Rob’s top 10 favorite movies from 2019

I thought I’d throw in my two penn’orth from across the Atlantic and chip in with a list of my favourite films of 2019. Now, I go to the cinema for one reason…entertainment. My education and work life has always tended to maths and science but film is for fun! As a result, some of my choices won’t be popular, but I’ve picked the films I enjoyed so much that I went back and saw them again and, on occasion, again, and will see again when they come out for home consumption.

In no particular order, here are my top film favourites of last year…

Shazam!
Given that my comic reading days were nearly fifty years ago, I never got into the alternate/extended universe thing and I’d never even heard of Shazam! and was mildly surprised to see it was anything to do with DC. But I thoroughly enjoyed it; a good balance of action, suspense, and humour.

Knives Out
I never saw Lucky Logan so Daniel Craig sounding like a Southern chap was a bit of a novelty, fortunately not one that was a distraction. The ensemble cast worked well together and the whodunnit aspect was excellent.

The Aeronauts
A pleasant period drama with a nice amount of suspense. Add to that the proven chemistry between Redmayne and Jones and you have a solid couple of hours entertainment.

Gemini Man
Yes, I enjoyed it! I really don’t know what all the negativity was about. Well choreographed action, Will Smith, technically accomplished effects, Will Smith, and a good story… what else do you need?

Jumanji: The Next Level
Enough was the same to feel familiar, enough was different to keep you interested. For me the high spot was Awkwafina channeling Danny DeVito… priceless!

The Good Liar
Mirren and McKellen together at last and it was well worth the wait. I’ve loved both of these two for years and seeing them together did not disappoint. Oh… the story was a cracker too!

Rocketman
I’ve had a soft spot for Elton John since the 70s. I liked his music but then he did a free, impromptu concert after the band that was booked for our Valedictory Ball bailed on us with about four hours notice (Google “Elton John Shoreditch College”… I think it’s still out there somewhere) so this was a no brainer for me.

Captain Marvel
Why this rather than Avengers: Endgame? I’m not sure really. Maybe I prefer an origin to an epitaph, maybe I liked seeing the generation of the superhero to save us all from Thanos, maybe it was Goose the Flerken, I don’t know. All I know is that I loved it.

Alita: Battle Angel
Awesome special effects! I know that is something that you see in practically every film you see these days but this one took the biscuit for me not only for the action but for the characters. Just captivating.

Cats
There! I said it! Another film I don’t know where the hate came from. It was a fantasy film with gorgeous dancing and nice tunes. If you get the opportunity go and see it without any preformed opinions.

Honourable mentions for Stan And Ollie, Official Secrets, and Red Joan.

Jill’s Top Ten Movies of 2019

Dan’s top 10 favorite movies from 2019

Golden Man’s Top 10 Films of 2019

Dan’s top 10 favorite movies from 2019

It feels like Avengers: Endgame came out years ago. Was it really just this past spring? But it would hardly matter what year it came out — it would have been the best movie.

Here’s my top 10. I’m not going to just pick the 10 movies I rated the highest. (I gave Uncut Gems an A, but I hated it.) These are the movies that stood out to me.

Avengers: Endgame
Has there been a movie with greater expectations? Perhaps Star Wars: Phantom Menace, and we know how that turned out. I feel like the Russo Brothers, and everyone involved with Endgame should get a standing ovation. They took those expectations and surpassed them. And this came only two short weeks after the utter failure that was the Game of Thrones series finale. With everything going on in the world it was such a relief to not be disappointed.

Yesterday
What a charming movie, as one would expect from Richard Curtis, the writer of Love, Actually. This is my favorite of all the movies from 2019 that aren’t three-plus hours long.

Ford v Ferrari
Everything about this movie was spot on. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is that the story itself isn’t particularly inspiring. At least not to me. But as movies go, this one didn’t miss a beat. It couldn’t have been better.

Toy Story 4
Another movie with high expectations and another hit. It was brave of the writers to close — we think — the Toy Story saga on such a transcendental  note. I like it.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
Some of this movie was hard to watch, but that’s Tarantino.

Spies in Disguise
I think this might have gone overlooked. It was fun to watch and the message was fresh.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw
There’s no doubt that this is a formulaic action/comedy. But it’s formulaic done right.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters
I feel no shame in admitting that I’m a Kaiju groupie.

Long Shot
I don’t get to see a lot of comedy/romance movies, but I’m glad I caught this one. It’s not Romancing the Stone good. But it was good.

Terminator: Dark Fate
I know this one didn’t perform up to expectations, and the writers definitely made some questionable calls on character development and arc. But looking past that, the good outweighed the bad.

RunPee Jilly’s Top Ten Movies of 2019

Golden Man’s Top 10 Films of 2019

RunPee – Our 2109 Movie Review Rankings (and who was stuck with the worst films!)

 

Star Wars – Top Seven Reasons to Watch The Mandalorian Now (No spoilers)

If you’re a Star Wars fan burned by uneven movies in the franchise, you should  enjoy The Mandalorian. Available only on the Disney+ premium channel, these short but extremely competent episodes in the Star Wars lexicon need to be seen and savored. It’s giving the concurrent Rise of Skywalker a serious run for the money. As it should.

While only one season is available yet, “I have a very good feeling about this.” Creator Jon Favreau is a superb choice to run this first live action Star Wars TV series. If you binge the 2019 season all at once, you’ll have five hours of excellent viewing to enjoy. Here’s why you should watch The Mandalorian now.

Seven Reasons to Love The Mandalorian

  1. It’s not connected to the Skywalker Saga. In fact, no one you know is in it! Only die hard Star Wars fans will notice the fun nods to continuity. Yup. The fanservice is just right. And no, the titular Mandalorian isn’t Boba Fett… Enough retconning already.
  2. New timeline. The episodes occur between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. This is uncharted territory. The Mandalorian feels entirely new and entirely right.
  3. New characters and plots. This isn’t tethered to elite Force families or planet-killing weapons. We don’t balance the Force, tell half-lies, or worry about evil fathers. It’s about small stories with intimate stakes. No prior Star Wars knowledge needed! Understanding the Original Trilogy helps, but isn’t required.
  4. The episodes look like a million bucks. Actually, $12-15 million apiece: Disney+ spared no expense for The Mandalorian. Each episode is like a mini-movie. It’s blatantly gorgeous, in that trademark Original Trilogy “lived-in” way.
  5. This FEELS like Star Wars, even if tonally it’s a space Western instead of a rollicking adventure serial. The Mandalorian also sounds like Star Wars, despite lacking a John Williams score. Mood-wise, place it between Rogue One and the first hour of A New Hope. It’s both a spare and moving story, and gets better with each installment.
  6. The Mandalorian is highly rated. Rotten Tomatoes gives the show a 94% Critics Score and 93% Audience Rating. This might be the least divisive Star Wars outing in decades. Maybe ever.
  7. Finally, there’s something really cute here. But not too cute. (No Ewoks; thank the Maker.) It’s a MacGuffin, but a welcome one. Fortunately, the trailers don’t spoil the reveal. Feel free to watch them both.

The Mandalorian, Overall

You don’t need Peetimes to watch The Mandalorian because TVs have pause buttons, but so far — and may the Force be with us — it gets the RunPee Seal of Approval. I can’t wait for Season Two next fall.

Have you watched The Mandalorian yet? Discuss what you think of the Disney+ show in the comment section below.

The 6 Most Epic Lightsaber Fights in Star Wars (plus 3 that didn’t make the cut)

Movie Review – Star Wars – Rise of Skywalker (spoiler free)

13 iconic scenes from Star Wars you won’t have missed if you had the RunPee app

Star Wars Analysis – What does balance in the Force mean?

star wars the last jedi the force
Are we balanced yet?

Since we first saw The Phantom Menace in 1999, audiences wondered what precisely it meant to bring balance to the Force. Anakin Skywalker was prophesied to “bring it” and at the time, we all assumed it meant to bring more Light Side and less Darkness. Which made no sense, since we all knew who Anakin would grow up to be. He wasn’t going anywhere good until the very last 20 minutes of Return of the Jedi, when he pitched the Emperor over a railing…and died.

There’s been confusion over this ‘balance’ aspect since then. Was Anakin Skywalker’s whole life and six movies leading up to him tossing said Emperor? THAT was bringing balance to the Force? Not too impressive after so much build-up.

Integration is the answer

I always ascribed to a Jungian philosophy, where one needs to balance the anima and animus, or in other words, walk a line between light and dark. We all have aspects of good and evil within. It’s what we choose to do with our potential that makes us who we are. And it seemed that Star Wars creator George Lucas was telling us only the Light made right.

Well, fast forward a couple of decades plus three more films, and it turns out that I — and Jung — were not wrong. It’s kind of unbelievable it took 42 years from A New Hope until The Rise of Skywalker to make it clear what a “balance of the Force” meant. Succinctly: if there were going to be a lot of Jedi Knights, their Light would be spread pretty thin. And that with only two Sith (roughly) at any time, each of the two would have an equal power of Dark, shared among the Master and Apprentice. This isn’t exactly what I (okay, and Jung) had in mind, but balance definitely did NOT mean destroying Dark Side users and embracing only the Light. Or the inverse.

From what I can tell after the finale of the nine-part Skywalker saga, Force balance means each aspect will have an equal amount of…let’s call it life power…at any one time. This is my theory, at least.

Spoilers follow for Star Wars up through Rise of Skywalker.

In Rey’s communal message from all the Light Side Jedi, you can clearly hear Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) tell her to bring back the balance, “as he did.”

Um. Did he? Maybe he wanted Rey to throw Palpatine into another pit? I just don’t think that was the endgame after all this heavy world-building. I was very glad there was more to it than that.

When Anakin was The Chosen One, there were a lot of other Jedi out there. And two (or more, depending on if you include Count Dooku and General Grievous) Dark Force/Sith users. So, if his job was to bring balance, it wasn’t the good thing anyone hoped for. He brought balance by killing off almost every Jedi in existence.

After he became Dark Vader we had two Sith Lords (he and Palpatine) on the one side, and two Jedi, with Obi-Wan and Yoda, on the other. Actually, that sounds a lot like balance, doesn’t it?

A Ceaseless Cycle of Balance and Unbalance?

When Luke and Leia were born, there was a potential to throw off the balance again, unless one of the twins went Dark and the other went Light. Or neither could use the Force at all. When both became users of the Light, and Luke built his New Jedi Academy to make more Light Force users, right there the universe had a problem again.

If the natural course of existence is to seek Force balance, that meant either some of the students would turn mildly Dark, or one would become very Dark. We got a combo: I think the Knights of Ren were an example of the “some,” with Ben Solo — now Kylo Ren — being the very strong one. We also had powerful Dark strength in Snoke (created in a tank), and Palpatine (essentially a Force zombie).

Who was left to carry the Light half of the equation?

Kylo Ren killed the rest of the Jedi students, so what remained was a lot of Dark Side users, plus Luke (exiled), Leia (retired), and Rey (an unknown). It made sense for Kylo to be conflicted — the Dark Side wasn’t stable.

Of course, now we know Kylo Ren turned to the Light, Rey nearly turned to the Dark, and finally, only Rey remained…with, I suppose, aspects of both. The Kylo/Rey Dyad was broken, but somehow balance emerged.

I’m guessing here about Rey having access to both Light and Dark going forward. There’s no direct indication of where the Force is headed next, or if we get any final closure, ever. Rey buries the lightsabers of Luke and Leia. She lights her new sword: a yellow one made from her quarterstaff, and watches twin suns set over Tatooine…

And the familiar, final Star Wars score begins. Cue the credits.

In The Last Jedi, we saw BroomSaber Boy at the coda, so clearly there are Force potentials out there. In Rise of Skywalker, it appears Finn is Force-sensitive. Maz Canata has some Force abilities. And Rey has all the books of Jedi lore she swiped from Planet Ahch-to.

What does all of this mean, and where do we go after Rise of Skywalker?

I’d like the Force to stay balanced for a nice long while.

I’d really like to think we’re done with the Skywalkers. I was happy one of my guesses about Rey’s parentage proved true, and I’m content to stop the saga now. It would be nice if future movies didn’t involve rebels and fascist regimes.

If I have my way, new characters can allude to whatever Rey and her ghost friends decide to do. Establish a Force Academy that actually teaches balance, perhaps, but don’t make a movie about it. Follow some of the great Star Wars Extended Universe tales as the “New” New Republic rebuilds, rooting out the last bastions of the Empire/First Order/Final Order/Whatever. Something great could be based on the EU’s Grand Admiral Thrawn trilogy, for example. The EU is no longer considered canon Star Wars, but the movies already started cherry-picking storylines from those books anyway.

I really don’t care, as long as the next movies are well made and a pleasure to watch. Star Wars no longer needs to be tethered to Skywalkers, Palpatines, Kenobis, or even Solos. (Although I wouldn’t mind a Lando movie with Donald Glover. He was the best part of Solo.)

We don’t need another set of trilogies establishing how the Force gets balanced/unbalanced, why Rey’s lightsaber is a new color, or if Chewbacca ever goes home to Kashyyyk.

Enter The Mandalorian

If you managed to catch the first season of The Mandalorian on Disney+, it’s clear how much can still be done properly in the galaxy far away and long ago. Jon Favreau gets it: The Mandalorian is very, very good. It takes its sweet time crafting an interesting tale in the storytelling gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, without relying on old characters or well-trodden tropes.  I look forward to season two.

So far, balancing the Force isn’t a Mandalorian theme. Nor does it seem to be about achieving immortality, which is what the Skywalker Saga really boils down to.

Do you think Rey brought balance to the Force? Will her story continue, or should Star Wars follow The Mandalorian’s lead and tell new tales? What do you want to see Lucasfilm and Disney do with Star Wars next?

Star Wars Revealed: Obi-Wan Kenobi is a lying liar who lies

The 6 Most Epic Lightsaber Fights in Star Wars (plus 3 that didn’t make the cut)

A Meta-Side Discussion of the Force, and how Star Wars Ultimately Failed:

The Force is dead. Long live the Force.

The Force is dead. Long live the Force.

<rant>

I saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker twice over opening weekend — just to make sure the Peetimes were spot on.

The good news is that it’s an enjoyable film, if you just don’t think about it too much. But if you’re like me, and you can’t help it, you’ll find that you like the movie less and less.

Who made this mess?

To be fair, it isn’t all J.J. Abrams’ fault. Lucas crapped on Star Wars way back in the Phantom Menace with the whole midichlorian debacle. I remember there was considerable optimism when Disney announced Abrams was going to oversee the Star Wars franchise, but I’ve seen enough of Abrams to know that he wasn’t going to fix the Force. If anything, he’s made it worse.

What I love about the Force?

Star Wars: A New Hope introduced audiences to this mysterious but ubiquitous Force. “May the Force be with you,” is one of the most memorable movie quotes ever. It sounds like saying, “Good luck,” but goes much deeper than that. Deep down it’s akin to the Buddhist concept the Middle Way, or Eightfold Way — don’t stray too far in the direction of indulgence or austerity.

When they get it right in the movies, may the Force be with you translates into: may you take the path laid out by the Force and find your way to an end that is balanced between extremes. 

The Force feels right because it acknowledges that good and evil aren’t intrinsic to an action. A shark eating a seal isn’t evil. Sharks must eat to survive. And in hunting the seals they keep the seal species healthy. When an ecosystem loses its predators the prey often increase in numbers to such an extent they threaten not only their own survivability, but the survivability of the entire ecosystem. Like the Force, an ecosystem works best when there is balance.

Bringing balance

The Dark Side of the Force represents greed; the desire of power for the sake of power; killing for sport, not survival.

But if that’s so, then there must be an opposing Light Side of the Force, which is the desire to do good for the sake of good. This light side of the Force is only hinted at in the movies. And this is where the mistakes begin.

The Force Bible

I don’t believe Lucas or J.J. Abrams ever intentionally sat down and wrote a bible for what the Force is and how it works. It’s the storytellers’ prerogative to keep the audience mystified. When done properly, it works wonders. But a storyteller can’t keep themselves in  a mysterious place  of making things up to suit a preconceived outcome.

Both Lucas and Abrams keep the Force vague  so they can make it work the way they needed it to, in order to tell the story they wanted to tell. Any skilled storyteller would tell them that approach doesn’t work. (Okay, they’ve made billions, so I guess it works, but they end up producing high caloric stories: they feel good when we watch them, but we feel like crap later when we think about it.)

Better storytelling

Good storytelling involves defining a universe and its characters so they tell the story. Once you have a well crafted character, they will tell you what they would do. The author telling the character what to do is cheap and obvious. And that’s essentially what we get out of Star Wars stories today. We’re told everything that happens. There’s no figuring things out; there’s no feeling of synthesis as disparate threads inevitably weave together in an outcome that couldn’t have been predicted, but seems obvious in afterthought. No, in Star Wars there’s only characters acting inconsistently to achieve the outcome of Lucas/Abrams’ vision.

Fixing the Force

There’s almost no fixing the mess they’ve made without a reboot — and that’s not going to happen. The only solution I see going forward is to introduce another Yoda-like character who re-explains the Force and how it works. They would need to reimagine much of the existing canon created in the Star Wars universe, but they’ve been wildly inconsistent so far. Why stop now?

First and foremost, drop any genetic relationship to the Force. That’s just absolute crap from the start. It’s absurd to think that gurus, saints, or prophets,  can pass on their knowledge genetically. Why should it be any different for the Sith and Jedi? What can be passed down is the teaching.

Also, by making the Force a genetic trait it creates elitist royal bloodlines of the Skywalkers and Palpatines. While the concept of the Force feels real on some level it’s a real turnoff to think that true mastery of this mysterious Force is off limits to we plebeians.

There are numerous examples of Jedi talking about “balance in the Force.” It’s time to formally adopt the concept of the Middle Way, by acknowledging that good and evil are the same as positive and negative charges in particle reactions and will always be conserved. For every good there will be an evil, and visa-versa. And as such, the power of the light side of the Force, represented by the Jedi, will always be balanced with the dark side of the Force, represented by the Sith.

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In Phantom Menace there were hints of this. The Jedi were described as impartial arbiters of the galaxy for thousands of years. As such, they didn’t intend to do good or bad, but only arbitrate and enforce contracts/laws. However, as time went on they grew inclined to take sides in some situations and do what they thought was right/good. In doing so they created the imbalance in the Force and thus gave rise to the power in the dark side, themselves.

It’s a common and compelling trope that the protagonist unwittingly creates its own opposition.

Hold on, you say, there were lots and lots of Jedi and only two Sith in Phantom Menace. True. But as I’d recommend, the combined power of the two Sith alone balance out the combined power of all the Jedi combined.

This introduces another interesting plot twist: Darth Maul and Palpatine share all of the power of the dark side of the Force. Even though Palpatine is the Sith master, it still leaves an incredible amount of power for Darth Maul. Making any fight between Maul and any individual Jedi unfair. However, as Maul, and later Vader, kill off the Jedi, they are inevitably killing off their own power. The balance is continually maintained. If Palpatine truly had every Jedi killed then he would be left powerless. And by using the dark side he would inevitably recreate his own opposition. There’s no way around it.

Transcendence through Gnosis/Knowledge

Wait,  there would be one way around it. During the climactic confrontation in Rise of Skywalker I momentarily thought Rey might possibly take the following approach. She could come to a new understanding of the Force, that while the balance must be maintained it can be maintained inside one person. She could have mastered both the dark side and the light side simultaneously. Making her inconceivably more powerful than Palpatine, who was limited to only the dark side.

It would have been an ending similar to The Matrix, when Neo realized that he was beyond the rules, and could create new rules as it suited him. Once Neo achieved gnosis/knowledge, he moved beyond his adversary, who was still rooted in the rules.

Imagine the satisfaction of seeing Rey achieve a level of gnosis/knowledge —where she could contain all of the dark and light side of the Force — continually balanced, like the Hindu god Dattatreya who contains the triad Brahma/creator, Vishnu/preserver, and Shiva/destroyer as one.

That’s the story I want to see. I guess I’ll have to write it myself.

</rant>

Movie analysis – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

 

The End of Skywalker – the Rise of…Something

Spoilers ahead for Rise of Skywalker!

As of this second, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. Episode IX. Are they still actually numbering them? I don’t know…

That’s really it… I don’t know… I DON’T know…

I’ll start with something easy. This was leaps and bounds better than The Last Jedi. But I don’t think that’s a very great standard to compare against.

Where The Last Jedi was like an extended version of the title crawl, through the whole movie, The Rise of Skywalker moves too fast. The team has sooooo much to do and so little time to do it.

Imagine if Avengers Endgame didn’t have 3 hours to give us the relief of seeing Thanos brought to justice. Bring us up to speed on the 5 year time gap. The hope in the form of quantum realm time travel. The hops through time for each heroes’ missions, and the final battle with the fan service and story telling we needed.

If Avengers had to do all the same things, with 40 minutes less… I don’t think it would have worked.

That’s how this final installment of the Skywalker Saga felt.

Wasted Opportunities

Emperor Palpatine was wasted as a character. Glimpsed early on with some important story. But absent, except as a threat, until the end of the film.

The First Order’s Supreme Leader is Kylo Ren. But his role makes no sense based on the past bad guys to hold that type of role. Palpatine and Snoke.

While they were very uninvolved and more the “man behind the curtain”, Kylo is a very “on the ground” or “frontlines” type. That DOES make sense for Kylo based on what he really is. A warrior. There is a character that acts like the man behind the curtain, or a Grand Moff Tarkin type, and this leads to the feeling that Kylo isn’t really in charge. But not in the same way as the power struggle between Kylo and Hux in VII and VIII.

Rey. She earns some of her role as the last Jedi, finally, in this movie. But she is still very much over-powered. Things are not explained. Like why every Jedi lives within her. She has a new Jedi instructor. It’s something that comes very much out of left-field because there has been very, VERY little set up for it based on what was shown later in this movie. This surprise just hasn’t been well planned.

Rewind to The Last Jedi really quick. When Kylo hesitates and the storm troopers blow up the bridge of the ship with Leia on board, and she seems gone, only to use the Force and pull herself back from death and the vacuum of space. At least we had the knowledge that she is a Skywalker and that she is Force-sensitive, from her directing Lando to rescue Luke back in Empire Strikes Back. We had some set-up that she could use the Force. So that little bit of Force magic used to save her own life is something we can accept.<

More Issues to Unsnarl

Back to this new movie. Suddenly there is another person that learned from Luke and can teach Rey. But didn’t offer to back when Luke was MIA… The backstory that we need for this to make sense is finally given to us later in this movie. It is both an “Oh! THAT’S how this person knows enough to train Rey,” and a “Why did you need to do that?! Luke’s Force ghost could still train her in the ways of the Force!”

Kylo and Rey… Its seems to me that the only planning for the trilogy was that these two would have a conflicted love story. His interest in her started with her ability to block his mind reading. And he became obsessed with her from then on. Jealousy over Luke’s/Anakin’s lightsaber. (Don’t even get me started on this plothole/retcon. How is it somehow a working weapon, in one piece, after the events of The Last Jedi?!?!)… Her seemingly unearned skill with the Force. Then their Snoke influenced connections during TLJ. They were being pushed together, culminating in Kylo offering Rey to rule by his side.

Let’s face it. He wanted to carry on the Skywalker line with her.

New Force Powers

There is more of that here. But suddenly there are new Force powers influencing their — previously — Snoke-influenced connections. There is even a Romeo and Juliet end scene type of moment with them.

I’ve gotta be honest. There are jokes and memes about random movies and characters being a better love story than Twilight. I think we’ve finally found a love story that is worse than Twilight. Just my opinion, of course…

There is one “new” Force power that can be kind of accepted easily. “Kind of,” because Star Wars fans have only been teased with the idea of it once before. So, it existed before all of this. But suddenly it is very real and is being used a few times.

The Big Twist

To me it didn’t come off as big a shock, as we are certainly meant for it to be. They hint at it in an earlier scene of the movie, which is why i wasn’t surprised. But really, the very obvious hint could have been misleading. It’s a new Force power for this character, but one we’ve seen used by at least two other Star Wars characters. So the revelation could have gone either way. The twist is, of course, Rey’s lineage. We learn who her family is, even if we don’t learn where they’ve been before all this.

So…what, overall?

Feelings throughout the movie: the movie moved so fast that there were only a few chances for real emotion throughout. There were some good laughs out of the droids and a new character. A short sequence from the main team. Then there were three scenes that tugged on the heart strings. One of them was fully expected due to real life circumstances. Most of us know what happened shortly before The Last Jedi released and knew Leia would be leaving us, because there was no other choice. Its really remarkable just how much this character was in this movie.

The other scenes involve one of the strongest characters in the series. The second of this character’s scenes really show us a side we’ve never seen before. It’s a gut punch, and just like the first of this character’s big scenes, because of the pace of the movie, it’s over too fast.

There is one big battle in the movie. As there needed to be. But in a lot of ways it made little sense. The battle kind of dragged on, while the big characters had their slow plot dump scenes.

The Knights of Ren, much like the Emperor, were wasted. We didn’t get to see them in action the way they deserved with their status among The First Order. The only real fight we saw with them was pretty much like Hela’s arrival on Asgard in Thor Ragnarok. And I’m not saying that they were Hela in this fight… I’m also not saying that Rey was Hela in this fight…

The film closes where the saga began back in the 70s. We get some quick nostalgia, and a reveal for the reason of the title of the movie. There was a bit of a cheesy heartfelt, yet weird, expected moment at the end.

Since I kind of have to boil it down… I’m kind of just “meh” about this movie. Somewhere between a C+ and a B-.

The timing, length, real world events, and a poor predecessor really hurt it.

The political subplot in Knives Out that tells the real plot

Knives Out - MartaYou may go into Knives Out thinking it’s a murder mystery, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but that’s not what the movie is really about.

Let’s start by acknowledging that Rian Johnson, the writer and director, did a masterful job. Everything about this movie is top notch. In my book it’s a perfect A+++…

There are numerous flashbacks in the story but it’s never confusing. Everything fits together seamlessly and comes together in an unexpected ending.

The humor is outstanding and it feels real, not manufactured or forced, as it is in most movies that try to be funny.

The who-done-it aspect of the mystery is creative and not at all formulaic.

That’s all I can say without giving anything away. If you haven’t seen the movie yet then I hope I’ve convinced you it’s worth your time and money. Now go away because… SPOILERS AHEAD. I hope you come back later and read the rest, because there’s much more to this movie than meets the eye.

[ Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned. ]

If you’re still reading I assume you’ve seen the movie. When did you notice that the movie wasn’t just a whodunit mystery but was also making a profound political statement contrasting immigrants/immigration against white entitlement? For me it was around the time the first family member, I think it was Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), said to Marta, “I wanted you to be at the funeral but I was out voted.” (A very typically American way of saying: the reason you weren’t invited wasn’t that we forgot about you. We actually discussed it and no one wanted to include you.)

Right away we see the schism between the way Harlan (the father played by Christopher Plummer) has treated Marta and the way all his children treat her: dismissive. Marta is Harlan’s real confidant. The only one who really listens to him for who he is, not what he can do for her.

Oh but wait,” you say. Marta was employed by Harlan to be his caregiver. He paid her for what she gave him. Yes and no. We know from detective Blanc’s (Daniel Craig’s) questioning that Harlan paid her a flat fee and that initially she worked 15 hours a week but that her working hours grew over time, but not her pay. Sure, she was there for the income, not out of pure generosity. But she gave everything she had: an increasing demand on her time, her expert care, and her friendship.

In Harlan’s heart Marta, the child of an illegal immigrant (a Dreamer), became his daughter, while his genetic/legal family treated him like the money grubbing, entitled, untalented, self deluding, sycophants they are.

Question: what does Harlan represent?

I believe Rian Johnson, the writer/director, uses the character of Harlan to represent something along the lines of the American Spirit. He’s old; he’s successful; he’s wise in a way that he realizes he’s made mistakes and wants to try and fix them. He says to Marta that he was perhaps too generous to his children and didn’t encourage them enough to make it on their own.

Even Linda, the self made woman, is portrayed as successful only because her father gave her the business loan to get her where she is today. At the same time Linda looks down on her brother Walt, the publisher, for only managing what her father gave him, but never creating anything on his own.

Walt, I think, represents the portion of corporate America that wants to bleed the common people dry. Those corporations that don’t do anything creative or constructive themselves, but have a position of influence and wealth they can use to harvest the resources of America for their own gain. Just as Walt wants to harvest his father’s books into movies for greater profit while himself contributing nothing.

There’s a crucial scene in the movie where Marta is at the memorial service and has a flashback to the birthday party on the night of Harlan’s death. The scene starts in the middle of a family argument about immigration politics, apparently immediately after Joni, the daughter-in-law, said something negative about Trump, to which Richard, the son-in-law, responds, “I don’t like him either, but maybe he’s what we need.”

Joni is the ditzy family hanger-on that thinks she’s enlightened — the rest of the family tolerates her at best.  She’s the lone voice supporting the rights of immigrants during the family argument. However, when push comes to shove, she’s just as duplicitous and scheming as the rest. She has been taking advantage of Harlan’s generosity by double-dipping for her daughter’s college tuition.

There’s no point even discussing the young grandson Jacob who is a nazi wannabe. (Grammatically, the noun “nazi” should be capitalized but I’m not going to dignify it with a capital “N”.) I only wish instead of Richard saying that young Jacob was in the bathroom “masterbating to dead deer,” he had verbitized the noun master race to become, “Masterracing to pictures of dead deer.”

And then there’s Ransom. Oh, they did a number tightly weaving this character into both the mystery plot and the political subplot. Ransom is so undeserving that even his undeserving family thinks he’s worthless. Ransom cares for nothing other than maintaining his lazy entitled status, even if it means murdering the source that granted his status in the first place.

I’m extremely interested to know if Chris Evans was cast to play Ransom in this movie specifically because for the past 10 years he has played the role of Captain America. What a perfectly ironic twist from what Evans has represented.

The casting of Daniel Craig as detective Blanc is spot on, but I question the character’s background. Personally, I think it would have played better had Daniel Craig used his native British accent which I think would have suited him better as the independent observer in the movie.

Either way, Knives Out did a masterful job contrasting the Dreamer with White Entitlement and showing us that immigrants represent the true Spirit of America better than those who are at best dismissive of immigrants and at worst blame them for self inflicted problems.

If you would like to read a very thoughtful review from someone who experienced Knives Out much more poingently than any American caucasian, like myself, ever could then I highly recommend this piece by Monica Castillo in the New York Times: Why I Left ‘Knives Out’ With Emotional Whiplash.

Spoiler-iffic Review of Terminator – Dark Fate

Please don’t read this review if you haven’t seen Terminator: Dark Fate yet. You’ve now been warned.

So, I did a story where I neatly ranked every Terminator film from 1984 through 2015, and they slot themselves perfectly by year. As in the first being the best, T2 coming close on its heels…and then each one a little (or a lot) less good than the one before.

Now I have a big decision to make. Where does T6: Dark Fate (“no dark fate but what we make”) fit in? And what about that short-lived but underappreciated two season TV show, The Sarah Connor Chronicles? Now I have to rethink the whole thing. Way to mess up my ranking order, Hollywood.

Talking Dark Fate

Man, the fans loved it. Whoo-ee! Me, I like some things they did and am pissed off about the rest.

LIKED: Grace the augmented human was wonderful. She stole the movie and our hearts. Too bad this was a re-tread of the plot in Terminator: Salvation. I’ll return to this thought.

ALSO LIKED: Carl the Drapery Terminator. What does an out of work T-800 do? T2 established they can’t self-terminate. So once he fulfills his mission, the cyborg creates a family and a business, and sends encrypted messages to former nemesis Sarah. Why does he bother? He must have felt bad about things and joined the human race. Like Spike in the Buffy series, he grew his own conscience. I’m fine with this — actually, more than fine….really happy, actually. I never expected this plot pivot and find it super charming.

Arnold nailed it. The writers did good. This is a very neat turn of events, and we at RunPee would gladly watch a prequel TV show about T-Carl’s Drapery Business. Who wouldn’t?

Terminator Dark Fate - Carl
#ThereAreNoDrapesButWhatWeMake

Where Dark Fate Failed

So, yes, Mackenzie Davis as Grace was the main reason this film is so good. But having JUST watched the entire series for my ranking post, I’m annoyed that Grace, the augmented human-Terminator hybrid, is a retread of the Sam Worthington plot in T4: Salvation. T4 actually picks up quite well where T3: Rise of the Machines leaves off, with a pregnant Kate and the other remnants of humanity eeking out a post-Judgement Day life. I’m not sure why we had to have another go at an “augmented human” plot.

All I can think is Linda Hamilton wanted to return before her T-3 cannon “death” and the producers felt a soft reboot was the way to go…and — bonus — liked the idea they ran with in Salvation. So, a soft sort of re-telling had to happen to bring back Sarah. (And if you saw Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you’d see another way to side-step this pesky issue, using time travel to just skip right over the…um…cancer.)

But, as I mentioned above, we are dealing with TIME TRAVEL in this franchise. There could have been many ways to bring Sarah back without ditching the storylines in T3 and 4. (Forget 5. That was entirely unnecessary). We could have also added Grace without ditching the 1-4 film cannon.

Although…I’m not certain at this point what’s considered cannon in this franchise anymore, or if we are to accept three or more timelines.

(REALLY,  STOP READING NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN  TERMINATOR: DARK FATE.)

Hasta La Vista, John Connor?

So, there’s my main beef. John Connor. Remember him? Well, forget about everything that mattered since 1991, because he’s unceremoniously offed in the first few minutes of Dark Fate.

That’s right. John’s gone. Out of nowhere, on a lovely beach. Poof.

What was the point of making me care about everything that came before? (Yes — I’m angry.)

I guess it’s better than where they took John Connor in 2015s  T: Genisys, which insulted everything ever done before and pissed all over the fanbase…seriously, who though that was a fine idea? Does anyone even remember what happened in Genisys, even just a scant few years ago?

More Pissy Thoughts

Lastly, I was rather bored by the new, spiffy Terminator in this outing, which was a real shame, in spite of Gabriel Luna’s earnest attempts to make it work. He just wasn’t as amusing as Robert Patrick’s T-1000. The Rev-9 was…made of tar? And had a skeletal drone? Was that really the best the writers could come up with over the last decade of thinking about this?

This just should have been better and more up to date, like something using nanotechnology. Or a pure internet-based intelligence that hunts and kills using our world-spanning interconnected cyber systems, tracking you like the “God’s Eye” in the Fast & Furious franchise. (If the F&F movies could come up with something more exciting, you know there’s trouble.)

Think about it. The liquid metal special effects looked better in 1991 than the the tar special effects in 2019.

Moving on.

Dark Fate: Girl Power Version

So, some gal in Mexico steps up as the new savior. Okay. Fine already. She’s not a womb; she’s the real deal. At least the real deal-to-be.

Except Dani’s kind of boring. I can’t remember a single significant moment she had. Do you?

sarah-connor-young-linda-hamilton
Come with her if you want to live.

Sarah Connor…is back

And the long awaited return of Sarah? Of Linda Hamilton reprising the iconic role?

Well, for one thing, she needs to lay off the cigarettes, since her vocal cords are shot. And she’s really, REALLY bitter. Not that I wouldn’t be too, after running away from several Terminators, losing her lover, losing her son, getting locked down in a facility for the criminally insane, and being wanted —  apparently — in all 50 states.

Hamilton does a great job in the role, fitting easily back into her Sarah Connor persona, but it kind of hurt to see how awful life treated her character, and how little she had left to live for. She is brittle, and so, so damaged. It’s got to suck when an ex-Terminator who killed your son has a nice home, a good job and loving family, and you’re alone and on the run…with nothing but hardship and a lifetime of regrets. While the Terminator franchise depicts an apocalyptic near-future and isn’t intended to be a happy story, it’s just not fun to see characters you care about living in such pain for so long. No wonder Sarah drinks herself to sleep every night.

At least she was up to date enough on her film history to realize the first “death” of the Rev-9 was bogus. That made me smile. Linda Hamilton wasn’t married to James Cameron for nothing.

I’m going to go back to the John thing. I understand it’s cool to see a woman herself being the hope of humanity vs a just another Mother Mary, but there really was no need to off poor John. It actually makes me angry that I cared about the series at all. It retroactively makes the first two wonderful Terminator movies pointless.

So, I had to see Dark Fate again

I saw Dark Fate twice to see if I’m just being too picky about all this. Well…the answer is no. I’m not. Right now I feel betrayed, like I did with Aliens 3, when they unceremoniously killed off Newt and Hicks. That STILL bothers me, and I can’t really appreciate this new Terminator entry until I come to terms with what they’ve done.

I’ll say this: Dark Fate is probably the third best Terminator film, but not as good as the Terminator TV series. Damning with faint praise?

It seems like it, but honestly, in spite of my annoyance, Dark Fate really is a good movie.

dark-fate-grace
Strictly human or not, she kicked some serious machine butt.

Judgement Day: Now What?

One final thing. It does seem the Terminator franchise posits that we’re going to have an AI apocalypse, in any possible timeline, no matter how we try to prevent it. Skynet, Cyberdyne, Legion, Google, whatever. As Thanos would say: Judgement Day is… inevitable.

Chew on that.

Movie Grade: B+

Ranking the Terminator Movies

Official Movie Review – Terminator: Dark Fate

Movie Review – The Terminator

Terminator TV Series: The Carlenator

In Defense of Terminator 3

 

 

A Buffy Revival – Vampires Spike and Angel Could Absolutely Do a Movie

buffy-vampire-slayer-title
You can’t keep a good slayer down.

Note the following: David Boreanaz says he’s done playing Angel. Joss Whedon (creator, writer, editor, director, minor deity) has also said he’d make a Buffy movie if the heavens willed it so.

We think David would return with the right offer. With Bones finished, isn’t he free now? And I don’t think James Marsters (Spike) or Sarah Michelle Geller (Buffy) would require too much arm twisting, even though Marsters said he’d aged out of the role of a young-looking immortal. To which I, a fanatic disciple of Whedon, say ” pish-posh.”

A Buffy Movie? Why the Hell (Mouth) Not?

It’s a known quantity: once you’re killed off in a Whedon production, it only means your character will return with a vengeance (or at least a reprise).

So, if Angel and Spike look 14 years older, a creative team of writers could not only make it work, but turn a bug into a benefit.

While Buffy loved both vampires, the best chemistry onscreen was arguably between Spike and Angel. Season Five of Angel just beat the pants off its parent show. I hate to admit that, since I adore Buffy, in every season. (Except that one year, with Riley…)

We Don’t Even Need to De-Age Those Pesky Vampires with a Soul

On the surface, it seems too bad that any kind of revival would have to explain the vampire aging thing or do a (please NO!) recast. But we know Whedon could spin the aging any which way,  and even turn it into a plot point. Kinda like plotting around Terminator flesh aging in the Salvation film. Or was that in Genisys? (Not to mention Dark Fate.) #OldButNotObsolete

Maybe vampires will have some kind of undead plague spreading around and Buffy will have to save her Champions, even though the rest of humanity would be happy to see all vampires eliminated forever.

Perfect moral ambiguity! The Scoobies/Team Angel (what’s left of them) could be sharply divided on this matter; they could get Giles out of his tweedy retirement…and oh, don’t forget that we have a metric ton of Slayers now, ready to stake the undead. I bet there aren’t many demons and vampires left to fight anymore.

Who knows what Willow and her fellow witches are even up to these days? They could try to be neutral, like Switzerland, with torn loyalties. The newly risen First Order Watcher’s Council could be bogged down, once again, in bureaucracy…with Master Watcher Andrew leaving with a few followers, in collaboration with a new breed of re-souled vampires committed to fighting the forces of darkness.

And the Main Plot of a New Buffy Show?

It could be set up that only Buffy and Faith (with Andrew, Dawn, and Illyria) want to save Angel, Spike, and the other re-souled undead, while every other Slayer on the planet is against helping vampires, even ones who saved the world. (Several times. What is the plural of Apocalypse?)

So Buffy and gang would have to both find a cure, and hide from/fight hundreds of cheesed off Slayers…all while asking themselves what the right thing to do is. There could be betrayals, unexpected allies (like Wolfram and Hart — such uneasy bedfellows), clever patented Buffy misdirection…adding a siege mentality at the end, and…of course…. sacrifice.

Because there is no Joss Whedon production without tear-jerking sacrifice to balance his trademark humor and sparkling dialog.

That could be a hell of a movie.

 

 

Terminator TV Series: The Carlenator

Ahoy there. Spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate ahead!

Terminator: Dark Fate isn’t blowing the doors off the box office. It opened with a slightly disappointing weekend of $29 million: $1 million below expectations. In fact, the past three Terminator movies (Salvation, Genisys, and Dark Fate) all failed to meet box office expectations, throwing the future of the franchise in doubt.

Personally, I can’t get enough Terminator. I say keep them coming.

Terminator Dark Fate - Carl

But you know what I would love, Love, LOVE to see? A Terminator TV series that chronicles the adventures of the T-800 (Carl/Arnold Schwarzenegger) meeting Alicia and her son Mateo. It wouldn’t need to be a badass action drama. It would work fine as an comedy, with a sprinkle of action here and there. I would imagine the plot would focus around Carl coming to grips with his existence and searching for purpose, with a little bit of a one man A-Team theme where he occasionally helps out people who are in trouble.

If you’re thinking that Arnold is too old for this, then remember that they de-aged him for Dark Fate. The de-aging technology is getting better and better. It’s getting to the point that they wouldn’t even need Arnold to participate. They could use a double on-set and replace him in post production, along with a synthesized Arnold voice.

What do you think? Would you watch a show like this?