Saturday, December 30, 2017

Some very interesting analysis of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Spoilers.)

This analysis might be really interesting even for those who haven't seen the movie, because it is a love story:

In regard to this, I think that there is much going on in the film that is deeper than what appears on the surface.

Some of the die hard fans hate the movie, but that is because it did not conform to their expectations.  It seems like everything in the movie was deliberately designed to be different than what people were expecting.   The Last Jedi 2nd Viewing Big Realization


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

This will be my final review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, having seen it for a second time.  It is the middle film of the third Star Wars trilogy.  This trilogy, along with some anthology films, are being made because Disney bought LucasFilm in 2012.

There is something special about seeing these movies a second time, because generally what happens is that any flaws that might exist become less noticeable or at least easier to ignore.  In addition, you notice new things with each viewing.  This was definitely true for watching Star Wars:  The Force Awakens, which had a few problems, not the least of which was that the story was somewhat a remake of the original Star Wars film, and the movie is so stingy in providing the audience with information that it made it feel like it was full of plot holes.  The other major complaint was that the main character, Rey, was so talented in everything that it made her feel like a "Mary Sue", which is a character that is so perfect in everything that the character becomes annoying or unbelievable.  However, especially on my third viewing of the film, I began to understand Star Wars:  The Force Awakens better and really appreciate what they were trying to do, even if it did have a few flaws.

Whereas Star Wars:  The Force Awakens in many ways copies the original film, A New Hope, the new movie contains some elements similar to both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  Having already copied many things from the entire first trilogy, the next movie might have to do something completely different.

After seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi two weeks ago, I watched videos on youtube everyday where people complain about different aspects of this film.  A large number of people actually hate this movie, but these are usually the die hard fans who feel the movie strayed too far from its roots by slightly changing the Star Wars mythology.  Plus the new film, like its predecessor, still has some plot holes.  Furthermore, even though people were counting on it to fill in information missing from the previous movie, it only provides enough information so that audience can follow along.  There are questions that we may never get an answer to, such as the origin of Snoke, although it has been hinted that some of these questions may be answered in upcoming Star Wars books, which is an annoyingly clever form of marketing by Disney and Lucasfilm to get you to buy books.

There were three other major complaints about this film.  The first is in the way the character Luke Skywalker is handled, because he is no longer a hero.  After experiencing a major setback, Luke abandons his friends, the rebellion, the Jedi Order, and The Force.  Even the actor Mark Hamill repeatedly complained about this.  The second complaint is that many people feel like the movie is hitting us over the head with Social Justice Warrior messages, which seems pretty obvious when watching it.  The third complaint is that movie has too many moments of levity.  It is not a comedy, but it really pushes the humor, most of which works, but some of it falls flat.

There has been a kind of backlash.  The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score is 91%, down from an initial 93%, but the audience score is only 52%.  That's a huge difference between critics and audience, although there has been some debate on how accurate the audience score is on Rotten Tomatoes.  More importantly, ticket sales are way down.

Given all the negativity, I about convinced myself Star Wars: The Last Jedi might not be worth a second viewing, despite feeling thoroughly entertained and emotionally moved the first time around.  I was worried that the flaws would stick out too much.

I have never been so happy to be wrong.  Sure the film has a few flaws, as many movies do, but the second time around is still very entertaining and emotionally moving.  This drowns out any plot holes, political agendas being pushed, or confusion the movie has caused the audience about the characters.

The one thing that the film does well is defy all audience expectations, and that makes it more entertaining.  At one point Luke says to Rey, "This is not going to go the way you think."  Well, that describes the entire movie, which is maybe why some people have a problem with it.  To some extent it breaks the mold of what a Star Wars movie could or should be, but the result is kind of special.  It is also rich in texture; I noticed way more things on the second viewing.  There is so much that happens that goes by very quickly.

The movie is a fitting send off for the late Carrie Fisher.  Although she does not have a ton of screen time, it is enough, and her performance is more interesting than in the previous movie.  Her daughter, Billie Lourd, also has a more active role in this film.  The end credits have this dedication:

In loving memory of our princess,
Carrie Fisher.

The movie could have ended one minute sooner than it did, but the final scene is like a bonus, involving a young boy we saw earlier in the movie.  This scene is magical, but you can see the Disney influence in it.

Although Star Wars: The Last Jedi may stray a little from its Star Wars roots, every time it quickly returns to it roots making it feel like a pretty good Star Wars film.  As a die hard Star Wars fan, the movie very much appeals to me, but it seems also to have been designed to appeal to a much wider audience, and not just the Star Wars fanatics.  As such, it is a very entertaining movie, but there are some noticeable flaws.  For this reason I can't give it four stars.

Rating:  3.5 out of 4.

P.S.  Both times the audience applauded at the end of the film.  That tells you something.

The Politics of (the Politics of) "the Last Jedi"

Monday, December 25, 2017

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Re: Last Jedi political messaging

On Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 11:12 AM, utahtrout wrote:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi' leans into political fray

But the latest movie, "The Last Jedi," appears to lean into the political fray, from its egalitarian message to a more specific critique of callous plutocrats.

More pointedly, the mission undertaken by Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) leads them to a planet where the ultra-rich congregate at what amounts to an intergalactic casino. Moreover, it's noted that most of those one-percenters earned their money from war profiteering -- selling weapons to the First Order and Rebels alike -- while subjugating and exploiting those around them.

The pair's escape also weaves in an animal-rights theme, as the two rebels liberate a creature used for a kind of horseracing entertainment. The beast eventually wanders off free, regaining its natural state.

There's obvious irony in a money-making enterprise like "Star Wars" -- fattening the coffers of the Disney empire -- decrying capitalism run amok. Yet even if that's a minor, peripheral element in a fantasy set in a long-ago, far-away galaxy, rather than being reluctantly drawn into such debates, "The Last Jedi" signals its willingness to at least be part of the conversation by addressing issues in the here and now.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

If you want to see my spoiler free review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, look here.  Otherwise, expect plenty of spoilers.

If you look at some of the youtube reaction, it is clear that a great many people hate this movie.  These are the die hard Star Wars fans who are more than likely older and feel an attachment to the existing Star Wars mythology.  The reason why all these people hate the movie is pretty much the same:  The movie throws away the old mythology and replaces it with a slightly different version.  In fact, that is the theme of the film, because in a least of couple of places the movie says, "Let the past die.  Kill it if you have to."  We can see this in the first Luke Skywalker scene where he symbolically and humorously discards the past like it has no meaning.  

Whereas the movie should be the continuation of the hero's journey, Luke's journey, what we see instead is a disenchanted Luke who has abandoned his friends, their cause, the Force, and the Jedi Order.  No wonder some people hate this movie!

I have seen multiple people claim that Star Wars: The Last Jedi kills Star Wars.  I disagree for reasons I give below.

These same people who have problems with the movie have also noticed that the new trilogy is an outlet for Social Justice Warriors.  All the bad guys are inept white males.  The leaders of the rebellion are all women, and the lead male characters make mistakes, get into trouble and have to be corrected by the females.  In fact, when the producers cast The Force Awakens they stated they were making an effort to not cast white males, as if Star Wars needs some form of Affirmative Action.  For example, Oscar Isaac who plays Poe Dameron is Hispanic.  We can see the social justice theme in several places in the movie, since the resistance is described as "the voice of the downtrodden" and the planet of Canto Bight is described as a playground for the rich who just happen to be mostly white and war profiteers.  Meanwhile on Canto Bight, the stables for the Fathier, which are like space horses, are maintained by child laborers, apparently slaves, who are clearly oppressed but secretly yearn to side with the rebellion. 

Whereas the old movies had a clear moral distinction between an evil empire and freedom loving rebels, the new movies blur those distinctions a bit.  It has become more of a struggle for the oppressed against the rich and powerful.  Snoke, who is suppose to be the ultimate bad guy, was described in the prerelease publicity as rich and powerful and flashy in the way that he liked to dress adorning himself with jewelry.  He was also supposed to have a connection to the playground of the rich world of Canto Bight.  In Star Wars: Rogue One, Saw Gerrera is a terrorist with parallels to Che Guevara.  So who exactly are the Rebels?  Political leftists?  What cause are they really fighting for?

There is a lack of continuity with the old films in that being powerful with the Force required some sort of heritage, such the Skywalker lineage.  Many people thought that Rey would be Luke's daughter, or the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi or somehow related to Leia or Palpatine.  Instead we are told that she is literally nobody; her parents were junk dealers who sold her into slavery for a pittance.  But here emerges a new theme, which is that anyone can become powerful with the Force, regardless of heritage or lack of training.   In fact, the new trilogy seems to think that training is not important.  Luke doesn't train Rey, except to tell her why he thinks the Jedi cause must end.  So despite her lack of training, Rey is able to leave Luke and go off and do powerful things.

Whereas the Star Wars movies were supposed to be all about the Skywalkers, as Kathleen Kennedy head of Lucasfilm has acknowledged, this film pretty much kills that idea.  The producers have painted themselves into a corner, especially with the death of Carrie Fischer, but the goal seems to be to continue only with the new characters.

There are things in the movie that don't seem logically consistent to me.  The previous films established rules on how the Force works, or how the space ships worked and how their propulsion worked.  This film establishes new rules.  For example, if you can destroy a battle cruiser with a kamikaze run then why haven't we seen that before?  And why does a human have to do it when we know that droids can fly ships?  Fuel has never been an issue before, but here it becomes a major plot point.  And why can't the First Order ships catch up to the rebellion ships at sub light speeds, when their star ships are capable of going faster than light?

People expected this movie to provide them with more information, like filling in the back story on many of the characters, but the movie is stingy with its information and only gives us enough to allow us to follow along.

Character development suffers a little because the movie has too many characters, but it is good enough.  

The good news is that despite the film having a different vision, it is still a vision worth following.  Every time the movie would deviate from its Star Wars legacy in any way, it would quickly go back to its Star Wars roots, which is enough to keep a fan like me happy.  The movie is exceptionally entertaining, mainly because Lucasfilm and Disney tried to cram too much stuff into it.  They throw in a great deal of humor, almost too much, but it works by making the movie that much more fun.  Although Star Wars The Last Jedi is not a perfect Star Wars movie, it is nearly perfect as a movie because it thoroughly entertains the audience.

I'm not going to give it a final rating until I can see it again.  My gut feeling is * * * 1/2, but it feels like an improvement over The Force Awakens.

Friday, December 15, 2017

​Things that DIDN'T HAPPEN or weren't expounded upon in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

There were a ton of theories and supposed leaks about what was going to be in the movie. Here are a few.

1. Snoke was really Darth Plagueis, Jar Jar Binks, Leia Organa, or Donald Trump. Actually, the movie doesn't explain who Snoke is, although I have heard that the comics give some of his back story.

2. Luke tells Rey that she is his father. This would have been an ironic twist, but the supposed leak was that she is the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker. The story went that "The Chosen One" reincarnates and Rey was the reincarnation.

I was hoping desperately that this would not be the case, because it would have been one of the corniest lines in all of Star Wars.

There were so many incorrect leaks from supposedly reliable sources, that I suspect that Lucasfilm might have been disseminating false information to throw off all the leakers. This one sounds like an April Fool's joke.

Some of the later trailers seemed to have been cut in a way to deliberately mislead about certain plot elements. However, many observant fans quickly figured this out.

3. Luke tells Rey that there is so much more to the Force than the Jedi way. This actually was in the first trailer, but I don't recall hearing it into the movie, just as The Force Awakens and Rogue One have scenes in their trailers that didn't make it into the movies. Often trailers are released before the final editing of the movies are completed.

This lead to the popular theory that Luke was a "Gray Jedi", which is to say both light and dark. The concept of a "Gray" has been explored in other Star Wars media.

4. Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren visit Acho-To and do battle with Luke. He quickly dispatches the Knights of Ren with a new "push" force power, and then does battle with Kylo Ren.

There are people who claimed that they saw this scene being filmed. It is possible that the scene was filmed, but not used.

In the original films, there were several scenes that were filmed that were also not used.

The first cut of the movie was a whopping three hours long and had to be trimmed down to 2.5 hours, which still makes it the longest Star Wars movie.

5. Either Anakin Skywalker, or Darth Vader, or both, appear as a force ghost.

There were sources claiming that the actor Hayden Christensen was seen on the set of The Last Jedi. Likewise, Hayden Christensen came out of hiding to make public appearances where he claimed that Star Wars was still part of his life.

This could still happen in the next film.

6. As part of a test, Rey has to go underwater to fight a sea monster.

Again, people claimed that they saw this scene being filmed.

7. I'm not convinced that we know the truth yet about Rey's parents. Kylo Ren could have been lying, but on the other hand I thought Darth Vader was lying too.

In an interview, Adam Driver actually referred to Rey as a princess in hiding pretending to be a nobody. This confused a great many people, but some thought that this might be deliberate misinformation, and others thought that Adam Driver was speaking figuratively.

There was nothing in this film to indicate that this might be true. Still could happen, but it doesn't seem likely based upon what we have seen so far.

Daisy Ridley claimed that Rey's parents were obvious to her after filming The Force Awakens and thought that everybody would figure it out, but that doesn't appear to be so obvious from what we have seen in the movies.

The shuttle that leaves a young Rey behind on Jakku looks so much like Luke's shuttle in some of the comics. There were many things that made people think that Luke was Rey's father, but in the movie he doesn't seem to know who she is.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Here is my preliminary spoiler free review of  Star Wars: The Last Jedi, having just seen it.

This is the Star Wars movie you're looking for.  It is thoroughly entertaining.  However, Star Wars is more than just entertainment; it is also modern mythology.  People take Star Wars very seriously, especially hard core fans like myself. My review of The Force Awakens said that it feels like an imperfect imitation of a Star Wars movie, like they mostly got it right, but not quite.  I could say the same thing about The Last Jedi.  It deviates from previous Star Wars movies in so many ways, but every time it quickly returns to its Star Wars roots so that you feel like you are watching a real Star Wars movie.

Almost every scene in this movie has some form of levity, so much so that the film overdoes it, but not to the point that it turns the movie into a farce.  You can see an influence of The Guardians of the Galaxy, but not to the point that it becomes a comedy.  The prequels, by comparison, seem uptight.

There are things that happen in this movie that seem impossible, or over the top and possibly illogical, but not so much that it ruins the movie.

If you compare this to The Empire Strikes Back, the character development is not as good, but it is good enough.  One reason for this is that there are too many characters.  The action sequences, like many modern movies, are a little overdone, but again this doesn't ruin the movie.  On both these points I think that Rogue One is better with its more human story.

If you watched all the trailers and listened to the rumors, then you are probably already aware of most of the major plot points.  But the movie relies on a few plot twists in an apparent attempt to surprise the audience as much as possible.

The ending is very good and made me a believer.

The final scene has a definite Disney influence to it.  I found the scene touching, but I felt like I was watching a Disney movie as much as I was watching a Star Wars film.  It also breaks with the Star Wars tradition of having no dialog in the final scene.

Disney has too much money riding on this movie for it to turn out a failure.  With merchandising and everything else, billions of dollars are at stake.  I think that Disney and Lucasfilm tried to hedge their bet by putting so much stuff in the movie that even though it may feel busy and not 100% faithful to the Star Wars franchise, the audience is bound to find it entertaining.  And it is.  As such, the die hard fans might have a few problems with it, but almost everybody is going to walk away from this movie feeling entertained and emotionally moved.  It is Star Wars for a new generation.

I'm not going to give it a rating until I can see it again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Vanishing

The Vanishing is a 1988 French-Dutch psychological thriller about a man, Rex Hofman, obsessed over the disappearance of his girlfriend at a rest stop while they were on a trip together to go cycling in France.  The director, George Sluizer, also did a 1993 English language remake starring Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, and Sandra Bullock, but despite the big names, that version got terrible reviews.  The original has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is why I chose to watch this version.

Much of the movie creates tension in not knowing what happened.  Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu looks sufficiently creepy to be the villain, Raymond Lemorne, although the movie spends too much time showing us his private life where he seems perfectly normal.  In the third act, Raymond confronts Rex and tells him that he will reveal what happened to his girlfriend provided that they go on a trip together.
This is where I have a problem with the story, because nobody in their right mind would get in a car with a sociopath.  However, Rex is desperate to know what happened and reluctantly agrees to go.  From this point on I think that the movie fails to follow any kind of real world logic, but the suspense and the performance of the actors makes it worth watching.  

About two thirds of the film is told from the perspective of Rex and remainder is shown from the perspective of Raymond.  This gives the film an interesting structure where their meeting seems inevitable.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

I had high expectations for Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the 35 year old Blade Runner.  The early reviews were great and it achieved an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  I went out of my way to see the movie, but I am going to tell you now to save your money and either rent it, or wait for it to get to a discount theater.  About half way through the film I was still waiting to find out what the point was, and about two thirds of the way through I concluded that it had no point.  I thought that maybe we would get something stunning in the last act, but the plot is very thin.  The movie instead chooses to impresses us with its visuals, none of which are that much different than the first film.  In fact, many of the scenes are murky, with dusty desolate landscapes.  There are also a couple of confusing plot points that didn't quite make sense to me.

The first movie had a definite point to it.  If you could engineer biological beings close to human but not quite human, where do you draw the line between what is human and what is not?  What has rights and what doesn't?  What is real and what is not, which is the point of the original novel?  In both films the 'replicants' are used as slaves and have no rights, but in the sequel there is hardly any difference between the replicants and the humans.

It makes little sense to me to have a future world that uses biological beings as slaves, because in the real world we are probably only 10 to 20 years away from having intelligent robots that could do any sort of labor.

The only point of Blade Runner 2049 is that replicants are planning to revolt, which presumably will take place in the next sequel.  As such, it feels like half a movie because there is not that much story here, so there is plenty of room in the picture to include a revolt.  I should also point out that a revolt by artificial beings is not that original; the TV show Dark Matter has a subplot about this, and we have seen it in Star Trek at least a couple of times, and it is the central point of both Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Blade Runner 2049 fails to capture the spirit that made the original Blade Runner magical.  The main character, played by Ryan Gosling, displays mostly only one emotion, which is brooding. 

 There is enough eye candy and barely enough story to make the movie worth seeing, but I wouldn't want to spend $10 to see it.  If you are willing to wait, you can spend a couple of bucks to rent it or catch it at a discount theater.

The film uses nudity to the point of overdoing it.  Seeing 40 foot tall naked holograms on the street might make sense from a science fiction perspective, but it is just filler to distract us from the lack of a great story.

Rating:  * * 3/4.

P.S.  I conjecture that the movie is not called "Blade Runner 2048" because there is a popular smartphone game called "2048."  Personally, I don't like any title that includes a date because it will quickly become obsolete, like "Space 1999", "Death Race 2000", and "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Thursday, October 5, 2017

American Made

American Made is a semi-fictionalized version of the life of Barry Seal.  I say fictionalized, because in the movie Seal is an airline pilot who is using his job to smuggle cuban cigars to the United States from a supplier.  He is then approached by the CIA to take aerial photographs of communist insurgents in Central America.  Later he is told to smuggle weapons to the anti-communists.  However, drug lords pressure him, possibly at the threat of death, to smuggle cocaine to the United States.  So Mr. Seal ends up with quite a profitable business, transporting 'goods' in both directions.

In real life, Seal was a drug smuggler from the outset, who also got fired from his airline job for smuggling explosives, to which he escaped conviction on a technicality.  The producers of the film admit that they took liberties with the truth, and this might make for a more likable main character, but I am bothered by any movie that claims to show historical events, but then distorts those events for entertainment purposes.  

Seal's life did not end well, because he turned informant against the drug cartels and was murdered.  Here the movie shows us the truth, but the ending made me feel disappointed.  It might have been better to have a completely fictional character with a more entertaining ending.

Another place where the movie plays loose with the facts is that it shows a speech by Ronald Reagan, where the president shows the American people a picture of drug lords that also has Seal in the photograph.  In the movie, this is how the drug lords knew that Seal betrayed them, so they sent hitmen after him.  In reality, Reagan showed the picture after Seal was already dead.

Despite all my objections, the movie is fun to watch.   It portrays Seal as someone who starts out fairly innocent, but gets pulled deeper and deeper into more and more dangerous territory.  As such, he really is a fictional character.

Tom Cruise as Seal doesn't have his usual movie star persona, but seems more like an ordinary guy who is also a little redneck.  I don't know if this is intentional, or if Cruise has lost some of his charm.

Rating:  * * * 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Solaris, a 1972 film by the acclaimed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, is in effect the Soviet Union's answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Although not nearly as grand in its vision, Solaris received high praise from critics, with a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  However, the first hour or so is a real snooze fest.  The first 45 minutes, which you wouldn't miss much if you skipped altogether, involve the main character, Kris, spending a day at his parents house before blasting off into space to venture out to the planet Solaris.  He doesn't have the best relationship with his parents, which creates some tension.  The movie even wastes 5 minutes showing Kris driving his car through a Soviet style city, during which absolutely nothing happens.  The pacing is way too slow.  I set the DVD playback to 50% faster than normal to get through the early parts of the film, which made it feel okay.

After 45 minutes the movie begins in earnest.  Kris arrives at the space station orbiting the the planet Solaris.  Where the planet is, and how long it takes to get there, and by what means, we are never told.  We see a brief shot of a 70's style space capsule and that is all.  Kris finds the space station in disarray and the 2 surviving cosmonauts who are behaving eccentrically.  One cosmonaut refuses to see him, hiding what appears to be a child in his cabin.  The other tells Kris that he should rest and warns him that not everything he will see is real.  Kris, a psychologist, begins to investigate the recent suicide of a 3rd cosmonaut, who apparently killed himself because he was seeing things.
We are told that the planet Solaris is mostly covered by an ocean, which the scientists have concluded is a giant brain.  They have made some attempts to communicate with the brain by beaming radiation at it.

Given all the things that happened up to this point, we are not too surprised when Kris's long dead wife, Hari, shows up in his cabin.  Neither is Kris.  He is maybe a little frightened by this, but he is accepting of his new 'visitor'.  However, he panics at one point and tries to get rid of her by stuffing her into a rocket and blasting her off into space.  (The special effect of the rocket is cheesy,  and I guess the space station must have plenty of rockets to spare, since he wasted one in this way. )  However, Hari mysteriously returns.

Hari is not a hallucination.  She is flesh and blood.  At first she may seem a little alien, but over time becomes more human.  She acknowledges her humanity, like it is a new experience.  However, she comes to realize that she is not the original Hari, who committed suicide because her husband Kris was always cold toward her.  Kris seems determined to not make the same mistake twice, and showers Hari with love and affection.  However, Hari realizes that she cannot return to Earth with her husband, because she is tied to the planet Solaris somehow, and kills herself again, but in a manner that is not clear.  Kris finds her body frozen, but then he sees her thaw and return to life.

All these experiences cause Kris to soften from the cold hard scientist that he was.  The movie asks a few philosophical questions about what makes us human, and whether life is worth living and has purpose?  The movie concludes that love is what gives life purpose and defines our humanity.

When all the 'visitors', and there are more than one, disappear from the station, the crew are puzzled as to what it was that really happened to them?  The final scene shows a more emotional Kris returning to his parent's house and embracing his estranged father, but the scene pans back to show that it is taking place on a small island on Solaris, and therefore is not real.

One cosmonaut philosophizes that humans aren't really looking for aliens, but reflections of themselves.

This is a difficult movie to rate, because much of it is slow and moody.  It looks cheaply made. However, there is some artistry to it.  The last 90 minutes I found pretty intriguing, but the film overall is dated and not completely likeable.  Part of what makes the movie interesting is to get a historical perspective on Russian filmmaking by listening to the commentary on the DVD.

There are things on the space station that seem way out of place for a science fiction movie, like the fact that the characters smoke and drink, and a library with books, wood paneling, burning candles, and expensive works of art.  That's exactly what you would want on a space station.

Rating:  * * 1/2

There is a 2002 American remake, starring George Clooney, that got mixed to positive reviews.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness has a couple of flaws, the first of which is that the story feels drawn out unnecessarily.  The second is in the way that the movie portrays a stereotypical evil corporate defense contractor, which is completely unrealistic, and even has a slight James Bond villain feel to it.  But despite the film's flaws, the last 20 minutes deliver in a big way.  Mel Gibson shines as a cop out for revenge for the murder of his daughter.  It is hard to imagine anyone else playing the role with the same kind of intensity.

As the story goes, Detective Thomas Craven (Gibson) witnesses his daughter's murder, and becomes obsessed with finding the killer.  The trail leads him to her place of work, which is a corporate military contractor that is up to some shenanigans.  It seems that his daughter was going to blow the whistle on the company.

There are a few scenes where Craven imagines talking to his dead daughter, as if he might be losing his mind.  This turns into a key plot point, and is important to the final scene of the movie, which at first I found emotionally moving.  However, afterwards, I felt like the final scene was a little corny.

When I saw the actor Danny Huston, I recognized him from the cable series Magic City.  In that series he plays a gangster, who is as close to the human equivalent of the devil that a human can get.  In Edge of Darkness he is just the evil head of a corporation, and unlike his television counterpart, he at times shows that he has human weaknesses.  His presence in the movie, along with the intense performance by Mel Gibson, uplifts the film and saves it from a negative review.

There was a time when Mel Gibson would play in top grossing films and command top salary, but he made some personal mistakes, and Hollywood is not that forgiving.  Here he is playing in what is essentially a B movie.  It is a second tier film that just barely manages to be good enough to make it worth watching.  

Rating:  * * *

Edge of Darkness has a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  My favorite movie critic, Richard Roeper, gives it three stars.  The late Roger Ebert gave it two and a half stars

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Lightsaber Theory

There is likely a connection with the lightsaber to all the scenes in the forceback, but we can't really discern Rey's parentage from that.  I think that it is highly likely that Rey is a Skywalker for 3 reasons:  1.  Star Wars is the story of Skywalkers.  2. Who is Luke talking to in the first The Force Awakens teaser trailer when he says "The Force is strong in my family, my father has it, I have it, my sister has it, you have that power too"?  (​​)   3. Near the the release date of The Force Awakens there was an officially commissioned painting of Rey that had the caption "Rey Skywalker", which maybe later was changed.  BTW, on the day of the release of The Force Awakens, the wikipedia page referred to her as "Rey Skywalker", but "Skywalker" was removed the next day.  Did they know something we didn't, or were they just guessing?


​P.S.  Marina Sirtus on Star Trek The Next Generation:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Diamonds are Forever

I decided that I would catch some James Bond films I had not seen before, although it turns out I had previously seen a small portion of Diamonds are Forever on cable TV.  Rolling Stone ranked the movie as #18 out of 24 Bond films, and I can see why.  This is an immensely absurd story, even for James Bond, about an overly convoluted diamond smuggling ring, where the diamonds are destined for a killer satellite in space.  About half the movie takes place in Las Vegas, which seems to serve no other purpose than to drag the movie out while promoting Las Vegas.

The characters of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are a pair of assassins, apparently inept at their job, who are clearly a gay couple.  This seems kind of daring for 1971.  They are always making humorous quips, and their presence makes the movie more interesting.

Diamonds are Forever was received somewhat favorably in 1971.  It has a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Roger Ebert gave it a favorable review.  The movie has several interesting things that happen, and compared to other films in 1971, it might have been above average.  However, today it feels so dated and so absurd that it would make a decent Austin Powers parody.  With the right attitude one can enjoy the movie because there is some value to seeing old James Bond films to get a historical perspective, and despite the silliness of the film, Sean Connery has a screen presence that makes you want to keep watching.

Rating:  * * 1/2

Friday, August 25, 2017

Logan Lucky

Two redneck brothers from West Virginia, both with disabilities, one with a limp from a football injury, and the other missing an arm after serving in Iraq, decide to stick it to the system by pulling off the heist of the century at a Nascar race.

Logan Lucky is one of the most clever comedies to come along in recent years.  It also makes a good drama.  Although the characters are a little over the top with their country redneck accents, they feel as real as your neighbors.  Even the ending manages to touch your heart in a very sweet way.  This is a very smart comedy about dumb characters, who might not be so dumb after all.

Daniel Craig, former James Bond, is very convincing as a redneck bomb expert, and so are Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as the two brothers.

Rating:  * * * *

Logan Lucky is destined to become a classic.  It is rated PG-13 for crude language.

Friday, August 11, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

When the nothing special 2001 remake of The Planet of the Apes came out, Salt Lake City radio talk show host Tom Barberry had this to say:  "This last weekend I went to see a movie.  There were apes in it.  That's good enough for me."  That must have been the attitude of the people who made War for the Planet of the Apes.  It is good enough to watch, but it lacks the greatness of the two previous films, so it falls way below my expectations.  What the two previous films have are great characters combined with great story.  The third film in the trilogy feels more like a standard war film or a standard post apocalyptic thriller.  If you substituted humans for apes in this film, the story wouldn't be that different.  None of characters really drew me in, and the movie touches on several themes without really excelling at any of them.

However, there is enough in the movie to make it worth watching.  We are introduced to a couple of new characters, one human and one chimp, both who have special characteristics.  The virus that made apes smart, mutates and starts making some humans mute.   And the villain is an army colonel, played by Woody Harrelson, who is intent on wiping out all the apes.  His character is the most interesting in the movie, because from his perspective he is being completely logical; he is fighting for the survival of his species.

The ending gives us a Deus ex machina followed by an anticlimactic finish. 

Given the this is the third movie in a trilogy, one might think that this is the finale film, but it really feels like they are setting us up for a sequel.  All the events that have happened so far could lead up to the events that took place in the original Planet of the Apes film, and it seems like they are trying to stay loyal to the original story.

One detail in all three movies that is not very believable is that the forests of northern California are not the same as tropical jungles that apes would need to live in to survive.  Apes depend upon a diet heavy in fruit and the films never address how the apes sustain themselves.

Rating:  * * *

Friday, July 21, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a visionary science fiction film based upon a visionary 1970's comic book of the same name.  Beneath all the eye candy and rich atmosphere is an action plot that is about average, but there is so much going on that the movie might deserve a second viewing.

The two main stars, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, seem too young for their parts.  They look like teenagers.  They are not particularly charismatic and their acting ability is nothing exceptional.  Had the movie been made 25 years ago, it would have been perfect for Harrison Ford and Angelina Jolie.

So why only the 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes?  My favorite movie critic, Richard Roeper, calls it a bizarre and bloated and clunky pop sci-fi epic.  Actually, sometimes that is enough.  This is a visually stunning film that has much in it that is worth seeing.  Overall, it feels like an interesting movie that didn't quite live up to its full potential.  For this reason, I think that some critics are too hard on it.  It deserves more credit than that.  If it had just a little better story and slightly better actors, it could have been another Star Wars.

Some John Williams music would have been nice too.

I fell in love with these three little alien con artists:

Rating:  * * * 1/4.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cars 3

The first Cars film had sentimental magic to it, and the second film had a certain comic charm by focusing on Tow Mater, but Cars 3 has really nothing new to add.  That's my problem with it; it feels recycled.  It tries to recapture some of the spirit of the first film, but it is predictable and just passable as entertainment.

I like the plot element of an aging Lightning McQueen trying regain his Mojo after being shown up by a younger, faster and more cocky rookie.  He tries to get some professional training to get back into shape.  The film takes a left turn half way through when we find out that his female trainer is a racing wannabe who never got the chance to compete.  This reminded me just a little of Jessie in Toy Story II lamenting over what she had lost.  The difference is that Jessie's song had everybody in tears, but here the story is barely interesting. This leads to a plot twist at the end, where guess what?  She does get her chance to race.

Rocky this isn't.  The story is interesting enough, but in no way special, and seems too familiar.  I expected more from Pixar. 

Rating:  * * 1/2.

Monday, July 3, 2017


Moonlight is the story of a gay black child, Chiron, growing up under the most difficult of circumstances, and his transition to adulthood.  It won "Best Picture" at the Academy Awards.

To me the story seems very thin and kind of depressing.  The movie is about personalities.  The ending is anticlimactic and leaves us hanging, but it is about people coming to terms with each other.  As such the entertainment value isn't extraordinary, but our hearts ache for the people having to struggle in a bad environment.  That makes the movie an "issue" film, and the Academy Awards loves issue films.  It is also a movie that we are not likely to forget any time soon.

The portrayals of blacks in this film are mostly unfavorable with the exception of a couple of good characters.

Another "issue" film that won best picture was Midnight Cowboy in 1969.  What the two films have in common are slow moving stories and controversial topics.  Now, Midnight Cowboy seems dated and barely qualifies as entertainment.  I am wondering how Moonlight will seem to us a couple of decades from now?

Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for what is probably his best role yet as a drug dealer who takes Chiron under his wing.  In his previous roles he was always a little too understated.

Rating:  * * * 1/2.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wonder Woman

Production for a Wonder Woman movie started in 1995, and it went through several rewrites, and several potential directors, including The Avengers Josh Whedon, who left the project because of creative differences.  After 22 years, the final product is very good, and probably about as good as they could make it, although it seems to me that the source material detracts from the overall effect.

Diana is one of many Amazon women living on the island of Themyscira, who were created by the gods to protect the world from Ares, the god of war.  When Steve Trevor crashes his plane near the island, Diana rescues him from drowning.  He tells her that the entire world is engaged in a war.  She thinks that Ares must be responsible for this conflagration, so she leaves the island with Trevor to look for Ares with the intention of killing him.

Once off the island, Diana is at first a fish out of water, until she gets a chance to fight alongside the Allies during World War I, where in a key scene she suddenly takes charge.  Much of this doesn't seem very believable, but it is a superhero movie, so we make allowances.

Although this is part of the Wonder Woman story, the original comic book takes place during World War II.  Why change the story?  I think because Trevor is looking to destroy a German weapon of mass destruction, which is a new type of poison gas.  Therefore, it would be hard to have any kind of moral clarity when talking about weapons of mass destruction during World War II, because the country that actually developed a weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, was the United States.

Diana kills many enemy soldiers, mostly in the defense of herself or others.  However, I have a problem with all this killing, because I figure that superheroes are normally above this kind of thing.  This makes the movie feel like just a war film at first, until the end where we get a battle between gods.

Prior to the release of the movie, there were some special screenings just for women, as if the film makes some sort of feminist statement because Diana is a very strong feminine character.  However, I don't think that the outfits worn by the Amazon women, which I am sure are designed to attract a male audience, are particularly empowering to women.

At one point Diana makes an observation that Trevor treats his secretary like a slave.  My initial thought that this was a criticism of employment in general, and then I realized that this is a feminist statement about women being subservient to men.  This comment is treated in a light hearted fashion, showing Dianna's naiveté, because Trevor's secretary seems to be very happy with her employment.  So the film sends a confusing message.

Gal Godat and Chris Pine are both fantastic as the two leads.  I think that Chris Pine, who plays a young James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot films, looks here more like a young Captain Kirk than he ever has

Rating:  * * * 1/2.

Monday, April 10, 2017


About 5,000 years ago, indigenous people from Taiwan sailed to, and settled islands off of southeast Asia.  They must have been good sailors and good navigators, because they spent a couple thousand years spreading their population to a thousand islands in the vast south and central Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii.  These are the Polynesian people.  It is their history that the movie Moana understands and pays tribute to.

According to Joseph Campbell, hero mythology everywhere has certain traits in common, such as:  The protagonist is young and goes on a journey, is taught by an elderly wise man or wizard, has a vision, faces great danger, fails, sometimes dies and is resurrected, returns to battle, is finally victorious and returns home a hero or a king.  Sometimes the protagonist is a demigod, such as Hercules.  For example, George Lucas was inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell when he created the hero character of Luke Skywalker.

The movie Moana is based on Polynesian Mythology, and follows the above narrative very closely.  Moana is the daughter of the chief on the island Montunui.  She feels herself drawn to the sea, but her father has forbidden her to venture out to the sea because it is dangerous.  She has been told legends about how the demigod Maui stole, and lost, a small pounamu stone that is the mystical heart of the island goddess, Te Fiti.  Because of this theft, a blight is spreading to all the islands.  The sea gives the pounamu stone to Moana, and her elderly grandmother tells Moana that she is "the chosen one" to find Maui, and force him to return the stone to Te Fiti.  Then Moana disobeys her father and goes on a quest to find Maui.

Visually, the movie looks fantastic.  However, the story seems a little familiar.  There are several songs that are instantly forgettable.  The movie does not excel as entertainment, but it is enjoyable enough.  Some of the action sequences are quite exciting.

The movie is still playing at discount theaters and was released on DVD March 7th.

Rating:  * * *