Movie Reviews

The Winds of War (1983) *****

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TL;DR The mini-series actually stands up better than the book IMO. See below for more.

Perhaps it’s the age I live in, but I don’t have much time for thousand page novels anymore. They were a relic of the ‘70s and ‘80s before we had video games that you didn’t get bored of after a few minutes and before the VCR and cable really took hold. Killing time with a long book was a good thing. But now we want our stories to get to the point and fast. Wouk was famous enough at the time that he could write whatever the hell he wanted to and it would get published. Therefore he did very little editing to The Winds of War, despite the fact that at over a thousand pages, he only got to the Pearl Harbor attack. I feel that he could have easily cut 300 pages, and by reading modern reviews on, many others agree with me. In particular the character of Natalie Jastrow and the many chapters devoted to her could mostly be eliminated without harming the story. She is just a plot device, a way to show what was happening in Poland and Italy before the U.S. entered the war, and as the token Jew. The main character “Pug” Henry is a devout Christian. Even though she’s supposed to be intelligent, her actions in the novel are anything but. Pug’s youngest son, Byron “Briny” Henry isn’t much better but he is at least a foil for his stodgy by-the-book father. 

In the mini-series Natalie Jastrow is played by the then 45 year old Ali MacGraw and Briny is played by the then 39 year old Jan-Michael Vincent. They are supposed to be 26 and 22 respectively. Interestingly both MacGraw and Vincent were discovered by talent agents for their good looks and plucked from obscurity into a career in Hollywood and for MacGraw it was overnight stardom. She was honored with a spot in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater with only three film credits. For Vincent it took about ten years working on films and TV shows before The Winds of War became his breakthrough role. It lead directly to his casting as the lead in the TV action series Airwolf. The show ended up being canceled because of his out of control drinking. That is why you never heard much from him after that. Nobody wanted to deal with his antics and Dan Curtis did not rehire him for the sequel. It’s quite sad as Vincent had real star quality. Ali MacGraw’s performance was widely panned, her age was indeed noticed by viewers and she also did not return and was replaced by Jane Seymour (who lobbied for the part) in War and Remembrance.

I actually did not find MacGraw’s performance to be that bad, she was just wildly miscast. Who in their right mind would get a 45 year old woman to play a 26 year old girl? It makes no sense except that MacGraw was an aging star and was still covered in the tabloids because of her high profile marriages. Fading star power was the same reason why Curtis cast an over-the-hill Robert Mitchum as Pug. Mitchum is great as the lead character, however he’s just too old. Pug is supposed to be an in-shape driven man in his early fifties. Mitchum was 66 at the time and badly out of shape. In a scene where Pug is supposed to display his tennis prowess, Mitchum is clearly wearing a girdle to suck in his huge gut. But that said, his casting was nowhere near as offensive or distracting as MacGraw’s. 

Curtis makes up for those errors with brilliant casting for most of the secondary characters. Especially when it came to historical figures, he nailed it. He smartly cast actors who had previously played those parts in either plays, movies, or TV shows in the past. Ralph Bellamy is great as FDR, little known British character actor Howard Lang does a commendable Churchill, and German character actor Günter Meisner turned in a truly memorable tongue-rolling portrayal of the Fuhrer. Two other actors stood out. One was Polly Bergen as Pug’s wife. She was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Rhonda Henry and had previously starred with Robert Mitchum in the original Cape Fear. But the real standout performance to me was British actress Victoria Tennant as Pug’s much younger mistress Pamela Tudsbury. Although it’s nearly inconceivable that such a young attractive woman would fall in love with a grizzled overweight and married old man her emotions seemed so genuine and real. It’s a shame that she never really was known for anything other than the two Wouk mini-series, but she does get much more screen time in the follow-up. Tennant though was probably also miscast as she was 32 at the time and was supposed to be playing ten years younger. 

One more casting win was the stunningly gorgeous Lisa Eilbacher as Pug’s daughter, who is probably most famous for losing out to Carrie Fisher for the role of Princess Leia in Star Wars. I’ll put the video of her audition below. I can see why George Lucas was stuck deciding between these two because either one would have been good. And much like Fisher, Eilbacher’s career never really went anywhere past the early eighties. Her only notable film role was Beverly Hills Cop.

As most of you probably know Wouk’s story is about America right before it’s entry into WWII. Most of the characters are fictional but they interact with real historical figures. Pug just happens to meet FDR, Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill and even Stalin in the same year. Unlikely to say the least, but it provides a very wide view of the war and all of its participants. The book and mini-series truly can be defined by the word EPIC.

One facet that makes the book better than the series are the fascinating chapters “written” by the fictional German general Armin von Roon as he sat in prison after the war. Pug Henry “translates” the work and provides commentary. To me, these are the best chapters in both novels and the most fun to re-read. By providing a German view of the war Wouk can really see things from a different angle and makes some very salient points. 

I am just praising the series a bit more here because it’s just such an incredible accomplishment. Never before had a book been so faithfully rendered in film. No wonder because Wouk himself wrote the teleplay. Here are just a few facts from Wikipedia to give one an idea of the scope of this project:

– The series consists of 7 episodes and has a runtime of 14 hours 40 minutes.
– The 962-page script contained 1,785 scenes and 285 speaking parts.
– The production involved 4,000 camera setups and shot a million feet of exposed film.
– The estimated budget was very large for its time, $38 million ($120 million in 2017 dollars).
– The production had a 206-day shooting schedule and came in four days ahead of schedule.
– The series was shot at 404 locations in Europe, California and Washington state over 14 months.

Even though Curtis had a huge budget and over a year to shoot, you have to give him credit for getting in done ahead of schedule. The series is a bit dated now but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it to be very binge-worthy and addictive. Besides the unbelievability of Ali MacGraw, the main other problem is the 4:3 aspect ratio. We are so used to widescreen TVs now that seeing a cinematically shot film presented as a square is annoying. Curtis did shoot it like a film, not a television series, so he often has two actors on screen at the same time for over-the-shoulder shots and such. But it often looks like the two characters are close enough to kiss because of the tight framing. Additionally the locations and 1940’s set design really deserved the widescreen treatment. It’s a real shame that this series has never been remastered on blu-ray with 5.1 surround sound. Equally shameful, it is not available on Netflix or Amazon to stream. I watched the DVDs which is the best way to experience it at this point. But all 7 episodes are on YouTube (with a bit too much compression) but they’re watchable (link below). 

So while both the series and the book deserve to be revisited I would personally skip the long-winded novel and get right to the series. It covers all of the major plot points of the book and keeps the dialogue virtually word for word. It is one of the best WWII films ever made (if you view it as a film). It would be a great introduction to the reasons for the war for someone who was just learning about it.

”The mini-series form is the best storytelling vehicle there is. It is the only one that allows you to tell a story the way it should be told.” A prescient quote from Dan Curtis back in 1988. 

It has its flaws (mostly with casting) but I have to give this amazing series a 5 outta 5. The music is great, the locations and cinematography are top notch, and it really blew away anything else on TV in 1982. The series won Emmy’s for cinematography, costumes, and visual effects. That is another thing that is a bit dated: the model shots of ships and bombers are of course models, not CGI, but I thought that they looked awesome for the time personally. It’s really only the scale of the water that really gives them away. 

YouTube playist

Avengers – Infinity War/Endgame ****

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The inclusion of so many characters from so many movies is impressive as hell as are the VFX in both films. It’s difficult to imagine Marvel, or any other studio, making a more epic crossover. That said, I have two main criticisms.

The Infinity Gauntlet was one of my favorite crossovers when I was a kid. It was basically meant to be Marvel’s version of The Crisis on Infinite Earths. It ended up not being as good, but did sell very well and used the same artist from Crisis, George Perez. The movies were a nice nod to the story but didn’t follow it. Thanos’ motivation, for instance, in Infinity War makes zero sense. Apologists have used the excuse “Well he IS crazy,” but that’s not good enough. He couldn’t be stupid enough to think that killing only half of all life would cure overpopulation for more than a couple of decades. Since I have been alive the world human population has nearly doubled. So in 50 years all of his work will have been undone. If Thanos did painlessly kill every sentient in the universe then he would ironically become the greatest hero of all time as he would have ended all current suffering and all future suffering. 

Image result for death marvel universe thanos comic

In the books he chose half because it would be an impressive amount of beings to kill without really devastating the order of things. He did it to impress an unimpressable woman, the female personification of Death. It would have been much more interesting to go that way. 

The deaths in Endgame were so obviously used as a way to get rid of expensive cast members, so the three heroes who died were unsurprising and expected. But the worst idea they had was how to handle Cap’s exit. 

Cap is another character who I have been following since childhood and one thing that he is not is a goddamn quitter. It’s the same problem I had with Nolan’s third Batman film: he not only quits being Batman once, but TWICE in the same movie! Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers are very similar characters in many ways. They are both idealists and neither one of them ever married. There is a reason for that: RESPONSIBILITY. As in, “With great power…” you know, the most famous line Stan Lee ever wrote.

For some reason the writers of the movie and the directors cannot even agree on what happened. Either Cap created an alternate timeline where he could settle down and none of this ever happened or he went back in the current timeline and just sat around watching TV while Bucky was being tortured in Russia. So that would mean that he just let all this happen again and did nothing. That is just not acceptable if we know Cap to be a courageous, self-sacrificing superhero. Key word “super.” He’s not a normal soldier. He doesn’t relax while evil exists. He doesn’t retire. He doesn’t quit to grow old in peace and quiet. Because there can be no peace until evil is wiped out and that’s a war that’s never-ending.

A Christmas Memory (1966) *****

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My Xmas movie this year was A Christmas Memory based on the short story by Truman Capote. It was first aired as a 1 hour TV movie on ABC in 1966 and is narrated by Capote himself.

I didn’t even know that this movie existed until I found out that one of my co-workers is also a Capote fan and he gave me a DVD of it. It is based on Capote’s own childhood, where his parents were usually absent and he ended up being raised by his cousins. In this case, a mentally immature cousin who is about 50 years his senior. Since they are both childlike they get along famously.

I don’t know for sure what it is about Capote’s writing but I started to well up with tears almost immediately. This story was published in the same volume as his more famous story “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” That story as well makes me strive to hold myself together for some reason. I think it’s the way Capote describes friendship and how fragile it can be. After all (like romantic relationships) every friendship will also end someday, one way or another. The narrator in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” actually has a platonic relationship with Holly Golightly in the book (as he is gay) so it’s a story of friends, not lovers, as portrayed in the film. A similar relationship exists in this movie. Buddy (a stand in for Capote) looks up to his older, wiser, more experienced female friend. But when he notices her defects and mental breakdowns he loses a part of his childhood innocence and is forced to grow up.

It’s an old TV movie so take that for what it is. My wife had a hard time getting into it for that reason. Perhaps because I am familiar with the source material, I liked it better than someone who is not. I watched the original black and white version, but it has since been colorized. Probably the only thing that has not aged so well are the sound effects and recorded dialogue. But the original music still sounds great.

I haven’t cried from a movie like this in a long time. I don’t know if that’s just me or not but if you are looking for a sentimental film to watch next December, you could do worse.

5 Paper Kites Outta 5

Solo – A Star Wars Story *

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I shouldn’t be surprised but this Disney Star Wars film managed to be even worse than I imagined. Just like the other three so far.

Lacking any originality, reason, or purpose this blundering borefest lasts almost two and a half hours. It’s difficult to finish in one sitting without wanting to punch yourself in the face. Speaking of faces, they cast a guy with a weird looking one to play Harrison Ford. He looks nothing like him, he acts nothing like him, and I didn’t think for one second they were the same guy. Chewie uses all of the recycled noises he made in previous films. He plays the exact same 3D chess game he played in Star Wars and The Force Awakens, and even the moves are exactly the same. You would think after 50 or so years he would get sick of it. Hmmm.

Donald Glover is good as Billy Dee. What a concept, get an actor who can actually ACT like the guy he’s playing! Woody Harrelson is just good ol’ Woody, but it was still nice to have another competent performance. Paul Bettany as the heavy is as good as you would expect a talented actor to be with a criminally lame script. Emilia Clarke is pretty much a non-character as the love interest. When she meets up with Han it is completely by coincidence, a common trope in Disney Star Wars films.

Speaking of love interest… sigh. This is the dreaded “SJW” part of the film. Lando’s “love” interest and co-pilot is a “female” droid. A droid that is really, really upset about “robot slavery.” The film fails to explain how a computer can be enslaved other than in some kind of metaphorical sense. The droids in Star Wars aren’t even very advanced machines. Nothing like the robots in The Matrix. Tape an iPhone to a Roomba and you pretty much have a droid. These things are tools, nothing more. They are given personalities to make them easier to use. Droids don’t actually have feelings, yet L3 is clearly in love with Lando and wants to fuck him. How it can fuck him without any sexual orifices is a mystery but the film makes a lame joke about it. Lando also clearly has feelings for it. I don’t get it. Why have a machine as a co-pilot? If that’s what he wanted to do then why not just plug it’s CPU into a USB port? Why would a computer need arms and legs to fly a ship? The droids in the Disney films, just like The Force and the Jedi, are completely different than in the original series. Those droids were built for very specialized tasks: protocol, interpreter, waiter, etc. But ones like L3 can do anything! Fight a war, have sex, fly a ship… who needs humans?

Nothing can be worse than The Last Jedi but this piece of crap is easily a worse film than Rogue One. Because Rogue One had 30 seconds of Vader slicing dudes in half. This has the Millennium Falcon being chased through an asteroid field to an oldie but goodie by John Williams called “The Asteroid Field.” Maybe I’m imagining it but I feel like I’ve seen that somewhere before. Hmmm. Yes, almost every beat and visual element in this film is a callback to something from the Star Wars Trilogy. I really did not expect it to be this bad, but Disney surprised me again. Just not in a good way.

Did I mention that it’s one of the most expensive films ever made? Even ILM seemed bored making this one.

1 Star War Outta 5

2018 Oscar Round-up

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The billboards in the title say this:

Frances McDormand (famous for Fargo and pretty much nothing else) is the mother of a murdered daughter and uses her life savings to rent the billboards to light a fire under the cops. The DNA from the rape kit matches no known felon, there were no witnesses, and no suspects. It happens. But the angry mother must blame someone. She could blame herself as she is the one who brought a victim into the world.

Woody Harrelson is Chief Willoughby. A character who immediately is sympathetic once you realize he did everything he could to solve the crime. Oh he also has terminal cancer. The shitier cop is played by Sam Rockwell and he really is the star of the movie, as he is the only character who changes. But even though he goes from criminal assault to actually trying to do his job, I never felt any sympathy for him. Primarily because this film is just so badly written. I wouldn’t think that even a first year film student could write something so illogical and nonsensical.

McDormand’s character lights the police hq on fire, is not arrested or charged with any crime despite the fact that Rockwell is seriously burned. This director really doesn’t understand how the law works. Rockwell is sitting in the police station (but with earphones on!) yet he doesn’t notice the raging inferno around him. Maybe the fact that the room he is in is getting brighter and brighter would tip him off? The Rockwell cop character also beats an innocent man nearly to death and throws him out of a window in broad daylight right in front of his new captain and about 20 witnesses. He loses his job but is not arrested or charged with any crime. Is Ebbing, Missouri a town that’s in a state of anarchy or what?

This movie sucked.

2 stars outta 5

Best actress Frances McDormand
Best actor in a supporting role Woody Harrelson
Best actor in a supporting role Sam Rockwell

Lady Bird

This is another one of those identity politics movies that gets nominated for awards even though it’s nothing more than an after school special. But it’s got gay dudes, token minorities, fat acceptance, 9/11 references, girl power… it’s got all of that shit. It’s supposedly a coming of age story but the main character played by Saoirse Ronan learns nothing by the end and simply returns to being the exact same person she was before the movie started. It’s the story of a really lame rebellion phase. It’s also supposed to be a comedy but I didn’t laugh once. It’s boring, it’s set in 2002 for no reason, and nothing happens.

This movie super sucked.

1 star

So naturally it is nominated for …
Best Picture
Best director Greta Gerwig
Best actress Saoirse Ronan
Best supporting actress Laurie Metcalf

I, Tonya

Finally a watchable movie. It does help that I am a fan of ladies figure skating. I watched the entire 4 hour version of the free skate this Olympics, but not on NBC of course. They decided to show boring bobsledding and skiing instead. How many times can you watch someone slide down a hill before you get bored to death? But I digress. The figure skating in this movie is a special effect of course as Margot Robbie is no Olympic figure skater. She is also wildly miscast and looks nothing like Tanya Harding. The fact that Harding is frumpy white trash is a big part of her character arc so casting a stick-thin Australian fox seems misguided. Maybe she lobbied for the part… who knows, but it doesn’t work.

The skating scenes are still very well done as the camera gets the viewer right on the ice with her. The only problems come up when Robbie’s face has to be digitally placed on top of the face of the double. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it just looks uncanny. The way to go for this movie would have been to cast a real ice skater and just cast better known actors around her in supporting roles. The movie also strangely views Harding as a victim, as if she had no idea that her husband was going to have her rival Nancy Kerrigan attacked. But still this biopic was better than most of the other crap getting nominated for awards  this year.

3 stars

Best actress Margot Robbie
Best supporting actress Allison Janney

The Post

While perhaps a bit too long, this is heads above that other newspaper movie Spotlight that undeservedly won Best Picture in 2016. It would be quite a feat if this movie was bad considering the talent involved. Spielberg and Hanks shine as usual with beautiful lighting courtesy of Janusz Kaminski. The plot of course covers the famous Pentagon Papers which showed that the government knew the US was losing in Vietnam but kept sending conscripted teenagers to die anyways. The Washington Post thought that publishing the classified papers could potentially ruin the paper but in the end it resulted in a sales boom. Honestly my favorite part about it was just seeing how news was printed and consumed in ancient times.

3 stars

Best Picture
Best actress Meryl Streep

Braven ***

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Braven is a 2018 action movie vehicle for Jason Momoa. It co-stars Stephen Lang as Momoa’s dad (he looks nothing like him but whatever), and the versatile Garret Dillahunt as the psychopathic heavy.

I have to say this is probably one of the better movies I’ve seen this year. It was just refreshing to see a well-told unpretentious action movie that introduces all of the archetypes, the beautiful setting of Newfoundland, the conflict, and then lets it all play out over a period of one day.

The conflict arises when Momoa takes his mentally ailing father to their hunting cabin to reconnect and they both discover that someone has stashed a million bucks worth of quality H in their tool shed. If you have seen Commando then you know where this is going. The criminals come at the two with paramilitary precision and weaponry and the simple blue collar father and son team must defend themselves with only a rifle, a bow and arrow, fire, and some tools. Some of the kills are clever and have never been done before. The villain is ruthless and charismatic. The setting is, as mentioned, a nice change of scenery. The music is also pretty good.

Braven is the directorial debut of long time stunt coordinator Lin Oeding. Momoa is great as the lead. I just wanted to see more of him. I would like to see a sequel to this more like Rambo II where we won’t need any exposition and we can just get to the action.

3 bear traps outta 5

A Quiet Place ***

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Plot holes the size of an Abrams tank hurt this film but I did still enjoy it and can see why it was a minor hit. It’s an interesting premise and it moves with constant tension and action. Much like with The Walking Dead the viewer is constantly befuddled by nagging internal questions like “Well why didn’t they just soundproof an apartment building next to a supermarket and just chill for the rest of their lives?” Or “Why didn’t they soundproof ANYTHING?” Or “Why don’t they watch their kids better?” Or “Why in the fuck would you get pregnant in the Apocalypse?” But other than that it’s still a fun movie. I sadly saw it in a theater with a sci-fi movie playing next door so my experience was not as “quiet” as I would have liked.

3 weaponized hearing aids outta 5

The Field (1990) ***

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I wanted to watch something Irish for St. Patrick’s Day to go along with my Guinness bread, vegan Shepherd’s Pie, and cabbage so it was finally time to watch this thing.

My initial comment on the DVD is that the transfer is of poor quality. I have only seen two other DVD/blu-rays that were this bad and those were The Whole Wide World (the Robert E. Howard biopic) and Wall Street. We are so used to seeing dust and scratch free images now that it’s unusual to see a dirty transfer. But I will say it wasn’t as bad as those other two films and it didn’t impact the experience too badly. The sound was fine.

The story is about a psychopathic old tenant farmer played by Richard Harris and his mentally handicapped son played by a young Sean Bean. They live in squalor and are obsessed with a three acre piece of land that they have worked for a generation even though they do not own it. But the Harris character ‘Bull’ McCabe thinks he owns it because he’s worked it so long. Welcome to capitalism Mr. McCabe!

He says there is a difference between “The Law” which says the owner can sell it anytime she wants to and “The Law of the Land” which he says entitles him to the field because he dug so many rocks out of it over the years. So he already is clearly not on board the reality train. But the people of this rocky, barely habitable Irish fjord are nice people and when the field goes up for auction they will allow the crazy old man to be the single unopposed bidder. Until… in a direct contrast to the worn out downtrodden Irish in comes a smooth as silk Yank, played by Tom Berenger, who offers more than the old man could ever afford.

I don’t know if this was the filmmaker’s intent but I immediately sided with the Berenger character. Not only is he a smooth dresser who drives a cool car, but his family came from that town and he wants to build a dam on the land, a project that would create badly needed jobs and cheap electricity. Set in the ‘30s this town is still such a backwater that there are no electric lights in most of the homes. But Bull can’t have this, he must have HIS land so he murders Berenger in cold blood with his son’s help. Catholic guilt is a real thing and after getting scolded by the town priest, McCabe goes “super crazy” and then the real killing in earnest begins.

The photography, locations, music, and acting are all excellent. Harris especially carries the movie. However I kept wanting to see more of the civilized American. Berenger had to be one of the most handsome men in Hollywood at that time. He just stands out so sharply against the dirt poor and crazy Irish. John Hurt is even lower class than McCabe as a toothless barely understandable stooge. Everyone but the American and the priest is dirty, drunken, and poor. So very, very poor. So it’s not exactly a “fun” movie. Many animals are killed throughout and that was a turn off for my wife. I don’t know how they accomplished the animals dying, whether they used corpses or dummies, but hopefully they didn’t actually kill them just for the movie.

So it’s probably not the best St. Patty’s Day movie to watch but the acting is so good that I have to at least give it…

3 shamrocks outta 5

Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi *

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John Williams is probably the only reason I don’t give it zero stars. It’s sad that his name has to be associated with this disaster. Same for Mark Hamill. He’s making millions off this trilogy so I can’t say I blame him for doing it, but if it weren’t for the money I’m sure he would have told Disney to take a hike after he read the script.

Luke here is a coward, traitor, and curmudgeon. Hmm, I seem to ‘member him being selfless, brave, and optimistic. He burns down a Jedi Temple and all of it’s sacred texts. He says “The Jedi must be destroyed.” WTF??

J.J. Abram’s made us care about Rey’s (the new female Luke) mysterious origins in the last movie. He made it seem like her parents were somebody. Same with the Sith Lord Snoke. We never find out who he is either. Last Order? No idea who they are or how they came to be. Clearly Disney wrote no backstory.

And yes, Leia flies through the vacuum of space without a space suit. The problem with that is 1) even Lord Vader (the most powerful Jedi of all time) couldn’t do that and 2) we’ve never seen Leia use The Force except to communicate with Luke. But now she can’t even do that, but she can survive in the vacuum of space and fly like Supergirl. And that’s a huge problem with this movie. The Force is way too strong. Luke uses it to “enter the Matrix” for chrissakes. Vader never did that. The Emperor never did that. Kylo (the new boyishly lame Vader) and Rey use it to talk across light years of space like it’s a walkie talkie. And apparently it doesn’t even take years of training to master it any more. Luke teaches Rey nothing, she just becomes a Jedi on her own.

Not only is this the worst Star Wars movie by far, it’s one of the worst blockbusters ever made. Nothing makes sense. If the chrome stormtrooper Phasma has armor that can repel blaster fire then why wouldn’t every stormtrooper have that armor? Why did Luke make a map to himself if he just wanted to be left alone to die? It’s an epic fail of storytelling besides destroying the legacy of the original movies. Everything the Rebellion fought for is completely meaningless now. Vader’s sacrifice? Pointless. It stole many of the plot points from the old movies again. It’s just a train wreck. I would compare it to The Matrix 3 or Highlander 2 for it’s incompetent mishandling of a series.

1 fan film outta 5

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me ***

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This documentary film by Drew DeNicola tells the story of a little known but influential rock band from the ’70s. If you are a fan of The Jesus and Mary Chain, REM, or The Replacements then you’ve probably heard of these guys or at least would recognize the influence. The primary force in the band was Alex Chilton, singer of the ’60s hit “The Letter.” He wrote most of the songs with lead guitar player Chris Bell. Responsible for the engineering of the pretentiously titled “#1 Album” Bell dropped out of the band after the record failed to go #1 or even close. After destroying the master tapes the rest of his life was a downward slide of drugs, depression, and religion. He died in 1978 in a car crash.

Chilton likewise was a madman and abandoned the project that he would be best known for. Big Star only made three albums with the third one not even getting published until years after it was recorded. The documentary goes to great lengths show how bad marketing and an ahead of it’s time sound kept the music from gaining popularity. Well that’s life isn’t it? No one is owed anything no matter how talented. Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting while he was alive.

This doc is very well done and engaging but because the lifespan of Big Star was so short it lacks gravitas. Chilton would go on experiment with the punk sound and became a producer for The Cramps and other lesser known bands. Even though he said he hated Big Star he saw where the money was finally and reformed them in ’90s to capitalize on the Nirvana trend. He died in 2010. It’s not a great film, but it is very good and recommended for fans of indie/alternative music.

3 Big Stars Outta 5