Top 5 Films of 2017

This was a great year for film. Hell, the honorable mentions I’ll be talking about were in tight competition for 5th place and it was only due to multiple viewings it won as there was no other film I saw a second time in theatres this year. As always, I’m curious to hear about your lists and what films would be your Top 5, Top 3, Top 10 or Worst of as well. Lists are a lot of fun to do, and I stick to 5 because I want the 5 to mean something. Making a Top 10 would be far too easy given how great this year (and past years) have been for film so keeping it tight makes the order actually mean something. So lets kick things off with some Dishonorable mentions before I get into the films I actually liked.

Dishonorable Mentions:

This was a year where a few films had great premises but horrible execution. I walked out of “Justice League,” so I can’t recommend that, “The Circle” was technology paranoia garbage with an amazing cast who could not save it, “The Dark Tower” missed the entire point of the book and series and felt like a forgettable cheap action flick, and “Split” was an insult to those suffering through mental disorders while being a poorly done horror film and “Deathnote” is a film that misses the entire point of the source material and is a poorly cast and acted Netflix endeavor. These are my dishonorable mentions and films not worth your time I saw this year.

Honorable Mentions:

This was  great year for film and choosing my 4th and 5th place were difficult so I’m going to do something different and say a little bit more than my dishonorable mentions in regards to the honorable mentions.:

Wonder Woman – This was a film we needed this year, from the “Metoo” movement to a sexual predator being elected president..”Wonder Woman” was the answer to that as we got Gal Gadot rocking it as the only thing keeping the DC film afloat. I loved her film and how Robin Wright as her mentor is just fantastic. It only really falls apart in the 3rd Act, and the fact none of the villains work, but you should check it out. I own this film and I can’t wait to watch it again.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/wonder-woman-2017-dc-finally-finds-a-hero/

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – This film was also in tight competition for making the list as I love how it explores toxic masculinity (Ego being one of the best Marvel villains thus far), father figures and abuse and explores my favorite characters in the MCU (Yondu and Rocket). For me it was on par with the first film, but there were sadly films that were better in both loss and character exploration.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-2017-the-greatness-of-these-characters/

Logan Lucky – This is a heist film told through the eyes of the southern working class stealing from Nascar. It is beautifully done with Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang and Adam Driver’s injured vet Clyde Logan as the stand out performance. Only thing against it is the 3rd act is overlong. I did drowse off a little during the heist which is the worst thing that can happen in a heist film. Loved the movie though.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/08/26/logan-lucky-2017/

Coco – “Coco” is easily one of the best films Pixar has put out. This is a film that explores family, mortality, death, loss and does it all through the lense of “The Day of the Dead.” The biggest thing going against it is I hated the protagonist until he finally stops acting selfish, but his family, especially those in the the Land of the Dead are awesome. I can’t recommend this film enough.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/coco-2017-an-amazing-pixar-epic-that-explores-family-and-love/

Colossal – “Colossal” is a powerful indie film that explores abuse and healing from it. Anne Hathaway does an amazing job as the unlikable drunk who has burned all her bridges but is trying to put her life back together while Jason Sudeikisis’s Oscar is a fantastic villain and threat. The fact that it is also a monster film on top of all of this is a reason why it was so hard for me to keep it from making 5th place, the characters aren’t really likable except for Hathaway’s character until the end though, so that was a dealbreaker for me.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/05/18/colossal-2017-an-amazing-exploration-of-monsters-as-metaphor/

Logan – The post-apocalyptic genre is popular and this is a film that is essentially “The Last of Us,” but with X-Men. There is no hope in this film as both Professor X and Logan are the last of the X-Men in a broken world. They both find purpose in X-23, Laura an experiment who escapes and has Logan’s power. This film is one I own and highly recommend seeing. It didn’t make 5th though because in the end it didn’t have a point. This is a film with no hope, though it gives our protagonists some amazing sendoffs.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/logan-2017-a-dystopic-western-masterpiece-that-explores-the-depths-of-pain/

That was the competition, and believe me it was close, so without further ado, here are my Top 5 Films of 2017:

5) Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Director Rian Johnson

“The Last Jedi” was a film that not only managed to subvert what expectations I had (was expecting an “Empire Strikes Back” rehash) but was also about the Resistance and First Order finding an identity beyond the Original Trilogy. This film explores this through the minor characters of Rose and Holdo as well as through Kylo Ren’s choice. The themes of resistance through class are given voice as well as showing the corrupt can be more than Jabba’s gangsters. Every action has consequences and no one wins. This is a film where you feel loss and it doesn’t stop hitting you with that loss, but it is still Star Wars and it remembers hope, even in despair. This was Carrie Fisher’s last film and in this we see why she is both one of the last Skywalkers and the General of the Resistance. R.I.P. Carrie, you got quite the sendoff as your film was the only film this year I saw in theatres twice and loved just as much each time.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/12/21/star-wars-episode-viii-the-last-jedi-2017-an-amazing-subversion-of-expectations/

4) War for the Planet of the Apes

Director Matt Reeves

Much like “The Last Jedi” this is a film full of loss and explores the themes of resistance and in the end what sentience means. This is the end of the Caesar’s story and the Prequel Trilogy and it is powerful all the way through. This film brought me to tears a few times as you see both Caesar’s humanity and pain. The Ape characters are once again the most human but Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is one of the best villains this year in how warped and nationalist he is, while still being vulnerable…as you see this is after the nuclear fallout and all that remains are military outposts in a world that is ready to leave humanity behind, while at the same time we have hope through the young Nova, who recognizes the apes humanity and in turn it shows her own. Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar for this role and I hope Matt Reeves gets to make his Batman film. He is a brilliant director and in this we see what happens when humans lose and gain their humanity as we lead into the world of “The Planet of the Apes.”

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-2017-growing-beyond-caesar/

3) Get Out

Director Jordan Peele

I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele’s next project is, as “Get Out” is his first full length film he both directed and wrote. This brilliant social satire is fantastic in how the mystery unfolds and why our hero returning to this nice small town full of rich white people is so horrifying as nothing is as it appears to be. As a thriller, an exploration of racism and classicism and as a horror movie it really works. The only place where it falls flat is we never get the motivation of the people who inhabit the town and I would have liked to learn more about the protagonist’s girlfriend’s motivation in the film.  Regardless, this is a film I highly recommend, and was number 1 for me for a long time until the other 2 upcoming films came out.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/get-out-2017-a-brilliant-horror-film-that-tackles-racism-and-privilege/

2) Baby Driver

Director Edgar Wright

“Baby Driver” is a work of musical, editing and cinematic genius. You are shown rather than told so much and every character is a flawed anti-hero with the exception of Debra, who is Baby’s (our protagonists) girlfriend. The music is genius and I love how it tackles the different ways certain characters are trying to escape or to free themselves, whether it is through internal redemption through an act of bravery, seeking revenge or owning up to mistakes and actions. This film is so much fun and the soundtrack by Steven Price, is easily the best soundtracks of the year. I can’t wait to see what Edgar Wright does next, but I’m glad he left “Ant-Man” and the MCU as this was the work of art we got in return as this was a film be both wrote and directed. Again, this film has an amazing story but the film is worth it for the music and visuals alone. Up until yesterday, this was my Number 1 film of the year.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/baby-driver-2017-the-unforgettable-soundtrack-of-a-life/

1) The Shape of Water

Director Guillermo de Toro

Sometimes you have to wait and the order of a list can be upset. The first Top 5 I created in 2014 had “Noah” as Number 1 until I saw “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and the genius of Wes Anderson upset Darren Aronofsky. This happened once more with the genius of del Toro upsetting Wright. Why is “The Shape of Water” Number 1? Because it does what all the other films do as either better or on par. Like “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “The Last Jedi,” and “Get Out,” it explores the themes of resistance and the voiceless as our mute protagonist Elisa fights to save the creature who is being tortured by the government agent in the lab, as her closeted roommate Giles and co-worker Zelda hep her succeed. The villain like in “War” and “The Last Jedi” is an insecure Colonel (in a creepy and powerful performance by Michael Shannon) who abuses others while assuming he has a right to others because of his position and privilege. The music is on par with “Baby Driver” while the cinematography and story are like a surrealist fairy tale. This is easily one of the best movies of all time and I can’t wait to buy it when it comes out. There was steep competition this year in films but after seeing this film, this film deserves its place at the top, and I can’t wait to see what else is born out of the fantastic imagination of Guillermo del Toro who not only directed but co-wrote and co-produced this unforgettable film.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/the-shape-of-water-2017-a-transcendent-romantic-fairy-tale/

This was an amazing year for cinema, though a crappy year for politics and many of the people these movies were fighting for. I’m curious to hear what your Top 5, Top 10 or worst films of the year are as well and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings in regards to the fantastic stories that can be born out of the art of film.

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The Shape of Water (2017): A Transcendent Romantic Fairy Tale

   “The Shape of Water” might end up being my favorite film of the year. This is a film that is beautifully told and reminds me of “Beauty and the Beast,” meets “Amelie” but with so much more going on than either of those stories. This is a film where every character, whether minor or major matters and out of it we get a compelling love story that is so much more. This is a story about characters who aren’t given a voice (both literally and metaphorically) finding their voice and from there, a level of transcendence or change within themselves or their situation. The cast was wonderfully done and for my non-spoiler thoughts…I can’t wait to watch it again. This is easily one of Guillermo del Toro’s best work, and given that he was co-writer and co-producer as well as the director, this story was clearly his vision and it is beautiful. Seriously, check this film out if you get the chance.

The film was directed, co-wrote and co-produced Guillermo del Toro, co-written by Vanessa Taylor and co-produced with J. Miles Dale.

The story follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works at a secret government agency with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and sharing an apartment with her closeted friend Giles (Richard Jenkins). Her world is soon changed when a government agent Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a mysterious “asset,” a creature who changes Elisa’s life forever.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is that of the 1950’s of the United States but with fairy tale, fantasy and sci. fi. elements…both in how the story is presented and the amphibian man being so central to the plot, as well as the abilities he has. It is also a world full of twists since spies and government agents inhabit this cold world universe and the secret lab where most of the action takes place.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. From Octavia Spencer’s Zelda, who is Elisa’s translator and calls out how bad their situation is (as the help no one notices or cares about them, just takes them for granted), Giles, who understands Elisa’s love for the creature and helps protect them and both rescue the creature from the lab and getting them both the docks. He is the narrator. Michael Shannon’s Colonel is unhinged and broken and is sympathetic in that, even though he never stops being a threat and monster. Elisa’s and the creature’s romance drives the story and it is awesome. I loved how confident Elisa is in her sexuality and her attachment to the creature as well as the creature’s humanity slowly being revealed as he opens up to her. Doug Jones once again owns this alien type role he is in. I can’t wait to buy this movie when it comes out.

The Soundtrack and Cinematography – The soundtrack has a fairy tale and jazz feel to it, intermixed with this dark foreboding when we are at the lab and the Colonel is on screen. The cinematography is amazing too, it reminded me of “Amelie” with the use of color contrasts but focusing in on Elisa’s perspective. Alexandre Desplat did a great job on the soundtrack and I loved Dan Laustsen’s cinematography.

The Romance – The romance is the main drive of the story and it is beautifully done. It starts with Elisa and the creature touching hands separated by glass, to her leaving him eggs, to eating in his area with him and teaching him sign language…to his rescue and eventually having to let him go as he dies not being in the salt water but has given Giles back his hair and healed a wound he caused on Giles accidentally. The romance is the core of the film and because it illustrates different aspects of the characters and the world they inhabit.

Surrealism and Fairy Tales – The Fairy Tale element is revealed most profoundly in the opening shot where Giles is giving the premise of a monster who turned two lovers’ world upside down…as we see a drowned how with Elisa floating, as if sleeping in the water. There is other imagery like this that gives the film a surrealist element and from that the fairy tale elements of the love story are given more power in their presentation. I love stories like this (“One-Hundred Years of Solitude, most Haruki Murakami, etc.) and this is one of the best presentations of this type of story.

Fighting Adversity and the Voice of the Voiceless – This is a film about giving voice to the voiceless in both the literal sense (our heroes being a mute and an amphibian creature who cannot speak), Zelda, who is black lady with an oppressive husband and Giles being in the closet and kept out from the wealth he once bad before as the marketing world just sees him as a has been. Each of them are trapped (the monster) or oppressed in different ways in a society that ignores them and it is the rescuing and finally freeing of the monster that Zelda finally speaks up against her husband and calls the cops on the Colonel, Giles fights and defends the monster and Elisa and Elisa transcends as she sacrifices herself to save the creature and her cuts she received as a baby are turned into gills, she is reborn by the creature and free to be with the creature, something that would have never been possible before. It is also her drive that helps the others to change their lives too, as she is directly fighting to system by freeing their “asset.”

Okay: First Act Goes a Little Long – The only real criticism I could find with the film is the first third of the film does go on a little long, but it picks up the moment the rescue plan is put into action by Elisa and after that, it doesn’t stop…and it does a good job setting up the world so I can’t put it is a con.

I highly recommend “The Shape of Water.” This film is going to make my Top 5 films of 2017 and if you are looking for a film where you will notice more each time around, as well simply enjoying a beautiful fairy tale that gives voice to the voiceless and has wonderfully compelling characters, who each get full arcs. I cared about where each their arcs were going, even the villain as no one was as simple as they first appeared to be. The film was all about layers and reveals, both in the nature of the characters and the creature and the payoff of their arcs. Check this film out, if you haven’t yet. Guillermo del Toro has done it again and I can’t wait to see what masterpiece he makes next.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Bright (2017): Good Ideas Trapped in a B Movie

“Bright” is a film that is built on a wonderful idea. Take Tolkien fantasy and make it the modern day world…from here the story tells itself and it is that core idea that keeps the film from ever being bad, even though some of the writing doesn’t work at all. David Ayer also worked on “Suicide Squad,” and I honestly enjoyed this film more as the action and editing are much more solidly done and even though there are many holes in the universe in regards to magic and lore…it never stops being fun or forget what drives the core characters. This is a film that has been panned by critics and honestly doesn’t deserve the hate. I’ll explain more on why, deeper into the review.

“Bright” was directed by David Ayer (who was also one of the producers), written by Max Landis and produced by Eric Newman and Bryan Unkeless.

The story takes place in a world where an ancient Dark Lord was defeated and 2000 years later on modern day Earth, humans, orcs, elves and the other 9 races live together in a separate class structure, with the Elves as upper class, humans in the middle and Orcs as the disenfranchised outsiders. The story follows human LAPD cop Daryl Ward and the first orc cop Nick Jakboy as they investigate a mysterious cult tied to the ancient Dark Lord defeated long ago.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing, take a Tolkien level backstory with the whole 9 races and the defeat of a Dark Lord (who it implies as an elf) and now it is modern day and how the war went defined the class structure of the realm with orcs being lower class for having served the Dark Lord years ago. There cultures are really unique too, humanity is basically us but the orcs have blood honor and getting blooded as earning respect, elves are tied to magic and own the government but also have a cult tied to the Dark Lord…and there are 6 other races we learn nothing about.

The Action – This is a good action movie. Even in dark scenes you can see which people are fighting and there is constant tension that drives each scene as we have the build up post Daryl surviving getting shot by an orc. I was never bored during this scene, essentially it didn’t have the Sorceress fight from “Suicide Squad.”

Fantasy Races as an Analogy for Race and Class – Orcs live in the poor areas and the only rich orcs we see tend to be gangsters, humans walk between the different areas and there are elf only areas of town. The analogy for racism is obvious and it works, from “Orc Lives Matter,” and the graffiti in the opening…this is a movie that has a deep under current that it doesn’t need to do much to explore as the story tells itself in regards to the clash between orcs, humans and elves.

The Main Three Characters – The main reason this film isn’t awful are the three main characters have arcs that work. Each of them has changed by the end of the story and that is what I’ll go into in their individual character profiles.

Daryl Ward – Daryl is played by Will Smith and is a family man who was once admired by the LAPD but messed up later on, which is why the force put him with the first orc police officer. His arc is overcoming his prejudice and by the end he discovers he is a Bright (someone who can wield magic wands and magic) and considers Nick his partner as he discovers just how bad orcs have it and grows as a cop and person.

Nick Jakoby – Nick’s arc is embracing his role as a cop and finding a wider role in his people as when Tikka (the elf who escaped the Dark Lord cult with a wand) resurrects him after a orc gang leader kills him he is seen as their savior. His arc is learning to trust Daryl and finding his place in the force and his partner. It is really well done and I loved how earnest his character is. Edgerton did a good job in the role.

Tikka – Tikka is the Bright elf who escapes the cult she is a part of and steals the cult leader (Leilah’s) wand in the process. She is a damsel through a lot of it, which I hated, but once it is revealed to have been a ruse it is fantastic as she both resurrects Nick and saves Daryl quite a few times. She is presumed did until Daryl spots her at the end, though whether this is her or the return of the Dark Lord or something else, is left up to the sequel.

Okay: Leilah and her Cult – The cult is threatening and it is cool seeing elves fight with magic and daggers and Noomi Rapace is fun as Leilah, but her and the cult get almost no exploration. This was a shame as she and the other actors are in it are talented people…but we never got their motivation or learned anything new about the Dark Lord.

Magic Task Force – This is the FBI who arrive at the very end and cover up the events with the cult. They are lead by an elf who has a huge issue with the cultists and sees them as embarrassing to elves. He is compelling but we never get his motivation either, and the Magic Task Force is mostly useless though they work as a plot device.

The Writing – There are gaping holes in the lore and some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy. I’m not putting this as a con because sometimes it works and the world does feel lived in. But it isn’t a pro and does bring down the overall quality of the film.

The Cons: Predictability – The biggest con is predictability, I knew Nick would be brought back to life, I knew that Daryl would end up being a bright and I knew they’d have to learn to work together. I could have used a lot more twists than just corrupt cops and Tikka just pretending to need to be rescued.

Holes in the World – Who are the 9 races? We see some random ones but know nothing about them and their roles, how does magic work? Who created the wands? How did this world become as it was in the present? These are just some of the questions that keep the film from being great as the fact it isn’t fully fleshed out is the biggest detriment to the story.

This is a movie that aspired for greatness and because it did, managed to be overall enjoyable, even with the flaws. “Bright 2” has already been slated and I can’t wait to see what they do with this universe as we know nothing about the other 6 races, nothing about the Dark Lord and even how magic works. If these questions had been answered than this would have been a really good film. I still recommend this one though, it isn’t perfect, but it is a lot of fun and it is a universe I can’t wait to return back to. This is a total B movie, largely because of some of the hokey dialogue and the plot holes but it is worth seeing once.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Doctor Who Specials – “Twice Upon a Time” – Reflecting, Critiquing and Honoring the Old to the New to Bring the 13th Doctor

For Steven Moffat’s last outing as showrunner, this is an episode that manages to both honor and critique the show’s past while capturing a great deal about what made Capaldi’s run so enjoyable, even if it was often Moffat’s writing that ruined the early episodes of his run. This is a lot better than the last Christmas Special but not as good as “A Christmas Carol,” which managed to keep the Christmas feel without losing the Doctor Who feel either. This one keeps the Christmas at a minimum and it is truly the episode’s strength. Characters drive story so often in Doctor Who and this episode remembers that.  For my non-spoiler thoughts, I enjoyed it, especially everything with Capaldi.

“Twice Upon a Time” was directed by Rachel Talalay and written by Steven Moffat.

The story involves the 12th Doctor stumbling upon his 1st incarnation as both of them debate whether they should regenerate as a mysterious threat known as Harmony forces them to confront, what it means to be the Doctor.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Sense of History – This is an episode that kicks off with the 1st Doctor’s final episode as a flashback and fills in the blank by having the 1st Doctor resist regeneration as well, which leads him running into 12 and a World War 1 captain pulled out of time, and revisiting Rusty, the good Dalek (From Capaldi’s “Into the Dalek,”) who hates Daleks and the Doctor and helps the Doctor learn who Harmony is. The sense of history is never lost as well as eventually the Captain is returned to the day he was pulled from by Harmony, the alien threat in this episode. The Captain is also significant in regards to history in relation to the Doctor, which I will go into later.

 Harmony – Harmony is a program created by future humans who record copies of people at their point of death in order to create copies of them that can exist forever. This is how the Doctor gets to adventure with Bill once more and say good-bye to Nardole. Nardole and Bill both died at their time of meeting the Doctor and there is power in that as he is dying too. I’m glad Moffat did this, even though there is a moment that cheapens the finality of death a little bit.

World War 1 and the Christmas Resolution – The Captain, who we learn is a Lethbridge-Stewart and we see how he and the Doctor are connected as the First Doctor promises to keep an eye on his family, leading to that family’s relationship with the Doctors through history. Capaldi also saves him as he leaves him a few hours ahead of his death, and in turn they experience the Christmas Truce during World War 1, which also gives more power to the Doctor being The Doctor of War as his whole goal is to save people and make miracles when so much of the universe is things not working and people not being saved. It was a great way to make it a Christmas Special without the kitch nature that inhabited so many other Moffat Christmas Specials.

Twelve’s Good-bye – Twelve ends accepting that the universe would be a much worse place without him, and before saying good-bye makes himself promise to remember what it means to be the Doctor. It is a powerful moment and easily one of the best regeneration in the series thus far.

Thirteen’s Introduction – The Doctor needs to stop regenerating in the TARDIS. When 12 becomes 13 the TARDIS is wrecked and throws out Whittaker’s Doctor before disappearing and exploding as she falls. Before she has a beautiful moment where she sees her face, and says “Brilliant,” and after that it all goes to crap. Can’t wait to see how she survives and gets the TARDIS back. Chibnall has a lot of setup to go off of to make a great series and I can’t wait to see 13 in action.

Okay: Clara – Harmony gives the Doctor back his memories of Clara and she gets on his case for forgetting him. I wanted to hate this, but I couldn’t…I just wish Donna could get her memories back too. I may not have been a fan of Clara as a companion, but she was in some solid episodes and she had a great good-byes that were ruined, but that is not her fault, that is Moffat’s fault.

The Cons: The First Doctor Versus the Era He Lived In – David Bradley is great as the First Doctor, my only issue is they play up the sexism from the era he was in when the First Doctor wasn’t like that, as far as the episodes I remember. I could be completely wrong and I’m glad Capaldi and Bill show how wrong the sexist mindset that was so prevalent in that era was, but it could have been done with the Captain Lethbridge-Stewart. I could be wrong as well, it has been a while since I watched the First Doctor but I don’t remember him ever acting that way in the episodes I watched (from treating all women as domestic helpers, assuming men as always right, etc.). I liked what Moffat was trying to do, I dislike his execution. His execution failed and just made the episode awkward as well as taking away from real exploration of lore from the First Series of Doctor Who, and who the Doctor’s First Incarnation was.

I’m going to miss Capaldi. He is my favorite of all the new Doctors as his arc felt complete. He goes from not caring about humanity, to finding reasons to care once more, to the experiencing of loss and from that not wanting to regenerate so the pain can just stop as he feels hopeless in changing things as there are always more threats…to choosing to the be the Doctor once more and letting go of his ego so he can regenerate into someone new. 11 never changed, 10 just go more marose, 9 had a very short arc of working through his PTSD from the Time War…but Capaldi got the full arc. I may write more about his era and the Moffat era as a whole later, but for now…if you like Capaldi or are excited for Jodie Whittaker, give this episode a chance. She has a great introduction sent off from a fantastic good-bye.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

 

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) – An Amazing Subversion of Expectations

   “The Last Jedi” is my second favorite Star Wars film. This is a series that is second only to “The Empire Strikes Back,” and in many ways has greater depth even though the structure of this film is a bit of a mess. What this film does though is upset the status quo, delve into the reasons the First Order and Resistance have for even existing in the first place and also a much deeper analysis of “The Force” that we haven’t really gotten since the Original Trilogy. Before I get into spoilers, this is a film with the best characters and themes thus far, amazing character development and emotional payoff, amazing action and it is easily the most beautiful of all the Star Wars films. Seriously, check it out.

The film was directed and written by Rian Johnson while being produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman.

The story involves the Resistance attempting to escape from the First Order who are attacking them after the destruction of Starkiller Base, while Rey is seeking Luke’s help in their fight. Things soon get more complicated when the First Order executes a trap that forces members the Resistance to seek outside help  to escape the First Order trap, and a clash within the Resistance itself between Poe and Vice-Admiral Holdo after General Leia is incapacitated.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is visually the best looking of any film in the Star Wars franchise. Whether it is the filming of fight sequences in space or within a ship…the camera executes the action beautifully and each planet was somewhere I wanted to return back to after it was done.

The Universe – This Star Wars has quite a few different environments and animals. From the adorable porgs, to crystal foxes, to the salt world of Crait, Luke’s Island and Snoke’s Flagship and a Casino World. I was never bored because there was always more to see as each environment was so rich.

The Reason for Resistance – One of the major themes of the film is the reasons to resist. We see this as a class struggle in regards to oppression through the eyes of kids and Rose, a character we are introduced in this film…and also that personal identity is a huge role too and that finding the balance between them is important. Poe is driven by ego and glory for much of what he does but comes to see that it is bigger than each fight, the war is larger than any one person as the individuals and groups define what it means to resist, just as much as if not more than the personal reasons to fight.

The Cost of War – So many people die in this film. There are lots of heroic sacrifices, but also the people who are being oppressed by those profiting from the war, the deaths of so many soldiers on both sides who die. You feel that in this and it does a good job humanizing both the Resistance and the First Order. War is hell and sometimes no one wins, this film captures that theme beautifully.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. This film is all about relationships between characters, be it Leia and Poe, Rose and Finn, Kylo and Rey or Luke and Rey. Each relationship gets developed over the course of the film and reveals layers to the characters that didn’t exist in “The Force Awakens.”

Vice Admiral Holdo – Holdo is a character who has got a lot of crap from the fanbase, but she was one of my favorite characters in the film. She was respected for winning in the past but Poe doesn’t get that. She is presented as an antagonist through a good portion of the film, and the payoff of who she actually is and what she is doing is great.

Rose and Finn – It is through these characters that we get to see another face of the Resistance and why they fight. Finn is originally a part because of his friends and is even willing to leave in order to protect Rey but Rose reminds him of the bigger picture and that at the core they exist to fight oppression. It is handled on the casino world and seeing their friendship bloom was one of the more memorable parts of this film.

Master Luke Skywalker – Luke is done with everything. Like before in the Original Trilogy guilt defines him and it is mistake that helped lead to Kylo Ren’s creation and that guilt is something he carries with him and resists until the end. He is wanting to destroy the Jedi order and die as the last Jedi until Rey helps him realize there is so much more that he’s forgotten and that he can still make a difference and change things. Mark Hamill is fantastic.

General Leia Organa – I miss Carrie Fisher. It was great seeing her in this, her whole drive is survival and protecting the Resistance from the First Order. She is the mentor who is there to remind the young folks there is a time and place for glory but you have to work to keep everyone alive, or there won’t be anyone else left to fight. This was my favorite presentation of her besides “Empire Strikes Back” and I’ll miss her in these films, now that she’s gone.

Rey and Kylo Ren – One of the core relationships is that between Kylo and Rey both of who are alone and seeking more beyond the old order as so much of who they were was tied to the legends of the past. They are connected but still adversaries and it is great relationship to see explored as Ren becomes more confident and much more of a bully and Rey finds an identity outside of her parents and her expectations of Luke and the Jedi.

Subverting Expectations – If you go in expecting “The Empire Strikes Back” or another version of “Return of the Jedi” or “A New Hope” prepare to be surprised. This is a film where most things don’t work out for any characters. Things change, both in the First Order and the Resistance in regards to their identities…but it doesn’t repeat the cycle. We get away from The Ring Cycle a bit here and from that “Star Wars” seems to finally be developing it’s own identity outside of the past. We also see The Force not being tied to bloodlines and the fantasy feel of the past films and midichlorians are implied to no longer be a factor (Rey’s background and the last scene of the film). I loved that, this is no longer the Skywalker show, Star Wars has to be bigger than one family drama and I can’t wait to see where the series goes.

Everybody Loses – Poe finds out he was wrong, Rose and Finn get betrayed, Rey isn’t able to turn Kylo Ren and even the Resistance only barely survives. The First Order isn’t in great shape either after the events that take place and it is going to be transforming further or it will collapse. That is powerful and with it we see the most potential for change both within the Resistance and the First Order. They’ve lost too much to remain static.

Okay: Welcome to the Casino / Side Quest – This first point is related to the second point, there is a side plot on a casino world in order for Rose and Finn to get a code breaker in order to break onto Snokes’s ship so that they shutdown the Empire’s ability to track the Resistance’s fleet. It explores the meaning of the Resistance so I’m not putting it as a total negative but it could have been shorter and achieved the same purpose in the plot, and I would have traded a few Finn and Rose scenes for more scenes with the codebreaker played by Del Toro named DJ. He is fun.

Structure and Clutter – The greatest issue with this film for me was the structure and how cluttered some of the different plots are. It wasn’t bad, I saw this film twice but it does feel long during some of the side tangents. The overall story and themes greatly overwhelm this in quality though and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.

This is probably going to be in my Top 5 films at the end of the year. This is a film I’ve watched twice and is easily the most fun I’ve had at a film this year since “Baby Driver.” I can’t wait to see where things go after this film as it upsets so much of the status quo. I am a guy who loves the original Extended Universe and I always will, but I’m glad they didn’t repeat it (and I still enjoy it as another timeline of Star Wars). By the time of “The Force Awakens” I was done with the Skywalker drama, predictability will kill this franchise as so many of the problems that plagued the Prequels was the lazy recycling of the Original Trilogy. This film is strange, different, takes chances and changes things and honestly, it is the only way Star Wars can grow beyond the corner it was written in to. Here is to Disney embracing that change and giving us more great stories like this film.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Second best Star Wars film thus far.

 

“The Orville” Season 1 – A Show That Draws Inspiration From the Best Aspects of “Star Trek”

    “The Orville” is a show that only exists because of how much of a fan Seth MacFarlane is of “Star Trek” and Fox knowing just how great the cultural impact of “Star Trek” has been that a show that pulls full inspiration from it (while having it’s own tone and lore) and not get sued. What do I think of the show? I think the humor doesn’t always work but I love the drama and the characters. Seth MacFarlane put a lot of love into this show and it was perfectly cast in regards to the characters and their roles…and I can’t wait to see where the show is taken next.

The story involves Ed Mercer being given the chance to Captain the Planetary Union ship known as the U.S.S. Orville. He soon learns his ex-wife Commander Kelly Grayson will be his First Officer as they must sort out their issues as the new crew faces the drama of one another and the wider Universe the Planetary Union inhabits in the 25th Century. 

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The Universe is a lot like “Star Trek” but a bit similar to our reality in that rather than the vague spirituality of Trek, everyone in the future is an atheist if they are part of the Planetary Union or any future person. There are countless aliens, most are humanoid (like “Star Trek”) but the Union is strong but not the strongest. The highly religious and zealotesque Krill are and they are a fantastic enemy in the episodes they come up in. Most of the episodes are solving dilemmas though, whether it is finding ancient ships and a civ. on board, interacting with a bronze age people that advances rapidly, or passing into 2D space. Like “Star Trek” this is a universe rich with possibilities.

The Crew of “The Orville” – The crew is overall amazing. I’m giving certain characters special treatment though, because they stood out to me and will mention some other notable things in this summary. The characters are complicated, you have Doctor Claire Finn who is woman who chose single motherhood because she wanted to be a mom and could have kids without needs a spouse or partner, you have Lt. Commander LaMarr who hid his intelligence because in the colony he came from it was looked down upon, but in turn becomes the Chief Engineer on the ship, you have Bortus who fights for the right of his child to choose his own gender in a species that has only males and a few others who I will go into deeper into the review of the show. The least notable is Lt. Gordon Malloy who is comedic and good at being a pilot and that is the extent. He isn’t complicated.

Alara – Alara is one of my favorite characters. She is the security officer on the ship and comes from a planet where her gravity is heavier so her species is stronger than most. We learn they also as a culture look down on military and similar professions as they see it as below their intellect. She went against her parents to join the Planetary Alliance and because of it holds herself to an impossible standard, and we see it when in an episode she faces her worst fears and the worst fears of her crew members and succeeds. It is a powerful episode and reaffirmed why she is one of my favorite characters on the show.

Isaac – Isaac is from a race of artificial non-biological beings who believe themselves to be the most superior life forms in the galaxy. Isaac joined in order to learn about humankind, and is our Data stand in. His arc is him learning how to care for humans and organics beyond just studying them and it is handled really well. I can’t wait to see where his arc goes.

Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson – The main arc that drives the story is the relationship between Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson. They are divorced after Grayson cheated on Mercer with a blue alien. We later learn the alien can make anyone fall in love with him when it is going through mating and that might have been what happened. There are a few false starts and with each friendship grows between them but Grayson cuts it off in the finale when she realizes that their love is causing Mercer to do things he wouldn’t have usually done as a Captain that put him and others at risk so they cut it off. It is touching and the arc is fun.

The Secular Future – The future is won by science and I loved it. This is a future where humanity has myths still but they mostly come from television shows and past knowledge, as far as we know there isn’t supernatural and there is no religion to speak of beyond the Krill or less advanced species and it usually comes up as a problem. Seth MacFarlane wrote this and it shows, and for what its worth as a secular agnostic humanist, I enjoyed this future greatly. Like “Star Trek” it showed a world not defined by religion but by even deeper ideas of self.

Exploring Dilemmas – One of the great things about “Star Trek” that “The Orville” does well is the exploration of moral dilemmas. Be they dilemmas of culture and technology (justice by “likes” and “dislikes”) the agency of a person within in a nation in regards to their family (an all male species forcing a newborn born female to be turned male and her choice being taken away, and this species if a major player in the Planetary Union) why there are rules for first contact (Kelly sets off a religion on a planet that exists orbiting through universes when she heals a little girl with her technology)  and countless other dilemmas where crew-members have to make choices where there isn’t always a clear answer.

Okay: The Humor – The humor is good at times but falls short on others when it has characters like Lt. Gordon going on away missions, when all he does is jokes, or Lt. LaMarr grinding on a statue on an alien society and no one on the crew being briefed on how the culture they were down studying worked as they searched for scientists who had gone missing…The humor made these stories that were largely solidly written otherwise, to go down in quality. Cheap laughs are not the way to go. When the show nails it, it is amazing, but it wasn’t consistent.

The Series Arc / The Episodic Nature of the Show – The show is largely episodic with the only consistent arc being Ed and Kelly working through what their relationship is now. I would have preferred more of an arc with the Krill, they do still a giant Krill warship in the last episode the Krill are in but it doesn’t go anywhere after that. That was missed potential that made the show not really get the great exit it deserved, since it really did have a great entrance. Solidly good show, but not great.

This is a show that if you are a fan of sci. fi., “Star Trek” or Seth MacFarlane, you will probably enjoy. This is easily the best thing he’s ever done by miles and I’m glad the show was renewed for another season. Where he chooses to take the show remains to be seen, as it could remain like TNG and TOS and largely remain episodic with some powerful episodes along the way, or it could go the way of DS9 and later ENT and give us some powerful arcs that payoff on a personal and galactic scale. I’m all for finding a good medium inbetween as well, arc episodes and bottle episodes together. As someone whose missed “Star Trek” since it went off the air and all we had were movies, this and “Discovery” made this Trekkie happy. If you like “Star Trek,” you should at least give this show a chance.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. Humor often time hurt the drama and lack of an overall arc kept the season from greatness.

 

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos – Fun RTS Gameplay and Solid Fantasy Redemption Story

   “Warcraft III” and the original “Starcraft,” are the games that got me into RTS games, along with “Age of Empires II” and “Rise of Nations.” Does “Reign of Chaos” hold up? I would say yes, there are some things Blizzard did that took away from the strategy a little bit (adding hero units which turned multiplayer into a rush game). I really enjoyed this, for someone who grew on Tolkien no one had subverted the “Orcs are bad.” trope until “Warcraft III.”

In regards to how I review this first game of 2 (I plan to review “The Frozen Throne” after I beat it again), it holds up and I’ll give a brief analysis on gameplay (pros and cons) and how the story was. The story in the end will be my overall judge for any game where the gameplay is at least enjoyable. Like my films I enjoy my games being compelling and having a narrative that pulls me in.

For giving recognition where it is due, Chris Metzen wrote the story (which explains why he is the head of storytelling on WOW for best and for worse) directed by Frank Fierce jr. and produced by Chris Sigaty.

The story picks up after Warcraft 2 (all the games so Draenor is destroyed and the Horde Orcs are defeated and in internment camps) and begins with Thrall freeing the rest of his people Lordaeron on promptings from a mysterious prophet. From here we trace the rise of the Scourge, the return of the demons of the Burning Legions and the introduction of the Night Elves.

SPOILERS ahead (old game so may not mean as much).

The Pros: The Gameplay – As stated above, the gameplay is too rushish in multiplayer but the Hero concept payed off. I wouldn’t being loving “Heroes of the Storm” if not for this game. So I take the pros over the cons and in the end it is pro. Each hero has unique ability, and depending on your playstyle (I tend to go for auras over abilities) helps in the campaign, custom and multiplayer games. In the end the campaign was fun, which is a win for me. I enjoyed playing this game again after not playing it since High School, and can’t wait to replay the expansion.

The Alliance – We only really get to see the Fall of Lordaeron in this and the rest of the Alliance is purposely left out. I get this as in if the game fails, we get the fall of the Alliance from past “Warcraft” games, but if it succeeds….we get “World of Warcraft” which is still going with the most recent game being “Legion.” The fall is told really well, with Arthas killing people in “The Purge of Stratholme” to save them from being enslaved, and going mad after. It is compelling and in the end the Scourge wins ending with Arthas turning on his troops, sacraficing his friend Magni and killing his father the King, leading into the next campaign. Arthas is the drive and seeing his fall is how Anakin in in the Star Wars Prequels should have been done.

The Scourge – The Scourge Campaign involves Arthas destroying his own nation after the killing of his father after the end of the Human Campaign. It is really good. You start out weak, resurrecting the Necromancer Kel’Thuzad who you killed during Arthas’s fall to empower the Scourge and bring in the Burning Legion who are behind it all and the big threat from all past Warcraft games. It is really good and you get to see how Arthas without a soul is like. He is funny and also evil as hell. He kills his mentor Uther, destroys the Kirin Tor (who is the faction of his complicated relationship – Jana) and in the end feels powerless until he returns later in the last campaign. He feels like a pawn but empowered in his malice and it is Kel’Thuzad who hits at the plans to come as Ner’zhul predicted the fall and conquest and his freedom and Scourge sovereignty out of it.

The Horde – The Horde is complicated, back in Middle School they were my favorite faction, and I still love playing compicated orcs, nowadays though. Grom, who “redeems” the orcs only fights. Thrall who is the Warchief is constantly keeping him in check and even though Grom kills the big bad (after he kills a good demigod) doesn’t redeem him in my eyes. This campaign was fun, but Grom pissed me off. Thrall was good but he never apologizes to Jana (who is Arthas’s complicated and brings the survivors of Lordaeron to Kalimdor) and only sees Grom as hero. Th orcs deserved better and World of Warcraft really hasn’t redeemed them yet. They are still conquerors and not fully refugees and that is a toxic narrative. I’m a fan of the orcs and this time around could not embrace them. They don’t see what they do as wrong and only live to fight, which even if they aren’t the evil of Tolkien orcs doesn’t put them on par with the Night Elves and Humans. They deserved better in this game, though still putting as a pro. This was the only time I’ve played orcs in a somewhat redeeming light and I want more of that. They are a compelling species and I love their aesthetic.

The Night Elves – The Night Elves story is short but awesome. You have the warrior women who protect the forests and bring in the Druids when things to get apocalyptic. Tyrande, the Priestess of the Moon is a fanatic but you get her perspective given she hasn’t had Outsiders in 10,000 years and in the end she appreciates the orcs and humans who defend Mount Hyjal and the World Tree from the big bad Archimonde who wants to consume Azeroth. Furion is standard wise old guy but fighting with the Druids of the Claw was fun, Illidan is the Boba Fett in this game where he was trapped and fights for himself because all have wronged him and stars in 1 mission (but has an awesome aesthetic). I enjoyed this campaign and wanted at least 1 more with Illidan to develop him further, though I know the expansion to this game does that really well. This is where the complicated characters are. Jana is savior and love interest and doesn’t get beyond that and the Kirin Tor and King are (you know us from Warcraft II lore if you read the books) which coming back to the game wasn’t enough. The Night Elves campaign is short but it is a rich campaign.

The Fall of Arthas – The most compelling story in this game is that of Arthas. He turns on the past allies of the High Elves and kills their general Sylvanas (who I want to say now is amazing come “The Frozen Throne” given what goes down this game). He kills his further, turns on his allies. Consumed by revenge he forsakes everything for the power to achieve his revenge. He is the perfect Anakin and I get why “Wrath of the Lich King” is so memorable even though I haven’t played and avoid MMORPGS.

The Introduction of Illidan – Illidan’s introduction is great. He isn’t to be trusted but he kills the big bads while serving himself. He is the perfect anti-hero in Warcraft. He has no destiny or prophecy at this point…he is a hero who messed up and was wronged acting out. This makes his mission fun and why I was drawn to him after so many years replaying. Can’t wait see his story unfold again in “The Frozen Throne.”

Defeating the Burning Legion – This is a win that pays off. We see them come during the Scourge Campaign and even though Thrall and Grom defeat the general Mannaroth, we saw Archimonde decimate a kingdom in the Scourge cinematic. The threat is always real, especially with most Night Elf missions being a race against time, and this is them with allies and them having defeated the Burning Legion in the past. The payoff is amazing and holding Archimonde back to the second with Tyrande and Furion to the second was such a rewarding playthrough. For me every Night Elf mission mattered, both from challenge and investment in the characters.

Okay: More Exploration / Missions Could Have Made Perfect – Grom should have been shown being noble and not just a blood lust fighter to make his redemption mean something and not just him escaping his addiction to battle, Jaina deserved a mission escaping from the Scourge and her former lover Arthas and to give her more agency and the Night Elves needed a mission to work with the Alliance and Horde…a custscene wasn’t enough given Grom killed one of their Gods. This took away from making the game perfect.

Grom’s “Redemption” -This guy only lives for fighting. He has a great look, but he needed more. We never saw him as loving any more than war, he cared about Thrall and felt bad but each time that mattered he went back to fighting. There is no reason for Thrall to trust him or for the Horde to be forgiven beyond “The End of the World” in the Night Elf campaign. He deserved better given that the character came back in “Warlords of Draenor” and his son was Warchief of the Horde…and like his dad ruined it. I am a fan of the Horde, I like orcs as not simply bad guys…but Warcraft’s redemption doesn’t fully work. Chris Metzen was the writer and the Horde deserved better if they were going to be redeemed. I want good orcs, but you won’t get them from Grom killing Mannaroth. The flaws run to deep if Grom wants to fight every mission, him killing his species enslaver (Mannaroth), doesn’t justify him willing to kill anyone for not being an orc through the campaign. Looks cool, but the guy is deplorable.

“Reign fo Chaos” is a flawed and amazing game that is well worth your time if you enjoy RTS games. I can’t wait to replay “The Frozen Throne” given how fun Arthas and Illidan are to play as heroes and I love the “Forsaken” campaign, which was actually a great set-up for the Forsaken joining the Horde in WoW and further Sylvanas development. This game is self contained, it is set-up to be self contained if it fails given the big bads are beaten and we have a world that no longer needs “Guardians.” For this reason I rate the game highly. There is some great character development, even if I wanted more for the orcs and night elves. If you like fantasy games or rts’s check this game out. It has been out for years, but is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.3  / 10. A solidly great fantasy RTS game.