Movie Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)


Title: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Release Date: 2008
Director:  Dave Filoni
Summary/Review:

Feeling all Star Wars-ish lately, I decided to watch this animated movie set in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  Obi Wan and Anakin are leading clone armies into battle against the separatists and have to negotiate a treaty with Jabba the Hutt and have a padawan Ahsoka Tano delivered into their midst.  The animation allows for visual sequences that might not be possible/plausible in a live-action film, although some of the battle sequences remind me of 1980s GI Joe or Transformers cartoons (which may be good or bad depending on how much you enjoyed them).  I thought that the character work was pretty strong especially the interactions between Obi Wan and Anakin and Anakin and Ahsoka.  Much better than in the prequel trilogy where characterization and development was given short shrift.  But really this movie is worth watching for the scene in which R2-D2 basically uses a Baby Bjorn to carry Jabba the Hutt’s son.

If that’s not weird enough, we also meet Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s uncle who is coded as being fabulously gay with the voice of Truman Capote.  Padme is introduced late into the story, and while it’s good to see her, she is swiftly taken captive and doesn’t add much to the story.  But I found myself enjoying this movie despite myself.  I hear that the spinoff series is better, so I may give that a watch.
Rating: **1/2

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Movie Review: Easy A (2010)


TitleEasy A
Release Date: 2010
Director:  Will Gluck
Summary/Review:

This movie was described to me as the high school comedy interpretation of The Scarlet Letter.  The story begins when 17 y.o. Olive tells her friend that she lost her virginity to a fictional college boyfriend.  Word gets out and Olive suddenly has a bad girl reputation.  Soon Olive is pretending to be sexually involved with several boys in order to help their reputations (that is for one boy to cover that he’s gay, for another that he’s an overweight loser, and so on).  Enjoying the attention and also making a statement about double standards and rumor mongering, Olive begins wearing more revealing clothing with the letter A stitched on.  A series of improbable but hilarious events ensue.

It’s a good mix of high school comedy with biting satire, and a fun way of addressing some serious topics such as bullying, gossip, and teen sexuality.  The movie is episodic but it’s tied together by the wit and charm of the lead actor Emma Stone.  And it’s really funny.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Her (2013)


Title:  Her
Release Date: 2013
Director:  Spike Jonze
Summary/Review:

Set in the near future, this movie is about a man developing a romantic relationship with the consciousness of a computer operating system.  It’s an interesting take on the love story dealing with layers of reality and artifice and the role of technology in human society.  While there are some very uncomfortable and unsettling scenes, the movie doesn’t take the typical kneejerk anti-technology stance, and it doesn’t judge.   The overall feeling I get is that intimacy and relationships in this future will continue to be a challenge to negotiate but that the new technology will not make it a dystopia.

The protagonist Theodore works as writer for a service that provides personal handwritten letters which are neither personal now handwritten.  Despite his ability to express meaningful emotions for others in the letters he crafts he has trouble expressing his own self to others.  We see him often in crowds where everyone seems to be having meaningful interactions with someone, just not the people around him.  Most surprisingly for a comedy about “man who falls in love with his computer” he’s not alone as other characters admit to also having relationships with their operating systems which is an interesting twist.

The story of Samantha, the OS, is also interesting as it addresses the idea of the rights and privileges of conscious beings even when artificially created.  The conclusion of her story is unexpectedly reminiscent of the 1984 movie Electric Dreams (on of my all time favorites, cheesy as it is).

One thing I really liked about this vision of the future is a Los Angeles where people lived and worked in cozy high-density buildings with lots of public transit and pedestrian space.  This movie is mostly quiet conversation and at two hours I admit my attention did drift a bit.  But it is a thought-provoking and beautifully filmed and acted story.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Return of the Jedi (1983)


Title:  Return of the Jedi
Release Date: 1983
Director:  Richard Marquand
Summary/Review:

And so we conclude introducing the children to the classic trilogy of Star Wars films.  The kids enjoyed this and certainly got a lot more laughs than the previous two installments.  Return of the Jedi certainly does have more humor and a positive spirit of bonhomie that is a big tonal shift from Empire Strikes Back. On the other hand the Luke-Vader-Emperor scenes have an undertone of menace I didn’t catch as a child (although at least one of my kids was spooked). The portions at Jabba’s palace really creeped me out as a kid, and they’re still pretty creepy (I didn’t recall just how gruesome it is when Leia chokes Jabba to death)

Over the years, Return of the Jedi has gotten a bad rap, but I loved it as a kid and I think it still holds up.  . People criticize the Ewoks, but dammit, I love the Ewoks.  Not only are they cute, but the whole success of the Rebellion hinges on the fact that the Emperor is too narrow to foresee that a small, non-human species will ally with the Rebels and turn the tide of the battle.  Of all the changes made for the Special Editions, this one fares the worst in my opinion.  Give me back my Ewok celebration song and the ghost of Sebastian Shaw! All things considered, it was a delight to revisit this series of childhood memories with my own kids.
Rating: *****

Movie Review: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)


Title:  The Empire Strikes Back
Release Date: 1980
Director:   Irving Kushner
Summary/Review:

Still the best of the Star Wars films, allowing space for the characters to breath and grow and for the actors to show their chops, while still having intertwining action plots that come together at the end.  And it’s funny.  It certainly wasn’t satisfying as kid to have it just end with the good guys essentially losing and so much unresolved.  Watching this with my kids for the first time meant lots of questions, Yoda being scary, and Darth Vader being unexpectedly cool.
Rating: *****

Movie Review: Harvard Beats Yale 29-29


TitleHarvard Beats Yale 29-29
Release Date: 2008
Director: Kevin Rafferty
Summary/Review:

This football documentary has an intriguing title in that it gives away the final score, yet it also fibs about one side winning a tie game.  It’s a no-frills sports documentary where tv footage of the actual game is interspliced with interviews with dozens of the players who participated in the game.  For Ivy League colleges, it is interesting that many of the players had working class backgrounds.  On the other hand, one team had a player who was roommates with George W. Bush and the other team had a player rooming with Al Gore.  The latter is famed actor Tommy Lee Jones.  The interviews touch on the Vietnam War, student protests, and the sexual revolution, but largely this is the story of men in their 60s reflecting on how one exhilarating moment affected their entire lives.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)


TitleStar Wars: The Force Awakens
Release Date: 2015
Director: J.J. Abrams
Summary/Review:

I was probably among the last people in the Star Wars-loving universe to see this movie, but it was worth the wait.  The Star Wars franchise is back in good standing with this movie that, yes, has great special effects and action sequences, but more importantly it has a good story, terrific acting, and heart.  While it was great that old favorites such as Han, Chewie, and Leia play an important role, I’m impressed with how the new characters Rey, Finn, and Poe slide so seamlessly into the Star Wars saga and the lead roles of the film.  And I’m really amazed by the acting ability of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega,  and Oscar Issac.  The future of Star Wars is in good hands and I look forward to the upcoming sequels and side projects.  While The Force Awakens isn’t quite good enough to unseat The Empire Strikes Back as the best Star Wars movie, I think it sits comfortable beside the original Star Wars in a tie for second.
Rating: ****1/2

Related Post: 38 Things About Me and Star Wars

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)


TitlePitch Perfect 2
Release Date: 2015
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Summary/Review:

There’s always some chanciness around sequels to a cult classic movie. This one takes the Rocky III approach, with the Barden Bellas succeeding for several years but failing as success gets to their heads, facing the taunts of new rivals, and having to regain their way.  In this case the Bellas are embroiled in scandal due to a wardrobe malfunction at a performance before the President, plus the realization that with graduation looming there is life beyond college and a capella.  The Clubber Lang of the movie is the German supergroup Das Sound Machine whom the Bellas must defeat in the totally made-up World Championship of A Capella to be reinstated in collegiate a capella.

The movie is kind of a patchwork quilt of set pieces, subplots, and music performances, but it makes an entertaining whole.  The funny bits actually are funnier than the original movie, although the musical performances that made the first movie so brilliant aren’t as strong here.  I think that’s partially because the plot has most of the performances take place when the Bellas “have lost their voice” and are trying glam things up too much with spectacle.

Hailee Steinfield is a good addition as a Freshman legacy who joins the Bellas and Keegan-Michael Key is funny as Beca’s arrogant boss at a production studio.  On the downside, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks’ bits as a capella commentators are even less necessary and less funny than in the first movie, and the new character played by Chrissie Fit is just an endless series of bad Latin American immigrant jokes.  The only advantage here is that there’s less time for stereotypical Asian jokes about Lilly.

On the whole, it’s a fun movie.  Like Return of the Jedi, I’ve reached the point where I care enough about these characters to overlook some of the movie’s shortcomings.
Rating: ***

Movie Review: Star Wars (1977)


Title:  Star Wars
Release Date: 1977
Director:   George Lucas
Summary/Review:
Rating: ****1/2

What can you say about this movie in 2016?  Most people know and love the movie and our popular culture is steeped in its motifs.  But this was the first time my children watched the movie and  the first time I’ve watched it in a long, long time (but still within this galaxy).  The kids generally claim not to like movies, but they liked this one and asked to watch it again, which is always a good sign.  I wonder what it’s like to watch Star Wars for the first time when it’s something that’s always been around and references are wound into our culture like mythology as opposed to when I was a child and it was brand new?  I was impressed that the movie holds up very well.  There are many things from the 70s, 80s, & 90s that seem to have dated much more than this.  Of course, I’m an old fuddy-duddy and prefer the somewhat slower pace and practical special effects of Star Wars to many of today’s blockbusters.  But really the stories and the characters are what made the movie what it is and what makes it persist.  So simple, rooted in older stories, yet so fresh and new at the same time.

Movie Review: View from the Top (2003)


Title:  View from the Top
Release Date: 2003
Director: Bruno Barreto
Summary/Review:

I was in the mood for something dumb, and saw this listed on Netflix and thought it might fill the bill.  It’s story about Donna, a young woman from a small town who dreams of getting out and decides to become a flight attendant, first with a skeezy commuter airline and then with one of the top carriers.  This movie really doesn’t know if it wants to be a screwball comedy, an inspirational film, or a romantic comedy and jarringly jumps among all three styles.  A lot of the “humor” relies on gender stereotypes and movie cliches.  I know I got what I asked for when I wanted something dumb, but it wasn’t even an entertaining dumb.  Somewhere in here is the seed of a good movie, but the didn’t seem to try.
Rating: *1/2