December 28, 2015

Of Star Wars, In the Heart of the Sea and The Affair: Season 2

            The last month has been a crazy month for me to the point that I’ve realized I’m just not going to be able to keep doing this blog the way I have done it.  While thinking about how I could keep this blog going on a regular basis I’ve realized I could be doing other things with my writings in order to get the most out of this blog for me.  So I have decided that I will stop doing full reviews of films and television shows.  As it stands I would have had 10 or so reviews on backlog and that was actually preventing me from watching other films and television programs in fear of getting further behind.  Instead I will now be doing a weekly update of the things I watched and read with some brief thoughts on each.

            So let’s get going with this new format.  Since my last review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I have watched many other films and even finished the second season of The Affair.  However, I have also found time to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens another three times (my latest being this morning).  The film really is all consuming from all the merchandising to its record-breaking performance at the box office (while I’m typing this now I’m listening to Williams’ fantastic score, which produces its best moments from its use of subtlety), and this has given me ample time to think about its place in the Star Wars series. 

            In this past week I’ve watched all seven of the Star Wars films in order to create a concrete ranking of the films and while I was able to produce a ranking on my twitter page I have found it very difficult to support the rankings.  Maybe it’s due to the episodic nature of the series, but I find it much easier to rank the series in tiers.  The first being composed of The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (I have tried to tame recency bias as much as possible and it’s come to the point where I don’t believe this film deserves a ranking other than this top tier).  While Revenge of the Sith would feel like an odd inclusion to most Star Wars fans, I find it hard not to admire the grand scale of the film’s plot.  Getting from point A to B in Revenge of the Sith feels like such a long journey and it’s displayed in such intricate detail.  The faults of the film are also wildly exaggerated.  Hayden Christensen began as a liability but in Sith he is able to muster enough childish joy to make him likeable early on and he is able to capture some of the darker elements of the character later on.  Additionally, Natalie Portman brings the beauty to the role of Padme even if her character isn’t even a quarter of the character that Rey is in The Force Awakens.

            The middle tier is composed of Star Wars, Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.  All of these films are great adventures that flirt with the magic that the top tier conjures but is never able to keep it around for long.  Once again I find myself defending one of the prequel trilogy entries with The Phantom Menace.  Honestly, childhood nostalgia probably has a bit to do with my liking for Phantom but it’s hard to deny that it brings action scenes to the series in a way that no film has achieved before it.  While the mysteries of the film fall flat and Jar-Jar really is that much of a disaster as he somehow finds a way to walk into every fart and bit of poop in the entire galaxy, George Lucas does achieve the period piece world building unlike anything we have seen before in exactly the way that he wanted to.

            That leaves the final tier and the final film, Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones.  Once again Lucas fails to have his mysteries deliver and the only thing in the film that really sparks is the action filled final act that does at times border on fan fiction.  Attack of the Clones really is the only stinker of the bunch.

            Now onto the things I have watched since The Force Awakens’ release, which amounts to very little thanks to my busy work schedule and my current obsession with all things Star Wars.  I checked another entry off of my top 10 most anticipated films of 2015 list with In the Heart of the Sea, which unfortunately is exactly the film that the advertisements told us it would be.  Normally I wouldn’t fault a movie for moving away from its source material like this film does, but instead of the suspenseful real life tale that was Nathaniel Philbrick’s book we end up with a lousy Moby Dick ripoff.  In Philbrick’s book the whale is mostly secondary news by the midway point, as it ends up becoming a tale of human perseverance.  In the film it’s always about the whale, which isn’t even that convincingly portrayed on the big screen.  The only thing that remains unseen on my most anticipated list now is my #1…The Revenant.

            Next was The Peanuts Movie, which is everything you would expect it to be: a charming if slight film that anyone can enjoy.  I’m not much of a Peanuts fan but I wasn’t bored at any point (wasn’t wowed either though).  Finally, I caught up with The Danish Girl, which I found a fascinating, maybe even great film until it is destroyed by director Tom Hooper’s worst tendencies in the final act.  Tom Hooper at times just tries way too hard with his “See, I went to film school” filmmaking style and it really reduces what is a poignant and important film into a preposterous arthouse film.  All that being said, Alicia Vikander delivers her best performance in what is a banner year for the actress.  She plays so well off of Eddie Redmayne by being so charming and still finds a lot of room to bring in vulnerability.  I can’t see how anyone cannot call her the entertainer of the year with standout performances here, in Ex Machina and in the The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (she even found a way to come out of The Seventh Son looking good).

            Finally, I finished the second season of the Affair, which finally figured out what it was.  The problem with so many Showtime dramas is that they are all soap operas that aspire to be something more, which makes their flaws all the more noticeable.  That’s what made Homeland such a chore to watch past its first six episodes or so and it’s what made the second half of The Affair’s first season painful to watch at times.  However, the second season of The Affair finally embraces the soap opera nature of its plot.  It’s just sexy people doing sexy things and I’m fine with that especially with strong performances from its main quartet.  Of the quartet Maura Tierney was the main highlight, though.  Additionally, there’s enough twists and turns in the final few episodes to make me more then interested in returning for a third season.

            This Wednesday and Thursday I will release my top ten lists for 2015 in television and 2015 in film, and this format will hopefully continue with a piece like this sometime next week.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens = 9/10 (after the immediate shock of seeing a new Star Wars film has faded I think I’m settling on this rating)

In the Heart of the Sea = 4/10

The Peanuts Movie = 6/10

The Danish Girl = 7/10

The Affair: Season 2 = 8/10

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