Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) – Strong Villain With a Promise for the Next Phase

   “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was a really good film. It is easily the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film of 2019. Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal have great chemistry together as Spider-Man and Mysterio and there are some really great twists. This film also has two great after-credits scenes and some of the best action in any of the films in the MCU. If you are a fan of the MCU or this version of Spider-Man from “Homecoming,” I strongly recommend you check it out. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

The film was directed by Jon Watts and written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers.

The story takes place after “Endgame” and involves Peter and his class taking a trip to Europe. While there Elementals attack and Nick Fury commissions Peter Parker as they work with Mysterio to take on the Elemental threat.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – This film has better action than  “Homecoming” though “Homecoming” has a better emotional core in regards to Parker’s friends. This is a movie that fully embraces the action and that is both a pro and  a con and for me the pro won out. We see giant monsters facing off against Spider-Man and Mysterio using Venice or Prague as the places where the battle is taking place. The action has consequences and you get why Peter chooses the choices he does. You see how Spider-Man is usually fighting losing battles and it is only through his mind and cleverness that he pulls a win out of potential losses.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – S.H.I.E.L.D. is screwed after the “Blip” (the 5 year gap between “Infinity War” and “Endgame”). Fury admits he doesn’t know the state of the world and that most of the heroes are gone, which lets Mysterio step and Spider-Man being forced to step-up. I love the how they are still a threat and undercover but also are secret agents acting with limited information, which ends up paying off later.

The Blip – “The Blip” is the five  year gap between “Infinity War” and “Endgame” and here it is recognized and played for laughs sorrows. It is played for laughs as in a band concert has people pop in on the same day and cause chaos and sorrow in that Aunt May and Spider-Man are raising money for the homeless blipped. The fact that half the population was gone for five years has consequences and Spider-Man knows that better than anyone.

Mysterio – Gyllenhaal carries so much of this film as Quentin Beck / Mysterio. He relates to Peter enough to give up his gift and we see him willing to risk it and all and even win when he loses. Mysterio was the engineer who invented the holograms that Tony Stark used for therapy in “Civil War.” Out of resentment of Tony naming his technology B.A.R.F. he finds others who were wronged by Tony in the past and together they create Mysterio. He is such a fun threat and you can see why he is angry and that he does want to be a hero, even though his way of going about it is villainous. He is easily one of the best Spider-Man live action film villains. His final revenge is brilliant, which is a pro I list later.

Spider-Man / Tom Holland – Tom Holland is amazing as Spider-Man. In this we see the core “With great power comes great responsibility” when Tony Stark gives him the A.I. E.D.I.T.H. The Network controls drones and satellites all over the world and is used through a pair of glasses. At one point Peter nearly gets his classmates killed and after he gives Mysterio E.D.I.T.H. When he finally realizes his mistakes and goes to face Mysterio he is nearly broken and it is only through working with Happy that he is able to finally defeat Mysterio. The lesser plot is his crush on MJ. They do end up together but it is one of the weaker parts of the film.

The End Credits Reveals – There are 2 end-credits scenes and both are great. The first involves a deep fake video from Mysterio’s organization that has Mysterio reveal to the world that Peter Parker is Spider-Man and that he was responsible for the drones and that Mysterio was trying to stop him. This was made even more powerful by J.K. Simmons being back as J. Jonah Jamison who in the MCU is an Alex Jones reporter type. It is such a great scene. Simmons owns this role and the MCU was smart to pull him into their version of the character.

The second film reveals that Nick Fury and Anita Hill were Talos and a Skrull the entire time. He calls Nick Fury and it is revealed that Fury is with the Skrulls in space. Both endings give so much possibilities for the next phase in the MCU. It also explains why S.H.I.E.L.D. had limited information. They were aliens who didn’t know the modern Earth after “The Blip.” The first after-credits scene is stronger but I loved them both.

 

Okay: MJ – Zendaya is a great actress but her character doesn’t do much in this beyond being a love interest. She finds out who Spider-Man is over the course of the school trip and her and Peter end up together. Overall her character is okay in this, which is a shame as she was great in “Homecoming.” They should not have put MJ in the “Love Interest” box. I wish that there had been potential for romance but Peter’s responsibility pulling him back from that, given Mysterio’s plans and what happens after.

Aunt May and Happy – This is an awkward romance that is also mostly played for laughs due to how it makes Peter feel. It wasn’t bad but it was screen-time that could have gone to developing MJ as a character, more about life after “the blip” or more Mysterio time. It wasn’t bad but it could have been cut.

The Cons:

The Teachers – The Teachers are played for jokes and really lame. I wish they weren’t so much at the front of the film. Their humor is awkward and they cause a clash of tones with how serious the main Mysterio plot is. The jokes at times are sitcom level bad and we aren’t given a reason to care about either. The rival had better development for me and he was still a con.

The Rival Brad – Peter has a rival in this film, his name is Brad and he is weak. He takes away from MJ’s development and feels tacked on. We at least get some recognition of “The Blip” where it sounds like he was Freshman before and now he is a Senior but it is only briefly touched upon. If they plan to make him a venom, that might work but only as finding his own self worth. Brad only exists as an outcropping of Peter’s insecurities which doesn’t develop MJ. The character was pretty forgettable and I would have traded his role for more screen-time for Peter’s friends or Mysterio and his organization.

This is a film that could have been great. You have a compelling villain, romance and Peter Parker growing but it having consequences. So why do I not see this film higher? This was easily the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film but that doesn’t give it a pass. This isn’t “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” or “Infinity War.” I really like this version of Peter Parker and what the MCU has done with him. He isn’t in personal stakes like Morales and his Uncle but the personal wishes versus responsibility are still key. Mysterio lets him give up responsibility and he pays the price for it at the end. That is is quintessential Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I really enjoyed this film and I think any Spider-Man fan will enjoy it immensely. This is a film that Holland and Gyllenhaal could have carried on their own.

Final Score: 8.9 / 10

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Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) – Stupid Title in a Great Adventure

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a stupid title. We know the film is about Han Solo, so adding that is “A Star Wars Story” tells us nothing we don’t already know. Given that they wanted to make a Trilogy out of this film I’m not sure how they’d show they are different, but I’m good with the sequels having different titles. Beyond my gripe about this title, I really liked this movie and thought it was a great. This was a film that explores the underworld of “Star Wars” where there are thieves, pirates and gangsters and no one is to be trusted. I enjoyed this film so much that I would watch sequels as the core cast and story were compelling and I found myself entranced through this entire side adventure within the Star Wars Franchise.

The film was directed by Ron Howard, (after the original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired) and written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan.

The story follows the adventures of Han Solo and explores how he became the smuggler we know in “A New Hope.” I’ll get more into that later on but the core of the plot is how he gets the Millennium Falcon and his motivation for going into the smuggler life. 

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The “Star Wars” Underworld – The underworld is one of the core parts of the Star Wars films. We see Jabba and his palace in “Return of the Jedi” and get glimpses of the underworld of Coruscant in the prequels and in series like “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” tv series. I like this world… this is a world where money and power run everything and even the Empire stays out of their way. It is here, where we see characters make difficult and dark choices, as a matter of course and “Solo” does not disappoint in that regards. This film develops the underworld and we see the toll it takes on those who are forced into it or choose to become a part of it.

The Cloud Riders – This is a pirate group that is always getting in on Beckett’s jobs, as we see, he and the leader have a history with one another. I won’t spoil what happens with them, but there is more to them than meets the eye and, like everyone in this movie, they are far more complex than they first appear to be.

Tobias Beckett and his Crew – Woody Harrelson is fantastic as Beckett, a corrupt guy out for himself but, also, caring, as we see he’s married to his partner Val and clearly loves her. As well as, great rapport with his pilot, Rio, an alien with four arms and attitude. Eventually Chewie and Han join this group on a train heist job. The crew has a great dynamic and I would have watched a show about the 5 of them. Han joins them after he discovers their con and becomes part of their crew. 

Dryden Vos and the Crimson Dawn – Paul Bettany plays an amazing villain. This is a guy who reeks threat and charm as he invades peoples’ space, and does all he can to disarm them before ever having to fight them. You can tell why he became leader of the Crimson Dawn, as he flies in a huge ship to track his assets to make sure they finish their jobs. His power is far reaching, too, as Qi’ra and Han were orphans under the control of Lady Proxima, and now she is under Vos and the Crimson Dawn’s control. His organization has become one of the most powerful gangs in the galaxy. 

Lando – Donald Glover captures Lando’s charm beautifully. Young Lando is a gambler who does what he wants, and will cheat to win. This provides an interesting dynamic with Han who is idealistic and good at this point, where Lando shows the direction Han will go. Lando, of course, owns the Millennium Falcon and his co-pilot is L3, a droid who believes in equal rights for droids and has a complicated relationship with Lando.

Han and Chewbacca – Han and Chewbacca are the heart of the film, as we see that they have each others back on multiple occasions. Initially they start out distrusting each other and depending on one another for simple survival, but with each sacrifice they make for each other, they soon become partners and close friends by the end of the film.

Okay:

Qi’ra – Qi’ra is Han’s childhood friend and love interest. Amelia Clarke does a decent job in the role, but I wouldn’t call her super memorable. She plays her part in the advancement of the plot and there are some great twists with her character, but I feel more could have been done. I wanted more scenes of her with Han, so their relationship could be developed further and so that the romance would feel more real.

Fanservice – Want to learn how characters got their nicknames or names? Want to know why the Falcon looks why it does? Want to get some “A New Hope” references? Well, you will get all this, and more, in this film. It never gets as bad as “Rogue One” in the references and the original characters carry the film. So much of the fanservice wasn’t needed and I would have preferred we never had the questions answered.

The Cons:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is really dark. There were times I had trouble seeing what was going on on screen and had to depend wholly on what I heard the characters were saying, rather than what I was seeing. This was a huge detriment and what kept the film from being the perfect film of its type.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” was a film that as far as I know, no one was asking for, but in the end I was glad it got made. Hearing about the development hell, from the firing of the first directors, to hiring an acting coach for the lead… I was ready to hate this film. I had no expectations and was really annoyed this film even existed. “Solo” has now become one of my favorite “Star Wars” films. The film takes risks by giving us a world where no one can be trusted and the status quo is loss. I would watch sequels to this film, and cared far more about the characters here than I did anyone in “Rogue One.” If you like “Star Wars” or heist films, check it out. It is well worth your time and for me it did not disappoint.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – A Solid Return to the Basics of “Spider-Man”

      Sony sharing custody of Spider-Man was the best thing that could have happened to the character. After they tied to go “Dark Knight” with Spidey and failed miserably as they ended up focusing more on franchise management rather than story…it is good that they let the studio who knows story shape their character’s future. This is film that isn’t great, but it is good and it is one I’d highly recommend. The villain and support characters are wonderful and there is a lot of good setup for future films. Before I get into spoilers, if you like the MCU or are a fan of Spider-Man, chances are you will enjoy this film as I did.

The film was directed by Jon Watts, who co-wrote it with 5 other people (hello Sony and Marvel Studios) and produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal.

After the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” Peter Parker is given a new suit by Tony Stark but soon finds himself left behind. As he finds himself pulled into thefts of alien technology around the city he must take on the mysterious Vulture while dealing with Tony Stark wanting him to stay out of it as he tries to juggle being Spider-Man and his complex social life at school and taking on the threat of the Vulture.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World of the MCU – The MCU is a world full of consequences. SHIELD was disbanded, the Avengers fell apart, some characters have died for good (though none of the biggies yet sadly) and each of the films plays into one another while still standing strong on their own. Spider-Man is one of my favorite comic book heroes, along with Batman when I was growing up and I’m glad he is in this Universe that is so rich and full of lore that now his amazing lore can once again be apart of as well.

Vulture – Michael Keaton is one of the best MCU villains to date. This is a guy who wants to look after his family after he loses out on a government contract to clean up New York after the events of the “Avengers.” You can understand his chip on his shoulder and he has a twisted sense of honor as even after he learns Spidey’s identity, he keeps it secret. His character manages to be both empathetic and threatening making him so very human…I’m glad that Marvel didn’t kill him off and can’t wait to see him in future Spidey films.

With Great Power – One of the key traits of Spider-Man is that, “With great power comes great responsibility” and this film illustrates it really well. The main arc is Spidey wanting to join the Avengers but he continues to mess up even as he tries to do good. So many of the problems that he has to fix are ones he created and his arc is the constant struggle with this as his social and super hero life collapse around him and he has to own up for his mistakes. It is his character and what defines him and the main arc that drives the story. Tom Holland really is wonderful in this role. This is a return to the basics of the character, which we needed after all the conspiracy Oscorp crap in the “Amazing Spider-Man” films.

Changes and Avoiding Past Pitfalls – There are things in here that I really liked that exist because the writers avoided doing what had been done before. We don’t have an Uncle Ben origin story death, there is not a Goblin to be seen, Peter doesn’t mope and the finale isn’t Spider-Man saving the love interest from the baddy who wants to destroy the city. These changes were masterful and in doing so let them do knew things like his friends Ned and Michelle, Ned who finds out he is Spider-Man and Michelle who ends up being a wonderful re-imagining of M.J. Seriously, Zendaya is the best part of this film outside of Vulture.

The Cons: The Point of Aunt May – Everybody creeps on Aunt May and I hate it. If the character is a guy he will comment on how hot she is and that is all she exists as. It is objectifying and annoying as she is Peter’s guardian and mentor and they could have done so much more with that. She has one scene where she comforts him but she almost wasn’t needed in this film as Tony Stark functions as a surrogate guardian.

The Uncle Ben Shaped Hole – Aunt May has been through a lot but we never know what happened to Uncle Ben or if he is even still alive in this version of the lore. I’m glad we didn’t get his death again but he should have at least been mentioned or dealt with as he is such a huge essential part of what drives Peter Parker and his becoming Spider-Man.

This is a solidly good film and one that I will probably go back and watch as I am a fan of Spider-Man. I hope we see more done with the characters and villains that are setup throughout the film as Spider-Man has one of the best rogues galleries outside of Batman and I can’t wait to see how the reveals done in this film payoff later as Marvel and Sony further develop one of the best characters to come out of Marvel Comics in the amazing world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Score:  8.2 / 10 Solidly good.

The Jungle Book (2016): Great Cinematography But Extremely Boring and Slow

The Jungle Book

     As someone who wasn’t a fan of the original animated “The Jungle Book,” I think this was a movie that wasn’t made for me. The original is better though by leaps and bounds…as this at the end of the day this was a film that bored me so much I fell asleep during part of it. That hardly ever happens to me during films. So before non-spoiler thoughts, the amazing voice cast can’t save this boring film that would only really work as a movie playing in the background for kids…I don’t know how much of their attention it would be able hold of it is the core focus.

      “The Jungle Book” was directed by Jon Favreau who was also one of the producers while being written by Justin Marks. The other producer was Brigham Taylor and the film is based off the book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling.

    The story involves Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) telling the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and how his arrival changed everything in the Jungle while he and the other animals must deal with the threat of Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who wants Mowgli and any who support him dead.

     The film is beautiful, but that is about the only thing positive I can say about it. The Special Effects look great and manage to make some of the action meaningful, but there isn’t much to say beyond that.

    This is a film with an amazing voice cast…Murray as Baloo, Kinglsey as Bagheera Nyong’O as Raksha and Elba as Shere Khan is brilliant casting…but the writing is so bland and the characters are so one dimensional that none of it matters. Mowgli has a few chase scenes but they hold no power since he starts out doing a fake chase and the action is so slow…it doesn’t matter if there is an amazing voice cast since they just seem to exist. Nothing meaningful really happens beyond Mowgli making new friends.

    This was an uninspired film and it doesn’t give me much hope for the other films that Disney turned live action from what were originally their animated films. I hope “Beauty and the Beast” is good, but if it is like this film it is going to be really boring and not worth anyone’s time. A story has to have meaningful action and change and I didn’t see that in Mowgli’s story or in relation to the characters around him, they are all just kind of there and there isn’t any music to give it more life like the animated film where at least music can keep a boring or simple story interesting.

    If you have kids, they might enjoy it…but honestly just take them to “Finding Dory” or get them a Pixar film or “Zootopia.” That is a much better use of their time and your time and you’ll be a lot more entertained and experience a film that would actually have purpose.

Final Score: 3 / 10

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Retrospect – There Were Amazing Stories But Star Wars Prequel Problems Haunted This Series

Star Wars The Clone Wars

  “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is a show that is a favorite. It had a lot of problems that could have killed the series for me, but when it had strong episodes and arcs…it gave us some of the best stories on television. Politics and war are complicated as are issues of identity and when this show was at it’s best it did that. It was far superior to Episodes I-III because it took it’s subjects serious and gave us complexity that made even Anakin a compelling character who was worth investing it.

      The series was created by George Lucas with the main developer, head writer and director being Dave Filoni (from “Avatar: The Last Airbender”)

        The story is about the Clone Wars, where we learn of love lost, Clones and their identities, adventures with Droids, Anakin’s descent to the Dark Side and the plots and manipulations of Count Dooku and Palpatine and the story of those caught in the middle who weren’t on the Separatists or the Republic side and how they are faced with choices as the Clone War is forced upon them.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is fantastic! Lucasfilm animation really did a fantastic job on giving life and diversity to the characters and worlds that made up this series. Each alien race was unique and even the Clones were shown to be distinct in their personalities and identities as shown through the animation.

The World – The world of “Star Wars” gets so much exploration in this! From droids, to Clones, to Neutral Worlds, to Republic and Separatist worlds and also Senate Politics, Bounty Hunters and so much more. I’m glad it went for 6 Seasons and in many ways wish it had gone longer.

The Cost of War – The cost of war is huge in this and we see that the Separatist Parliament is as much a pawn as the Galactic Republic’s Senate. So many die, from countless Jedi, to Clones we come to know…the neutral worlds that are pulled in and destroyed in the war. There is also a loss of innocence too as the war drives Anakin to greater extremes and the Jedi Council is shown to be both incompetent and rather corrupt.

Politics of War and Sovereignty – Sovereignty is a major issue of this series that is explored in detail in the stories of Mandalore and countless other Neutral Worlds that are pulled into the conflict and are torn apart from within by it or consumed by it when the Separatists usually attack, and even the worlds that are saved lose their sovereignty to the Empire later.

Nationalism – We see Nationalism exploited by Palpatine to control the populace but also see it used by Viszla, Padme and Satine to try and get their agendas on what they want for their people passed as well. We also see Toxic nationalism too in the assassination of a Senator when an aid was angry that he had joined the Republic.

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Clone Identity and the Clones – I really like the Clones. Fives who is the rebellious Clone who is nervous at first but risks all to find out the truth that they are slaves to a chip set to go off when the time is right and with the murder of the Jedi…we see him lose his Brothers and end up as the last one of the Clone Cadets still standing. We also see Rex face a Clone who has left the force and respect his choice and the fact he is fighting for his family. There are others too but Rex and Fives best represent development over multiple episodes throughout the series as a whole.

Clovis – This is a great minor character who is Padme’s ex and a Separatist spy who in the end tries to re-write that wrong by saving the Banks but ends up a pawn once more and loses everything because he had the willingness to hope in the good of others and in his trying to do the right thing, ends up dead.

Cloak of Darkness

Asajj Ventress – Ventress goes from Dooku’s apprentice, to seeking revenge to finding her own path as Bounty Hunter who is neither good nor bad. She protects Ahsoka when the Council turns on her when she is framed and we see that she is no longer Sith as she trusted Dooku but he turned against her the moment Sidious asked. At this point she knows revenge isn’t possible as every plan fell to Dooku and she opened up another enemy in the war by corrupting Savage Opress and turning him into a monster, something that it seems to imply she regrets as her quest for revenge lead to the loss of all her people, the Nightsisters.

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Cad Bane – I really like Cad Bane. He is the best original character to come out of this series as he is a dark shade of grey. He will kidnap children and kill anyone for enough money but he also respects those who save him and are efficient in their mission, which leads to a mutual respect of Obi-Wan when Obi-Wan is undercover. He has also broken out of prison multiple times and is truly the best Bounty Hunter in the Galaxy as he can hold his own against any Jedi and only lose from being outnumbered. He had a great character design and was part of some of the best stories in the series where we see him turn losses into wins.

Savage Opress – Savage is voiced by Tom Clancy and is wonderful as a boy who loses his innocence in Ventress’s quest for revenge. He is a protector of his brother but in the end kills him after he is pumped full of Dark Side magic. He later carries on this protector role towards Darth Maul even though he is unstable from all the magic coursing through him and has gone kind of crazy. In the end Sidious kills him when he and Maul briefly form a 3rd Faction in the Clone Wars, The Shadow Collective. I really liked this character.

Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus – Dooku is fantastic in this series and I really respect him as a character after this. He is one of the core manipulators of the Jedi and we even see him try for Sith Master a few times until his weapon of Opress turns against him. It is really his loss of an apprentice that dooms him to Anakin in Episode III. If he hadn’t turned against Ventress he would probably still be alive as she won him many battles, as Grievous was not the best of antagonists or generals.

Palpatine/Darth Sidious – Sidious is evil and loves it and Palpatine is really good at using people’s honesty against them. He turns Padme’s idealism into a weapon, Anakin’s affection into jealousy and makes possible through his planning with Dooku, the invasion of countless worlds by the Republic. In this way he never loses and this series lays the ground work for Order 66 and the rise of the Empire. Ian Ian Abercrombie and Tim Curry did a wonderful job.

Mandalore and Death Watch – Iszla was voiced by Jon Favreau and played a Mandalorian extreme Nationalist who wanted to bring back the Warrior Mandalore. He faces off against the pacificist Duchess Satine and even wins at one point when he aligns with Maul’s Shadow Collective, but loses when Maul turns against him. Satine also fails in creating a Neutral and peaceful Mandalore as she is killed by Maul as Maul recognized Obi-Wan’s love for her. He later uses the corrupt Prime Minister as his pawn until Bo-Katan and the remainder of Death Watch start a Civil War to retake their world and ask for Republic help.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan is someone who chose duty or love and in many ways has some regret as he knows he isn’t the prefect Jedi and in it fears failing Anakin. He loses Satine his ex-lover and friend to another’s hatred and revenge and we see him unable to deal with Anakin’s dark side actions either as Anakin kills many times for the final end and doesn’t even allow the chance of a peaceful solution. This dilemma is part of what makes him compelling.

Anakin Skywalker – Anakin is shown to be very flawed in this. From jealous, to attempts to be controlling, but also someone who will risk everything for another…whether it be one of the Clones, a civilian or a Jedi. In this we see Palpatine feed his ego and how the Council’s own misconduct drive him towards hating and distrusting them as he feels more and more isolated as the lie he is living with Padme as their marriage cannot be open weighs on him.

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Ahsoka Tano – Ahsoka is Anakin’s apprentice and is stubborn and egotistical, much like Anakin but also more of a Jedi than Anakin as she never kills and no matter how difficult things get she stays true to herself. Her jumping into things gets her into trouble many times though as does her attachment as she nearly gets the Republic involved in conflicts they shouldn’t be in because of her emotional investment. She is also a grey Jedi too as she leaves the Jedi Order after they turn on her when she is framed and goes her own way, which ends up saving her from Order 66. She was one of my favorite characters in the show.

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The Cons: Jar Jar Binks – He’s just as annoying as he is in Episode I and II and nothing can save him. It doesn’t matter how many times you make him a hero, it is an embarrassment to any serious conflict going on as he takes away from the drama with his stupid jokes and ways.

General Grievous – This guy is an embarrassment to the Separatists for most of the series and spends the majority of it running away and even getting captured and beat by the Gungans of all people. He is better in the last few episodes he is in but all he is really good at is running away. When Episode III roles around he isn’t much better. We only know he is a threat from what the narrator tells us, not from his actions during an episode.

Bringing Back Darth Maul – Darth Maul should have stayed dead as all he did Opress could have done under his own power and for Maul even when he learned about his brother. All his being brought back does is look like a cheap move for profit given how iconic the character is. He is handled well in “Lawless” and the “Shadow Collective Arc” but that doesn’t change the fact that bringing him back was a mistake.

Boba Fett – Fett is a punk kid who loses everything he gets into. He doesn’t get revenge on Mace and I never believed that the older Bounty Hunters had any reason to follow him until his last episode he appeared in. This character like Maul worked better as a mystery.

Blank Pacifist Species – Too many to name but they are the faceless victims of the Separatist and are there just to show that Dooku and his generals are bad. Beyond that they serve no purpose.

Blank Slate Jedi Masters – Plo Koon, Mace Windu and a few others are just as blank as they are in Episodes I-III and have no flaws. They are fortune cookie philosophers and in the end the conflicts they are put in are only compelling because they might die. This was a missed opportunity of the series to show them as flawed individuals not Perfect Avatars of Peace.

This is a series well worth checking out. I wouldn’t watch the Jar Jar episodes or Boba Fett episodes again personally and some of the Droid episodes are pretty weak but anything with Cad Bane, Clone Identity or politics and war are some of the best writing on television, especially for a kids show. This is a show that shows death, corruption and destruction and isn’t afraid to shy away from the evil that people are capable of…nor is it afraid of showing courage and strength of character as so many of our heroes go their own way and make their own path in the Galaxy far far away and so long ago…

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. One of my favorite shows and worth checking out. It isn’t as good as “Star Wars Rebels” Season 1 but it is still good quality overall.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 5, Episodes 1, 14-15 – “Rise of the Shadow Collective Arc” – The 3rd Faction in the Clone Wars

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   Well, Darth Maul is cool again. This entire arc establishes why he became the Master in his and Savage’s relationship and we see him tactfully use others and rise to own and an entire portion of the Galaxy, all while being invisible to the Jedi as being the one behind it all. It is a really solid arc and one of my favorite so far that the show has done.

    “Revival” was directed by Steward Lee and written by Chris Collins who wrote the other two episodes in the arc. “Eminence” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and “Shades of Reason” was directed by Bosco Ng.

     The story involves Darth Maul taking control of Savage and with him plotting to build an army so that they will no longer be drive wholly by revenge but by conquest and power. To this end he attempts to recruit Hondo’s pirates which nearly ends in their death from Obi-Wan until Death Watch rescues them. From there Maul uses Viszla to recruit all the Crime Syndicates to form to the Shadow Collective and finally deals with Viszla himself so that he can own Death Watch and Mandalore as well.

The Pros: Hondo and his Pirates – Hondo is great! When Maul and Savage turn some of his men against them he tantalizes them back by saying that they’ll just take the supplies on Maul’s and Savage’s ship. To this end they turn on the brothers and with Obi-Wan nearly kill them both. Hondo has fun the entire time and respects him men for betraying him for power.

Obi-Wan – Obi-Wan appears in the first episode in the arc and after Jedi Master Gallia is killed he almost defeats the Brothers Maul but is unable to when they make their escape. We see how powerful he is in this though as he holds off them both and manages to recruit Hondo against them too.

Death Watch – Death Watch is great! From Bo-Katan and Viszla’s quest for power and conquest of Mandalore following Maul’s plan in witch the gangs cause problems and Death Watch saves the people, leading to their taking over Mandalore and arresting Satine to Death Watch coming under control of Maul when he defeats Viszla in single combat. This organization is awesome.

Pre Viszla – This man is a nationalist and had no dreams of conquest, he just wanted to bring back the warrior culture to Mandalore. It is for this reason he arrests the Brothers Maul since Maul wants to conquer the Neutral worlds. He dies with honor in the end as Maul defeats him, though his legacy lives on as Death Watch and the culture of Death Watch now rules Mandalore. Jon Favreau was great as this character.

Bo-Katan – Katee Sackhoff rocks as the Second of Viszla’s who fights on after the Brothers Maul take over. She is a Mandalore patriot and Nationalist and believes only a Mandalorian should rule Mandalore.

Rise to Power – Maul and Savage’s rise to power is really cool. They kill the leaders of the gangs with Death Watch and establish control and then use those resources to fund Death Watch. It’s really well done and Darth Maul is calm and collected the entire time throughout it.

Darth Maul and Savage Opress – Maul is the Master with Opress as the apprentice and we see together they are unstoppable after their failure to get Hondo’s pirates. Maul has learned patience and through it we see him use the greed of the Syndicates and the pride of Death Watch to make them his and make him ruler of the 3rd Faction in the Clone Wars, The Shadow Collective. In the end he places Almec in charge as the face of Mandalore as he made the deal with him in prison and he was a man, unlike Viszla and Satine, who could be used.

Okay: The Gangs – The gangs have great designs but we don’t really see what the Pykes and Black Suns are doing before they are recruited. The Hutts get the most exploration as they were already explored pretty heavily already and they put up the greatest fight before becoming part of the Shadow Collective.

This was a fantastic arc and even though I don’t like that Darth Maul was brought back, I appreciate this story and I think it was one of the best to come out of the Clone Wars. The Shadow Collective is a perfect Sith Tool and I can’t wait to see how Dooku and Sidious deal with the new threat to their end game and plans.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Chef (2014): A Celebration of Good Food and Finding Dignity

chef poster

Besides “Iron Man” this is probably my favorite film so far that Jon Favreau has directed. He also stars as the main character this and wrote the film, which gives me even more respect for the guy. This film clearly came from a place of passion and love of for the creation of good food. This film also does a great job of showing how social media shapes how films can be presented too, but I’ll get into more of the details of what I mean in the  actual assessment. One final note here as well, as someone who lives in Oregon, I have a great passion for food trucks and this movie does a wonderful job showing what they do and can do.

“Chef” was directed, written and produced by Jon Favreau, with the other producers being Karen Gilchrist and Sergei Bespalov.

The premise of the story involves Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favraeu) losing it after a critic Ramsey (Oliver Platt) gives him a bad review after his boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman) pressures him to keep the menu safe, rather than to experiment. This leads to him quitting when his boss refuses to let him cook anything beyond traditional menu leading him to seek out help from his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and returns him to the dream of owning a food truck and having full control over what he gets to cook, over the course of this he finally builds a relationship with his son.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Like I said at the beginning, there is a beautiful presentation and love of the food that is cooked. Whether it is a simple grilled cheese sandwich, an Italian dish or a rich meat dish…all the food is presented beautifully on screen. Kramer Morgenthau did a great job with it all.

The Soundtrack – I really enjoyed the soundtrack! It has a lot of jazz of all kinds, Cuban music and drums that give it a very active feel, which fits as it doesn’t show being a Chef as easy. It shows just how difficult the work is and the pressure of people waiting as their dish is completed. Lyle Workman did a fantastic job!

The Characters – The strongest part of this film are the characters. No one is really a bad person in it and everyone is given exploration, even the critic. This is something that you usually wouldn’t see in a movie that follows these beats as it would usually end with the critic or antagonist being shamed, this film doesn’t though because it gives the critic as much respect as Carl.

Molly – Scarlett Johansson is great in this role! She is the lover of Carl but in the end mostly more of a friend. We never see her in the romantic role except when Carl makes them dinner once and she is there to help kick him back into gear when he depressed and explodes at the critic who gave him a bad review.

Riva – Review is the owner of the business in which Carl is the Chef for. He’s not a bad person, but he’s afraid of change and that creates tension with Carl who is always experimenting. Dustin Hoffman adds a lot to a role that could have been just a cruel man afraid of change, instead we have a man who cares about his restaurant and the customers and that is the reason he fears change.

Marvin – Marvin is the ex-husband of Inez who has a cheating problem (it implies he has a lot of bastards probably) but is also a nervous wreck afraid of dirt and everything else. He respects Carl though and funds his Food Truck idea. He has a small role but his character is interesting as he is like a man trying to learn how to feel. Robert Downey jr. of course does an amazing job!

Ramsey – This is another role that could have just been antagonistic, but we soon learn that their drama arose out of Carl’s lack of freedom in his job and lack of tech. savyness when he replies on Twitter and thinks that it is an email. They resolve things at the end though and Ramsey mentions how he was backing him from the beginning but wasn’t going to lie about the terrible experience at the restaurant, Carl deserved honesty…and he’s right. I like when critics are given constructive roles like this and aren’t just demonized. Though I am biased, being a reviewer myself. Oliver Platt is great.

Inez – I haven’t seen Sofia Vergara in anything outside of “Modern Family” but I hope that I can see her in more after this. She is really good as the Single Mother who is a professional who is still friends with her past relationships. She is the most mature character in the film and the one who most knows herself and her dreams. For Carl it is a discovery.

Martin – It’s been a while since I’ve seen John Leguizamo in anything, but he is great in this! He is both Carl’s co-worker and friend and when he hears the passion about the food truck Carl has, he goes to join him and together they are the main team that travels the United States together. He is a good guy and is more relaxed than Carl, giving them a nice contrast. He also acts as an older brother to Carl’s son too.

Carl – Jon Favreau really has a lot of range and is talented for pulling off everything so well with this production. You can see how much he cares about food and the characters as there aren’t any one dimensional antagonists. Everyone has reasons that are shown and not told and Carl represents that really well. His character starts out as a man unhappy in his job and disconnected from those around him to one who is really connected by the end has has built his relationships and with it his self respect. It really is a great movie to see.

The Message – The main message is that you have to respect yourself first and foremost and that is how others will respect you. Ramsey the critic echoes this at the end and points out that there was no love in the meal he at Riva’s restaurant, while here he can taste how good it is and now wants to back it. It is powerful and shows what self respect and perseverance can accomplish.

Okay: The Ending – The ending was a little too happy and felt a little rushed. I wouldn’t have had Inez and Carl get back together, or if they had too I would have shown them actually communicate more and have it be a process. We never see that process so it’s almost more of a wish fulfillment for there son when we never get to know why the relationship ended in the first place or what changed for them to get back together again.

I would highly recommend this movie. If you have a love of food or complex characters, you will probably enjoy this film. The fact that my only real issue with it is that it is too happy is saying something. Everything else is spot on and characters change and grow. The one thing that could have made it perfect beyond the ending would have been to give us more time with characters and their relationships as those moments were so strong as it was, we just needed more of them to complete a perfect picture. Regardless, this is a favorite film and I can’t wait to see what project Jon Favreau does next.

Final Score: 9. 6 / 10.