American Gods: First Look

Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, draw your pentagrams, sacrifice your goats, and gather ’round your sabbath bonfires because we got ourselves a show to worship.

Creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have brought us Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Blessed be they.

Creators
Our noble writer, Neil Gaiman, and two randoms.

For those uninitiated in the cult of Gaiman, American Gods is a new TV series based off of Neil Gaiman’s book by the same title.

Gods still roam the earth. Some are big, some are small, some are old, some are new. We start our show with our chief character, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle). At first glance he’s a typical convict. He’s got the shaved head, the permanent scowl, the chiseled body. However, there’s more than meets the eye with this guy. He also appears to be very thoughtful and reserved. He listens more than he talks. His characteristics seem out-of-place with his introduced persona. The show has barely started and it’s already got me asking questions and wondering about the who and how.

Shadow Walk.jpg
Our main man, Shadow Moon. Yes, his mom was a hippie. How clever of you.

He’s set to be released from prison in 5 days. He’s looking forward to seeing his wife who he seems to love dearly. He’s anxious to prove to her that he’s a better man coming out than when he went in. He is terribly anxious something bad’s going to happen, a feeling that might just be enforced by the strange and surreal dreams he’s having. Say what you will about a man, but when you start dreaming of bison with flaming eyes, I draw the line – shit be cray.

 

Flaming Bison
When the acid kicks in.

Enter the rock star. On his way back from prison he has the terrible misfortune of having to sit next to Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). If anyone ever gave Ian McShane the role of the devil it would look something a lot like this. He’s absolute charm, mischief, and entertainment. To say he’s perfect for the role makes “perfect” a poor adjective. He IS the role. He somehow happens to know a lot about Shadow’s personal life, but he keeps the “how” in the dark. He tries to persuade Shadow to work for him, though he’s not really specific about the type of work he has in mind. Shadow doesn’t seem to be too keen, but Mr. Wednesday’s nothing if not persistent, and nothing if he’s not sly. Our TV show takes off from there in a whirl of dynamic dialogue and the unraveling of what seems to be a fantastic world.

Americna-Gods-Odin
Our rock star of the show – Mr. Wednesday, played by the devil himself, Ian McShane.

Now, without giving more of the plot away, I will say this: the show’s got a lot to work with. Not only do we have a talented cast, but we have none other than Neil f’in Gaiman as a writer. We know what happens when TV is written by actual writers. Game of Thrones, anyone?

The idea of ancient deities roaming the modern world and how they come to terms with it is fascinating enough on its own. But more than that, the show looks at the idea of belief itself. What makes a thing real? What is the power of belief? In this day and age, with our rapidly changing world, what things do we believe in?

The visual style of this show caught me a bit by surprise. There’s a few scenes that introduce some visually curious elements and it seems to be an appetizer for what we’re going to get throughout the season. Bright colours, strong contrasts, over exaggerated violence. They set the tone for something vibrant. This strikes me as a show that’s not afraid to take a few risks, and that’s always encouraging. I’ll take something that tries to be bold and new over safe and worn to death any day.

The show snares your interest from episode 1 and has you asking more than a few big questions by the time the episode’s over. Well worth the watch. The stars might have just aligned for Gaiman’s adaptation.

Ghost in the Shell film review [SPOILERS]

 

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It was always going to split opinions. Making a live-action Ghost in the Shell out of a classic anime and casting Scarlett Johansson as the Major made a lot of people, including myself, quite sceptical. I went into the theatre bracing myself for the worst, but by the end of it I found myself breathing a sigh of relief. It certainly wasn’t without flaws, but it wasn’t ruined either. And in the age of terrible remakes and sequels, that’s saying something.

What makes a human, well, a human? This question is at the core of “Ghost in the Shell” and its universe as a whole. Major Mira Killian (played by Johansson)  is a first of her kind: a cyborg with a fully prosthetic body and a human brain. A killing machine created by Hanka Industries and employed by Public Security Section 9, the Major acts as a powerful weapon for the government. As she goes on a hunt for terrorist Kuze, the Major tries to remember the past and understand her own self.

Visually, the film is stunning. It does a great job of capturing an already established environment of Ghost in the Shell and adding its own unique details to it. The CGI is stellar (except for one small moment towards the end), the action sequences are exciting and the specific colour scheme of the cyberpunk genre has been preserved.

ghost-in-the-shell-2

They’ve also done a good job of staying true to the source material. Some scenes and shots that would not only resonate with fans of the original but also impress first-time viewers were recreated as close as they could without directly copying the visuals. Great references, even surprising but completely justified cameos show up in the film, which should evoke a big nod of approval from fans. The soundtrack keeps the pacing even though it doesn’t provide any memorable compositions. However, I was very happy to hear Kenji Kawai’s new take on his masterpiece theme at the end of the film.

Scarlet Johansson does a decent job as the Major. She was never an expressive character to begin with so Johansson’s monotone performance is justified. Another well represented member of Section 9 is Batou, played by Pilou Asbaek.  Batou’s stoic yet caring nature manages to come through in the limited screen time he gets.

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While the Major and Batou carry the film throughout, other members of Section 9 don’t get nearly any screentime at all. I was really interested in seeing Ishikawa, Section 9’s tech and computer expert, yet in the film he barely gets a frame. Togusa, the only fully human character among the unit practically gets two lines. It is Aramaki, though, the chief of Section 9, that I believe is completely misrepresented. His role as a tough leader, unafraid to wield a gun, works within the Hollywood tropes, yet is completely off from what he is in the manga, original films or the tv series. Having him speak Japanese while his team talk English to him and amongst each other also felt quite awkward.

Continuing in the vein of characters who don’t really fit within the narrative is Kuze, the hacker terrorist and the villain of the film. Played by Michael Pitt, Kuze is on the warpath to eliminate all those who have made him neither man nor machine; a broken being. And here is where my problems with the film arise. There are major spoilers coming your way so be careful if you choose to “ghost dive” past this point…

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SPOILERS AHEAD!

Let’s start with Kuze. Kuze is a combination of the Puppet Master from the 1995 film and Hideo Kuze from the second season of the tv series “Stand Alone Complex” (“2nd Gig”). He has Puppet Master’s purpose, which is to seek out the Major and merge with her as the next step in evolution, and Hideo Kuze’s childhood connection to the Major before she became a cyborg. And it’s precisely because he is a combination of those two characters with distinctly different purposes is why he fails at being either. He is a poor character whose motivations are never justified.

Kuze constructs a network, just like the Puppet Master who came from it. And just like the Puppet Master, Kuze asks the Major to join him at the end of the film in the scene that closely resembles the finale of the original. Yet it is never explained why, with Kuze basically saying “so we can be better than them”. The Major rejects by saying “I belong here”, a statement that is also completely unfounded. While wanting to belong to something in the real world (told, once again, through exposition) we never see why the Major would suddenly decide that her place is here and not with someone of her kind.

Cutter, the CEO of Hanka Industries that was responsible for both the Major and Kuze turns bad towards the end of the film for the sake of being bad. And once again, it might work in a conventional Hollywood story, yet sticks out like a sore thumb in a re-imagining of a philosophical masterpiece.

And since we’re on the topic of philosophy, here is the biggest issue of the film: the themes that Ghost in the Shell explores have been lost. Concepts and ideas are never taken far enough. The film beats you over the head with what the “ghost” and the “shell” mean .The meaning of “ghost” is even repeated 3 times within one line of dialogue early on  yet the film does nothing with it. The importance of memories as identification of self fall down the same drain as the idea of the soul. And even though the Puppet Master from the original was sort of present in the film, within Kuze’s character, the Puppet Master’s whole point of being a “living, thinking entity created in a sea of information” did not even get a mention. And the film’s Hollywood ending was a jarring error within a cyberpunk universe.

CONCLUSION

I think it was foolish of anyone to believe the Holywood reimagining of Ghost in the Shell could come close to the original in terms of meaning and significance. However, it more than holds up as an entertaining film and should be viewed as a good introduction its world and cyberpunk genre as a whole. Unfortunately, the big budget spectacle comes with a watered down plot. They tried to combine the original film and  tv series in one and, as a result, the film ends up not being strong in any particular direction. Nonetheless, I believe it succeeds at bringing the world of Ghost in the Shell to the new, wider audience and hopefully would encourage those who have not seen Mamoru Oshi’s 1995 film to… dive in.

Score: 7/10

Justice League: First Peek

Ladies, gents, other such creatures, we got a bit of a treat today. The Comic Con Justice League trailer was recently released. And, well, A-W-E-S-O-M-E.

Poster for Justice League

First things first. I have to fess up. After seeing the last Batman VS Superman movie I wasn’t particularly excited for this movie. Save the Nolan Batman films, the DC universe has been a bit lackluster as of late (at least on the big screen). It has been playing catch-up to Marvel, and when you follow in someone else’s footsteps you generally limit your ability to make new and fun material. Having said that, it looks like DC picked out all the right leaves from their rival’s book.

Simply put, the trailer (linked below) looks F-U-N, FUN! We’ have had a barrage of dark and griddy DC universe films and series, and it’s nice to see our heroes finally having some fun, cracking jokes at each other, and all in all having a good time. It looks like Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is going around, doing the rounds of collecting heroes for the Justice League – easily some of the funnest moments in superhero movies. We get a whiff of their origin stories, some good hero-to-hero banter, and the giddy-awesome-moment of having several of your favourite heroes interacting in the same shot.

Another complaint I had about this movie was Aquaman. I never read the Aquaman comics as a kid, nor did I watch much of the TV series. To be honest, I always found him a bit of a dull character. And my first criticism, which I was eager enough to share with my geeky partners in crime at a Tim Hortons at 2AM was that he simply wasn’t made for the big screen. His costume, his powers, it just wouldn’t be entertaining in a 21st century movie. He would look cheesy and lame, and the studio would embarrass itself. Well, this mans was wrong. I was impressed with some of the early Momoa concepts, but I still had some reservations. After seeing this trailer, I want to see the movie just to watch this guy kick ass. He exerts so much raw manliness that I’m sure he could make an inanimate object ovulate. I mean just look at this one…

Aquaman chugging some hard liquor, because he's a man and you're a bitch!
Aquaman chugging some hard liquor, because he’s a man and you’re a bitch!

And this one….

This dude getting absorbed into the waves like f'in Moses, but ripped, and cool, and sexy, and something something.
This dude getting absorbed into the waves like f’in Moses, but ripped, with tattoos, and cool, and sexy, and something something.

And this one…

If this dude gave me that look, I'd swallow every single criticism I made about him being "cheesy and lame" and run for the nearest planet.
If this dude gave me that look, I’d swallow every single criticism I made about him being “cheesy and lame” and run for the nearest planet.

Man crushes aside, there’s another casting that definitely perked my interest. Ezra Miller is playing The Flash! I’ve loved this dude since Perks of Being a Wallflower. He’s a good actor, and he has that really entertaining quirky, dorky presence that will fit in this movie like the perfect puzzle piece. You need some comic relief and some fun to contrast the brooding superheroes, and Ezra Miller will be just that and then some. He reminds me of Tom Holland who played Spiderman in Captain America: Civil War. And it’s about time we get this. Some of the superheroes we have are quirky, dorky geeks just like the rest of us. And it’s fun seeing that aspect of them being given some screen time. Mm-mm-good!

You haven't even seen the trailer and you already know this kid's about to lay down some quirky sass!
You haven’t even seen the trailer and you already know this kid’s about to lay down some quirky sass!

Lastly, I am glad that the trailer didn’t reveal too much as a lot of trailers have a habit of doing nowadays. Bruce Wayne mentions a threat, we see some grim, viking-looking dudes, and that’s all we get. And that’s all we need. I feel like I go in with a limp erection in half of the films these days because act I through V have been revealed in the trailer. Less is more, people!

Trailer – Let’s get this hype train a-rollin’! 

Warcraft: The Beginning

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: (It’s in bold, caps letters, so you know it’s official) Hello ladies, gents, and other such creatures. I apologise for my prolonged absence, but I have hitherto been indulging in all the distractions and adventures that my new Japanese surroundings provide. Also, alas, for all the robots walking around, underwear vending machines, and real-life Pokemon, Japan has its movies coming out several decades after its Western counterparts. But hopefully with more persistent piracy, I’ll catch back up.

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So, without further ado, we have Warcraft: The Beginning! This movie received as polar reviews as they get. The outraged Alliance of all things pompous and critic proclaimed it a CGI heap pile of droppings, while the Horde of years-long fans roared their approval and clamoured for more.

The movie, as the title so wisely tells us, takes us to where the games more or less start out: the Orcs’ first invasion of Azeroth. The Orcs’ home world of Outland is quickly dying, and the Orcs seek new lands that promise life. Under the evil rule of Gul’dan, a demon possessed Orc warlock, the Horde takes its first steps in Azeroth through the Dark Portal, a magic gate that bridges the two worlds. One of the chieftains from the Horde, Durotan of the Frost Wolves clan, worries that Gul’dan’s reign will bring nothing but further death and desolation to his people. As he and his pregnant wife, Draka, enter Azeroth, he struggles to find a path that may give his people a future. On the side of the Alliance, we have Ragnar Lothbrok, better known as Lothar, vaguely known as Travis Fimmel. He’s a noble warrior and commander, and he is charged with discovering the source behind the mysterious attacks that have been plaguing nearby posts. He is accompanied by a young exile mage, Kadgar. Having recently left the Kirin Tor, the high mages of Azeroth, he too is drawn into the intrigue of the dark invasion. He goes to seek the help of the legendary Medivh, The Last Guardian, a Magus with immeasurable power charged to protect the world of Azeroth. And so the wheels of our story start spinning.

Myself, a humble half-breed, I’d have to side with the Horde. I never got around to playing World of Warcraft, but I definitely lived in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne for more years than it was healthy. Not only were the games pure fun, with many community-made maps to keep it fresh, but it had a surprisingly well written story line that made for a very immersive and satisfying campaign. The drama was good, the characters were awesome and interesting. We had the mighty Hellscream, noble Thrall, damned Arthas, the cunning Ner’zhul, and the proud Illidan, and many more. It was a fully crafted world, with intrigue, might, magic, and war. It was any teenage boy’s world, and I am sure some girls got lost in there as well.

Blizzard’s cinematics are legendary, despite the shaky success of some of their games, I don’t think any fan could ever put a hand on their heart and claim that a Blizzard cinematic was merely OK. It is then little wonder that someone put 2 and 2 together and realised that the Warcraft universe was ripe for the big screen. When I heard about this movie, I had my doubts, but the trailer, and later the viewing, quickly banished my doubts.

As a fan of the Warcraft universe, you can’t help but be at awe at a full-feature cinematic. And that is more or less what this movie is. Even though it is a movie, it is still very much so one large cinematic. And it has all the strong suits of a good cinematic: gorgeous and immersive visuals, interaction of impressive characters, and entertaining conflict. This movie is almost entirely all green-screen. However, all the combat looked absolutely brilliant. I was very worried that we would just get the usual Hollywood shaky cams and poor action directing, but the movie looked every bit as good as the Blizzard cinematics in that regard.

I got absolutely giddy seeing the floating city of Dalaran, the ABSOLUTELY gorgeous Stormwind, and the barren wastes of Outland. And when I saw the shrowded statues next to the Dark Portals, nerd chills were aplenty. Now, this is far from a great movie, and really, you just shouldn’t take it as such. The critics hated it because, really, without any background love or knowledge of the story, this is just one big, cheesy, epic fantasy. But as such, this big, cheesy, epic fantasy gave the fans everything they wanted and more. The battles were glorious, the landscapes and props were absolutely on point, the characters were decently acted (which doesn’t say much, but still a plus). There’s a few moments where you are watching this movie and you feel like you stumbled into a high school play written by the local D&D champion, but you just shrug it off and quickly forget about it as the movie continues to deliver so many awesome little gems that you have grown to love over the years.

And as such, I think it is fair to say this movie was a success. If you’ve never played or read anything Warcraft related, this flick might not be for you. That being said, if you are open to just some good old-fashioned fun and fantasy, you might still enjoy it if you remove the broom handle from your posterior. Much worse CGI pornos have come out in the past and with more critic acclaim at that. As cheesy as some of the movie undoubtedly is, it rests on the pillars of what is actually a very well crafted and written world. So even with its weak moments or three, the engaging and immersive world of Warcraft pulls you in.

The Expanse Series (Spoiler-Free) Review

Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, it is a well known fact that love hurts. When you find that perfect someone who completes you, who opens up a whole new world for you. That one special someone who makes your daily schedule a thing of the past, and fills your every waking moment of your existence with their presence. That one special someone who fills your heart with hopes and dreams, and the violently rips it out of your ass by killing off your favourite characters. Ah, yes, love, sweet TV love.

But when you find a love so good and pure, it’s hard to believe that any other show will ever make you as happy again. The bar gets raised, and our cynical, jaded selves shy away from giving any other show a real chance.

I, myself, have recently come out of several long-term relationships. Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Rome, The Sopranos, and Dexter, all captivated me greatly. Therefore, these days, it’s with some trepidation that I give new shows a genuine chance.

Expanse Show Art

I recently stumbled across The Expanse. It’s a sci-fi space opera set in the future. We have colonized our solar system. The main government and aristocracy is still located on Earth, where life is by far best. However, our resources have started depleting – access to clean water and air, mostly, and we have had to result to looking for water glaciers in the asteroid belts.

Enter The Belters. The Belters are commonly the lower class, they are blue-collar miners and workers which live on space stations, and make a living by collecting resources that Earth so desperately needs. However, like most colonies, they work the hardest, most dangerous jobs, and are treated the worst. Life is very hard and impoverished for the Belters. To add to their struggles, the low-gravity environment in space stations has started causing defects in their bone structure. Many of them need operations just to remain functional, and their frail bones make them very vulnerable in out-of-space environments. Tensions are beginning to run high, the word of rebellion is in the air, as the OPA, an activist terrorist organization is trying to convince the Belters to rise in rebellion against Earth.

Detective Miller, a Star Helix police offer trying to restore order during another OPA riot.
Detective Miller, a Star Helix police offer trying to restore order during another OPA riot.

To add to the stewing pot, there is also the nation of Mars. Mars is also inhabited by humans which are trying terraform Mars into a planet fit for humans. They have the most advanced military technology and arsenal, and they are independent from Earth. Their powerful fleet has caused something of a Cold War between Earth and Mars, both competing for solar dominance, yet no one willing to openly attack the other.

Martian military elite
Martian military elite

Our story starts with James Holden, the first officer on an ice freighter, as he receives a distress signal from a stranded ship in space.  The freighter scanners show no immediate life forms or vessels in the near area. Against his captain’s orders, he and his crew address the call and go to aid the ship. They find the ship completely abandoned, with all of the crew missing, though the bloodstains on the walls tell a different story. They also find some strange matter that’s fused to the fusion core, feeding off the energy, and appearing strangely alive. The surprises don’t stop there. No sooner than Holden and his crew decide to leave the ship, a military vessel shows up on their scanners out of nowhere and locks on to their location. A military vessel possessing advanced stealth technology. Only Earth and Mars possess that kind of technology. Has the war begun?

Crew of The Donnager
James Holden and his crew from the Canterbury

This political triumvirate creates a very interesting political dynamic that is very fun and intriguing to follow, somewhat alike Game of Thrones. You have a plot where there are multiple factions, interests, and plots, each interwoven with the other. There isn’t necessarily good and bad guys, there’s a lot shades of grey, which make this very enjoyable and non-linear. There’s a bit of a film noir element in this show, as we have a Jane Doe, and also multi-layered conspiracies which keep you binging episode after episode. The show doesn’t start as explosive as some other shows, but it truly gets more interesting and addictive with every following episode. As the characters get fleshed out little by little, and the layers of socio-political elements start falling into place, you find yourself unable to stop. I strongly recommend this show, it’s definitely worth the go. Happy lovin’!

Earth government official using Gravity Torture on OPA activist
Earth government official using Gravity Torture on OPA activist

The Hateful Eight (Spoiler-Free) Review

hateful 8

Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, Christmas came just on time this year. But not because of the fat, red, bearded man that invades your houses and eats your cookies. No, no, it came because of the master of the retro genre of Cinema with the receding hairline – Quentin Tarantino. This man needs no introduction as he is probably one of THE most famous contemporary directors, and easily my favourite. Just a few short days ago, I had the opportunity to see his Hateful Eight in glorious 70mm, in a stuffy little theatre in the heart of Toronto. The air was humid with ill-disguised body odor, the floor was sticky wet from the recent cleaning, there was no commercials and no obnoxious Time Play. I was in for a proper good ol’ days movie experience.

The best way I can categorize The Hateful Eight is a suspense western. It starts off with a Civil War veteran, now turned bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) transporting three dead bodies to collect his bounty in the nearby town of Red Rock. On his way there, he hitches a ride from another famous bounty hunter, John The Hangman Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is also taking a bounty to Red Rock – alive. His bounty happens to be a mysterious Daisy Domergue, who happens to be worth a solid $10,000 – a very high price for a bounty, let alone a woman, let alone a woman nobody knows anything about. She’s the first to get our eyebrows arching. However, on their way to Red Rock, they get caught in a severe blizzard, and have to make a stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, an inn for travellers. There they have to spend the next few nights with a selection of characters – Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a strong-silent-type cowboy, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Red Rock’s quirky and eccentric hangman, Señor Bob (Demián Bichir), the replacement host at Minnie’s, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be Red Rock’s new sheriff, and a General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a retired ex-General from the South. Not everyone is who they seem to be, and the why, what, and how is left shrouded in mystery.

Tarantino is truly a master of genre. When famously asked about his education in film, he responded “I went to the movies.” This man has seen his fair share of retro films and then some, and then some on top of that some. So everything from the dialogue, to the camera shots, to the music is absolutely on point. This man takes you in a time capsule to the heyday of westerns and lets you marinate in it while he does what he does best – and gives you grade A dialogue and character development. Now, the bit that’s not a western is the suspense and mystery. This movie’s a bit like those old films from the 70’s that were more or less a re-enactment of a mystery novella. “A scientist, a newly married couple, a millionaire tycoon, and an eccentric hunter are all drawn together by mysterious circumstances at a dinner party. But when guests start disappearing one by one, a horrible secret is revealed. But WHO is the killer?” You know, that kind of tosh. And that is a field in which Tarantino absolutely excels in. If you have seen his Inglorious Basterds, you might recall the bar scene. I think it is something like 30 minutes long, and it is just pure suspense. Tarantino puts six characters in a room, on a table, drinking beer, just talking, and it has you gripping your chair harder than any other thriller or action movie you’ve seen in the last two decades. So you get a pleasant mishmash of that and the western vibe. And in this movie you get the same thing, only it’s for three hours and it keeps you hooked for EVERY-DAMN-MINUTE. How many other directors can make a movie that doesn’t leave the confines of a room three hours long, and not lose the audience? Again, just raw talent.

One badass mahhhfucka!
One badass mahhhfucka!

Another little ball of fan-boy joy comes in the shape of Samuel L. Jackson (uhmm, yeah, phrasing…). We’ve seen him as Jules in Pulp Fiction, we’ve seen him as Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown, and also as Stephen in Django Unchained. But I’ve really wanted to see him front and centre in a Tarantino movie. Just because he has that inherent badassery that seems to work so well in Tarantino’s universe. is there honestly a human being out there that doesn’t believe Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t put on this earth with the divine purpose of saying “motherfucker”? And even though this movie doesn’t really have a main character, Samuel L. Jackson is very much front row and centre in this movie, and I loved every bit of it. Major Warren’s a pretty curious character. He is undoubtedly a stone-cold killer and a badass, but he also carries on his person at all times a mysterious letter from Abraham Lincoln himself, a point of great curiosity for the other characters. And you can also tell he’s seen some shit. He’s a black man following the aftermath of the Civil War, and it don’t take too many guesses to imagine the things he’s been subjected to, and the things he’s seen. But even with all that he retains an air of mystery throughout most of the movie which makes him a very enjoyable character.

One tough lady.
One tough lady.

Another tip of the hat has to undoubtedly go to Jennifer Jason Leigh. In my mind, that’s what a perfect cast looks like. Fifteen seconds into her appearance in the movie, and you forget that’s an actor acting. She just IS Daisy Domergue. I know I’m beginning to use this term one too many times, but this IS a Tarantino film, god damn it! She is also an absolute badass. And that’s not an easy feat when you’re the only woman in a group of men, all who seem to be great bounty hunters, war heroes, and stone-cold killers. When we first see her, she already has a pretty serious black eye. She doesn’t hesitate mouthing off to John Ruth, which is no small feat, as he’s a hulking, intimidating bear of a man. He often hits her pretty brutally in retaliation, but it doesn’t seem to humble her any. She often repays the act with a bloody smile, as though she’s in on a secret no one else is. Astounding performance, I really hope Jennifer Leigh gets nominated for an Oscar for this, though I am sure she probably won’t.

This movie’s got everything you need – good dialogue, engaging characters, amazing suspense, and a whole lot of love letters to genres long forgotten. You simply can’t waste $15 on this movie, it’s well worth the watch. Thank you, Mr. Tarantino for bringing Christmas to us movie lovers this year!

The man, the master.
The man, the master.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Movie Review ( Spoilers)

FA PosterLadies, gentlemen, and other such creatures, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas. And what better way to get in the Christmas Spirit than to rip into probably the most anticipated movie of the year. Yes, after decades of waiting, Star Wars is finally back, captained by none other than J.J. Abrams himself. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror – upon finding out that that Star Trek guy will be directing the new Star Wars movie, and then were suddenly silenced. I fear something great might have happened.

Our little space opera takes off several decades after Episode VI. In the absence of the Empire, a new organization has taken to terrorizing the galaxy. The First Order, lead by the mysterious Snoke, and his apprentice, Kylo Ren, have made it their mission to colonize the galaxy, only meeting resistance from, well, The Resistance (lead by Leia). However, they have another agenda as well – track down and kill the last of the Jedi. After the battle of Endor, apparently Luke attempted to rebuild the Jedi order. He had a small group of students whom he was trying to teach the Jedi ways. One of his students, Kylo Ren, got seduced by the Dark Side, and proceeded to kill Luke’s apprentices. Now Luke is the last Jedi in the galaxy and he has gone into hiding. No one knows where he is. No one except a little droid called BB-8. Princess Leia has sent out her most daring pilot to retrieve a last piece of the puzzle that may reveal Luke’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, the First Order shows up unexpectedly, and the last piece of the puzzle is sneaked away by young BB-8 before the Storm Troopers can get their hands on it. BB-8 wanders across the path of a young and unexpected heroine, and so our story begins.

Rey_1
Our young heroine, Rey.

So first things first. The structure of this movie is built in strong parallel to Episode IV. Things are looking bad for the Resistance (Rebels), and the last hope rests in the hands(?) of a Droid sent out to seek out a Jedi. Droid finds him(it?)self on a desert planet (Jakku) where it stumbles across the path of a young hero(ine) unsatisfied with their current life. That is how we are introduced to Rey, a young woman who is a daring smuggler. She wanders off into the deep dessert seeking valuable parts in abandoned ships. She is quite likeable, she is determined, she’s fierce, and she seems to have a strong moral compass – particularly showcased when she has a chance to sell BB-8 for more food packs she has ever seen, but chooses to keep him instead after forming a bond with the droid. In many ways she is an improvement on Luke Skywalker from the earlier movies. She seems to have more going for her as a character, and she continues to impress as the movie goes on. There’s a particularly strong scene where she is being interrogated by Kylo Ren. He uses The Force to read her mind, but as her own powers begin to awaken she manages to turn The Force on him and reads his mind instead. She sees his fear and his doubts about himself and his destiny. It’s a really good scene, and huge development points for Rey get scored. She goes on to join the Resistance despite whatever doubts she has about herself, and continues to rise to every new challenge presented to her. Definitely a job well done.

Finn, after witnessing the face of war.
Finn, after witnessing the face of war.

We also have Finn, a young Star Trooper who deserts The First Order upon being in his first battle. When he sees the horror, violence, and destruction that The First Order brings he is severely shaken up. I think that is actually one of the movie’s stronger points. This is a sense of realism that we have not seen in the Star Wars movies (early or old) until now. The horror of war is a very serious topic which actually gets addressed quite decently by means of Finn. War isn’t glorious, war isn’t adventurous. It is brutal, ugly, and destructive. So when he leaves the Storm Troopers it feels like a very legitimate moment. I don’t feel like it’s just a plot being pushed along, it feels like some really genuine character development. So again, the big ups for J.J. Abrams. Finn’s loyal to a fault, he’s quite funny, he’s a bit of a goof-ball, but he has a good heart. He becomes good friends with Rey, and I really enjoyed their interactions together.

Our mysterious antagonist.
Our mysterious antagonist.

The other new character I want to cover before getting into the universe and overall broad strokes of the movie is Kylo Ren. Now, I went into this movie not reading any of the fiction in the Star Wars universe, so Kylo Ren was a total mystery to me. From his first scene, I was quite impressed. He bore a strong resemblance to Darth Vader, he was intimidating and he was a huge mystery. He carried himself with a sense of power and purpose. He demonstrates a strong use of the force – stopping a blaster shot in mid-air for a prolonged period of time, using the force choke, reading people’s minds. All this held true while the mask was on. When the mask came off, he was a scared little boy throwing temper tantrums. He went from baring the resemblance of a strong Sith Lord (Yes, I know he’s not a Sith) to an arrogant boy who has some semblance of Force-power, and abysmal duelling abilities -as demonstrated at the end of the movie. He literally loses a duel to Rey, who has literally never used a lightsaber before. So in that regard, he was a bit of a disappointment. However, in the movie’s defence, it could very well be that he is being built up for something greater. This is the first movie in a trilogy, and maybe he is intentionally made to be more human and vulnerable than what we’re used to in a villain. That being said, as a movie that stands on its own (despite it being a trilogy), he was definitely a let down.

Now for some broad strokes. I understand that this movie’s a continuation of the original saga, so it obviously makes sense that some of the old characters are in it. However, besides delivering fan service, I feel like they were more or less over-indulgent cameos. Leia, Han Solo, C-3P0, R2-D2, Chewbacca, all felt like shadows of their former selves. And it’s not because they acted badly, or because they were written badly. But it’s because they have no story. They have no purpose in this movie (save maybe for Han Solo). Through Episodes IV-VI, it was their story, their adventure, and their development. But this movie is very much about Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. However, when a third of the movie is devoted to showing me these old faces that don’t really have that much involvement in the main story, it made the movie feel weak in a lot of places. Also, in a strictly practical sense, that was a lot of time that could have been spent expanding the universe and developing the plot – as opposed to getting a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, every 10 minutes. I understand that it’s been over 30 years since Star Wars fans have had the opportunity to see their classic favourites, but just sticking them in a movie like this isn’t really the way to go. This is a new trilogy, telling a new story, and it shouldn’t be afraid to make its own way and tell its own story. It shouldn’t have to be slave to fan-service in order to be successful. My hopes are that there will be less of this in the next two movies.

Moving on, the cinematography in this movie is a point to discuss. I am really impressed with how J.J. Abrams shot this movie. Obviously modern technology was used to edit the movie, but the look of it is very much the same as the original trilogy. The creatures, and droids, a lot of the special effects look THE SAME. And that’s quite a good thing, actually. Imagine watching a Star Wars continuation with everything looking hyper-realistic and detailed out. It would feel alien. Abrams recognizes that he is continuing an already existing visual medium, and that deserves a lot of respect. Well done. On a similar note, the soundtrack was also 110% spot on. Abrams brought in none other than John Williams to score this movie, and after watching it and hearing the music first hand, I think it’s fair to say that he was the only man for the job. I am aware that this sounds a little nit-picky, but imagine for a moment how difficult it would be to pick up another director’s work, from a different time period, with different technology, with a different crew, and then now, to remake that exact same feel and look. It is a VERY tall order, and Abrams managed it with flying colours.

Star Wars: A New Hope (1983 edit)
Star Wars: A New Hope (1983 edit)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

The last thing I am going to cover is the strong parallel between this movie and Episode IV. Again, I understand that Abrams is a fan of the saga, and I understand that he wants to pay his tribute to the Star Wars gods. However, you can’t make great things unless you are prepared to write with as much confidence and imagination as Lucas did when he made the original three. While some of the things I mentioned earlier about this movie are really amazing, there’s an undeniable parallel between the two films. Tatooine – Jakku, Rey – Luke, Darth Vader – Kylo Ren, Death Star – Death Planet (Did we really need another one of these in a Star Wars plot?), R2-D2 – BB-8, Old Ben Kenobi – Old Han Solo, death of Obi-wan Kenobi – death of Han Solo. It’s just too much. I kind of enjoyed a good chunk of the movie, but another equally big part of it was just an ongoing omage. I came to see a new Star Wars movie, not the biggest love letter to George Lucas.

With everything said here, I won’t even bother telling you if you should see it or not. It’s a new Star Wars movie, of course you should see it. Go out there and experience it first-hand. For all its faults and drawbacks, it is still quite the cultural phenomenon, and therefore, quite the experience. May the force be with you 🙂