Category Archives: fantasy

Review: Weathering with You

Director(s)Makoto Shinkai
Principal CastKotaro Daigo as Hodaka Morishima
Nana Mori as Hina Amano
Shun Oguri as Keisuke Suga
Release Date2019
Running Time 112 minutes

I’ve always liked Shinkai’s work (5 Centimeters per Second, The Garden of Words) but I’ve never fallen in love with anything in the same as I did with Your Name.Like tons of other people around the world, I couldn’t stop gushing over the 2016 runaway hit. As such, I came into this movie with high expectations. I know ,I know, bad idea. Thankfully, Lady Luck was looking out and I got more than what I expected. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the way the movie ended or been able to stop humming the main theme, so suffice to say I think it’s pretty good.

If you haven’t seen trailers- don’t. I think most trailers for this movie spoil too much and the experience will feel more magical if you go in “blind”. The story follows Hodaka, a high-school boy, who runs away to Tokyo and runs into Hina, a girl with the magical power to change the weather. Such an ability would be an amazing in the ordinary, but in this world where huge downpours and flooding are commonplace, a ray of sunshine can mean the world. The movie explores homelessness, climate change, and humanity’s spiritual connection with the environment with almost seamless execution while telling a fun fantastical romance.

I really like the post-apocalyptic/slow apocalyptic feeling the movie has. Hope in spite of the crushing weight of everything is something that I can relate to, especially in relation to the climate crisis we’re in that shows little hope of being reversed. Eventually, when events like mass flooding become more commonplace ,humanity is going to be forced to adapt or be eliminated. Can there still be hope and optimism in a world where everything is slowly being subsumed ,doomed to eventually disappear? Is a world like that tragic or can life still be happy in spite of it all? The story does a good job introducing these beats and developing them in ways that are bittersweet.(Mostly) Nothing feels unearned or easy.

The movie is gorgeous when it wants to be (so most of the time). There are scenes from the 3rd act that I don’t think I’ll be forgetting any time soon. Backgrounds look life-like and the rain is mesmerizing. The sheer power of nature comes through each and every frame. There are a few moments of CGI that feel abrupt and really took me out of the movie. The movie is just so beautiful that any incongruous element feels even more off putting than it would be normally. If you liked the soundtrack from Your Name, you’ll be pleased with what RADWIMPS has cooked up for this story.

My problems with the movie lie with the execution of certain sub-plots. The issue is most of the plot lines in the movie are executed almost impeccably. The moments and relations are grounded even though they’re mystical at the same time. Unfortunately, one of the more important plot threads for the third act falls short of the above. It’s not given the same sense of realism and feels more gimmicky. It’s not that big of an issue because thematically the thread is great. I just wish it didn’t come at the cost of the meticulous sense of consequence that had been building up till that point.

Report Card

TLDRWeathering for You is a beautiful fantasy romance that delivers a thematically rich story with wonderful characters. There are only a few plot issues, but by the end of the movie you won’t be thinking about them. If you liked Your Name, check this out. If you’re looking for a meaningful tale about our relationship to the planet , I’d also recommend giving this a view.
Rating9.3/10
GradeA

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

 

Review: Cats (2019)

I’m someone who normally gives pieces a more positive and optimistic shot than most. My higher than normal review scores are indicative of that. I always try and find something good to latch on in a movie and have fun with it. I saw the reviews for this movie on opening day and realized the potential horror of what I was walking into. I held onto some hope, because I loved Les Miserables, and thought that even a bad Tom Hooper musical would be okay. I was wrong. Not just wrong – horribly mistaken. By the time the first hour had passed I was literally just praying for the movie to end. This isn’t just the worst movie I’ve seen this year – it’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

The movie follows a series of horrific anthropomorphized cats as they talk about this vague competition that leads to an eventual rebirth. I’ll be the first to say I never saw or read about the Broadway show, and the plot was near incomprehensible to me. I’m someone who likes subtitles, so the fact that most of the exposition in the movie was sung hurt my ability to comprehend the movie. That normally wouldn’t be an issue but the film never takes a break to develop any themes or ideas. It literally follows the same structure the whole time- introduce cat – have song – maybe Macavity (Idris Elba) makes a slight cameo- then repeat. The lack of change in editing makes the whole movie drag on and I felt like I was being forced to endure the length of the film. The whole thing would have felt better 30-40 minutes shorter because at least then the absurdity of the film would stop while it was fresh.

Unlike most typical good bad movies like Troll 2, this film takes its sweet time being subpar so you can’t even laugh at the monstrosity at hand because it never stops or changes. There are few movies that have ever made me want to walk out in frustration – this film has joined the not so prestigious list. It’s not just that its bad- it’s that it won’t stop being bad so you can never laugh at how bad it is because you’re constantly being bombarded by worse elements.

The film goes at a breakneck pace but also feels incredibly slow because nothing meaningful ever happens. The movie could best be described as almost non stop exposition followed by an ending that tries to be emotionally resonant but fails on every note. This is because literally no character arcs or emotional bonds are ever set up in a way that could be conducive to any meaningful development. It’s a shame that the “antagonist” feels like a plot device instead of a meaningful character. I love Idris Elba and seeing him being used in such a poor fashion is upsetting. At least let him give the character some personality as opposed to be being a random bad guy. The only characters that give the movie any personality are Old Deuteronomy (Judie Dench) and Gus (Ian McKellen). The former takes command of the scene whenever she appears and makes the events feel more justified even though they’re just as haphazard as we think. The latter adds some emotional panache that gives the film much needed personality and actually helped jolt me awake near the end of the second act (or third act it’s confusing). The lack of real character motivation or explanation makes the whole movie feel like it’s a series of meaningful unrelated events. It literally feels unfinished.

Tonal whiplash is the name of the game and experiencing the shift from puns/comedic moments to the more serious nature of the competition the movie sets up(?) feels out of place. James Corden and Rebel Wilson are usually funny, but their style of humor and incorporation into this film feels forced and out of place. I can’t take the movie seriously if the characters in it make jokes about it and poke fun at the holes. Normally this tactic would be fine if the movie didn’t take itself seriously – but it does- and worse than that – it tries to be emotionally resonant. That’s a no-no and absolutely took me out of any immersion I had tried to feel.

Honestly, the biggest issue with the movie is how unappealing the film is. Forget a boring plot. Forget the uninspired songs. Forget the fact that most of the movie feels like an exposition reel through song. Hell, you could forget about all of that if the movie was at least fun. But it isn’t fun. It’s hollow and feels like a quick cash grab. The characters are one dimensional and just repeat lines with no personality. No one’s motivation is explored. The CGI looks unfinished and terrifying at the same time. Some of the characters literally look like humans with “cat” like additions which feels at odd with other characters and makes the shoddy CGI more apparent. The characters are also all strangely sexual. Parents please don’t take your kids. The way the cats licked the milk, flicked their tails, and stretched themselves had me cringing not only in embarrassment but also sheer dread at how horny the whole thing felt like. I guess maybe if you’re a furry you could get something from these moments- but that’s a pretty niche market group.

Rating

TLDR: Cats broke me. I used to say “no movie is that bad.” But no – some are. You can’t find something great in every piece of media.

Final Rating: 1.8/10. This movie is hard to positively react to. If you’re a furry maybe you might like it if you can ignore all the awful portions. If you take a shot every time there’s an awful cat pun or a strange sexual moment you might find something fun – but I can’t guarantee anything. Honestly – there’s not a lot here and I’d recommend staying away unless you really like bad movies. At the very least the movie might make influence the zeitgeist so that a future Cats like movie is never created again.

Is there a point in a spoiler section? I don’t think so . Save yourself.

Review: Solo

Theatrical Release Poster

I saved this review till the end for my Star Wars movie journey for a reason – if Episode IX wasn’t what I wanted it to be I wanted to leave my reviews off on a good note- the franchise has meant a lot to me in the short time since I’ve started binge consuming it and I want the love to show. When I first watched Solo, I had a surprisingly fun time. I say surprising because so many of my friends said the movie was a dud. Box office sales and the internet told me it was a disappointment. Thankfully, I saw the film from a different point of view and was exuberant about the whole package. The movie is packed with passion, humor, fun action scenes, gorgeous visuals, memorable characters, and is a movie Star Wars fans and movie fans alike can enjoy.

First off let me say – if I had gone in and saw this movie with no understanding of Star Wars I still would have liked it. That’s not to say it’s bland or unremarkable in any way – it’s definitely a Star Wars movie. What I mean to say is the movie never really relies on having to know or be familiar with anything. Everything obviously becomes more interesting and fan-servicy in great ways if you’ve watched the other movies in the saga, so I felt doubly intrigued by the way everything unfolded. The story expands the lore of the characters we know and love without ever sacrificing the integrity of future moments. It’s meaningful past retconning – it only serves to make moments and ideas in other movies more resonant. There are also cute additions to the lore of the galaxy so that the rise of the Empire feels more grounded.

The acting and characterization of the major (and even minor) players serves to make the narrative more appealing and memorable. In particular, I loved Alden Ehrenreich’s portrayal of Han Solo. He’s more hopeful and optimistic – with outlines of the rogue we got to know in Episode IV. He doesn’t try and act like Harrison Ford, which I love – no actor can ever really copy another so trying to give life to the character is more important. In this case, I completely believed in him as Han, and as someone who didn’t love the character as much as other fans (namely because of his depiction in Episode VI) , I can say without a doubt this movie made me appreciate him more. Alongside Ehrenreich, we have great performances from both Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra and Woody Harrelson as Beckett. The latter came off as an alternative timeline Han and serves as as a great foil to the title character. The former is phenomenal at playing his childhood friend/love interest and brings out a new dynamic I didn’t expect to see. Donald Glover is likable as Lando and feels and acts like how I imagine a younger Lando would act. The biggest surprise of the movie is Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). He gets a real sense of agency in this movie and I feel like I finally got a chance to know him in a meaningful way as opposed to the hairy sidekick. Watching all the pieces come together, play out, and evolve is a treat.

The plot plays out without a lot of surprises, but the few that do come up are amazing. I won’t spoil them, but I do genuinely want to know how Disney plans on following some of the threads from this film. There’s a lot of potentially cool situations that could play out. While the film mostly plays it safe, the execution of a ton of scenes are top notch. the score is absolutely phenomenal. I mean like- wow – I did not expect it to be this amazing in a spin-off movie. John Powell has done an amazing job and making compelling and epic sounding pieces. If you haven’t seen the movie at least listen to some of the music. This section of “Marauders Arrive” should be enough to convince you. Add onto this the amazing action scenes, gorgeous visual effects, and sharp hitting humor (for the most part) and you’ve got a fun, enjoyable romp to a series of interesting locale.

The production issues become slightly apparent near the end of the film . Lord and Miller are hillarious and I wanted to see how they’d play around with the humor revolving L3-37(Phoebe Waller-Bridge). I enjoyed the character and thought she could’ve been used more effectively. Some of the fan service also becomes a bit egregious (never awful but we could’ve done without parts of it). Ron Howard did a great job with the position he was put in and definitely helped preserve a lot of decent moments. There are some strange plot points in the third act that I wish were more fleshed out. But all in all , I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and hope that unanswered threads in this movie get resolved in a satisfying media release in the future.

Rating

TLDR: Solo is a fun movie that adds a lot to the backstory of characters we know and appreciate. I for one, think I’ll enjoy Episodes IV and V more on the re-watch given the way Lando , Han, and Chewie get fleshed out. There are some missed opportunities, slight pacing issues, and a bit of overindulgence in fan service but it never takes away from the fun time at hand.

Final Rating: 8.7/10. I think this is a movie any Star Wars fan can enjoy. There’s something in here for everybody and the story only plays on the elements we all love. The best part? You can show the movie in group settings with people unfamiliar with the setting and they’d still have a good time.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode IX- The Rise Of Skywalker

Theatrical Release Poster

NOTE – Like all reviews I do this – this is spoiler free, but given how big the movie is, I felt like mentioning it again.

So for those of you who have been following my Star Wars journey so far, you must’ve noticed that I was really loving a lot of the movies. Much to the surprise of a lot of my friends, I was actually a really big fan of The Last Jedi, and eagerly awaited Episode IX – honestly excited to see how J.J. Abrams would take and conclude the different thematic threads and character arcs. Unfortunately, I was left far from impressed. Despite being gorgeous to watch and having more than a few amazing iconic scenes, The Rise of Skywalker, feels hollow and emotionally vacant. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie – I’ll certainly go watch it again – but it was disappointing to say the least.

I have a lot I don’t like so I’m going to start with some positives – because there are quite a few and I don’t want them to get overshadowed. John William’s delivers some of my favorite renditions of tracks in this film. If I didn’t have Spotify, I’d be inclined to buy the score. In particular, “The Old Death Star”, sent chills down my spine as soon as it started playing. The echoes of Vader’s “Imperial March” feel even more captivating and alluring here. The film is also visually stunning. There were multiple moments that had me giddy with excitement and getting to see the absolute vastness of the Force was a joy to behold. The power of the characters felt palpable (pun intended) and I genuinely appreciated how badass space wizards could actually be. Great set design helped heighten battles and made them feel that much more metaphysical and grandiose. I had goosebumps more than one time and know that the spectacle is going to delight more than a fair share of people. If you like space ship fights, this movie has some jaw dropping ones in terms of scale and design. There are multiple shots in this movie that you could print out and frame and subsequently get lost looking at.

Acting in this movie is also off the charts. Even when I wasn’t invested in the plot and felt betrayed by how the story unraveled – I was always at least partially invested because character moments felt genuine. Adam Driver has been my favorite part of the Sequel Trilogy and I’d watch this movie again just to see his portrayal of Kylo. It’s astounding just how many different emotions he can put on display – and his constant journey and inner struggle between the light and the dark felt real and emotionally resonant. Every time he was on the screen I cared. It probably helps that his character arc is the only one I genuinely enjoyed – so kudos for that. Daisy Ridley is phenomenal as Rey and makes the new Jedi’s inner conflict feel as justified as the plot will let it. Even though I really didn’t like the way the story took her arc, I appreciated passion and effort put in to make it believable. My review would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how much I loved the inclusion of older cast members. Billy Dee Williams is infectious as Lando and constantly had me smiling when he showed up. Ian McDiarmid’s is over the top, campy, and perfectly evil as always. Palpatine still oozes with the same familiar dark charisma and the inclusion of of some fan favorite dialogue made his scenes that much more enjoyable. Who doesn’t love the Emperor, am I right?

Plot wise – the story picks up well after the Battle of Crait. Palpatine is back , Kylo is attempting to shore up his control of the First Order and the galaxy as a whole, and Rey is off training. From the first scene – the movie feels rushed and constantly jumps all over the place. This is especially noticeable in the first half of the movie – but pacing is whack. It’s almost like a four hour movie was packed into the 2 and a half hour run time. We constantly travel from planet to planet – from one chase scene to another brush with danger. While it all looks visually stunning, there’s an noticeable lack of tension because there’s never enough time to really get settled in or invested in what’s going on. Huge emotional moments get undercut as a result which takes a lot of the impact of the movie away. Furthermore, the movie plays out a lot like a video game with a lot of fetch quests., which is a shame, because some of the items the main crew look for seem like they could’ve been more interesting if they were mentioned or alluded to in previous films or developed more in this one. Their inclusions are also made less relevant because each “item” only seems to lead to another so it diminishes their significance.

Most of these plot issues stem from the identity crisis the film seems to have. It simultaneously tries to pick up story threads from The Force Awakens, retcon a lot of the interesting elements from The Last Jedi, and pander to a Star Wars fan base that has made its vocal disdain for the Sequel Trilogy known online. Unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough time to make each of these decisions cohesive – we go from fan service to a serious moment and then back , creating a whiplash in expectation and tone. I’m someone who loves fan service, but it just felt overdone and undeserved in a lot of scenarios and dropped me out of the movie more than once. Based on the exposition thrown at us in the earlier portions of the movie, it’s clear to see that J.J and Rian had different visions for character arcs and how the themes of the Skywalker franchise should be explored. It just made me wish one or the other had made all the films so that we could’ve received a wholly consistent trilogy instead of one that tried to do everything. Maybe that way we wouldn’t have had so many strange character interactions, deus ex machina like moments, strange reversals of previous plot threads, and confusing explanations for previous events.

For me – the biggest disappointment (that I can talk about at least) is how flat the movie feels thematically. A lot of the more interesting and nuanced themes from The Last Jedi, are completely discarded and replaced with generic beats and moments from Return of The Jedi. It makes the movie feel cheap because it doesn’t expand or try to take the story to a new philosophical height. Instead, it seems to revel in pandering to an audience that just wants to see a generic battle of good vs evil – which is fine, if not a little disheartening. Say what you want about the Prequel Trilogy- at least it expanded the philosophical discourse of Star Wars in diverse ways. It stumbled in a lot of ways, but it opened up the venue to a lot of , I was almost certain that the movie would play around with the concepts of fate, destiny, the dark side and the light side and what those ideas really mean but instead it seemed to just want to travel down the well-trodden path from the Original Trilogy. That’s not to say there’s no innovation – there were certainly interesting moments and ideas that made the Force seem more mystical and built on its vague nature. The problem is just those moments are few and far between and often times are underdeveloped or straight up undercut.

Rating

TLDR: The Rise of Skywalker is a beautiful mess of jumbled ideas and inconsistent thematic threads. While there were a lot of gorgeous shots and character actions I loved, I had my fair share of moments where I felt apathetic to the pretty visuals on the screen. It’s just sad that what could’ve been the best movie in the franchise turned out to be so topsy turvy.

Final Rating: 7.7/10. If you like Star Wars you owe it to yourself to watch the film. People who loved The Last Jedi might feel let down with the story choices made. However, on the flip side, if you didn’t like the last movie – you might end up liking this even more than me – it’s packed to the brim with fan service and goes over the story beats we all loved from the Original Trilogy. No matter what , you should watch the movie. At the very least it’s a visual and auditory treat.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts! There are quite a lot this time.

Review: Rogue One

Theatrical Release Poster

If I’m being completely honest here, after watching the trailer for this movie and hearing the raving reviews from some of my friends, I expected to be blown away by this film. I couldn’t wait to get an insight into the group that retrieved the Death Star’s plans, and I put in my Blu-Ray all amped up to learn more about the backstory of the Rebels. While Gareth Edward’s addition to the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One , certainly looks and sounds amazing it feels woefully inadequate in the character development department.

If you’ve seen A New Hope, you know that a group of rebels sacrificed themselves to retrieve the Death Star schematics. But that casualty never feels like it has any kind of weight to it. A nameless group of rebels and their struggles is hard to relate to. This film was an attempt at making the efforts of those rebels more discernible by chronicling their journey to find the plans. There are names and faces and I appreciated the struggle the rebels had to get to their eventual goal. The movie also answers some serious questions I’ve had since I watched the first movie and makes certain moments from the original trilogy feel more earned.

The film is also genuinely gorgeous when it comes to action. The CGI is jaw dropping and the space battles feel colossal and exciting. There’s a real sense of scale and scope with each explosion and battle that I haven’t felt as strongly before in the franchise. I could actually believe this was an intergalactic struggle because of the sheer explosiveness happening on the screen. AT-AT’s felt comical to me before, but I could feel the terror from them in this film because we get a beautiful shot demonstrating just how massive they are in comparison to ground forces. Explosions are finally given some real justice and I could feel their heat and size through the screen. There were also two amazing action sequences that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of. I won’t spoil them or who’s involved in them- but I do wish we got more of these scenes.

However, in spite of all the great action moments and beautiful set pieces, the movie feels incredibly hollow. This is because none of the characters are fleshed out and as a result there’s no real investment in any of them. I loved Felicity Jones in Like Crazy and The Theory of Everything, so when I learned she was playing the lead, Jyn Erso, I felt a lot more excited. I wanted to get into her story and learn how she eventually came to be the hero we’re told she is. Unfortunately, she never really has a chance because the script never gives any of the characters moments to really interact and flesh themselves out. We get a nice flashback at the beginning of the movie regarding Jyn’s backstory- but instead of developing her response to it and subsequent life , we flash forward 13 years later. There’s no attempt at showing what happened during that time- instead we’re just told of certain events that transpired in between. This problem is emblematic of the films approach to characters. We’re told a lot about them but not shown a lot to develop or verify those statements. It makes growth harder to evaluate and also makes everyone feel bland and out of place. Yes, there are some character building scenes. In particular, Diego Luna gives an impassioned speech as Cassian – but that’s the extent of his character. We never get a chance to delve deeper into the man underneath which means there’s no reason to care about his struggle. All the other characters feel like they get even less time to be explored- which is a shame because some of the characters really cool.

For example, I loved Donnie Yen as Chirrut and Alan Tudyk as K-2SO. The latter is hilarious without ever ruining the serious tone, while the former helps expand and make the Force feel more mystical and realistic at the same time. While their scenes were great, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better the film could have been if they were developed properly. There could have been some real emotional weight to the movie if it just focused on building up the characters and cementing their natures to the audience. This is the biggest problem with the movie and is the reason it felt empty to me by the end. We already know the ultimate fate of the rebels because of Episode IV. As such, death/suffering doesn’t really have an impact- it’s something we know will happen. Given this, the only way to add tension to the movie is to have us care about the characters who will eventually suffer. Because I didn’t, the movie didn’t move me or or make me feel anything about it. I just didn’t care.

Rating

TLDR: Rogue One is beautiful to watch and had some amazing action scenes. If you can get past the lack of character development, you’re in for a visual treat.

Final Rating: 8.3/10. I probably won’t watch this movie again in its entirety, but there are definitely two scenes I enjoyed and will put on repeat. The movie did make me want to pop in A New Hope afterwards, so I also have to applaud the way the final sequence plays out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode VIII- The Last Jedi

Theatrical Release Poster

Wow. All I can say is wow. I was semi-excited for this movie because of how Episode VIII ended and set up respective story threads and character arcs. However, I was also kind of nervous. The last movie, even though I really enjoyed it, felt safe for a lot of the film and I was worried that this film would similarly pull a lot of punches and just be a rehash of Episode V. Thankfully, I was wrong. By the end of this movie, I was more than satisfied with the way previous plot threads were handled and forwarded. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi innovates and changes the Star Wars formula in ways that I genuinely enjoyed while retaining the magic that has made me fall in love with the franchise.

The film immediately picks up after the end of the last one which I appreciated. One of my biggest issues with a lot of the Star Wars movies is the time gaps between them. I never have a great grasp of what has changed which makes power differences and character motivations feel unearned. It’s a problem I had with the transition between Episodes V- VI and Episodes II-III (yes I know the Clone Wars exist and I’ll be watching them but the problem is still there and noticeable). Because this film bypasses those issues, I wasn’t left asking why or what happened and could just focus on the subsequent plot and character development.

One glaring issue with the last film, is it’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker. He’s missing from a galactic conflict and unresponsive to the plight of the innocents being destroyed by the First Order. When I saw the opening crawl in Episode VII, I could hardly believe it. Luke was a beacon of optimism in the original trilogy and I genuinely enjoyed the way his character developed from a headstrong, passionate, ready to charge in hero to someone more calm and wise in his solutions to problems. In particular, what stood out to me the most was his hope and control of emotions. He gives in to his rage and fear in Episode VI, but manages to control those impulses in favor of the heroic and ethical approach. That stuck with me. So how could such a hero, who saved the galaxy purely through spirit and resilience be away from the situation at play? That’s the question I couldn’t stop asking during the run time of the last movie. Johnson’s answer and direction for Luke, answers those questions in spades, and genuinely surprised me. There’s a satisfying explanation for his motivations and his withdrawal from the conflict. More importantly, there’s a beautiful discussion about the dangers and merits to legends of heroism. Luke is forced to confront his legendary status and this isn’t something I’ve gotten to experience in heroic movies. Yes – legends are great in how they inspire- but looking at how they can debilitate their sources is something I’ve never really bothered to consider and I enjoyed the way the discourse is presented. Mark Hamill’s performance as Luke is breath-taking and I can’t stop thinking about how amazing he was. He’s grumpy, irritated, distraught, hopeful, lost, wise, and everything in between. He’s asked to do so much by this plot and never fails to deliver. I was completely enamored by his presence on the screen and I think that this movie would be an absolute failure if he couldn’t sell the gravitas of his decisions and subsequent character arc. He makes the movie and gives it the emotional weight necessary to elevate it from good to great. If someone had told me Luke still had a dynamic and emotionally resonant character arc left in him, I wouldn’t have believed them, but that’s what I got in this film.

Luke’s not the only character that gets some love in this movie. Finn, Poe, and Kylo all get development in this movie and I love how their character arcs progressed. Finn’s biggest issue in the last movie is how how much he wants to run away. He’s forced to confront that issue and decide his place in the conflict. His ultimate decision in the third act becomes more meaningful as such. Kylo is still emotionally distraught and watching his inner conflict is satisfying. It’s believable and makes his actions and decisions that much more interesting to follow. Poe’s changes are my favorite by far and I loved watching his journey from a guns-blazing hero to someone more tempered. It reminded me of Luke’s journey from Episode V to VI but felt more developed and earned.

The story also continues a lot of the thematic elements I loved from the prequel trilogy- namely the idea that the Sith is “evil” and the Jedi are “good.” Moral grayness is the name of the game and the film explores this through a variety of different character interactions and plot lines. I loved what I got and wish the film had gone further with its deconstruction of those ideas. The primary theme of the film is failure and how we can learn and develop from it. Characters literally come out and tell the audience as much. It’s not a novel lesson, but it’s not something that’s usually explored as much. I mean, no one really loves to focus on their losses. This movie forces the characters to confront their issues and learn or be eliminated. It’s powerful and the lessons some of the group learn are harsh.

This movie shines as a audio and visual treat. There are some gorgeous action scenes that feel larger than life because of the tension and themes that go behind them. The emotional intensity driving these moments kept me engaged and once the action started in the third act, I couldn’t stop staring at the screen in appreciation of the spectacle I was witnessing. John William’s score in this movie is similarly amazing. I paused more than once to find out the name of a track in the background. If you followed my review of Episode VII, this is one of the elements of the movie that I was somewhat disappointed by, so when I heard the riveting score in this film I was genuinely happy.

I know it seems like I’ve gushed a lot over this movie, but I did have a few issues with it. There’s a subplot in the movie that feels kind of out of place. If you’ve watched the movie and seen other reviews online, you know what plot I’m talking about. While I agree that the sub-plot was long and overdrawn, I don’t think it was useless. I enjoyed the way it played with and subverted our expectations while adding to the political commentary and ideas of a moral gray zone. I do think that the section could have been cut down and thought that it did mess up the pacing of the movie. Better editing could have reduced this effect and helped the scene feel less cumbersome to get through.

I lauded the character growth in this movie, especially in relation to failure and development in response. However, because each character is learning a different lesson, sometimes when those lessons are presented one after another it creates a jarring thematic experience. For example, a character learns about the value of patience and then another character immediately acts haphazardly as a martyr. It makes sense for both characters to do what they do (at least in my opinion), but because both arcs are presented with each other it comes off as a thematic whiplash. There’s also an attempt to shoe-horn another theme in the third act, that I thought felt out of place and less resonant.

Speaking of tonal inconsistency, the movie has a lot of humorous moments that follow serious moments. I didn’t mind this in some sections because the comedic moments never felt too serious. However, there are definitely sections that would have benefited greatly from the exclusion of any humorous moments to really drive home the gravity of what was going on.

Rating

TLDR: I loved The Last Jedi. It has some tonal and plot flaws that could have been solved with better editing, but is by and large entertaining and thought provoking. Characters old and new are forced to grow and adapt and I’m excited to see where they end up by the end of the story.

Final Rating: 9.4/10. This movie is a great follow up to Episode VII and I cannot wait to see Episode IX in a few weeks.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode VII- The Force Awakens

Theatrical Release Poster

After the way the original and prequel trilogy wrapped up the tragedy of Darth Vader, I was left wondering what kind of story was left to be told in this latest trilogy. How has the political climate changed since the ending of Episode VI? Are my favorite characters still okay? While J. J. Abrams directorial debut in the Star Wars universe draws a heavy amount of plot lines and inspiration from Episode IV, it also manages to inject enough flair, passion, and intrigue to capture the hearts of new fans while giving older fans a fun romp through some familiar ground.

Like I mentioned above , the story follows a lot of the same beats from Episode IV. There’s a rebel force fighting a big fascist authoritarian government. The odds are stacked against them. There’s even a hidden technological McGuffin like before. What makes the story different is how it changes these elements to further the political dialogue the previous trilogies started. The First Order reminded me a lot of a Russia post USSR- trying to achieve the strengths of the Empire it used to be. The rebel force is a proxy group – indirectly supported by a Republic that doesn’t want to get too involved. It’s incredibly fitting with the political climate we’re in right now, and as someone who reads the news a lot, I enjoyed the way the confrontation was handled. For those of you not that interested in the politics, rest assured, it’s not in your face and never impeded on the more entertaining elements of the movie.

Speaking of the entertaining elements – I loved the new characters and how much energy and fun they bring into the franchise. Daisy Ridley is great as Rey and I can’t wait to see how her arc continues. She can portray desperate and sullen just as well as independent and assertive and it all feels authentic. You can feel John Boyega’s energy seep through Finn’s actions and I hope he gets more to do in the next movie. His character introduces some much needed introspection into the horrors of actual war. We see bodies hitting the floor in other movies, but watching his emotional rejection of the violence and his decision to defect is great and I love his arc through the movie. However, my favorite new introduction is Kylo Ren. Adam Driver does a phenomenal job at showing the angst and emotional conflict at the heart of Kylo’s motivations and his actions in the movie definitely help drive those ideas home. The older characters, much to my surprise, don’t feel that prominent in the film. I wish they were more incorporated – but I genuinely enjoyed Harrison Ford’s return as Han. I didn’t really like the character in Episode VI and was really happy that he came off as his older self with some wear and tear. His scenes with Leia also tugged at my heartstrings and I really enjoyed the way their arcs were revealed.

Now let’s get to the less than optimal sections of the movie. While the film is shot beautifully , there’s a certain special quality that I felt was missing. Upon closer inspection, I realized that, though John William’s score is great, it never quite hit the mark in this film. In every other movie in the franchise, I felt something when the music played in the background. There was at least a few moments that I could hum along to and really enjoyed. This movie didn’t really have that- the music is good but not memorable. While that’s normally fine, it’s weird to have that feeling in a Star Wars movie.

I said the movie follows a lot of the same movie beats- and as someone who doesn’t hate the idea of soft reboots – this was fine for me. If you’re not a fan of them, this movie might still have something for you because of the editing. Familiar scenes get a different feeling because of their position in the movie. For example, the Mos Eisley cantina scene from Episode IV features near the beginning of its respective film but the callback to the scene happens more towards the middle of the film. The chronological placements make the scenes dynamic enough because they’re imbued with a different narrative tension and overall feeling. However, in spite of all of this, the movie still feels too safe a lot of the times. I was entertained but left wanting more experimentation with the formula. I understand wanting to get a new generation of fans but at the very least thought there should have been more in the film for older fans to get latched on to.

This brings me to my biggest problem with the movie- the lack of explanation of what happened between the end of Episode VI to the start of this story. Yes, this is a problem I’ve had for other movies, but it feels like a bigger issue in this one. We’re left with a feeling of peace and finality after the end of the original trilogy so the abrupt change back to the “status quo” is jarring. The intro sequence doesn’t do enough to make this transition less jarring, so fans of the older trilogies might feel like the past movies had no “impact” in a traditional sense. Watching the machination of the First Order or having some scenes with Leia and other members of the resistance would have done wonders in connecting the stories to make it feel like a cohesive piece. I know there are books that explain the gap, but I didn’t need books to get into the other movies, so I don’t think their existence absolves this film of its duty to at least present part of that information.

Rating

TLDR: While The Force Awakens doesn’t revolutionize the Star Wars movies, it’s a great introduction into the galaxy far far away and I think a lot of people can find a lot of fun moments in it. I wish there was more of an effort to explain the events that culminated into the political quagmire we witness, but I still had a blast in spite of that.

Final Rating: 9.2/10. This movie is a great soft-reboot that sets up a lot of interesting political and ethical threads that can be explored more in the future films. I’m excited to see what’s coming next.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!