CGB Top Ten Best Movies of 2015

Now that I’ve unleashed my cathartic list of this year’s worst movies, it’s time to showcase the Top Ten Best Movies of 2015!

For a film to be my favorite, it has to give me an emotional experience.  The movies on this list made me laugh, cry, think and even challenged me.
Without further ado, here is my list of the Top Ten Best Movies of 2015!

10. Serena
Hey Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence!  You two made it on this list!  Hooray!
In all seriousness, I thoroughly enjoyed this period piece drama.  The dynamic between Cooper and Lawrence is wonderful to watch and the evolution of their characters is well-handled in this tragic tale of love and ambition.
CGB Review of Serena here:  https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/07/11/my-review-of-serena-2015/

9. Mad Max Fury Road
This was a pleasant surprise for me.  I don’t normally gravitate towards high-testosterone films like these, but I found myself enjoying Mad Max more than I thought I would.  Imperator Furiosa is an amazing lead character, the chase sequences did get my adrenaline going, and the color palate choices were ingenious.
CGB Review of Mad Max Fury Road coming soon.

8. Ex_Machina
Did you love Oscar Isaac in Force Awakens?  You’re gonna love this movie that features Oscar Isaac as the shady scientist Nathan.  I found this hidden sci-fi gem to be an intelligent perspective on humanity, love and what it means to be alive.  All of the actors are three-dimensional and interesting to watch, the clausterphobic cinematography was crisp and cool, and the film’s tasteful handling of its own ideas earns Ex_Machina the #8 spot.
CGB Review of Ex_Machina here:  https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/08/15/my-review-of-ex_machina/

7. Do You Believe?
Hey, look, a Christian film made it on this list!  Given that the Christian film is a hit-or-miss genre (with more misses than homeruns), Do You Believe is in my opinion a daring entry in the genre.  When a movie can handle the subjects of self-injury, PTSD, homelessness, gang violence and broken families with tact and grace, that is worth commending.  I really hope that Christian filmmakers watch this movie and take inspiration from it.
CGB Review of Do You Believe here:  https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/08/09/christian-movie-reviews-do-you-believe/

6. The Intern
Another pleasant surprise!  I honestly wasn’t expecting this to end up on the list.  This Nancy Meyers comedy is charming without being cheesy, heartwarming without oversentimentality, and a great story of platonic love and friendship.  Cuddle up with the one you love and enjoy this delightful date night flick.
My TCR Review of The Intern here:  http://www.thecatholicresponse.us/tcr-review-of-the-intern/

5. Black Mass
Wow, what a terrifying crime drama with a mesmerizing performance from Johnny Depp.  All of the performances are masterful, the musical score is haunting and the cinematography captures the terror of the Boston crime scene.  Johnny Depp should take a break from Tim Burton for a while and instead begin starring in more films like this engaging biopic of James “Whitey” Bulger.
My TCR Review of Black Mass here:  http://www.thecatholicresponse.us/tcr-review-black-mass/

4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Forget David O. Russell’s clusterfrick film Joy; this is a movie that showcases Jennifer Lawrence’s strength as an actor.  This is a satisfying conclusion to the innovative Hunger Games film series.   Jennifer Lawrence completes Katniss’ arch with a quiet, thoughtful performance, the sewer scene in particular is horrifying and action-packed, and all loose ends are tied in this final chapter of my favorite young adult film series.
My CGB Review of Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 here:   https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/11/27/cgb-double-feature-review-of-the-hunger-games-mockingjay-parts-1-2/

3. American Sniper
Okay, technically this came out in limited release on December 25th, 2014.  However I put it on the list based on its wide release in January of this year.
The reason why bad Bradley Cooper films frustrate me is because this was the movie that showed me what Bradley Cooper is capable of.  His performance as Chris Kyle is heartbreaking.  By the second act, I had completely forgotten that I was watching an actor.  Director Clint Eastwood handles his subject matter with sensitivity and candor.  On a side note, I ask that you pray for our men and women in uniform, for the turmoil they face when coming home is just as great a burden as the agony they endure on the battlefield.
My CGB Review of American Sniper here:  https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/06/21/my-review-of-american-sniper/

2. Inside Out
Ladies and gentlemen, Pixar is back and they’ve hit a homerun with this wonderful animated gem!  The characters are adorable, the film tackles the subject of the mind’s inner workings and coming-of-age in a creative, relatable way and the comedy is top-notch.   This movie made me cry three times when I first saw it (in a good way, of course) and I think this is the perfect family film for all ages.
My CGB Review of Inside Out here:  https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/06/22/my-non-spoiler-review-of-inside-out/

Before we get to the #1 pick, here are some honorable mentions:
Age of Adeline: A lovely romance as well as a good character study of the titular Adeline.
The Walk: A thrilling love letter to the arts and a fun biopic of Phillipe Petit.
Sicario: A disturbing, heart-pounding drama with brilliant performances.
The Martian: A humorous and intense story that pays tribute to the human spirit.

All right, we’ve come to my #1 pick, which just so happens to be two movies.  Yes, there were two movies this year that absolutely blew me away.  I looked over my notes for both of these movies and found that I just couldn’t say that one is better than the other.  These two films succeed in what they set out to do and I would like to add that both contain subtle Christian symbolism that are clear as day once you find those symbols.
The two films that both won the #1 spot on this list are…

 

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens AND Cinderella!!!!
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Yes, you read that right.  The Force Awakens and Cinderella are equally superb!  I’ve seen Force Awakens twice and Cinderella three times.  These two movies get better with each viewing.
Cinderella is sweet and delightful without being saccharine.  The Force Awakens pays homage to the original Star Wars trilogy while having its own identity.  Cinderella is the best demonstration of Theology of the Body that I have ever seen, while Force Awakens’ Rey has quite a few Marian qualities to her character.  Oh, and did I mention that both movies are very respectful of women?
Cinderella and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are excellent films.  They’re the kind of films that both kids and adults will enjoy, which is exactly why they have both earned the #1 spot on the CGB Top Ten Best Movies of 2015!
My TCR Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens here: http://www.thecatholicresponse.us/tcr-review-star-wars-the-force-awakens/
CGB Review of Cinderella coming soon.

CGB Top Ten Worst Movies of 2015

As the year comes to a close, it is time to me to unveil my picks for the Best and Worst films of 2015.
I figure that I’d start off with the movies that were bland and uninspired at best and, at worst, were excruciating abominations that no one should ever have the misfortune of sitting through.
Hello darkness, my old friend.  I’ve come to speak to you again…

These are the Top Ten Worst Movies of 2015

10. The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Nine months ago, this was #1 on my list of Worst 2015 movies.  However, after suffering through the nine other flicks on this list, I have decided to spare Insurgent the shame of being the #1 pick.  However, the autopilot story, the unfocused pacing and the toxic relationship between main character Beatrice “Tris” Prior and Four/Tobias Eaton are enough to guarantee it a spot on this list.

9. Man from U.N.C.L.E
Was this painful to sit through?  No.  Was it boring and lacking in originality?  Why, yes, it was.  I understand that it’s based off of an old TV show, but that is no excuse for cardboard characters and a lackluster plot.
CGB review of Man from U.N.C.L.E here: https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/09/26/cgb-review-of-the-man-from-u-n-c-l-e-2015/

8. Pixels
I honestly feel sorry for this movie.  What’s pitiful is that for me, this movie wasn’t even rant-worthy.  It was an interesting concept that was placed in the hands of people who had no idea how to flesh out the concept into an engaging story.
CGB review of Pixels here: https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/12/19/cgb-review-of-pixels-2015/

7. Terminator Genisys
For the love of all that is holy, that’s not how you spell “Genesis!”
Okay, spelling errors aside, this is the Terminator reboot that nobody asked for and nobody cared about.  An overly convoluted plot on autopilot, bland characters who are Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor in name only, and a lack of understanding as to why people liked the past Terminator films in the first place earns Terminator Genisys a spot on this list.
Screen Junkies Honest Trailer for Terminator Genisys here:  https://youtu.be/VXjz_G6FUrg

6. Jupiter Ascending
This was the first film where I actually walked out after the second act.  This Andy and Lana Wachowski bomb is the Phantom Menace of 2015; a convoluted space opera with long-winded expositional speeches given by flat and boring characters.
CGB review of Jupiter Ascending here: https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/08/18/cgb-review-of-jupiter-ascending-2015/

5. Fant4stic Four
I have a question for you: Let’s say you’ve spent a good chunk of your life working on a passion project (writing a novel, building an invention, proposing a scientific theory, finding ways to get rid of Jar Jar Binks; you decide).  If you were describing this project to someone, would you do so with a look of boredom on your face and a disinterested voice?  NO!  Of course you wouldn’t!  Yet that is how every single character in this movie talks.  It is so painful to see professional actors say their lines like they’re reading off of a grocery list.  Add that to the film’s neutered tone, sluggish pacing and an out-of-nowhere boss fight at the end and you’ve got yourself yet another crummy Fantastic Four movie.
CGB review of Fant4stic Four here:
https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/08/09/my-review-of-the-fantastic-chore-i-mean-four/

4. Pan
The only good thing I can say about this movie is that my review of it is the most viewed post on Catholic Girl Bloggin’ (it currently holds 95 views), and that’s all thanks to you guys and gals who follow CGB.  🙂 Other than that, this migraine-inducing chore of a Peter Pan prequel was practically begging me to walk out on it, go home and pop in “Maleficent,” a much better live-action fairy tale, into my Blue-Ray machine.
Also, I don’t know how I forgot to mention this in my original review, but the Neverbird creatures look like characters from a Nintendo 64 game.  I felt embarrassed for the person who had to animate those things.
CGB review of Pan here:  https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/10/10/cgb-review-of-pan-2015/

DISCLAIMER: The top three worst films of 2015 all feature the same actor.  I swear I didn’t plan this.

3. Burnt
I really don’t like seeing you here, Bradley Cooper.  It also doesn’t help that this won’t be Bradley Cooper’s only appearance on this list.
Clunky expositional dialogue, forgettable characters, a plethora of clichés and an unfocused tone makes this movie is so bad that it made me lose my sense of place and time.  This was my second walk-out of 2015.
CGB review of Burnt here:  https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/11/02/cgb-review-of-burnt-2015-2/

2. Aloha
Hello again, Bradley Cooper.
There are no words to describe my seething hatred for this movie.  I can’t even talk about this flick without getting mad.  Good Lord, Heaven above, I’d rather listen to Anakin Skywalker rant and complain about Obi-Wan than sit through this insufferable mess of a film.   The dialogue is unrealistic trailer-fodder, there are too many scenes that go nowhere and the sluggish pacing would make a turtle look like freaking Roadrunner!
CGB review of Aloha here:  https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/06/08/my-review-of-aloha/

From May to yesterday, Aloha was my pick for the #1 Worst Movie of 2015.
However, that all changed yesterday afternoon when I saw a movie that was so off-the-wall, so scattered in its story structure that during the first hour I went into the bathroom, looked at my baffled expression in the mirror and said aloud to myself, “You’re gonna walk back into Theater 9, sit your keister down on your comfy third row seat and stick with this thing till the end credits.”
It was a true test of endurance, but that is exactly what I did.  Yes, Star Wars was playing just down the hall, but I knew that I couldn’t let this movie beat me.
As a result, I have the film that saved Aloha from the #1 spot…

1. Joy
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How did this thing pass test screenings?  How could any studio have approved of this mess?  Did no one on set tell director David O. Russell, “Hey, this film is pretty all over the place.  You might want to go back and do some more editing”?
I really wanted to like this movie.  I wanted to relate to this movie’s message about the plight of women in business.  However, I cannot recommend a film with a story that, thanks to gigantic leaps in time, is impossible to follow, unlikable characters who never rise above their selfishness for something greater, and awful pacing.  Look, Mr. Russell, no amount of different hairstyles can convince me that Jennifer Lawrence is forty.  You’re better than this, Katniss!
Yes, Bradley Cooper does show up in this trainwreck, as well.  Oh, Bradley, I really hope this doesn’t happen again next year.
CGB review of Joy here: https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/12/28/cgb-review-of-joy-2015/

That concludes my list of the Top Ten Worst Movies of 2015!  My Top Ten Best Movies of 2015 will be posted soon.  🙂

CGB Review of Joy (2015)

Two hours after seeing Joy…

ME: (walks into living room, sits on the couch in a exasperated fashion)
MOM: What’s wrong?  How was the movie?  You saw Joy right?
ME: (Tired nod) Yeah, I did…
MOM: Jennifer Lawrence, right?
ME: (Takes Fandango ticket out of my pocket) Oh, yes!  I saw Joy with (rips ticket in half) Jennifer Lawrence–(rips ticket again) filmed by–(rips violently) David stupid O’Russell–(throws shreds on the couch) with Bradley Cooper!  (Takes deep breath)
MOM: So…it wasn’t very good.
ME: (Stands up) This is the worst movie of 2015.

This is my review of Joy!

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Let me tell you what this movie was supposed to be about.  Joy was originally the true life story of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano.
Then director David O’Russell said, “Nah, that’s not interesting enough.” So now Joy is a film loosely based on the life of Ms. Mangano (they never use her last name in the movie for reasons I still don’t understand) with the other stories of different businesswomen mixed in with Joy’s story.

The result is a clusterflick narrative, a projectile idea vomit, an overacted and overdirected story with so much going on that I gave up caring about any of the characters long before the credits rolled.

The Hits
Bradley Cooper, why do you keep showing up in my bad movie reviews? Do you think I like picking on your work?
The only good parts were the few and far between scenes with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.  They are the only people in this entire production who knew what they were doing.  The three coherent scenes were the ones they were in.
Before I go into Super Saiyan rant mode, I will say that if you grew up with a ridiculously dysfunctional family, I guess you might relate to Joy and her struggles.  If anything, this movie does attempt to capture the chaos of a quirky, yelling family.
However, if you are a person who has trouble staying focused, this movie will not be kind to you.  Here is why…

The Misses/Everything Else
Have you ever walked in on a conversation where the people involved knew what they were talking about, but no one was filling you in on the things being said, so you’re stuck and surrounded by competing voices? Imagine enduring this scenario for TWO HOURS!
Focus is an urban legend in this movie’s universe.  David O. Russell uses fifteen different filming styles in just the first act alone.  The editing is frenetic, the story is riddled with way too many leaps in time and there are two random dream sequences that come right out of nowhere and are never mentioned again.  Less is more, dude!
The dialogue is all trailer-fodder (i.e. catchphrases that are great for the movie’s trailer, but have no reason for being there in the finished film). It’s not even clunky expositional sentences; it’s just a random collection of words that no one would ever say in real life.
All right, I’m going to say what every other reviewer has said: Jennifer Lawrence is too young to be playing a divorcee with young children.  She is playing a woman who invented the Miracle Mop in her mid-30’s.  Jennifer Lawrence is unable to give a fleshed-out performance because every other actor around her seems to have guzzled down eighteen cups of coffee before coming on set and are suffocating the screen with over-the-top performances.
Joy’s family is insufferable to watch.  Robert de Niro is the despicably selfish father who berates his ex-wife in front of his grandchildren, Virginia Madsen is the weak, TV-obsessed mother who never once asks Joy, whose roof she is living under, “Hey, can I help you out in any way?” Joy’s sister Peggy, played by Elisabeth Rohm, is annoyingly bitter.  Not once do any of these unlikable people get their coumppence or rise above their flaws to band together as a family.
One more thing: Joy has two young children and she is wonderful to her daughter Christie, but basically ignores her son Tommy.  Now I’m not a mother myself, but I was getting pretty mad at Joy for casting her young son off to the side with no explanation.

This movie was practically begging me to walk out on it, but I said, “No. I’m going to stick with it.  It has to get better.  It just has to…”
To my dismay, it never did.

This being Bradley’s third strike (see my reviews for Aloha and Burnt) and Jennifer’s first strike, it is with a heavy heart and a pounding migraine that I cast Joy into the nether regions of atrocious cinema.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to heal my brain by seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens (a good movie) for a second time.

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, pray for us.

CGB Review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Merry Christmas, CGB fans!  Boy, do I have a present for you!
Well, we’ve made it.  We had to get through two crummy prequels, but at last we’ve come to the third and final film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Will this one be better than the last two or will jerk Anakin drag another movie down with his childish complaints?

This is my review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith!

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The film opens with Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice Anakin Skywalker on a rescue mission to save Chancellor Sheev Palpatine from General Grievous and Count Dooku.  From there, a maturing Anakin learns that his secret wife, Padme Amidala is pregnant with his child.  Chancellor Palpatine begins to take Anakin under his wing and slowly but surely poison the young Jedi’s mind into giving in to the Dark Side, leading him on the path to becoming Darth Vader.

I will come right out with it: Fourteen-year old me loved this movie when it came out.  I saw it twice in theaters and it was the first time I had experienced the “good-guy-turning-evil” narrative as a teenager.
I will be turning twenty-four in five days, so let’s see if this Star Wars prequel still holds up for me as an adult.

The Hits
The first fifteen minutes are filled with promise.  Gone are the taxation talks and expositional drawls.  This time, we open with the kind of action that you would expect from a Star Wars film.
Finally we get some banter between Anakin and Obi-Wan!  They actually have a rapport that you would want to see between two friends.
The moment when Padme tells Anakin that she is pregnant is well acted.  With few words, Hayden Christansen and Natalie Portman express excitement, fear, anxiety and joy with their facial expressions.  Also I will give Anakin extra brownie points for his line to Padme, “Our baby is a blessing.”
The plot of this film is way simpler than the storylines of Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.  I could actually follow what was being said, what was taking place, who was fighting who and so on.
Okay, okay, I know that I spent a good chunk of my Attack of the Clones review bashing Anakin.  However I think Hayden Christiansen gives a pretty good performance here…when he doesn’t open his mouth.  He is quite expressive and can convey so much with just a simple knit of his brow or tightening of his lips.  This is the pre-Darth Vader Anakin that I’ve been waiting for; a troubled young man conflicted by his growing disillusionment with the Jedi, tormented over the possible death of his pregnant wife, and vulnerable to Palpatine’s deception.  A Shakespearean villain like Darth Vader deserves an origin story of the same caliber.  Good bye, whiny lustful Anakin!  Hello, complex tortured soul Anakin!
Finally, finally, FINALLY we get an emotional Lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan!  One of the biggest problems with these prequels is that the Lightsaber duels severely lacked the internal battle of the characters fighting.  Where the Lightsaber fights in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were rich with depth and drama between Luke and his astray father, the battles in Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones only had stylized choreography and obstacles, lacking the tension needed to make the audience emotionally invested.   In Revenge of the Sith’s climactic confrontation, you can hear Obi-Wan’s heart break with each swing of his Lightsaber while the surrounding lava and brimstone reflect the hatred and rage boiling within Anakin.

The Misses
Am I the only one who feels that Palpatine’s interest in Anakin is a bit too abrupt?  I kind of wish that the last two films had establish some kind of rapport between Anakin and Palpatine so that the friendship they form in this film would feel more natural.  It’s like he had little interest in Anakin in the last two movies and now that we’re at prequel #3, he’s suddenly taking Anakin under his guidance.
Okay, I’m really getting sick of this in movies: Other characters keep telling Anakin that he’s a great Jedi, but honestly he hasn’t done anything different from any other Jedi.  His fighting skills aren’t different, he can do the same things that his fellow Jedi do; other than his exponential midichlorian count (even now, that sounds so stupid), what exactly is Anakin doing that makes him so special?  Just because you have other characters telling me over and over that such-n-such is the best thing since sliced bread doesn’t make said character a special snowflake.

Guys and gals, it took two shizzy prequels to get here, but we finally have ourselves a satisfying conclusion to the Star Wars prequel trilogy.  Given that I love the Darth Vader character, I was quite pleased to see justice done with Anakin’s tragic tale.

Merry Christmas and Saint Ignatius of Loyala, pray for us.

CGB Review of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

So after finishing up Phantom Annoyance–er, I mean–Menace, I popped the Attack of the Clones DVD into the Blue-Ray and posted this on my personal FB page:

“This [Attack of the Clones] cannot be any worse than the abomidable Phantom Menace.  It just can’t be…”
At that moment, my friends, who I will refer to by their initials, began to comment.
M.C: It actually is.
T.S.T: Its is the worst of all star wars movies.  I kid you not.
R.M: IT IS.
J.D: It isn’t.
A.H: Attack of the Clones: proof that rape culture exists.

Responding to Facebook comments is a million times more entertaining than this horrible sequel.
This is my review of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones!

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Ten years after the events of Phantom Menace, Senator Padme Amidala has survived an assassination attempt and now the Jedi Council must keep her safe while figuring out who is behind the attempt on her life.  Anakin Skywalker, who is all grown up physically (but certainly not mentally) is assigned to be her bodyguard.  From there, Obi-Wan discovers the creation of a clone army while Anakin and Padme’s partnership forms into something more.

Okay, my friend J.D. is right in that it’s not as bad as Phantom Menace.  No, no; it’s ten times worse all because of one character, but more on that in a second.

The Hits
Attack of the Clones has more of a plot than Phantom Menace.  I do like the “having-to-protect-endangered-senator” storyline.
Speaking of Padme Amidala, she is the only character I actually cared about.  She’s competent, dutiful and a responsible politician.  I think Natalie Portman brings a sympathetic depth to the character and makes Padme easy to root for.  Honestly, I kind of wish that the prequels were told from Padme’s point of view.   She has an interesting backstory: Elected at a young age, did such a good job as Queen that her people tried to amend the constitution so that she could stay in office longer, and then ended up serving as a senator.  I’d much rather watch her story unfold.
There is a good story somewhere in this bloated mess.  Watching Obi-Wan uncover the plans for a clone army was far more interesting than any trade negotiations and I did like the thousand Jedi fight against the droid army.  There are elements of a good story here, but one person in particular makes this whole thing crash and burn.  And that person is…

The Misses
ANAKIN!
Good Lord, Heaven above, I can’t believe this is the guy who becomes Darth Vader.  I said “shut up” every time he spoke.  All Anakin Skywalker does is gripe and whine about everything.  He keeps complaining about Obi-Wan holding him back and being jealous of him, but he and Obi-Wan have only twenty minutes of screen time together and nothing Obi-Wan does supports what Anakin is moaning about.  Yes, they do reunite in the third act, but even then I have nothing of substance to say about their relationship because the film gives me nothing to work with.
Okay, I’m stepping on the soap box: Hey Hollywood, PLEASE stop trying to make stalking romantic.  There’s nothing loving about staring creepily at someone and making them feel unsafe when they’re around you.  If I was on a date with a man who said any of the same terrible lines of dialogue that Anakin says to Padme, I’d run for the hills.   All Anakin does is make Padme feel uncomfortable (and continues to do so even after she asks him not to look at her in a lustful fashion), rants all his grievances to her without even considering her advice, and there’s one scene where he attempts to undermine her authority (it’s during the scene where they’re discussing something mumbo-jumbo on Naboo), to which she rightfully tells him to back off.  I hate how he goes on and on about how intoxicating she is to him and then downplays her any time she exercises her authority.  To be fair, he does come to treat her with a little more respect in the third act, but by then, I already had a bad taste in my mouth every time he was on screen.  There’s nothing charming about this guy that would make any woman attracted to him.
I guess I hate Anakin because I love Darth Vader as a villain.  How a great villain could have started out as an sniveling jerk is just painful to comprehend.
There are some hap-handed callbacks to the original trilogy that just feel lifeless.  Here’s one example: Count Dooku tries to get Obi-Wan to join the Dark Side, to which Obi-Wan says something to the effect of, “I’ll never join the Dark Side.”
Look, Mr. Lucas, I love Return of the Jedi as much as you probably do, but in that movie, when Palpatine tries to tempt Luke into giving in to the Dark Side, it actually held a lot of weight because Luke’s familial connection to Darth Vader was a strong case for him to cross over and be with his long-lost father.  In this movie, the “join the Dark Side” thing is just a sentence that comes and goes.

While Attack of the Clones is somewhat better than Phantom Menace, it’s only better by default.  For me personally, Anakin practically makes it unwatchable.

Saint Peregrine, pray for us.

CGB Review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Yes, we are going there.  Just as I reviewed the original trilogy, I will also travel to the Dark Side of the saga:
The Prequel Trilogy.

This is my review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace!

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Okay, so given that halfway through the movie, I found myself having no idea what the heck was going on, I will summarize it the best I can.
Young Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master Qui-Gon Jinn are on a trade negotiation mission because–potatoes–and things don’t go so well, so they have to rescue the teenage Queen Amidala and hide her on the remote planet of Tatooine, where they encounter a boy named Anakin Skywalker.  Through a blood test, Qui-Gon discovers that Anakin’s (irritable sigh) midichlorian count is higher than even Master Yoda’s and so begins the origins of the boy who would go on to become the most iconic villain in cinematic history, Darth Vader.

I cannot believe that this crummy movie is a part of the Star Wars universe.  Sure, the original trilogy had hocky special effects and some okay dialogue, but it also had a good story, likable characters and, of course, an engaging internal conflict between Luke Skywalker and his evil father Darth Vader that is so rich in development and complexity that I could do a whole CGB editorial on those two guys alone.
What does Phantom Menace have in comparison?
Well, let’s just get on to the review.

The Very Few Hits
Fine, I’ll say it.  The Podracing scene is fine.  It does very little to move the narrative, but hey; something is happening.  Yes, the duel of the fates sequence is also fun to watch.  It’s devoid of emotion and significance, but again, at least something is going on and it’s not bogged down by expositional speeches and trade negotiations.
To be fair, I did sort of like the friendship between Anakin and Padme.  I can see where George Lucas was going with that and Natalie Portman does the best that she can.

The Plethora of Misses
In my reviews for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, I had so much to say about the evolution of Luke and Darth Vader as father and son.  I could have gone on for hours about the peaks and valleys of their relationship.   Why?  Because both are well-written characters portrayed by capable actors.  Because the idea of having a protagonist offspring go up against their antagonist parent is interesting and full of depth.
In contrast, I have absolutely nothing to say about any of the characters in Phantom Menace.  Character evolution is traded for expositional speeches.  The people talking are just pawns with the sole purpose of explaining to plot.  The only relationship I kind of care about is the one between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan.  I say “kind of” because they don’t spend enough time together.  They only have a handful of Jedi fights together and when they’re not fighting, they’re just spouting off exposition.  Yes, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are enjoyable to watch, but even a great actor can’t make terrible dialogue compelling to listen to.
I did like the Duel of the Fates somewhat, but what kept it from being epic is that there’s nothing emotional about it.  In Empire Strikes Back, you could feel Luke’s anxiety as he fights Vader for the first time.  You could sense the conflict within Vader as he dukes it out with Luke all while trying to keep his son alive.  Once the big reveal comes, it puts Vader in a new light as a man consumed by darkness and can only be saved by his son’s goodness.  I adore Return of the Jedi because the philosophical and spiritual conflict between Luke and Darth Vader comes to a boiling point.  It becomes a battle for the souls of both characters.
In the duel of the fates, there’s no emotional depth to be found.  Even when Darth Maul kills Qui-Gon, it happens too quickly for me to care and there’s no enough time for Obi-Wan to convey the kind of hatred needed to get the audience invested.
Jar Jar…OH. MY. GOSH.  I’ve always known that Jar Jar is the most despised Star Wars character, but now I understand.  I see now why this alien squeak toy whose dialogue I can barely comprehend and who has the IQ of a stick of butter is loathed by the majority of Star Wars fans. Yet, as much as Jar Jar makes me want to stick a fork in my eye, I can’t place all of the blame on him because he is a victim of bad writing.  C-3PO was written to be annoying, but all three films in the original trilogy gave him a reason to be uptight and anxious about everything.  Also annoying characters are watchable when they have another character to play off of.  R2-D2 put C-3PO’s annoyance into perspective; R2-D2 was the straight man to C-3PO’s Debby Downer persona.  Jar Jar has no straight man to set him straight, so he is a screw-up character who never gets his comeuppance, making him unlikable at best and insufferable at worst.

Good Lord, Phantom Menace is difficult to sit through.  How this boring, not-engaging chore of a film has anything to do with the awesome Star Wars universe is mind-boggling to me.   Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go suffer through Attack of the Clones.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us.

CGB Review of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Now we get to the film that had to live up to the awesomeness of Empire Strikes Back.

This is my review of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi!

FatherAndSon

The Galactic Empire has begun constructing on a second Death Star, one that will be more powerful and deadlier than the first one.  Upon completion, this second Death Star will crush the rebel alliance once and for all.
After learning that the most evil man in the galaxy is his father, Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet Tatooine to rescue his friend (and coolest character ever) Han Solo from crime lord Jabba the Hutt and he has Leia, Lando, C-3PO and R2-D2 helping him along the way. All the while Luke must find a way to save his father’s soul and bring him back from the Dark Side.

Before I begin, I would like to thank you, the reader, for your patience.  My day job has kept me busy, which is why it is taking a while for me to review these movies.

The Hits
Okay, I just love that the first character we start off the movie with is Darth Vader.  I will always get shivers down my spine every time I see him walk down a hallway or off of a ramp.   Interestingly, the revelation that he is Luke’s father makes me see him in a new light.  The fact that this sinister character was once capable of loving another human being (Padme Amidala) and creating new life with her is quite chilling.
Hey fellow Star Wars fans, I ask you: When Luke is trying to bargain with Jabba, have you ever noticed how he is wearing a black hood and cloak, as well as saying things that you would normally hear Darth Vader say?  For me, this is both disturbing and brilliant.  It shows how similar Luke and Darth Vader are without ever compromising Luke’s character arch.
Speaking of Luke and Darth Vader, the best and most complex scenes in this film are the ones with those two.  Luke confronting Darth Vader on the bridge is by far the most depressing scene in any film.  I say depressing because it’s clear that Darth Vader is too far gone, yet it is admirable to see Luke give it everything he’s got to try to bring his father back to the light.  My heart sank when Darth Vader said, “It’s too late for me, son.”  I can tell you that from experience, I know that when someone says that, it truly is too late.
I absolutely love the internal conflict that plays when Luke is watching the rebel ships being ambushed.  How Palpatine taunts him, tempts him [Luke] to strike him with his Lightsaber; what I adore is how Palpatine urges him to kill him out of anger and hatred, not for the sake of righteousness.  I love how Luke’s innate goodness shields him from the lure of the Dark Side.   The internal conflict ignites once Darth Vader discovers that Luke has a twin sister, forcing Luke to fight his father to protect those he cares for.  Yes, I did cry when Luke took off Darth Vader’s mask and the father got to get a good look at his son for the first and last time.

The Misses
Please tell me I’m not the only person who finds Jabba’s Max Rebo Band annoying as all heck.  I have no issue with taking time to establish a sense of place, but the look into Jabba’s lair goes on for too long.
Okay, can we talk about Emperor Sheev Palpatine’s plan?   Him trying to turn Luke over to the Dark Side is not my issue.  This is my issue: Long-term wise, does Palpatine plan on replacing his apprentices over and over until the end of time?  So he wants to make Luke his new servant by having him turn to the Dark Side and kill off his current apprentice Vader, but then how does he plan on acquiring new apprentices?  Let’s assume for a minute that Luke were to turn over to the Dark Side and kill his own father like Palpatine wanted.  I assume that Palpatine wouldn’t allow Luke to have children of his own, so would Luke just be his apprentice or would Palpatine readily replace him?  Also if Luke is the last Jedi, how would he have gotten his own apprentice if said apprentice would have to be a Jedi?
I guess in hindsight, these questions are pointless given that Luke resisted the Dark Side and now Palpatine is dead, but I wouldn’t be a movie reviewer if I didn’t raise these kinds of questions.

Going into this third film, I thought Empire Strikes Back was my favorite Star Wars movie.  However, after watching it, Return of the Jedi is my favorite film in the original Star Wars trilogy.  The emotional struggle between Luke and Darth Vader is mesmerizing to watch, the supporting characters are lovable and memorable as always, and Mark Hamill’s evolving performance brings Luke Skywalker’s character full circle.

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.

BONUS FEATURE!
Enjoy this animation from How It Should Have Ended!