Star Wars Ranked: #8

The Last Jedi is now clearly on our horizons and Star Wars is once again dominating the internet. I, like many of you I’m sure, am re-watching the series in order to reacquaint myself with the story, as well as to substantiate my Snoke theories. In re-watching the films, I can’t help but mentally rank them as I go. Given my love for the series, I am taking this opportunity to exploit the re-ignited fanfare of Star Wars and am putting my thoughts of these films, as well as my personal ranking of them, to digital paper. Each article will be a more-or-less review of the film and my justification for its placement. I will break down what I think works in the film, as well as what doesn’t. So, with no further ado, let’s begin.

#8: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

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This was going one of two ways and we all knew it.

 The Phantom Menace is the story of, well, a lot of things. Which is a big reason as to why it’s regarded the way it is. It is unfocused in its narrative. It’s difficult to identify a singular protagonist and a central plot, as the film throws several characters, each bringing with them their own side plots, into a vague, already established conflict that brings with it many of its own side plots. If you were to be asked who the protagonist of the story is, who would you say? I think the film wants us to believe it’s Anakin, but if he is the protagonist, then he’s a poor one. This is because Anakin is almost entirely passive. He isn’t given any discernible arc, nor are any lessons learned along the way. He begins as a slave and ends as a Padawan, but these decision have been determined almost exclusively by external forces, most notably Qui Gon. However, despite it’s narrative shortcomings, this film isn’t all bad. So lets separate what works from what doesn’t.

 

What works:

While you will definitely find several cast members in the latter half of this article, there are some performances here that are genuinely great. For example, it should be a surprise to no one that Liam Neeson absolutely kills it as a Jedi Knight. Seeing him in the robe with a Lightsaber just feels right, and he brings the gravitas needed for the role. While several Jedi, including his own apprentice, view him as unnecessarily rash in his decision making, he simply does what he feels is right. Contrasting that with the way the Jedi Order operates, especially in the proceeding films, is quite interesting, actually. And on the subject of his apprentice, a youthful Obi-Wan is brought perfectly to life by the always delightful Ewan Mcgregor. Mcgregor’s performance throughout the prequel trilogy makes him actually my favorite character of the series, and it begins here. Of all the characters in the film, Obi-Wan is given by far given the most meaningful and coherent arc. He begins similarly to how one would expect a Padawan would behave, with a very by the books mentality. This causes Obi-Wan to eventually clash with Qui Gon’s way of thinking, often in subtle ways. However, we see a discernible influence Qui Gon has on him throughout the film, and by the end of it Obi-Wan is defiant as Qui Gon was, choosing to take on Anakin as his own Padawan. It’s all done surprisingly well and completely informs who he would become as a character, not just in the proceeding prequels, but in the original trilogy as well. On the opposite end of the force, we have the canonical introduction of the eventual Emperor, Darth Sidious, as well as his apprentice, Darth Maul. Ian McDiarmid returns to reprise his role as Sidious, though spends the majority of this film disguised as a well intentioned senator by the name of Palpatine. One of the things the prequels did exceptionally well was Palpatine’s rise to power and the creation of the Galactic Empire. Though Episodes II and III will provide more to discuss on that front, the seedlings of this story are planted here, and done quite well. As a character, there isn’t much to be said of Maul, yet I will plant him firmly in this section of the article based simply off of how fantastic he is in design. His black attire and menacing war paint. His swift, agile way of fighting that actor Ray Parker so wonderfully brought to life. And yes, the fact he introduced us to the awe inspiring double bladed lightsaber.

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The part where we collectively get goosebumps

 

Speaking of which, the moment when those doors open up, Williams’ score kicks in, and the second blade emerges is one of the greatest moments of the entire series, with the subsequent battle being arguably the best battle of all six films. And though that is by far the peak of the action in this film, there are other moments of greatness as well. The final space battle is actually fairly good. It’s not amazing, partly due it being won accidentally by Anakin, and it’s certainly not as good as the famous assault on the Death Star in episodes IV or VI, but it’s competently shot and at times pretty exciting. We are also introduced to a pastime they had a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away in the form of pod racing. This sequence, while perhaps a bit long, is exceptionally well directed and undeniably exhilarating. All of these sequences are elevated to their fullest extent by the always fantastic John Williams. The Dual of the Fates and the Trade Federation March stand as some of the greatest themes Williams’ has ever composed across all seven films he’s scored.

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Move over, Luke. There’s a new…oh, wait this comes before that.

So with all of this that works, why does it sit at the bottom? Lets get into that.

What doesn’t work:

I actually often find myself giving an apologetic for the politics of the prequels. I find them as an enriching layer of lore, and an interesting way of setting the stage and making way for the original trilogy. However, this defense I give usually starts with episode II, as here it is poorly explained and generally boring. Nowhere in its over two hour runtime does this film convince me to care about the trade disputes between Naboo and the Trade Federation. The film never takes the time to elaborate, in any coherent manner, what the actual dispute is and what the two opposing goals are. We just know it has something to do with taxes. Now that by itself may be enough to upset any red blooded American, it fails to create a conflict worthy of the Star Wars name. It also doesn’t help that Naboo is generally uninteresting. Naboo’s capital city Theed is beautiful, but my compliments for the new location end there. The city and world feel cold and empty. It doesn’t look or feel lived in, certainly not like Tatooine or Bespin from the first two films. And unfortunately, the people of Naboo are not the planets only residents. Any argument that maintains that Ewoks are the worst creatures in this series flies in the face of all logic and reason, for under the oceans of Naboo dwell the Gungans, a people so obnoxious that cinema has yet to create a more annoying species. The relationship between the Gungans and the people of Naboo, and the political turmoil they are in aren’t interesting or compelling, making any plot or structure based off of them the same.

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Looks pretty. So, who are these people again?

 

To make matters worse, this uninteresting plot is inhabited by several bad characters, starting with Queen Amidala/Padme, played by Natalie Portman. Throughout the film, Amidala, later to be revealed as Padme, exhibits poor leadership skills. She refuses to condone any action that might lead to war, and essentially allows for the occupation of her planet. This passivity leads to war anyway, one fought in a last ditch effort that only works because it’s a film and conveniences are allowed. The character doesn’t work even beyond just the script. Never in her career has Portman given such a wooden, stilted performance. Sure, her dialogue is often painfully bad, but that’s no excuse for some of the excruciatingly poor delivery she has in several key scenes. The same can be said for Pernilla August, who plays Shmi Skywalker, mother of Anakin. She delivers her lines with the conviction of an untalented high school performer. It’s as if Lucas gave a prize for the performance with the least amount of emotion. With these two characters in the review, it’s hard to imagine we’ve yet to arrive at the worst character of the film. History tends to exaggerate things that are bad or don’t work in film. Such is the case with the prequels in general. However, one character that manages to live up to his reputation of genuine awfulness is Jar Jar Binks. He consistently undercuts and undermines any semblance of dramatic tension the film might have. He, quite literally, stumbles his way through this film from start to finish. And the icing on this atrocious cake is that the film rewards him by making him a general and war hero. Everything about this character is actively working against the integrity of the film.

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Everything wrong with the world in a single picture.

 

I could go on for another full paragraph about how the film manages to have the actors who only have one or two lines of dialogue give noticeably bad performance, but to refrain from allowing tangents, we must move on to an issue that plagues this film; visual effects. With the original trilogy, Lucas was a pioneer of innovation in technology, and the truth is I don’t think it’s fair to strip him of the title for the prequels. Episode I was, in many ways, at the forefront of special effects. He was exploring cgi in a way that many hadn’t. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out in his favor this time. The locales are often mostly or entirely computer generated, making nothing in the environment our characters are standing in look tangible. Creature who are fully cgi, such as Jar Jar or Anakins pod racing nemesis, Sebulba, have aged poorly since their creation. Watching this film in 2017, knowing what cgi is capable of, makes this film look cheap and silly in retrospect.

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The cost of practical effects is racial stereotypes. Apparently.

 

I touched on the films narrative flaws earlier, but I think it’s important to go more in depth. One of the films most glaring flaws is that of a protagonist. I have heard compelling arguments that the protagonist is Obi-Wan. His actions often directly relate to the films general plot, and he is given a clear emotional arc. However, I don’t think we can ignore that it feels as if the film is convinced that Anakin is our protagonist, and if he is, then the film is structurally flawed in a huge way, in that Anakin is unrelated and irrelevant to story at hand. It feels as if the film is tricking us into thinking he’s important by using our knowledge of who he is against us. We buy that he is a central character, because we know he becomes one. However, if removed from the equation, the film doesn’t change in any meaningful way, or at least that can’t be fixed with a few tweaks. And regardless of whether you believe the protagonist of the film is Anakin or Obi-Wan, the triumph of the films plot, the victory over the Trade Federation, is completely emotionally disconnected from either character. Neither had any tangible stakes in the films plot. We celebrate at the end because the film tells us to, not because it means anything important for our chief characters.

So, after weighing the pros and cons of this film, I don’t find enough value to rank it above any other entry in the series. It has a lot of heart, but fails on nearly every technical aspect of filmmaking. Even still, I will argue with those who claim it is better to be skipped entirely. There’s enough good here to warrant including it in a marathon.

This concludes the first entry of this series. I won’t tell you that Attack of the Clones is number seven yet. You’ll have to wait to find that out.

 

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Gaming Bits! Gone Home and Metal Gear Solid V

If you’re a subscriber to Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus then you may have noticed each month you get a free game or two. This is fantastic; but how do you know if these games are worth downloading? You have precious hard drive space on your Xbox One or PlayStation 4, so this is going to be a hard choice to make, right? Wrong!

Gaming Bits have you covered! This month we will tackle Gone Home (Available until October 31st) for the Xbox One and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Available throughout October) for the PlayStation 4. The only caveat is that our test subjects, Chris (who jumped ship to Sony after Microsoft scared him when it was originally announced their console would be online all the time. It’s not now but PS4 is still best.) and Joseph H. (who’s been a die-hard Xbox fanboy since he fell in love with the “OG” Xbox and Master Chief), have one to two hours to decide whether the game is worth the download or not! So read ahead and see what they find!

Gone Home

Have you ever been lied to? Or feel you were mislead into getting a game you thought was one thing but turned out to be another? It makes you pretty upset, right? Not a pleasant gaming experience, especially when the final product is the polar opposite of what you were promised.

Well, that’s how I felt with the free Xbox Live game of the month during my two-hour play through of Gone Home. Gone Home was originally a PC game that came out in 2013 to glowing reviews. It was billed as the next great indie horror walking simulator. Now, I have grown to love walking simulators as they can really focus on the more emotional aspects of storytelling. If you’ve ever played or watched a let’s play of That Dragon, Cancer, then you know how powerful these games can be when done well.

Gone Home is different, though. Instead of a Lovecraftian horror about a girl coming home to an empty house to piece together clues about the “Psycho House” her family moved into while she was away, I played something entirely different. Instead of piecing together a well-crafted horror tale, I pieced together an angsty YA novel about your younger sister coming out to her parents in the 90s about her girlfriend, then running away with her in the end. That’s it. That’s the story.

I haven’t been a PC gamer since about 2009, so most of the PC news I get is from reviews and trailers during E3 and Gamescom. So I went and re-read some of the reviews after playing it. Yep, still say it’s a scary game. I was so upset. It’s not a scary game in the least bit. There is one part that gets you partway through the game, right when you think it’s about to get interesting. Then nothing. Just more of her angst-ridden diary she left for you to read.

What’s sad is this isn’t a terrible game. It’s an okay story told through a walking simulator. The voice acting, if at times too close to the CW drama shows, is believable. And being a kid growing up in the 90s, much of it felt very authentic. The mixtapes, VHS recordings, down to the books and posters around the house, made it feel lived in by people who abruptly left during the middle of the night from a house deemed by the community as the “Psycho House.” An intriguing setup but with no payoff pertaining to the mystery shrouding the house.

Reviewers are supposed to be go-betweens, buffers between the developers and players, letting them know what they are getting into, and warn them if they are being given false information about a game. I don’t mind the positive reviews this game got. It’s a decent if not clichéd story. It was made for a very specific audience. It was marketed for all who love horror. That’s what upsets me.

Final Verdict:
Play if you like CW dramas. Don’t if you wanted a well-crafted horror tale.

 

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

 

Of all games that were set to be free on the PSN it just had to be this one.

The Metal Gear series of games have been very popular for quite some time and yet I’m the one guy on the face of the earth who never cared to play any of them. Why? Because I hate sneaking around. I’m not the kind of the guy who enjoys hiding in the shadows, using patience and skill to take out an entire room of enemies. This is the main reason why I struggled to get through Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. It’s not the style of gameplay I really enjoy.

But I decided to give Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain a shot regardless. I also hadn’t played a Metal Gear Solid game since Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I shut the game off after five minutes because I hated the gameplay, as stated above. I blame it on the Halo.

I awoke in a hospital bed with no recollection of who I was or where I was. Nurses would come in, tinker with some of the machines around me, and then I would fall back into an unconscious state. Soon I am approached by what I assumed to be a doctor. Am I in a hospital? Yes, that would make the most sense. Truthfully it hadn’t dawned on me until the doctor started speaking to me of where I was. I’m told not to panic but that I have been in a coma for nine years. Nine years?! My vitals start spiking as the doctor continues to try and reason with me. A nurse grabs a syringe and injects an IV with some sort of sedative. I slowly fall back asleep…

The cutscenes within the game are fantastic and feel extremely cinematic but I do feel like they occur way too often at the start of the game. To be fair, I didn’t make it far from the introduction before my hour was up. I tried to progress a little bit beyond but the game threw a few more cutscenes in my general direction and by then I was a bit tired of them. When the game decided to open up I decided to shut it down so I know that my opinion on the game will be severely misconstrued but I’m still going to be very honest, it’s a great game. The story left me with many questions (a few of the moments in the introduction are a bit surreal) but I, unfortunately, do not have the desire to continue through the game. My patience with these kinds of games is lacking. If I had to see another cutscene I was on the level of raging, no matter how finely crafted (or brutal) these scenes were.

Controls felt a bit strange to me as the character I was controlling didn’t seem to respond immediately to when I pressed a button. This caused me to die at a specific point but I just chalked that up to me being unfamiliar with the button layout so it only caused minimal frustration. Shooting felt strange as well but I had few issues with getting a headshot at close range with a pistol.

Final Verdict: Download it!

Most people who have wanted to play this game have already bought it and beaten it but as the possible swan song to Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series (Konami is dumb) this is a title worth checking out for its cinematic value alone.

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Interstellar and Arrival: Poetry Put to Film.

Interstellar is a flawed masterpiece whose reach extended its grasp; yet I count Christopher Nolan’s space epic as one of the most inspiring movies I’ve seen. Why? Because it makes me feel more of the sense of the vastness of God’s created universe than any other, and brings to the forefront of my mind Psalm 19:1 more vividly than any science fiction film has done before: “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the skies above proclaim His handiwork.”

I was awed by the revelation we were given when Dr. Louise Banks asks the question, “I don’t understand. Who is this child?” in the fantastic Denis Villenueve film Arrival. By a simple question it is revealed that although we were watching memories of her child’s birth, formative years, and subsequent death, those events had yet to take place. She was given an immeasurable gift: a glance into God’s book of her life. As the credits rolled the only thing in my mind was Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

I count these two films as two of the most impactful pieces of cinema I have seen, not only because they are spectacular works of art – because they are – but also, and more importantly, they helped me see those two verses of Scripture in a more vivid, revelatory light.

Interstellar.

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There are breathtakingly beautiful scenes in Interstellar which capture my imagination; scenes I go to in my mind’s eye when the mundaneness of everyday life threatens to stultify my creativity when in sitting in front of the computer, cursor waiting for me to type in order for it to run its repetitive course of filling the screen with letters to form words, strung together to make a story (whether that story is worth reading is another matter altogether). Entering a black hole is a mesmerizing sequence as the crew of the Endurance fly through it in their search of a habitable planet across the known universe. That scene and others, are enhanced by the awe-inspiring visuals and ethereal sounds from Hans Zimmer’s resounding organ and symphony. The beauty and danger of the galaxy is on full display for Joseph Cooper and the rest of the crew. One scene that highlights in particular this dichotomy of beauty and danger is the planet Miller. The towering waves are a sight to behold, and capture the three sent down there in its beauty and majesty, but it also has the destructive capacity as it killed Doyle, who was unable to return to the craft before being swallowed by the continental sized wave. His body is shown moments later, lifeless, washing back and forth on the shore.

Interstellar

Is that not how most things beautiful in God’s creation are? The mane is a hazel crown covering the head of a lion, yet it surrounds the mouth which can kill most animals with a single well-placed bite. The roaring waters of Niagara Falls cascading in a symphony of rushing waves and misty air below is majestic, and the painted walls of the Grand Canyon help to show the immenseness of the canyon floor; but one wrong step at the edge of either landmark is met with a crushing death. Innumerable examples of destructive beauty exist in nature and Nolan’s film scratches only the surface of the vastness and danger of the expanse. But scratch hard it did. The first time I watched it was not on IMAX (something I truly regret) but on a small (for today’s standards) ‘32 inch screen at a friends’ house; yet I was still enthralled by the story and enchanted by the visuals and haunted by the soundtrack.

Though its conclusion was not as satisfying as the films journey, the sights and sounds along the way had me fully-engaged and agreeing with the Psalmist who captured my thoughts when I look to the stars: “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the skies above proclaim His handiwork.” They do indeed. And the more I look to the stars, the more I come to understand that verse in a fuller light.

Arrival.

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Memories are powerful. Good memories are cherished, while traumatic ones are abhorred. We don’t want to lose the ones we hold so dear but can’t get rid of those we’d rather forget. Memories shape us, determine many future actions through experiences learned, and can cripple or free us in living our everyday lives.

In Scripture it is written that God has a book. In it is written our life stories: birth, life, and death. All written before we were ever born. My birthday, August 15, 1987, was determined before time was time. God had it written that the last film I would watch with my Papa before he died, was the emotionally-beautiful Pixar animated movie, Up; a movie with a main character of Carl who encapsulated the humor and love of my Papa Pitts better than any movie ever could. That day was written, those memories formed,  all before I had a mind capable to have them. Now what if someone was given access, even for a moment, a look into that book? Amy Adams’ Dr. Louise Banks was given that opportunity.

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She was given a glance into that book; the choices she would make, the life she would bring into the world, and the heartache from that choice she would have to endure. Alien arrival plot aside, the crux of the story is of Dr. Banks and her living the rest of her life knowing what will happen to her, her child, and her marriage. With all that knowledge, she still, in her words, “Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it.”

She accepts her life: the beauty, the tragedy – all of it, with willing and welcome arms. And my life, though I cannot see what is to come, what has been written of me in His book, I plan to, by His grace, embrace, because it was written by a loving God and powerful Savior. “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

These two films, though works of fiction, touched something deep within me. More than most others they highlighted the truths about the beauty and vastness and danger of the universe, how it declares and proclaims the Glory and handiwork of God; and the memories we make with loved ones, and the days written out before us that we will walk in.

C.S. Lewis said at its vaguest notion of poetry, it is something which simply is “writing arouses and in part satisfies the imagination.” These films are beautiful. These films are art. These films are poetry.

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The Truth About Hope

In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane supposes that “there can be no true despair without hope”. Meaning that without a carrot dangling on the edge of a stick to falsely promise a reward, one can go numb to despair. I posit that the inverse is also true: there can be no true hope without despair. This is counterintuitive but is nonetheless true. To showcase this premise, I will employ three films which I think accurately depict hope in their proper context. As such I want to provide SPOILER WARNINGS for each of the three films here discussed.

Exhibit A: Dunkirk

In line for iPhone 8.

Let’s talk about the most recent film on this list first. Dunkirk is very light on narrative but is heavy with tone. Note that the tone makes a notable shift, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, I want to point out that the film opens by explicitly stating the British Expeditionary Forces at Dunkirk need a miracle. This would have been eye-rolling or pointless if the rest of the film didn’t explore why that miracle was necessary.

Soldiers are standing in queues, exposed on the beaches and waiting to be loaded onto ships that have to be docked in predictable and vulnerable fashion. It’s a turkey shoot for the Nazi Forces and those British and French men are the turkeys. The situation is so dire that the British have decided to requisition civilian vessels to aid in the evacuation. Evacuation: the whole movie is about a sorely neared retreat. It’s a long defeat playing out before the audiences’ eyes.

Even getting on board a ship is no guarantee, as bombers can sink them and being trapped in a sinking ship is hardly better than waiting for bombs on a beach. The hope of the film is shown from the perspective of Royal Air Force pilots who attempt to defend the retreat, and brave civilians who risk their lives to give their soldiers a ride home. In fact, the film takes a dramatic and emotional upswing when the fleet of civilian vessels arrive on the beaches and soliders clamour to load up and leave. J.R.R. Tolkien coined a term for this surprising event “eucatastrophe”. Eucatastrophe is a sudden change of circumstances from bad to good. Not everyone in Dunkirk saw it that way.

Hope comes in many shapes and sizes.

The soldiers see this as utterly inadequate and embarrassing. They expect to return home to ridicule and shame. Instead, they are hailed as heroes. How is this possible? An excellent exchange in the film does better than I possibly could explain. “Well done, lads!” “All we did was survive.” “That’s enough.” Merely surviving was a source of hope and inspiration to the island nation. It was a defeat, yes, but hope did not merely remain, it flourished in that defeat.

Exhibit B: The Lord of the Rings

Your mission: Walk this Ring to that volcano and if the flaming eye sees you, you’re dead.

Speaking of Tolkien, no discussion about hope amidst despair in films would be of merit if it failed to mention Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. These films perfectly encapsulate the concept of the eucatastrophe and hope. I could not choose just one film in the trilogy. Mostly because the trilogy’s arc so expertly expresses hope in its most truthful context. In a nutshell, the only hope this world has of surviving is to have a small, insignificant Hobbit march into the homeland of a tyrannical warlord without his notice and drop his magical ring into a volcano. The problem is expounded by the fact that this particular Dark Lord keeps very tight security on Mordor (the aforementioned homeland). It’s such a long shot that Gandalf, the free people’s preeminent source of wisdom, declares “There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope”.

Your mission: 300 player Horde Mode in real life. First wave 10,000 enemies.

The Dark Lord Sauron uses terror and psychological warfare to keep the Free Peoples down. The forces of Mordor go so far as to lob severed heads of captives into the besieged city of Minas Tirith. In one of the more emotionally impactful scenes of the trilogy, Gandalf comforts a young and terrified Pippin with the prospect of a peaceful afterlife. Not cheery talk, but teeming with hope nonetheless.

Your mission: Don’t die long enough for eagles to swoop in and save you.

The whole situation becomes particularly bleak when the majority of our heroes are mistakenly lead to believe the quest has ultimately failed and yet they continue to fight. Then eucatastrophe strikes. Frodo and Sam succeed in destroying the Ring of Power, effectively assassinating Sauron and defeating his forces. Hope, a fool’s hope, shone through at last- in the very hour of apparent defeat.

Exhibit C: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

It ain’t easy being blue.

Lastly, let us observe Batman v Superman’s depiction of hope. Hope is the essential trait of Superman. His role in the film is to be a beacon of hope to the people of a broken Earth that is too afraid of him to trust him. A good portion of the film is from the perspective of Bruce Wayne, a broken man who rejects the very idea of hope. He’s given up hope on humanity, his own crusade on crime, and even himself.

Day of the Dead is gonna be even more awkward next year.

Humanity continually doubts and rejects Superman throughout the film and the film’s antagonist, Lex Luthor, is outright hateful towards Superman. Every act of heroism is met with skepticism and Lex Luthor even has the Capitol bombed just to get to Superman and further enflame Batman’s rage. Humanity doesn’t have a firm grasp on hope at this point.

Sometimes Hope is little more than a good eulogy.

The unspeakable happens and Superman gives his own life to defeat Lex Luthor’s last gambit- Doomsday. In so doing, doubt about Superman and his good intentions are extinguished and he is elevated in martyrdom. Now memorialized, Superman accomplishes in Death what he never could in life: giving humanity the hope it needs to pick itself up and fight the good fight. His sacrifice even moves the ultimate cynic, Batman, to form the Justice League and defend humanity in much the same way Superman did. Hope sprung from death.

Conclusion:

Hope is just an empty word if there is nothing to hope for or against. If you, as a viewer, want to be inspired to hope or to grasp exactly what hope is, then you must be willing to accept a certain level of darkness and despair in your films. After all, hope is dependent on a gradient to flourish. We need context to appreciate the  gift of hope and those three films provide it in spades if you want to be truly inspired.

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The Jungle Book Struggles to Find it’s Own Beat

I was nervous as I sat down to watch the “live action” Jungle Book. (Can it be called live action when all but one character are animated?) The animals just looked too big in the trailers. They were too big, but it is less of a problem than I anticipated. The animals – THE ANIMALS are beautiful & very well animated. Excellent voice cast. Watching this movie you really believe that these are real animals with feeling and language.

THE JUNGLE BOOK

THE JUNGLE BOOK ? WILD WORLD ? Man-cub Mowgli (voice of Neel Sethi), who’s been raised by a family of wolves, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, guided by a panther-turned-mentor Bagheera. Directed by Jon Favreau (?Iron Man?), based on Rudyard Kipling?s timeless stories and featuring state-of the-art technology that immerses audiences in the lush world like never before, Disney?s ?The Jungle Book? hits theaters in stunning 3D and IMAX 3D on April 15, 2016. ?2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In spite of it’s animated inspiration, this is not a movie for young children. Unless they watch National Geographic specials all the time they will probably get scared at animals acting like animals, and some catastrophic natural events. I did appreciate that Mowgli actually had scrapes and cuts, even if they were tamed down for the film. Neel Sethi was a wonderful choice for Mowgli, even though he wasn’t always believable. It must have been difficult being the only actor in a sea of animation. Keeping that in mind as well as the fact that this is his first role in film, he did pretty well.

I appreciated the nods to the animated movie in the music cues, I truly did, but the movies biggest weakness was when it tried to BE the animated movie. King Louis singing? No, just no. That was painful. I even gave them Baloo singing, even though it didn’t quite fit. It is closer to the book and includes more of its flavor and worldview (elephants as creators, for example) than the animated movie. It should have stuck with that and left the singing alone. That sole change would have been a huge improvement. As is, I liked the movie, but feel a tad letdown that it wasn’t able to shine as its own creation.

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