Non-Spoiler Review of Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker

Skywalker

I went into this film with relatively low expectations given the flaws in The Last JediThe Rise of Skywalker was ambitious on a rare scale for movies.  It was aimed at wrapping up story arcs that were over 40 years in the making, including some arcs we didn’t even know were out there.  The character arcs were, in some cases, less-than-inspiring.  On top of that, Carrie Fisher had died between films.

So my expectations going in were pretty shallow.  Imagine my surprise that I was pleasantly pleased with this film.

My friend Scott summed up one thing that had to be addressed.  Rey had to be somebody.  She couldn’t be a nobody.  He was 100% right.  That was missing from her arc and was critical.  Well, we got that with The Rise of Skywalker.  It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it was a neat twist.

In fact, this movie answered a lot of questions we had from The Last Jedi, which now makes me reevaluate that movie.  Touché JJ Abrams.  The film also avoided all of the Hollywood socio-political statement scenes that assisted in my loathing of The Last Jedi.

I came away with a whole new bag of questions I wanted answered, but for the most part, the strands of storyline that have been dangling with this trilogy were, for the most part, tied into a neat Christmas knot.  I saw some old friends and we saw some depth in some of the characters that we hadn’t seen in previous films.

While I more than got my money’s worth, I can say with honesty that this movie is not in the top three of the Star Wars films.  It is good, it has some heartwarming moments, but it is not epic or great.  Bear in mind this was a year where we saw the culmination of the Marvel films as well, and Endgame would be tough to top.

I had fun and enjoyed myself.  From a writer’s perspective, I tried to come up with a nerd-based litany of changes I would have done, but my list was less about the story and more about scenes that could and should have been included.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.  There are bound to be a lot of haters out there, but they won’t sway my take on the film.

Review of the Film: Richard Jewell

Jewell

I went into this movie the same way I did Argo.  I remembered bits and pieces of the actual events, but not the full story.  I came out the same way as well, loving this film.

This is the story of Richard Jewell, a security guard who stumbled across a suspicious package at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and whose actions saved dozens of lives. His character is brilliantly portrayed in the film by Paul Walter Hauser.  His character goes from national hero to a suspect in a matter of days.

On the surface, this film is about how the media and the FBI conspired against an innocent man, ruining his life to fit their agenda. The media is properly portrayed as corrupt; sleeping with the FBI to obtained leaked information. The FBI is show to bend and break all of their rules in pursuit of bringing down Richard Jewell.

Think on that for a moment…because the parallels between this case and current events are both deliberate and eerie at the same time.  In an era of text messages, weekly leaks to the media, secret and potentially corrupt FISA courts; the story of Richard Jewell is a milestone and a warning to all of us.  Perhaps that is why this film resonated so strongly with me.

Note:  In real life, reporter Kathy Scruggs did not sleep with her FBI informant – it is one of the few elements of the film that are embellished. While some have thrown the film under the bus for this, it is a scene that is a metaphor, and I get it. It always strikes me as odd when Hollywood gets upset with some movies for not being accurate, and praises others for the same thing.  Could it be because Clint Eastwood is a proud conservative?

Jewell is almost childlike as portrayed in the film.  He wants to help the FBI, even when they are working against him.  Each time his character talks you cringe at what he might say.  You find yourself torn with this character because you can see what he is up against, but he simply refuses to remove the FBI from its pedestal in his heart.  The Bureau tries to turn his friends against him and when he doesn’t fit their profile, they simply charge forward with new theories that border on ridiculous.

The media is seen in the film as jackals, if not worse.  The reporter character does have her moment of redemption, but it does not give Richard Jewell back what was taken from him.  Kathy Bates’ performance as his mother is outstanding and reminded me of my own mother in far too many aspects. It says a great deal that the casting of this film was as good as it was.

The writers and directors have subtly left you wondering about big government and the forces it can bring to bear against people.  Don’t get me wrong, I share information with the FBI on cases I write about. I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that the FBI as a whole is bad.  Some bad agents and administrators though can tarnish the entirety of the whole organization.  We see that here with the lead investigator in the film, who refuses to admit that Jewell had nothing to do with the bombing.

Nor is there any apologies in this film…from the media or the FBI.  That too is poignant.  When everyone believes they are doing the right thing with the wrong consequences, no one is willing to step up and say, “What we did was wrong.”  The closest we get is the media character in the film.

As a reader, writer, and watcher – I love underdog stories.  The film Richard Jewell is one of those, the epitome of an underdog.  The odds are against the lone hero, yet in the end, the hero prevails. If you cannot enjoy that kind of story, don’t watch this film.

I noticed that the theater was mostly filled with people near my age, which is sad. I think a lot of younger people need to see a movie like this so that they can frame current events against it.

This is a sobering film, one that has dramatic ups and downs.  It leaves you thinking, wondering, and in my case, worrying.  Out of this year’s crop of films, Avengers Endgame ranks first, Richard Jewell is number two.  While I am not sure I will buy a copy and re-watch it, I am glad that I did see it and you should too.  I give it a solid five out of five stars.

Review of the Film Midway (2019)

Midway

I always cringe when Hollywood says they are going to do a historical war movie. Midway was a good effort, though it glossed over many things that made the battle so remarkable.

First off, I watched the old movie Midway prior to going.  I liked some of it, but hated the mix of Tora, Tora, Tora footage in with actual war documentary footage.  The old movie had flaws all on its own but it was my measuring stick for the new film.

The movie tries hard to cover the battle and the preceding events that led up to it without drifting into the love story that was so horrible with Pearl Harbor.  The attack on December 7th is really outstanding in terms of the CGI.  I loved watching the Doolittle raid take off, but it wanders a little too far into that mission as well. In fact, from a plot standpoint, the film struggles to stay on-course to tell the story of Midway, rather than the first seven months of the war as a whole.

As to the battle itself, the movie does a fair job…not great, but not Battle of the Bulge bad.  I liked what was in the movie.  My biggest complaint were the things that were omitted that should have been in the movie.

First up, the miracle of the USS Yorktown.  The film touches on it, but the fact that the Yorktown is repaired in two days after the Battle of the Coral Sea is important.  Also critical is that the Japanese hit the carrier, setting her ablaze during the battle of Midway, but the ship recovered.  The Japanese attacked it again the next day, eventually leading to her being scuttled.  It deceived them into thinking they had sunk two different carriers and is important.  In the movie, we see the Japanese pilots getting ready to attack and the next scene is the Yorktown ablaze.  It was, to me, the biggest blown opportunity of the film.  It was either bad writing or crappy editing.

The air attacks from Midway were terrifying to the Japanese but fail, in both renditions of this film, to cover them accurately.  The PBY’s launching torpedoes at the Japanese and the slaughter of the Brewster Buffalos were important.

The film also misrepresented the intelligence ploy of transmitting that the water purification plant at Midway (AF) was down.  This act set the stage for the battle, but it is glossed over inaccurately in the movie…for apparently no reason.

Also the faulty arming switches on the dive bombers was important…more important that the fictionalized story that the movie gives between Best and McClusky that attempts to be the heart and soul of this movie. This technological debacle makes the miraculous victory at Midway even greater, but it is ignored.

Also Hollywood, at the end of the movie when you indicate the honors bestowed on the real-life heroes, you said they “won” their medals.  You win Participation Trophies – not military honors.  I heard a vet in the theater bemoan this point so it isn’t lost on me.

The movie seemed to rely too much on special effects (which were great) rather than on the substance of the battle itself.

The dialogue leaves you wanting more.  Nimitz saying, “We won,” was just, well, cheap writing. Nothing was done to frame the victory and what it ultimately meant.  I also wish they had focused on a plot.  Delving into the Doolittle Raid so deeply, while nice, distracted from the battle of Midway.

Having bitched about the inaccuracies, I DID enjoy the movie.  It’s not up there with A Bridge Too Far, but it holds its own and doesn’t suck like Pearl Harbor.  I’ll be purchasing it for home viewing and will permanently shelve my copy of the 1970’s Midway.   That, on its own, is not a ringing endorsement.

Non-Spoiler Review of Spider-Man Far From Home

Spidy
This image about sums it up for me

I was fully prepared for this movie to be a let-down after Avengers Endgame.  It’s the first out of the chute after the massive climax…how good could it be?

It is great.  I always gauge my superhero movies by my wife being able to stay awake – and she did!  There are some plot twists to this one, one of which is hopelessly obvious to anyone that has read a Spider-Man comic in the last four decades or so…but they managed to pull it off in an awesome way.

We get our first glimpse into the universe post the snap, called The Blip in the film.  I hated the name mostly because it is what my initials spell, BLP.  That was a tough one to live down as a kid – but I digress.

The movie has a good mix of serious stuff and humor, which is trademark for the MCU films.  More importantly, I felt like it really dove into the classic Spider-Man mythos.  Spider-Man was a kid for many years, dealing with the issues of a teenager.  That is what made a lot of classic Spider-Man comic stories. It was great to see the writers going to that source material and giving us all a cool Spider-Man story.

The plot was solid, well-paced, and gives us a perspective of Spider-Man as an Avenger which is new and refreshing.  Fury and Hill are well played too, which made the movie pop for me.  The secondary characters of May and Happy are well written into the script as well.  Kudos for the writers who did a top-notch job with this script.  Following Endgame had to have really put some pressure on them.

There are two post-credit scenes – so stay in your seat.  One leaves more questions than it answers.  The final one was a stunner.  An absolutely brilliant piece of casting (the casting folks never get the credit they deserve) and really was a shocker in terms of the potential storylines.

I loved it – so did my son, my grandson, and my wife. How often can you pull that off with a movie?  Five out of five stars.

Non-Spoiler Review of Avengers Endgame

Endgame

I ask your indulgence as I try to put into words how much I loved this film.  I took my grandson Trenton to the film and as we settled in, I heard someone comment a few seats down, “This all began for me 11 years ago with Iron Man.”

My own journey began further back…sometime in the early 1970’s.  Saturday mornings my grandmother would sometimes take me to downtown Marshall, Michigan and turn me loose on Michigan Avenue.  We didn’t have “stranger danger,” then, we had communities of people that cared.

I would always go to the party store in the middle of town, right next to the Michigan National Bank.  I cannot remember its name, but I remember everything else about it – the flooring, the smells, the nice owner who didn’t chase kids out.  There was a wire rotating comic rack at the end of the magazines, right next to the wood-plaque covered dirty magazines.  Stuffed into this squeaky rack was all of the comics you could hope for, new ones to the front, older issues in the back.  The owner never chased us out, he would always smile at us.

Comic books cost 12 to 20 cents then, which seemed like a lot.  You had to be judicious in your choices.  There were no comic stores or graphic novels to get caught up with stories if you missed an issue.  I would purchase my comics and read them, over and over.  They were not collectables…there were no plastic covers for them.  These were comics that were meant to be read cover to cover.  From the letters to the editor to the ads for X-ray glasses, these stapled tomes were meant to be devoured.  I took part in a tradition of visual storytelling that harkened back to the cavemen painting images on their walls though at the time, I only thrilled at the art and the writing.

I never shed that love of comics, though as I was older it was more of an underground love affair. We didn’t have cyber bullying, we had real bullying. People were not accepting of adults reading comics for years.  Just finding a superhero t-shirt was difficult, back in the day.

Comic books led me to gaming and reading other books – which led me to be an author.  I will never forget that debt and the responsibility that comes with it.

The love never went away nor did my subscribing and reading.  I have passed on that love to my grandson and we share comics just like I used to with my friends so many decades ago.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe changed all of that.  Suddenly comics were acceptable…mainstream.  Yet I like to think that for millions of us, our journey to this film began the same simple way, in drug stores or book stores, or party stores on the main streets of our home towns.  Simple origins are the best of all.  ‘Nuff said.

When I took Trenton to Avengers Infinity War he experienced the same thing I did the first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back…that mold-breaking effect of the good guys losing.

Then came Avengers Endgame.  For three and a half hours, we were transfixed to the screen.  This was storytelling on an epic scale.  Characters completed their arcs so masterfully that it was a thrill to be there.  We had come to know these actors and characters.

The writers of this film will never get the dues they so richly deserve.  So many Easter Eggs are opened for us in this movie that it is a true fan’s delight.  Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus deserve Academy Awards for what they have done with this screenplay.

Before I went to the movies, a friend at work, Scott, asked me what I had to have to be perfect.  I rattled off three things.  They were all there.  I won’t share them now, because I refuse to spoil this film.

There are moments of deep sadness and others where, and I am not exaggerating, the audience cheered.  I have never in my life heard so many applause and cheering moments in a movie.

And therein lies the sadness.  I doubt in my lifetime I will ever see 22 films so masterfully interconnected in such a compelling tale.  Marvel has delivered something that makes DC pale by comparison.  It reminds of Alexander the Great.  “And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.”  While a misquote, it resonates here.

But…as a comic fan…I can tell you there are plenty of other great Marvel stories that are chafing for their chance in the sun.  The bar has been set high though.

Next to seeing Star Wars for the first time, this is my favorite movie ever.  It delivered on every single front and swept me, my grandson, the entire audience away.

 

Non-Spoiler Review of Shazam!

Shazam

I will admit it, when I was in the 1970’s I subscribed to Shazam!  Captain Marvel (the DC version) was an interesting contrast to the darkness of Batman and the Boy Scouty Superman.  I liked the Marvel family as well.  Sure, some parts were silly, but it worked for me as a kid.

Now comes the movie version and I have to admit, I cringed.  Would DC go all dark and brooding like they had for almost every other movie?  Would they ruin the character background?

The response is a resounding no!  DC finally did a super hero movie that stayed true to the character and was fun.  They even took a relatively cardboard villian and made him tangible.

Holy moly!

I took my grandson with me to Shazam! and we both loved it.  First, other than a nosebleed, there was no gore.  There’s no swearing.  This is the story of a boy that becomes a superhero.  Even though he appears as an adult, he’s still a kid at heart.  That is the essence of Captain Marvel and they managed to keep it.

There were some tweaks to the history of the character that were new – but nothing that took away from that essence.  The film was entertaining, something that some of the DC movies have seemed afraid to embrace.  This film felt genuine, authentic.  The kids were close to real kids in term of character.

So, if you are looking for a good family movie that just happens to be about a super hero, check out Shazam!

Non-Spoiler Review of Captain Marvel

Cmarvel
“I feel the need…the need for nostalgia” 

I have to admit, I was never a big Captain Marvel fan from the comics.  I found this movie to be okay, not great, but it didn’t suck like so many have said.

As far as origin stories, this didn’t follow the traditional format of telling the story.  Instead much of the movie is the hero learning her true origin and origin story – which is fine. For this kind of format to work, you really have to care about the character to begin with.  I never really bonded with Carol Danvers on screen, so I found myself saying, “let’s get to it.” With a slow-reveal origin, you really don’t get what the plot is until you are well into the film.

There are some nice plot twists in all of this that I didn’t see coming.  I appreciate that in a film like this. It wasn’t a linear plot, but one that was well crafted – if not a bit drawn out.

I wish these films wouldn’t push their PC agenda on me.  Let her be a hero that happens to be female, don’t make it out that she’s different because of that.  I didn’t like that in Wonder Woman either.  Just tell the story.  Trust me, I know she’s female.  Releasing it on International Women’s Day just was over the top too.  Look, I’m a fan, just give me a good script and casting.

Things I liked was seeing a younger Nick Fury and Agent Colson in the field.  This was not the embittered Nick Fury of Winter Soldier.  He’s fun, joking, kind of cool.  It was a bit strange to see the 1990’s in the light of nostalgia. God we had ugly cars back then.  Seeing Ronan the Accuser and some other characters we experience later in the Marvel cinema universe is neat too.

There are two post-credit scenes, so stay in your seat. The first one has a direct tie to Avengers Infinity War Endgame – which was awesome!

Overall this was not the best outing in the MCU but it wasn’t as horrific as some people have insinuated.  I liked it and got my money’s worth – which is what you want with a movie.  It adds to the Marvel universe and sets the stage for stuff coming in Endgame.  I give it a 3.7 stars out of five.