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Opinions, Reviews, Top Films

My Top-10 Movies of 2021


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Another year of Covid-19 ravaging the world and closing, and opening, and closing the theatres again has made the year a pretty complicated to follow, as films keep on dropping to theatres, or streamers, or delayed, or something in between. These are my top ten choices for 2021!

1. THE POWER OF THE DOG

A slow-burner of a western, but one with big, rotten, beating heart. Benedict Cumberbatch shows his chops in a much more toned-down version of himself compared to what he’s been playing lately, and it works brilliantly. Jesse Plemons is grounded, doesn’t try to steal the thunder but stands firmly as an essential building block of the film, and Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee both fill the screen perfectly. Sprinkled with magical cinematography, a brooding soundtrack and a sturdy story, it’s definitely the best film of 2021, one that doesn’t make too much noise about itself, and might get swept away by big and loud ones like the Spider-Mans and Matrixes of the year.

2. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME

When superhero movies get their shit right, it’s a beauty to watch – and the new Spidey truly hits all the right notes. It’s not so much the story, which, honestly, makes quite a little actual sense, but the fact that some kids in the 60’s scribbled these crazy characters into comics, and steadily they’ve made their mark in cultural history over so many generations. And to see one era of those heroes being wrapped up in a billion-dollar-hit movie that brings together characters from all the previous movies, it’s a marvel to witness. Pure popcorn fun!

3. WHITE TIGER

I’ve grown to like the modern Indian movie industry more and more in recent years, so it was nice to see an Indian-American film making its’ way into Oscars in 2021 (for the best-adapted screenplay). The film tells a story of a cunning kid who finds a way to escape poverty by becoming a driver for a rich family. Things go wrong and the film becomes a commentary on the huge gulf separating the servant class and the rich in contemporary India and does it in a lush, Indian filmmaking way (no, no musical sequences, though). The story flows on like Ganges and production from acting to the camera and directing is strong.

4. SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF TEN RINGS

Wenwu (Tony Leung) and Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021.

Damn it, I feel a bit dumb having two Marvel movies in my top-5, but it’s undeniable: they had a very good year this year, and Shang-Chi was only a few inches less impressive than Spider-Man. I failed to really understand the meaning of the ten rings, but it didn’t matter – it felt like a proper Chinese epic dozed with American sensibilities and modern visuals, and had some of the most amazing action sequences in recent history (the bus fight… oh my god!), it was more popcorn fun, a great way to forget we’re fighting against a devastating pandemic for few hours. In these times, it’s a respectable achievement on its’ own.

5. DON’T LOOK UP

I wish I could’ve pushed Don’t Look Up a bit higher on the list, but unfortunately, it’s a very flawed satire, but an enjoyable one. Many have been saying it’s a commentary on the climate crisis, but I disagree: climate crisis films talk about a man-made crisis people refuse to fix since they are too dependant on their own lifestyle – an asteroid approaching Earth doesn’t really fit that scheme. Instead, Don’t Look Up is a film that discusses the ridiculousness of the two-party political system in the US, the over-politicization of each and every aspect of modern life, and the rampant science denialism, sprinkled with the tragedy that is the handling of the Covid-19 -crisis. The multitude of issues the film unfortunately somewhat collapses under include some very sketchy visual effects, annoyingly bad editorial and music score decisions, and a ridiculously expensive cast that serves no apparent purpose in the grand scheme of things (I’m sure Netflix will disagree with me on this). Still, the film leaves you feeling bad, maybe more so than having a good laugh, but points a big fat finger at the world we live in and the future we’re headed for. I can’t help to mention I did hear some, maybe unintentional and unrelated, echoes from Iron Sky in the film, but maybe that’s just me.

6. THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES

Dysfunctional families in a nice and kind way are great comedy fodder for family animations, and often produce a serviceable but not very intriguing results. The Mitchells vs. The Machines manages to spark some light into the rather worn-out genre by bringing in a robot apocalypse with loads of cultural references from Tik Tok -videos to films and more. I’m sure this year there’s been even better animations that came out, but I mostly missed them, but did enjoy The Mitchells – fast-paced, loaded with fun action sequences and a nice voice cast.

7. NO TIME TO DIE

NO TIME TO DIE, from left: Lashana Lynch, Daniel Craig, 2020. ph: Nicola Dove / © MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

Daniel Craig wrapped his duty as Agent 007 in No Time To Die, a humongously long but strangely emotional Bond film that entertained a host of fun new ideas, biggest one of them of course being Bond’s death (which, for the record, I don’t believe in any way; we didn’t see his dead body, so likely he made some kind of a weird escape and we’ll see him back in action in few years, different actor for sure but unharmed). Weirdly, the action sequences weren’t very remarkable, some nice chases and badass characters, but mostly, it was a film that finished one episode in our popular culture and made way for the next episodes. Despite the long runtime, I was entertained, but rarely really moved.

8. GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE

Being one of the few who didn’t hate the 2016 Ghostbusters, I went into the theatre expecting a fun brains-off entertainment in the extended universe of Ghostbusters – and was served with one. Mashup of Stranger Things and a mixed bag of Ghostbusters lore, Afterlife focused more on introducing a new set of characters than playing with the oldies goldies. I wasn’t remarkably enthusiastic about the new cast of characters, they felt like weak shadows of what the original ones were, with too much studio flavoring to make them last beyond this one film, but it was nice to see the three remaining ones still kicking some ghost ass in the end, and a weird revisitation of Harold Ramis‘ ghost which I think worked OK in the mix. Having said that, the third act was a carbon copy of the first film’s third act, which felt really sloppy writing for the most part.

9. THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS

Hated by many, the latest (and quite possibly the last) entry in the Matrix universe, Resurrections tried (and many times, failed) to do something different, and to that, I’ll have my hat off. It’s really hard to do a proper Matrix sequel, and both number 2 and 3 failed at it, trying to meticulously explain what was left unsaid in the first part of the series. None of the three sequels were needed, but Resurrections wanted to be a sequel of the 2020’s, self-aware and meta. Where it succeeded was grounding the story – something that both part 2 and 3 just decided not to worry about: it started off in what appeared to be in “real life”, like part 1 did, and stayed there long enough to be intriguing, but started to falter again when it fell too much in love with itself and wanted to explain everything, making the experience feel like being stuck in the matrix.

10. BO BURNHAM: INSIDE

I guess this one doesn’t really count as movie, rather a standup special, but one worthy of mention here, as it so well encapsuled the 2020-2021 lockdown depression cycle every artist had to go through. Taking a stab at every conceivable modern popular culture phenomenon from reaction videos to TikTok fame, Instagram emptiness to video games, comedian Bo Burnham crafted this meta-special in what appeared to be his home during lockdown, discussing the mind-numbing experience of being stuck inside, with nothing but depression and Internet to entertain you.

Opinions, Reviews, Top Films

Best Films of 2019


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1. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

irishmanThe Irishman is Martin Scorsese closing books on his mob quadrology, which started with Mean Streets (1973), followed by Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) and the 2013 spinoff The Wolf of Wall Street  (2013), which stuns with its’ tranquil pacing, subtle acting and a sad undertone of watching an old criminal rotting away in a retirement home, reminiscing his past life and crimes to nobody in particular. If this turns out to be also Scorsese’s last film, it’s a fine way to leave the field, saying: try topping this. We’ll never have stars like Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro again, and we’ll never get another Scorsese.

 

2. Joker (Todd Philllips)

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DC understood that in order to compete against Marvel, one has to come up with a bit of a different angle. They did it already with Christopher Nolan’s Batman, bringing a darker, grittier and harder-hitting version of their favorite superhero, and now they decided to do the same with a villain. Not to say they hadn’t tried, but Suicide Squad didn’t really work. And even more so, they tried two impossible things at the same time: to do a superhero film about mental illness and to challenge the greatness of Heath Ledger, who still is the best Joker out there. Somehow, they managed to do both, and while Joaquin Phoenix may not be better than Heath as Joker, he’s just as good.

 

3. Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker  (JJ Abrams)

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What a way to end the saga! The film, which was plagued by production problems with directors and writers going in an out of it, delivered a perfect ending for the Skywalkers! JJ Abrams managed to run the story with such precision, pacing and scale that it felt constantly fresh and new, while never forgetting its’ roots. Daisy Ridley’s Rey grows from a pretty bland character into a proper hero, and Adam Driver’s sheer charisma makes the connection between the two characters feel natural and organic. It’s a huge film and knows its’ duty: to end the 40+ years of film history with dignity.

 

 

4. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller)

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Apollo 11 is a gripping documentary that keeps you on the edge of your seat, crunching the armrests, knuckles white, breathing short, shallow gasps as in to make sure your presence would in no way alter the course of the tender wheels of human history unfolding in front of your eyes. Every school should include Apollo 11 into their curriculum, for it is not only an accurate documentary of events that changed the history of our race forever but also a hugely inspiring film, too, one that pushes you to reach beyond the limits of possibility in order to achieve something great.

 

 

5. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)

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In its’ core, Booksmart is very simply Superbad but with girls. It’s also every other teen comedy ever made; two girls who’ve spent their days getting straight As and missed all the high school parties decide to have one night of fun, for the first time, before moving away to different colleges across the country. The story has been told a thousand times, and we all can imagine what happens: they get drunk for the first time, they fall in love, they go crazy. It’s not really the story that works so well, but the whole execution of the film, the unhinged love which director Olivia Wilde, an actress herself, has managed to pull out of the shining duo Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Felster, both bound to hit big stardom in the ’20s.

6. Mestari Cheng (Mika Kaurismäki)

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A charming story of a Chinese cook who comes to rural, northern Finland with his son to find a long-lost friend and ends up setting up a restaurant serving rare Chinese delicacies to the grumpy Finns who probably never even seen a foreigner in their lives, but on TV maybe. Master Cheng, as the English title is, charms with its’ beautiful cinematography, cinematic scale and awesome, strange Finnish characters, whom Cheng interacts with his own, bull-headed style. Kaurismäki manages to make the story more than its’ parts and the feel-good nature of the film makes it a lovely watch.

 

7. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (Alex Gibney)

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2019 was all about fake news, and the order our world was established on – that if anything, the news are true – was shaken. This happened also in the unbeatable field of business, and The Inventor is a great dive into the world where wealth and money is everything. We have grown to believe that the business decisions made by the multi-billionaires have been established on their genial understanding of the business and the products they build, but with clear, sharp slashes, Alex Gibney’s documentary goes to destroy that belief. The Inventor both an uncovering of a fraud and a documentary of the person behind the fraud, a self-proclaimed Silicon Valley med tech goddess who sets on a mission to change the world.

 

8. Leaving Neverland (Dan Reed)

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Unearthing the old claims of Michael Jackson’s pedophilia relationships with kids who stayed at his mansion and toured with him wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard of. In Finland, we’ve had our own Michael Jackson -jokes (“väärä nappula”), as probably everywhere in the world and the fact that Wacko-Jacko, a revered musician, had this dark side was accepted as part of his myth, rather than the actual, life-destroying crime spree it actually was. While Leaving Neverland isn’t a tremendously built documentary, it fails to really build the characters of its’ subjects and tends to be scandalous and sometimes not that believable, but what it does it gives faces and history to the victims and shows the extent Jackson’s actions, and, interestingly, also challenges the families of the victims: why didn’t you do anything? We know the answer: they liked basking in Jackson’s starlight way too much to really stop what they for sure suspected was going on.

9. Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher)

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Now this is the right way to do a rock biopic! Pushing the envelope much further than Rocketman’s predecessor Bohemian Rhapsody did, the film goes to town with sex and drugs and rocks and rolls. Taron Egerton crashes the Oscar party with an impeccable show of force as an actor and Dexter Fletcher manages to keep the film that keeps on bouncing all over the room in some kind of leash to deliver a story that actually tells a story of Elton John‘s crazy years. Drawing connections between BoRap and Rocketman is easy, as the films are essentially the same. Where BoRap is simply better rock film because of Queen’s amazing music, Rocketman is probably a better film.

 

10. Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

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The star-studded cast and crazy intriguing premise delivered Tarantino a huge hit with Once Upon A Time, and rightly so. The beautifully crafted film takes one of the big Hollywood tragedies and re-writes the history, but does so with childish dream to crush the bullies, and while we know the events didn’t go that way, it’s an alternative history take, done mostly with respect (yes, Bruce Lee‘s depiction was not fair, but hey, it’s a fantasy movie). It’s fun and powerful film that leaves you gasping for air by the time you roll out of the theatre. Might not be Tarantino’s best, but is definitely on the top five.

 

Opinions, Reviews, Scifi

Review: Star Wars – The Skywalker Saga


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For over 40 years, Star Wars has ruled the box office. What started off as an insane dream by George Lucas, a young filmmaker from Modesto, California turned into anything but “modest”. Spanning at first through three movies, the first trilogy which begun from the fourth episode, followed by an extensive toy industry with animated series, a bunch of TV movies in the ’80s, finally petered out somewhere in turn of the ’90s. By that time, everyone knew Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader, we knew what a lightsaber would be, how it sounded like and knew exactly what color saber they all had.

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Darth Vader (played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones), probably the most iconic character of the whole saga, strangling an officer in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

The story was kept alive through the ’90s by a bunch of very successful games – both tabletop roleplaying ones and a good selection of PC game titles, such as X-Wing and TIE Fighter, Rebel Assault and Jedi Knight – while, unbeknownst to anyone, Lucas was writing his prequels.

When Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) hit the cinemas in the late ’90s., it was a major cinematic event. Followed by two more Episodes, the much-beloved franchise got its’ first serious fan backlash, too. While the cinema tickets sold like hotcakes, fans were not that in love with new elements, such as the Midi-chlorians, an attempt to explain the force through weird physics, and while some of the new characters were welcomed, like Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), some were loathed: Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) soon became the most hated character of the series, and once Lucas let go of the franchise after Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith (2005), Jar-Jar (along with the Midi-chlorians) disappeared like fart in Sahara.

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Young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) appearing in front of the Jedi Council in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Meance

After Episode III, it took quite a while for Star Wars to come back – ten years, to be exact. Again, during that time the story was kept alive by the toys and gaming industry, but the savior came from a surprising new place: Lego started to produce Star Wars toys, introducing the franchise to a third new generation. The Lego sets were followed by Lego Star Wars -games, which became hugely popular and the first stepping stone to the generation who had missed the first two trilogies. Simultaneously, animated Star Wars series, first Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005) and later Star Wars: Rebels (2014-2018) kept filling in the gaps between the trilogies.

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Rey (Daisy Ridley) became the torch-bearer of the Jedi legacy in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

When Lucas finally sold his Star Wars empire to Disney, the third series was inevitable. J.J. Abrams, who had successfully rejuvenated Star Trek back in 2009,  was hired to produce the first of the upcoming trilogy. When Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) hit the theatres, it crushed all the previous records and brought the story back to life with full power. Introducing a set of new characters, of which all managed to strike the right chords among the fanbase and the new viewers, Star Wars was again the biggest and the best in the cinema.

 

Fans did notice, though, that Abrams’ Star Wars was doing a disservice to itself by over-serving the fans: to some, it felt like a best-of of the original trilogy, bringing very little new to the scenario. The same elements were still there – The Empire, only now known as The First Order versus the Rebels, planet-size weapons capable of destroying other planets and the new Emperor/Darth Vader -characters – Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) with his apprentice, the troubled young Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – ruling over the galaxy. Still, it was clear that the Star Wars universe was welcomed warmly, and yet another generation was able to jump onboard the fun.

The Force Awakens was followed by a spinoff, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, directed by Gareth Edwards), which served as a film to tie one of the open ends of the original trilogy, telling where did the Rebels learn about the weakness in the Death Star. The film was grittier than Star Wars had been before, and after its’ success, a whole universe of Star Wars Stories was planned.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2018, directed by Rian Johnson), the second part in the latest trilogy, was received with even more fan backlash. While the critics revered it, the fans were less enamored. The film was more ponderous than its’ predecessors, but the problems were more script-related: some of the timelines the film presented didn’t seem to make sense and it didn’t take seriously enough some of the rampant fan theories and some of the setups The Force Awakens had put in place. Still, the film was a big hit in box offices around the world, and people were attuned to wait for the final part of the trilogy.

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The epic lightsabre battle of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2018) took place between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Before that,  though, Star Wars experienced probably the biggest slap in the face of the franchise in decades, when they ventured in the history of the most beloved character of the series, Han Solo. Solo: A Star Wars Story (directed by Ron Howard), which came out in 2018, wasn’t loved by the critics, the fans or the box office. It technically killed the Star Wars Stories -spinoff-series, trashing the plans of a Boba Fett -movie that was rumored to follow. It showed that the fans are willing to watch Star Wars movies, as long as the films take themselves serious enough, don’t tamper with old characters, and give us the adventure we are looking for, the good versus evil -battle in its’ true, pure form. Solo went against the grain, being maybe a bit too self-aware, too cocky and – unfortunately – too general to find a proper place in Star Wars universe.

Meanwhile, the games and toys industry grew bigger and bigger. EA brought Star Wars: Battlefront -franchise back to life and served two greatly loved Star Wars games to the gamers, while selling Lego sets, plushies, helmets… you name it, they had it. They did, though, find out the unfortunate fact of the Star Wars series – the most beloved characters, events, and elements were still the ones from the original trilogy. Nothing the follow-ups had brought up – save maybe Darth Maul (played by Ray Park) – could ever rival Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) or Boba Fett (first played by Jeremy Bulloch) or Jabba The Hutt (voiced by Larry Ward) or Han Solo (Harrison Ford), not to mention Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones).

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Star Wars: Battlefront (2015, Electronic Arts)

Finally, as the second decade of the 2000s was about to wrap up and the world was about to step in the Cyberpunk era of the 2020s, the last and final episode of the Skywalker saga hit the theatres. Not before The Mandalorian (2019-, created by Jon Favreau), a TV-series set in the Star Wars universe, another spinoff patching up some of the blank holes in the backstory, would premiere at the newly-established Disney+ streaming service.

The Mandalorian brought in rave reviews. Suddenly, the whole Internet was going crazy over a character named Baby Yoda (who, of course, can’t be Yoda since, well, Yoda is dead Jedi ghost these days). One would think that such a great response would pave the way for the grand finale of the film series, but again, the fan backlash was waiting just around the corner.

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Rey (Daisy Ridley) is about to find out the truth about her past in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019, directed by J.J. Abrams) was received with an extremely divided audience and critical response – the worst one in the series since the days of Lucas. To some, the fast pace J.J. Abrams, who returned to the helm after Rian Johnson’s previous “disaster” (as so many fans put it), was too much. To some, important characters were played in and out quickly, and the plot felt rushed and incoherent. Probably many just didn’t want the Skywalker saga to end, and had already chosen their side: this can not, should not, and will not be the end of it.

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Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian has captured the hearts of the Star Wars fans.

Simultaneously, The Mandalorian was continuing the story. It was beloved by the fans, and it had the first new, greatly beloved character in it – the mysterious Yoda-like child, whom we know very little of as of now. In some way, The Mandalorian‘s success could’ve even turned against The Rise of Skywalker. It was the Star Wars the fans wanted, not the film that tried to end it all.

The biggest problem with Star Wars, from the very beginning on, has been the fact that it’s not really built to follow an arc. Each of the trilogies is written independently and even each film within the trilogy is written independently, often directed by different directors, each with a strong need to bring a new angle to the ages-old Star Wars franchise. All this while Disney, the new owner of the franchise, is trying to keep the fans happy and buying the toys, paying the tickets to the films and the theme park rides. But still, for over 40 years, the series has leaned on characters and events devised by George Lucas in the ’70s, and nothing any of the new installments have brought on has stuck as hard as the stories and characters of the original trilogy.

And boy, they have tried. There was Darth Maul and the Pod Race in the second trilogy, loaded with huge galactic plotting schemes and backstabbings, but all of that was too confusing to really fall in love with. Then, there was Kylo Ren and Snoke, both of whom were just too much like Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader to really kick in hard. There was BB-8, the new robot – practically, a new R2-D2, and even bigger battles, none of which were able to outdo what Battle of Hoth did in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980, directed by Irvin Kershner). Now, we have Baby Yoda, while most of the characters of the original series are either dead or ghosts floating around in Jediversum.

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AT-ATs of the Empire attacking the Rebel forces during the Battle of Hoth in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The whole Skywalker saga said what it had to say in its’ first three outings, and nothing that was added to it, later on, was really needed to make the already epic story any stronger. Still, I’m really happy Star Wars has always been there, all through my life, in different forms, shapes, and formats. And now, as I watch the excellent The Rise of Skywalker ending the whole saga, I do feel sad and nostalgic. It’s not necessarily an end of an era – Star Wars, if you ask from Disney, is just gettings started – but it’s an end of a set of beloved characters whom I’ve known nearly better than any other characters from any other franchises, save The Lord of the Rings.

Looking back, I think the biggest mistake the series did was that it kept Lucas on for as long as it did in the director’s seat. I think he should’ve been kept as a guardian of the storyline, one through whom all the scripts would pass, one who would give guidance and direction to where the story would go – more like a showrunner – while leaving directing to others. This way, Episodes I-III could have stood the test of time better, and the whole series would feel more together. Also, I don’t think the Star Wars Stories were necessary additions since while I did like Rogue One, Solo did show the fact that Star Wars just isn’t for every director, and not every character needs to have a carefully laid backstory that’s force-fed to the audience; we like to make up the untold histories ourselves.

But all in all, Star Wars – The Skywalker Saga is an important franchise that deserves the acknowledgment in the annals of great sagas of modern times. It’s may not be the Lord of the Rings, but it’s the about the second best thing from that.

There’s a lot of directions the series can go from here, but I do hope they first focus on creating a big story arc and finding a franchise runner who can carry it through a series of upcoming trilogies/TV-shows/whatever it is they have in mind. Maybe it’s worthwhile to consult George Lucas once more since it’s from him where the most valuable assets the series has have sprung from. I’m excitedly waiting for the future, and will definitely be coming back to the 12+ movies and TV-series Skywalker Saga has to offer.

Thank you, George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, and others. You’ve given a lot to us.

Stars? Should I give a star rating to these 40+ years of Star Wars? How could I, even? It’s such a mixed bag… But it is a review, and I like giving stars, so here we go:

In short: A convoluted and mixed franchise, which relies heavily on the original trilogy, but manages to keep us entertained and grow and involve new viewers, generation after generation.

And here’s the film-by-film order:

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977, George Lucas)

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The beginning of the most epic adventure we’ll see, possibly ever, Episode V is a stunning work of art and adventure. To think, one film brought us characters like Darth Vader, C3-PO, R2-D2, Luke Skywalker, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca… Again, all in just one film. This was a momentous movie, like The Beatles coming together for the first time, which changed the whole film industry forever.

 

 

 

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

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Darker in the tone, and grander in the scale, The Empire Strikes Back nailed Star Wars into history, making it more than a one-hit-wonder, but a franchise to look out for. Introducing special effect techniques never seen before, even more unforgettable characters like Yoda, and continuing the adventures of the original heroes in such ease, the film is what every sequel should be.

 

 

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand)

Star_Wars_Episode_VI_Return_of_the_Jedi-351307626-largeMaybe just a bit too childish with the lovely, furry Ewoks, Return of the Jedi manages to bring in even more intriguing characters and making this grand adventure feel not just a story, but mythology, to which one just simply can’t stop falling in love with. The new set pieces – this time, jungle – give it a fresh breath of air, and the ending of the first trilogy is pure magic.

 

 

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999, George Lucas)

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George Lucas couldn’t keep his hands off the Star Wars and returned 15 years later to his creation, only this time, unfortunately, the magic was lost. The film has some amazing set pieces like the Pod Race, and a wealth of new characters, but the script stumbles trying to get us interested in the birth of the Empire and the internal struggles of the Senate. Not only that, but it also ages terribly – the VFX are nowadays sub-par, but they must’ve been that already back then – Terminator 2 had come out in 1992, that’s seven years earlier, and first Lord of the Rings was already in the making.

 

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002, George Lucas)

715aZ-gZP1L._SY679_Casting Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker was a mistake. While probably not a terrible actor, when he jumped onboard Star Wars franchise, he was way overshadowed by everyone else. He could not muster enough interest in the character, which, in its’ inner struggle would’ve needed a much stronger actor (luckily they did choose Adam Driver to play Kylo Ren to patch this up). The story itself introduces interesting concepts, like the Clones, but the film, while managing to rekindle some of the original Star Wars flame, was still too crappy to really have a character of its’ own.

 

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith (2005, George Lucas)

61nAp2cNlbL._SY741_While definitely the best of the second trilogy, not even the big space battles and the huge set pieces in the arena, or terrific Count Dooku (played by Christopher Lee) can save us from the mopy glances of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker, or such plot twists like “I have the high ground”. The visuals are better than in two earlier ones, but there’s way too much of everything for the film to look like anything but a mess.

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars (2008, Dave Filoni)

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The Clone Wars is the first animated feature film of the Star Wars series, based on the popular and liked TV series, which maps the time between episodes I and II. The film has a strong, unique visual style and has some very likable characters, but ultimately, it doesn’t feel like it really belongs in the saga instrumentally.

 

 

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015, J.J. Abrams)

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Just like he did with Star Trek, J.J. Abrams managed to walk into Star Wars franchise and blow some fresh air into it, without ruining it. The Force Awakens is a really strong, new start which brings back old legends and introduces new, interesting characters. It looks amazing, sounds amazing and rolls on with a fast but never rushed pace – just like the original trilogy did. The film does succumb to a lot of fan service and finds itself playing the best-of of the original trilogy, but hey, that’s what we came in here for, right?

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, Gareth Edwards)

MV5BMjEwMzMxODIzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzg3OTAzMDI@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_Darker than its’ predecessors, and the first of the Story -spinoffs, Rogue One manages to feel like a grittier version of the Star Wars saga, bleaker and more grown-up story which, firstly, doesn’t have a happy ending, and secondly, tells a story that’s not really part of the trilogies. The film goes to tell the backstory of the Death Star and introduces several quite dark set pieces, and while it does feel like it doesn’t belong really anywhere, it’s a great watch and a strong movie all in all.

 

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson)

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The Last Jedi is more ponderous and talky than its predecessors, with beautiful concept artwork sequences, but it’s a script that’s lacking: the story is incoherent, the timeline seems to be off and the film feels too serious in a wrong sense, too. We stay way too long with Luke in a forlorn island, while the Rebels are running away – quite boringly – from the New Order fleet. The story feels like a mashup of the new Battlestar Galactica and some weird Samurai movie of the 80’s. In addition to this, for some reason the visual effects seem more glowy and smooth compared to Abrams’ takes, and while the vistas are beautiful, they do feel like someone drew a beautiful concept art of a sequence which was then attempted to bring to life.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, Ron Howard)

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Solo was doomed to fail from the beginning: nobody can replace Harrison Ford, just like you can’t replace Arnold Schwarzenegger. He created possibly one of the most iconic characters of film history with Han Solo, and while Alden Ehrenreich does his best, he’s nowhere near the same ballpark as Ford is. In addition to this, the story feels like it’s not taking itself seriously enough; the film stumbles on as a gangster movie and a space opera, without being able to decide which one it actually is. Also, the backstory it gives to Solo is a pretty lame one.

 

 

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (201, J.J. Abrams)

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What a way to end the saga! The film, which was plagued by production problems with directors and writers going in an out of it, delivered a perfect ending for the Skywalkers! J. J. Abrams managed to run the story with such precision, pacing and scale that it felt constantly fresh and new, while never forgetting its’ roots. Daisy Ridley’s Rey grows from a pretty bland character into a proper hero, and Adam Driver’s sheer charisma makes the connection between the two characters feel natural and organic. It’s a huge film and knows its’ duty: to end the 40+ years of film history with dignity.

Reviews

Ghostbusters (2016) Review


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The stars have always been aligned wrong to the new Ghostbusters movie. Replacing the beloved classic’s all-male cast with all-female sounded like an unestablished gimmick rather than a properly-balanced decision. The first trailer gained several tonnages of shit from the Internet, and while the second did a bit better, the damage was already done. It unearthed the holy wrath of the fanboys and -girls, misogynists and Internet trolls – and although even the original cast was supporting the film, the marketing team failed to turn the tide on the expectations: Ghostbusters never had a chance of success.

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But honestly, the only thing the film fails in dramatically is in not being the film we all love to hate – because actually, it’s quite good.

When remakes are made they are usually quite soulless VFX extravaganzas that have lost both the originality and the heart in the process of trying to update them to the audience of 2010’s. I’m looking at you, Robocop and Total Recall. Ghostbusters dares to go further, trying to find the new soul to the film in where the soul usually relies: director and cast. Choosing Paul Feig, truly the Ivan Reitman of the new millennium, as the director and going all-female allows the update to really bravely go where remakes rarely get to go.

Having said that, the film is very, very, very American-audience oriented – and that’s one of its’ downfalls. The super-americanized comedy will lose in translation in any other languages, and dubbing will be nearly impossible task to reach the same level of banter and dialogue, which marks so much of today’s style of comedy anyway, which will mean it won’t have a lot of chances outside its’ core market. Having being banned in China, even the Eastern money won’t save the fact that Ghostbusters is a film made for Americans and all the business it’s going to make will have to happen mostly in America.

One of the topics raised also on the Internet discussions are that it’s counter-sexist – in this case, meaning sexism against men. That is acknowledgeable, yes, but the funny thing about sexism is that it’s a door that swings both ways, and it’s refreshing to see a film where men are dumb, or cute, or helpless and in need of a damsel to save them from distress.

The main strength of the Ghostbusters is the quintet, and it works really well: Melissa McCarthy is stellar and really carries the movie in her shoulders and when it stumbles she refuses to let it fall, while Kristen Wiig takes the main role of the most relatable character. Leslie Jones is plain crazy and quite fun, but much-praised Kate McKinnon‘s character Holtzmann doesn’t really do the trick for me. Maybe she’s trying to weird out too much and comes across mainly annoying, or maybe I’ve seen that role being played much better by other actors in the past… Nevertheless, the only man in the Ghostbusters group is the dumb blonde Chris Hemsworth, who is on the verge of exploding to a supernova of his own charisma, but Feig has toned and dumbed him down enough to make him not necessarily likeable, but a good social commentary if nothing else – this is how female characters are usually in movies of this kind, and now the tables have turned. The only thing really missing are relationships: there’s no believable love interests or relationships being born in the film, and even the McCarthy-McKinnon lesbian couple tingle has been toned down too much to really deliver.

Cameos are mostly redundant, but blissfully quick. There’ Ozzy and three original Ghostbusters (yes, Bill Murray is there, but he’s not really that good…) and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Slimer.

While Ghostbusters is definitely not worthy of its’ predecessor in 1984 (yes, it’s better than part 2, though), it’s a really fun and quite original, but definitely not without flaws. It remains to be seen whether the film makes enough dough to deliver a sequel, it’s not really looking like that, but there is much gas in the ladies still left. What resonates the most in the film is that it’s being made with loads of love and fun, real trust in the end result. It’d be shame if they weren’t given another chance just because Internet trolls did what they do best, bash women, and marketing team failed to swing the hatred to their advantage.

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Reviews

George Orwell’s “1984” and the power of doublethink in our current politics


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1984As a science fiction filmmaker, I’m always freaking out when the dystopian visions from different scifi writers turn from fantasy to reality either slowly or overnight. Having just finished my first time of reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it’s obviously more true than ever. The “Big Brother Is Watching You” –idea of all-seeing, all-controlling government that monitors every aspect of your life is obvious when reading about NSA’s operations uncovered by Edward Snowden and more recently, Russia’s plan to openly start doing the exact same.

But what sturck me hardest on even more acute basis on reading Orwell’s magnificent science fiction book was the term doublethink – which seems to be describing quite accurately the current political toolkit on especially the right wing side.

Doublethink is – and I’m quoting Wikipedia here – the acceptance of or mental capacity to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, especially as a result of political indoctrination.

In other words it allows you to both accept that certain piece of information is both true and untrue at the same time, and just go about your life with this fact in mind. Looking at the political campaigns of late – the Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign etc. – the one thing in common is that they are based on lies and false accusations and constant flooding of disinformation, which is blatant and obvious. But the most characteristic behaviour is the voters’ will to choose to accept these apparent non-truths, simultaneously understanding that they are and can not be anything but lies, but still allowing them to lead their voting behaviour.

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The master of doublethink.

And the politicians know this. Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and in Finland Timo Soini are using the people’s willing doublethink to push on, overtaking country by country and driving us into an Orwellian nightmare. The people have ceased to care of the truths, and are even defending the politicians for their blatant lies. This is what’s new – before, the politicians have lied to us, of course, but they’ve tried to cover the lies and when uncovered, they’ve lost the trust of the people. Today, the people say “I understand that this isn’t true, but in order for the world to become a place where I’m happy to live in, the lies are justified and I choose to believe they are true.” This is, in its’ very essence, what Orwell described as doublethink.

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In the book, the main character, mr. Smith, begins as a government drone in a cubicle, fabricating the past to fit the needs of the future. One day, he opens up a diary and secretly starts writing his own thoughts – not those fed by government – on the paper. Those words breaks apart the doublethink lifestyle he’s been leading, a woman emerges in his life and the proverbial excrement is ready to hit the fan.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the world has gone past the tipping point and nothing can be done to the world anymore. In our current, we’re not quite there yet, but moving swiftly towards it. If lie-fed cows like Brexit campaigners and Trump are allowed to lead, soon doublethink is not just a word, but a rule and anything contradicting it is thoughtcrime, punishable by not only death, but something even worse.

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four remains to be even more relevant than before. It’s a great read, not exactly easy holiday book (I took it with me as a poolside book to St. Martin, which gave it an interesting twist) but a thought-provoking and scary one. I’m yet to see the Michael Radford‘s film from 1984, starring stellar John Hurt, which I’m looking forward to very much.

★★★★★