Category Archives: Action

Review: Star Wars:Episode I – The Phantom Menace

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Almost a decade and a half later I’ve finally returned to the movie that turned me off of Star Wars through my adolescence. The infamous Phantom Menace. But this time, I came prepared. Armed with the knowledge of the original trilogy, I felt like even if the movie was as bad as I thought it was going to be, I could maybe immerse myself in the fun and ambiance of the movie. Thankfully, it didn’t have to come to that. Though George Lucas’s direction is messy and dry at times, there’s something beautiful being attempted here and a few great scenes fans of the series can get behind.

Because the movie assumes the viewer has already seen the original trilogy, all the story elements take on a new meaning. We know how a lot of things will end, so the only thing left to find out is how. This is a place where the movie ends up doing well. From the Jedi Council, to the Gungans underwater city, to the screeching pauses in the Senate – we get to see a world in disarray. Capital is the name of the game and experienced players are getting to ready to pounce.

The movie also does a great job exploring the way subjects approach politics. Machiavellian ideologies are contrasted with liberal politics premised on faith and good will. There’s a political leader who literally changes their entire domestic policy based on resolving an incorrect cultural perception. There’s a real sense of frustration in seeing violence happen and watching bureaucracy grind to a screeching halt. The idea that groups would literally sell out other planets for profit hits a chord a little too close to him. Yes, at times it feels boring. There’s a lot of dialogue and its delivery leaves a lot to be desired. Despite that, the criticism still feels resoundingly poignant and I’m excited to see how its explored in Episodes 2 and 3.

The movie looks and sounds great when it wants to. The overabundance of CGI can feel daunting and there were moments that felt like they had been ripped out of PS2 cutscenes. However, this only became really distracting for me in the third act. Outside of that, a lot of the renders and effects look dazzling. The practical effects take a backseat, which is a shame, because they were some of my favorite parts of the original trilogy. There’s still a lot of beautiful effects to be had, but I can’t help but feel that better presentation would have made the movie hit its themes a lot harder. The podracing scene is a ton of fun and the last few moments felt really intense when John Williams score started blasting adrenaline through my veins. I wish that the music had been playing earlier on in the scene, because the shot composition of the race feels similar the whole time. Music would have helped shake up the pacing and make the entire race more dynamic. Thankfully, the light saber fight at the end involving Darth Maul more than makes up for it. Duel of the fates plays loudly and prominently in the background. Combined with great fight choreography, that fight is one I’ll definitely be replaying in my head for years to come.

Now let’s talk about the less than stellar stuff. It’s something that’s been talked about a lot so I won’t get too into it, but the acting in this movie is less than stellar. Most of the performances feel the same and it’s hard to get a true feel for the characters inner thoughts. This is something the original trilogy did really well and is probably what I disliked the most. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine was a bright spot in the movie and I loved how he played off his deceptive nature.

The only other performance I wanted to spend time talking about was Jake Lloyd’s as Anakin Skywalker. Yes, the performance isn’t amazing. It feels childish and out of place with the severity of the events at play. However, getting an older or a more experienced actor wouldn’t make the underlying issue with Anakin easier to portray. Anakin is supposed to be a prodigy. The events and proclamations from the original trilogy and this movie are indicative that he’s a child genius. However, underlying all of this talent is an innocent emotional core. Anakin is a child – that’s why his innocence and desire to help others feels more believable. These traits are necessary for Anakin to exist as a tragic villian figure. How could someone so pure and powerful fall so hard?

Casting a much older actor would take away the belief in the childlike innocence of Anakin. Teenagers are symbolically susceptible given that they’re on the precipice of adulthood. A teenage Anakin would’ve made certain story decisions less meaningful and believable. However, expecting a child to convincingly retain their innocence while portraying a inquisitive prodigy is hard. That’s why Anakin is so interesting as a character – it’s almost like diametrically opposed characteristics are being forced to align with each other. But while this makes the character more interesting, it also makes him that much harder to portray.

Rating

TLDR: The Phantom Menace is a messy but has rare moments of greatness that are engaging. Yes , there’s a lot to nitpick, but if you take the film for what it is and just give yourself to the experience, there’s a great time to be had.

Final Rating: 7.7/10. I get why the movie has a bad rap, but its aspirations are commendable and I know I’ll return to the movie after finishing all the major movies.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

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Finally, the end of the original trilogy. A New Hope was amazing. The Empire Strikes Back was an absolute gem. So it’s reasonable to say my expectations for the conclusion were sky high. Thankfully, Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi, serves as a satisfying conclusion to this amazing journey. It didn’t do everything I wanted and felt uneven at times, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t absolutely enjoy the ride and conclusion.

The film picks up sometime after the end of The Empire Strikes Back and follows Luke and the gang as they try and rescue Han from Jabba’s palace. Personally, I wish the movie started off immediately after the ending of the last movie or sometime close to it. The scene’s ambiguous chronological placement makes things like power scaling and character development harder to appreciate or understand. This causes weird discrepancies later on because it feels like there should be more tension between certain characters or a wider variety of emotional responses. Thankfully, the latter portions of the third act are so emotionally cathartic and symbolically powerful that I could get over these issues.

Now that we got over the beginning rant, let’s get into the more interesting and fun stuff. A lot of the visual effects are amazing. Jabba looks a living creature and oozes a creepy and disgusting feeling. I felt revolted every time I saw him on the screen. The Rancor is terrifying to look at and despite having watched the visual wonder of the past two movies, I couldn’t believe how fluid the creatures movements look. Space battles still look great and evoke a sense of grandeur. However, some of the effects felt like they missed the mark. In particular, there’s a racing scene in the third act that has great choreography but looks dated, which is strange given how great the previous two films looked.

This movie nails characters for the most part. In particular, I loved Ian McDiarmid’s portrayal of the Emperor. From his speaking pattern to the way he held himself as he moved, he constantly felt malicious and evil. Yes, he mentions the “Dark Side” a lot, but because he feels so dark it feels aesthetically cool in spite of how sparse some of his dialogue options are. James Earl Jones sells the emotional weight of Darth Vader’s lines which serve as the undercurrent of so much of the weight of the entire movie. His scenes with Mark Hamill were my favorite because of the way they played off each other. I won’t spoil anything, but certain lines hit me in my feels hard. Frank Oz is also great as Yoda and made me desperately want more of him than what I actually got. The only character that I didn’t really like was Han, which is surprising, because I loved him in the previous films. Before, he always felt like a cool adventurous badass, but he feels “grayer” in this film and it doesn’t feel like it stems from a believable character arc.

This movie was also philosophically beautiful and expanded a lot on my want’s from the previous movie. I enjoyed the way that good and evil and their relative malleability were challenged and the resulting discourse made me feel a sense of hope. Unfortunately, there are a lot of missed opportunities that would have elevated that discourse to something more cinematic. The starting point of the film means that a lot of the despair of the past movie is kind of glossed over. As a result, certain character conclusions and reactions feel less deserved and more artificial than I would have liked. There’s also a lot of exposition scenes that are used to explain these gaps or hammer in plot points , which compounds this effect. I wish some of the bloated sections of the second act were taken out, and that the exposition/backstory was shown instead of told. It would’ve helped make the themes more cohesively tied to the narrative.

Rating

TLDR: Return of the Jedi is a satisfying conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy and I’m genuinely surprised at how cohesive the entire story feels. This movie has a few bumpy spots and feels rushed at certain points , but is by and large emotionally cathartic and satisfying.

Final Rating: 9.0/10. I already know I’m going to watch the original trilogy again. The only question is how soon. Give it a shot if you haven’t.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

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

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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

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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: Star Wars:Episode IV – A New Hope

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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!

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.

Movie List

Title Rating
Episode IV – A New Hope 9.6/10
Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back 10/10
Episode VI – Return of the Jedi 9.0/10
Episode I – The Phantom Menace 7.7/10
Episode II – The Attack of the Clones 7.5/10
Episode III – Revenge of the Sith *8.8/10
Episode VII – The Force Awakens 9.2/10
Episode VIII – The Last Jedi 9.4/10 
Rogue One 8.3/10
Solo  
Episode IX – the Rise of Skywalker  

EDIT  11/24/19 : So if you can tell from the above, I’ve really been enjoying Star Wars. If I’m being honest, I’ve been loving the movies a lot and want to get more into the meat of the story. As such, I’ve decided to actually try and finish The Clone Wars and as many comics/books/etc that I’m interested in/have time to get to. Check below periodically for new additions. If you have any recommendations on what to check out feel free to comment!

Review: One Piece: Stampede

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I’m going to preface this: If you’ve never watched One Piece or are not fully caught up with at least the Dressrosa Arc, you will either not comprehend the movie or risk spoiling character reveals/powers for yourself. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of the franchise and are fully caught up you’re in for an amazing, fan-service filled roller coaster packed to the brim with tons of characters from all over the 20 year franchise. Takashi Otsuka’s film doesn’t take the franchise to brand new directions, but rather serves as a love letter and a celebration of everything great about the story.

The plot doesn’t do anything special story-wise, but is filled with a ton of fun and theatrics. The crew are invited by the pirate Buena Festa (Yusuke Santamaria) to a secret Pirate festival at Delta Island to celebrate and decompress. Upon arriving, they learn that the island is connected to Gol D. Roger and a secret item of his is up for grabs to whomever finds it. With the pirate king himself being connected to the prize, every pirate at the island is energized and the bout begins.

From the moment the Straw Hats entered the island I couldn’t stop laughing. Every member of the Worst Generation is here and the ensuing race between them and the Straw Hats to the prize is incredibly fun and emblematic of the over-the-top and exciting feeling One Piece is known for. This is something that doesn’t stop for the entire 101 minute runtime. There’s always a new fan favorite approaching the screen and having the interactions we, as fans, have always wanted to see. Imagine a character pool a bit smaller than the one during the Marineford Arc, replace the sadness of that arc with goofy fun and interactions, and you should have a pretty good idea of what the movie is going for. The final group of “heroes” at the end had me screaming like a fanboy at how interesting and epic its composition was.

While there aren’t as many fighting scenes as I would’ve wanted, most of the ones in the movie were dynamic and vibrant. There are quite a few cool set pieces and watching characters casually (or in some cases with great effort) demonstrate their power against them was not only cool, but in some cases, breath-taking. There’s one scene at the ending that had me almost tear up, at how emotionally resonant and beautiful it looked.

The new characters aren’t the most interesting or nuanced. Douglas Bullet (Tsutomu Isobe) is a generic walking power level who’s motivations are just as boring. Thankfully, his devil fruit power is entertaining and his tentative connection to Gol D. Roger is interesting, even if it feels underdeveloped. There were some cool things that were being attempted to flesh Bullet out more, but they came a bit too late in the movie to feel as meaningful as they should have been. Buena Festa feels intriguing at the beginning, but his motivations don’t go anywhere too interesting by the time they’re actually revealed. Thankfully, the villains are not the focus and are used primarily as a tool to showcase different characters/interactions.

There is a post credits scene so DO NOT get up and leave before it plays. It’s genuinely the spirit of One Piece on display and you’d be remiss if you missed it. It definitely brought a smile to my face.

Rating

TLDR: One Piece: Stampede is a beautiful love letter to fans of the 20 year running mammoth of a franchise. It doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but it has a ton of fun, cute, and emotionally resonant moments for fans of the series.

Final Rating: 8.8/10.If you enjoy One Piece watch the movie

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!