Category Archives: War

“The Last Jedi” Spoilers- Where They’ll Go From Here

*For some supplementary reading, please check out Haleigh Foutch’s excellent article which provides some great insight into my points here.*

Alright, I think enough time has passed for me to get into the thick juicy meat of the new entry of the Skywalker Saga. Obviously, here’s a big fat spoiler warning. If you have not yet seen Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, rectify that situation quickly. Now, I’m not going to be able to cover everything in this movie, but I just wanted to go more in-depth in certain areas. Specifically, the Canto Bight storyline. A lot of fans are not happy with this arc for Finn and Rose, and I can see why. While Kelly Marie Tran does great work as Rose, I just didn’t really care about her character. Especially when she tried to express her love for Finn later on in the final battle. I get that there was some build-up with the death of her sister, and especially that she was super idealistic about the Resistance. She asks Finn some questions that would seem like legitimate ones for people who’ve grown up just hearing the stories of heroism. And while she and Finn do get to play around with Benicio del Toro’s character DJ, who feels a little shoehorned, again, I didn’t really care for her. Truth be told, the prospect of visiting a planet full of gamblers and intergalactic racketeers feels a bit like an opportunity wasted. But whatever shortcomings that plot thread brought about is almost wiped away by the arc involving Kylo Ren, Rey, and Luke. As I said in my review, Luke is not the whiny kids we first met on the moister farm back on Tatooine staring at the Binary Sunset. (More on that later) In fact, the reason he keeps pushing Rey away- as well as why he came to the island in the first place- is simple: he wants to die. And with him, the Jedi Order. As he tells Rey, the Jedi were overly romanticised by several generations as these untouchable guardian angels. When in reality, they were filled with hubris and hypocrisy and allowed their greatest pupil to destroy them from the inside out. And when he saw a great darkness in Kylo Ren, he almost killed him out of impulse- a mistake that led to the death of all of his other Jedi disciples. A lot of fans were unsatisfied with the way that Luke was portrayed, a gnarly and cynical old man. Even Mark Hamill publicly stated he had disagreements with Rian Johnson on the direction of the character. Honestly, who was actually expecting him to accept Rey with open arms upon first meeting? And remember, he went to this place because he was too ashamed to face his own problems. Plus the scene he had with ghost Yoda was aces. With Frank Oz returning with puppetry, everything felt right and funny. “Page turners, they were not.” And now onto Rey and Ren. First things first, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, shirtless Adam Driver is one of the sexiest images in the Saga thus far. Joking aside, I absolutely loved the Force communication that these two used. Like every Star Wars movie before it, it expanded the Force in new, unseen ways and we may not have even seen its full potential. Can someone physically reach out from the Force and interact from far away? One thing’s for sure, though: Supreme Leader Snoke is dead. I kind of knew that Kylo Ren was going to help Rey in that scene, but slicing his own mentor in half with a lightsaber? And then taking his place? Not only did this lead to a beautifully done battle with the Praetorian Guard, but it also leads to the reveal we’ve been waiting for two years. Rey’s parents. Who are they? Han Solo and Princess Leia? Luke Skywalker? Nope, according to Kylo Ren, they’re nobodies. Junk traders who sold her for beer money. Yet again, this entire sequence angered a lot of fans, primarily because of how it dealt with the death of Snoke and Rey’s lineage. But the problem with that criticism is that fans somehow believe that Star Wars is a guessing game; whoever can get their half-baked theories proven correct is the king of online fandom. Why does it matter if Snoke is Darth Plagueis the Wise or Rey is the next Skywalker? It shouldn’t. In fact, that moment when Rey’s parents are revealed is important, but not for the reasons you’d expect. For better or worse, the Star Wars Saga has been built on the idea of “The Chosen One.” Unfortunately, that made the character of Anakin Skywalker much more distant from the audience. But with The Last Jedi, it’s out with the old and in with the new. In the words of Kylo Ren, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. It’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” After Rey refuses, we head down to the salt planet of Crait- following one of the most memorable moments of self-sacrifice in the series’ history -where the Resistance makes a hopeless last stand against the First Order. But Luke Skywalker comes to provide them time to escape- or does he? Through the use of Force visions, he projects himself and “faces” Kylo Ren before everyone gets off the planet on the Falcon. And after he disappears, we find him on the island, dying happy with his legacy. And the best part is that it was in front of a Binary Sunset, the image setting off his iconic journey. The last shot is a small kid looking up at the stars, implied that he is Force-sensitive. Now, I genuinely don’t know what Episode IX is going to do. With Carrie Fisher dead, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen with Princess Leia other than saying “She’s dead” in the opening crawl. We know by now that Kylo Ren is a lost cause but what’s his ultimate game plan? How is the Resistance going to rebuild itself? So many questions left for us to contemplate, so much time to speculate. And that’s The Last Jedi. A massively-scaled yet thoroughly entrancing indictment of the legacy one leaves behind and how that can affect those who follow. This movie will continue to be either loved or hated by fans for that, and I completely understand why. But regardless of your opinion, the Force is with all of us. And it will continue to be with us in the years to come.

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“Darkest Hour” Movie Review

I know that the advertisements for Darkest Hour sell it as the newest completely generic Oscar-bait biopic about the life of yet another highly revered historical figure. And while it’s tempting to make such a write-off, please give Darkest Hour some benefit of the doubt. This historical war drama premiered at the Telluride Film Festival at the beginning of September of 2017. Following another screening at TIFF 10 days later, it received a limited release on November 22nd, 2017. After it went wide a full month later, it has struggled to make back its $30 million budget. Directed by Joe Wright, after it was announced, half of the cast had to be replaced; namely, the late John Hurt. But Oldman was always the choice to play the central character. Set in May of 1940, the early days of Britain’s involvement in World War II come to a head when Nazi Germany shockingly encroaches in on their position. After Nevel Chamberlain is proven to be incompetent in wartime, Winston Churchill is appointed the new Prime Minister. Facing opposition from within his own party to surrender to Hitler’s regime, he must overcome the odds of politics and unite the nation against their enemy. If this had come out in 1999, this movie would have already been the clearest contender for Best Picture. But now after the Academy went through drastic changes following this year’s Best Picture debacle, many are looking at movies like this and scoffing with pride. “That’s just old-fashioned hagiographic garbage” they might say, and they’d be forgiven for saying so. Studios are afraid to make these kinds of movies anymore. Especially if they’re World War II movies, then they have to REALLY work hard to get some recognition from just beyond the middle-aged white man. However, I’m here to tell you that Darkest Hour is worth a recommendation to general audiences. What makes it so enticing is its handling of the famed Operation Dynamo, where 400,000 soldiers were to be rescued from the beaches in France. That rescue was the centerpiece of another excellent war movie from earlier this year, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The two make a perfect companion piece, quite possibly the best one in years. But whereas Nolan’s film was an experimental and neverending barrage of intensity, this movie shows the machinations and how Dynamo came to be. We see the surprising amount of opposition to continuing war against Hitler, despite Churchill having warned the country about him decades earlier. As the man himself puts it, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” Speaking of Churchill, the rumors are indeed true: Gary Oldman’s performance is something stunning to behold. Behind the thick makeup job and cloud of smoke from Cuban cigars, he gives us a man put into the right position at the wrong time. Energized by a ticking clock of Britain’s doom, a powerful orator is unveiled who is never afraid to speak his mind with an extensive vocabulary. But we’re still given a human being who is terribly conflicted on his job and has problems socializing with other people; the first time we meet him, he’s in a thin bathrobe in his bed. If Oldman doesn’t get a nomination for Best Actor come January, I will be very surprised. In fact, he’s so good that he almost overshadows the rest of the great cast. Although she isn’t given too many scenes, Kristen Scott Thomas does great work as Winston’s wife Clementine. A strong-willed woman, she is always at her husband’s side even as he fumbles in politics. Game of Thrones alum Stephen Dillane is given a lot to do as Foreign Secretary Lord Hallifax. Despite initial support for Churchill, his paranoia gets the better of him as his party seeks the agenda of peace talks. Ben Mendohlson is restrained and nuanced as the terrified King George VI, while the young and beautiful Lily James provides a nice surrogate for introducing us to the world of this man. As much of a showcasing for top-notch acting, Darkest Hour excels in its technical aspects. Previously nominated for work such as Amelie and Inside Llewyn Davis, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel plants us in the middle of these stuffy cabinet room meetings. Underneath a distinctive film grain, we see many colors desaturated into murkier shades of grey or white. This permeates the feeling of hopelessness felt in many during the time of this terrifying war. Most of the compositions are of close-ups, which makes sense since most of the movie is just talking heads trying to figure out what to do. But he makes sure to keep the audience on their toes as he never loses sight of the urgency of the story. While it’s all of Steadicam, there are many quick cutaways between conversations which makes it more riveting. Meanwhile, Dario Marinelli brings us a musical score that matches the grand urgency of the situation. With help from pianist Vikingur Olafsson, he crafts a slew of memorable melodies. The piano is almost always contrasted by swift strings or bouncing percussion such as the timpani. I definitely think that it shouldn’t be overlooked by the Academy in Best Original Score. Carried by the best male lead performance of the year and featuring some desperately needed speeches in these dire times, Darkest Hour is a rousing and energetic look at a powerful figure in history. Gary Oldman will most likely get a nomination and may even win, but it’s Joe Wright’s brilliant direction that brings the whole thing together.

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“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” Movie Review

Well, Star Wars fans, here we are. After The Force Awakens, we all begged for Lucasfilm to make a more original movie that didn’t mimic the same story beats as the Original Trilogy. And now we have this movie to unpack, so let’s dig in. The 8th main installment of this epic space opera series was released worldwide on December 15th, 2017. Having already accumulated the second-biggest opening weekend of all time domestically, the film is well on its way to breaking the $2 billion mark given the time. While critics have given strong reviews to writer-director Rian Johnson’s new entry, fans have been more mixed in their opinions. Admittedly, there’s a lot of density here in terms of storytelling and themes. And don’t worry, there are absolutely no spoilers to be found in this review. Picking up right after The Force Awakens, the Resistance is on the run after striking a victory against the First Order. Meanwhile, the scavenger Rey goes to an island on a distant planet to learn the ways of the Force from the last living Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker. All of this is happening as the young Kylo Ren continues to struggle with his allegiance to either the Dark or Light Side and his mentor Supreme Leader Snoke is hounding his every move. Like I said, this movie doesn’t follow the beats of the Original Trilogy. Whereas The Force Awakens had to play it safe in order to properly set up the new characters and put the plot on a path, The Last Jedi tosses franchise conventions out of the damn window to go in new, uncharted territory. Some fans may hate it for that, and I understand why. But to me, the second installment of this sequel trilogy had to shake things up in order to propel this series forward. And not only did it shake things up, it took the established structure of a Star Wars movie and threw it in a blender. That’s a long analogy of saying… I freaking loved it all. Rarely has there been an entry in a blockbuster franchise, especially one so beloved and iconic as Star Wars, that has felt this fearless and ambitious. It has no qualms about pushing the boundaries for the characters and turning the wheels off the main road. In that, a lot of fans may not like this movie because of what it does to certain arcs. One story involving Finn and a new girl named Rose dragged in the middle act, but I don’t want to delve into that. As a huge fan of Rian Johnson’s previous film Looper, it was very exciting to see him abscond with $200~ million of Disney’s money to make his own movie with his own voice. And that voice has a lot to say. Virtually all of the cast members from the previous film return here and they have all grown comfortable. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are particularly great as Rey and Kylo Ren, by far my favorite arc in the entire movie. Their dynamic dances back and forth like a ballet, playing off of each other’s conflicts and desires. In her last-ever film role, Carrie Fisher is as witty and charming as she always was as Princess Leia Organa. Though she’s bright with hope and optimism, it was difficult watching her scenes knowing her real-life fate. But the scene-stealer here is undoubtedly Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker in easily his best performance to date. Gone is the idealistic farm boy from Tatooine who wants to get power converters from Toshi Station. This is a tired, embittered old man who wants nothing more to do with the conflict of good and evil. In many ways, Rey has swapped roles with him as he’s hesitant to pass down the torch of the Jedi Order. On the directing side of the camera, The Last Jedi sings its singular vision with spades. As always, the visuals are astounding, switching (mostly) seamlessly from practical to CGI effects in one scene. Johnson’s collaborating cinematographer Steve Yedlin also makes sure to use a wide color palette, particularly that of red. The red throne room of Snoke, the red Praetorian Guard, red salt from the planet Crait. They take what’s normally a symbol of evil or wrong and make it beautiful. Along with Bob Duscay’s slick editing job, we get some of the best action sequences in the franchise. The lightsaber battles have never looked more precise and elegant than here with wide shots and fluid movement. And thanks to Industrial Lights & Magic, all of the computer-animated characters look like tangible beings. In a career spanning over 6o years and over 100 film scores, the legendary John Williams brings out his finest soundtrack since at least Raiders. Though he does recycle leitmotifs such as “Rey’s Theme” or “The Force” multiple times, he brings a harsh yet controlled sound to layer on top. Of particular note is one of the final tracks, “The Spark,” which is essentially a heroic riff on the Imperial March. Williams’ trademark of piercing horns and buoyant percussion are all here. But it’s the new concertos of low-strings that help elevate this to some of his best work. More than ever, The Last Jedi is concerned with exploring the themes commonplace in Star Wars; good vs evil, living up to a legacy, the courage to become a hero. But what if that legacy was overly romanticized by the ages? What if your hero was falsely judged by history? These are the questions the movie’s interested in asking. Luke spends so much time running away from his own legend, that he leaves his admirer choking on deceit. At 2 hours and 32 minutes, it’s the longest in the series yet, taking its time to unfold these ideas gradually. But with the way the story progresses, time is virtually nonexistent to me and it just flies by. I want to go more in-depth but I’ll wait for you to see the movie yourself. Though it has some pacing issues and one arc that could have been tweaked, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is a boldly dense and deeply satisfying emotional adventure. By far the best Star Wars movie under the Disney banner, it’s also my favorite one since The Empire Strikes Back. Thematically rich and bursting with memorable characters, this is a movie I can’t wait to experience on the big screen again and again.

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“Mudbound” Movie Review

I’m crazy behind on writing movie reviews. I’ve effectively canceled plans to review The Phantom Menace to get more out there. Let’s start with one of the most triumphant. This historical period drama made a splash at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival when it premiered to critical acclaim. Following an intense bidding war, Netflix landed the distribution deal at a whopping $12.5 million. It was widely released on the streaming giant on November 17th alongside a limited theatrical run. So if there’s any movie this year that Netflix is gunning for Oscar consideration, it’s going to be this one. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, the story follows two families- the white McAllans and the black Jacksons -who are forced to live and work together on a cotton farm in rural Mississippi. When their two eldest sons Jamie and Henry return from World War II, tensions rise as serious ethical and moral questions are brought up. They must wrestle with poverty, racism, love, and loyalty in a Deep South that doesn’t seem to want either of them. I know what you must be thinking from that short synopsis: This is yet another movie existing solely to make white people feel guilty about their past, yet in the end, lets them know that prejudice is a thing that has long since ended. My friends, please wash that thought out because this film is far more than something so simple as that. I had heard lots of buzz from this picture ever since it premiered back in January. Whispers that Netflix may finally have a major contender for the Academy Awards on their hands. One might easily scoff at that idea, but those whispers were true. Director Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a huge step forward for the service. As you may recall from a previous review, it’s been reported that Netflix is currently $20 billion in debt from all of the original content they’ve been putting out. In fact, there was another report a month or so ago saying that they want to produce and distribute as many as 80 films next year. In my humble opinion, that’s not a good idea for them. If anything, they should become more selective of their library of content. Films like this and Okja have the potential to set them up as one of the great Hollywood studios, and indeed, this film’s Oscar chances may send more filmmakers flocking towards them. The whole cast does a fantastic job here, but this is clearly a show for the matriarchs of the family. Carey Mulligan’s role as the wife Laura defies period stereotypes by being neither a White Savior or a racist plantation wife. Instead, she is a headstrong woman stuck in a household run by masculinity. Mirroring her is singer Mary J. Blige as the concerned Florence Jackson, who easily trumps everyone else in the film. Despite having the best of intentions, her world is constantly swirling as the families clash and reconcile. Garret Hedlund and Jason Mitchell play the two prodigal sons with excellent chemistry. The scenes of their bonding and sharing stories from the War give the audience hope that everything will be okay. The one character who’s not shades of gray is Pappy, played well by Jonathan Banks. A virulent racist, most of the families’ problems stem from him, and I didn’t like watching his scenes. Mudbound isn’t just a showcase of pure acting, as the technical aspects are very accomplished. Rachel Morrison’s cinematography reflects the dirty world the characters have to live in. It’s a rich and down-to-earth aesthetic that perfectly captures the scope of the story. The shots of vast fields and open land are contrasted by the small houses the McAllans and Jacksons are trapped in. There’s also some visceral editing from Mako Kamitsuna with near-perfect cutaways in every instance. Two particular examples standout. The first is when Jamie and Henry are losing friends in combat over at Europe while a Gospel service begins singing heavenly tunes. The other is a disgusting act of violence committed near the end of the film that moves away enough for the viewer to see with their imagination. Both were powerful and unveiled a bigger picture than just this farm. The musical score is composed by artist Tamar-Kali Brown. He manages to bring an Americana voice to this story, fitting since it’s a Southern drama. Most of the tracks mix together sorrowful low strings with a soulful African-American chorus. Some other tunes sound like bits and pieces of rhythm and blues music from the early part of the century were mixed together in a melting pot. Blige also contributes her beautiful voice for an original ballad called “Mighty River” that plays over the ending credits. Much like the message of the film itself, it’s lyrics are clear: we’re not so different from each other. And we need to clean our wounds of the past. Which brings me to the thing binding this film together: hatred. Both of the families have it in them, and even give it out in small doses. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that racism is far from over. Yes, we have come a long way since the days of both slavery and Jim Crow laws were considered societal norms. But Dee Rees understands how deeply rooted and complex of a problem this topic is and even makes a case that may never evaporate from the land of America. That’s not to say that the film is misery porn with no hope for humanity. Instead, it presents the parasite of prejudice as it is, and even ends on a note of love. Although it occasionally feels like there are too many characters at once, Mudbound is a sprawlingly relevant Southern triumph of character and melodrama. It’s one of the most essential films of the year, with a heavily involving story and shaded individuals with humanity to spare. It gives me hope for the future of Netflix originals. Please set aside 2 hours and 15 minutes to watch this movie, and you’ll feel the same way.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” Movie Review

Here we are, my friends. We’ve come to the end of all things. Well, at least when it comes to reviewing this saga of movies. I’ll always still be here for you guys. The final installment of Peter Jackson’s epic high fantasy trilogy was released worldwide on December 17th, 2003. It went on to gross over $1 billion at the box office, the second feature film to ever do so after Titanic. It also became a huge favorite with critics, scoring 11 Academy Award wins, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Let that sink in for a moment: A fantasy film from a big studio swept the Oscars and earned a record-high amount of trophies, tying only with Ben-Hur and Titanic. Picking up right where The Two Towers left off, Sam and Frodo are making their final push towards Mount Doom with Gollum acting as their guide. Meanwhile, Gandalf the White and Pippin make a plea with the kingdom of Gondor to prepare for Sauron’s impending invasion on the city of Minas Tirith. And as the armies of Rohan advance for aid, Aragorn sets off to fulfill a prophecy that would make him King of Men. Every trilogy has a challenge of closing out with a third installment that’s up to par with its two predecessors. But the sad truth is that that is a rarity in cinema. For every Bourne Ultimatum and Return of the Jedi, we still get films like The Dark Knight Rises and The Godfather Part III. When you add the massive success of the previous two Lord of the Rings films and the insane anticipation that was built up, this third entry seemed doomed to fail. But Return of the King not only surpassed all expectations, it became one of the greatest movies ever made. In fact, it’s my favorite movie of all time. Just as with the other two films, this one runs at over 3 hours long, even more so with the Special Extended Edition. And yet again, I iterate that there is not a moment wasted here. In fact, there are some scenes in the Extended Edition I feel are vital for understanding certain plot or character arcs. How one sequence involving Saruman was cut for theatrical release I will never understand. The pacing is perfect as well. I have seen films that are literally half as long as this one that feel like they drag on forever. Beginning with a shocking prologue directed by Jackson’s wife and co-writer Fran Walsh, and concluding with one of the most deeply moving endings in cinematic history, (Which doesn’t go on and on as some may lead you to believe) there is not a single thread that is left unsatisfied. Pretty much all of the major players were introduced in the first two entries, the one exception here being Denethor, played malevolently by John Noble. One of the most despicable human characters in cinema, his madness and grief intertwine in a scary and believable way. Another character I didn’t get to mention was Miranda Otto’s Eowyn, a strong-willed shield-maiden who wants nothing more than to prove her worth. Those type of characters can usually be annoying, but you grow to care and root for her. But the scene-stealer this time around is Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee. As Frodo grows weaker, Sam has to step it up and prove himself as the real hero of the story. Even for a series as technically accomplished as this one, Return of the King is one of the most visually striking films of the last 50 years. Containing 1,488 visual shots, the VFX work really comes to life during the battle sequences, particularly the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Nearly 20 times as large as the Battle for Helm’s Deep, but still just as personal, nearly every character in the cast, save for Frodo and Sam, gets a chance to shine in the conflict. It also better fleshes out some effects-heavy characters, such as the giant spider Shelob. That sequence scared me to death as a child, and it still sends a shiver down my spine to this day. Outside of CGI, the production design continues to be be impressive with some of the most elaborate sets ever built. The practical model for Minas Tirith is quite an awesome sight while Shelob’s Lair is creepy enough to make your skin crawl. And Howard Shore’s music has never been better than here. Each track is elevated to a level of epic proportions thanks to an operatic choir and fantastic strings. It all captures the right emotion of the moment, and earns that response from audiences. All of the leitmotifs we know and recognize are present, but they’re amplified to an insane degree of beauty. Upon all of that, the film closes its credits with an Oscar-Winning original song called “Into the West” by Annie Lennox. A cathartic ballad that brings all of the emotions drained out of your system back to where you began, it also serves as the perfect ending to the finale from the last few frames. And this really does feel like what J.R.R. Tolkien wanted as an end to his saga. There are definitely changes to the source material- much to the chagrin of his son and literary heir Christopher -but the spirit and the intent of the story is all still present. The novel is considered both the pinnacle and the model of fantasy literature in most corners of the globe. On a similar level, the film adaptation is considered to have created the template for how to adapt a story, regardless of genre. Many have utilized that template but none have quite mastered it like this film trilogy. Visually stunning, emotionally rewarding, and satisfying beyond words, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is an astonishingly powerful and endlessly beautiful masterpiece of peak filmmaking. I reiterate my earlier sentiment: This is my favorite movie of all time. It crafted the sci-fi/fantasy nerd you’re reading right now and ultimately showed me the magic of the movies. And it’s an example I measure all other films to come. If you don’t like this movie, well then you might as well just un-Follow me.

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“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” Movie Review

It’s official. J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium is getting the full-series T.V. treatment from Amazon, a prequel to be exact. Personally, I would much rather they do an adaptation of The Silmarillion than even try to touch these movies. The middle entry of the extremely successful epic high fantasy saga saw a worldwide release on December 18th, 2002, grossing nearly 10 times its $94 million budget. Unlike most trilogies, all three movies of the Lord of the Rings were filmed back-to-back and were finished in the years of their individual release. This is rather smart as it allows for more time to be given to perfect everything going into the final product. Picking up right where Fellowship left off, Frodo and Sam make their way to Mount Doom on their own, gaining the unexpected help of a mysterious creature called Gollum. Meanwhile, Aragorn, the Elf Legolas, and the Dwarf Gimli are drawn to the horse kingdom of Rohan to help drive a corrupt power tearing the nation by war. And finally, Hobbits Merry and Pippin find themselves negotiating with a mythical taking tree called Treebeard about their mutual enemies. Many film buffs argue over whether or not The Two Towers is better, on-par with, or worse than The Fellowship of the Ring. I personally don’t have any interest in these types of arguments. (The answer is Fellowship, by the way) Assessing these films as standalone is difficult because they were all meant to be watched in one sitting. As soon as the final shot fades from the first installment, you’ll immediately want to watch what happens next. And when a 3-hour movie makes you want to watch another 3-hour movie afterward, that’s an impressive accomplishment. And that’s what The Two Towers does. But I’ve always been of the opinion that the Special Extended Editions of the trilogy on Blu-Ray is the one to go for. Each movie is given about 45-50 minutes worth of additional footage, giving greater context to situations or characters. Including bonus features and behind-the-scenes extras, the trilogy now spans approximately 12 hours- and I have no problem sitting through all of it multiple times. Most “director’s cut” or “extended editions” of movies I’m usually against as it really just pads out the runtime and adds unnecessary filler. I want you to find me a single scene like that in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Go ahead, I’ll wait. This time around, we get even more characters to care about in the cast. Chief among them is Bernard Hill’s commanding performance as Theoden, King of Rohan. Almost Shakespearean, he faces a constant moral struggle of what’s best for his people, with the wolves of Isengard never too far behind his party. David Wenham is convincing as Faramir, a Ranger come between a rock and a hard place. As you learn more about his character, you actually grow to empathize with his hardships. Someone who I didn’t talk about last time was Saruman the White, played masterfully by the late Sir Christopher Lee. Initially being the White Wizard, his throwing in with Sauron makes you long for his defeat. He’s essentially the central villain of this film. However, Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the creature Gollum is, both from a technical and acting standpoint, an absolute revelation. Essentially the drug addict of Middle-Earth, he is brought to life by brilliant work from Weta Workshop and Serkis’ own facial expressions translate directly to the final product. Despite his gross outward appearance, you can’t help but pity the poor thing. He represents a metaphor for the toll that the One Ring can take on someone, and also serves as a reminder for Frodo to get going to Mount Doom. His performance was so great, it has prompted serious arguments about whether or not motion-capture qualifies an actor for the Oscars. (It absolutely does) And this series continues to be a marvel in the technical department. All of the behind-the-scenes crew from the last movie carry over into the installment. I would say that the sound design is much more crisp and sharp this time around. Every time an Orc was slashed with a sword, you could the crunching of their bones and the squishing blood. All aspects of this department culminate in the famed Battle of Helm’s Deep, one of the greatest battle sequences ever put to the big screen. Pitting 300 Men and Elves against 10,000 Uruk-Hai, (Orcs beefed on steroids by Saruman) the fight lasts from the rainy evening until the morning. How it cut away from the action to the women and children hiding away in the caves gave it this extra humanity. Howard Shore continues to impress as the musical composer of the trilogy. Carrying over many of the same leitmotifs from the first film and creating some new ones, the “Uruk-Hai” track is considered to be the main theme song of the entire saga. This time around, he seems to favor harsh horns and pulsating percussion for the antagonists, especially as they march toward our heroes. Meanwhile, the country of Rohan gets its own theme, made of a solo, melancholic violin that illustrates a nation’s uncertain future. How he got the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play for him I don’t know, but I’m glad he did. And unlike many fans of Lord of the Rings, I like the risks that this second installment took. While the tone itself has become a little more somber, the intelligent dialogue is taken in a really funny direction. The rivalry between Legolas and Gimli produces some hilarious moments. And I actually like the Ents. Yes, Treebeard and all of his slow-moving friends didn’t annoy or bore me at all. Like its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a stunningly beautiful fantasy brought to life with feverish passion. While not quite my favorite of the trilogy, I will never disagree with anyone who loves it most. Featuring even more interesting characters and a fantastic ending battle scene, this sequel is definitely worth it.

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“First They Killed My Father” Movie Review

Yeah… I can’t really think of any jokes right now. This biographical coming-of-age war drama premiered at the city of Siem Reap, eventually making to the fall festival circuit. It got a positive reception at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival before being released on the streaming giant Netflix on September 22nd. Although they don’t release the number of people watching, it’s believed that anticipation was building up as it was being marketed as Beasts of No Nation set in Cambodia. Produced and directed by Angelina Jolie, the film has been adapted from the memoir A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung, who also had a part in writing the screenplay. The story focuses on Loung Ung as a 5-year-old child in Cambodia, just as the United States Army pulled out of Vietnam. After the radical Khmer Rouge take over the country in 1975, she is trained as a child soldier while her family of 6 siblings and weary parents are forced out of their city home to live in a labor camp. Against her will, she is forced to take part in a 4-year regime that results in the death of over 2 million Cambodians. It’s clear how authentic Jolie wanted to be with this subject matter. There is not a single big name Hollywood star to be found on the casting list, nor is the film spoken in English for our own convenience. The film was shot on location where the co-writer had been to, all of the actors are real Cambodian citizens, and the film is spoken entirely in the Khmer Cambodian language. Relax, fellow Americans, it has been translated into English subtitles so that you can understand the plot. It’s pretty bold for someone as famous as Angelina Jolie to make a movie that rejects Hollywood conventions. She tried this previously with films like Unbroken and In the Land Of Blood and Honey. And while neither one is particularly amazing, this Netflix Original riveted me from scene one. Virtually unknown for the moment, I hope that young Sreymoch Sareum gets more recognition as a child actor. The entire film is told through her innocent eyes, unable to comprehend the true evil unfolding all around her. This arguably makes the tragedy of it all even more depressing. Looking over her shoulders for the first half of the picture is Kompheak Phoeungas and Socheta Sveng as Loung’s concerned father and mother, respectively. They present an interesting dichotomy, as the father is a disgraced army soldier hiding his loyalty, whereas the mother is miserable and depressed by their situation. Yet the two of them try their best to remain positive and hopeful for their children, the only logical thing to do in a situation like this. As mentioned earlier, there are no Hollywood big names filling out the rest of the cast. Every single actor, whether they are primary characters or one of hundreds of extras, was from Cambodia. And not a single line of dialogue is spoken in the English language, which is arguably even more impressive. Hopefully, this opens up a floodgate of possibilities for more chance of diversity in the film industry. But since this film was released on a streaming network, odds are that they’re probably not going to take it very seriously. But in a technical aspect, this film is quite accomplished. Anthony Dod Mantle frames the camerawork in a wholesome and naturalistic way for the scenes. Shot on location in various villages in Cambodia, the realistic lighting combined with the beautiful nature is something to behold. So that when some of these places start coming down, we feel even sadder and want Loung to get out of there even more. But since this is told entirely through her perspective, the film is edited by Xavier Box and Patricia Rommel to feel confusing to us viewers. We get strong implications of what is going on with the Khmer Rouge, but the film cuts away from explicitly showing us everything. In a way, this made things even more terrifying because, unless you’re already familiar with the story, it feels like anything could swoop in from out of the camera and take out our protagonist. Marco Beltrami is composing the musical score for this picture. While not necessarily his best soundtrack to date, it does feature his signature style of percussion like bass drums making a huge impact. Literally. At almost all times, there’s a hit that permeates in even some of the more quiet scenes. But he doesn’t succumb to emotionally manipulative strings common in films like these made by Hollywood. Instead, he brings out genuine feeling, even allowing us to tear up near the end when there might be light at the end of the tunnel. However, similar to Beasts of No Nation, I do not feel like this film is one that can be revisited more than once. I acknowledge this as one of the year’s best films, and will proudly tell anyone to watch it. But there are just too many scenes that are difficult to watch for me to recommend multiple viewings. The fact that this is based on a true story makes that pill even harder to swallow. Even so, First They Killed My Father is an empathetic look at evil through the eyes of innocence. Please seek this film out on Netflix and watch it. In this day and age, with atrocities regularly on the news, the subject matter has only become more pertinent. Mourning is the first step. Remembering is the next.

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