Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Bad Movie Review)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones takes place ten years after the events of Episode I. Galactic civil war seems imminent as Count Dooku, an ex-Jedi turned-sith, poses a threat to the Republic. Senator Padmé Amidala, dealing with official business on planet Coruscant concerning the establishing Separatist movement, is nearly killed in an assassination attempt plotted against her. Thus, the Jedi Council appoints Apprentice Anakin Skywalker and his Master Obi-Wan Kenobi to protect her.  As Obi-Wan travels to Kamino to investigate the source of Padmé’s bounty,  a love-connection begins to transpire between her and Anakin, establishing their relationship behind the Jedi Council’s back. In Attack of the Clones, we take a journey through the galaxy as we uncover the truth about Padmé’s attempted assassination, witness Anakin’s unfortunate homecoming on Tatooine, and embrace a “love story for the ages” as tensions between both sides rises and a galactic showdown commences.

Let’s get this straight; Attack of the Clones is not a good movie. The complex story and constant creative world-building of the Star Wars franchise calls for such an amazing final product but, sadly, each aspect of the rich cinematic universe we know and love seems to inevitably fall flat. With such an all-star cast including the likes of Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson and a surprise performance from Saruman from Lord of the Rings (I mean Christopher Lee) could not do this lackluster story justice. Probably at the hands of George Lucas’s terrible directing, none of the characters individually stood out in performance or as a unique individual. For example, Mace Windu was just Samuel L. Jackson in a Jedi Robe, as if the character itself simply seemed like the person playing the character. In addition, rather than being the compelling, conflicted protagonist that we wanted him to be, Anakin was just a whiny jackass, with a rather stale performance from Hayden Christensen at that. Despite the fact that his character was so painfully annoying, Lucas decides to revolve a large portion of the film around their love story.

Their love story was one of the major factors that threw off my enjoyment of the film. In one of the beginning scenes, Anakin interrupts Padmé during their conversation to vent about the difficulties and hardships of being an apprentice under Obi-Wan’s mentorship in what turned out to be some sort of therapy session. Then all of a sudden, in my guess out of sympathy, she falls in love with him and they are secretly married at the end of the film. Or was it his dashing good looks? She did not seem to mind when he destroyed an entire pack of Tusken Raiders on Tatooine. Although they abducted and killed his mother and we as an audience can understand his inclination, you would have thought that Padmé, being in the position that she was in, would have sensed the “Darth Vader” in him and gotten away while she could, if not because of his petty childishness.

Sadly, this is only the beginning of my negative feelings towards Attack of the Clones. It was the bleak characters and uninspiring love story that made this, and the rest of the prequels (to an extent), into something almost too annoying to watch. Or was it the fact that Count Dooku lacked a driving purpose and was merely a villain for the sake of being a villain, or that Yoda was a maniacally flipping, flying acrobat that somehow did not have the means to defeat him, or that Naboo was just Venice, Italy, only with lackluster CGI and sci-fi gondolas?… Well, at least they held back Jar-Jar.

Final Fantasy X (Critical Review 3)

Final Fantasy X is an action-adventure role playing game developed by Square Enix in 2001. The plot of the game follows Tidus, a superstar athlete of the fictional underwater sport Blitzball in his hometown of Zanarkand, a luxurious city full of high-rises, bright lights and advanced technologies. During a Blitzball game, the city is attacked by a massive creature that the townspeople regard as “Sin.”

Sin

After the entire city is destroyed, Tidus is somehow transported to the land of Spira, 1000 years in the future. Through the immense journey, Tidus befriends Yuna, an up-and-coming Summoner devoted to bringing peace to the land, along with her five guardians. As Tidus decides to join her and the rest of her companions on her pilgrimage, he discovers that Sin is the spiritual embodiment of consequence for society’s violent reliance on machines and mankind’s materialistic values overpowering faith. Yuna implies that the only way to defeat Sin is by summoning the seven Aeons, mystical and powerful creatures that she can only obtain by journeying to prestigious temples and passing their tests as a Summoner. As the gang continues their voyage and faces countless challenges throughout the game, we learn more about Tidus, how he truly arrived in Spira and what his role in this world is in what turns out to be a very twisted and compelling story.

The Final Fantasy franchise, now fifteen games deep, has always been known for its vast word-building, graphics, combat mechanics and complex story. For its time, Final Fantasy X was critically acclaimed for how intricately crafted and innovative this game was. The game employs a turn-based combat system where up to three allies and enemies can be on the battlefield at once while each person attacks one-by-one. It is well-known for allowing the player the opportunity to switch out each character mid-battle, something that a lot of RPG’s had not yet brought into play. It is the first game to allow the player to utilize up to seven different playable characters and personally design the skill-tree for each. You would do this using the Sphere Grid, a humungous chart that branches out into hundreds of different directions. By collecting different unique “spheres” while playing the game, you can upgrade each character’s specific abilities in any direction. This leads to different gear customizations for weapons and armor that provides us with the true RPG-style format that Final Fantasy games specialize in.

Tidus Sphere Grid.jpg

As a Playstation 2 game from 2001, Final Fantasy X had some of the greatest graphics I had ever seen from a game running on that console. It was the smooth, detailed look of each cutscene that began to enthrall me with video games as a young child.

Graphics.jpg

Although it was such a simple characteristic of the game’s animation, even seeing your characters hair bounce as they moved was something so interesting that I had never witnessed before in a game. Additionally, the land of Spira was crafted like no other Final Fantasy game had been before, attempting to better reflect Asian culture and landscape into the environment rather than the European medieval aesthetic they artistically expressed in past games. The developers had even commented that Thailand was specifically an inspiration for some of the locations in the game. For example, in the game, the island of Besaid resembles a very tropical, southern-pacific atmosphere while Kilika is a very stereotypical image of a village in Thailand, built around a forest and on a body of water.

Kilika.jpg

This is just a sample of the culture that is beautifully reflected within Final Fantasy X and is only one of the many artistic qualities that draws people to this game.

The game does not use many real-life social issues as  plot mechanisms, but does have its fair share. In the game, the Al Bhed are a group of people that belong to Bikanel Island, home to Spira’s only desert region. The Al Bhed are very foreign to the general population because of the unique language that they speak and how far their homeland is from the other indigenous populations of Spira. They are hated by mostly everyone because they are masterful technologists known for inventing the machines and weapons responsible for Sin and do not believe in the teachings of Yevon, the primary religion of Spira. They are very much inspired by the Middle East and a lot of the characters act as if the Al Bhed are the most threatening race to the world’s safety. In the beginning of the game, when Tidus is first lost after Zanarkand was destroyed, he is rescued by an Al Bhed group led by a girl named Rikku, who later becomes one of the other playable characters. As soon as Rikku joins Yuna’s pilgrimage as a guardian, she holds back from telling everyone that she is Al Bhed because of the reaction she knows she will receive from the rest of the party. When Wakka, one of Yuna’s guardians, figures out Rikku’s heritage, he threatens to kick her out until Tidus stands up for her for saving his life and Yuna reveals that she is actually part Al Bhed. This is a very big issue that is not only squashed with Rikku’s closure.

The final thing that makes Final Fantasy X amazing is the musical compositions. Nobuo Uematsu and Junya Nakano are very famous composers, mostly known for the Final Fantasy games and other Japanese anime. What is so fantastic about the Final Fantasy X score is the composer’s ability to create simple, catchy themes for each character and location that are later reused in more complex pieces of music. That is what creates the insane level of nostalgia for any person who replays the game. For me, this occurs with Tidus’s main theme.

On top of that, being a game revolving around religion, there are very unique songs that fill that spiritual aesthetic. One of the most emotionally touching pieces of music from the game is “Warping to a Different Dimension,” a song that plays when Yuna performs a “sending” of the dead to the Farplane, a place where the dead are at peace, after Sin destroys an entire village.

It is all of these qualities that make Final Fantasy X a remarkable game and a truly memorable experience.

Graphics

It Follows: Horror that Strays From the Cliche (Critical Essay 2)

It Follows, a horror film written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, tells the story of Jay Height, a young women from Detroit, as she is chased by a deadly entity after having sex with her boyfriend who essentially passes it down to her like a virus.

It Follows kidnapped

The demonic follower takes a zombified human form that blends into the environment they are in, which confuses Jay at first.

It Follows Demon.jpg

Along with her sister Kelly and neighborhood friends Paul and Greg, they band together to hunt down Hugh, who originally passed down the virus to her, in order to uncover the mystery behind it all. They discover that Hugh, actually named Jeff, conceived a fake identity and used Jay to rid himself of the monster. He insisted there was truly no way to overcome it other than simply passing it down to another unfortunate soul as he did to her. After a wave of hopelessness, the group plots to kill the entity by luring it to a swimming pool and electrocuting it.

This film continues to be one of my favorite films because of how well it is able to create a unique story while separating itself from the banal “rules” and plot mechanisms that build the typical, cliche horror flick. There are many righteous hints at feminist undertones that highlight the importance of sexual consent, as sex is both the hero and the villain throughout the film. The paranormal being in the film can be related to spreading an STD, which provides a new realistic level of insight to the audience. However, the plot of the film can almost seem hypocritical to it’s own feminist motives at times when, although consent is involved, Jay uses men for sex in order to rid herself of the being. At a low point in the movie Greg offers himself to Jay in order to finally grant her peace from the entity. This immediately leads to the demon chasing Greg down in what was ultimately a very unfortunate, violent scene of death. Though the hypocrisy in this scene may be true, in my personal opinion, this absolutely makes It Follows more compelling in its originality and in the conflict of the narrative.

It Follows does a fantastic job of calling attention to many modern social thoughts on sex. Having intercourse with another person is shown as a very natural process that the film obviously has no issue using as a recurring theme as both a positive and a negative. The thematic comfort around the topic and action of sex is implemented as both a means for Jay to ask for help from her friends as well as pass on the entity. The film suggests that it is not her fault for having sex with Jeff, even though the demon metaphorically acted as a consequence. For example, when she approaches her friends and family after her initial experience with the demon, they are not horrified at the fact she had sex nor do they blame her, but attempt to understand the situation and are there to help. In fact, at another point in the film Paul, who is obviously in love with Jay, also offers himself to her in order to free her of the torment. Although she refuses, Paul’s innocence and genuine fondness of Jay does not come off as him trying to take advantage of her. Actually, this gives Jay the chance to confront the conflict head-on and the opportunity to become the strong female lead that the film intended her to be. Moreover, this scene in particular is another example of the film’s use of consent and natural understanding of sex.

One of the most respectful and impactful aspects of It Follows is the way it stays true to it’s indie conception. This translates well with it’s distinctive thematic usage of sex as well as it’s amazing aesthetic and musical score. The look of the film resembles an environment similar to the 70’s and 80’s which can be compared to old classics like the original Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and, more recently Super 8 (2011) and Stranger Things (2016). What first gives this aesthetic away is the concept of Suburbia; the fact that most of the conflict in the film takes place within a typical, suburban neighborhood that involves a great deal of the community.

It Follows Suburb.png

Secondly, the film’s color palette is that of a vibrant, psychedelic 70’s lifestyle. What this film does so well is that it blends these exuberant colors with dark, bluish hues to generate a creepy undertone that implements the stylistic look of the horror genre.

It Follows Color Pallette

What is even more interesting is that the film resembles this style even though the set time is ambiguous. Lastly, the film’s electronic music score is so fantastic and different from a lot of different films. It is very unique in the way that it does not abuse the cliche high-pitched screech that always follows danger in typical horror films. The high-quality production of the score uses synths in different ways to construct emotion, efficiently matching with the energy that the color brings in the film as well as the horrifying nature and darkness that the film produces.

All of these aesthetic qualities create a positively different vibe that we rarely see in many films, and adds to the greatness that is It Follows.

 

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Zuko Alone (Critical Review 1)

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” tells the story of 12-year-old Avatar Aang and his friends Katara, Sokka and Taff as they travel the world to bring peace and end the war between the Fire Nation and the other three tribes: Earth, Water and Air. Following the previous Avatar Roku’s death, Aang was reincarnated as Avatar, a human spirit destined to master all of the elements while establishing unity and ending conflict between the four nations. He was born an Airbender, and realized he was one of the last of his kind. While traveling to the North Pole, siblings Katara and Sokka, natives of the Water Tribe, encounter and revive Aang and his Flying Bison Appa, frozen in a sphere of ice. Realizing he is the new Avatar, they join him on his prophetic journey to understand his true power and save the world. Meanwhile, Prince Zuko, son of Firelord Ozai, the leader of the Fire Nation, who is bastardized behind his prodigy-sister Princess Azula, is exiled and is promised redemption if he can catch the Avatar. On his hunt, he is accompanied by his Uncle Iroh, Ozai’s brother.
This episode, “Zuko Alone,” primarily centers around Zuko’s travels through the Earth Kingdom. In an effort to truly find himself, Zuko decides to leave his Uncle and travel alone. While wandering, he defends a little boy named Lee who pranks a group of military thugs who do nothing but bully the town and abuse their power by throwing an egg at them.

zuko-defend.jpg

After Zuko stands up for him, Lee invites him home to dinner. He fixes the roof of Lee’s barn with his father in exchange for a place to stay the night. Lee, an energetic child bursting with curiosity, steals Zuko’s dual swords as he is sleeping. Instead of getting angry, Zuko offers to teach Lee how to use them correctly and even gifts him one. The following morning, the same soldiers arrive at Lee’s doorstep, revealing that his older brother Sensu may have been killed in battle against the Fire Nation. One of the soldiers jokes that the fire nation is using his body as a puppet and Zuko threatens them. Multiple flashbacks reveal the history of Zuko’s life as a little boy before his mother left. Later, when Lee’s mother pleads for Zuko’s help when the soldiers kidnap him, he goes to rescue him. At a disadvantage to the earth bender in an attempt to keep his identity secret, he is forced to use his fire bending abilities and reveal his true identity, which alarms the town.

Zuko Gif

After all he had done, the town boo’s and insults him as he goes on his way.
This is just one example that demonstrates how a Nickelodeon show like Avatar: The Last Air Bender can successfully provide more character development in a single episode then a lot of series do in a season. Throughout the series, Zuko had been the character that we hated because his motives and personality reflected the evilness of the Fire Nation. After continuous failure to catch the Avatar and win the honor back from his father and family, the writing and story structure finally allows us sympathize with Zuko and learn his past. The flashbacks into Zuko’s childhood give us perspective, revealing that he was always a step behind his sister Azula, who had won over the attention of their father for her aptitude to learn quickly and her adeptness in combat. We learned that Zuko’s mother, who was the only one that really cared for him, walked out on the family because Ozai was corrupt and killed his own father to take the Firelord throne. With all of these bad memories behind him, Zuko finally decides to do some good and defend Lee and his family.
Aesthetically, there are plenty of unique qualities in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Firstly, each tribe implements different bits of Asian culture that are distinctive to each element. This is especially present in the fighting style, which represents different styles of martial arts that is portrayed in the movement of bending.

earth-bending-e1499706217964.png

This specific episode pays homage to the spaghetti western style films like A Fistful of Dollars and even resembles the Samurai aesthetic of Kurosawa films. We see this during the beginning of the episode in Ronin-style as Zuko journeys through the open desert under the harsh orange sun, overlooking the small town in the distance. During his short stay, he never hesitates to bravely step in the foot of danger, despite the fact that he is nothing but a stranger to the land he is in.

Zuko Wander.jpg
The one thing that really changes Zuko in this episode is the way he realizes how the people of different tribes are affected by the Fire Nation. Zuko is put into perspective when the thugs reveal that Lee’s brother Sensu was most likely captured and killed by the Fire Nation. The soldiers even joke to Lee’s family about how the Fire Nation dresses up the captured bodies and throws them on the frontline of battle. This leads to a flashback to where Zuko, as a child, learns that Uncle Iroh’s son Lu Ten, died tragically in the war at a young age. Through this, Zuko realizes what other tribes really think of the Fire Nation and begins to resent his own people. In conclusion, there really is a larger social context to this episode, as Zuko begins to understand and sympathize with minorities different to his own and that people around the world endure things that are similar to the hardships he has experienced. It seems as if he finally recognized that finding the Avatar, compared to finally becoming his own man and understand the world around him, is less important then he originally imagined.