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Horror Movies

Notable Horror Film/TV Releases For This Week (9/14/21-9/20/21)

Hey, it’s me–walking back into your life like Steve from Blue’s Clues. I’m trying to be around more even with my busy slate of work. Halloween is upon us, my friends. We love horror, suspense, and mystery so let’s talk about this week’s interesting releases.

Netflix dropped Nightbooks this week on their streaming service. Nightbooks is a horror series that’s kid-friendly in the same vein as something like the Goosebumps movies. The series stars Krysten Ritter, who is an evil witch who kidnaps a young boy and makes him tell her stories every night. Nightbooks is produced by Sam Raimi, who directed the Evil Dead franchise and Spider-Man trilogy.

The other intriguing release is the documentary focusing on horror icon Boris Karloff. Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster released yesterday in theaters with a limited release. The film examines Karloff’s illustrious 60-year career in the entertainment industry. Karloff starred in horror classics, such as Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932). These are the interesting releases for the week!

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Horror Movies Reviews

The House on Sorority Row (1982) and Sorority Row (2009) Reviews

This is an iconic poster. It is lurid, but it also shows off the gothic atmosphere that is created in the film.

I don’t have much to say about this poster. It is honestly kind of awkward.

The Summer of Spook

It has been a while since I last reviewed something. I had many more reviews planned for The Summer of Spook, but alas, life gets in the way sometimes. Hopefully, I can now begin reviewing some more films for The Summer of Spook. Today we look at 1982s The House on Sorority Row and the 2009 remake Sorority Row. Both movies have plenty of positives and negatives—the 2009 version has a bit more problems but is still fun. The House on Sorority Row is a classic and seminal slasher from the early 1980s. J.A. Kerswell has a very positive outlook on the original The House on Sorority Row and refers to it in his book The Slasher Movie Book as “one of the best slasher movies of the period,” and refers to it as, “exciting, suspenseful, and stylish” (Kerswell, 2012, #132). I can see where he is coming from in his assessment, particularly with the film’s ending, which is highlighted by a surrealist atmosphere that elevates the film’s climax.

Both films tell the story of girls in a sorority who commit a prank that ends in death and murder. In The House on Sorority Row, the prank is committed on the house mother, played by Lois Kelso Hunt. In the remake Sorority Row, the prank is committed on their friend Megan’s boyfriend, but the prank goes horribly wrong, and Megan ends up dead by being impaled through the chest with a tire iron. The remake has the character wielding a signature bladed tire iron that, to me, is a pretty unique slasher weapon, but the original has a much better pace and atmosphere. In The House on Sorority Row, the killings begin the same day that the house mother is accidentally murdered, while in the remake, the killings start a year later as the characters try and keep the secret of Megan’s death from getting out. Having the characters have to deal with the accidental death at the very moment creates a much more tense and thrilling atmosphere. The characters in both movies act incredibly selfish, except for the Final Girls from each movie wanting to call for help from the police or an ambulance. No one other than the Final Girls want to get help, afraid of the negative repercussions that their misguided prank and unintentional murders will lead to.

While I don’t have as much positive to say about the characters in these movies I do enjoy the performances from the lead character, Katherine (played by Kate McNeil), in the original and the performance by Leah Pipes in the remake, she plays the bitchy character, Jessica. I enjoy these performances for entirely different purposes. Kate McNeil does an excellent job—particularly in the final act—of relating the terror of the situation to the audience. One of the best scenes in the movie features a character hiding in a jester outfit in the attic where she is hiding. Kate McNeil does an excellent job expressing terror as she realizes that the costume is occupied. It is an effectively creepy and terrifying scene that increased my enjoyment of an already entertaining slasher movie. Leah Pipes does not get praised for the same thing; instead, her performance as Jessica is memorable because of how bitchy and selfish she plays the role. She ranks up there with Melissa from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood as one of the best bitchy characters in a slasher movie. No matter how selfish or vile she may come across she is always a joy to watch on screen and Leah Pipes steals the movie. We get a brief appearance from Carrie Fisher in the remake as the house mother but unfortunately, she isn’t given much to do; however, she does get a pretty decent scene where she fights the killer—I feel it’s important to note whenever the great Carrie Fisher was on screen.

Both movies feature boring twists but for different reasons. I’m not sure if the original is supposed to be a twist since it is telegraphed from the beginning, but the movie frames it in a way that is supposed to be shocking. The killer’s reveal in the remake is boring, and the motive behind the kills is rather lame and uninspired. Both films are entertaining but I think I give the edge to the original The House on Sorority Row even though the remake features the amazing bitchy Jessica. The remake has much gorier kills, most of which are well done, but the original has a unique atmosphere and remarkably uses colors and lighting to enhance the horrific atmosphere. Also, the original has a legitimately terrifying scene with the killer hiding in a jester costume. All in all, I think both are enjoyable flicks to watch on a hot summer night inside the AC.

The House on Sorority Row Rating 3.5/5

Sorority Row Rating 2/5

References

Kerswell, J.A. (2012). The Slasher Movie. Chicago Review Press.

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Horror Movies Reviews

Oldboy and I Saw the Devil: Double Review

Oldboy. Released in 2003.
I Saw the Devil. Released in 2010

The Summer of Spook 

An old Klingon proverb says “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” In Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, released in 2003, Oh Dae-su (played by Choi Min-sik), a man who has been imprisoned for fifteen years by an unknown person, goes to a sushi restaurant and asks to eat something alive. He has a conversation with the chef, Mi-do (played by Kang Hye-jung), about how the best sushi is made with cold hands. He then proceeds to shove a live squid in his mouth and bites the head off. Its tentacles wrap around his face, but he ignores this and keeps eating. Oh Dae-su’s imprisonment has changed him; he goes from being a man who talks too much to someone cold and seeking violence. He wants to be served something cold and alive. 

I Saw the Devil, released in 2010 and directed by Kim Jee-woon, explores revenge similarly, although it engages with the horror genre much more directly. After losing his fiancee to a demented serial killer, Jang Kyung-chul (played by Choi Min-sik), Special Agent Kim Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun) begins routinely torturing the serial killer to get his revenge. As he executes this process the characters and the audience start wondering if Kim Soo-hyun is losing his soul and becoming a monster. Both Oldboy and I Saw the Devil feature the antagonist calling the protagonist a monster, or mention how they created a monster. This concept of monster creation has been present in horror fiction since the beginning. Books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein deal with the literal creation of a monster; whereas, Oldboy and I Saw the Devil use the monster creation as a metaphor. 

Neither one of these movies is for the faint of heart, and both feature traumatic endings (which I will not spoil here. Seriously, watch these movies). They deal with the subject of revenge in a dark and nuanced way. How much would someone be willing to lose for revenge? Both films explore the cyclical cycle of revenge and violence and how once someone starts getting vengeance, everything resets, and bloodlust and revenge reemerge. Western movies–I talking regionally not the genre–such as Death Wish, released in 1974 and remade in 2018, along with its subsequent sequels, and John Wick use the revenge narrative as a vehicle for an action film. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. John Wick is one of my all-time favorite action films, but what I Saw the Devil and Oldboy offer is much more poignant and shows just how much is sacrificed in the name of revenge. Also, even though Oldboy and I Saw the Devil use the revenge narrative in a much more visceral and intense way they are still very satisfying action movies with Oldboy featuring one of the most well executed fight scenes of all-time. 

Both I Saw the Devil and Oldboy also bridge the horror genre, which is why I’m looking at them under The Summer of Spook banner. I Saw the Devil engages with the horror genre in a much more direct way, some moments reminded me of films like Silence of the Lambs, and I should add that Choi Min-sik gives a performance in I Saw the Devil that is equal to the intensity and power of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. I classify Oldboy as bridging the horror genre only because some revelations and moments are horrific to watch; the film is much more in line with the thriller or neo-noir genre. These are two excellent films that explore the theme of revenge intensely and profoundly, making the audience question the morality of vengeance and violence. 

Both Movies Receive 5/5

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Horror Movies Reviews

The Summer of Spook Review: Jigoku (1960)

The Criterion Collection cover of Jigoku.

The Summer of Spook Review #3

People fear death and the afterlife. They fear the punishment that they will receive for their sins and misdeeds. Films have explored death, the afterlife, demons, Satan, and Hell, but none have explored it with the same emotional and psychological horror present in Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku. Jigoku doesn’t position the demons or devils of Hell as the tormentors but instead has the people in Hell tortured through their own guilt. The tormentors of Hell do torture and harm the people who have descended into Hell, but the movie shows people as their own tormentors plagued by guilt, and that manifests into torture and horrific bodily harm.

Jigoku tells the story of a young man named Shiro (Shigeru Amachi). Shiro is a theology student that is well-liked by his professor. He has recently gotten engaged to his professor’s daughter, his fiancee is possibly pregnant with their child, and everyone seems to think he has a bright future ahead of him, but Shiro is tormented by a hit and run that he and his friend Tamura (Yoichi Numata) committed one evening that left a man dead. Tamura is much more cold and lackadaisical about the manslaughter, but Shiro is haunted by guilt. It isn’t long before more tragedy begins to befall Shiro. His fiancee dies, and their unborn child dies in the process, his mother becomes mortally ill, he discovers that his father is an uncaring and philanderous man who refuses to aid his ailing wife, and the lover and mother of the man killed hunt Shiro wanting revenge. Nakagawa’s presentation of this material is quite dreamlike–nightmarish probably makes more sense–and surreal. The character of Tamura is unlike any other in the film, and his presence in the film adds to the surreal quality that persists throughout the entirety of the film. Tamura’s actor, Yoichi Numata, even expressed his confusion in the role and was unsure how exactly to play him. He comes across as devilish, and I was waiting for the film to reveal that he was tormenting Shiro as a ghost or Prince of Hell, but instead, he ends up in Hell tormented for his multitude of sins. 

Tormented by the fires of Hell.

Jigoku is an incredibly cynical film. There is no sign of hope or paradise anywhere to be found. The only redemption that anyone can receive comes in the form of endless torment in the depths of Hell. Nakagawa never dangles an ounce of hope in front of your face. From the start of the film, you know that it ends in Hell and torment. The end did leave me questioning whether or not Shiro had gained some form of redemption. In the end, Shiro’s lover and sister beckon him from afar, and where they are standing looks nothing like the Hell that he has just gone through, but having watched the movie I feel that the end may be a trick and a false sense of hope to lure the audience into believing that is some form of a happy ending. Ichiro Miyagawa joked about Heaven being in the sequel, but that was only a joke.

Jigoku is an emotionally taxing movie. The literal and figurative Hell that Shiro goes through is devastating and horrific to watch. Jigoku is a nightmarish portrayal of guilt and Hell. It is probably one of the most terrifying portrayals of Hell I have seen put to film. It is a masterpiece of horror cinema and an essential entry into the genre that shouldn’t be overlooked, but prepare to be tormented by the psychological, emotional, and violent horror present on the screen.

Rating 5/5

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Horror Movies Reviews

Summer of Spooks Review–Riki-Oh: The Wall of Hell (1989)

Hard to find a clear version of the poster.

I am featuring Riki-Oh on the Summer of Spooks because it is a gruesome anime OVA. It is violent and it doesn’t hold back with its brutality. Riki-Oh began as a manga series that ran from 1987 to 1990. The manga series spawned two anime OVAs as well as a live-action film that released in 1991. Originally, my intention was to review the live-action film that’s titled, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. The film is a cult classic that’s not available anywhere. Prime Video, Crackle, and Shudder advertise that they have the film on their sites. After checking, the film is unavailable. The film is on YouTube, but the quality is poor. For now, I’m going to review the two OVAS until I can get a copy of the live-action film. I’m going to review The Wall of Hell (first OVA) today and save The Child of Destruction (second OVA) for a later date. These OVAs are available on YouTube with good quality.

The first OVA is directed by Satoshi Dezaki. The short film begins in a post-apocalyptic Japan that has been ravaged by warfare and global warming. We are introduced to Riki-Oh, who seems to be a homeless lone wolf. A car filled with yakuza members are driving down a road, then Riki-Oh absolutely destroys them with his fists. He literally punches a guy’s jaw off and we are able to see this grotesque feat. As we see later on, Riki-Oh intentionally killed these yakuza members in order to get sent to this prison facility. The prison facility is ran by corrupt leaders who secretly run an opium farm for profit. The leaders have certain prisoners who run their own section of the jail. The leaders and evil prisoners try to prevent Riki-Oh from getting his revenge on the chairman of the prison. However, they are not able to stop Riki-Oh and his superhuman abilities.

Riki-Oh in the opening scene.

This OVA is not for the faint of heart. Riki-Oh destroys these vile prisoners with absolute ease and gory kill sequences. He literally punches a man so hard that the man’s guts explode out of his stomach. I feel like this anime perhaps inspired Mortal Kombat and One-Punch Man. Its influence is clearly felt in the subjects that I mentioned above. There are also very innocent people in this story that meet a doom that they don’t deserve. One of them is a child, so be prepared for how twisted this story is.

The anime short does give Riki-Oh an interesting story arc that makes him this mysterious character similar to Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive or Clint Eastwood’s character in High Plains Drifter. The story clearly explains why Riki-Oh is at the prison. He’s there for revenge. However, the mystery is what Riki-Oh was up to for two years. He was a star student and a brilliant musician. Before college entrance exams, he falls off the face of the earth, then pops up at the prison. The mystery is up for interpretation for viewers. It feels as if Riki-Oh has become this being of vengeance, who’s looking to cleanse the evil in the streets of Japan.

To conclude, Riki-Oh: The Wall of Hell is a brief, yet entertaining anime story. I can’t wait to watch the second OVA to see Riki-Oh’s story continued. I recommend the OVA for martial arts fans and fighting game fans. If you like gore too, check this out.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.

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Horror Movies Reviews

The Invisible Man (1933) and The Invisible Man (2020): Side by Side Review

The Invisible Man (1933)
The Invisible Man (2020)

The Summer of Spook #1

James Whale’s The Invisible Man, released in 1933, is a classic of horror cinema. Released during Universal Studio’s reign in the horror genre, James Whale adapts H.G. Wells’s novel to the big screen with gusto and flair. The film features incredible effects, a wonderful performance from Claude Rains, and a campy tone and atmosphere that adds to the film’s charm. In 2020, Leigh Whannell, a modern icon of horror cinema, updated the classic sci-fi/horror tale and created something arguably just as classic. I watched The Invisible Man (1933) a few weeks ago but decided to wait on my review until I could talk about these movies together. Each director takes the material and crafts something unique to their visions and unique to the period in which they were created.

Let us start with The Invisible Man (1933). In this version of the tale, a scientist, Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), discovers a way to become invisible, and this method takes a toll on his sanity. He becomes murderously insane, committing atrocious acts of mass murder, and terrorizes a quiet countryside. James Whale, along with Claude Rains’ performance as the titular Invisible Man, uses dark and macabre material to tell a campier and lighter horror film. Leigh Whannell leaves that campy tone at the door and weaves a tale much darker and sinister. One of the primary differences in both Invisible Man movies is how the titular Invisible Man is portrayed. Claude Rains cackles his way through the film, his character is tragic and a victim of his tampering with science; Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), is much more sinister. He is not a victim of science but rather a victimizer and abuser who uses his ability to gaslight and target his wife, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss).

The Invisible Man (1933)
The Invisible Man (2020)

The protagonists of each movie are incredibly different. In James Whale’s The Invisible Man, Jack Griffin is the protagonist. Even though he commits horrific acts, the movie is about his journey into madness. Leigh Whanell’s The Invisible Man has Cecilia Kass as the protagonist. They are both victims of the science that creates The Invisible Man but for many different reasons. Leigh Whannell uses the science of the story to create a very relevant tale about abusers and how people overlook or refuse to believe victims of abusers. Adrian Griffin does everything in his power to control Cecilia’s life. He knows no one will believe her and finds joy in torturing and abusing his power. One thing I find interesting is how both movies use empty space to try and make you guess where the Invisible Man may be. Leigh Whannell uses this to make you guess where the threat may be coming from. I found myself searching the frame for clues of where The Invisible Man could be. This approach is fantastic and helps build the horror and atmosphere. I love how the camera panes to empty spaces making you unsure if you are “looking” at the Invisible Man. Both directors start their narratives in the middle of the action. James Whale starts the film after Jack has already become Invisible, and Leigh Whannell opens his movie with Cecilia in the process of leaving. Whale uses this to create mystery, and Whannell uses it to aid his claustrophobic nightmare. One thing I was happy Leigh Whannell didn’t do was try and make the audience question Cecilia’s story or the reality of the film. I feel like many filmmakers would try to make a twisty narrative that tries to make the audience confused on whether or not there is an Invisible Man but Whannell takes the genre and story seriously, and that is beneficial to the film. The film never feels like it is trying to trick you; instead, it feels genuine in how it plays with the narrative elements of the Invisible Man story. Both movies also feature, what I would call, iconic moments. The 1933 film has the excellent reveal of The Invisible Man as he removes his bandages and his clothes revealing the nothingness that hides beneath. The iconic moment from Leigh Whannell’s remake features a restaurant and a knife–this movie isn’t old enough for me to spoil it. The restaurant scene is truly terrifying and made me let out an audible gasp of shock–I would assume that the 1933 reveal left audiences feeling the same way. These are the kind of moments that are etched in the minds of the audience forever.

People groan when they hear of a classic film getting a remake, and we see this a lot in the horror community, but The Invisible Man proves that remakes are not always terrible. James Whale’s 1933 film is a classic of horror cinema, and Leigh Whannell takes that familiar story and spins it in a new way that makes it relevant but still terrifying. I love that I can watch these two movies and get something unique and special from each viewing. The performances, the direction, the style, the atmosphere, and the tone are all unique. You get familiar concepts and themes but played in a unique way that is not only relevant to the film but to the time in which the film was released. The Invisible Man (1933) is a classic of horror cinema, and Leigh Whannell takes The Invisible Man (2020) to those same heights creating a modern classic of horror cinema.

The Invisible Man (1933): Rating 5/5

The Invisible Man (2020): Rating 4.5/5

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Movies Reviews

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) Review

Tetsuo: The Iron Man. This is nothing like Marvel’s Iron Man!

The Spring of Sci-Fi #16

To say Tetsuo: The Iron Man is one of the most bizarre movies I have ever seen is an understatement. When I initially watched this film over a week ago, I was planning to write a review on it immediately, but after it ended I didn’t have the words to express how I felt. Tetsuo is a truly unique experience, and trying to put into words what is presented on-screen visually is quite difficult. Oftentimes I find myself recounting plot points in my reviews and I feel that undermines the visual element of filmmaking and film viewing. Tetsuo: The Iron Man is not concerned with telling a neat plot; instead, the director aims to create an atmosphere with its visual body horror.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man was released in 1989 and has become a cult classic. The film was directed by Shinya Tsukamoto who directs the film with a frenzied energy which I haven’t seen in many films. The story concerns a metal fetishist, played by director Shinya Tsukamoto, who after getting an infection from inserting a piece of metal into his thigh runs into the streets and is hit by a Business Man, played by Tomorowo Taguchi, and his Girlfriend, played by Kei Fujiwara. The Business Man and his Girlfriend dispose of the body and are haunted by a metal virus that begins taking over different hosts to get revenge on them. This movie is reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s body horror films and David Lynch’s Eraserhead. The events of the movie unfold like a nightmare. Logic and reason are abandoned for madness and insanity. To clarify how insane this movie is: at one point as the Business Man is infected by the metal virus, his penis turns into a power drill.

This is less of a review and more of a lengthy recommendation. Tetsuo is a phenomenal movie that needs to be witnessed. I could tell you plot points or point out how frantic the editing is, but ultimately this is a movie that relies too heavily on surrealism and visuals to adequately explain. Shinya Tsukamoto wonderfully directs this frenzied film and created a cult classic. Tetsuo is a movie that invites multiple re watches and interpretations. Please give this movie a watch if you want to watch something insane and surreal. It is a unique experience that no other movie can give you.

Rating 4/5

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Movies Reviews

Fantastic Planet (1973) Review

Fantastic Planet. Directed by Rene Laloux. Released in 1973

The Spring of Sci-Fi #15

Fantastic Planet, directed by Renė Laloux and released in 1973, is an experimental and surreal animated science fiction film. The film’s visuals are unique and trippy; they are reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animation and the surreal artwork of Salvador Dali. The film is set on the psychedelic planet of Ygam and is inhabited by bizarre landscapes and creatures. The film primarily focuses on the relationship between the Draags, a giant blue dominant species of Ygam, and the Oms. The Om’s are much smaller and appear more humanlike than the gigantic and blue Draag’s. The film explores multiple themes of free will, fascism, environmentalism, genocide, and animal rights.

I feel like when people think of animation they mostly think of children’s cartoons, Disney films, and anime. One thing that Fantastic Planet shows audiences is how far you could take the medium of animation. Renė Laloux and his animation team create a wondrous and sometimes horrifying world. They stretch the lengths of science fiction and world-building to astoundingly surreal heights. This film could only work as animation. Animation allows their imaginations to roam free, and they are only limited by what they can create and draw. The story is unique, exploring multiple philosophical and existential themes in much more mature ways than audiences typically see in traditional animation. The movie begins with a female Om being teased and harassed by a giant Draag. After the woman is killed a Draag named Tiwa takes in the woman’s infant and names it Terr. Terr is treated well by Tiwa, and we see through Tiwa and Terr’s interactions that the Om’s age much slower than the gigantic Draag’s. Tiwa is instructed in the Draag’s culture and language through a metal band that wraps around her head and sends her lessons through electronic signals. Terr picks up on the signal that Tiwa receives and slowly begins to learn about the Draag’s language and culture. Terr escapes and brings the device with him to a colony of Oms. They begin learning and eventually decide they want to rebel against the Draag’s who seek to either enslave them as pets or exterminate them with toxic gas. The Draag’s also spend most of their time meditating–although I don’t want to spoil what their meditation is accomplishing.

A glimpse at the wonderfully bizarre world of Fantastic Planet

The movie starts slow, but it is important to introduce the audience to the strange world slowly and methodically. By slowly introducing us to the species, politics, and philosophies we can connect much more with what is happening. People typically think of arthouse films as being devoid of emotion but Fantastic Planet balances the sometimes cold tone that is present in some arthouse films with a world that is enchanting and inviting. What appears to be a basic story about rebellion and oppression is much deeper than it originally appears, and that is aided by Laloux’s methodical approach to the story. Many sci-fi stories deal with oppressive governments and rebellion, but Fantastic Planet explores complex themes through a unique lens using surreal animation to help guide and mask its themes. The movie looks like a stoner-friendly movie and is even accompanied by an acid jazz soundtrack–and it kicks ass–but I think that viewing it as only a psychedelic piece of art undermines the existential story that is hidden underneath.

Fantastic Planet is a wonderfully unique animated film that seeks to use its animation to explore elaborate philosophical ideas about humanity and oppression. The film is accompanied by an amazing acid jazz soundtrack that enhances the incredible visuals and would be interesting to listen to on its own. The film has plenty of bizarre and strange creatures that inhabit the background of the world, and I think that trying to notice all the details helps merit multiple viewings. Check this out if you like trippy animation, elaborate world-building, and complex themes.

Rating 4/5

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Movies Reviews

Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy Review

Despite some of my negative feelings on these movies, I do love some of the posters.

The Spring of Sci-Fi Review #14

In 1999 George Lucas brought Star Wars back to the big screen. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace begins the tragic journey of Anakin Skywalker. I was only 6 years old when this movie came out so I don’t personally remember the hype or hysteria that this movie created. I only know that when I originally watched this movie on VHS a few months later, I was enthralled. Star Wars has always held a special place in my memory. They are the first movies I can remember watching, and I remember being excited to watch The Phantom Menace when my father brought home the VHS tape. That movie came out 22 years ago, and my feelings on it have changed a lot: my feelings in general on the entire prequel trilogy have changed a lot. From The Phantom Menace to Revenge of the Sith, the prequels–for the most part–fail to create compelling characters or tell a coherent story from movie to movie. Even though these movies fail in most departments of quality and entertainment, I constantly find myself drawn back to them out of nostalgia. When I was younger, I filtered out the bad stuff and found some good, which means I must have filtered out most of the first two movies.

Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom Menace

The Phantom Menace is a mess of a movie. The movie opens with two Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), meeting with the Trade Federation to negotiate after the Federation puts a blockade on the planet of Naboo. Negotiations are short, and after battling some droids and escaping to the planet’s surface where they meet the Gungan, and bane of this movie’s existence, Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), Qui Gon, and Obi-Wan go to the Gungan City where they receive a means of transport back to the planet’s surface. They escape Naboo with Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) so she can plead to the senate about the safety of Naboo. Along the way, they make a pit stop on Tatooine, where they discover local slave boy Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who is strong with the force. Qui Gon believes Anakin Skywalker to be the chosen one who will bring balance to the force and forever destroy the Sith. There are space battles, a lightsaber fight between Qui Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul (Ray Park); even with all of this, the movie remains boring and uninteresting.

There is too much plot and little story in The Phantom Menace. George Lucas focuses on building up the world around him, and the characters suffer because of this. Qui Gon, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padme are all one-dimensional characters without any charisma or personality that we see from the characters in the original trilogy or even the sequel trilogy. The idea of starting Anakin off as a child is bizarre and drags the movie down. I understand that George Lucas wanted to show the entirety of Anakin’s life, showing how even the most innocent and optimistic child can become the evilest man in the galaxy, but the way the character of Anakin is handled in this movie is poor and just downright boring. Lucas also tries to explain the force and gives us midi-chlorians which takes the mystical and spiritual element away from the force. The inclusion of midi-chlorians negates the speech Yoda gives Luke in Empire about the mystical nature of the force. The inclusion of the chosen one prophecy has always been a negative for me as well. I think it could have worked out better if the movies would have used it as a launching point to explore the fallacies of the Jedi order. That is a subtextual element of these movies that would have been interesting to explore. Lucas using these stories to comment on power, both political and spiritual, would have been an interesting thing to explore. I feel like Qui Gon’s reluctance to some of the Jedi principles would have made him an interesting character to use to explore the Jedi’s fallacies and his death should inspire Anakin’s rebellion to some of the Jedi’s principles.

There is some good in this movie. While Palpatine is given much to do, the inclusion of Ian McDiarmid is always a welcome one. John Williams’ score is magnificent and The Duel of Fates themes is one of the best pieces of music put on film. The fight that coincides with that theme is also one of the movie’s biggest selling points. Ewan McGregor, while not given much to do in this movie, is also a welcome inclusion and his acting would be one of the saving points of this trilogy. The Phantom Menace is mostly a misfire but some of the movie’s imagination and worldbuilding were fairly interesting and helped give way to concepts used in the excellent Clone Wars series.

Rating 1.5/5

Star Wars: Episode 2-Attack of the Clones

Attack of the Clones is one of the worst things to ever happen to Star Wars. Released in 2002 and set 10 years after the events of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones almost feels like it is hitting the restart button. I’ve always felt that one could skip The Phantom Menace and still understand everything going on in Attack of the Clones. Characters like Anakin (now played by Hayden Christensen) and Padme are entirely different characters at this point in their life and even though Attack of the Clones builds off some of the political stuff present in The Phantom Menace, that movie was so poorly written and incomprehensible that Attack of the Clones can exist without it, and that is a crime itself.

The plot of the movie again concerns Amidala being protected by two Jedi, this time Obi-Wan and his apprentice Anakin. Most of the plot concerns the developing romance between Anakin and Padme. He woos her by talking about how much sand sucks and she doesn’t even blink when he angrily mentions murdering men, women, and children as an act of revenge. Obi-Wan spends most of his time discovering a hidden plot in which a Clone Army is being created, his fight with Jango Fett and the detective plot is kind of cool even though the scene name drops a character, Master Sifo Dyas, that has never been seen or mentioned before this point. The main villain–besides Darth Sidious who operates in the background–is Count Dooku (played by the wonderful Christopher Lee) who appears way late into the movie’s runtime that makes him feel like a lacking threat. The fact that Dooku was Qui Gon’s former master and Yoda’s apprentice should hold more emotional sway and would work as a poetic reminder of Anakin’s future downfall, but Dooku comes in so late into the movie that he feels less like a character and more of an obstacle to get past. Anakin’s character is also poorly handled. I don’t mind Anakin questioning the Jedi and his Master’s motives but having him portrayed so whiny in unlikable makes his ultimate fall less tragic and more inevitable. I feel like the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker should be more rooted in his heroics and how his lust for power leads to his downfall. There is a moment where Anakin and Padme are talking in a field and he romanticizes authoritarianism and fascist ideology, but this character trait doesn’t feel explored enough. We instead get multiple scenes of him whining to Padme about Obi-wan or his and Padme’s tragic romance.

The good moments in this movie are few and far between, but as I said before I do enjoy the detective plot with Obi-Wan and my nerdy side gets excited watching all the Jedi on the battlefield with ignited lightsabers. I personally don’t find the Yoda fight scene to be all that great, but it is pure fanservice that I know plenty of people enjoy. All in all, Attack of the Clones, like The Phantom Menace is a misfire. George Lucas wants to tell a compelling story showing how Anakin’s fall is connected to war and the politics of that era but he never commits to that idea and the movie comes across as sloppy and mishandled.

Rating 1/5

Star Wars: Episode 3-Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith is a fun Star Wars movie. This movie has its fair share of issues, but unlike the previous two installments, this one is watchable. The characters in this aren’t nearly as poorly done, but this movie has to make up a lot of ground from the previous two movies’ failures. Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid steal the show in this movie though, and honestly, Hayden Christensen has moments where he does a surprisingly decent job. I feel like the actors are unfairly treated for their performances but the screenplays for these movies would even make the best actors look bad, even Ewan McGregor doesn’t come out of this movie unscathed.

The opening of this movie is delightful. I enjoy the witty banter between Obi-Wan and Anakin, and I feel this movie does a better job of justifying their brotherly love towards one another. They do split off in this movie, but with The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, they barely get any screen time together to build up their friendship. Anakin is at his most heroic at the beginning of this movie and his suffering comes in secret. This is Anakin’s movie and while I feel like Christensen’s performance is much better than Attack of the Clones, his fall is so quick and rushed that it doesn’t have any emotional weight to it. The Clone Wars animated show does a better job of exploring Anakin’s fall, his mistrust in the Jedi, and his lust for power and glory. I think for me what makes these movies so frustrating is that there is a good story hidden beneath all the bad. This movie suffers because it is the third movie in a franchise of duds, so no matter how fun and decent it may be it is still marred by those movies’ faults.

I don’t want to complain too much about this movie because despite my grievances I still find it an incredibly entertaining watch. The fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan is wonderful and despite how over the top it gets there is more emotion in that fight than was present in any other scene in these three movies. John Williams brings his A-game again and the music during this scene is amazing. Ultimately, this movie is a mixture of satisfying and disappointing. I think if the movies leading up to this were better handled the story of Anakin’s fall could have been excellent to see. The Clone Wars shows try to patch up some of these movies’ lack of quality but it can’t fix everything. Revenge of the Sith is much more entertaining and pleasing to watch but it still suffers from rushed writing and some poor characterization.

Rating 3/5

Overall:

I have always liked this image.

All three of these movies hold a nostalgic place for me and despite their issues I still find myself coming back to watch them. There was a lot to live up to for these movies. It featured iconic characters who people had a lot of expectations for and the series itself held a lot of expectations. These movies attempt to show the fall of the Republic and the fall of Anakin Skywalker and how they relate to each other but they never live up to those lofty goals. This trilogy is marred by poor writing, poor characterization, and a plot that kept trying to move away from the previous bad movie in the series; The Prequel Trilogy never really comes together to tell a compelling story.

Rating 2/5

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Movies Reviews

Godzilla vs. Kong Review

Godzilla vs Kong. Directed by Adam Wingard. Released in 2021. Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall, Millie Bobby Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, and Demian Bichir

The Spring of Sci-Fi Review #13

Godzilla vs. Kong, directed by Adam Wingard, is an improvement over the last installment in the MonsterVerse. Set five years after Godzilla defeated Ghidorah, scientists working for Monarch have been keeping Kong under security so Godzilla wouldn’t come to challenge him. Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) is a conspiracy theorist and podcaster working for Apex Cybernetics and is present as Godzilla attacks the facility where he works. Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) is a fan of his podcasts and believes that Godzilla isn’t attacking without reason, given that he has helped humanity in the past. Fearing for Kong’s life and wanting to stop subsequent Godzilla attacks, a group of scientists, played by Rebecca Hall, Alexander Skarsgard, and Eiza Gonzalez, venture into the center of the Earth to help Kong locate an energy source powerful enough to stop the rampaging Godzilla.


The human characters in this movie are no better than any of the other three installments but like Kong: Skull Island, director Adam Wingard uses them to help further the goofy and fun science fiction plot. King Kong serves as the real protagonist in this movie, and Godzilla is the primary antagonist (well, until a certain mecha shows up), and I think this addition helps make the film much more enjoyable. Instead of the monsters serving the human plots, the humans are serving the monster plot. The action in this movie is fun to watch as well. Watching Godzilla and Kong duke it out in neon lighting was a joy to watch. The other part I enjoyed was the Jules Verne-like plot where the characters Journey to the Center of the Earth. I thought that added a fun and creative sci-fi element that I wasn’t expecting.

Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but who wants that from one of these movies. Most importantly, this movie is fun. It isn’t dragged down by a boring human plot that adds nothing to the film, and it takes what made the other films work and applies them to this movie uniquely and entertainingly. So, if you want to watch a giant atomic lizard and a massive gorilla beat the hell out of each other, look no further than Godzilla vs. Kong.

Rating 3/5