CGB Collaboration Review of Ghost in the Shell (2017) Guest-Starring The Laughing Man

CGB: (Wakes up in a shiny high-tech laboratory) Where…where am I?  (Hears a high-pitched chuckle) (Enter THE LAUGHING MAN, a scientist)
THE LAUGHING MAN: Hello Catholic Girl Bloggin’.
CGB: What happened to me?
THE LAUGHING MAN: You were a refugee.
CGB: Oh, well, that’s convenient.
THE LAUGHING MAN: We rescued you when your raft sank.
CGB: Way to attempt to make a statement about the refugee crisis in your script even though in reality, Hollywood cares as much about refugees as Willy Wonka does about a bratty child.
THE LAUGHING MAN: (Shrugs) Just be grateful that Hollywood cares about refugees while it’s still convenient to.  Anyway, we saved you and now we have redesigned your entire being so that you are the first sentient cyborg.
CGB: (Tries to sit up, but finds that I am strapped to the way-too-bright table)  Are you about to tell me that the big twist is that I used to be a person of a different nationality but then you placed my brain in a Caucasian gal’s body?
THE LAUGHING MAN: (Stares blankly at me)  How do you know the seemingly smart, yet accidentally racist plot twist?
CGB: My real last name is of Portuguese origin–was I Ofelia from Pan’s Labyrinth?!
THE LAUGHING MAN:  No, you were actually–
CGB: Oohh, I know!  I was Moana of Motunui?!  Can I have the little pig as a pet?  I love Pua!
THE LAUGHING MAN: What film do you think you’re in, Miss Bloggin?
CGB: The live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell starring not me, but Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese protagonist Motoko Kusanagi!

This is my review of Ghost in the Shell (2017)!

ghost-in-the-shell-2017 (4)

The Major, also known as Motoko Kusanagi (not much of a spoiler; even I knew that’s what her real name is and I’ve never even seen the original 1995 movie!) is a humanoid cyberborg who works at Hanka Robotics as a perfect super soldier hunting down the worst of the worst.  An encounter with a geisha robot leaves her shaken and questioning her forgotten past and current existence.  While that inner drama is going on, a mysterious cyberterrorist called Kuze begins terrorizing Hanka Robotics and it’s up to the Major to stop his anarchic reign.
My friend and fellow blogger who wishes to be known as The Laughing Man will be helping me analyze this live-action Anime remake.  My points are in blue and his are in teal.

The Hits
CGBThe Major/Motoko herself is a pretty compelling character.  Though her character is essentially every “humanoid-cyberborg character contemplating their purpose” ever, Johansson’s performance engages us in her personal odyssey.  The Major is flesh and metal, brain and code; an invincible, yet not indestructible sentient being who finds herself seeking connection and questioning her blurry origin.   Little hints and pieces about her past are slowly and subtly as puncturing bullets hit her targets.   While she is stone-faced and focused, there is a deep vulnerability to her–dare I say–a humanity within her sleek armor that make her weaker moments believable and sympathetic.  Both the script and Johansson do a phenomenal job at blurring the Major’s character so that you don’t forget she’s a humanoid cyberborg, yet you believe her very real, very human thoughts and feelings.  Instead of hammering us over the head with her robotic body or human nature; rather Scarlett Johansson’s performance as the iconic Major is allowed to speak for itself.
The world design is astonishing to behold.  I love the city segments where we can just watch the Major walk through cyberpunk Tokyo and we get to see all the lights and hologram projections throughout the day-to-day.  Those geisha robot things are super creative and I wish we saw them more in the movie.  I wouldn’t mind a climactic battle involving the Major doing battle with those robotic geishas coming at her.  If this movie gets a sequel (it probably won’t, but hey, a girl can dream, right?) I would hope to see that!  There are quite a few recreations of the original 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie and, for the most part, these recreations were done with careful consideration of those scenes.  Even though I am not a Ghost in the Shell fan, I can tell that a great deal of care and effort went into being as respectful to the source material as possible, which is to be commended.
I give this movie a lot of credit for making me ponder something that I haven’t really considered: What exactly makes us human?  The movie cleverly calls into question whether it is having a physical body or just the existence of the soul with or without the body that makes us truly human.  Is the physical body a necessity or a formality while the soul and mind are the defining characteristics of being human?  Can you still be human if your entire body is metal, but your brain is that of a flesh-and-blood person?  These questions that came to mind made me further appreciate that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, for He is Who made us human.  While the movie itself never actually answers these questions, any believer would find it suitable to bring questions such as these before our Lord and allow Him to guide them to His Truth.  The central theme of both this film (and the Anime it is based on) is identity and this theme is well handled.  I would argue that the search for identity is the beginning of the search for God.

Genesis 2:7, “…the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”

LM: Much like the 1995 original and the Stand Alone Complex television series it spawned, the 2017 Ghost in the Shell works in large part because of its cyberpunk aesthetic. The film is undeniably stylish from a visual standpoint, even as its narrative follows the well-worn trajectory of the cinematic origin story. The production design is immersive and breathtaking. Scenes shot within hotel conference rooms, nightclubs, and tenement buildings feel lived-in. I wouldn’t hesitate to draw comparisons to the original Star Wars or Avatar. In terms of its overall design, the film is a triumph. The designs of various cybernetic characters are also a sight to behold, what with their adjustable eyes and flamboyant costumes. In many respects, I was reminded of the Capitol from The Hunger Games.
The action set pieces are also exhilarating. Nowhere is this more evident than in the film’s opening sequence. As robot commandos storm a hotel conference room, we are immediately captivated. Not only that, but the film foregoes many of the action movie tropes that have given contemporary thrillers a bad name. I can’t recall any instances of shaky-cam, and most of the action sequences were simple enough to follow. A confrontation involving Section 9 Chief Aramaki was especially thrilling to watch and absolutely dazzled me the first time I saw it.
And then, there’s Scarlett Johansson’s performance. As somebody who supported her casting from the very beginning, I was very pleased with her work here. She turned the Major into a compelling character, one whose identity crisis and desire to belong were captured especially well in two surprisingly intimate scenes. The Major’s interactions with some of the film’s secondary characters – including Juliette Binoche’s Dr. Ouelet – help the audience empathize with her. She might be a cyborg, but she feels like a full-fledged person (like a lithium flower just about to bloom). Speaking of which, the scene where the Major is being “built” is handled extremely well, even as it copies the same sequence from the original.
There’s a poignancy to some of the film’s later scenes that resonated with me in ways I didn’t expect. Going into Ghost in the Shell, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of emotional character development. I was anticipating a dumbed-down action vehicle with sci-fi elements. But director Rupert Sanders and his team of screenwriters have injected the film with a hefty dose of pathos. Of course, I can’t describe some of the movie’s later revelations without delving into spoiler territory, but rest assured, there’s more to this remake(?) than meets the eye.

The Misses
CGB: There are three scenes, including an action sequence, that feature seizure-inducing lights.  While I don’t have epilepsy or sensitive eyes myself, viewers who have these conditions may want to be aware of these scenes.  The first incidence happens in the opening credits, and two of them occur in the second act.  The climactic battle is pretty tame in terms of rapidly-flashing neon strobes of light, but still, knowledge is power.
Batou…
yeah, even in the trailers he felt very off to me.  There’s something very restrained about his character.  I can tell that there is more to his character in the Anime than what the film is allowing us to see.   He’s not a bad character per se, he’s perfectly serviceable as the Major’s friend and confidant, but he’s your typical stoic tough guy with a soft spot for our main protagonist. 
While I praised the handling of Major’s character to high Heaven, now I must go into how the technicalities.  What do I mean by this?  Well…
Okay, so the Major is the first sentient robot person–that’s all fine and good–BUT they make a big deal about this only to show us humans who have those two holes in the back of their necks like the Major does.  There’s one scene where a scientist is killed by Kuze and he first takes off a half of her face which reveals wires and metal instead of tissue and bone, i.e. she was a robot-ish person.  What?!  You have humans who are actually robots and there are robot characters who act more human than the humans.   Now this may be how it is in the original source material, but even if that is the case, this is not explained very well or even at all.
So while doing this collaboration, Laughing Man (LM) and I decided not to reveal the big plot twist, hence I will say this: the twist itself is problematic, but would probably be less so were it not for the fact that it brings to mind a certain person named Rachel Dolezal. 

LM: There’s no denying that Ghost in the Shell lacks the philosophical rigor of its predecessors. In the hands of a truly visionary filmmaker (think Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve), this could have been a more thoughtful meditation on the ways in which technology blurs our human identities.  While Johansson turns the Major into a believable character with great emotional depth, I often felt as though the film gave in to its baser urges.  Make no mistake: the various set pieces are thrilling to watch and well pace, but they couldn’t help but feel lacking in originality.   This becomes even more evident when the film borrows visual references from the original.  These homages are frequently distracting and serve no other purpose but to remind the viewer of the (superior) 1995 version.
The plot is also a bit of a mess.  Not only that, but it is also far less interesting than the Major’s personal journey.  CEO Cutter of Hanka Robotics is nothing more than a generic corporate villain, while cyber-terrorist Kuze’s complexities are buried beneath some truly hideous costuming.  The design for this character is particularly bad, which is a shame because the relationship between his character and the Major’s is one of the movie’s high points.
Ghost in the Shell also does a great disservice to its secondary characters. Section 9 team members such as Togusa, Ishikawa, and Saito are introduced briefly and only show up when they have a critical role to play. Not only that, but the dynamic between the members of Section 9 is woefully underdeveloped. The TV series recognized the importance of the interplay between its characters. Unfortunately, that is a quality this adaptation lacks. While a series of shootouts towards the end of the film do the characters some level of justice, there was still a great deal of wasted potential, particularly when it comes to the Major-Batou relationship.  At times, the film’s overreliance on visual effects becomes apparent. The hologram advertisements in many of the outdoor scenes feel intrusive and somewhat gaudy.  Indeed, there are numerous instances when the film’s aesthetic makes it feel overly stylized.
The score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe can best be described as workmanlike. It lacks the memorability of earlier compositions by Kenji Kawai (featured in the end credits) and Yoko Kanno.  In fact, the score doesn’t even measure up to either of the two theme songs, performed by Origa, from Stand Alone Complex. 

Verdict
LM: Having seen the movie twice, I remain conflicted. Originally, I gave it a B+. However, upon a second viewing (and increased exposure to the source material), the film’s faults became more apparent. On the one hand, I feel like Gene Siskel, when he changed his grade for Broken Arrow after listening to Roger Ebert’s assessment of the film. On the other hand, I don’t want to let other critics shape my perspective on the movie, which I found rewarding in its own ways. Tentatively, I have no qualms about giving the film a B and recommending it, even as I consider the possibility of revisiting it a second time.

CGB: Frankly, my dear guys and gals, I thoroughly enjoyed Ghost in the Shell.   Sure, it’s pretty standard as far as sci-fi flicks about humanoid cyborgs go, but it’s certainly no Dragonball: Evolution.  While the things that don’t work fall flat, the things that do work are worth noting.  Everyone involved really cared for this project and while it hasn’t been a critical or commercial darling, it’s better to put effort into something and have it fail than to just throw something half-hearted out into the open for quick cash.  A thoughtful performance from Scarlett Johansson, breathtaking visuals and a respect for the source material make this adaptation of Ghost in the Shell better than it should have been.  The glaring flaws are still there, but the sum of its parts make those flaws forgivable.  I don’t think I’ll be seeing again, but I wouldn’t mind picking it up when it comes on DVD. 

CGB: (Sits up on shiny laboratory table) And that was the review of 2017’s Ghost in the Shell!  Boy, we did pretty good, Laughing Man.  (Looks around)  Laughing Man?  (No one is around) Is this gonna be like Passengers, where I’m all alone on some overly-complicated spaceship?
(Enter KAEL)
KAEL: Everything they told you…was a lie.
CGB: (Turns around) Are you Kuze?!
KAEL: My name is Kael.  (Puts on some wicked sunglasses)  That is all you need to know.
CGB: (Searches for weapon, but is empty-handed) W-what happened to the Laughing Man?
KAEL: A friend of yours?
CGB: Yeah, friend and collab partner.  Also, the person who would know how to get me out of here and back home.
KAEL: To find him, you’ll need to go to a very important….
CGB: (Braces self for an impossible task) Bring it on!
KAEL:…Interview.
CGB: (dumbfounded) Wait, what?!
KAEL: At a very…circular place.  (Raises eyebrow) You are very confused.
CGB: Did my face give it away?
KAEL: No, my telekinesis did.  (Looks to the right) Go out that door and you will see.
CGB: (Opens mouth)
KAEL: Yes, the key to getting out of here was literally right in front of you the whole time.
CGB: (Walks past KAEL, looking freaked out, but saying nothing) (Opens door, is blinded by sunlight) (Vision clears) (Looks up) What the?  The Circle?  (Looks up at the sleek building ahead) Is this that Circle place from the Emma Watson and Tom Hanks movie?!

(Cut to black)

 

Saint Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.

CGB Collaboration Review of Captain America: Civil War with Pro-Life Activist Clinton Wilcox of the Life Training Institute

Captain America v. Iron Man…which side shall you choose?

This is my collaboration review of Captain America: Civil War!

Reveal-Captain-America-Civil-War-4K-Wallpaper (2)

After a mission in Lagos, Nigeria results in a slew of collateral damage, the Avengers find themselves facing the possibility of being controlled by a UN-appointed governing body.  When Captain America’s childhood friend Bucky Barnes (who [SPOILER] was the Winter Soldier in Cap’s last adventure) is framed as a suspect of an attack on the United Nations, Cap chooses to stand by his friend and pays the price when the Avengers is divided over his decision.

This is the third collaboration here on Catholic Girl Bloggin’!  Today I will be joined by pro-life activist Clinton Wilcox.  His Hits and Misses will be in green and mine will be in pink.

CGB Hits
Going into this movie, I was truly scared that Captain America’s noble nature would be compromised in this installment.  After watching Winter Soldier with my friends, I couldn’t gushing about Captain America’s strong sense of morality.  That is when one of my friends, who I will call “M.P.” turned to me and said, “Let’s see how you feel after Civil War.” “Aww, don’t do that to me, M.P.!”
I am delighted to say that Cap comes out of this adventure with his principles intact.  This character is such an honorable warrior!  I love how he plants his feet firmly on the side of truth and never backs down when faced with fierce opposition.  Once he makes a decision on a moral issue (such as helping Bucky instead of condemning him), there is no swaying him from his convictions.  He remains the moral voice and emotional center all while never becoming a bland archetype.  I said it in my Winter Soldier review and I will say it again: Captain America is a hero you can believe in!  🙂

I was not expecting the Black Panther to be such a show-stealer.  I will admit that his costume is kind of terrifying mainly because the headpiece covers his whole face, as well as his incredible speed.  I would not want to be caught in a fight with this guy!  This makes him an invaluable addition to the Avengers team.
Spider Man is absolutely adorable!  I like how he’s a believable kid character; awkward without being annoying, fumbling and wise-cracking while being skilled in his Spidey abilities.  Also, this Star Wars fangirl would like to award Spidey twenty CGB brownie points for his AMAZING Empire Strikes Back reference!  😀
In my first collaboration review, which was of Batman v. Superman with Patheos blogger Monique Ocampo, one of my many grievances with that flick is how they completely botched the rivalry between the Caped Crusader and the Son of Krypton.  Here the ideological differences between Captain America and Iron Man are well-conveyed.   Yes, the movie does definitely lean heavily in Cap’s camp, but there is emphasis on Iron Man’s perspective on the situation they face.

Clinton’s Hits
Civil War really feels like two movies. It’s Captain America 3, in which they have to resolve the Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier storyline. It’s also The Avengers 2, Part II, in which the Avengers now must deal with the aftermath of the battle with Ultron, as well as fallout from their earlier battles. Both parts of the movie may have benefited from being split into two films, but even given what they had to work with, the movie worked exceptionally well. The events of Captain America 3 were used as the catalyst for the events of Civil War.  Zemo is the main villain of the film (Crossbones makes an appearance in a fantastic battle scene, but is killed at the end of the scene).  His family was killed in the battle against Ultron and Zemo is out for revenge.  He is merely human, so he knows he can’t kill the Avengers because more powerful men than him have tried and failed, so he sets out to tear the Avengers apart.  He does so by framing Barnes for the murder of several delegates by bombing a UN meeting where a piece of legislation is going to be signed to keep the Avengers in check.  Zemo’s human, relatable backstory, mixed with his actually succeeding in tearing the Avengers apart makes him one of the best and most compelling villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the best villains are the ones from the shows, but the villains in the movies tend to be cookiecutter supervillains). Zemo used his intellect instead of brute strength to beat the Avengers.
Civil War, even having so much to accomplish, was a fantastic movie. Most of the fight scenes were truly mind-blowing (and I don’t use that term loosely). I thought all of the CGI used was very realistic. I was fooled the entire time, and the movie didn’t feel like it was two and a half hours long, to me. Though there are many ways in which the movie deviated from the source material in the comics. It actually bears little resemblance to the comics. One of those is that in the comics, the war was over whether or not to reveal their identities to the world, as well as being accountable to the government. But in the MCU, most or all of the heroes’ identities are known, so this doesn’t play a role in the legislation the UN wants to ratify.

Clinton’s Misses
As I stated, the Avengers are dealing with the aftermath of their many battles. As such, the UN wants to put a reign on them. They want to specifically train the Avengers, and be in charge of where the Avengers go. Essentially, the Avengers will become a government-led team.  If there’s one thing I think could have been improved, I wish there would have been more debate and deliberation before passing the legislation. There was one scene in which the Avengers were hashing it  out, but the legislation was already going to be passed. They were simply deliberating on whether or not to comply.

CGB Misses
Like Clinton, I too had an issue with how the whole “government wants to control the Avengers” dilemma is not developed enough.  Granted, I’m glad that the focus was more on the budding rivalry between Captain America and Iron Man, but would have liked the politics of the Avengers issue to have been fleshed out more.
I personally didn’t care for Zemo as the villain.  I get that his dirty work is best done in the shadows, but I never felt frightened of him.   He just wasn’t as chilling as I had hoped.  Honestly, I feel that the divide between Cap and Iron Man was enough of a conflict on its own.

Clinton’s Verdict
I’ve now seen Captain America: Civil War twice, and I have to say the movie gets better the second time you watch.  There’s so much going on in this film that you’ll undoubtedly miss some things upon first viewing.  
Despite being quite different from the source material in the comics, and having to pack so much into the movie, Civil War was an incredibly well-written, well-done movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat and will excite you by its many excellent fight scenes (especially the Avengers battle in the airport). I’ve seen it both times, and neither time did it ever feel like a two and a half hour movie. This movie has made me even more excited for the upcoming Black Panther, Thor, and Infinity War movies.

CGB Verdict
Captain America: Civil War has a lot on its plate and for the most part, it succeeds in making all of its elements work.  The action is well-choreographed and easier to see this time (Age of Ultron and, to an extent, Winter Soldier had some issue with action-scene-clarity).  The story is properly structured and has complex aspects while still being entertaining.  Iron Man has definitely grown and matured as a character, while Captain America himself is an admirable example of heroic masculinity, a trait that is desperately needed in today’s confused society.

Saint Martin of Tours, pray for us.

CGB Review of X-Men Apocalypse (2016)

So the next time you take a trip to Cairo (I’m sure you’re planning on it), be sure not to resurrect any all-powerful mutants.  If you’ve seen the movie already, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

This is my review of X-Men Apocalypse!

x-men-apocalypse

Apocalypse is known as the first mutant to ever come into existence.  In addition, he is also all-powerful and able to transfer his consciousness into another person’s body so that he can continue to live on.  Yikes!  As you can imagine, when Apocalypse resurrects and begins gathering followers (including the disheveled Eric/Magneto) to do his bidding, Professor Charles Xavier, Mystique and their allies must bring Magneto back to the Light and put an end to Apocalypse’s plan for world destruction.

The Hits
Oscar Isaac is excellent as Apocalypse.  While he’s not as terrifying as, say, Captain Vidal (Pan’s Labyrinth) or Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Black Mass), there is an unsettling chill to his character.  Also, I did think it was interesting how his “transferring-his-consciousness-to-another-person” thing resembles demonic possession; not so much in the prologue, but in the third act when [SPOILER ALERT] he tries to transfer his soul into Charles Xavier’s body and Charles is valiantly resisting becoming possessed by the malevolent foe.
There are a lot of good scenes that work well on their own and the engaging action is well-choreographed.   The action is filmed in a way where you can actually see what’s happening between the characters who are in combat.
Nightcrawler is like Finn from Force Awakens: Absolutely lovable!  There’s an innocence and innate goodness to him that makes him endearing.  It is a little cliché that he’s being presented as a “demonlike creature whose actually a good guy while his angel counterpart is one of the bad guys” thing, but that overdone irony is not emphasized very much.  I was actually relieved when Apocalypse turns Angel’s wings silver because Angel’s previously white wings looked uncomfortably similar to Archangel Michael’s wings.  Oh, and did I mention that Nightcrawler is Catholic?  Yep, he be a Catholic mutant!  🙂
Quicksilver is also an awesome character!  He’s basically a less crude Wade Wilson/Deadpool; witty, cool and confident.  Luckily while he has some similarities to Deadpool, he’s not a blatant carbon copy of the character.
While I, as a Jennifer Lawrence fan, am getting a bit tired of J-Law always playing the “strong woman who is strong because she has to be” archetype (don’t believe me?  Watch Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games series; don’t even bother with watching Joy), I did like her arch as Raven/Mystique; the reluctant role model who is looked up to after standing up to Magneto in X-Men: First Class, but who personally looks upon that episode in her life as a tragedy.  Also, I just gotta say it: Her hair in this movie was rockin’!  I guess I just really like the “structurally-messy” look.  🙂

The Misses
It seems as though there was supposed to be a “Mystique redeems Magneto” subplot somewhere in the script because Mystique keeps acting as if she is responsible for bringing Magneto back to the side of good and truth.  If this is the case, then it wasn’t well-conveyed.
So I saw this movie with a friend of mine who has seen it twice already.  Even though we both enjoyed the film, we both have one issue with the script: Pacing and story structure.
Yes, the pacing in this movie could have been better.  While individual scenes are intriguing by themselves, the movie itself never completely comes together as a cohesive narrative.  Some scenes feel separate from each other and even unnecessary at times.  To be fair, the story comes together in the third act, but 50% of this movie could have used some polishing.

X-Men Apocalypse is an intriguing mess.  The overall story is scattered, but the good performances, suave villain and sequences within the narrative kept my attention all the way through.

Since this is the third Superhero movie review where I’ve name-dropped Saint Michael (see my reviews for Winter Soldier and Batman v. Superman), I’m gonna end this review with Saint Isaac Jogues because why not?
So Saint Isaac Jogues, pray for us.

CGB Review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Winter is coming and so is its soldier.

This is my review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier!

 

the-first-full-length-trailer-for-captain-america-the-winter-soldier (2)

It has been two years since the Battle of New York (the first Avengers movie).  Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (or “Cap” for short) is living in Washington, D.C. and works for S.H.I.E.L.D with Nick Fury.  However, things are not always as they seem and Cap’s trust in S.H.I.E.L.D is tested.  When a deadly conspiracy is discovered, Cap and Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) must team up to save the day.

The Hits
As someone with a devotion to Saint Michael the Archangel, I am pleasantly surprised by how much Captain America reminds me of Michael; brave, honorable and standing firmly on the side of truth.  I love Cap’s sense of justice and duty, how he faithfully carries out S.H.I.E.L.D’s order, yet never does so blindly and how he stands his ground in the face of opposition.  He’s not perfect by any means.  He is a good man who seeks what is right and just in all things.  Often times, characters who are essentially pure of heart tend to suffer from being written as bland and uninvesting.  Luckily, a combination of thoughtful writing and Chris Evans’grounded performance make Cap virtuous without artifice, completely human while at the same time being a cut above.   I guess what I’m trying to say is I really love Captain America! 🙂
The Winter Soldier himself is a seriously terrifying villain.  I appreciate that his dialogue is sparse and how he uses the intensity of his gaze to intimidate and strike fear into the hearts of his victims.  His few words and fierce facial expressions make him an unnerving presence when he is on screen.
I really like the idea that [SPOILER TO ANYONE WHO STILL HASN’T WATCHED WINTER SOLDIER] S.H.I.E.L.D has been compromised by Hydra.  It mimics real life in that the people or groups we think are moral and upright sometimes turn out to be the opposite.  Also kudos to the strength of the plot’s intrigue, which is important for a film like this which has many complex elements.

The Misses
Some of the action is hard to see due to rapid editing.  I could see Cap’s action just fine, though at times the shaky cam would give me a headache, but Black Widow’s action sequences in particular are difficult to make out.  Speaking of Natasha (and I apologize in advance to any and all Black Widow fans), but I’ve seen her in four movies now (Avengers, Age of Ultron, Winter Soldier and Civil War) and I still don’t care for her character.  She has a good rapport with the other characters, but by herself, she’s not very interesting to me.
Can we please talk about the first five minutes, where we see Cap jogging with a seemingly random stranger (Sam Wilson) who we later learn is Falcon?  I get that the filmmakers were setting up Falcon, but within the movie’s universe, it just comes off as abrupt that two strangers would suddenly start jogging together for a long period of time.  I kind of wish the opening scene had shown Cap and Sam meeting first and then jogging into the Washington sunrise.

I can see why Captain America: The Winter Soldier is held with high regard among Marvel fans.  Along with the exciting action, well-written intrigue and a solid plot, Captain America himself is an admirable character and a hero you can believe in, just like the mighty Archangel himself.

Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
4c56f71fbdeff89235f24ece86ca68bb (2)

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!

revenge-of-the-sith

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 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!

star-wars-episode-i-the-phantom-menace-original

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!