“The Witcher” Season 1 – A Promising Start to This Fascinating Universe

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      “The Witcher” is a series that shows so much promise. This is a world where I’ve played some of each of the videogames (1-3) as well as read some of one of the books (“Blood of Elves”). This is a universe that I find fascinating while it is only the show that I’ve full completed a story. This is the perspective I’m coming from outside of reading the wikis. I have an interest in this universe, but am more of a passive fan. So knowing this, what did I think of it? I think this is a show that shows a lot of promise, and I want to see more. I’ll get into more of what works and doesn’t below.

This is a show produced by Netflix and created by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich based on the books by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.

The story follows the Witcher Geralt of Rivea (Henry Cavill) as he hunts monsters and wrestles with his destiny as the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) forges her own path and the Princess Siri of Cintra (Freya Allan) discovers there is more to her past than she realizes.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The World of “The Witcher” is amazing. It is one reason I play all 3 games and can’t wait to see where the stories go. This is a world full of politics, magic, drama and monsters where often times there isn’t a best choice. All these aspects (with the exception of politics which I wish had been explored better) are handled well in the show. I can’t wait to see how Netflix explores this world further.

The Monsters – We see dragons, undead and countless other beasts pulled from Eastern European mythology. The designs are fantastic and this show uses a lot of practical make-up rather than leaning too heavily on CGI and it brings the world to life. The monsters also exist among the humans as it is often the humans who are cursing others and changing them into beasts and who are monsters in their actions.

Yennefer – Yennefer has my favorite arc in the show. She goes from an abused girl who has a humpback and deformity from her elven blood and comes into her own as a powerful sorcerer. She breaks from the Tower and makes her own path before eventually returning to defend the rest of the realm with her mentor from the Nilfgaard invasion. Her relationship with Geralt is beautiful as they are the only ones who are open with each other but at the same time are both still so full of secrets each moment of joy comes with one of pain. I can’t wait to see where her story goes. Anya Cholotra did a great job.

Jaskier – Jaskier is the heart of the story in many ways. He’s an egotistical bard who is out for fame but also cares. He is one of the few friend’s Geralt has in the world and has countless adventures with him over the course of the season. I can’t wait to see more of him in season 2. He’s hilarious and also you can’t help but feel for him too given how open he is compared to the guarded personality that is Geralt.

Geralt – Henry Cavill works in this role. I was surprised how much I ended up liking him. You can tell he’s a fan of this universe and he does a great job of bringing the pain and nobility that drives Geralt in his actions. I hope we learn more about the Witchers as so far Geralt is the only one we’ve seen in the show and I have hopes for how they handle Ciri’s arc as the father and daugther relationship that Geralt and Ciri have is one of the strongest parts of the game.

The Cons:

The Ciri Story So Far – Ciri escapes from Nilfgaard after they destroy her kingdom by using her magic (she discovers she has it when she screams). What this magic means and what drives her beyond survival is never really discovered though, and the supporting characters she meets are no “Hound” from “Game of Thrones” even though her plot is very Arya like as she ends up kidnapped or a different group’s hands after she is on the run. After this she non-nonsensically asks Geralt who Yennefer is, and that is where her story ends. Hopefully season 2 will develop her as a character.

Nilfgaard – The Nilfgaard Empire’s expansion is the main threat in the present day story surrounding Ciri. One of the leaders is trying to capture Ciri and destroys her Kingdom and family. We never get what drives their expansionism though, or even what they believe. They are soldiers in black armor and never become more nuanced than that. They are the Empire when in game they are much more complicated.

Destiny – Destiny is what characters use to explain everything. It is used much as “The Force” in “Star Wars” but is even more flimisly handled. We don’t get the logic behind destiny beyond “The Law of Surprise” which is where you can claim something of someone else’s as a reward after a certain time (though it could be anything from a shovel to a child). Why this law exists is never explained either even though it is the only real explanation we see of how destiny works. I hope next season solves this problem.

This is a series that shows so much promise. There are still problems, Ciri’s story was uninspired and she is pretty much kidnapped from place to place while having no real agency and the threat of Nilfgaard hasn’t been defined. We know they are religious fanatics but know next to nothing about how that fanaticism rose and what drives them. This is a shame as they are much more complex in what I’ve played in “Witcher 3.” I want more of that and Ciri to be a character as compelling as Geralt and Yennefer. She isn’t there yet, but there is still hope to have all parts of this series stand strong.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10 Boosted by the Geralt and Yennefer stories and the actors in those roles.

“The Mandalorian” Season 1 – For Disney+, This is the Way

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    “The Mandalorian” is the first thing to come out of the new Disney Star Wars that feels original. There are all the trappings of Star Wars but it doesn’t feel tied back to any prior lore and is a solid series as is. It doesn’t need the rest of the Extended Universe to be good and that is where the strength of it really is. This is a space western that explores the life and story of a bounty hunter in this universe and Jon Favreau and handles this amazingly well. There is a beautiful simplicity to the great westerns that this show captures perfectly. For non-spoiler thoughts the only cons that stood out were the cliche writing tropes that happened sometimes and I had a few issues with the final episode. Also, this show is super quotable. You’ve probably already heard “I have spoken” and “This is the way” from the popular culture around you. It was wonderful being part of the experience of it all with everyone.

The show was created by Jon Favreau in collaboration with Dave Filoni, Kathleen Kennedy and Colin Wilson.

The story follows the Mandolorian bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) on his bounty assignments as his life is changed after he discovers one of his bounties is not what he’d thought it would be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is what makes the world. It feels completely seperate from John Williams’s score and sets the world apart as a western. Ludwig Göransson is truly a master of his craft. I want to check out his other work now. The soundtrack is a big reason I’d watch the credits at the end of each episode, besides the cool concept art that came with it.

The World – This world takes place within “Star Wars” but has none of the major characters. The major antagonist is Moff Gideon who leads a remnant of the Empire but as far as we can see, doesn’t even have a Star Destroyer and his army seems to be made up of mercenaries. This is a world where the Mandalorian people have been nearly wiped out and our protagonist is part of a hidden group in the sewers of a planet. The New Republic is also nowhere to be seen showing that it is a new government and they have never really had an organized Navy in the way the Empire did. The world is beautiful, raw and works.

The Supporting Characters –  The supporting cast of “The Mandalorian” is a big reason this show works. You have Kuil played by Nick Nolti who is the Mandalorian’s (Mando / Din Djarin) first mentor and helps him become the father figure to “Baby Yoda.” His other ally is Cara Dune played by Gina Carano who is Mando’s fellow warrior. There is also his sometimes boss Greef Karga played by Carl Weathers who is in charge of the Bounty Hunters Guild. All of these characters who appear multiple times get development and lore. There are smaller characters like Mando’s former criminal co-workers who he ran with and of course enemies like Moff Gideon who we meet too. All of these characters give life and nuance to the world and show us who Mando is in how he interacts with them.

The Mandalorian – Our protagonist Din Djarin the Mandalorian is a character who tells us so much in his silence. He doesn’t talk much and demonstrates who he is from his actions. We see this when he saves Baby Yoda from the imperial remnant, his defense of a village from raiders and his willingness to give people a chance, even if they betray him. Pedro Pascal is excellent in the role. This is a character ruled by trauma from the Clone Wars when droids killed his parents, and dealing with that hate and distrust is his main arc beyond caring for others again. He never stops being a Bounty Hunter but he finds a way to keep to the good within that code. It is extremely well done and I can’t wait to see where future seasons go.

Okay:

Imperial Remnant – I have a few okays listed because the ideas work in some ways and don’t work in others. For example the Imperial Remnant. The Empire has so many stormtroopers killed and they are the but of jokes, but they also manage to destroy most of the hidden Mandalorians and can be threatening when there is a need. I can’t call them a pro because Moff Gideon hasn’t won on screen yet and we don’t know how powerful this remnant of the Empire is.

Unearned Happy Ending – The ending wasn’t bad, I was fine with it but it could have been better. We have heroic sacrifice, which I appreciated…but Moff Gideon never gets the chance to be a real threat and his Imperial Remnant never feels effective. I’m not putting as a con because I did like Mando and his friends fighting against the Moff, it was just way too happy. Moff is defeated in his Tie-Fighter (but survives) and after Greef just declares victory. It felt short sighted and making the episode happy rather than taking in both the loss of IG-11 and Kuiil.

This is a show that has so much promise. It isn’t perfect but I do consider it great. It had enough characters I cared about, the feel of the world is one I want to spend more time in and the fact that there is more story to tell has me intrigued. My personal hope is that it doesn’t tie itself to closely to Disney’s new lore in episodes 7-9 as I’d like this to be a show that someone who isn’t into “Star Wars” could pick up and enjoy and follow all the way through. I don’t know if this will happen, but that is the hope I’m holding onto for this series. This is a story that doesn’t need any prior lore to keep it strong and I’d like it to stay that way moving forward.

Final Score: 9 / 10

The Irishman (2019): A Good Reflective Crime Drama

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      “The Irishman” is a film that would have worked better as a show or focusing in on one story. Scorsese is a master of his craft and the film is beautiful, but I also ended up watching this film over 2 days. This film has some really strong stories within the narrative but at times drags and almost spends a little too much time in a time and place. Without getting into spoilers this is a film I’d recommend though, especially to any Scorsese fan.

The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian.

The story follows Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) as he recounts his time in the mafia.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – Scorsese has an eye for scenes and this film is beautiful. At times it feels like a documentary capturing snapshots in history, while other scenes become a drama and the tension is palatable and the scenes are personal. Rodrigo Prieto did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Robbie Robertson composed a fantastic soundtrack. It is kinetic when it needs to be and slow when it fits the narrative too. I loved his work in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and he is once again collaborating with Scorsese to wonderful results. I felt in among the characters because of how involved the music was and I definitely plan to use it for writing in the future.

The Core Character Relationships – The core relationships are what make the film work. Frank and Russell (Joe Pesci) have a mentor relationship that turns into a partnership after Russell brings him into the mob and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Frank have a best friendship that the mob ends when Hoffa becomes a threat.

The Exploration of Time – The film begins in the 50’s when Frank is a truck driver but spends most of the time with Jimmy Hoffa in the 1960’s to the 1980’s. The strongest part of the narrative is our time with Hoffa and I wish that was the story that they had chosen to tell. It is where we see Frank face a dilemma and his choices really change him, besides that he is an enforcer and later leader within the mob and that just isn’t as interesting as his complex relationship with Hoffa.

The Cons:

The Third Act and Pacing – The Third Act and really anytime we are with an old Frank really drag. I didn’t really see the point of it beyond it showing that he in the end he died alone. Whenever we are in the present the film goes really slow and at it was already dragging at points prior. As said above I wish they just could have chosen Frank’s time with Hoffa as everything else doesn’t feel as compelling and is more flavor rather than story. This film is over 3 hours and even with me taking an intermission before finishing it the next day felt like nothing was missed in the interim. That really is what brings it down the most.

I thought this was a really good film. It isn’t as strong as Scorsese’s other work but I loved that he got to work with many actors who he had worked with before. De Niro, Pacino, Pesce are all in their A game and in roles that play to their strengths. The film is also beautifully filmed and the soundtrack is breathtaking. If you are a Scorsese fan, I highly recommend this film. It could have been more but I was still happy with what I got.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019): A Great Exploration of Insecurity

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      “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a great film. This is a film that stays on the theme of exploring insecurity, while giving us a glimpse into the lives in Hollywood right before the 70’s hit. You can clearly see how passionate Tarantino is about his work and the performances and cinematography are amazing. For my non-spoiler thoughts, I think if you are a Tarantino fan you will probably enjoy this film but there are some areas that I wish had been explored further, which was why this film didn’t make my Top 5 this year.

The film was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

The story follows Rich Dalton (Leanardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff (Brad Pitt) as Rich’s career is coming to an end and he struggles with what to make of his life. The story follows the rising star of Sharon Tate (Margo Robbie) and the actions of the Mansons in the surrounding area.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – Tarantino has such a good eye for scenes and this film is a great example of this. Robert Richardson the cinematographer does a beautiful job capturing this as Hollywood feels alive, grimy and fully realized in an era of time.

The World – The world of late 60’s going into the 70’s Hollywood is fascinating. You have the Manson cult running around, you’ve got spaghetti westerns in their hayday and the rise of Italian Cinema and of course the mixture of poverty and excess. Tarantino is clearly passionate about this time period and you can see it in the set designs and characters as well as the catchy soundtrack. This film made me want to check out some more of the films from this era to see more of what Tarantino pulled inspiration from.

The Characters – The characters in this world are complicated and it makes them compelling. Rich is a falling star making sense of himself in a world that doesn’t need him anymore, Cliff is trying to survive in a world where he blacklisted (there is a belief he killed his wife in the film from the Hollywood community), and Sharon Tate is making sense of her own rising star and the world of Hollywood. Robbie, DiCaprio and Pitt are all fantastic in their roles and I’d watch a show of this film to see more of these characters.

The Action and Alternate History – This is one of Tarantino’s alternate history takes as in this the Manson followers who killed Sharon Tate instead go to Rich and Cliff’s house and end up getting killed in the process. The action is brutal in true Tarantino action and getting revenge against terrible people is a Tarantino trope I enjoy. This alternate history leads to Rich possibly getting a second boost in his career too as at the end he gets to meet Sharon Tate and with it becomes part of the new Hollywood that she is a part of.

An Exploration of Insecurity – The common theme of the film is that of insecurity. You see it in Rich’s monologues and breakdowns, in Cliff’s interactions with others where he always has to win, in Bruce Lee starting a fight with Cliff, Sharon Tate in her self-discovery as an upcoming star and in Hollywood itself, always chasing the next big dream. Tarantino explores this through all these characters. Character actions are driven by how people view them and by their own doubts about themselves. It is wrestling with this that characters find balance and some semblance of peace by the end.

The Cons:

Motivation of the Murders – We don’t get to see how the Manson girls got brainwashed and how he kept control and that was something that would have added another layer to the film. The Mansons were cult and we only really get glimpses of how that cult worked. Exploring this further would have strengthened the film and could have been worked into the theme of insecurity as well.

One of the rightful issues with the film was the treatment of Bruce Lee. I can appreciate that perspective but in this case I disagree as it fit the theme of the story. Lee like every person in the story is dealing with insecurity and it is that theme that keeps the story so strong. He isn’t in any lesser light than the other characters who aren’t evil like the Mansons. This film was a joy to watch and I can’t wait to see what Tarantino does next. This was a great film and a huge improvement over Tarantino’s last film “The Hateful Eight.” Seriously, if you are a Tarantino fan, this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Top 5 Films of 2019

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2019 was an interesting year for film. There were quite a few types of film I didn’t see. I didn’t see any of the live-action Disney remakes as I had no desire too. I skipped quite a few remakes such as the “Men in Black,” “Hellboy” and “Charlie’s Angels” remakes. I didn’t see any of the Stephen King books adapted to film. I will probably review them at some point but I had no desire to watch them in the theatre. I was much more picky about films I saw this year and it certainly lead to a better viewing experience. I list some of the films I saw this year below and for a few there are reviews upcoming, but they didn’t make my Top 5.

Now for what I did see. For the films I saw this year that were bad were “The Dead Don’t Die,” “Velvet Buzzsaw” and “Glass.” These trashfires all looked great but had stories that were crap. Either there was no bigger point, the characters were unlikable or the story was simply crap.

Most of the films that I thought were good or enjoyable but didn’t make my Top 5 were the MCU films that came out this year, “How to Train Your Dragon 3,” “Rise of Skywalker,” “The Irishman,” and “Joker.” These were films I may or may not see again in the future and were good for the outings they were but left me with no lasting investment. Some were fine ends or complete stories, while others were good experiences that didn’t stay with me after or whose deeper point just wasn’t there or didn’t stick.

For great films that were in competition for making the list so will get honorary mentions here are “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “El Camino,” “John Wick 3,” “Shazam!” “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” and “Toy Story 4.” Each of these captured an element of what I love in films and if they didn’t have a deeper point at least were beautifully crafted films that brought more than the sum of their parts.

Now without further ado, here are my Top 5 Films of 2019:

 

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5) Midsommar

Directed by Ari Aster

Last year Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” made my Top 5 films of the year, and he once again pulls it off this year. “Midsommar” is a haunting horror film that explores the themes of trauma and isolation while managing to make daylight and summer creepy. The one thing that keeps this film being higher on the list is the fact that besides the main character, none of her friends are likable. For the purpose of the narrative, them being unlikable works as it plays into Dani’s isolation that she is going through after the death of her parents and sister and the events that take place in the small Swedish cult village celebrating midsummer. If you are a fan of horror films or enjoyed “Hereditary” I highly recommend this film. There are layers of storytelling in this beautifully told horror story and I can’t wait to see what Ari Aster does in the future.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2019/10/19/midsommar-2019-an-amazing-film-about-grief-and-isolation/

 

4) What We Left Behind – Looking Back on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Directed by Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone

I’m a Trekkie and this has been a rough year in regards to that, especially as it relates to “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” Aron Eisenberg (Nog) and René Auberjonois (Odo) both died during 2019. In this documentary they feature prominently and we even get to see a hypothetical Season 8 with Captain Nog at the helm. This is a documentary made for the fans and it explores so many amazing aspects of the show and what makes it one of my favorite shows of all time. Whether it is social justice that is explored through sci. fi. lens, the cost of war or countless other ideas these are presented to us by the showrunner Ira Steven Behr as he explores the show he created. Documentaries have never made my Top 5 Films at the end of the year, until 2019. If you are a fan of “Star Trek” and especially of “Deep Space Nine,” you really should see this film. This last year it became even more personal, because of all those left behind, but remembered.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/what-we-left-behind-looking-back-on-star-trek-deep-space-nine-2019-the-perfect-star-trek-deep-space-nine-documentary/

 

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3) Jojo Rabbit

Directed by Taika Waititi

“Jojo Rabbit” is a genius satire and drama that feels like the best of Wes Anderson meets the best of Mel Brooks. The story follows Johannes (Jojo) as he discovers his mom (played by Scarlett Johansson) is sheltering a Jewish girl from the Nazis. From here is his unlearning of how toxic and evil fascism and Nazism is, while dealing with his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (played by Taika Waititi). The film is brilliant, powerful, intelligent and full of so much heart. In the era we live now, with the rise of facism around the world and the targeting of the most vulnerable in refugees, immigrants and so many others. This film is extremely relevant to modern day problems facing so many communities around the world and here in the United States. This film is definitely worth your time.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2019/12/14/jojo-rabbit-2019-a-masterpiece-of-satire-and-heart/

 

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2) Parasite

Directed by Bong Joon-ho

“Parasite” is above “Jojo Rabbit” just barely and that is largely due to character nuance. This is a film that explores class and privilege in South Korea while giving us some great character studies in the process. The story follows two families. One family is a bunch of cons called the Kims who con their way into fulfilling roles of help that the Park family needs. During the con we see the nuance and complexity to both families as well as how class, whether it is upper or lower class carries on through generations. This is a film where the nuance of the characters grew on me, you see their flaws but they are also not all they appear to be either. Both members of the families have moments of compassion or cruelty which leads to the ending being so powerful and tragic. I won’t give away anymore than that, but I highly recommend you check this one out.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2019/12/19/parasite-2019-a-thrilling-deconstruction-of-class/

 

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1) The Lighthouse

Directed by Robert Eggers

“The Lighthouse” is a beautiful, amazing and disturbing film. This is a film that explores isolation and madness as well as the human desire for connection even in the worst places in the mind. The story follows Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) as he fulfills a contract as a wickie at a Lighhouse of the coast of New England. It is here his only company is the boss of the Lighthouse, the half-mad Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Over the course of the film we see what isolation does to both of them as we are given symbolic visions of what may have brought Ephraim here to the contract in the first place and Wake’s obsession with “The Light” that has an almost religious power for him. I won’t give anywhere than that as you should see it yourself. This is a brilliant phsychological horror film and easily the best performance I’ve seen from Pattinson and Dafoe. I saw a lot of great films this year, but none of them reached the perfection that was this film.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2019/11/08/the-lighthouse-2019-the-haunting-light/

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – Enjoyable but Weakest of the New Trilogy

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      ‘The Rise of Skywalker” is a mess with a ton of flaws and is easily the weakest out of all the new Trilogy. I felt that the things that were strong helped elevate the mess enough to the point that it still managed to be an enjoyable film, even though I hate how derivative it is of “Return of the Jedi.” A lot of my fears about Abrams return were certainly validated in this film but due to actor performances and character relationships that really made it work for me, as extremely flawed as it is.

The film was directed by J.J. Abrams who co-wrote the film along with Chris Terrio.

The story picks up a few years later with Leia training Rey as a Jedi as Kylo Ren finds Emperor Palpatine alive with his hidden fleet. From here it is a race against time as our heroes must stop Palpatine and Kylo Ren before they conquer the galaxy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – John Williams is once again showing why he heads this series. He is once against the master of his craft here. I will definitely be listening to this soundtrack again and all his work with the prior films.

The Action – The action is good but nothing stands out like the fights in the prior film. There is emotional resonance to some of the action, specifically anytime Rey and Kylo fight one another. This film is primarily action though so it had to be at least serviceable. In that I’d say it succeeds but it isn’t as good as the action in “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi.”

The Core Characters – The core characters are what makes this film work, even though I disagreed with some of the character choices done with them. For the characters I feel like were the strongest I’ll be going into more depth below as it was really these characters that made the film work enough for me in the end.

Poe – Poe takes up the leadership role that was left in the last film as we see him leading the Resistance after Leia’s death. He is made more like Han Solo in this film (which annoyed me) but I liked us seeing him clash with Rey. Both are headstrong so it’d make sense they’d clash. It also got away from shipping them, which I appreciated. Oscar Issac’s is of course wonderful as always.

Finn – John Boyega is one of the strongest of all the new actors and that is once again demonstrated here. Here we get hints that Finn might have the force (he senses things, especially when Rey is in trouble). I wish this could have been explored further, but I did enjoy him playing such a key role in the final battle and fully embracing his role as a member of the rebellion. He even meets a former stormtrooper in this who he forms a friendship with. He is my favorite of the new characters besides Kylo Ren / Ben Solo and I would like to see what is done with him in the future.

Leia Organa – Leia finishes Rey’s training from the unused footage from prior films. It worked for me and I like that her last act was reaching out to Ben Solo so he could return to the light. It was strong and you see that Rey’s healing in the force probably came from Leia’s training. R.I.P. Carrie Fisher. I’m glad we got to know her more in this. One of the strongest scenes is when Luke tells Rey that when Leia finishes her training from Luke she realizes what becoming a Jedi will do to her son. The consequence of having the power is recognized and I like how that shaped her and made her choose to stay the politician and general instead.

Kylo Ren / Ben Solo – Ben Solo’s arc is the biggest re-tread of prior films but it is also one of the things that works most about the film. In this it is in the act of Rey healing him and his mom reaching out to him with the last of her life force that change him to the light. After this he speaks to Han in his memory before casting away his red lightsaber. Adam Driver is acting the hell out of this film and he is a huge reason the film works. His redemption story is predictable but the way Kylo versus Ben carry themselves is noticeable and the steps to the transformation are rushed but worked. It was that heart of the film that I really felt anything and I appreciate that Ben dies to save Rey. It brings the story full circle and makes him the most developed character in the entire series.

The Cons:

Knights of Ren – The Knights of Ren show up and have no payoff. They don’t feel like a threat. Phasma did more and I felt like she wasn’t fully utilized or explored. We don’t learn anything about them and they have no interaction with Kylo beyond being enforcers and fighting him at the end. They are missed potential in a big way and could have been worthy foes.

Palpatine and his Plan – We never lean how Palpatine survived “Return of the Jedi” except that the Dark Side cult is probably tied to the reasons and maybe he did have a contingency like his hidden fleet with Death Star weapons. Ian McDiarmid is of course amazing in the role, but his existence is just a re-treated of “Return of the Jedi” as we never get what his plan was for the First Order, since he created Snoke.

Rey’s Origin – I wish Rey’s parents had been nobody. Her being a Palpatine makes this universe so small, with everyone being related to everyone. Plus it is hard to imagine someone who wants to live forever (Palpatine) ever having a kid. In the prequels and original Trilogy he shows no interest in romance or sex at all. So her origin story becomes nonsensical and meaningless. She’d have fought Palpatine anyway regardless of her bloodline so it changes nothing.

Force Bloodlines and Return of the Prequel Problems – Rey being a Palpatine and Ben being a Skywalker bring back the prequel problem of the force and bloodlines, when it looked like the “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” were trying to get away from that. Leaning all in just elevated the problem of the origin story in the first place and takes away the mystique of the force. I hated in the prequels and I hate it once again here.

This film is a mess and I do wish they’d been more original than re-treading “Return of the Jedi.” If you are a Star Wars fan chances are you will find something to like, though the things I hated might be a bigger deal for you as well. The Skywalker story is the strongest part of the film (Ben, Luke and Leia) and really what makes the film good. The characters are who carry this frenetic mess and elevate it to an enjoyable experience. If you liked the prior 2 films, you will probably enjoy this one. The flaws are huge and I wish Disney had been more original, but for a Trilogy that only really took risks with “The Last Jedi,” this worked but could have been so much more.

8.6 / 10

Parasite (2019): A Thrilling Deconstruction of Class

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       “Parasite” is a film that stays with you. This is a film that explores class in South Korea as well as the complicated nature of the human psyche. None of the characters you meet are really likable but they are compelling and I found myself drawn in through the entire film. I wanted to see what would happen next, and the film did not disappoint. This is an amazing thriller and the beautiful cinematography and soundtrack elevate it further. I definitely recommend this film.

The film was directed and co-written by Bong Joon-ho who co-wrote the story along with Han Jin-wan.

The story follows the Kim family who cons their way into fulfilling roles needed by the wealthy Park family. All is not as it appears to be though as the history of the house and the weaknesses into con begin to be revealed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely beautiful and does a good job of pulling you in. Light is used to illustrate tension or discomfort as even the Park household never feels fully lit. This does a great job of growing the tension between characters, be it love, friendship or distrust. The use of light and dark helps illustrate the class divide between the characters as well as the Park house is filmed primarily during the day, while the Kim house is filmed primarily at night. The areas that are darkest is the hidden basement which feels like a horror film in how it shot and it is here where the Climax of the film really begins. This area of the house is filmed in sickly yellows and greens. Hong Kyung-pyo did an amazing job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack like the cinematography keeps you drawn in. There are sharp string instruments used at certain points and most of the soundtrack gives a sense of foreboding and melancholy. This plays into the theme and feel of the film and elevates it. Jeong Jae-il’s composition is absolutely beautiful.

The Characters and Nuance – This is a film that is full of character nuance. Most of the characters are more complicated than they appear to be. The father from the Kim family Ki-taek forms a friendship with the wife of the Park family Yeon-gyo and seems to care about her more than her husband does. The Kim daughter Ki-jeong helps the Park boy Da-song who she is art teacher for to calm down and there are little moments like this between characters scattered through the film. It is beautifully done. I kind of hated most of the characters at first until I noticed that nuance, which makes the con falling apart all the more tragic as everyone in this film suffers or dies in the end when the con comes crashing down.

Deconstructing Class – One of the lines in the film is that the Park family is kind because they are rich. There is truth to this in that they aren’t desperate to live so have formed relationships beyond survival, while the Kim families relationships are entirely based on eating and keeping their house. Why the class structure that exists is never explored but the consequence upon how people behave is. Desperation leads to selfishness and living well off can lead to a level of detachment.

The Ending – The climax starts when the former housekeeper returns after the Kim family is celebrating and drinking while the Park family is away. What we discover is her husband worked for the home’s prior owner and has gone insane. When the con is revealed the former housekeeper after the Kim mother refuses to help. This leads to the housekeeper ending up accidentally killed and her husband breaking out and attacking the Kim son and killing the Kim daughter. Kim Ki-taek kills the houskeeper’s husband and attacks the Park father after the Park father reacts to his “smell,” and escapes. After the Kim son Ki-woo recovers in the hospital he learns that his father survived and is living in the underground area where the housekeeper’s husband had been. He vows to earn money to get the house so that someday his father can be free and the story ends. There is so much that happens and it stays with you.

The Cons:

Backstory and Motivation of the Mothers – I wanted more story on what had brought the Mothers to be in the situations they were in. The con mother Chung-sook used to be an athlete, but we don’t know why she is so harsh on the housekeeper. What drove her to be the meanest of her family? How did Yeon-gyo end up in the relationship with a husband who never admits to loving her? They both love their children and that clearly drives them, but I wanted more on how they came to be in the places they were. I feel like that would have defined more of the choices they make in the film.

This was a film I came to love the more I thought about it. The characters have nuance and humanity to them, even as they do horrible things and in the end there is growth for at least 2 of the family members who did the con as well. This film could have easily just clearly painted one side as wholly bad but it doesn’t. Instead you see what greed and desperation do to people as well as how money changes how people view one another. This is powerful and relevant and the only thing keeping it from getting a higher score is I wanted more backstory from the mothers. They really needed more development for what defined who they were.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10