Rapid Reviews- Alien: Covenant

Introduction:

Rapid Reviews is a new series I’m launching. Here, I will be covering films that I want to talk about, but don’t plan on writing in-depth analytical essays on. I will also include a final verdict section at the end of each review, so those who don’t feel like reading the whole post can gain an even quicker summary of my opinion (skip, worth seeing, and must see are the three verdicts I can assign). Anyway, enjoy the first of many rapid reviews to come. Who knows, one day I may expand to other mediums, but for now, I’m just sticking with movies.

Review:

Alien: Covenant serves as both the sequel to Prometheus and the second prequel to Alien. I consider myself to be somewhat of a fan of the Alien franchise, having really enjoyed the original, but not yet got around to watching Aliens. My opinions on Prometheus, however, can be best described with one point: I can’t seem to recall almost anything that happened in the entire movie.

Thankfully, Alien: Covenant doesn’t fall into the same forgettable trap. Combining the strongest elements from both Prometheus and the original Alien, Covenant serves as the bridging point between the two. Despite some major issues, I really enjoyed this entry into the legendary science fiction franchise.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as David, while also portraying a new character named Walter. Regardless of who he is in any given scene, Fassbender is the standout performance of this film; he’s worth the entire price of admission alone. However, when it boils down to the rest of the new cast, we are left with an undeveloped and generically bland horror ensemble.

What makes this movie stand out over its prequel predecessor is the villain, the identity of whom I will not spoil due to its implications in the Alien lore. Despite being an amoral and nefarious character, you find yourself rooting for him due to the sheer blandness of the protagonists. I found myself wanting his sinister plans to succeed, despite their horrible nature.

Aside from one standout performance and a tremendous villain, there isn’t really much to Alien: Covenant. At its core, the movie is a fun popcorn flick, and a solid entry into the classic sci-fi/horror saga. If you were disappointed by the lack of Xenomorphs in Prometheus, you will be immensely satisfied this time around.

Speaking of Prometheus, I would recommend giving it a re-watch before seeing Covenant, just as a refresher. It’s not absolutely necessary, but based on the amount of recap questions I had to ask my friend during and after the movie, It’s probably a good idea.

Final Verdict: Worth Seeing

Spirited Away is a Reality Show

As someone who grew up with Spirited Away, and hails it as a flawless masterpiece, naturally I am obsessed with getting other people into the film. Throughout my execution of this mission, I have noticed one common thread: everyone feels that the ending was anticlimactic. At first, I just dismissed my inability to see this problem as mere childhood bias. After all, I had seen the movie so many times that I have probably become desensitized to any flaws it may have.

However, after seeing the movie on the big screen with my roommate while living in D.C., something finally clicked. My roommate loved the film, up until the ending, as most seem to do. However, he explained his issue not just as one of anticlimacticness, but of a lack of payoff. He saw the driving force of the movie as Chihiro’s mission to return her parents to human form and return to the mortal world. If you did have to give the movie a simple synopsis for the sake of a magazine review or IMDB page, that is essentially what should be said. However, I also believe there is a huge misconception based on that very synopsis.

Spirited Away is not an epic fantasy story; it is a reality show. The fantasy adventure premise is merely a vehicle to transport you to a world. Once you are settled in this world, the movie is not about this central conflict. It is about Chihiro, a young immature girl, learning to adapt to a new environment, and mature into a responsible and strong individual.

It is, for this very reason, that the plot of saving her parents is somewhat abandoned for the second and third acts of the film, only to be quickly resolved in the last five minutes. The movie is not about that story, it is about a story of personal growth in a unique setting. But the conflict did get you invested in Chihiro and the characters that inhabit this world, didn’t it?

Reality shows are about people’s lives, individuals adapting to new situations and dealing with their own personal growth. Although person vs. person conflicts are present, they are often artificially inserted to get you more invested. Sound familiar? Hayao Miyazaki inserted an almost artificial fantasy conflict to get you into your seat, and then pushed it to the side to make room for the real Spirited Away.

It is also for this reason that there is no central antagonist in the story. Yubaba, the witchy owner of the bath house, may seem like an obvious candidate to point fingers at. Those assumptions would be misguided. What did Yubaba ever do to harm our protagonist? Yubaba didn’t turn Chihiro’s parents into pigs, her parents did that out of their own selfishness. Yubaba didn’t refuse to give Chihiro her parent’s back. Chihiro never asked for that directly, Haku told her to just ask for a job in the bath house instead. Rather than simply turning Chihiro into an animal, she decided to allow her to work. Yubaba was just a greedy, but overall redeemable person, using a bad situation to profit. Despite being a spirit, she was just being human.

That’s the core of Spirited Away to me, a story about people. Through Chihiro’s eyes, it’s a peak into a world that has been static for a long time, and will continue to be static after she leaves. Chihiro isn’t some epic fantasy heroine that is going to change the status quo of some fantasy world. She’s just a girl, thrown into a rough situation and learning to mature from it. Spirited Away is not a fantasy adventure, but a reality show peering into a fantasy world through the eyes of an outsider.

Moana and Wind Waker: Perfecting the Polynesian Ocean Explorer Aesthetic

May as well cash in on the Moana hype train for a second time. There is a particular aesthetic in media that I have become increasingly fond of over the years. This is that of the Polynesian ocean explorer. Today I am going to be explaining this aesthetic, as well as why I appreciate it, through two pieces of media that perfect it. These are Moana and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Moana takes a very direct approach with regards to implementing this aesthetic. After all, the movie is literally about a Polynesian girl who wants to explore the ocean. Every single trait of the aesthetic is there: island inhabiting tribes, personified sea life, traditional Polynesian fashion. However, the element that stands out to me the most is the exploration of the ocean itself.

Despite being from entirely different mediums, both Moana and Wind Waker perfectly portray the vastness of the oceans at hand. In both instances, the audience knows the true constraints of the body of water. In Moana, it is limited to the confines of Earth’s Oceania region. In Wind Waker, it is bound to the grid-based world map that the player is given early in the game. Despite these literal constraints, the writing manages to make the oceans seem endless.

The idea of Moana’s deep-seated calling for ocean exploration is presented very early in the film. This already gives the sea a sense of vastness, as she is truly unaware of its constraints. She has never left her island; she has no perspective as to the true size of the body of water. To her, it may as well be infinite. This cleverly ingrained theme is only amplified when she actually begins to explore the ocean with Maui. Together, they encounter many unique characters, islands, and magical entities. The feeling that you can come across almost anything only supports this illusion of oceanic endlessness.

Wind Waker, while extremely different, flaunts the very same aesthetic in a similar manner. Before comparing the game directly to Moana, I must explain the context of Wind Waker as a part of a media franchise. The Legend of Zelda, a video game series produced by Nintendo, is one of the most well known high fantasy sagas of all time. The series typically takes place in a somewhat generic high fantasy world known as Hyrule, which always has the typical geographical tropes. A volcanic mountain region, an aquatic lake/river region, a mystical forest region, and a harsh desert region can be seen in almost every game in the series, regardless of where it lands on the timeline. However, aside from minor strides in Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker was the first game in the franchise to truly turn this world upside down. During the time between Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker (the two games directly next to each other on the series’ timeline) the world of Hyrule was flooded by the gods. Wind Waker is the first game in the series to take place in the ocean that is the aftermath of this very flood. There is no longer a main continent, only small islands formed over the peaks of what used to be traditional Hylian landmarks. Now, rather than exploring a vast landmass on horseback, you are sailing across a massive ocean on a small boat.

Although Wind Waker naturally borrows many elements from its franchise predecessors, it manages to use this oceanic atmosphere to its advantage. It seamlessly blends the traditional European fantasy concepts that defined the series with a Polynesian ocean explorer aesthetic. Link, rather than living in a farming village or forest haven, now lives on a small tribal island. The attire of the villagers is influenced heavily by Polynesian style. Once you leave your village, you sail to many islands and come across a plethora of unique creatures, but this aesthetic still remains. In fact, many of the staple characters and enemies of the series get an oceanic makeover. The Kokiri get a re-imagining that feels like it stepped straight out of Polynesian mythology. The Zora race is replaced by the Rito, a group of anthropomorphic bird people that live in a society that is literally that of a Polynesian tribe. Bokoblins, rather than running around Hyrule as bandits, now patrol the seas from rafts and watch towers as pirates. Even the main antagonist of the saga, Ganondorf, now looks somewhat like a tribal chief.

However, what Wind Waker succeeds at the best with regards to this aesthetic brings me back to what Moana did so well. Despite there only being a limited number of original characters and creatures, as well as only 49 small islands to visit, the world of the flood still manages to feel massive and unexplored. This aesthetic doesn’t even wear down the more times you complete the game. With each playthrough you manage to notice new things. Whether it be a hilarious character you never talked to before, or a secret area on an island you thought you knew by heart, the world of Wind Waker still manages to feel endless after all these years. Although the second and final game to take place in the flood era of Hylian history, Phantom Hourglass, does not succeed in implementing this aesthetic successfully, we will always have the endless appeal of Wind Waker. This replayability is one of the main reasons why it is, and probably always will be, my favorite video game of all time.

This is also why I would love to see Moana sequels in the near future. There is just so much of this world still left to be explored. I would love to see new islands, meet new characters, and face new threats with Moana and Maui, as long as the movies continue to be as well written as the first.

How Moana Messed Me Up

When I think about movies I want to see in theaters, I place them in one of three categories. There’s the top tier- movies I must see in theaters, maybe even opening night. Then comes middle tier- movies I would like to see in theaters, but will take my time to see. Finally, at the bottom tier comes movies I will see if invited or if bored with a friend.

Despite being a new Disney animated feature, Moana fell into the third tier for me. I really don’t know why it did, I’m usually the first one out the door when it comes to Disney Studios and Pixar films. I think it may have just been a sheer lack of someone to convince me to see it. The last day before my good friend Zack (go check out his YouTube channel 123zc1, it’s well worth your time) and I left for the semester, we had a few hours to kill. We made a last minute decision to finally see Moana, and boy was that decision well made.

Moana is not the best Disney film by any means. Movies like The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame take that position. However, it is by far the one I’ve personally connected with the most, making it my hands down favorite. I can definitely say that Zack felt very similarly, but at a stronger level, as he was crying throughout most of the movie.

I’m entering a crossroads in my life that has put me in existential disarray. I will be graduating college, and entering the “real world” this year. I know that I will have to get a 9-5 job, and probably live with my parents until I can save up enough to leave Florida. Although not thrilled, I have come to terms with this seemingly inevitable future. This is the path for someone with a passion that does not lead directly to a sustainable career. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a driving passion in my life. Since a very young age, I have always wanted to be an author. Writing fictional stories is my calling. My characters live in my mind like real friends and family, becoming fully realized even before they are put to paper. Having written my first novel last year, I can tell you firsthand that there is nothing more thrilling and satisfying then acting upon your passion.

I can’t talk about the experience of seeing Moana at this time in my life without talking about the accompanying short film. Inner Workings follows the story of a man who is living the exact path I face. The moral of the short is that you have to include little things in your 9-5 office life that make you happy, or else you’ll be miserable. However, I’ve had some influences in my life over the past year that have made this short mean a bit more to me. The Pro Crastinators are a group of YouTube content creators that have served as my main creative influence and entertainment source over the past year or so. Each member serves as a shining beacon of success from abandoning the normal path, and focusing their entire lives on their creative passions. Whether it be anime analysis, writing/drawing comics, or documenting their slow path towards insanity on video, they have embraced their true purpose, and abandoned their ties to the typical life structure that society enforces. In other words, they are a very hedonistic, but intelligent bunch. They would take Inner Workings, and throw it in the trash. I can’t say whether the Pro Crastinators are the angel or the devil on my shoulder. What I can say is that Inner Workings falls right alongside with the ideals of my parents, grandparents, and mentors/advisors, who all believe that a stable 9-5 job is the way to go. Just add a few small things that give you joy and you’re good to go.

If Inner Workings represents the ideals of my family, Moana is the mindset of the Pro Crastintors. The very meaning behind the entire plot of the film is to ignore what society deems to be the correct life path, and follow the passion you have in your heart. Moana has a deep-seated desire to explore the ocean. However, her entire family and village swears by never leaving the island they inhabit, and fulfilling the traditional life path that they have all taken. The only human character who encourages Moana to act on her passion is her grandmother. Gramma Tala is to Moana what Jesse Wood is to me: the voice on one of my shoulders telling me to screw society and follow my passion for writing fiction. While the ocean in the film is a literal entity that calls to Moana from inside her heart, it is clearly symbolic of her internal passion.

I would like you to read the following lyrics. They are to one of the climatic songs of the film, I Am Moana. The first stanza is the ghost of Moana’s grandmother singing to her (I believe this ghost not to literally be present, but in her head). The second stanza is of Moana herself responding. I believe these words perfectly reflect the entire point of Moana as a work of art, and hope you agree:

 

I know a girl from an island

She stands apart from the crowd

She loves the sea and her people

She makes her whole family proud

Sometimes the world seems against you

The journey may leave a scar

But scars can heal and reveal just

Where you are

The people you love will change you

The things you have learned will guide you

And nothing on earth can silence

The quiet voice still inside you

And when that voice starts to whisper

Moana, you’ve come so far

Moana, listen

Do you know who you are?

 

Who am I?

I am a girl who loves my island

I’m the girl who loves the sea

It calls me

I am the daughter of the village chief

We are descended from voyagers

Who found their way across the world

They call me

I’ve delivered us to where we are

I have journeyed farther

I am everything I’ve learned and more

Still it calls me

And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me

It’s like the tide; always falling and rising

I will carry you here in my heart you’ll remind me

That come what may

I know the way

I am Moana!

 

I just need to replace all the specifics of the lyrics with things about me, and this song becomes about me. That’s the beauty of Moana as a piece of cinema. The film is made for self insert; you can’t help yourself but look at everything metaphorically. You can replace the plot elements, setting, specific passions, and characters with things that apply to you, and the story still works. Moana is the story of a girl following the voice inside her heart, and embracing her true passion. That’s the most inspiring thing imaginable to me, and that’s why this movie messed me up.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens- An Analytical Essay

Well, here we are with what is probably the most inevitable review I have ever written. Believe it or not, I have actually been putting this review off. Due to the sheer amount of topics to discuss regarding this film, I thought maybe a free-form analysis similar to my RWBY reviews would be the better format. I was insecure in a sense, worried that I would miss something, or not get my points across correctly. However, when it comes down to my true nature as a creative, I am a writer. I have always been a writer, and I always will be a writer. Therefore, I thought it would be a betrayal to talk about the newest installment in my favorite movie franchise in any other format but a written piece. However, this will not simply be a straight-forward technical film review. It will lean more towards an analytical essay, discussing broader concepts more than technicalities. WARNING: this discussion will inevitably have some spoilers. However, if you haven’t already seen the film, you probably don’t plan on doing so. This will probably be the longest piece I have ever written for this blog, so I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I will writing it.

I feel as if a basic understanding of my personal connection to the Star Wars universe is essential context for this essay. Therefore, I will try to briefly explain it. I was first introduced to the Star Wars franchise when I was five years old. My dad sat me down, and showed me A New Hope. Little did my naive mind know that this movie would shape the course of my life. Despite my inability to pronounce character names, I became obsessed with Star Wars. I would eagerly consume any piece of Star Wars media I could find at my local library. Quickly seeing all five films that were out at the time, I began to delve into expanded universe material via books, video games, and comics. The first Star Wars film I was able to see in theaters was Revenge of the Sith. My dad and I saw it opening night, and, despite its flaws, I loved it. Star Wars was the franchise that got me into geek culture and media consumption in general. Most importantly, Star Wars was one of the driving forces made me want to become a fiction writer. I was entranced by the universe that Lucas had constructed, as well as the unforgettable characters he developed. I knew I wanted to be able to have that same power. With countless short stories and two novels complete, there are clear Lucas influences in most of my work. Star Wars has become part of my identity, and will be part of my identity for the rest of my life.

When I saw the first trailer for The Force Awakens back in November of 2014, I got chills. The trailer was expertly crafted, revealing almost nothing about the plot of the movie, while still capturing the spirit of the original trilogy that the prequels failed to uphold.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens became my most anticipated movie of all time.

Finally, over a year later, the day finally arrived. My friends and I had a marathon of almost the entire Star Wars saga in anticipation of the movie. Starting at 11 A.M, and wrapping up around 9 P.M, here is the order we watched the films in:

. Episode IV: A New Hope

. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

. The Clone Wars (2003 Miniseries)

. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

We chose to watch Return of the Jedi last on some-part in order for the prequel media to have more emotional wait. However, the true intention of this decision was so that the story would easily flow into the night’s main feature. It was during the credits of Return of the Jedi that it hit me, we were seeing a new Star Wars movie.

It was 11:59 P.M. Surrounded by a packed theater of people just like us, I didn’t realize I was living a moment that I would remember for the rest of my life. After an agonizing 20 minutes of previews, the familiar neon blue text appeared: A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away. As the blast of the familiar fanfare rattled my eardrums, a few tears began to drip from my eyes. I was watching a new Star Wars movie.

In order to avoid critical bias, I thought I would discuss my problems with the film before delving into praise. The use of Starkiller Base as a plot element was pointless, extremely contrived, and terribly repetitive. In the original Star Wars, the rebels had to destroy the Death Star. In Return of the Jedi, the rebels had to destroy the second Death Star. In The Force Awakens, the “resistance” had to destroy the “Starkiller Base”. Starkiller Base was literally a larger Death Star. It was something for the resistance to blow up while the real plot was going on.

Secondly, while I admired the majority use of practical effects for characters, I detested the minimal CG that they did use. Maz Kanata and Supreme Leader Snoke, while extremely intriguing and captivating characters, could have both easily been practically made. Instead, they used inexcusably poor CG to portray them. They took two characters that could have been some of the most complex in the Star Wars universe, and made them nearly unbearable to watch. I really hope some Maz Kanata expanded literature is released, for I would love to learn more about her without having to look at her. For Snoke’s case, I understand that he was a hologram in this film. However, that is no excuse to craft him using nauseatingly low quality CG. The original trilogy, which was produced in the 70s and 80s, used holograms of Emperor Palpatine that were far superior to what we got in this film. I can’t wait to see Snoke in person in either the next film, or Episode 9, so I could see what he actually looks like, not gargled down in CG slop.

Finally, the political situation of the galaxy could have been better explained. So there is a New Republic ruling, but there’s still remnants of the Empire called the First Order? The rebels won, but there are still rebels called the resistance? I have come to understand the political state of the Star Wars universe in a manner that explains this, but that was after research and analysis that I conducted in my own time. Here is what I believe is going on:

After the Battle of Endor, in which Darth Vader returned to the light side of the force, and defeated Emperor Palpatine, the Empire was greatly weakened. A few battles between the rebellion and the Empire ensued following the events of Endor, but the rebellion crushed the now collapsing Empire nearly every time. After the Battle of Jakku, which we see the ruins of in The Force Awakens, the Empire was simply too weak to function, and collapsed. In order to fill the power void left by the collapse of the Empire, Leia, with the help of other rebellion leaders, constructed the New Republic. However, a group of imperial sympathizers (similar to loyalists in the American Revolution) traveled to the outer rim of the galaxy, where they began forming a revolutionary group called the First Order. The goal of the First Order is to restore the power of the Empire, and return the galaxy to the way it was under Palpatine’s rule. In order to gain a loyal military force without the use of cloning, the First Order kidnaped newborn children from outer rim planets, conditioning them to become a new generation of Storm Troopers. During the construction of the First Order, they discovered a group known as the Knights of Ren. The Knights of Ren were a bastardization of the Sith Order, being trained by Supreme Leader Snoke, who is supposedly an ancient sith lord of some kind. Knowing that the Empire was a construct of the Sith Order, the First Order allied with the Knights of Ren. This would make Supreme Leader Snoke the new emperor if the First Order was to complete its mission. Seeing the threat that the first order was, Leia formed a militia of sorts called the resistance. In a similar method as to how ISIS operates in the Middle East, the resistance works as a state sponsored “terrorist” group. While the resistance isn’t affiliated with the New Republic on a technical level, it is being funded by them in an underground manner. There, I hope I explained the political situation of the galaxy far far away post Return of the Jedi. I shouldn’t have had to do this myself, the film should have explained this to us.

Now that I have discussed my problems with this movie, as well as constructed a political narrative for the post Return of Jedi era, I believe it is time to talk about The Force Awakens on a positive level. Although I am not sure enough to make a sound conclusion, as I have only seen the film twice, I think The Force Awakens might be my favorite Star Wars movie. Now here comes the hard part, explaining why. I thought I’d take this analysis piece by piece, as Star Wars is truly a puzzle of individual elements that work together to create a masterpiece of fiction.

The characters, in my opinion, are the strongest element of The Force Awakens. In a movie that has the return of Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker (though minimally for Luke), some of the most iconic fictional characters of all time, I found myself being drawn to the new characters over the comebacks. Any movie that can construct characters that successfully is already a masterpiece by some standards.

Poe Dameron, although somewhat of a minor character in this film (he will obviously be more important in the next two installments), was a fantastic character nonetheless. All of his dialogue was genuine, hilarious, and overall a joy to listen to. Despite only having about ten minutes of screen time total, I felt like we could be friends if he weren’t fictional.

Kylo Ren, was an outstanding villain by every sense of the word. Many people will simply take him at face value, casting him off as another emo Sasuke Uchiha like character (there, I made my obligatory Naruto reference). However, if you look past the exterior, and begin to truly think about his character, you will see how wrong this statement is. In my opinion, Kylo Ren is a much better villain than Darth Vader was at this point in their respective trilogies. In one movie, we understand Kylo Ren. We learn about his past, his deep internal struggle, and even his mental illness simply through facial expressions, behaviors, and minimal dialogue. What did we know about Darth Vader by the end of A New Hope? He was an asshole guy that killed Luke’s dad, and had some sort of past with Obi-Wan Kenobi. What do we know about Kylo Ren by the end of The Force Awakens? He is a deeply troubled young man who started off as a Jedi under the training of Luke Skywalker, and slowly was seduced by the dark side of the force. It was probably his deep-rooted mental illness, as well as Supreme Leader Snoke preying on this illness, that began this spiral into evil. Throughout the entire movie, it is clear that he is not confident in his decision to become a Sith, but completely torn. This is even evident after he committed his most sinister act, the murder of his father, Han Solo. Kylo Ren is a masterfully developed character that blows early Darth Vader out of the water. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Kylo Ren is a better villain than Darth Vader. All I am saying is that this early on in the trilogy, he already has almost as much development as Anakin Skywalker got over the course of two full trilogies and two TV shows. Adam Driver’s performance is truly Oscar worthy, and one I will not soon be forgetting.

Finn was an extremely pleasant surprise. Don’t get me wrong, I at no point thought he wasn’t going to be a good character. In fact, I thought he was going to be our new awesome protagonist. However, what we got was an outstanding sidekick character with amazingly written lines, and somewhat rushed, yet satisfactory character development. Wait, did I just say the poster child for the entire Force Awakens media campaign was not the main character? That’s right; the true protagonist of The Force Awakens was none other than Rey.

From a single film, Rey has surpassed both Boba Fett and Galen Marek as my favorite Star Wars character. In fact, she has become one of my overall favorite fictional characters of all time. Daisy Ridley gives one of the best performances I have seen in my entire life. Rey is an enthralling character by every sense of the word. You are captivated by her narrative from the second her dirt crusted mining goggles appear on screen. She stole every scene she was in, and overall, stole the movie for me. She managed to dominate my train of thought for days after I walked out of the theater. I don’t think I have been so attached with and invested in a fictional character since I watched Gurren Lagann, my favorite fictional story of all time.

When people claim Rey to be a Mary Sue character, I get extremely angry. Have they seen any other Star Wars films? The force is a mystical presence that flows through every living thing in the entire universe. It controls fate, destiny, and provides those sensitive to it with special powers. Other than in the monstrosity that was The Phantom Menace, the force is left open to be exactly what it should be, mystical. No one truly knows how the force works. However, what we do know is that the force presents the galaxy with “chosen-ones”. We saw Anakin Skywalker, a young slave from the outskirts of the galaxy, become one of the most powerful force-sensitives in all of history. Anakin Skywalker was the chosen one, the one who would bring balance to the force. Rey is clearly a chosen one, being perhaps the most force-sensitive person we have seen in the films themselves (obviously the decanonized expanded universe has stronger force-sensitives). Rey figured out how to use the force all on her own, because of how sensitive she was to it. This is not a flaw found in bad writing. In fact, this is not a flaw at all. This is a decision made by a mystical presence beyond our understanding, one that can choose to make certain people this powerful. With the guidance of Luke Skywalker, as well as potential advice from the force ghosts of Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker, Rey has the potential to become not only the most powerful Jedi in history, but maybe even the most powerful force-sensitive. I have some theories as to why else she may be as powerful as she is, but those will come in a later post. After reading this paragraph again, do you really think she is a Mary Sue character?

This movie was, without a doubt, one of the most emotional film experiences I have ever had. I cried three times during my first viewing, which is amazing, as a film is lucky if it even gets me to shed a tear once.

The first tears fled my eyes as the opening crawl came on. Seeing the signature yellow exposition dump, accompanied by the iconic John Williams fanfare brought my right back to being a kid again. I was transported back in time to the white leather couch, my Dad and I sitting in front of the small CRT. I had the same awe and child-like wonder I had reading the text and hearing that music for the first time. Although these were only a couple of nostalgic drops, they were tears nonetheless.

The floodgates truly opened when Han Solo, one of the most iconic characters of my childhood, was murdered by his own son, Kylo Ren. This scene was one of the most emotional scenes in film history. Everything from the flawless acting, symbolic cinematography, and masterful score made this scene the technical best in the movie. This may even be the technical best scene in the entire Star Wars saga. I was engaged in gross sobbing at this point in the film, and I was not alone.

Finally, a few tears fled my eyes during the final scene of the film. Rey, after everything that has happened to her over the course of the movie, finally finds Luke Skywalker. She reaches out and offers him his lightsaber, with a look in her eyes that screams a blend of fear, insecurity, and awe all in one. Luke then lowers his cloak, revealing a much older, and lived character than the protagonist of Return of the Jedi. The look in his eyes screams intense melancholy, as he probably has flashbacks from A New Hope, all the way through Kylo Ren’s betrayal. He looked into Rey’s eyes, and most likely saw himself. He saw the one who could bring balance to the force, and the one who could allow him to redeem the mistakes he made in the past. As they stare into each other’s eyes, the Binary Sunset theme blares over the shot, truly identifying this moment as one of the most important moments in all of Star Wars history. Its importance did not diminish its emotional power, leaving me with one of the most impactful cliffhangers in fiction history.

With the emotional and nostalgic bias of the first viewing gone, I was worried I wouldn’t like the film as much when I went to see it for a second time. I thought that the flaws would become more prevalent, and potentially change my opinion of the movie. However, I was shocked with the experience I got. I appreciated The Force Awakens even more with the second viewing than the first. The flaws didn’t ruin my opinion of the movie. In fact, the opposite occurred. I realized that the positive elements of this film were so strong, that they overshadowed the flaws to the point of them not even mattering. This move was a 10/10 for me, and nothing was going to change that.

I feel as if some fans wanted to hate The Force Awakens. They pulled a reverse Phantom Menace, where, despite realizing the film was a masterpiece, convinced themselves, as well as others, that it was terrible. With headlines and video titles like The Force Awakens Worse than the Prequels, and The Force Awakens is the worst Star Wars film, I have to ask myself, did they watch the same movie that I did? The sad truth is that they did, and that their closed-off minds wouldn’t allow them to simply sit back, relax, and enjoy it. I feel sorry for those people, as they missed out on what could have been one of the best experiences of their lives.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that I feel will stick with me forever. It nestled its way into my list of those seven or eight films that have impacted me so profoundly, that they changed my life. Those are the movies that I relate to on such a personal level, that I constantly think about them. Despite its flaws, The Force Awakens is a masterpiece of fiction that will go down in history as such.

It is clear that The Force Awakens is going to be one of the most analyzed and theorized fictional works of all time. However, rather than delving into my fan theories here, I plan on writing a separate essay devoted entirely to speculation for the rest of the trilogy. Therefore, I do not want to go into any more depth regarding Luke, Rey, or Snoke in any fashion.

Ant-Man- Movie Review

Marvel Studios’ newest movie, Ant-Man, was one of my most anticipated films of the year. Being a huge fan of both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Paul Rudd, the announcement of this movie was a dream come true to me. What enhanced my excitement was, during my pre-viewing research, finding out about the major role that the character Ant-Man plays in the Marvel comics universe. However, despite it not being a bad movie, I was somewhat disappointed with Ant-Man.

Before everyone reading this review flips out and spams me with hate, I want to point out the things I did enjoy about this film. Michael Douglas’ performance as Hank Pym was one of the best feats of acting from a primary character in a Marvel CU film to date. The emotion in his performance seemed, comparatively to the rest of the cast, more genuine. I really look forward to seeing his contributions in the future of the overarching Marvel CU narrative.

The character Paxton, played by Bobby Cannavale, was hands down the most genuine, and the overall best character in the movie. He defies all of the tropes of the ass-hole step dad/new husband character template. Instead, he provides us with a character that doesn’t hate or antagonize our protagonist, but cares about his family so much that the two come at odds. In fact, Paxton even tries to help Scott throughout the film, trying to help him transition into a functioning member of society. The only factor that makes him antagonizing in any way is the fact that he sees different plot events than Scott Lang. They are both characters in the same story, but they witness and experience different pieces of it. Therefore, they don’t have matching behavioral patterns in any way. They do, however, carry the same goal of protecting the people that matter to them at all costs. For a minor character in a Marvel CU movie, Paxton is hands down the best.

I also enjoyed the connections this movie makes to the rest of the Marvel CU. Trying to spoil as little as possible, there was an interesting encounter between Scott and another Avenger around halfway through the movie. This battle was very rewarding for hardcore fans of the Marvel CU. I also enjoyed the occasional dialogue references to the rest of the Avengers team, as well as a conversation drop of a character we have not yet seen on screen (COUGH COUGH someone swinging around in New York City COUGH COUGH). There is also a clear sense that the characters in this movie are living in a world that is dealing with the aftermath of the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron. All of these factors helped to ground the movie as a piece of a larger narrative, rather than just a stand alone story.

However, a couple of strong performances and a plethora easter eggs alone are not enough to carry an entire film. A story that is part of a larger franchise needs to be able to work as a stand alone story as well. Therefore, I had some major problems with this movie that most critics and fans seem to be ignoring. In the scope of the entire Marvel CU, this movie is an excellent addition to the larger saga. However, as a stand-alone story, this movie isn’t very strong. The plot seems heavily rushed, certain key plot points are contrived, and the story is riddled with lack of explanation and plot holes. This is exemplified in the movie’s climax, particularly by a rushed connection between the antagonists of this movie, and a major enemy force throughout the entire Marvel CU. However, that is just one example; there are plenty more to choose from.

I also found the CG to be very unconvincing for a Marvel Studios film made in 2015. Every time there was a scene involving Scott changing his size, or a multitude of ants appearing on screen at once, I was instantly taken out of my immersion. It was very jarring, and definitely detracted from the overall viewing experience.

Despite killer performances from Douglas and Cannavale, some of the acting wasn’t very strong. Evangeline Lilly’s performance as Hope van Dyne was surprisingly stale, and the chemistry between her and the protagonist was nearly non-existent. Her emotional moments felt very forced, causing her contributions to the narrative to fall flat. As she is clearly going to be a very important character in the future of the Marvel CU, I hope she improves her performance quickly. I also found both the performances and plot contributions of Scott’s friend group to be weak. They could have been removed from the movie altogether, and almost nothing would have changed. In fact, it may have improved the film in some ways.

I feel like the majority of the problems I had with this movie can be summed up with one name, Edgar Wright. Wright is one of my favorite filmmakers and storytellers of all time. He was the original filmmaker behind this movie, but quit after Marvel Studios forced him to make drastic changes to his screenplay. There are clear remnants of Wright’s filmmaking style and writing present throughout this movie. However, it feels more like failed emulation of his ideas than his ideas actually coming across effectively. I wish Marvel Studios and Wright could have come to more of a compromise, which would have potentially made Ant-Man one of, if not my favorite, Marvel CU movie.

Overall, Ant-Man was not a bad movie. It just simply did not live up to its potential. Multiple flaws that could have easily been improved upon during the filmmaking process were not fixed for the final product. Further, the screenplay relies on being part of an overarching cinematic universe as a crutch for lazy storytelling. Therefore, while still being a decent movie, it comes in second to last (just above Iron Man 3) in my ranking of all of the Marvel CU films. 

Wolf Children- Movie Review

There is a certain feeling that watching Wolf Children gives you. I have only had this feeling twice in recent memory. The first was when I read the novel Looking for Alaska in the summer of 2013. The second was when I watched the anime Gurren Lagann in January of this year. This feeling is one that is unexplainable, but clearly obtainable. It appears only when you consume a piece of fiction that connects with you more strongly than anything in reality can. I won’t declare it as my favorite film of all time just yet, but Wolf Children is, without a doubt, one of the greatest movies ever made.

Mamoru Hosoda has been slowly rising up in the anime industry over the past decade. Some of his most iconic works include Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. However, Wolf Children is the first film in his repertoire that truly places him right next to the legendary anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

Wolf Children, on the surface, is about a young woman trying to raise two children all on her own. However, these children are half human, half wolf; they can transform into either at any given time. What makes this seemingly basic plot so remarkable is its hidden depth. Upon analysis of the film, you begin to realize that the lycanism of the children is just a mere metaphor. This metaphor portrays the struggles of anyone raising children with disabilities, mental illnesses, or other various characteristics that society deems abnormal.

The characters, though seemingly basic on the surface level, are much more than that. The purpose of the simplicity of the characters in both design and writing is to allow the audience to seamlessly fall into their shoes. You feel every emotion they feel with intensity, and begin to form extreme empathy for these people who do not actually exist. Therefore, the happiness and sadness that these characters feel becomes all the more potent. It took all my strength to hold back tears in front of the anime club that I watched this movie with. However, I guarantee that if I watched this alone, I would have been bawling.

Without a doubt, the best part of this movie is the animation. While the character designs are purposely simplistic (see point above), the backgrounds and environments are anything but that. This movie has the hands down best animation in an anime ever. Every single setting is extremely colorful, detailed, and enticing. This becomes extremely prevalent when the characters move from the city to the countryside.

The final factor that makes this movie outstanding to me is the minimal use of dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, there are a multitude of heavy conversations throughout the movie, as well as a narrator. However, if you compare this to other movies, particularly anime films, you would find that there is probably half the amount of conversation. The soundtrack, character expressions, and environment animation tell the story much better than any dialogue would have done.

To conclude, you can tell I loved Wolf Children. I would recommend it not only to anime fans, but to literally anyone. Some of it may be a little too dark for younger children, but it would be a great film to show them when they are a bit older. However, this movie was clearly not made with a certain demographic in mind. Anyone from any walk of life can watch it and identify with it. Wolf Children is a timeless masterpiece that breaks the boundaries of what film can do, and is the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time.