Tag Archives: Review

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: Parasite

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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

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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!

Review: Ringu

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To celebrate the end of Halloween and my 2019 Movie Marathon, I decided to close off with one of the most important horror movies to me, on a more personal and nostalgic level. When I saw that Arrow was releasing a Blu-ray restoration of this 1998 classic, I had to buy it and after watching it, I can say that it was worth each every penny. Everything looks crisp and serene and only made the impact of each and every scene more evocative.

Hideo Nakata’s direction and Hiroshi Takahashi’s screenplay serve to make their adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s original book, Ring, more mysterious and eerie. For those of you not familiar with the general plot, the movie follow a Reiko, a reporter researching a story about a cursed videotape that kills anyone who watches it within 7 days. As her investigation continues, she uncovers some disturbing facts, and has to race against time to figure out how to stop the curse.

This film is a great slow burn. The first scene drops the audience in the moment, immediately drawing them into the lore. The lighting in the scene sets the tone- an eerie one at that. As the scene progress, the tension grows, and even upon the end, the lack of resolution and presence of ambiguity kept me on edge. That’s something that’s true of most of the movie. It stays creepy. There’s something that doesn’t feel right as you watch it and on more than one occasion I turned around to look behind my shoulder.

The use of sound makes the journey to certain realizations more dramatic and unsettling. Large portions of the film are in silence, so it feels like anything can drop out. But then when there’s a fearful affect around, the music turns to match that. It never feels cheesy or over the top.

On top of this, the film never uses sound for jump scares. Every scare is “natural”. You see something unnerving on the screen and that’s that. You’re forced to process the phenomena and make sense of it. This helped keep the movie realistic, which is it’s strongest selling point. The characters act urgently because they only have so long to resolve the curse. It’s like a bomb scene in an action movie- but scarier because it’s unknown which neutralizes the normal certainty we have that the problem will actually get resolved. This in conjunction with how nuanced and fleshed out the character interactions are makes us actually care for what’s going on to everyone so their race becomes that much more tense.

One of my favorite parts about the movie is how subtle it is. A lot of dialogue scenes are shot with all relevant characters in frame. I’m used to the over the shoulder dialogue shot or the screen cutting between two characters and the film does do that, but it does so more sparingly. The focus is always on showing the characters interacting with each other. The way they position or respond to each other. A lot of the relationships between characters are never explicitly stated until past the half-way mark of the movie, but, because of excellent direction and writing, they feel rich and reveal a lot. As the film kept going on, I felt like I kept having an epiphany about how something else had just made sense- like a series of light-bulbs were going off – and it made the whole experience thematically more resonant to me.

I only have a few minor complaints about the movie. Because the movie doesn’t adapt the backstory of the book, there’s a ton of mystery and ambiguity regarding the reason for why things are happening. This is fine, and as evidenced by my reviews (ex: The Lighthouse) , I actually love that. However, in the case of this movie, the unresolved issues feel more important to resolve certain thematic points. There are hints at them throughout the film, but they don’t add up enough for my liking. There’s also a lot of exposition in the movie from Ryuji. I know there’s a lot that needs to be explained, but later scenes in the film proved that Nakata had creative ways to do the same, so I wish he did more of that.

Rating

TLDR: Ringu is provocative, beautiful, and eerie. Even after having seen the movie multiple times, I’m scared of my T.V. after a late night viewing.

Final Rating: 9.7/10. One of the best horror movies. If you like psychological films or like horror movies that use subtle well-crafted scares, this film is the best.

This review is also part of the Ring series- spoiler analysis will be posted in a longer article at a later point.


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!

Review: The Lighthouse

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Wow.

I’ve been excited for The Lighthouse since it’s release at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. Robert Egger’s previous 2015 work, The Witch, is one of my favorite horror movies of the past decade so describing my state of mind as excited might actually be putting it a tad lightly. After watching the movie, I’m happy to say the movie not only delivered, but exceeded expectations. Bravo.

The plot follows Epharim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) , a young man who’s sent out to join and work under Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) as a wickie. From the start of the movie we can see friction between our two main leads. Pattinson is reserved and wants to keep to himself. Dafoe on the other hand is a authoritative, talkative, alcoholic who constantly seeks to get Pattinson to open up and join along. The rest of the plot is just the ensuing dialogue and the results of staying on an isolated island. Despite this, there was not a single moment I was bored or uninterested with what was going on. Every interaction, every visual, every little outburst kept my attention glued to the screen.

The movie constantly plays with your emotions . One moment might be ripe with violence and cause you to feel tense about what’s going to happen. Immediately, a humorous scene will follow creating a perverse laughter. There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen next which makes every moment feel like an experimental must watch. This is fueled by both the respective leads phenomenal acting. Pattinson goes through a wide range of emotion and watching his development from an aloft and quite wickie, to a man losing his sense of self and sanity is a treat. Dafoe is a perfect compliment to Pattinson and conveys a mythical authoritative figure while simultaneously taking pleasure in farting/fart jokes. Yes you read that right- the film even has fart jokes. I’ll take “Setups I’d never see in a horror movie” for 500, Alex. Once certain twists and reveals are set up, the film becomes even more nuanced and allows for different and nuanced takes from the audience. You could watch this with a group of friends and everyone could take something different from the plot.

Aesthetically the movie shoots everything out of the ballpark. Camera movement is fluid and never draws outward attention. Instead, it almost feels like it operates seamlessly in the background. Pan and tilt shots move geographically through the lighthouse, but based on twists in the movie might indicate something else entirely. The black and white nature of the movie makes the extreme shadows and radiance of the actual lighthouse that much more bright. It helps amplify the difference between them but also makes the film feel like it was filmed in the late 1890’s early 1900’s. Mark Korven’s score is also precise- it’s bombastic and loud when it needs to be, but it also plays a subtle calming role in other scenes. It only ever accentuates and never feels out of place.

Rating

TLDR: The Lighthouse is a beautiful, wholly original piece that’ll have you asking what’s real and what’s going on for a lot of it’s run time. It has fun with itself and it’s ambiguous and mystical nature lends it to multiple interpretations post viewing.

Final Rating: 10/10. This is the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2019. Eggers beautifully merges horror, comedy, and psychological introspection and delivers it in an aesthetically rich package. If you want to see one of the years best, or enjoy psychological movies that play with reality/religious mythos this movie is right up your alley.

There’s no spoiler section- I’ll be posting a more full analysis and a discussion of the movie with friends at later times.

Review: Hell House LLC

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I’m going to be honest- I’ve wanted to do a review for this movie the moment I watched it the first time 3 years ago, but I didn’t have this outlet yet. When I realized I had to do a bonus movie, I thought might as well re-watch and review this gem of a find. Stephen Cognetti’s found footage flick, Hell House LLC, is a well acted, tense, and genuinely eerie story.

The film is presented as a fake documentary and feels incredibly real. The news clip and YouTube videos both feel like the medium they’re attempting to emulate which creates an immersive “real life” feeling to everything that’s going on. The cuts between old footage and interviews foreshadows events but also creates this sense of tension because you know awful things are going to happen. The film takes advantage of this by delaying the points of discovery so when they do happen you’re still not quite ready for them.

Every member of the main cast feels real and well grounded. Their decisions make sense and their skepticism is justified given the way certain events play out. You can feel the tension between the group members and watching the schisms form and develop all while feeling natural. The group’s desperation feels almost palpable. In particular Gore Abrams performance as Paul creates a lot of moments of levity and makes the descent of the group into the awful situation more pronounced.

I enjoyed that the film presents a lot of subtle clues about certain character motivations and the nature of the supernatural elements of the movie. The looser “rules” and general associations with satanism are more than enough to create a creepy aesthetic I loved that there were no stupid jump scares. We see scary things from the corner of our eyes and that in end of itself is the scare. Thinking about what’s actually going on. I found myself constantly scanning the screen for changes from the previous scene to see if a new scare had presented itself.

Unfortunately, the end of the movie leaves some critical questions unanswered which stands out more than a normal movie because the sense of realism in editing and decision making had made a lot of sense before. Some of these decisions create cool scares, but I think they ruin some narrative integrity and make the movie feel less intelligent than it had been up till that point. Also the constant usage of the “glitch” effect got really annoying by the end of the movie and felt like unnecessary visual flair that distracted from what was actually going on.

Rating

TLDR: Hell House LLC is a deceptively fun found footage horror film, that stays believable and creepy for the majority of it’s run time. The scares feel natural and despite the bumpy ending, I was left satisfied at the end of the movie.

Final Rating: 8.2/10. If you like found footage movies or want to see a horror movie without an overuse of bad and false jump scares check this movie out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!