Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Next Generation

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

I find it harder with every passing year to take an interest in new release movies, and even I was more interested in newer films I would need them to sink in before reviewing. However, this is Star Wars we’re talking about! When it was first announced back in 2012 that a new trilogy of Star Wars movies was to be made, my initial reaction was “It will be better than the prequels, but will still suck”. The filmmakers had the gargantuan task of winning back all the cynical, jaded Star Wars fans like myself; I don’t think many people were jumping for joy when a new trilogy was announced. As more announcements about Episode VII came to light such as the film’s apparent use of practical effects and that it was going to be shot on film I compared it to a politician making false election promises; in other words, it’s a trap! Then came the first teaser and I couldn’t complain. It actually looks like what I want a Star Wars film to look like, but no, I’m not getting sucked in that easy! With the second teaser, I finally gave up; “shut up and take my money!”. While counting down the days towards this film’s release my love for Star Wars was reawakened.

I almost love The Force Awakens, I almost think it’s an excellent film. 80% of aspects in the film I am over the moon about and exceeded my expectations; 20% I am indifferent towards. As the movie begins there is no 20th Century Fox fanfare, but the silence over the LucasFilm logo works in its own way; plus at least there isn’t an insane amount of opening logos like most movies today. As soon as I seen “A long time ago…” and the opening crawl I was in full goosebumps mode. Although why does the crawl state “Episode VII” when the marketing does not? Due to this, I expected the crawl not to state the episode number, which means they’re acknowledging the prequels as canon, but whatever, those are in the past. The text in the crawl was perfect and the opening shot of a star destroyer hovering over a planet in the background, such striking imagery. The opening with the attack on the Jakku village actually reminded me of Apocalypse Now, surprisingly intense and even a bit violent. When Finn has the blood of another stormtrooper draped over his helmet, I already became emotionally invested in this character, and I haven’t even seen his face; if that’s not impressive then I don’t know what is. The landscapes of Jakku themselves had that sense of Laurence of Arabia grandeur and those shots of the downed star destroyers in the background are poster worthy material.

From the trailers, I got the impression the movie achieves the right balance between offering nostalgia but also giving us something new. The classic characters aren’t just there for nostalgia’s sake but they actually have important roles in the story. However if you told me that I would be raving more about the new characters as opposed to revisiting the old characters, I would have had the reaction of “yeah right!”. I can’t decide which character I love the most. Daisy Ridley without a doubt steals the show while her banter with Finn couldn’t be more fun to watch. Poe Dameron on the other hand, what a cool MF. He’s not necessarily the most complex character but he doesn’t have to be. He has that adventure serial, flyboy, pretty boy type charm; a guy you would just love to hang out with.

Captain Phasma, dam! I remember when I first saw her in the second trailer my instant reaction was, “Wow! that is freakin’ badass!”. She has the same type of appeal Boba Fett has, a ‘man with no name’ type who has few lines and only appears in a handful of scenes but leaves an indelible impression. I know this will sound like sacrilege to Star Wars fans but screw it, Captain Phasma > Boba Fett. I also loved the other notable villain General Hux, a character who is one dimensional in the best possible way. He’s just so delightfully evil and his speech on Star Killer Base in which he lays on the full Nazi vibes gave me the chills. I’m so glad they brought back the British bad guys, one of many aspects of Star Wars sorely missed in the prequels. To me, Star Wars isn’t Star Wars without generals with sinister English accents.

I wonder if Kylo Ren is intended to be a satire on fanboyism with his extreme idolisation of Darth Vader. Talk about a villain you feel sorry for, you condone his actions but completely understand why he does what he does. But what really fascinates me about Kylo Ren is the fact that he’s a whiny teenager, and when you think whinny teenager and Star Wars you probably think of Anakin Skywalker in Episodes II and III – except Kylo Ren is Anakin Skywalker done right. With Kylo Ren being the son of Han and Leia I can now say the Star Wars saga is a soap opera centered on the Skywalker/Solo family, making Star Wars the only soap opera to date I can say I like (well from Part IV onwards). Which brings me to my next point, Han Solo died! My favourite movie character of all time, killed by his own son. As soon as Han steps on that platform with no hand railings and a chasm below him I just knew this is it, he’s going to die. Chewie’s roar in response to witnessing Han’s death says it all; Han Solo (1977-2015). Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, is in the film at the very end for about 20-30 seconds and doesn’t speak, yet his appearance in the movie is still strangely satisfying. This along with Han’s death shows this movie has balls, and I respect it so much for that.

The Force Awakens is the darkest Star Wars film to date, even more than The Empire Strikes Back, but they still manage to counter this with the lightheartedness and the humour. Speaking of humour, I can say this is the funniest Star Wars film to date. Rey knowing more about the Falcon than Han and BB8’s using a lighter to give a thumbs up, comic brilliance.

So what am I indifferent about in The Force Awakens?  One of my issues with is the CGI standing out among the practical effects. The character of Maz Khanta for example, she seems like an interesting character but her computer-generated appearance takes me out of the film. Couldn’t she be a puppet or a person in a costume? I feel the character’s appearance could and should have been accomplished with practical effects. Yoda was a puppet in Episode I and CGI in Episode II, perhaps this trilogy could do this in reverse? Granted I am a practical effects purist (and of course I am overjoyed by the film’s extensive use of practical effects), and any use of CGI in a movie which is a follow up to a trilogy features the greatest and most memorable practical effects in cinema history is going to stand out. When I first saw Supreme Leader Snoke I was almost about to lose it. Are you kidding me? A giant humanoid who is 100s of feet tall in Star Wars? It was like nuke the fridge all over again. However, when we see Snoke is a giant hologram, I had a huge sigh of relief and even thought “that’s actually pretty clever”.  However, I do still find his CGI appearance to be problematic. I also wasn’t keen on Han escape scene; the CGI creature appeared rather generic and the action in the scene itself was not well executed.

The John Williams score itself does not particularly stand out. While it’s always nice to hear classic Star Wars themes again, the new compositions aside from Rey’s Theme are not very memorable. They get the job done but I doubt you’ll find yourself humming them like every piece of music in the original trilogy. Although the truth I wasn’t expecting any of the new compositions to stand out as John Williams hasn’t composed a truly great film score in my opinion since Catch Me If You Can.

Perhaps the film’s biggest fault is that it will never be the original trilogy, it will always be in its shadow; well for me at least anyway. The Force Awakens may grow on me more with when I see the bigger picture unveiled with the next two films, but I can say two hours flew by. I did check the time once, but because I didn’t want it to end. I was craving answers and wanted more. The movie leaves questions unanswered and lets your imagination fill in the blanks, unlike the prequels which spoon-fed information. I still want to see The Force Awakens again. Reviewing any Star Wars film is no easy task as I could literally write pages and pages of thoughts. Just like the original trilogy, I could take any scene and talk about it in depth and talk about every little moment or touch I loved.

In short: Star Wars is back baby!

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The People Vs. George Lucas (2010)

A Sad Devotion to an Ancient Religion?

In this day and age when people use pop culture as an extension of themselves, it surprises me there haven’t been more documentaries like this (how about a documentary about the decline of The Simpsons?). I hate what has happened to the Star Wars franchise beginning with the special editions in 1997 as much as the next fan, and The People Vs. George Lucas helps ventilate the anger but it is so much more than that. It isn’t just mindless Lucas bashing but does give the man a fair shake.

The documentary raises many thought-provoking points of speculation about the man. Does he believe that what he’s doing to Star Wars is the right thing? Is he getting revenge on a franchise which turned him into the thing he hated and promised himself he would never become, a corporate entity. It goes to show you how the man is a much of an enigma as the characters in his films, as pointed out in the documentary, the rise and fall of George Lucas parallels Anakin Skywalker’s descent to the dark side. By the end of the documentary, I felt as one of the fans interviewed puts it, “I love/hate George Lucas”. The other major debate raised in the documentary is that of who owns art, the artist or the public and does the public have the right to the material of its own culture?

You don’t have to start a Star Wars related conversation before people start talking about their disdain for the prequels or the changes to the special editions, yet no official Star Wars documentary is certainly going to address this, nor do I doubt this documentary would be shown at the annual Star Wars convention Celebration.

The People Vs. George Lucas showcases a large range of fans from the mature to the more childish, to those defending Lucas. The documentary both celebrates fan culture as well as makes fun of it, whether intentional or not (I wonder if the guy who compares Lucas to a Holocaust denier regrets it?). My favourite part of the documentary is the section which perfectly captures the anticipation and undaunted optimism towards the release of The Phantom Menace and the following disappointment and disenchantment.

Intercut between the interviews are an astounding showcase of fan films (recreating scenes from the movies, telling their own Star Wars stories and those ridiculing George Lucas). This along with the perfect balance between the more serious debates related to artistic ethics all the way to the more trivial, such as whether or not George Lucas raped people’s childhoods, makes The People Vs. George Lucas immensely entertaining to watch, as I’ve now done so several times, making this my personal favourite documentary.

The Angry Video Game Nerd (2004-Present)

This Game Sucks…

The reviewing of poor media products on the internet has become a whole genre of comedy in itself. Movies, video games, anime, comic books, music, etc, all have dedicated reviewers who will pick them apart and criticize all in the good name of entertainment. One of the most famous perpetrators and originators of this genre within the cyberspace of the internet is none other than The Angry Video Game Nerd. The Nerd (James D. Rolfe), is a foul-mouthed, short-tempered retro gamer, destined to review as he would call them, “sh***y f**king games”.

The Nerd’s trademark humor is comprised mostly of strong profanity and over the top comparisons to describe how awful a game is, i.e. “This game is so hard it would actually be easier to outside in a thunderstorm and dodge rain”. It’s an acquired taste but trust me when I say there are few times in my life in which I laughed as hard when I first discovered this guy and watched his Ghostbusters review back in 2007.

This is partially due to many of the games he reviews being so horrific they almost review themselves but also because of James’ charisma as a performer. Let’s face it, almost everyone who goes on the internet and makes videos in which they try to entertain or inform (including top subscribed You Tubers, although I won’t name names) are either dull or are trying to force a personality onto themselves. James, on the other hand, is just a complete natural. He’s always an absolute joy to listen to and makes the art of appearing on camera and reviewing media (whether comically or straight) seem easy. However, James is first and foremost a filmmaker and thanks to this The Angry Video Game Nerd had considerably greater production values than most other internet content. Frankly, the guy is one of my personal heroes.

I still continue to enjoy new episodes of The Angry Video Game Nerd. I’m glad James now only makes several episodes per year, whereas at the height of the series productivity we had two every month. Some of the more recent episodes are among some of the funniest he’s ever done, not bad for something which debuted on YouTube 9 years ago. I just hope he will keep the character in this state of semi-retirement. With The Angry Video Game Nerd, James Rolfe managed to create something totally original. Countless imitators will come and go but the original will never be topped.

The Nostalgia Critic (2007-Present)

“What Happened To You Man? You used to have strong plentiful balls”: Ma-ti – Battlefield Earth Review

Back in 2007, an episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd involved the titular character reviewing the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. This was a change of pace to his regular videos as he would normally only review video games, however, I particularly loved this one video and wish he could have done more like this, or that someone would come around and be The Angry Video Game Nerd of movies. In a number of respects, this was The Nostalgia Critic (portrayed by Doug Walker). This is what first attracted me to the series when I first discovered it in 2009, and after watching a few episodes I was hooked. The series debuted on YouTube in 2007 before moving to Doug Walker’s own site That Guy With the Glasses.com (later re-titled Channel Awesome), a website which showcased of people involved in the increasingly popular genre of satirical reviews.

That Guy With the Glasses wasn’t entertainment being churned out by a corporation or by Hollywood executives, it was entertainment for the people by the people with no concern for financial gain but creating content purely out of passion which could be shared with a mass audience thanks to this thing known as the internet. I had my own aspirations to be on TGWTG, of course, nothing ever materialized, but to even be a follower of the site it felt like being part of something truly special and unique. All the great personalities the site had to offer; Spoony, Angry Joe, Todd in the Shadows, Linkara, Paw, Film Brain – the list goes on. Online videos like these have more heart, soul, and personality than contemporary Hollywood blockbusters or anything currently on TV.

But let’s talk about The Nostalgia Critic. Doug Walker was a natural comedian, he made the art of reviewing while cracking jokes, pop culture references and comedic over reactions look easy. Surf Ninjas is my favourite NC review, I have watched a good 30 times; a masterpiece of sarcasm. I remember I used to stay up on Tuesday nights to see each new video as soon as it was uploaded and I considered Doug Walker to be one of my comedic influences.

Various ex-fans of The Nostalgia Critic have different dates as to when he went downhill, so I can’t speak for everyone, but for me personally, 2011 was the beginning of the end. Right from the start of 2011, the cracks were showing. Sequel month was a lazy idea, just rehashing previous review source material, but I presumed this would just be a minor blip. Despite a few good videos over the following year, the quality had declined. Also while I absolutely adored the two year anniversary special Kickassia, the following anniversary special in 2011 Suburban Knights simply wasn’t funny, not to mention it felt like a very anti-climatic follow up to Kickassia in which they made the special in cooperation with an actual micro-nation. Going from something as large-scale and ambitious as that to a special filmed is suburban neighborhood felt like a bummer. When Star Trek month rolled around in January 2012 I gave up. Now at this point, The Nostalgia Critic’s video wasn’t awful, but more so just really boring.

I was glad when Doug brought the series to an end in August 2012 and began a new project called Demo Reel. Perhaps Demo Reel had potential but what I have watched of it is seriously dull; although at least it was something different and showed Doug didn’t want to be The Critic all his life. However, due to the failure of Demo Reel Doug revived The Nostalgia Critic. I haven’t seen everything he has done since the series revival but what I have is unbelievably awful. For this review, I had to try and watch more recent videos of his which I hadn’t seen, and doing so was the biggest chore, such a contrast to his older work which had such a natural progression and the best of which were consistently funny from beginning to end.

A rundown of the problems with The Nostalgia Critic beginning in 2011 and spiraling out of control in 2012:

Firstly he started going to way of MTV, he’s become The Nostalgia Critic in name only. This problem began in October 2011 when he reviewed Exorcist II: The Heretic and Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2; two films totally outside of his territory as there’s nothing nostalgic about them to the Critic’s target audience. He once had cut off date of 2000 (aside from the odd exception), however now it’s clear he’s run out of nostalgic movies and TV shows from his time frame and now reviews whatever he wants. He was at his best reviewing stupid and nonsensical Movies and TV shows from the 80’s and 90’s; that was the kind of material that worked best with his brand of humor.

His jokes are now forced beyond belief, an example? In his Top 11 F-Ups Part 3, he makes a joke about how people get the titles of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith mixed up. Not only is this joke shoehorned in out of nowhere, it’s creating a situation that doesn’t even exist. However it’s bad enough when a joke is unfunny and forced, it’s even worse if it goes on for ages. I don’t mind long jokes if they’re done well as Doug himself has done so in the past such as the dream sequence in the Junior review. For an example of a joke which goes on for an eternity; the “Allen” gag in his Jurassic Park III review. I was in a state of disbelief and non-existent laughter at just how long it lasts. I could make a huge list of the individual jokes in his new videos and why each one doesn’t work.

Other reviews are simply unpleasant, hateful and mean-spirited. In his review of Eight Crazy Nights, he had recurring gag throughout the video making fun of Happy Madison fans as lowest common denominator yokels. Regardless of how terrible Happy Madison films are, I did not start watching this guy’s videos in the first place to see such mean-spirited gags such as this.

The other major source of increasing annoyance is the lack of research he does for his videos. In his Patch Adams review he clearly has no knowledge of film’s subject matter, or in his Jurassic Park review, he criticizes the science present in the film and even has a sketch about it despite having no apparent knowledge of it. This brings me to what annoys me most of what the critic has now become. He’s become a self-righteous know-it-all jerk, and not in an intentional self-aware funny way. His review of Patch Adams is just one huge snob fest, while in his reviews of generally well-liked films (Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Matrix), he parades like his opinion is fact even though his criticisms on these films are just stupid nitpicking. There was once a time when watching a Nostalgia Critic review was simply fun, now it’s about having Doug Walker’s self-righteous, poorly researched, incorrect or simply illogical statements shoved down your throat. The dividing line between Doug and his fictional creation is becoming increasingly blurred; in his Top 11 F-Ups Part 3 he makes a list entry related to videos he made speaking as himself and not the Critic.

Since Demo Reel failed the people Doug has hired to appear in that show are now regulars on the revived series of The Nostalgia Citric, and none of them of any charisma; it makes me miss the days of Ma-ti. His new videos also look too sterile and washed out; what happened to that warm inviting yellow background?

He’s also stopped using creative title cards and instead now uses lazy photoshopped title cards; ironic considering in his Drew Struzan tribute he criticized movie studios for using lazy, uninspired photoshopped movie posters. Also, all these new title cards have an exaggerated facial expression from Doug which is increasingly obnoxious. I’m sure there are many other problems I could mention, but trying to watch his more recent videos for the sake of this review is excruciating with how bad they are.

Then there’s his NC: Editorials. These annoy me for two reasons. Firstly it’s the constant retreading of this mentality that you’re simply blinded by nostalgia if you dislike some aspect of contemporary popular culture. Secondly, they’re pretentious, giving an over important emphasis to questions no one was asking the answers to (Is It Right to Nitpick? Why Do We Love Stupid?), or questions which have obvious answers (Have we gone too deep into CGI?, Why Is Tom & Jerry Genius?).

I can’t comment on the current state of other TGWTG contributors as I gave up on the site as a whole long ago (expect Todd In the Shadows who is the only one I still watch), but I know some of the longtime members such as The Nostalgia Chick, Oancitizen, Phealous, and Obscurus Lupa are no longer there.

When writing this review I was wondering if it was a mistake to undertake as I much prefer to write reviews of stuff I love instead of contributing to an internet full of negativity, but this show used to mean so much to me and bring me such joy, now it does the complete opposite. I have witnessed two things in my life degrade from being something I loved so dearly to becoming one of the worst pieces of so-called “entertainment” I have ever seen – The Simpsons and The Nostalgia Critic. It’s hard to watch his old videos now without thinking about what a joke he is now. Congratulations Doug on destroying your own creation.

Todd’s Pop Song Reviews (2009 – Present)

Review Brilliance

Of the internet reviewers spawned from the satirical reviewing site That Guy With The Glasses, I consider Todd In The Shadows to be one of the very greatest productions the site offers. While other reviewers on TGWTG mostly focused on movies, video games and anime etc, Todd brought the much-needed sector of reviewing popular music to the site.

Todd Nathanson began producing videos on YouTube and eventually was accepted onto TGWTG.com and found new spread popularity on the site and I don’t think this could have happened at a better time, due to this being the period when the likes of Lady Gaga, Keh$a and The Black Eyed Peas where beginning or already had been dominating the top 40 pop charts. Pop music needed criticism and analyses more than ever, and that’s where Todd comes in.

A standard episode of Todd’s Pop Song Reviews involves an analyses of a recent U.S Billboard Top 40 pop song, a bad one of course. Each episode begins with a piano cover of the song which about to be reviewed, followed by an introduction to the song and the artist behind it. The songs themselves are pulled apart, with deep analyses of the lyrics (often pointing out how they don’t make sense) and often comments on the music video itself, followed by a final conclusion of the song. Each episode is filled with jokes, gags, and one-liners mixed in with the review itself but is all perfected flawlessly making Todd’s Pop Song Reviews both a hilarious and insightful look into the world of pop music. The guy is one hell of a comedy machine and you can get quite the music education from his show.

However, I still have yet to mention possibly the most important aspect of the series. Like many other internet reviewers, Todd has a gimmick. The simple genius that we don’t know that he looks like due to wearing a hoodie and being unlit within the shadows he inhabits. I love the mystery of not knowing what his physical appearance is and it’s also quite a romantic idea in itself. Todd has to communicate primarily through his voice and he certainly has a voice which does just that; clear and audible, pleasant to listen too, and strong enough to get his points across. Todd’s Pop Song Reviews is one the finest review shows the internet has to offer. Todd Nathanson isn’t a household name but I can call the guy one of my heroes.