Thoughts on the “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Trailer

Today the first trailer for Episode 8 in the Star Wars Trilogy The Last Jedi released.  It was a long time waiting for a trailer compared to Episode 7 The Force Awakens.  Since this is a first trailer this is just a glimpse into what’s in store but I do have some thoughts:

1.) There is an “Empire” feel to this trailer.  It feels like Rey will have her “Dagobah” time with Luke.  From the training to the “what do you see”? I do hope at some point if it’s this film or Episode IX that she builds her own lightsaber.  Every one else in the saga has built their own lightsaber, it would make sense and only be right that she constructs a new lightsaber just for her.

2.) There looks like there will be some sweet space battles.  That was one thing lacking in The Force Awakens was great space battles.  Hopefully that will be remedied in this film.

3.) Finn in stasis (or whatever that was) reminded me of Han in carbonite freeze.  I wonder how much of Finn in this film will be still unconscious/recovering and how much will be him participating.

4.) I’m guessing there will be more Poe which hopefully will be connected to the space battles.  More time with him and Black Squadron will be a definite plus.

5.) The “Jedi to end” line is the one that has me scratching my head and partly concerned with the track of the film (and Episode IX).  Granted that’s what the director Rian Johnson wants is to leave it so vague like that.  What I hope is that it doesn’t actually mean the end of the Jedi.  I think that would be a mistake and would be wrong.  In a way if that happened, the Emperor would have succeeded.  He wanted to get rid of all the Jedi and if Luke sees to its end then what the Emperor wanted to happen would’ve happened.  Maybe it’s a moment of crisis and with Rey the Order is restored.  I don’t know.  Out of all the things in the trailer that concerns me.

There are a lot of feelings.  I think the main one (and I tweeted a GIF of it) was “What?”  There are a lot of “what?” moments.  To be honest given how things are I’m very excited but I’m also a little anxious.  It feels like trusting someone to handle a very priceless artifact and seeing them carry it to you.  You’re excited to get it but at the same time worried they might get careless and drop it.  The verdict will come in December.

Communication: Thoughts on “Arrival”

This week I picked up Arrival on Blu-Ray.  I saw the film in theaters back in November and in my “year in review” for my favorite films of 2016 said this was my film of the year.  So needless to say I was excited to watch it again (as well as all the special features documentaries).

Arrival poster

At the heart of this film is communication.  Communication between humans and aliens.  Communication between humans to each other.  The importance of having good communication.  How bad communication can be ineffective or disruptive.  Communication can be something that unites or it can be something that divides.

The main character of the film is a linguist.  Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) is called in by the Army to help with trying to communicate with the aliens.  She is able to connect with the heptapods and after many times of meeting and struggling is able to develop a line of communication with them.  It takes time and patience to understand even the basic things that the heptapods are trying to communicate.

Louise also has to communicate with the Army to tell them why she has to be so basic with the heptapods at the start.  One scene that was apropos was when she writes on the whiteboard at the base “What is your purpose on Earth?” and then goes into description of how each word has to be understood (as well as understanding what a question is) before being able to ask the question to get an appropriate response.  But through the course of the film Louise and Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist (played by Jeremy Renner) are able to establish communication with the heptapods “Abbott” and “Costello”.

Arrival Louise and Ian

But it’s not just communication between the humans and the heptapods important in the film, communication between humans to each other is important.  We see the struggles between the Army and Louise and Ian.  We see it between different countries as they are sharing (or not sharing) info with their encounters with the heptapods.  We see it with the media reporting the news.  The disconnection between different countries almost lead to aggression and even to the bring of war.

We live in a world today where there is instant communication.  The internet and social media has connected people around the world in ways that were not imaginable a generation ago.  But even with this advancement in communication, there is a lot of miscommunication.  We can turn on the TV or turn on our computers and see a huge disconnect in people communicating with one another and that can lead to people getting hurt.

Even though Arrival is science fiction, there is a lot of truth in it.  We as humans long to connect with others.  But really connecting with people takes time and it’s messy because we’re broken.  Our sin makes us broken.  To really communicate is to open oneself up and share themselves.  Many times we’re scared to do that because in our vulnerability we are worried people will take advantage of that and hurt us.  It takes a level of trust to be open in communicating with someone and that comes through relationships.  Louise built a relationship with “Abbott” and “Costello” which by the end of the film not only affected her but the entire world and the heptapods as well.  She trusted the heptapods but that didn’t come overnight.  It took time and work and also sacrifice.  But in the end, that trust led to better communication.

Arrival is a very timely film and one that gets to the heart not only of who we are as people but what it means to be human.  To be human both in our virtues and our flaws.  The beauty in how God created us and the sin which hinders and hampers us.  How we struggle to communicate with one another and how that affects our relationships with one another and how we’ve been given a gift (in Jesus Christ) that can unite all people together.

I said before it was my film of the year last year and seeing it again reminds me not just how good it is as a film but how thought provoking it is.  It is a good reminder that communication is key and we all could do a better job of it.

The Power Forgiveness Can Have: Rewatching The Prestige

Lately I’ve been going back and rewatching some of my favorite movies, especially ones that I have not seen in a long time.  Last week, I rewatched The Prestige.

the-prestige

The Prestige, which starred Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johannson and directed by Christopher Nolan, tells the story of two magicians/illusionists and the rivalry that developed which turned very personal.  Both Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) wanted to be the best and would stop at nothing to do just that.  In the end, the price that they both paid not only cost them but those around them.

There’s a lot one can unpack from a Christopher Nolan film.  One could rewatch his films numerous times and pick up different things.  This time when I was watching the film there were two things that stood out and I tweeted about them while I was watching the film.  The first was this: “If there is a word that is an underlying theme in this film it is hubris.” The other thing was this: “And how forgiveness could’ve kept things from escalating as it did.”

Both men had a huge amount of pride.  They wanted to be the greatest magician/illusionist in the world.  And both of them felt they were better and smarter than the other.  This hubris blinded them to the damage they caused.  Borden made a mistake which led to the death of Angier’s wife.  Instead of being sorry or asking for forgiveness, Borden went on to become a solo act.  Instead of Angier not pursing revenge, he hijacked a performance and shot Borden which cost him two fingers.  And on and on until there was irreparable damage done to not just the two men but their wives, friends, colleagues and everyone around them.

Granted if one had shown grace and mercy to the other it would’ve been a very short film.  But the truth remains.  Their anger and thirst for revenge drove both men in ways that made the situation worse.  On the flip side, forgiveness was right there and could’ve stopped a lot of heartache for both men.

Forgiveness is such a beautiful thing but it also can be one of the hardest things to do.  It is so easy to hold onto hurts, to hold onto wrongs done.  But God calls us to forgive.  We are called to forgive because He has forgiven us.  He forgave us with great cost to Him with His son Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.  He chooses to forgive us even though we wrong Him with our sins.  That is the beauty of forgiveness, that restoring of relationship.

Angier and Borden could not forgive one another.  Each man wanted to prove he was better than the other.  In the end, they proved that their actions kept them from being the best that they could’ve been as well as hurting their relationships with those around them.  May we be people that forgive.  It may come as a great cost but the rewards are much greater.

My Favorite Films of 2016

Last year I shared my favorite films that were released in the past year.  I thought I’d make that a yearly tradition and so here is my list of favorite films for 2016.   They are in no particular order, just in the order that I can remember them from the beginning of the year until the end of the year:

Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday

Though Only Yesterday released originally in Japan in 1991, the English dubbed version came to North America this year.  Only Yesterday is the story of Taeko Okajima and her life in two parts.  It tells one part of her life as an 8 year old child in the late 1960s Tokyo as well as an adult in the 1980s.  It was one of the last Studio Ghibli films to be dubbed into English and includes the voicework of Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel and Ashley Eckstein.

I Saw The Light

I Saw The Light

Based on the true story of country singer and legend Hank Williams Sr., I Saw The Light tells the story of his life as a singer just before his big break to right before his tragic death.  Hank Williams is played in the film by Tom Hiddleston and Elisabeth Olsen plays Audrey Williams, Hank’s first wife.  I’m usually a fan of a good biopic and when it’s a subject like that of Hank Williams I was drawn to it.  I thought the performances in the film were done well especially that of Hiddleston and Olsen.  It is hard to act and sing especially to play an iconic figure but Hiddleston was up to the challenge in my mind.

The Legend of Tarzan

LEGEND OF TARZAN

The Legend of Tarzan is a new take on an old story.  It tells the further adventures of Tarzan and how he and Jane (along with American George Washington Williams) take on some corrupt Belgians who were trying to exploit the Congo.  There are several nods to the classic Tarzan character while telling a story that resonates today.  And while most people this year will look at Margot Robbie’s other big role in 2016 (Harley Quinn), her performance as Jane Clayton is a showstealer.

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

A remake of a classic (which in turn was a remake itself) The Magnificent Seven tells the story of a ragtag group of seven men who help to defend a mining town from a evil and corrupt businessman and his hired army.  The cast for this film included Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio among others.  I enjoyed the original The Magnificent Seven and to me this film honors that film while also telling it’s own story.

Amanda Knox

amanda-knox

Probably the documentary of the year for me in 2016, Amanda Knox was a Netflix film that tells the story of Amanda Know, who is most well known for being found guilty and later acquitted of the death of a fellow student in Italy in 2007.  For this documentary there is lots of archive footage and interviews as well as interviews today from some of the key people including Amanda herself.

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

Out of the two Marvel movies that released this year, Doctor Strange was my favorite of the two.  Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job as Dr. Stephen Strange.  Strange went from an arrogant doctor over the course of the movie to the Sorcerer Supreme.  It was a good origin story for a character that is not as well known in the Marvel Universe as others.  And it didn’t kill off the main villain at the end of the movie.  It is a good setup for what’s to come in Phase 3 of the MCU.

Arrival

arrival

If there is a “Film of the Year” for me, I would say it’s this film.  From the first trailer to seeing it on the big screen, Arrival was interesting and compelling.  With a cast that included Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker, Arrival tells the story about humankind’s interaction with an alien species and the key to communicating lies with a language professor (played by Adams) and a physicist (played by Renner).  But it’s a different take on that familiar trope.  The visuals are stunning and the story makes you think.  This is a film I’m interested in seeing multiple times because of seeing the all the puzzles pieces in place.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

An interesting film that I found on Netflix, Blue Jay is the story of two high school sweethearts that meet up some 20 years later.  Jim (played by Mark Duplass, who also wrote the screenplay for the film) returns back to his hometown to settle some affairs after his mother passed away.  He runs into Amanda (played by Sarah Paulson) at a grocery store and the two reminisce about old times.  It is a very poignant film and one that deals with heavy issues in a thought provoking way.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one

Of course a list of my favorite films would have to include a Star Wars movie.  Rogue One is the first Star Wars anthology film and is set right before A New Hope.  It tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans for the first Death Star and the group that did it.  It had one of the best battle sequences I’ve seen in a Star Wars movie and there were a lot of cool references that tied into the Star Wars universe.  Thought I still have the original trilogy in my top 3 of Star Wars films, this one is right there in the running for 4th along with The Force Awakens.

Team Building: Thoughts on Rogue One & The Magnificent Seven

I finally got around to watching the remake of The Magnificent Seven that came out in the fall (which the one that released in the ’60s was a remake of the Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai).  I really enjoyed it and would put it up there as one of my favorite films of 2016.  As I finished the film, I had some thoughts that marinated in my head between that film and another film that I just recently watched: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (FYI there will be spoilers)

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

For those that don’t know the story of The Magnificent Seven, the premise of the film is a small town out in the Old West has been taken over by this crooked baron who wants to run everyone out of town and take over the mines for himself.  Some of the townspeople seek out a group to protect and avenge the town.  A team of seven men, outlaws and misfits in their own right, come together and fight for the town and for the people in it.

The team consists of a warrant officer (essentially a bounty hunter), gambler and ladies man, tracker and a mountain man, a war veteran and sharpshooter, an immigrant and assassin, a Mexican outlaw and finally an exiled Comanche warrior.  Each one has their own unique story.  Each one has their past which in some ways haunts them.  And each one chooses to fight for honor and for the people of this town that had been oppressed.

These seven men are gathered together by the warrant officer Sam Chisholm (played by Denzel Washington in the film).  Several of the men he knows personally going into this fight, others he comes to know along the way.  By the time of the battle, each man has a vested interest in the fight beyond just the “payout”.  They want to avenge the wrong taking place.

In a similar way, Rogue One has that same kind of vibe.  There is the collection of a ragtag bunch.  They eventually come together and fight a group that has been oppressing people.  And they know going into the fight they are facing and overwhelming force that opposes them.  This group of six, like the Magnificent Seven, have their own back stories and come together to fight for a good cause (here to steal the plans of the Death Star and get them to the Rebel Alliance).

rogue-one

After watching these two movies, I tend to think one of the flaws of Rogue One is something that is addressed better in The Magnificent Seven.  In my initial thoughts post I wrote immediately after seeing Rogue One, I mentioned how I thought the character arcs of several characters seemed rushed.  At the time I said it is a minor thing and in most ways I still think that but it does merit discussion.

As an audience we are supposed to be invested in Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, Chirrut Imwe, Baze Malbus, Bodhi Rook & K-2SO.  They are that ragtag group we are to rally behind and cheer on as they make their way to steal the plans off of Scariff.  But by the time this group is lifting off of Yavin IV and on their way, there is still some character building that could’ve been done.  I was more invested in some characters than I was in others.  But in The Magnificent Seven, it felt like they took the time to develop all the characters in a way that made you fully invested in them.  When you have Sam Chisholm, Joshua Faraday, Goodnight Robicheaux, Jack Horne, Billy Rocks, Vasquez and Red Harvest all together ready for the big fight, it feels like you really know those characters and are invested in all of them.

The other big thing that stood out was essentially the ending.  At the end of Rogue One, all of the team end up dead.  This in and of itself isn’t bad but when you couple that with not feeling like you’re fully invested in the characters, it doesn’t resonate as much as say the death of Han Solo at the end of The Force Awakens.  Also, in my personal opinion, there should’ve been at least one make it out at the end.  To have someone standing at the end to feel the weight of the accomplishment while at the same time feel the burden of the loss of friends is a dramatic storyline that is worth pursuing.  At the end of The Magnificent Seven you had three men at the end alive.  The majority of the seven sacrificed their lives for the town and for their “team” so that the battle could be won.  But you had the three that lived on who could remember the sacrifice made and tell the story.

The Magnificent Seven and Rogue One are two films that both tell compelling stories.  They ultimately remind us that we are better in community.  We are better working together as a team to solve problems and to overcome evil.  In the end, that is what a good story truly has in it.  It’s about team building and fighting the good fight.

Built on Hope: Initial Thought of Rogue One

Last night I went and saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and had a lot of thoughts and feelings about the film so I made sure to jot some of them down so that when I sat down to write this post I would have them as well as thoughts the next day.

rogue-one

I went to see it at a different theater than I saw The Force Awakens.  So it is a little difficult to compare the atmosphere to those two films.  It also was a different format (Rogue One in 2D vs The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D).  The theater that I was at wasn’t sold out for that showing (8:00pm) but there was a good crowd.

Here’s some of my thoughts on the film (I will try to keep it as spoiler free as possible):

It was weird to jump right into the movie.  Granted this was expected that there wasn’t going to be an opening crawl but even the title card didn’t appear until after an opening scene and it didn’t even have the words Star Wars in it.

There were a lot of great cameos and Easter Eggs in this film.  Everything from the overt to the covert was mentioned throughout the film with little nods to the prequels to things that led directly into A New Hope.  Longtime Star Wars fans could appreciate how they were all worked in and how they contributed to the film.

I loved the battle of Scariff.  It was probably my favorite part of the entire film.  Both the land and space battles where done very well.  I’m always a huge fan of space battles and this one did a great job of that with the Rebel fleet going against the Imperial fleet in some great dogfighting.  The ground battle was filmed exceptionally well and made for some heartwrenching moments.  It definitely fits right in with the best battle sequences in a Star Wars film.

One thing that was a little unnerving was some of the character development of a few of the characters.  To me, it seemed the character arc was a little rushed for a couple of them.  I understood where they were going with it and it is difficult to try and have it come together in the span of just one movie.  I think it would’ve been helpful to have more time and backstory to flesh it out but that’s more a minor thing than anything.

I will say (trying to avoid spoilers) that the CGI work in this film is something that I don’t think would’ve been possible five or ten years ago.  What was done in this film is impressive that they were able to weave together a story that was made in 2016 which leads directly into a film made in 1977.

Overall I really enjoyed the film.  It is a very dark film.  Gareth Edwards (who also directed Godzilla which I loved) did a tremendous job bringing this film to the screen.  It is a film that is different from other Star Wars films but it does make it’s home in that universe.  At the heart of the film is hope.  A line that is echoed several times is “Rebellions are built on hope.”  Even in the midst of all the darkness, there still is that glimmer of hope that shines through.

I will have to watch it several more times to really get a gauge on where it ranks for me.  I really enjoyed it but I don’t think I would put it right up there with Episodes IV, V & VI.  It probably comes down to between it and The Force Awakens.  I will say if you’re a Star Wars fan it is totally worth seeing.  It was worth waiting a year to see and will help tide things over until Episode VIII releases next year.

What Defines You: Thoughts on Doctor Strange

I finally went and saw Doctor Strange today.  This was a film that I had been looking forward to seeing for a long time.  I’m a fan of the Marvel films and I expected this to be another good one and I wasn’t disappointed.  It was a great film and gave me a lot to think about both as I was watching but also afterwards.

Doctor Strange

I thought I’d share some of my thoughts here (for those that haven’t seen it yet, there’s not really any spoilers here).  The film tells the story of Dr. Stephen Strange, a world famous neurosurgeon.  He is the best and he knows it.  He lives in a penthouse suite in New York City.  He has the best car, best clothes and lives the high life.  For him, his life centers around his practice of medicine.  That all changes when one night he’s in a horrific car accident and is badly injured.  His hands are so badly hurt that he is unable to do neurosurgery ever again.

At this point, Strange is lost.  The thing that he thought defined him as a person was gone.  He viewed himself as first and foremost a doctor and when that was taken away from him he didn’t know what to do.  He then goes on a journey that leads him to Katmandu, Tibet and would eventually lead him to become the Sorcerer Supreme and defend Earth against all magical and mystical threats.

That thought, that question of what defines a person is one that is something that resonates with everyone.  We all look to find what defines us individually.  For some like Stephen Strange, it is through career.  For some it is through a relationship.  For others it may be status.  Whatever it may be, there is a desire to find that thing and point to it as what defines us.  But what happens when something happens to us like what happened to Stephen Strange?  What if someone loses that job?  What if that relationship ends?  What if that thing that we thought defined us isn’t there anymore?

For me I have had to learn that ultimately what defines me is my relationship with Jesus Christ.  First and foremost I’m a follower of Jesus.  Things in my life may come and go but He is constant.  He never changes.  He is always there.  I can trust in Him through thick and thin.

Doctor Strange was a fun action comic book movie.  It was also a good movie in that it makes you think.  Anytime a film can make you think and reflect is a good thing.  And it is good to reflect on who we are and what does define us…or who defines us.