Not So Quick Review of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

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When I like a film, I find it difficult to say much with these posts.

I just want to say: “Go watch it. Have a good time.”

I like this film.

But this film is a bit different than the usual.

And it’s not just because it’s a Star Wars film.

And it’s also not because it’s the long-awaited conclusion to the new Star Wars trilogy after a controversial second film (The Last Jedi) that left many wondering if there could be a decent ending at all to the new saga.

But if you’re a fan of Star Wars, I’ll cut to the chase and highly recommend you to go watch the film to have a fun time.

7.5/10

There. That’s the score I would give… if you’re a Star Wars fan (yes, that’s indeed a foreshadowing) for just a fun time.

Just make it through the first 20 minutes or so. As I’ll discuss a bit later, the first act of the film is a mess and absolutely boggles one’s mind how it made past the editing and the test audience. Perhaps it’s due to the unexpected passing of Carrie Fisher but it unfortunately still doesn’t change the fact that the first act of the film is chaos.

And if you’re not the biggest fan of Star Wars? You’re probably safe waiting to see the film whenever it’s convenient for you.

This film may be difficult to really appreciate or sit through at times for even the casual fans of Star Wars.

Something about the film will feel off. As a Star Wars film and as a film in general.

Most of the payoffs of watching this film feels like they were intended for the more fervent fans of the franchise and felt like many elements of it were concocted purposefully for those avid fans who were really upset with how the new trilogy developed.

But those fan services made me feel… dirty and cheap. Like I just ate a bag of chips from the gas station as my dinner even though I had stuff in the fridge for a proper meal.

I feel full and satisfied but I hate myself for it. I enjoyed the gluttonous devouring of the cheaply fried thinly sliced suds… but I’m pretty sure I had a USDA prime steak in the fridge.

So.

Before I ramble on too much longer…

5.25 / 10

If you’re not the biggest fan of Star Wars.

It’s a fun summer action film during winter. It’s flashy, a bit dumb, and a lot of fun. But it’s also not without some glaring flaws and unapologetically tries to mend those flaws and gaps with fan services.

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The Rise of Skywalker’s writing coach

Alright.

That was the quick version of the review for those of you who are not interested in the more nitty-gritty thoughts I had of the film.

Most of these thoughts were thoughts I jotted down as soon as I walked out of the movie theater with my date who subsequently suffered from me sharing these thoughts for the next half-an-hour until she escaped. But she may or may not have received a phone call so that I could continue talking to her about Star Wars at 1 am.

When there are problems with a film, I feel like there are certain moments within the film that captures the problems like a metaphor. It’s the spirit of those flaws that echoes through the hours until the end credits begin to roll.

With this film, there were three such moments.

1. The Lightsaber Came Back The Very Next Day Scene

2. The Necklace Heist

3. The Rise of the Fan Service



SPOILER ALERT FROM HERE ON



The Lightsaber Came Back The Very Next Day Scene

“That’s the weirdest crawl for a Star Wars film that I’ve ever seen.”

…Was the first thought that crossed my mind as soon as the familiar theme’s bombastic fanfare blasted through the IMAX speakers and the golden texts, as-in-tradition, begin to scroll across the stars.

It’s not just the odd wording in the first couple of sentences but the entire spirit of it that felt like it was against the grain of the usual Star Wars crawl.

Why did the crawl tell us about Palpatine’s voicemail being sent out across the galaxy instead of the film showing us it? With all the resources they had, did they really not figure out a way to actually fit that into the film?

The title of this section comes from the first few minutes of the film where we are reintroduced to our protagonist, Rey. After some mishaps during her Jedi training, Rey finds herself lacking the merit the carry the lightsaber passed onto her by the late legendary Jedi, Luke Skywalker.

She gives up the saber and hands it over to General Leia. It feels like a significant and an emotional moment where it’s telling the audience that we will see Rey receive the saber when she’s “earned it.” There’s a definite sense of character arc developing with the saber.

But just a minute or two later, the saber is tossed back to Rey as if she’s suddenly earned it because the situation called for it. There’s a real-life like awkwardness in their air akin to The Office.

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Basically, Leia handing the saber back to Rey after Rey’s little speech about needing time to earn the saber.

As the audience, there’s a jarring feeling of something went wrong.

Either they had to make last-minute changes or didn’t really have time to polish up the script. Whatever happened, it resulted with a plot with what seemed like a lot of throw-away, lazy, and thoughtless plot points.

Many moments like the “saber being returned” are peppered throughout the film and especially concentrated within the first act of the film.

Characters like Zorii and Jannah feel like they’re just plot progression devices or plot padding devices.

There doesn’t feel like there’s a real meaning behind Kylo putting on the mask again (contrast to the short but poignant scene he had in getting rid of it) other than to sell toys.

Han Solo reappearing feels cheap and non-sensical and he, himself, has to explain why and how he’s showing up.

How did Palpatine develop such a massive army out of nowhere?

How does he have such a huge following without anyone noticing for decades?

Why were Rey’s parents not subjected to becoming new vessels?

How did Leia know of Rey’s origins and why didn’t she say anything?

When did the Force start to become magic solutions to every problem? (more on that later)

Why would you inscribe directions onto a dagger? Why make a custom dagger?

Oh, the little droid happened to have the coordinates to the mystery planet?

One of the few validly poignant scenes of C3PO choosing to have his memory wiped for his friends end up meaning nothing as nothing meaningful was really lost. What was the point of that little venture other than to cheaply invoke something from the audience?

Just like Chewbacca “dying” only to relieve us from that loss just minutes later. At least draw it out so that little ‘prank’ of sort towards the audience doesn’t mean completely frivolous.

And Palpatine being the final villain of the trilogy also feels like another symptom of either lazy or desperate writing that didn’t really care to develop anything. A clone Darth Vader would have made more sense and would have had a more build-up with the last two films than Palpatine.

Have Kylo Ren face the clone Vader only to be guided to light by ghost Anakin.

Or have Kylo Ren be thwarted in some sense by clone Vader when realizes that Vader isn’t what he thought he was.

Also, while we’re on the subject of Palpatine…

…Why didn’t he just conquer the galaxy first and then find Rey/Kylo later when his army is obviously so overwhelmingly large that it threatens the entire galaxy?

Why warn the galaxy at all before using a fleet of planet busters?

Didn’t we need a planet-size facility before to do that by the way? Literally just a year or two ago?

From a writing perspective isn’t a fleet of planet busters just way harder to believe than a planet being carved into a weapon without anyone noticing?

Am I really resorted to comparing what breaks the sense of believability between a planet being carved into a weapon and fleet of starships that are each capable of destroying planets that went under the radar?

Why did he need First Order again?

How did he afford to pay for all this? The Final Order has even more confounding logistics problems within the story than the First Order did… given that it seemed all those small country-sized ships were fully staffed.

Does Palpatine enjoy getting electrocuted?

Why not just stop shooting lighting bolts for a moment and come up with something else real quick? Push her away?

Did he not learn from the first time when he got his face all burnt off?

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At least in the first incident, he had few excuses for why he had to keep using those lightning blasts that were ripping off his own flesh.

But against Rey, it just seemed like he can recover fingers but not his brain cells. She was so far away, he had so much power, and he could have done so many other things like—”Hey, thousands of you chanting. Pick up a rock or something and throw it at her.”

Also. Why revive yourself with the same scars? For the scare factor?

The power creep of the Force that happened with this film also makes you question how did the Jedis get wiped out in the first place?

If Palpatine can just zap space ships left and right with his full power does he really even need an armada?

All these things. All these choices made with the writing. Just makes one wonder… are we stupid? Do they think we’re stupid? Is it both?

The can of worms that’s been unleashed by having the Force users be so powerful… hell everything being so powerful makes me wonder how the future Star Wars films will deal with… anything.

Everything feels played out. How do we ever genuinely feel that our Force using protagonists are in danger other than them being grossly incompetent or just because the plot wanted them to be?

The Necklace Heist

Look. I understand we’re talking about a franchise here that made its bones by having a young man shoot 90 degrees turning proton torpedos into a tiny hole of a death machine that’s size of a star via channeling a magical doopitydoo guided by a ghost of his dead old neighbor.

(Oh, WOW. Is that why the Death Star is called a Death Star?)

Empire PR Team: “And we want to call it what sir?”

Emperor Palpatine: “The Death Star. It’s a bit on the nose but… but it feels right.”

Empire PR Team:

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Even then, there are still rules to the fantasy that the story laid out for the audience so that we understand when up is up, down is down, problems are real problems, and which dangers are real dangers.

The title of this chapter comes from the scene where Rey and Kylo are doing their Force telepathy Skype chat and Kylo manages to essentially reach across the screen and grab Rey’s necklace.

This changes everything about the Star Wars universe.

Even Kylo gave a little shrug to his foes near the climax of the film when he pulled out a lightsaber out of thin air thanks to Rey… which allowed him to decimate his enemies and save himself from the life-or-death situation.

Look, this isn’t just me nerding out about some lore discrepancies within Star Wars. Though, again, there is something to be said about suddenly changing the rules established within an established universe. It almost feels like the writers are cheating to get out of problems.

There are generally two camps of dealing with magic when it comes to fantasy in writing.

  1. There’s no system to it. Magic is magic. The story will use it as it sees fit.
  2. There are established rules and systems behind the magic.

The former is Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. He waves his staff, bright light, and boom— The problem is solved.

The latter is what’s more popular these days where the readers are generally made clear how the magic works and what the limitations of it are within the story’s universe.

The former makes magic unpredictable and often a cheat code for characters to get out of sticky situations. Unless done well, it cheapens the experience for the audience as any build-up of conflict is always at risk of vaporizing into bubbles by the shake of a magic wand.

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That’s not butter. It’s magic.

The latter makes magic easier to measure and gives the audience a way of holding the story accountable. It makes conflicts feel like conflicts in fantasy and even when magic is used to solve them, if done right, the solution feels earned.

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For some modern reference, that’s what Smart Hulk’s role essentially was in Avengers : Endgame. Giving some rules to establish some order for the lore behind Infinity Stones and the time travel so the audience can understand what the goals were and how they were achievable and what conditions would cause the heroes to fail. All that works together to create suspense in the story.

Star Wars, within the films at least, was always generally leaning towards the systematic magic where at least it seemed certain limitations were established.

George Lucas, the creator of original Star Wars, made it very clear that the force users were tempered and grounded to reality as much as they could be while still being magic knights with laser swords— even when other iterations of the franchise often took the magical elements dialed up to eleven.

It kept the films suspenseful as it kept our heroes feel vulnerable and more human than not.

But now?

We got time and space bending telepathy and object transportation.

Force users holding rocket ships in the air and destroying a fleet of them with lightning bolts out of their fingers.

Sucking the life out of one another to cure mortal wounds and amputations.

Where do we go from here?

Not only did the power creep feel jarring for long-time fans but using the sudden change of rules to solve the major conflicts developed through not only this film but the past two films felt… distasteful.

It also just creates problems of its own as mentioned in the previous section where the audience can’t help but ask the question of, “If you can/had [x] then why did / didn’t you [y]”.

To cover these moments, whether it be from good intentions or just thinking the viewers are idiots who’ll salivate over things like Chewbacca finally receiving a medal, the movie didn’t hesitate to just senselessly shove in fan service whenever and wherever it damn could.

Kind of like a Christmas special episode of TV programs where old characters and celebrities from different shows come out of nowhere for no good reason just to make you go feel good about your nerdy self that you understand the references and your getting your nostalgia massaged in all the right places.

The Rise of the Fan Service

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I’m going to put that image up again.

Because it just fits.

Let’s talk about the Chewbacca scene mentioned earlier.

I’m sure many of you felt elated or maybe even cheered out loud when our favorite Wookie received his overdue medal.

It happened so quick and so out of the blue with such a vague reason for happening at that moment that probably by now you start to understand why some of the people in the theater might have been bewildered that the nerds were cheering over that small moment.

And when you think about it a bit more you’ll be left with the profound sentiment of:

“What the fxxx?”

It’s a powerful and universal feeling that your subconscious has finally begun to grasp what you’ve processed somewhere in the back of your mind. Let the initial bang and awe wash away. And let the logic and reason sink in.

That medal scene was so nonsensical and executed for such cheap thrills, that I feel icky that I started the domino of claps in my theater.

It’s like I spread herpes through the room and forgot to put on a proverbial condom on over my nerd excitement to prevent letting it think instead of using my head.

Let me put this way.

If you really cared about Chewie never receiving a medal before… is it really okay that he received what could be a random piece of replica, from a random person, as he’s just getting out of his ship?

Or would it have been more appropriate if it was at least a bit more formal and a bit more ceremonial?

The scene meant nothing but to serve as a (insert various sexual acts) to please the long-time fans… but by them being satisfied by it also means they’re just utterly stupid.

It’s like we’re monkeys who are just happy to receive a banana being thrown our way without wondering why we’re even getting the banana. The context doesn’t matter (we’re strapped onto a metal table) and the consequence doesn’t matter (the banana was to calm us down before our cranium is cut open and rods are shoved into our brains).

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Did y’all catch his cameo?

And I don’t mean that for just that one moment. I mean it for most of the fanservice.

It feels like a lot of the fanservice is an aftereffect of the previous film, The Last Jedi. Sort of a “here’s a bone” move after complaints people had of the previous film and the new trilogy without actually solving much of anything.

The plot of The Rise of Skywalker is painfully predictable even to the death of Kylo not because the plot itself had nowhere to go but to be simple, but because it felt like a lazy and safe attempt to appease the fans to ensure that Star Wars remains a valuable IP for Disney.

At least, in that sense, The Last Jedi tried something new and attempted a direction that took courage. The Rise of Skywalker, on the other hand, threw in the towel, committed as big of damage to the lore as The Last Jedi, and just twerked its glittery fanservice ass in front of us hoping that we won’t notice or won’t care.

In many ways, Palpatine being the final villain and Snoke being his little test tube baby feels like the ultimate fan service for the new trilogy. And a great demonstration of how much this film lacked in courage and lacked in respect for the previous stories… even the just last one.

There may be split opinion regarding The Last Jedi, but nevertheless, the film happened. It established that the new baddie for the trilogy, Snoke, was at the end a nobody.

Fans complained.

Instead of sticking to their guns and sticking by their work, this film decided to just completely toss aside any value to Snoke and his identity of being just a random evil guy by turning him into a Palpatine’s lab rat. It’s not covering for what could be the mistakes of The Last Jedi, rather, making the whole experience of the new trilogy feel like a joke. Like nothing matters.

Was it so hard to keep Snoke a nobody and still develop a better transition to having Palpatine as the grand villain?

Couldn’t it have been as simple as Snoke was somehow keeping the weakened Palpatine at bay and now that he’s gone Palpatine was able to rise?

And what was the point of “Dark Rey” other than to mislead the viewers in the trailer, giving them a little peek of “what if” costume change for Rey and a new lightsaber toy for the kids nerds? There was no substance to her appearance at all. It didn’t develop into anything and the way it was presented wasn’t particularly thoughtful in regards to the narrative they were trying to build.

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I am a commercial disguised as a spiritual journey. Many young girls, nerds, and pervs will buy my merchandise.

That’s it isn’t it?

The biggest problem with the fan service is that not only does it highlight a lot of the film’s lack of substance but they also act as a vacuum for whatever substance is left.

And just on that note…

..Why did Kylo/Ben die at the end?

It feels so lazy and cliche.

I was secretly hoping that the movie would surprise me and keep him alive. Send him to jail. Come up with a mature and complex plotline that leaves the audience guessing how Rey and Ben will continue their love.

All that bullshit with Force mumbojumbo to fix all of their difficult conflicts and they still chose a cliche way to answer the question: “What now for Ben Solo?”

Final Thoughts

There are so many more things I could talk about.

Regarding how awkward it feels that the fruition of our journey was Rey becoming the new Skywalker.

Regarding other aspects during the film where it felt too strongly that J. J. Abrams cared even less about Star Wars and more about doing whatever he wants as a filmmaker compared to Rian Johson. And how his stance feels like, “It’s just a dumb movie. Get over it. Here’s some fanservice that you can suckle on to keep quiet.”

Regarding how the word “inconsistent and careless” can be applied in so many different ways to the new trilogy.

And finally, regarding what the new trilogy may mean for the future.

The new trilogy overall reminded me of a lot of the second half of the second season of Twin Peaks.

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There’s probably also a series of blog posts that can be written about the sheer brilliance and the utter disappointments that are packaged in this little show.

To those unfamiliar with the series, it was David Lynch’s TV series in the 90s that was a mix of an investigative crime thriller, paranormal, and a good dose of odd beat humor.

It was a global phenomenon with still a huge cult following that produced a feature film, a few books, and a third season by popular demand that released in 2017—nearly 30 years after the original series ended with its two seasons.

But during what should have been its legendary first two seasons, it’s tarnished by the odd second half of the second season when David Lynch left the series for a while to pursue other projects.

It’s universally panned and took a lot of power away from series. For the fans of Twin Peaks it’s an interesting experience to watch those episodes because they obviously understood what made Lynch’s formula for the show so entertaining, powerful, and popular… but they could never really capture the essence of it.

It’s like a cheap cologne or a fast-food burger.

The new trilogy never really felt like Star Wars to me after The Force Awakens. Each one of them felt like imitations and vessels for new creatives to do whatever they want to make names for themselves by using the name of the franchise.

As problematic the prequels by George Lucas were, there was still a sense of cohesiveness and innate understanding and care for the Star Wars universe.

The prequels at least built and organically expanded the lore of Star Wars instead of becoming pickled and shriveled into itself.

And whether the new creators like it or not, Star Wars is much bigger than any of them, bigger than almost all of the other modern film franchises, and its massive reach is a legacy of its own.

Not even the Marvel Cinematic Universe is at the level of Star Wars until it can demonstrate that it can also survive and thrive after 50 years.

And given that fact, I don’t think it’s unfair to ask the franchise to be treated with a bit more care, thought, and respect.

Even if it’s just a film franchise, it’s a fantasy that’s enjoyed and means something to millions of people across generations.

Let’s grasp that for a moment.

Millions of people, across generations, throughout this little blue planet of ours.

We all enjoy this silly space opera. We all feel something together as we watch it. We’re not just mindless wallets to be opened by studios.

And if we don’t see some inherent and self-evident worth and value to be respected from a franchise like that, then we need to accept that everything that’s just meant for entertainment is also meaningless and pointless. Whether it’s some scribbles on paper, some noise we make through instruments, or throwing balls across fields… they are all pointless.

They only have meaning because we give them meaning.

But there’s a meaning to the fact that we humans decided to give those things meaning.

Art and Entertainment are what ultimately make humans—humans. And it is also what makes their experience in life beyond the capacity of what should have been. Beyond the limits what only could have been.

We are more and we can do more because we imagined it so.

Our ability to think kept us alive and our ability to dream kept us free.

So, I hope if they make Star Wars again, I hope they’ll do it with a bit more love and at least a bit more respect for those who love it and have loved it.

If they don’t, that’s just a message being sent to the millions of fans that their time and devotion are only worth the amount of cash they can bring in.

Anyways.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10 or 5.25 / 10. Depending on how much you like Star Wars.

As mentioned, if you’re a fan of the Star Wars franchise, this is a no-brainer. Just turn off your brain and go watch it. Have fun. At least we got an acceptable ending.



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a Quick Movie Review : Joker

Alright. Here we go. Just saw the film and going to jot some thoughts down (note: though I’m finally posting this about a month after writing this).

No editor.

One time viewing.

Yes SPOILER ALERT

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There’s a dance to the film, Joker.

Get it? Those of you who’ve seen the film?

A dance?

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Was that parallel a bit obnoxious?

That ultimately, even though you “get it”, the decisions made still feel a bit derivative and slightly awkward?

It’s as if I’m self-aware but not self-aware enough to see the big picture of what I’m doing.  Not able to see truly outside of myself.

And, obviously, that’s essentially what the movie felt like to me.

It reminded me of that ice cream shop in town.

They had weird flavors like pickle and jalapeno.

The idea was that they had goofy flavors.

The result was that they closed in a year.

So the question becomes clear:

What flavor did JOKER want to be?

As an acting piece for Joaquin Phoenix, it’s wonderful.

As a character piece as a film, it’s alright. But because it’s still ultimately tied to a comic book character, it ends up feeling forced and cheesy because it’s inevitably trying to explain and establish a well-known character.

There was an elegant dance that Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of the Joker character did that this film couldn’t. There was an understanding of give-and-take in Nolan’s vision and also an understanding of the film he was creating (and also a better understanding of the character and the appeals of the character. But that’s for another time).  There was a sense of relief to the breath of fresh air that Nolan’s writing brought that this film did quite the opposite of.

It shoved down my throat it’s own “cleverness” behind the “purposefully” blatant imagery and narrative until I chocked on it and died.

It believed that it exculpated itself by being self-evident that it’s the audience’s job to get the film.

We got it just fine. But it’s as if you imagined your highly promoted rated R rating was going to only be viewed by a bunch of ninth graders.

That Looney Tunes like ending was just the kick in my liver even though the film was, with all intent and purpose, going for my nuts. And as I’m groaning in pain on the ground—puking—the film didn’t even know why that kick worked. And it doesn’t care. It’s just happy that it did. It has faith that my nuts are right around my ribcage.

The thing is, even if we understand why we’re given every explanation for every quirk this famous comic book character has, that doesn’t mean it’s any less cliche or felt any less lazy and ridiculous.

Oh, he has a mental condition so he’s forced to laugh. I got it. 

Oh, he had a terrible parent and childhood. Of course, what self-respecting villain doesn’t. Check.

Oh, everything went wrong for him with his life choices until he became the villain. Right. Manifest that destiny, my friend. Check.

Ah, the whole plot seeming almost comically tragic is the point. How clever. That’s the joke. As if the tone of the film was any different, it’d be a black comedy.

WE GOT IT. HA.

But dare I say that the actual joke is that the film might have been cleverer, braver, and just better had it just gone strictly that route of being a comedy instead? Turn the whole film into a Wes Anderson-esque film or a Coen Brothers-esque film as if we’re experiencing the world as this mad man is experiencing it.

Just let us actually laugh and feel terrible about it.

When the tone of the film expects us to take it seriously, it forces us to observe it and take it in with a lens and stomach fitting that tone. So the at times beyond non-sensical and lazy plot points feel less justified and feel more half-assed.

And that feeling has a poignant exclamation near the end of the film when Joker, the character, himself doesn’t seem to know what the hell he is.

Is he a tragic man haunted by the demons beyond his control?

Or is he suddenly a political representation of an oppressed economic class in our society?

Why did that become a thing? Why was that necessary?

You were doing so well of carrying on your various plot points with some consistency. That was one decent thing you were doing in your writing.

Sure. The whole economic inequality and social turbulence serve as a backdrop but the whole character of Joker felt like he was developing into someone who was a victim of it but not really part of its evolution nor revolution—at least not by choice.

He was developing as someone whose madness and downfall into darkness was a machination of his own inner chaos. That the poverty was just one of many items on the long, screwed up list of what made his life go wrong. Especially by the way he seems to see it until that point in the film. Unaware of the greater effect he had on the Gotham’s economic revolt and generally uncaring of the revolution beyond the fact that it put him on the news.

Keeping that would have kept the character of Joker as a self-absorbed mad men who was like a sponge to his own psychosis and that ultimately led to his downfall. Which is what the movie was setting up the whole time.

His rise to becoming the leader of the disgruntled parts of society seemed like it should have been purely coincidental, accidental, and tragically—and unintentionally—opportunistic.

As if he was Forrest Gump who had different kinds of mental problems.

But that gets all thrown out the window in his surprisingly lucid rant about social inequality during his meltdown.

Fine. In some sense, the film could be trying to show us that as the “Joker”, Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) finally got the courage to speak his mind and stand up to/for society. That as the “Joker” he actually sees things clearer.

But that still feels like an injustice to what the narrative was building towards.

And why is anyone in this universe taking Joker/Arthur seriously? How did the film justify that? Y’all were just laughing at this failed comedian days ago, brought him onto a talk show to mock him, and now after he commits a few murders on TV after going on a middle-schooler rant about societal injustice he suddenly inspires enough people to become the defacto figurehead and spark a revolt?

We’re just supposed to go, “yeah that’s how screwed up Gotham is”?

The pill is just too damn big, Morpheus. At least lubricate it first or give us a glass of water.

Again, this is probably due to the tone the film sets for itself that it’s asking for a higher standard from its audience than it’s ready to take on.

At this point, I should mention that I sound like I hated the film but I actually enjoyed a lot of it. The film is not without its merits.

I actually appreciated the poetic nature of Batman being born on the same day as the Joker. They built that up surprisingly well even when Bruce was a very minor character. To those who don’t know what Batman’s origin story is, the scene might have even been more poignant as they could see it as a boy losing his parents instead of seeing it as a famous comic book hero being born.

It was impressive that we got to see the full arc to the story of Thomas Wayne and those who are unfamiliar with the Batman lore could still appreciate the character for what he was in the film.

The way they balanced all the story arcs felt generally quite organic. That part of the writing was generally solid.

Not to mention, as I’m sure everyone has heard by now, there are breathtaking and captivating scenes and cinematography.

And Joaquin Phoenix did what Jared Leto wanted to do. Joaquin’s Joker felt so right as a version of the Joker and yet also added such meaningful flair of his own that his performance was as memorable as Heath Ledger’s performance in Christopher Nolan’s film. Unlike Jared Leto’s performance that felt like a teenager trying to do what he thinks makes the Joker cool and neat.

Leto’s performance felt like a parody of Ledger’s performance.

Phoenix’s performance felt like theater. It just felt like we were witnessing some good-ass acting and we were absorbed by it.

It’s unfortunate that this is another DC film that gets bogged down by not understanding its own tone and by trying to do too much without the finesse to pull it off.

But it’s also the second DC film that felt like a proper film experience (the other being Wonder Woman). However, I realized as I was watching it that I had a different opinion of the film if I was thinking of it as a Batman fan instead of just being a filmgoer. That review will be coming in the near future.

Thanks for reading you beautiful monsters.

Remember to eat your vegetables and Epstein didn’t kill himself.

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7.2 / 10



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Quickie – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

This is a Quickie.

Where I spill my thoughts almost right after seeing a film. Unedited, unresearched, and undeniably a bit lazy.

 

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It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a movie where I was so impressed and fascinated by the characters, the lore, the actors, and… still be so disappointed by it.

The movie is incredibly frustrating because it feels like they had everything to make a great movie except for having a decent screenplay.

In fact, the plot (perhaps also the fault of the director or the editor) was such a mess during the second act and the third act that it completely ruined the film for me because the story just became incoherent.

It’s like a really bad episode of Scooby-Doo with wizards, melodrama, with a hint of daytime soap opera.

Full disclosure:

Am I the biggest fan of Harry Potter?

No. I just grew up with it. Forced to read the first one to learn English. Then enjoyed the rest as I got older with my friends.

But I shouldn’t have to be a Potterhead or even a lore-buff to enjoy a film. And to be frank, I’m not sure how even the most fervent fans could call this a decent movie when they are actually honest with themselves.

There are parts of this movie that are just factually bad. Poor editing, forced exposition, nonsensical plot points, literal plot devices, throwaway fan service characters, and etc.

Maybe the problem was that the movie just wasn’t long enough at little over 2 hours. The movie feels like a supercut of a miniseries. It feels like it never had enough time to fully tell us the story. Characters are underdeveloped… or suddenly overdeveloped. During the third act of the film, there are terrible jump cuts and sequence of events that just makes the movie feels like its riddled with plot holes at best and movie just realizing the mess it’s in and not giving a flying witch’s f@#$ at worst.

That Asian character (I purposefully do not mention her name in kind with how much the film valued her) does nothing but look sad. She just walks around with the aura of teenage-Evanescence-depression and fannnnnserrrrvice.

Y’all thought her turning into a snake was a bad thing?

Y’all too sensitive.

Y’know what I’m offended by? Just badly written characters that end up being an accessory. Accessory to the plot. Accessory to the future plans of the filmmakers and the studio. It’s just a little ironic that she’s an Asian character that feels as if she was added to make the cast even more diverse but as the only real Asian representation, she’s essentially the handbag to the white male.

Again, I don’t think it’s a racial issue but a poor writing issue. And just a bit exasperated by the fact that movie was very much attempting to be diverse and feeling that it’s failing an aspect of that in the most ironic way of deducing a particular race and gender combination to what it tends to be in film and TV.

It’s a bit sad that I have to clarify that.

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Claudia Kim was definitely not wasted at all in this film.

And the worst part of it all?

Again.

I feel like this could have been a spectacular adventure of a film.

The film starts like a modern action flick with Grindelwald bustin’ out.

Grindelwald is a compelling villain at his core. His ideas present some natural questions and problems we all had with the series.

Newt is a great protagonist that also balances well with Grindelwald and the world around him.

I found Jacob and Queenie’s dilemma compelling (and disappointed that after the setup of their plot, the script essentially puts them on autopilot).

But there’s no real pay off to any of this.

And for the great “mystery” the film was building up?

It ends with a “Scooby-Doo” moment where everything just told. With a bunch of super convenient plot devices (some of them literal devices and some of them out of nowhere) that tries to explain overly complicated tangled web of scenarios.

I just…

*sigh*

Look, I was really enjoying the movie for the first 10~15 min of it so it was just that much more disappointing when the rest of it sucked so much.

I give it:

3.5/10

It felt like a screenwriter for films, not TV miniseries or a novelist, should have written this.

A case of perhaps a lawyer who shouldn’t have defended himself. I have no doubts that if Ms. J. K. Rowling could be a fantastic screenwriter eventually as she is an incredible storyteller.

But, for me, undoubtedly, even with all of its other problems, nothing really broke the film as much as the screenplay did.

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Very split about how Dumbledore developed in this film. Jude Law was great.

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Thoughts on Blade Runner 2049

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It’s funny.

There was a thought that I chewed over about a week before seeing Blade Runner 2049 (henceforth, Blade Runner 2).

I was sitting on the toilet and wondered—with enough self-awareness that I may seem like I had a bit of the stinky grass—

“Does your life end when there are no memories left or does it actually end if there are no moments left ahead that’ll be worth remembering?”

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Where great things happen.

That thought was a byproduct of a dream I had the night before.

A dream of arriving at a hotel in the middle of the desert. In the hotel, murky, emerald water slowly rose at a steady pace. And like the few other occupants of this soon-to-be corpse aquarium, a wide-grin stretched across my face. I was so jubilant as the water slowly crept up above my lips sucking in its last breath. And I woke up in serene tranquility and felt enigmatically liberated.

Thinking back, I don’t really remember the transition from my white porcelain thinking chair to the gas station ran by an elderly Russian couple.

Getting gas was an excuse to be there; buying a lotto ticket was the true goal. I was convinced that the dream meant something. Something good. Maybe I wanted the money in some vain attempt at ensuring worthwhile memories in the future.

The urge was a ridiculous conviction probably deriving from my mother who believes in these sorts of superstitions. And as much as I persist away and criticize her for her unjustifiably-believing-in-supernatural-causation ways, I couldn’t help but buy that lotto.

The old man kept telling me, “This is the winning ticket!”

As if he knew of my dream.

“Bring me back just five dollars if you win!”

He kept asking me for that five dollars as I walked out.

It’s not that I thought I’d win—though I thought might. It just that felt like the event of the day that I had to make happen in reality.

Anyways.

If it wasn’t clear, this isn’t a review for the film.

It’s a blotch of my take on a film that made me want to share my thoughts on it enough to dust off this blog. So I’ll just do a quick run-through of the review-y things and move on.

Obviously, there will be spoilers.

Also, I’ve seen the film only once in theaters as I’m writing this piece.

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Score: 7.5/10 

The film is a bit longer than it needs to be. There are moments where subtlety is thrown out the window and the film feels condescending to the intended audience. Or, perhaps, the film wasn’t really certain who the audience was going to be. While all the performances are strong, not all characters ends up being fleshed out. The final act of the film felt too convenient at times. With all that said, Joe (Ryan Gosling) is one of the most well-developed characters I’ve seen in a long while and viewers caring for the character’s ending is the film’s greatest testament to its endeavors.

Do you need to see the previous film?

No. Absolutely not. It’ll add a lot to the experience but the film can completely stand on its own. You don’t need to know who Rachel or Rick Deckard are.

Did I think Joi in the China Dress was gorgeous?

Yes. Of course, I did. We all did, damn it. Why would you ask such a question all of a sudden?

Does the film have the same depth as the first film?

I enjoyed the first film immensely but never thought it had that great of philosophical depth as many of the cult followers would suggest.

However, I thought Blade Runner 2 had much more interesting pieces in play that provided a more substantial conversation for the topic it wanted to explore.

I’ve read some internet chatter that the film is a discussion of the philosophy of identity. Personally, I think that’s a bit off-mark.

The film is more like a simple program sequence to test the philosophy of being human. Each of the main characters is a different variable raising certain questions, and consequently, becoming a case of an anthropomorphic discussion of what it means to be human.

Joe

Joe (Ryan Gosling)

Protagonist for this film is one that I personally found most interesting in recent years. There are many ways the character could have gone wrong. Many ways where the lead character would have kept us bored and frustrated by design.

Joe, aka a serial number he goes by through most of the film that I can’t remember and apparently am too lazy to look up, is supposed to be as emotionless a person could be.  That’s how he was built and if he acts otherwise it’s considered a malfunction and due for termination.

The movie opens up with him killing a fellow replicant with a recognition that he’s taking a life-of-sorts but doing so without an inkling of hesitation. Joe does his job well and with frigidness expected by his masters.

Great, the audience may think. Is he one of those “stoic, aloof, always-too-cool, killing machine” types?

And we’re certainly led to believe that until we see another side of Joe in the scenes that follow afterward.

The film had convinced us at this point that Joe is a badass replicant Blade Runner. But as he walks through his precinct, his fellow human officers are blatantly hostile to Joe. And Joe, unlike the tough killer we’ve seen him with the giant, brawny replicant (Dave Bautista), retracts into being a young boy bullied by his schoolmates.

This is the first step we see the film developing Joe into a human being in the audience’s minds.

In the end, Joe dies. Well, at least I like to believe that he died as it gives the movie the most poetic finish. And the audience cares because the film had successfully convinced us that he was a person. A person who’ve felt something, who’ve lived a life with happiness and pain, and a person the loss of whom was a loss on all of us who’ve gotten to know him.

Joe, in a sense, is an appreciation of a life of being human. A rough and succinct definition of being human.

A replicant near the end of the film tells Joe along the lines of: “Isn’t dying for something the most human thing that you can do?”

They tell him this as they comission Joe to kill Deckard to prevent any chance of having their plans foiled.

But Joe had found something hauntingly more human than the other replicants could ever know. He understood the intimate, selfish, and devastatingly powerful relationship of a parent and a child. A relationship tied by blood and birth of life.

He chose that human relationship over a revolution and ideals of his species. Even after he realized he had only experienced the bond and its definitions artificially.

In other words, to give Deckard and his child a chance to celebrate that relationship, Joe sacrificed everything that he had left of his past, everything that could have been his future, and even his own chance of having a father and being a child.

In some sense, Joe’s appreciation of parent-child relationship probably exceeded that of many humans who take it for granted. Both ways.

 

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Joi (Ana de Armas)

Joi became my favorite character after thinking about the film and the topic at hand.

She’s an A. I. hologram that’s so sophisticated that she fools you into thinking that she’s human.

But isn’t she human?

At what point does an A. I. stop being just lines of codes and pre-programmed responses to having enough of those to be human?

It reminds me of the old Chinese room thought experiment.

To simply put, if you tell a computer to translate a word in Chinese to English or vice-versa, does it actually understand the languages and the definitions it’s translating or is it simply mimicking the ability to understand?

When Joi flirts with Joe, feels intimacy with Joe, asks Joe about his day, does she actually understand what she’s doing or is it something else?

If an A. I. has enough responses, can create enough responses for any particular and peculiar types of situations, does it eventually reach the point of being human?

Or does it still lack the fundamental consciousness, the awareness of understanding the responses, to be considered human?

Before Joi ‘dies’ in the film she tells Joe one of the most powerful, mysterious, and most human phrase one could communicate to another.

“I love you.”

But as her memory stick is crushed under Luv’s (Sylvia Hoeks) feet—effectively killing her—Luv tells devastated Joe, “I hope you’ve enjoyed our product”.

Next time Joe meets Joi is in the city.

She’s not his Joi but an advertisement for other Jois for willing customers. She can be whatever they want her to be.

She was whatever he wanted her to be.

We don’t know what Joe’s thinking as the ad speaks to him. Seeing his once properly dressed wife being offered as almost a sex object for lonely city dwellers.

Maybe he’s regretting ever have fallen for her.

Maybe he’s reconsidering what a relationship even means. A very artificial and invented relationship of the future versus the primal relationship that Joe felt he had when he thought he was a child with a parent and not a product that was born without one. And the camaraderie of a romantic relationship Joe felt with Joi as a real human would with a loved one.

Maybe he’s now just understanding true loneliness.

He and the other customers like him aren’t anything special from the perspective of those who are providing Joi for them. Though to many of them, their Joi would be their one and only Joi.(No pun intended)

Oddly, this does sound awfully similar to how one may view their exes after a break-up.

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I recall a class discussion about a picture of a unicorn. When you think of a picture of a unicorn you’re not thinking of a unicorn but a picture of it. And if you’ve never seen a unicorn in real life, then that’s all a unicorn is to you.

But if a unicorn doesn’t exist—and as far as I know it does not though I wonder what made narwhals so special—does it really matter if that picture is all you have for a unicorn?

Or is our quest to define the unicorn properly, after a certain point, simply our desire to quench the need to be as intricate as possible with our definitions.

Because at the end of the day, what good is a reality if our definitions of it are as blurry and undetermined as that of a dream.

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Niander Wallace (Jared Leto)

Beauty of the character comes from the fact that his shame for being a mere human manifests not necessarily with melodramatic monologues but from his appearance and demeanor.

A man who invented replicants, a superior species in his mind, is a mere human.

To escape from his own mediocrities and failings he augmented his physical attributes with cybernetics and perhaps the insecurity is also a quiet motivation for him to play Jesus for a species that he doesn’t belong to.

His mannerisms are probably the most inhuman of anyone in the film. Though oddly frustrating to watch at times, Wallace was memorable in his own right.

But I’ve mentioned earlier that there are characters that don’t end up being really fleshed out.

This is a big one.

I never felt like he did anything to contribute to the film other than being the mysterious, all-powerful villain. Not to mention my general distaste for characters that I can’t ever imagine functioning in normal social settings. But I guess that’s a bit of an oxymoron to the praises I gave the character just a few lines above.

Niander Wallace is one of those guys you meet at parties who use eloquence and Oxford vocabularies to go on spiels to exude their supposed intelligence but never… really does anything to demonstrate it in a meaningful way.

Since he’s a movie villain he gives his monologues menacingly and hides in bad lighting to be frightening while throwing in a good literal stab here and there to remind the audience that this guy is cold-blooded corporate of the dystopian future personified.

But he feels surprisingly one note and it’s a note of cliche. Like a guy who sings Don’t Stop Believing at a karaoke and is pretending to be ironic about it because he’s so aware how overdone the song is at karaoke.

A human that’s the least human of them all. I wish there could have been a more discussion in the film regarding this character but the film was already almost 3 hours long. So I digress.

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Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford)

The straight man of the film. Almost unnecessary for it to be Deckard but is Deckard to provide us an intimate connection to the first film and for the fans to finally get some answers after all these years.

I only mention Deckard because I was the fan of the first film and he can’t go on unmentioned when discussing Blade Runner 2. Though integral to the central plot of the film, Deckard himself doesn’t really play a big role per say. Deckard could have been replaced with a completely original character and the film would have been no different.

He adds to the discussion of what it means to be human by being the father figure who sacrificed everything to fulfill his duty as a father.

In many ways, Deckard is also the most human character we meet in this world of humans living in urban destitute, humans that simply digressed to their functions, and beings that are up for debate whether or not they’re human.

There’s a lot the film does to connect Deckard to nature. Something closer to what humans once were compared to the world we see portrayed.

He’s found through his connection to a wooden artifact—a rare material in this bleak future.

He has bee farms and raises a dog.

He shows a variety of emotions and connection to history in a very unsubtle ways that unfold in the film.

Also, his daughter is first seen observing a rain forest.

All that and more is what makes Deckard the straight man to the film. The most identifiable character to the audience and perhaps the last bastion of humanity in the dystopian future while ironically also perhaps being the key to the end of it simply by being a father.


There are other explorations in the film that are probably worthy of discussion.

The religious notes, the dystopian future, and why no one else other than Joe seems to drive.

But for me, the main exploration of the film was being human; what it means to be human.

The level of quality of the film dawned upon me actually days after I saw it. I realized it when I found myself having intriguing conversations about the film with my date days after we watched it together. While engaging debates about the film with friends as we had lunch. And even finding myself engaging in fresh discussions with people at my gym.

There’s a lot more I wish I could gush out about the film. Perhaps I wrote this blog after not having written anything in so long because I just wanted to share my thoughts and have even more conversation about it.

Is this a film that was groundbreaking in terms of how it presented its topics? No.

Were there other films that have done it better? As one can infer from above, arguably yes.

But is it a film that’s worth watching and perhaps rewatching? Definitely. Especially for those with a creative itch and an eye candy itch. I’d considerBlade Runner 2 as much of a classic as its predecessor.

By the way, I won nothing from that lotto.

Sorry, old man.

Maybe the next ticket.

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Minor Gripes + Praises

  • ( – ) Maybe I’m getting old but the fonts were small. I get it’s stylish but they were so damn small.
  • ( – ) It’s never established how strong Joe is through the film. The film sort of misleads the audience into believing that Luv was perhaps particularly strong even for Joe’s standards given how surprised Joe seems to be at how she opened the archive door. But as my date pointed out, perhaps he’s just surprised because he expected her to be a mere secretary? But the movie really doesn’t prepare people for the fact that Joe starts running through walls near the 3rd act of the film. Not to mention how he ends up killing Luv seems a bit farfetched given what was established. But perhaps that was a testament to Joe being human and demonstrating the majesty of the human will or something. I don’t know.
  • ( + ) The film has more than simple nods to the previous film in regards to how cleverly it incorporates the world the franchise built in the early 80s into the imagining of the same world in the late 2010s.
  • ( + ) I like how they included a variety of cultures and languages intermixed in this imagining of LA… even if it felt a bit nonsensical at times.  In fact, there are some choices that just seemed nonsensical in general. Like what was up with the sex statues?

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Happy New Year! Quick Review of Movies / TV Series I saw in 2016!

Happy New Year!

2016 is almost over (thank god) and 2017 is right around the corner (for some of you it‘s already 2017)!

I thought it might be fun for me to do a quick & dirty review of all the movies/TV I watched this year! Just a head’s up, not all of them are stuff that came out in 2016.

But before we get started! To celebrate the New Years both of my books are FREE today & tomorrow!

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Black Halo: the Witch & the Guardian (New Adult Contemporary Fantasy Reader’s Favorites called: “… a page-turner full of action and adventure.”)

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Chronicles of the Otherworld (An experimental Dark Fantasy Novella that’ll twist and turn your perceptions for the genre)

With that out of the way, here we go! …Hopefully, I don’t forget any.

Star Wars: Rogue One ( 2.5 / 5) – Inconsistent. Perhaps the one of the most iconic Star Wars scene at the end. Certain questionable dialogue choices. Not sure why they chose to do what they did with the characters as it was unnecessary. Final moments of the movie after the famous Vader scene also makes little sense when we really think about it.

Star Trek Beyond ( 3 / 5) – Not sure about the pacing. Villain made little sense. Action sequences were done better in the previous films.

Captain America: Civil War (3 / 5) – Another fun Marvel film. Winter Soldier was a better film since it at least felt different than the typical formula Marvel films have been following since Iron Man. The moral debate between the two sides is weak and unconvincing. [SPOILER] Weak ending where nothing that matters was lost at the end.

Dr. Strange (2.5 / 5) – Tried to do too much with the first movie. Benedict is likable as Strange. Forgettable villain with convoluted motives. The big baddie at the end is a bit puzzling considering his place in the comics. The end fight itself borders between corny and clever. One of the best post-credit “Marvel teasers.”

Batman v Superman  (2 / 5) – Too scattered. Too inconsistent. Plot doesn’t even make sense within its own logic. Snyder seemed to have pieced together moments instead of creating a film. While the actor was great, how they decided to portray Lex Luther felt like a mistake by the end. MARTHAAA

Finding Dory (3.5 /5) – Very heartfelt as to be expected from Pixar. Bigger emotional punch than Finding Nemo. Jumped the shark a bit at the end.

X-Men Apocalypse ( 2 / 5) – Very meh especially considering how impressive the preceding film was. Nothing groundbreaking, nothing really interesting, Apocalypse was surprisingly a boring villain. Gets pretty cheesy near the end.

Zootopia (4 / 5) – Funny, witty, creative, and I’d love to live in Zootopia. It handled the message it wanted to send well for what it was. Nick Wilde is also a great character.

Hell or High Water (4.5 / 5) – Just watch it. Wonderful neo-western with a compelling story and pacing. One of the most intense and clever standoffs I’ve seen in a western during the final moments of the film.

Sicario (4 / 5) – Just watch it. Especially if you liked Hell or High Water.

Moana (2.5 / 5) Some of the most beautiful visuals I’ve seen in a Disney Film. Best female Disney character to date. A bit Miyazaki-esque. Songs were generally a miss for me. The song by Lin-Manuel Miranda, however, is brilliant. Very weak ending.

Sky Rising ( 2 / 5 ) A bit too in-your-face with metaphors and symbolisms. Lacks certain Magic and nuance that Miyazaki films tend to have. Pacing is too slow. Unnecessary romance that made no sense and wasn’t even biographical. Voice acting by Hideaki Anno was mostly a miss for me.

Swiss Army Man (4 / 5) – Surprisingly thoughtful and touching. Never thought fart & sex jokes can take a movie so far.

Sausage Party (1 / 5) – Dumber than you think it’d be. People will tell you that “it’s just not your type of movie” or “you just didn’t get the jokes” when you tell them you didn’t like it. It sucked. I wanted my money back.

Corner Gas the Movie ( 3 / 5) – If you’re a fan of the show, it just feels like an extended episode… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Caché (4 / 5) – Sometimes a bit too much with the message it wants to send (sometimes too subtle, sometimes too blatant) but it’s one of those films for film students. Masterfully filmed. Each shot has a purpose. Engrossing story.

Winter’s Bone (4.5 / 5) – If anyone wants to see Jennifer Lawrence’s acting chops this is a good film to do it with. Powerful and an organic film. Watch it.

Hail Caesar! (4 / 5) – Coen brothers film for all ages (?). Celebrates film industry while also poking fun at it. Charismatic, colorful, and whimsical.

Penny Dreadful (TV)
S1 : (3.5 / 5) – Promising and refreshing. Someone give Eva Green an award.

S2: (4 / 5) – Awesome though the second half of the season is a bit corny. Someone give Eva Green an award.

S3: (2/5) – This would be 1/5 if it wasn’t for Eva Green and Rory Kinnear. The ending is absolutely atrocious. Build up to the ending is horrendous. Rare moments where I felt my time was wasted starting this series. But, seriously, someone give Eva Green an award.

Fargo (TV)
S1: (5/5) – Tight writing, great pacing, memorable characters. Lester is a fascinating character to watch as he twists and turns through the series. Lorne Malvo is basically Chigurh but that’s not such a bad thing and Fargo brings a brilliant Coen brother feel to the force-of-nature character.

S2: (5/5) – As good as, if not better, than S1 but it’ll definitely depend on the audience. It has more “whimsical” elements to the plot that may turn off some viewers–even the fans of S1. And the vibe of the story is essentially different than the S1 as well. It’s more heartfelt and builds much bigger investment into the characters. Every actor is memorable in their own, unique ways. The dialogues are more subtle and also more profound, insightful, uniquely tailored, and at times even haunting.


I think that’s all?

Anyways…

Best Thing I Watched This Year

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FARGO Season 2

Runner-up: Hell or High Water / Winter’s Bone

Worst Thing I Watched This Year

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Runner-up: Penny Dreadful Season 3


That’s it! Maybe I’ll do books sometime soon as well!

But for now… Happy Holidays! Happy New Year! And I think I speak for all of us when I say…

“PLEASE BE GENTLE WITH US 2017!”

ARAMIRU OUT! 


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