Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Movie Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi


"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" the most recent iteration and second arc in the latest Star Wars Trilogy, was written and directed by Rian Johnson. It's highly recommended that you approach this film with an open mind. Avoid reading reviews if you can, this one included (unless you're like me and truly don't care about spoilers. You might be more curious as to the HOW and WHY something happened, not so much that it did happen).

So when I went to my local theater I caught the 3:30p.m. showing on Monday, December 18, 2017. It was relatively empty (so no crying children, no teenagers on their cellphones) and overall a pleasant experience. I had to opt for that particular showing due to time constraints and it forced me to catch the film in 3D, but I didn't mind the added charge.

Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is shown to be as hot-headed and rash as ever, especially after aiding in the destruction of the First Order's Dreadnaught battleship. The scene resonates with raw energy as we see that extreme sacrifices yet again are made in order to strike a devastating blow against the Empirical battalion of Tie-Fighters. General Organa however, is not pleased with Poe's insistence that the move was a victory as she views it as more Pyrrhic than anything else. The lesson he eventually does learn is that sometimes it is best to lose a battle, in favor of a tactical retreat.

I was mildly disappointed that Finn (John Boyega) didn't make an appearance until later than I had anticipated. Apparently he was recuperating from a punishing last battle with the proto-fascist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). (For those of you unfamiliar, proto-facism is a conceptual belief that liberal democracy is obsolete and those of a fascist mindset regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary in order to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic problems.) Finn suffered severe shoulder burns and a large diagonal slash across his back from the red lightsaber Ben Solo used in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The major dilemma of this film is that while Rey (Daisy Ridley) is trying to get Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammil) to come back to the fold and fight alongside the resistance (which he wants no part of), Finn and Poe along with newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) are trying to help the transport ship they're on escape from Supreme Leader Snoke's personal cruiser while their vessel is low on fuel and options.
Old man Sywalker

The one thing that sort of annoyed me was that the plot threads required a specific "master coder" with a red lapel flower pin on his person. He was to be located in this casino on the planet and while Rose and Finn have a nice bonding moment, they find an alternative hacker and the one that they were SUPPOSED to have found falls into complete obscurity and irrelevance. That, to me, was a bit unnecessary from an audience perspective. It's a poor rehashing of the Mos Eisley cantina scene in “A New Hope.”

The reason that they need this individual is to bypass the security on the lead ship attacking the resistance so that they can temporarily disable the tracking mechanism and allow for a hyperspace jump with the limited remaining fuel available.

Meanwhile, Rey has given up on Skywalker and decided to return on her own accord in an attempt to turn Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) back to the light side of the Force. She is subsequently captured and brought before Snoke, who wants to snuff her out after obtaining Luke's whereabouts. He offers his apprentice the opportunity to end her himself and in a totally expected manner, Kylo Ren manages to kill his mentor with Luke's lightsaber. It's a bit frustrating because his end was so anti-climactic and predictable. The rest of the guardsmen coming to defend him however managed to be an interesting clash as both Rey and Kylo Ren fight side-by-side, back-to-back. The truce is temporary however, and Kylo tells Ren that the one thing she seeks out most (her parents) aren't even worth mentioning.

The Millennium Falcon, A Relic of the Past
Her parents aren't some noble warriors, nor lost Jedi, or members of some secret society. No, according to him, she always knew that they were nobodies that sold her to traders on Jakku for drinking money. It's a sad, deflated delivery and although its perhaps supposed to show that ANYONE can be a hero and rise to the challenge, it leaves Rey quite defeated emotionally and mentally. He then offers to rule the galaxy with her by his side, but only if she lets the past die.

Unfortunately, (perhaps unsurprisingly) there's a double-cross by the hacker while Finn is captured with Rose to be executed by Phasma. (She's still not as cool as Boba Fett and never will be. I truly wish Rian Johnson would stop trying to hype her up.) A battle ensues and during the chaos, General Organa's second in command does something that is a basic, fundamental prohibition when operating a spacecraft. She hyperspace jumps the vessel THROUGH SNOKE'S SHIP. Honestly, I never thought I'd ever see that on the big screen (let alone in 3D). That was hands down the most badass way to sacrificially decimate someone. Everyone had made it to escape pods headed towards a planet made salt. (Probably made from all of the tears of the fans of the previous trilogies.)

I find it incredibly ironic that Kylo Ren wants the "past to die" when he has been living off the heel of Darth Vader's legacy and using the Empire's Tie-Fighter and All Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST) technology, with minor upgrades, if any. Rey and General Organa perhaps are among the few that know that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

Kylo Ren

Luke Skywalker finally musters up the courage to re-connect with the Force and the Rebel Resistance and he does so without ever leaving his serene planet. He confronts Kylo Ren and he manages to stall him long enough for his sister and allies to escape their last fortified outpost. It's eerily reminiscent of the planet Hoth, complete with the AT-ATs (All Terrain Armored Transports).

Personally, I enjoyed the movie overall. There were enough jokes to go around and the tone of the movie was eased a bit with some of the self-aware jabs at the drama of the series. Rey's scenes tend to be the most humorous of the collection (specifically Kylo Ren's somewhat cringe-worthy shirtless scene), but in particular, I couldn't help but laugh at inappropriate opportunities, particularly the campfire scene with Chewbacca and the Porgs. This movie isn't afraid to make poke fun at its own history and the current state of affairs. There are some controversial scenes (like General Leia Organa "Force-Floating" through space to reach the hangar and doing so in the vaccuum of space, but I was fine with that too. The Jedi are "space-wizards" for all intensive purposes and anything they do should not break the immersion. After all, Darth Plagueis was a Sith Lord that "could prevent death itself". So nothing is off the table, so to speak.

There are a few important figures and events that I've deliberately left out (as they're a bit of a treat) but they're nice subtle nods to the past trilogies and I hope that for those of you that have yet to see the film, you'll make an effort to do so to form your own opinions. It will always be difficult to capture the novelty and sheer exhilaration of the original films, but thus far, these new additions seem to hold their own.

Rating Score

Letter Grade: B

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Keenly Human Element - Detroit: Become Human

During a recent press event in Paris, Quantic Dream presented their latest gameplay demo of their new IP (Intellectual Property), titled Detroit: Become Human. The game is being directed by David Cage.

I suppose the most controversial portion of the screening needs to be addressed first and foremost...the trailer depicted acts of domestic and child abuse as well as graphic violence.

Kara, an android housekeeper, bears witness to an American father’s psychological and physical abuse of his daughter, Alice. However, she is not merely a witness, but a potential foil to the antagonist within this particular scenario. She (and thereby the player, via proxy) is capable of intervention. How the player goes about doing so however, is the key factor in preventing further conflict escalation. One's choices will affect the narrative in a multitude of different ways. Does Kara try to talk to Todd in order to calm him down? How does he respond? Will she take a more aggressive approach? Does she take Alice and flee? A world of possibilities is only a button press away. Yet, every choice has a consequence...If nothing is done, Alice will end up dying, making her death the least desirable outcome.

Todd is shown to be an aggressive father who has been left by his wife. Having lost his job “because of androids,” he lives with his daughter in a shanty house in the suburbs of Detroit. Kara had already been damaged by Todd once before and her memories have since been reset.

There has been a longstanding status quo between game makers and players not to address taboos and political aspects in games because of a prevailing notion that this particular medium is not suitable for handling the gravity of certain real-life situations or moral choices appropriately. As such, there has perhaps been a stagnation of meaningful narrative in games. David Cage and his development team's production may work to rectify this by treading through these uncharted waters, so to speak. Addressing difficult subject matter however makes navigating potentially more perilous for the medium’s writers and designers.

Conversely, this type of setup isn't all too different from those old "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" books from the 1980s, where readers would, at the end of each plot milestone, make a dramatic choice, and then turn to the indicated page to see how the choice played out.

"Art imitates life, but should there be a limit to what is shown?"

Despite that comparison, it is still quite possible that gamers will see the game as a trivialization of needing only to make the “correct” choices in order to resolve such situations. Many people may feel that such choice is a misrepresentation of the reality of those who has suffered from, or who knows a survivor of, domestic abuse.

Now, Kara's story isn't the only focus of the grand, overall plot. In fact, there are at least three protagonists total, all of which have interwoven plotlines. One such, involves the Android negotiator Connor, who is sent to try to determine what events transpired during a hostage situation and prevent another Android, Daniel, from causing harm to come to a young girl. By investigating the crime scene and talking to SWAT personnel, the odds of success increase dramatically within the allotted time.

The third Android, Marcus, is trying to start an Android revolution. Recently gaining sentience, he must decide whether to make his demands known through forceful protest, or peaceful persistence.

Connor and Kara's storylines seem to be the most interesting of the three (at least to me), but perhaps in time we will see more of Marcus' inspirations and motivations.

It takes an incredible amount of courage to tackle extremely unpleasant themes or portray traumatic scenes, whether it be in game design, movie making, or other artistic design. We still need to be cautious of the glorification of and desensitization to, violence.