Non-Spoiler Review: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

StarWarsTheLastJedi

Often times the second movie in a series is better than the first.  Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan or the Empire Strikes Back are good examples.  These films were so great they set expectations for The Last Jedi in the back of my mind.  There were questions I wanted answered, like why is Kylo Ren such a douchebag?  Who were Ren’s parents (not that it really matters)?  What went down between Kylo and Luke?

I got most of the answers but I’m not sure I liked them.  Having said that, don’t kid yourself, this film is no Empire Strikes Back.

It’s a good film.  I went with my mother, my daughter, and my grandson (four generations) and we all enjoyed the movie, we got our money’s worth.

On the positive side, we learn a lot more about Kylo Ren which made his character a little more interesting.  We learned why Luke went to some island off of Ireland for years.  This film had some moments that were priceless and will be noted as classics in the mythos of Star Wars.  I refuse to ruin those moments for you, but you will know them when you see them.  Most of the main characters grew in this film, they evolved, and most were for the better.  There are moments that tug at your heartstrings as well especially at the end.  On top of that, it was not easy seeing Carrie Fisher in her last role before her death.

Jedi
“No, I do not want a copy of the Watchtower…”

Also there were some twists that I didn’t see coming, especially with the Supreme Leader. I like it when a film seduces me then turns that emotion against me.

There were some moments that were downright funny as well.  We needed that.  Han Solo often provided us with those moments in previous films and The Last Jedi did a good job of filling that gap.

On the dark side, there were parts of this film that were over-plotted and unnecessary.  Even during the film I found myself saying, “This whole subplot makes no sense.” You’ll spot it too, I assure you.  It is 15 minutes of your life that has zero impact on the film.

I felt that some of Luke’s actions were very un-Jedi and out of character.  He’s not exactly the kind of uncle you leave your nephew with and that bothered me deeply.   Why the writer’s felt the need to twist this part of his character, a man that turned Darth Vadar, will be the subject of internet debate for years to come.

I disliked Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo character; from her dialogue down to her bad dye job.    What’s with the dress, did we pull you from some sort of cocktail party?  You’re an admiral, wear something uniform-ish.  And the parallels between her name and Hodor from Game of Thrones is a bit too much for me.  Try this Ms. Dern – act like a military officer.  Her interactions with Poe were clearly written to make her a strong feminist character against a biased male pilot. I hate when Hollywood interjects politics into a film just because they feel entitled to.  There were other political overtones interjected as well, but I won’t dwell on those.

This is not the best of the new generation Star Wars films and ranks behind Rogue One and The Force Awakens.  Bear in mind, that is not a bad thing, since all of these movies are very strong.  It doesn’t suck like Phantom Menace – which is something in its favor. It is a good film that could have been great.

Ultimately Disney continues to print money producing these movies and I would have paid double to see this film and loved it no more or less.  Unlike Rogue One, I don’t find myself wanting to rush back to see it again.

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Review of Justice League – Spoiler Alert

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I will attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum but consider this fair warning.

I came into this film with two frames of mind.  First, I have waited my entire life (five decades-plus) to see a good Justice League film.  I am a child of the Silver Age of comics and everyone has wanted to see all of the DC heroes on the screen at once.  It was going to be hard for any film to live up to a lifetime of internal hype and hope.

My second mindset was that I dislike the whole Zack Synder take on the DC universe. I didn’t love Man of Steel and it took a few viewings of Batman vs Superman to fully appreciate it.

So that I had perspective, I viewed the film with my daughter and grandson who also had a lifetime of waiting to see these characters on the screen.  Three generations of us, mentally braced with the acceptance that we may not like it.

We loved it.  We really did.  I know that will make some fanboys whine, but all that matters is that we enjoyed the film.  Heck, I might go again.

The things that made this movie good was a relatively simple plot (one of the many failings in Batman vs Superman).  The story was simple. The heroes were true to form and everyone got good airtime.  I think that Ben Affleck is outstanding as Batman – perhaps one of the best casting decisions ever. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman.

Things I enjoyed:

  • They made Aquaman cool.  It’s hard to believe, but true.
  • The movie didn’t dwell on origin stories so that the pacing was good.
  • The interplay between Batman and Wonder Woman was good, very true to their characters.
  • There were moments of humor that were unexpected and good – like Aquaman sitting on the lasso of truth.
  • Nothing beat that moment when the Flash was running past Superman and the Supes turned and tracked him.  Yeah, he’s that fast Barry.
  • The post credit scenes honored us Silver Age/Silver Hair crowd and took us in a new direction other than some grim Darkseid plotline which seemed to be the previous course. The first post-credits scene made the movie for me, the icing on the cake.
  • Superman smiled and even laughed.  Gone was Syderian-era of the grim and brooding Man of Steel.

Things I’m on the fence about:

  • Steppenwolf.  I’ve been reading comics for a long time and I didn’t recognize this villain – which was embarrassing. You would have thought that with the pantheon of characters, they could have come up with someone more recognizable to the masses.
  • This was not the Barry Allen or the Flash I knew or wanted to see in film.  Don’t get me wrong, he worked perfectly as a comic relief in the film, fitting into the ensemble well, but he wasn’t quite the Flash I had been hoping for.  I was torn between my expectations for the character and how well he was portrayed in the film. I didn’t hate this Flash, but I didn’t love him.
  • The producers seem unconcerned with the fact that most of these characters have their secret identities compromised.  Even Lois yelling, “Clark!” to Superman with the police on the ground seemed a little weird. Perhaps that is all intentional…hmm…

So, is it worth seeing?  Yes!  Who would have thought that 2017 would have given us two great DC films?  Perhaps this is a sign of things to come.

Spoiler Free Review of Thor Ragnarok

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If you don’t know from my previous blog posts, I’ll fill you in.  I am a comic book junkie.  This era of superhero movies is something that I have waited for my entire lifetime.  Geekiness has become accepted. It is my era.

I actually read the current Thor comic, despite its heavy political and social overtones.  I didn’t come into this movie with big expectations.  The trailers showed the Hulk and Loki, so I knew there was some potential for good stuff here.  The post-credit scene from Dr. Strange proves to be well-thought out and incorporates perfectly into this film.  Kudos to the writers!

Thor Ragnarok is the story of a boy growing to manhood, coping with his father’s past and fate.  It is the story of an awesome warrior seeking redemption.  It is the story of the boy’s wacky brother who is both hero and villain, often in the same scene. It is the story of an abused child with a wee-bit of homicidal rage in her makeup – who seeks to relive her glory days.  That is as much as I will say about the plot.

The humor and even some of the visual effects harken from Guardians of the Galaxy II. I found myself chuckling throughout the film, which makes this a departure from previous Thor outings.  It’s not just insider humor either.  My wife, who is not a fan of superhero movies, laughed throughout the movie.  The fact that she stayed awake during the entire film speaks volumes.

From a writer’s perspective, we see some real development and growth the characters.  The Hulk, who we rarely get more than a few words from, gets a fair amount of screen time and is fun. There are some scenes that harken back to the Avengers when Thor, Loki, and Hulk tangled that are fun.

I was on the fence with Jeff Goldbloom’s character until the second (yes there are two) post-credit scenes.

Marvel gets one thing – start with solid writing and you can produce a great, sometimes epic, film.  Frankly, they are just printing money….money that I am more than willing to hand them if they keep the quality up.

In a season where Hollywood has wallowed in the mire of scandal after scandal, and has produced films that were marginal at best – this movie is outstanding.  It was funny, had plenty of action, and a solid storyline.  A rip-roaring good time with a great choice of battle music.

I give it five out of five stars.

Spoiler Free Review of Spider-Man Homecoming

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The big question out there with geeky fans such as myself was whether Sony could work with Marvel to integrate Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinema universe.  Also looming like a shadow over the Spider-Man franchise was whether the first new Spider-Man movie would be able to stand on its own given its predecessors.  We all wondered what direction it might take.  How would this reboot work?

I’m happy to say that this was a fantastic film.

From the opening during the Marvel credits when they played the Spider-Man cartoon theme song, this is a well crafted story that stands completely on its own.

We didn’t get a whole origin story – thank God.  We all know it anyway.  Radioactive spider bites kid, he gets powers.  In a remarkable move, we didn’t get dragged through that in his film.  Instead this film focuses on a solid plot and characters.

I was concerned with the trailers and the emphasis on Iron Man/Tony Stark.  I was concerned that this would be Iron Man 4 rather than Spider-Man 1.  I was not disappointed in the least.  This was a movie where the supporting cast (Ned and Happy) really help add to the mythos of Spider-Man.  We got just enough Stark in this film, and in all the right way.  A man that is aging, coming to grips with the fact that his recruitment of 14 year old Peter Parker in Civil War put the young man at deadly risk.

The performance of Michael Keaton as the Vulture was great as well.  He plays a great villain who starts out in an almost Breaking Bad formula – being bad for good reasons.  That devolves as the character changes.

This movie is all about characters growing and evolving.  It is a fun romp in the Marvel universe.  We have a new Spider-Man for the new generation.  I took my young grandson to the movie and his take was that the movie was great, but they almost used a bad word at the end.  I wouldn’t say it is for every kid, but we had a blast.

Five out of five stars.  Go see this film!

Wonder Woman – Spoiler Free Review

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Four quarts of awesome sauce

I went in to the theater filled to the brim with skepticism.  The mental trauma of Batman v. Superman had just fully healed.  On the CW, Supergirl has gone from being a good television show to being a preachy political drama, constantly thrusting the issue of illegal aliens and homosexuality in our face every week.

I was worried that in this age of political correctness, this would be a movie about women, women’s rights, women in a man’s universe.  I’m not saying those things are important, but you have to remember one thing.  Women are not the big readers of Wonder Woman in comic form.  You don’t see a comic shop packed with females.  It is male readers that kept that comic alive over the decades.  If they went down the woman-in-a-man’s-world rabbit hole, they risked alienating the true fans of Wonder Woman. Thankfully, someone at DC had half a brain and avoided making that kind of movie.

To be blunt, DC needed a hit, if only to keep the embers of hope with the upcoming Justice League movie burning.  Wonder Woman was the best part of Batman vs. Superman.  We demanded…no, desperately needed a good DC comic book movie.

Wonder Woman is that hit.

Now, I’m a WWI historian and I could easily go off on a rant on the inaccuracies in the film; I’m entitled to do that.  I won’t, because in the end they don’t matter.  This was a solid movie with a good plot and fantastic performances from Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.  I feared it would be a thinly veiled rip-off of Captain America, The First Avenger.  You have to admit, the potential for that was there.  Fess up.  You thought it too.  DC dodged that shot as easily as Wonder Woman deflects machinegun fire.

This was a story built on solid characters and a good story line.  It was not driven by CGI or special effects, but on the evolution of the characters.

DC finally gave us a movie in their new rendition of their universe that met, if not exceeded expectations.  I give it four-point-five out of five stars.  (The WWI historian in me held back that half star, just to be a douchebag.)  The only thing lacking in the film that prevented it from being perfect was no cameo from Linda Carter.  What were you guys thinking?  She had to appear, if only in the background.  Doh!

Review of Hidden Figures

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I love a good story, great characters, and something based on true events.  Hidden Figures had all of that and much more.

This the story of three women of color, working at NASA in Langley Virginia at the start of the US/Russian Space Race.  The story is not just about getting a man in orbit, but of the struggles and obstacles that these brave women had to face and overcome.

In honesty I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy the film – that it would be too preachy and be about race more than character.  I was wrong – dead wrong.  This film is about the indomitable character of these three incredible women.   Race is an issue, from the opening scene on, but these women are trailblazers in a very different and endearing manner.

Interestingly enough this was a good history film, blending science, technology and historical context.  As an IT person, I remember programming with punch cards when I worked for the DoD.  It is stunning to think we put a man in space with less technology than most of us carry in our pockets on a daily basis.

These are exactly the kind of stories that need to be told.  I felt a bit ashamed at seeing Virginia during segregation but the film didn’t force that issue.  It did with style and grace.  This is not as much a film about race as it about the emerging role of women as well.

I found the acting superb.  The story of Mary Jackson, the fledgling engineer, was fantastic and a credit to Janelle Monáe.  Her court scene was inspiring.  Kevin Costner was solid as well, but this was not about the men – it’s all about the women.  Even the soundtrack was well chosen.

This is a film chocked full of visual metaphors.  My favorite was near the end of the movie when the young white male was sent to run the 1/2 mile across Langley to track down one of the women.  We see that trek throughout the movie but it never seemed longer than it did in that scene.  It was a perfect piece of writing and directing.

The audience we had applauded at the end of the film – if that is any indication of how good of a film this is.  I have to give this five out of five stars.

Spoiler Free Review of Star Wars Rogue One

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Jedi?  We don’t need no stinking Jedi! 

Summary:  This is the story of an ingenious administrator who dedicates his life to the creation of a tool that will bring peace to the galaxy.  He is opposed by a group of terrorists and quasi-religious zealots bent on plunging the known universe into civil war.  The terrorists kill hundreds of patriots in a mission of sabotage, chaos, and carnage.  Ultimately the administrator loses his life but lives long enough to see his dream brought to life as his tool is proven effective.

Alright…onto the real review.  This is not your “typical” Star Wars film – as evident from the very beginning. This is a carefully crafted prequel to A New Hope.  For the record – Disney did it right.  Boy did they do it right.  The fact that this doesn’t fit the normal Star Wars mold is fantastic.

What drives this is the characters.  Each one grows and evolves in the intricate plot.  The droid in this film, K-2SO, is sarcastic and snarky…actually giving it a unique personality from what we’ve seen with other droids.  The blind monk-like warrior, Chirrut Imwe, is awesome.  His chant of “I am with the Force and the Force is with me,” is going to appear on T-shirts in a matter of days.  These heroes are not your standard Star Wars fare and that works with me.

This story is huge in scope, taking us to a number of new worlds in the Star Wars universe.  The details are incredible.  You see a massive statue of Jedi laying in the sands on one world – each planet coming off distinct and different.  The Screen Artists Guild deserves drinks on Mickey Mouse for these scenes.

The best is the linkage to Episode IV:  A New Hope.  I told my wife years ago that in my lifetime I would see a new John Wayne western because of CGI.  I am now convinced of this even more.  One of the coolest secondary characters was played by Peter Cushing, and he has been dead since 1994!  In only one scene was I able to see that it was, indeed, CGI.  Otherwise I was convinced he was there.  Disney, you magnificent bastards, I salute you.

We all know Darth Vadar is evil.  We never really can get enough of this.  Rogue One provides us a bad-ass, ass-kicking Vadar that is vicious, cunning, and dark.

The incorporation of Red Leader was so cool, so subtle, and so perfect…I was pleased.  I only wish Porkins had been there!

So, the short version – this is a great movie – five out of five stars.  Go see it – twice!