Tag Archives: Movies

Hell or High Water – Review

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On the plains of West Texas, two brothers systematically rob banks in a desperate attempt to save the family ranch, while a pair of Texas Rangers slowly piece together the evidence leading to a race against the clock. Director David Mackenzie’s new film Hell or High Water intelligently tackles issues of poverty and corporate greed while not losing the heart that leaves the audience thinking long after the last shot.

The Big Short

Last year’s masterpiece The Big Short opened our eyes to the ways in which the banking industry continually tries to find new methods to make money at our expense, and Hell or High Water feels like a spiritual successor to that theme. Toby’s mother was swindled by the bank into a loan that kept her just poor enough to never truly make ends meet. The bank’s goal is to be able to foreclose on her land, which happens to include an oil mine. Following her death, Toby enlists the help of his convict brother Tanner to rob the branches of the bank that has screwed them over in a plan to save the ranch and allow Toby to set it as a trust for his two sons. The parallels with The Big Short are clear, as both films show the financial system taking advantage of poor people and leaving them feeling powerless to overcome their situations.

On top of this, Toby says something profound about poverty, “I’ve been poor my whole life, like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys, not anymore.” Poverty is so much more than just bad life decisions. It is something that can be passed down in families as people get caught in a maelstrom of systematic financial ruin due to a lack of choices and opportunities as well as unwise actions, in places as wide-ranging as the plains of West Texas to the inner city.

It’s not just the bad choices or lack of opportunity, it’s the depravity of human nature that accentuates the problem. One of the Texas Rangers, Alberto poignantly says, “All this was my ancestors’ land, the lease folks took it, and it’s been taken from them. Except it ain’t no army doing it, it’s those sons of bitches right there [as he points to the bank across the street].” From the beginning of time, since the Fall in the garden, humankind has been taking advantage of others for selfish gain, and this movie does a magnificent job of painting a very clear picture of how broken the world is.

Conclusion

Hell or High Water is the best movie I’ve seen this year. The themes, character work, direction and acting are fantastic. Don’t miss this movie. Hell or High Water is rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Suicide Squad – Review

suicide-squad-movie-2016-posterThe 602 Club Review.

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As the would continues to reel from the death of Superman, the U.S. Government wonders what it is going to do without the alien. Having realized how fortunate they were to have a person that shared their values they now worry that the next “superman” might not and if that is the case, who’s going to stop them? Amanda Waller has a plan. She will take the the worst villains and form Secret Task Force X, a group that can be sent against threats while at the same time, thrown under the bus if the mission goes south. Director David Ayer brings this motley crew to life with a deft hand and continues the DC Comics universe. It’s a comic book movie unlike any other and in world crowded with “Franchise” films, it’s a welcome change of pace.

Total Depravity  

The most interesting moment thematically happens in a bar, as the “heroes” begin to share how they got where they are. Diablo tells the heartbreaking story of losing everything that was important to him because his anger caused him to lose control of his power and murder his family. Harley Quinn tells him that he should own who he is, as Boomerang tells her that while she may be pretty on the outside, the inside is dark. She responds back that we’re all dark. It was a well drawn picture of the total depravity of human kind. As Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…”. Each and every character, no matter who they are in the film has darkness in them, even the “good guys”Amanda Waller and Rick Flag, no one is clean. No matter the facade we create we are all as white-washed tombs.  

What is fascinating, is to see that unless the character is psychotic, they long to be better than they are. Deadshot wants his daughter to know him as more than an assassin, Rick Flagg wants to save the woman he loves and Diablo wants to find a way to atone for what he’s done. The struggle of humanity is alive in these characters.

Deal With the Devil

If you could make a deal with the devil for you soul but you would receive in return your heart’s desire, what would that be? What do you worship above all else that you would give anything for? It’s the question that a few of the characters face at the end of the film as Enchantress entices them to join her and in return she will give them what the desire most. The answer was telling, what they want most is a relationship, to be known and loved by someone. Even Harley Quinn wants to be “normal”, two kids and a Joker that is not “The Joker” but a man that works 9-5 and is a loving husband and father. It brings back the picture of Isaiah of each of us going our own way, trying get what we want through our own means yet never achieving it. It’s why the second part of the verse says, “…and the LORD has laid on him, the iniquity of us all.” We cannot be made clean though our own means, what we put on the throne of our lives will determine who we are. Even the good things of family, relationship and love are not strong enough to save us. The world has part of the answer, we are all meant to be know fully and loved, not just temporally but eternally.

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The Movie

One of the real strengths of the film is the way that it uses the existing DC universe. With Superman dead the U.S. Government worries who will protect it from the rising meta-human treat. Plus (Spoilers), this movie also leads directly in to Justice League and why Bruce Wayne is so keen to create a group of heroes. Which, in and of itself is another interesting theme as he looks to create a group of friends, whereas Waller uses leverage and blackmail to get what she wants.

The Joker is completely different from Nolan and Ledger’s which is wise, but also just as creepy. In fact, he feels more like the comic book Joker in many ways, he even has goons that run around in goofy carnival suits which is just unnerving. Honestly, Joker is a minor character in the movie and that is fine. It’s a real strength of the movie that neither Batman or Joker take over the movie, like a comic book they are in a section, play their part and then fade to the background.

Margot Robbie is perfect as Harley Quinn, she looks and feels like the character we’ve know since Batman: The Animated Series. Will Smith is his usual, bad-ass self as Deadshot and his swagger is perfect for the role. Viola Davis is terrifying as Amanda Waller. She is uncompromising and ruthless. Who I want to see more of is Karen Fukuhara as Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana. She has a presence on screen and the small parts of her story that leak out in the film make me excited to see her again.

Conclusion

Suicide Squad is fun, different and full of interesting themes. The DC Comics universe continues to blossom and it’s a joy to behold. It’s wonderful to see the DC films completely embrace the comic book universe where supermen and magic all exist side by side and that’s just the way it is. Like Kevin Smith, I cannot wait to see it again and I have a feeling my rating may only go up. This film is rated 3.75 out of 5 Bat sightings.

Star Trek Beyond – Review

international-posterIn 2009 J.J. Abrams introduced the world to what is now known as the “Kelvin Timeline” in Star Trek giving us a whole new way to look at and experience the iconic characters from The Original Series. In this third movie Justin Lin has taken over the dictatorial reins and given us a film worth of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary.

Purpose and Identity 

Star Trek Beyond finds the Enterprise 3 years into it’s 5 year mission exploring deep space and Kirk is beginning to have questions. “Why are we out here?” What is my purpose?” “Do I really want to be doing this?” Each one of these has been plaguing him as they chart unknown. The vastness of space as left Kirk feeling directionless and without purpose. Kirk even says in the movie, “It’s hard to feel grounded when even the gravity is artificial”. He has gotten so lost in the routine of life, that perspective has become skewed. It brings to mind the struggles of Kirk from The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, yet this time, Kirk is thinking of becoming an Admiral. It’s something we have only seen in books, the thought process that would lead Starfleet’s best captain to take a desk job.

Krall, the villain of the film is a mirror for Kirk in the movie. He’s a man who was so beholden to one thing in life that when life required him to grow, learn and move forward he found it impossible. As Kirk begins to learn more about his adversary he begins to find his own sense of purpose again, he’s out in space to help protect as many lives as he can, because all lives matter. Kirk is in space to learn, grow and help humanity do the same.

Both Kirk and Spock in the film are also facing the question of identity. Kirk has spent his time in Starfleet trying to be his father and live up to that legacy. McCoy tells him, “You spent all this time trying to be your father, now you’re wondering just what it means to be you.” Whereas Spock is struggling with his identity as a Vulcan and therefore his responsibility to them as they rebuild, which is heightened in light of Ambassador Spock’s death. Each one of these men must found out what it means to be themselves, to escape the shadow of father’s and mentors and chart their own course. What is beautiful about the movie is that they both find their identity and purpose in helping the other become the best versions of themselves and in protecting others.

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How We Grow

The idea of being able to grow as a person and society is a huge theme in the film. Krall has found himself unable to move from the past. He sees struggle, war and strife as the only true ways for a race to test themselves. Kirk reminds him that if all we do is continually wage war on the battles of yesterday, then we will be stuck in the past. It brings to mind John F. Kennedy’s words that inspired a whole generation,

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Adversity though war and infighting is not the only way to grow, choosing to do the impossible, with only hope as your guide is a powerful force for change. Humanity grows best when it learns from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them again. Unity in mission and purpose, serving something greater than yourself is the best way to do that.

It’s the strength of the Federation to have unity, bringing together many different people for a common purpose and goal. In the film, this is also reflected on a smaller scale in the crew of the Enterprise. It is their commitment to each other, their working together in concert, each using their gifts to the best of their ability that help them solve the problems they face. It is a nice mirror for what Paul says in 1 Corinthians about the body of Christ, each working together through their God given gifts for the betterment of the other and in service to something much greater than the individual.

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The Movie

There are a couple things I don’t like about the film. One, I am not crazy about the action editing which often leaves the viewer wondering what just happened. It is so fast and cut so quick that it is sometimes hard to see or understand what transpired. I also have to say there were no surprises about the story, I leaned over to my wife a few times and called all the “reveals” or plot points well in advance.

What the movie does do well are the characters. The way in which we see them interact and grow is spot on and the introduction to Jaylah is a joy. Here’s to hoping that this is not the last time we see her in Star Trek. On top of all of this, Michael Giacchino has crafted a beautiful score that harkens back to The Motion Picture in some places as well as the best from every Trek movie since.

Star Trek Beyond is a fantastic way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and with the announcement of a 4th film coming in the “Kelvin Timeline”, the future is bright. The film is rated 4 out of 5 detached saucer sections.

X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

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It’s already been a summer of superheroes with Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War, many people may have forgotten that there was a new X-Men movie as well. Following up Bryan Singer’s Days of Future Past, the team finds itself in the middle of the 80s and an ancient power has awoken which could mean the end of the world as we know it. X-Men: Apocalypse is just as much about it’s characters as it is about spectacle. Singer knows we come to see them and watch them grow and the film does not disappoint.

Magneto’s Struggle

Eric’s story line is one of the most poignant. After the events of Days of Future Past, he has retired to Poland, works in a steel mill, married a woman (he told her who he was the first night they met) and they have a child. He’s happy in the small life he created until an accident at the mill forces him to use his powers to save a fellow worker. Word gets out who he is and before he and his family can escape, the local police capture his daughter, who is killed in a showdown. Enraged, Eric lashes out at the men, killing them all, leaving him screaming to the heavens, “Is this all I am?”. He cannot seem to escape the darkness within. It’s a clear reminder that there is something inside all of us that we cannot control, that is dark and evil and by ourselves we are powerless to control it. In the movie, it’s Charles, Raven and Quicksilver that help bring Eric back to the light, it’s part of the answer, to realize we cannot do it alone, dimly reflecting the truth of,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 ESV)

Better Together

Apocalypse, also known as En Sabah Nur, believes himself to be a god among men. He believes that his power instills in him the right to rule. The gifts that he was born with have been used to benefit himself alone. On the opposite side you have the X-Men who learn to harness their power and use it for others and the betterment of the world around them. It’s a beautiful picture of what the Apostle Paul talks about in Corinthians when he discusses spiritual gifts,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11 ESV)

The X-Men series has always been about coming together and Apocalypse is no different. in the fight against En Sabah Nur neither Magneto or Charles is strong enough to destroy him, it takes, Scott Summers, Jean Grey working in concert with everyone else to save the world. Thinking about the film brought the next part of the Corinthian passage to mind,

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20 ESV)

Each member of the team has a gift, that when combined with the others makes them even stronger. The gifts are meant to be used for the welfare of all of humanity and cannot hoard for ourselves, because we need each other. Each person brings strengths and weaknesses to the table and united we form a more perfect union. apocalypse-180759

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this movie. I love the new cast they have playing the younger versions of the people we know from the previous films and Quicksilver is still one of the best things in superhero films. The rest of the character work has me excited for what comes next in the series as hopefully we move to the 90s. Side note, this is how you make a joke about a Star Wars film. This film is rated 3.75 out of 5.

Captain America: Civil War – Review

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After the events of The Avengers, The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron and the beginning of Civil War itself, the Avengers team find themselves under fire for their unchecked use of power and civilian casualties. As the team divides amongst itself on the best way to solve this problem, a malevolent force works to tear them apart from the inside out. Civil War is a great superhero movie that asks big questions and still has the heart of the first two Captain America movies. It is a worthy successor to the series.

The Truth is Not Relative

The most powerful scene in the movie comes at Peggy Carter’s funeral. Her niece Sharon Carter gives the eulogy and recounts a conversation she had with her aunt. Peggy told Sharon, “Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, YOU move’.” Rarely has a comic book movie been more resonant to the times in which we live. The world is upside down and it’s screaming at us that wrong is right every single day. Peggy Carter’s message is a clarion call to us, we must plant ourselves in the truth, like a tree and not be shaken. It’s a clear picture of Psalm 1,

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1 ESV)

Steve Rogers is a wonderful model for this. His morality and virtue are not shaped my popular opinion or politics, but by something much more foundational and unchanging, knowing that there is right and wrong and that they are not something to be compromised.

Freedom to Choose 

Captain-America-Civil-War-645x370There is also another side to the coin. Captain America sees the inherent danger of taking choice away from the Avengers and making them pawns of a political body. He is fearful that they will be asked to stay out of situations they should be in and forced to act in ways they ought not because of prevailing political sentiment. There is a good correlation with the Jedi in the prequels, that allowed themselves to become agents of a government and not what is right. In the end the Jedi became compromised, realizing too late that they’ve been in service to the wrong master all along.

The choice to do what is right cannot be left to a committee and popular opinion, Steve knows this and willingly lives out that principle. In fact, this is the very reason Steve is fighting for Bucky. Bucky is someone who has had choice forcibly removed, enslaved to the will of an evil organization and been made to do terrible things. He is a microcosm of the question facing the Avengers team. Captain America shows his quality once again as he interposes himself between Iron Man and the Winter Soldier, protecting both: Tony from acting on revenge and Bucky from something that is not his fault.

Conclusion

Captain America: Civil War is a fantastic movie and honestly the Avengers movie we all hoped Age of Ultron would be. While I do have some minor quibbles, I feel Spider-man is shoehorned into the film and would have rather had his time devoted to other characters like Agent 13 or Black Panther, it does not detract too much from the enjoyment of the film. This is rated four shields out of five.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

thetrinityThis review contains spoilers.

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“Black and blue. Fight night. The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world. God versus man. Day versus night! Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham!” – Lex Luthor

Comic fans have been having the argument for over 70 years about who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman. At the end of Man of Steel the production team was looking for the next challenge that Superman would face and in that conversation the idea was thrown out that it should be Batman. Thus was born the genesis of Batman v Superman, Zach Snyder’s newest film in the DC cinematic universe. Pitting a grizzled, bitter Batman against a Superman the world is not sure it wants, Batman v Superman is a serious comic book film that asks big questions while at the same time not loosing heart.

Fear What They Don’t Understand

Martha Kent tells her son that people fear what they do not understand and that theme plays itself out throughout the movie. Lex Luthor plays on the fears of the government, which is not sure what to make of this alien with god-like powers. He is also able to prey on the fear, anger and rage of Bruce Wayne who after 20 years as Batman has seen the loss of a Robin and many so-called “good men”. Fear drives Bruce to see Superman as something that cannot be contained, “That son of a bitch brought the war to us. He has the power to wipe out the entire human race and if we believe there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty” he tells Alfred. He has good reasons, since he was there the day that Zod attacked Metropolis, helplessly watching as he lost friends and employees in one of his buildings.

Fear leads Batman to become even harder and more cruel as he searches for answers because he believes it is duty to save humanity from a threat that cannot be controlled. In light of someone with such power who is the Batman? Alfred, like Yoda before him warns Bruce about fear, “That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.” Because of it, Batman is willing to be the complete vigilante, he will do whatever it takes to get the job done. This is where the “v” in the title comes in to play, will justice be served by the law or by someone like Batman. Superman stands clearly on the side of the law and working with it to bring justice, Batman on the other had is much more willing to dole out justice as he sees fit.

It was striking to see this as a reflection of America. We are being driven by fear, we don’t talk, we just yell at each other from different sides of the aisle and problems never get resolved. We are afraid of everything and it continually eats away at our humanity until there is nothing left. We face the same dilemma, will be be driven by our fear, allowing it to lead us down a dark path, or will we be lead by the better angels of our nature? At this moment the answer is utterly uncertain.

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There is a senate hearing about actions that were taking early in the movie by Superman and the senator played by Holly Hunter talks about the importance of talking to one another in a democracy and working things out together. What is provocative is to see how the “fight” between Batman and Superman has come to a head because they have not talked to one another, they have just assumed things about the other. It is only when these two men do talk that they realize they are being used as pawns and are actually on the same side. The most powerful moment in the movie comes when Batman has Superman down and is ready to strike and Superman asks him to save Martha who has been kidnapped by Lex. In that moment Bruce realizes that he and Clark, though from completely different worlds are exactly the same, men who would do anything to save their mothers and it creates a bridge between them.

It’s a timely reminder that it is through dialogue and communication that most problems get solved. The hard work of setting aside preconceptions and prejudices has to be done if we ever want to make a better world. There is a time to fight but more importantly, there is a time to truly listen, learn and make peace.

Media and the Truth

The movie has a very realistic take on the role of media in our lives. We live in a world of the 24 hour news cycle that has created the era of the sensationalistic sound-bite culture that feeds misinformation constantly. There is very little responsible journalism when getting the story first is more important than getting it right. Clark faces that in the film as he sees the way the Batman is trampling on civil liberties and Perry White yells at him, “Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.” The world has stopped caring about what is moral and right in the news when like everything else it has become a form of entertainment. The movie wonderfully demonstrates this with the likes of Charlie Rose and Anderson Cooper showing up, playing the same roles they do in real life, questioning pundits who have no real knowledge, just half-baked theories built on conjecture. It’s a world where everyone is saying something but no one is listening. This talking heads do nothing but fan the flames of extremism on both sides because it’s good for the ratings and the truth gets trampled in the crossfire.

The film shows the difference of people who have experienced the kindness and help of Superman as apposed to those who have not. It’s shocking to see when he arrives at the capital the demonstrations where half of the people love him and the other half hate him, even though neither sides have probably ever met him or experienced him in person. It plays into the theme of fear perfectly and sadly it looks all too familiar, a world that takes sides with little to no true knowledge of the subject matter at hand.

Consequences 

One of the beauties of the DC cinematic universe so far is the consequences faced by the heroes and the situations that they are in. In Man of Steel an alien terraforming machine was unleashed on the world and two “gods” fought creating massive destruction. This carries in to Batman v Superman as Superman must figure out when is the right time to act, what is the right thing to do and deal with the untended consequences of his actions, even if the action was right. The movie does a good job of showing that Clark is trying to do what is right in all areas of his life, at the newspaper and as Superman, yet he lives in a world where what is right is often not seen as popular or even encouraged.

Perception of his actions have a huge impact on the movie since everything he does is captured, reported on and twisted in a million different ways in the media. It plays in beautifully with the ideas of the media and truth. Superman may have the noblest of intentions but since his actions are often seen or spun differently and it creates a firestorm that he often did not expect. Snyder brilliantly captures the heart of the cynical, jaded and self-important world we live in where it’s not the truth of what happened that matters but your own personal “truth” that is preeminent. We’ve lost the ability to believe in heroes because we’ve lost the belief in good and evil, to accept only our own spin on events. Additionally the blame game is in full effect, since no one these days is responsible for their own actions, it is always the fault of someone else and the one to blame is usually the person trying to do the right thing.

What is incredible about the movie is that it plays all of this out with Superman. His actions to save Lois in the desert from terrorists has led to him being blamed for deaths that he did not cause and the media spin does nothing to help. In the end the whole thing is being orchestrated by Lex to sow the seeds of distrust in Superman and he plays the world for fools by tapping into our fears, the media and the current lack of critical thought to unleash an even greater evil on the world. Sound familiar?

On top of this, Lex openly challenges the idea of an all good “god” with the classic problem of evil. If God is all good how can their be evil and if there is evil, how can God be all good? The death of religious belief has lead us to question the ability of anything altruistic or good in anyone, even our heroes. It’s hard to have heroes when we don’t believe in absolute good or evil, there are only shades of grey and someone like Superman can seem like a relic of a long forgotten age. It truly is the struggle of our time as  we wrestle with the desire for a true hero and ostracism of them in the same breath.  This is why all our “heroes” reflect us now, not the best part, the morally ambiguous part, because heroes make us uncomfortable with what we have given up. Heroes with the virtue of Superman, remind us of what we have lost in expulsion of absolute truth.

Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman

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The thing that I love most about the movie is the was the way it nails the Superman character. May people cried foul at Man of Steel for not having him saving enough people, but this movie takes all of that criticism and builds on it. It shows us a man willing to be a hero, even when he’s rejected. Superman tells Lois, “This is my world” and he is willing to give his life for it, even if the people of it shun, hate or despise him, he’s going to be the hero they need. He lovingly plays out John 15:13, giving his life not only for his friends but for the world, even those that hate him and by doing so fulfilling his father Jor-El’s words, “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” And the people do, starting with Batman and Wonder Woman.

Batman was the best Batman I have seen on screen, from the costume, to the movement, to the way in which he seemed to have stepped right out of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. What made him so compelling was his need to be brought back into the light and that it was Clark that showed him the way. He was reminded of his humanity by an alien. It’s a powerful message of hope in the darkness and the need of someone to show the lost the way.

Wonder Woman was wonderful. DC was right to bring her into this film and introduce her to the world before she gets her own film in 2017. Gal Gadot was phenomenal and some of the biggest cheers in the theater were when she shows up in the costume to help lay waste to Doomsday. Honestly love everything about her.

Conclusion

This movie is a comic book on screen. It is fun too, do not let the reviews out there fool you, there were moments I was cheering and having a blast. I like that the plotting of Lex throughout the film brings all of the heroes together in the end, as well as sets up the need for the Justice League to form. I thought that Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was a refreshing take on a well known character. He brought a manic malevolence to the performance that set him apart from other Luthors we have seen. I also enjoyed the final climax to the movie as the three heroes try to find a way to defeat Doomsday and not destroy another city. The movie is not perfect, but I like is immensely and cannot wait to see it again as well as Zach Snyder’s Director’s Cut on blu ray. This is 4 and a half stars out of 5 for me.

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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Review

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterThere are Spoilers in this review.

2013 was a massive year for the Star Wars franchise as George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for four billion dollars. Yet the biggest surprise from the deal was the announcement of more Star Wars films in the Skywalker Saga, meaning the long rumored sequel trilogy would finally come to fruition. Since that time, fans have excitedly and trepidatiously awaited December 17th, 2015 for Episode VII. Anticipation built throughout the year as the movie’s coming was heralded by soup cans and action figures alike. The film’s release has seen a maelstrom of emotion from fans and critics as The Force Awakens has become the best reviewed Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back, but the question is, “Is it really that good?”.

Themes and Story

As I have gotten older, one of the joys has been the realization that the Star Wars saga is about more than just good and evil, it was George Lucas’ way of giving a history lesson about freedom. The Original Trilogy was about how freedom is won back from a dictatorship, the Prequel Trilogy was about how freedom is lost as bureaucracy and corruption undermine a democracy and now the Sequel Trilogy looks to be just as timely.

It has been thirty years since the Return of the Jedi and the galaxy has seen the end of the Empire and the beginning of the New Republic. As the Republic has taken hold and a new generation has been brought up in relative peace, the idea of vigilance against evil has gone out of fashion. The Republic keeps it’s fleet close to home and the loss of the Jedi to Luke’s nephew’s turn to the dark side has left the galaxy vulnerable. It has given rise to the First Order, a regime even more fanatical and bent on completing the failed mission of Darth Vader and the Emperor, bringing “order” back to the universe.

The New Republic, unwilling to acknowledge the threat of the First Order, secretly sponsors the creation of the Resistance, lead by Leia, while publicly denouncing them. Leia is a child of war, understanding the price of freedom and is willing to sacrifice again for it’s continuation. Unfortunately there is resistance to seeing the First Order as more than a phantom menace in the senate and the correlation could not be clearer to the situation we face in the real world with ISIS, which has challenged the entire western world yet certain world leaders refuse to acknowledge the full threat.

starkiller base scifidriveAnother correlating theme is that of recognizing evil and facing it. Maz Kanata, the thousand year old bartender says to Rey and Finn, “The only fight: against the dark side. Through the ages, I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order. Their shadow is spreading across the galaxy. We must face them. Fight them. All of us.” She sees the First Order for what it is and calls it out, it is evil and it must be apposed. What a timely message. We live in a world that is unwilling to call out evil for what it is and confront it, but Maz is absolutely correct that it must be named and fought. In this way, The Force Awakens proudly upholds the tradition that George Lucas began in A New Hope.

Pacing 

As wonderful as the themes are in the story, they are not all completely fleshed out in the film. To get the full picture one must dive into The Force Awakens novelization, Before the Awakening or the Visual Dictionary to get everything I mentioned above. Director J.J. Abrams has made a Star Wars film that is truly faster and more intense. It flies at a breakneck speed and barely slows down to let the character breathe. Unfortunately this leads to some scenes that would have fleshed out the political landscape as well as the motivations of the villains on the cutting room floor. Honestly, it seems like an over-reaction to the Prequel Trilogy and it’s frustrating since the politics here are a crucial story point and resonant theme for the times in which we live. It’s still the thing I have the biggest issue with in the movie.

Cyclical Nature 

Star Wars has always referenced and mirrored itself as Lucas would use themes and motifs in both trilogies to create the saga’s tapestry. As this new trilogy beginnings it’s clear that the same thing is happening, yet it’s not as well done as before. Regrettably The Force Awakens is much more than a homage or layer of the tapestry, it is a remake of A New Hope. Plot points line up almost perfectly as you think about each film and exact beats from Star Wars are repeated in The Force Awakens. Frustratingly this means that there is absolutely nothing surprising in the new movie, if you have seen A New Hope then you will pick up on exactly where this story is going including the death of a major character as well as the use of yet, another super weapon. The movie is clearly more worried about appeasing fanboys than truly inspiring the next generation of fans.

Characters

rey__bb_8_star_wars_the_force_awakens-HDThe true salvation for this film is the casting. Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren are all phenomenal. They are the key to the success of this film as they immediately bring you into the story and it’s their performances that cover a multitude of cinema sins. By the end of the movie you will care about each of them and be so invested as to what will happen, you’ll be wishing Episode VIII was next month.

Alongside the new characters there are old favorites that have returned, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew are all back. Ford has not been this engaging on screen in years and it seems he is firmly invested in doing justice to Solo, especially in light of his character’s demise near the end of the film. Carrie Fisher brings an understated grace to Leia which is a relief to anyone that’s seen her on the talk show circuit and Hamill has little more than a cameo, whetting the appetite of fans to know exactly what happened to Luke Skywalker.

Interestingly for me, it’s not the old characters or their stories that captivated me, it was the new. Sadly the meta knowledge of Ford’s desires for the Han character robbed me of the emotional impact it was suppose to have. The film’s adherence to the formula of A New Hope and The Phantom Menace where the old, wise character meets their end does the same since you can see his death coming for miles. There is also something that just does not seem earned in Han’s death, story wise it makes sense for the character of Han and Kylo, but it’s just lacking something for me personally. I find myself much more invested in the character of Rey and where she will go next. Daisy Ridley has cemented herself as a star with this performance which is good news for the rest of this trilogy.

Real Sets, Practical Effects

11895123_1007878895930378_4624932683842585912_oThis has been the mantra of this movie since it’s inception. It’s a dig at the Prequel trilogy even though Abrams has praised the fact that without Lucas’ breaking every rule in his work on the Prequels, the new trilogy would not have been possible. Where this idea works best is in the character of BB-8. The result is astounding. I challenge anyone not to fall in love with this new droid and struggle to not name him their favorite as credits role. The way in which the onset effect and the sound effects work to create a fully realized character is incredible.

Where it did not work as well is with some of the creature design. The Happabore that drinks next to Finn on Jakku looks like a character from a Disneyland ride and the luggabeast that Teedo rides, lumbers at the pace of a desert turtle, making it the most impractical mount ever. In both places CGI would have been more effective in my opinion and more “real”.

With all of the incessant chatter about the practical effects, one of the best new characters in the film is CGI. Maz Kanata is an outstanding achievement in character design in the same way Gollum was in The Lord of the Rings. You truly feel like the character is on screen with Harrison Ford and it’ll leave you longing to know more about her history.

Strangely the CGI work at the end of the film is not as sharp as one would expect. The X-Wing battle above Starkiller base seems like an afterthought and looks muddled. The editing lacks the Lucas clarity in the geography of the setting and it’s one of the clearest examples of the magic he brought to the films truly lacking.

Another important piece that is missing from this new movie is the addition of exciting new ship designs. All the ships here are just variations on Star Destroyers, Tie Fighters and X-Wings and the new ships like Ren’s shuttle or the Resistance transport are either forgettable or just plain awful.

Sadly, there are also no fun alien cameos in the movie. Abrams seems preoccupied with creating new alien designs, which is fun but the lack of anything familiar in this area is a regrettable lack of connective tissue to the rest of the saga.

Conclusion

This is not the best Star Wars movie, that honor still belongs to The Empire Strikes Back, but it is a better one than I initially thought. It has some problems in the pacing, lack of clarity in the story and themes as well as a death that still leaves me numb. Furthermore, the movie lacks a score that is as strong as John Williams other work in the saga. There are a few nice cues and Rey’s Theme by far the strongest new musical motif, but you won’t find yourself humming anything as you did with the Imperial March, Duel of Fates or the Forrest Battle.

Seeing the movie four times has helped me to overcome a lot of the problems I still see and the performances of the new cast have me sold on this new trilogy. I would recommend seeing the movie more than once, since the first time can be a little jarring with it’s fast-paced nature and important story points almost glossed over because of it.  I’d give the movie 3.75 lost lightsabers out of 5.

Be sure to check out The 602 Club’s episode on the film, you won’t want to miss it!

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