becomes hard to shake off.

Once a character is established, the job of the actor becomes to give life to that role. Good actors/actresses make characters feel like they’re authentic. They naturally interact with plot elements that may not be there. There’s an emotional intensity in their eyes and actions that distinguishes them from the set pieces around them. Personally, acting for me is harder to point to. I feel like I can recognize acting that isn’t that great, but it’s harder for me to explain why. It’s just a feeling.

Cinematography

I appreciate cinematography, but it’s an element I’m not as well-versed at dealing with as the other ones I’ve mentioned. I don’t know the names of different camera techniques or exactly what a color represents, but I do sometimes catch onto certain shot compositions or set-ups and can appreciate them despite my lack of technical knowledge. I’m not good at understanding genres of music or what instruments are going off (outside of the basics like drums) , but I can feel the energy they bring to certain scenes and lose myself in them. What I’m saying is I don’t know why or what exactly is going on with visual or auditory techniques, but I appreciate them in spite of that. That’s what makes them so interesting to try and understand.

Sometimes when I notice patterns, I research what they could mean, and that makes the film cooler. This usually happens on a secondary watch when I know I should be paying closer attention to certain things. For example, when I first watched Kubrick’s The Shining half a decade earlier , I couldn’t really understand why the shots were so mesmerizing. However, while reviewing it this past year during my second watch, I realized how Kubrick had used one point perspective to make me gaze at certain scenes. I also appreciated the long running shots. I took them for granted and don’t see them used a lot, so I get more why they’re a big deal. Small techniques like these make the experience that much more layered. There’s always something else that can be gleamed from an advanced work, and unraveling the layers is pleasurable in end of itself.

Special effects are something I’ve taken for granted for years of my viewing. I never knew how much work went into certain scenes. After watching Carpenter’s The Thing, I had to do a double take on the release date. Despite being almost four decades old, the visual effects still elicited a primal response from me. I researched how they achieved certain “crunchy” scenes and gained a new appreciation for the effort put into practical effect works. A similar feeling came over me while watching Hooper’s Poltergeist. The CGI effects feel wonky to me, but the care and lighting in creating the scares is immaculate. Emulating the way shadows work on a set is crazy to think about when you realize how light works and flows. Some of it might feel corny to me, but I imagine watching this when it came out was a nightmare.

Interpretation

I love philosophy and spend a lot of my time engrossed in overthinking the meaning and symbolism of everything I read and watch. As such, the interpretative value of works is important to me. Watching how all the different parts of the work come together to demonstrate different themes is one of the most rewarding aspects of watching a story unfold from beginning to end, outside of the story proper.

The best works combine all their respective elements, juxtaposing them in different permutations to drive home certain themes. For example, Robert Eggers The Lighthouse is a film that exemplifies how to use synergies between different elements to cause the audience to ask thought provoking questions. The lighting and aspect ratio make the center of the screen become more resonant during some of the hypnotic and jarring scenes making them more visceral. The movie follows a static but deep character interacting with a dynamic but reclusive character. This helps keep the dialogue and interactions familiar but mysterious. Add on the shocking imagery and sprinkle mystery and suddenly you have a film that you can watch with all your friends and each of you can walk away with a new sense of awe and wonder.

While I appreciated the ambiguous nature of the some of the themes and questions, I don’t think a good movie necessitates it. If there’s a discernible theme that’s properly built up through the film, I’ll remember the movie afterwards. Themes can be simple. Themes can be nuanced. Complexity isn’t my primary concern. I care more about consistency and precision. A movie like One Piece: Stampede may not explore the depths of the human soul, but it reminds us of the power of friendship and adventure through it’s energetic animation and score combined with story beats.

Rating Process

After going through each of the above elements , I come up with a rough value of my overall feeling for the same. Yes- that’s right. After all this, it still comes down to a gut feeling. The separation of elements just helps organize my thoughts before my mind’s eye visualizes a score.

I start at a 0 and then add to the score based on how strong I felt each element was represented. Once I have the main score figured out , calibrating the decimal score is fairly intuitive process. I can’t describe it but it feels right. This does mean there’s not a huge difference, say between a 9.6 and a 9.7. Both of those movies would be huge recommendations from me. They’re more so just ways of prioritizing which movies do more well.

10’s

In spite of all of this, you may still be wondering – why do I give so many 10’s? I think it’s a paradigmatic issue. I don’t think perfection is possible or a healthy standard. To someone somewhere, there’s always a possible flaw. If that’s the case, then a 10 has to be representative of something else. If not an endorsement of perfection, it’s an endorsement of feeling.

Every movie I give a 10 to is not perfect. They have flaws. The one characteristic they all share is that they’re so engrossing in the way they tackle their themes and precise in their presentation of their stories that the flaws become irrelevant. It’s not that they’re not there. It’s more so that the experience is so transcendent, that it wipes away any negative or diminishing thoughts. For example Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness probably has issues with it. I didn’t care though, because the whole time the story was happening I was excited by what was going and curious about the nature of it all. When the movie ended, all I could do was stare with my jaw agape.

TLDR

  • Reviews are subjective and based on taste and cultural preference.
  • I review elements of the movie in isolation and then in conjunction with each other – this helps good parts shine through.
  • Perfection does not exist. As such a 10 needs a different “rewarding” condition – I use emotional resonance as my criteria.

Star Wars First Watch

Confession time. I’ve never really gotten into and watched the Stars Wars films. It was never that big among my friend group growing up so I never had a reason to watch any of the movies. When I finally decided to give it a go in middle school, I made the mistake of ordering Episode I from Netflix (this was back in the envelope days) because I assumed the series went chronologically. I remember feeling let down and confused and promptly returned the disc and never returned to the series.

Obviously I later learned that the (in)famous prequel sequels were not indicative of the moments fans (including a lot of my friends) fell in love with. Given that the last movie in the sequel trilogy is coming out in December, I decided to finally give in and catch up on all the movies to join in on the “conclusion” of the epic. After a lot of back and forth, I decided to watch the series in the original order. After that is Rogue One and Solo and then onto the newest movie itself.

The dates aren’t set in stone and are more like tentative mini deadlines for myself to help pace the exposure. I’ll try and stick to it for the most part. If I enjoy the series a lot and find myself having extra time I was told to watch the animated Clone Wars series from 2008. I don’t know if I’ll get to it, and if I do, I probably won’t get to watch all of it before Episode IX, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The List

Date Title Rating
11/9/19 Episode IV – A New Hope 9.6/10
11/16/19 Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back 10/10
11/20/19 Episode VI – Return of the Jedi  
11/24/19 Episode I – The Phantom Menace  
11/27/19 Episode II – The Attack of the Clones  
11/30/19 Episode III – Revenge of the Sith  
12/2/19 Episode VII -The Force Awakens  
12/5/19 Episode VIII – The Last Jedi  
12/10/19 Rogue One  
12/12/19 Solo  
12/21/19 Episode IX -The Rise of Skywalker  
OPTIONAL Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)  

A place for fun and rumination