Gravity – A Movie Review

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Oct 182013
 

Gravity Movie PosterDr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone – tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness.

In Theaters: October 4, 2013; MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.); Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Thriller

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón

Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris, Orto Ignatiussen, Paul Sharma, Amy Warren

Let me start by saying we did not see this in 3D, so I include that disclaimer. I am certain it had an impact on my feelings about this movie, as one can clearly see there are aspects of the cinematography that were designed to be enhanced by the 3D and IMAX capabilities. The effects and cinematography are outstanding, but I’m always a sucker for space visuals. On the whole though, Gravity lacked gravitas…to be more blunt, it sucked. Continue reading »

Alice In Wonderland

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Mar 152010
 

Movie Poster for Alice in Wonderland19-year-old Alice returns to the whimsical world she first met as a young girl, reuniting with her childhood friends: the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and of course, the Mad Hatter. Alice embarks on a fantastical journey to find her true destiny and end the Red Queen’s reign of terror.

Genres: Fantasy and Adaptation; Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.; Release Date: March 5th, 2010 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover

Directed by: Tim Burton

I love Tim Burton and I love Johnny Depp even more, which means I really wanted to love this movie. But alas, it is a unrequieted love.

[callout title=Favorite Characters]While we love Johnny Depp, it was the CGI creations Tweedledee and Tweedledum that had us laughing the most.[/callout]It’s often said a camel is a horse designed by a committee, and having served on lots of committees, I know of whence they speak.  Alice in Wonderland is a Tim Burton film designed by Disney fatcats in a boardroom. They spent so much time worrying about selling it as a product that they completely forgot about putting together a half-decent story.

Mia Wasikowska’s Alice has no character arc; she is exactly the same by the end of the film, and her journey is utterly pointless. I came out of the theater wondering if it were just the mediocre script or the director who had failed to meet my expectations. The narrative thrust is so weak that they have to resort to a mostly hollow battle scene in order to keep everyone awake.

Depp, as usual, played his part perfectly. That man can say more with the lift of eyebrow (prominent ones in this film), that most actors in pages of dialogue. The visuals themselves were stunning, and as in Avatar (although I admit to dodging one time), I was pleased that the 3-D effects were used more to immerse you in Wonderland, than to used to startle. However, as beautiful as the visuals were, they just didn’t seem to add to the story, and the story is all about Wonderland. By the end of the movie, I just kept wanting the Rabbit break out into the “I’m Late, I’m Late” song.

All that being said, the movie is probably worth seeing, but I don’t know if I’d worry about paying the extra for the 3-D version, and you might just enjoy it more on DVD when it comes out.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (1 votes, average: 6.00 out of 10)
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Lovely Bones, The – A Movie Review

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Feb 152010
 

Movie Poster for The Lovely BonesSusie Salmon, a young girl who has been murdered, watches over her family — and her killer — from heaven. She must weigh her desire for vengeance against her desire for her family to heal. Based on the best selling book by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones is the story of a 14-year-old girl from suburban Pennsylvania who is murdered by her neighbor. She tells the story from Heaven, showing the lives of the people around her and how they have changed all while attempting to get someone to find her lost body.

Genres: Drama, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Thriller and Adaptation; Running Time: 2 hrs. 19 min.; Release Date: December 11th, 2009 (limited); January 15th, 2010 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language.

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Lay and I watched this movie a couple of weekends ago. Obviously I have not been posting much lately due to work demands, but hopefully I’ll be back to a more regular schedule.

This is an extremely dark story from a well written book. It had the potential to be an excellent movie, but managed to fail pretty significantly. The characters did a very good job with the parts they were given. Mark Wahlberg was excellent, showing great depth of character and subelty. Stanley Tuccia, a great actor managed to play his part very well. He maintained some great tension, but was just a little bit over the top with the creepiness.

We see a lot of the little girl in this “in-between place” she inhabits as she works to help the family move beyond the situation. Most of that did not make a lot of sense. Those parts of the movie, combined with narration by this character just didn’t add a lot to move the story along in a meaningful way.

I thought this movie came across as a college class assignment in cinema. It’s like the students had access to some cool CGI software, so they decided to try every tool in the palate during the scenes from the “in-between place.” There was a symbol (I won’t give it away), that seemed to be there for no reason other than an instructor might have said that some thematic convention was needed throughout the movie. There was even a love scene al la “Ghost.”

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Oct 292009
 

paranormalactivity_smallteaserAfter a young, middle class couple moves into what seems like a typical suburban “starter” tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be demonic, but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.

Genres: Science Fiction/Fantasy and Thriller; Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.; Release Date: September 25th, 2009 (limited); MPAA Rating: R for language.

Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Michael Bayouth

Directed by: Oren Peli

Produced by: Jason Blum, Steven Schneider, Oren Peli

We went to see this movie Saturday night at the new CineBistro Theater in Hyde Park Village (Click to read my take on the theater).  We’d heard a lot of hype along with people claiming it was the scariest movie ever. Well let me give away the entire plot of the movie right here:

Something weird happening to the girl..they start recording themselves to see if they catch footage or weird things happening..they hear a noise..they go to sleep..the door opens…they go to sleep…something moves downstairs..they go to sleep..something bangs on the walls..they go to sleep..something breaths..they go to sleep..finally something a little bit scary happens..the movie ends…oh ya and at one point a demon with hooves leaves three footprints on the floor.

One of the big problems was that the “home movie” would be sped up as they slept, and then just before something happened, it would slow to normal speed. Wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that something was about to happen, so all the suspense was sucked out of the movie.

There were a couple of places in the script where there was hope the storyline might get interesting, but in each case, it was never followed up on. I suspect it might have been scenes cut from the movie, but the setups to those should have been cut too if that was the case. It only made me think the screenwriter and director were amateurs.

The concept was OK, but it’s been done before to much better effect. Overall, neither one of us found the movie scray at all.

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District 9 – A Movie Review

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Aug 232009
 

District 9 Movie PosterThirty years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa’s District 9 as the world’s nations argued over what to do with them.

Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been contracted out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens’ welfare — they will receive tremendous profits if they can make the aliens’ awesome weaponry work. So far, they have failed; activation of the weaponry requires alien DNA.

The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe, contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable — he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.

Genres: Science Fiction/Fantasy; Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.; Release Date: August 14th, 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence and pervasive language.

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, John Sumner

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

Lay and I went to see this movie at an 11 AM showing last weekend. I’d read all these great reviews, and thought it might be a decent film. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed.

This was clearly a political parable, and I think this is what makes everyone rave about the film. I agree It was an interesting story from that perspective and had all expected ingredients including a hapless bureaucrat, an evil corporation, and nasty mercenaries. It is an examination of how we treat people we don’t like, and how we prefer to get our problems out of site.

The best science fiction challenges us to look at ourselves from a different perspective, and provides a story that is, with a some suspension of disbelief, plausible. This movie did none of those things. The story was an excellent depiction of how we treat others we consider “less” than us, but it was obvious in that respect. The primary story line was so full of holes as to become distracting.

Here’s a list of some of those holes:

  1. The aliens have an arsenal of many different sophisticated weapons beyond our technology, but never use any of them to demand better living conditions. Instead they trade them all for cat food.
  2. The ship seemingly doesn’t function for three months where the aliens are starving before humans go and cut a hole in its hull. But is the able to revived work more than 20 year later?
  3. It seems unlikely one alien and his son could run the whole ship, and it doesn’t seem they took any food.
  4. Why isn’t a large section of JSB, located directly under the ship, worried that ship may lose power can land on top of them?
  5. The smart alien and his son spent 20 years finding pieces of their own technology that contain a fluid they use to get their “control module” back off the ground. Why are any pieces of the ship missing? There is no mention of the command module being damaged, nor the main ship.
  6. It seems unlikely so many of the aliens would be so unintelligent. If so few of the aliens have the knowledge of how things work, how can they manage 100’s of thousands of the dumb aliens along with the ship?
  7. It seems unlikely that humans and aliens would so easily be able to understand each other’s language. We can’t even figure out Dolphin-speak let alone an extraterrestrial language.

I’m very glad we saw the movie at a reduced matinee price. I suppose it’s worth putting on your Netflix list, but I would have been disappointed if we’d payed full price.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 10)
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May 172009
 

startrek_smalltheatricalThe fate of the galaxy rests in the hands of bitter rivals. One, James Kirk, is a delinquent, thrill-seeking Iowa farm boy. The other, Spock, was raised in a logic-based society that rejects all emotion. As fiery instinct clashes with calm reason, their unlikely but powerful partnership is the only thing capable of leading their crew through unimaginable danger, boldly going where no one has gone before.

Genres: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Adaptation and Sequel; Running Time: 2 hr. 7 min.; Release Date: May 7th, 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence and brief sexual content.

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

I have tons of time off available from work, and in fact, have to take some of it or loose it. So I took some time off Friday afternoon and went to see Star Trek. Lay didn’t want to see it. This is certainly one of the better movies.

Let me start off by saying that I suppose I might qualify as a trekkie. I don’t own any memorabilia, I can’t speak Klingon, and I’ve never attended a convention. However, I did love the TV show as a child, and I’ve seem all the movies. I’ve been disappointed with a number of those.

I thought the overall theme and general spirit of of this movie was consistent with that of the original series. I did have a little trouble with the opening scenes, as they seemed a little bit too much like “today” for something taking place 300 years into the future.

Otherwise, I liked the movie. I could see all the younger versions of these characters turning out as they did in the TV Series. The cinematography was good, and the music was a good fit, including the original TV theme. The writing in this film is fantastic. Though some standard science fiction plot devices are used, what they say about this film is true. It can appeal to Trekies and non-Trekies alike, even though being one does help you understand the nuances of the characters, especially Kirk and Spock. The main accomplishment of the writers is their simplicity. Sure, the plot may look familiar, but it is fluidly and BELIEVABLY executed. Keeping Trekkie-level complexity out of the plot not only expands the viewer base, but also allowed the writers to focus on delightfully placed humor and character development that is consistent in the eyes of Trekies, and intriguing in the eyes of newcomers.

I loved how Leonard Nimoy was brought in for a small part, and I thought Scottie was introduced in a fun way. I would recommend seeing this movie.

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Death Race – A Movie Review

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Sep 062008
 

Death Race Movie PosterTerminal Island, New York: 2020. Overcrowding in the U.S. penal system has reached a breaking point. Prisons have been turned over to a monolithic Weyland Corporation, which sees jails full of thugs as an opportunity for televised sport. Adrenalized inmates, a global audience hungry for violence and a spectacular, enclosed arena come together to form the ‘Death Race’, the world’s biggest, most brutal sporting event. Five-time NASCAR champion Jensen Ames is a man who has become an expert at survival. After eight years of hard time, he has only six weeks before reuniting with his family. But when Weyland demands a driver to headline the big game, Ames is forced to submit. Donning the costume of mythical rider Frankenstein, the racer becomes an instant crowd favorite, an unequaled sporting superstar. His face hidden by a metallic black mask, one convict will be put through a brutal three day challenge, with the trophy being the ultimate prize: freedom. The only catch is that he must survive a gauntlet of the most vicious criminals in this post-industrial wasteland to claim it. Driving a monster car outfitted with machine guns, flamethrowers and grenade launchers, Ames must now kill or be killed to win the most treacherous spectator sport on Earth: ‘Death Race’.

Genres: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Thriller, Remake and Sports

Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.; Release Date: August 22nd, 2008 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language.

Cast: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez

Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson

Despite the rating, we took Lay’s nephews to see this knowing they would like the action and the modified cars. It was nothing worse than they see in some of their video games. It turned out better than I expected. Sometimes a movie is made to be simply entertaining…not critically acclaimed. But even this movie had its share of solid acting perfomances, and a simple storyline, which is key to any action film. It’s not bogged down with stupid one-liners…its a little cleaver..but doesn’t take itself seriously. The action sequences were well done, and there was plenty of violence and bloodshed… What more do you want from a rated “R” flick? If you want substance, go to something else, but just for an action movie, Death Race is not terrible.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

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Jul 172006
 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's ChestJack owes an unpaid debt to Davy Jones and his army of sea-phantoms…his soul. Now, he must find a way to save himself from becoming one of them, and suffering forever.

Directed by
Gore Verbinski

Genres
Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy

Cast
Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Kevin McNally, David Bailie, Stellan Skarsg?rd, Tom Hollander, Naomie Harris, Martin Klebba, Alex Norton

Lay and I went to see this movie Friday night. We’d been waiting for the crowds to be a bit smaller before we went. We watched the first movie Saturday evening.

I will make my comments without spoilers so that people who haven’t yet seen the movie can read it.

One of the worst things that can happen in a sequel to a successful movie is that audiences will feel like they’re seeing the same movie again with slight variations on the theme. Dead Man’s Chest gives us all the characters we loved in the first movie, but puts them in a refreshingly original movie. The action sequences will keep you on the edge of your seat. And there are more laugh-out-loud moments in this movie than in most comedies. I felt entertained from the beginning right through to the special scene after the closing credits.

Dead Man’s Chest does the right thing as a sequel: It maintains the same carefree spirit of the original and creates an even more fitting story to the whole Pirates lore. After narrowly escaping the gallows–with the help of his friends Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley)–and reclaiming his cursed Black Pearl, it still seems Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has a few more fish to fry. More specifically the barnacle-encrusted undead on board the ghostly Flying Dutchman, lead by Mr. Octopus Face himself, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Jack apparently owes a blood debt to the inky captain and if he can’t find a way out of it–namely locating the secret contents of Jones’ famed locker–Sparrow will be doomed to eternal damnation and servitude in the afterlife (insert Jack Sparrow’s face of disgust here). Making matters worse, Sparrow’s problems manage to interfere with the wedding plans of Will and Elizabeth, who are forced to join Jack on yet another one of his misadventures.

This is the most fun I’ve had in the cinema in the longest time. I can’t remember the last time I was so entertained. Although it is a bit slow at times, and a bit predictable (although fun in it’s predictability), it hardly lets up and continuously entertains.

If you loved the original, you will DEFINITELY love this film. The ending not only makes you laugh, it makes you think “What the hell?” and will make you eagerly anticipate (major understatement) the third installment. There are some great lines, the same fun characters, an inventive and fun story, and some brilliantly staged action sequences.

In summation: SEE IT! See it on the big screen. If you miss it, you will surely regret it.

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Constantine

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Oct 132005
 

ConstantineJohn Constantine has been to hell and back. Born with a gift he didn’t want, the ability to clearly recognize the half-breed angels and demons that walk the earth in human skin, Constantine was driven to take his own life to escape the tormenting clarity of his vision. But he failed. Resuscitated against his will, he found himself cast back into the land of the living.

Directed by: Francis Lawrence

Genres: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Suspense/Horror, Thriller and Adaptation

Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.

Release Date: February 18th, 2005 (wide)

MPAA Rating: R for violence and demonic images.

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor-Vince 

Constantine comes straight out of the somewhat obscure comic book Hellblazer. This film is really geared to a specific audience, and even in that realm, the good and bad are quite intertwined. The concept, the overall plot of the movie, is interesting. Audiences will be left wondering what the clues mean and where the story is going. Most of the action scenes and special effects are cool enough to keep fans of this genre entertained.

Some of the jokes and interactions feel a little out of placeand that’s mainly because there’s almost no insight into any of the characters besides Constantine. Constantine has some depth to him, but literally no one else seems to have a past or real motivation including the main “bad guys”. There’s no good climax to the movie for some reason either.

All that being said, those who really enjoy these types of supernatural thrillers should probably see this because they will be entertained when it’s all said and done.

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Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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Jul 252004
 

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The former Fellowship of the Ring prepare for the final battle for Middle Earth, while Frodo & Sam approach Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring.

Directed by
Peter Jackson

Genres
Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Cast
Noel Appleby, Alexandra Astin, Sean Astin, David Aston, John Bach, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Sadwyn Brophy, Alistair Browning, Marton Csokas, Richard Edge, Jason Fitch, Bernard Hill

DVD

Obviously, I’m aware of the fact that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is actually one giant movie, but since it was released in parts, that’s how I’m judging them. The Return Of The King is the final chapter, and I think that it is the true epic fantasy masterpiece that was intended all along. The first two were very good, but they were both just warm-ups compared to this great film.

At this point everyone has come to know and love all of the characters (eh…yes, even Frodo..), and the stakes have become tremendously high. Kingdoms are at their knees, and the only two characters who can save the day are getting weaker and weaker. The tension was very high in this episode and I can honestly say that out of all 3 this was the only one that had me on the edge of my seat. There were many memorable scenes (one of my favourites including the part with the giant spider) that made this the classic that it is sure to stay for decades to come.

This is the longest of the series, mostly because of the ending that seems to last a while. This was a good ending, and I can see why Frodo did what he did. He, and us the audience, have gone through an incredible ordeal and I think we needed that 20 minute linger. When the battle is over, and the celebrations have ended, there is a sad emptiness felt. The films spanned over 3 years, there have been the extended cuts of course, but after that, it’s all over. Peter Jackson gave us an ending that was both appropriate and admirable.

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Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

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Jul 222004
 

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)

After rescuing Han Solo from the palace of Jabba the Hutt, the Rebels attempt to destroy the Second Death Star, while Luke Skywalker tries to bring his father back to the Light Side of the Force.

Directed by
Richard Marquand

Genres
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Cast
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Sebastian Shaw, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Alec Guinness, Kenny Baker, Michael Pennington, Kenneth Colley

VHS

With a somber ending in The Empire Strikes Back suggesting that Darth Vader has won the day, nobody wants a story to end right there. In everyone’s mind, the good guys have to eventually win the war. With that comes Return of the Jedi, the sixth episode marking the final chapter of the saga. It’s hard to say which of the films of the original trilogy is the best, but this film has the most spectacular space battle of the three. Not only that. There are two other simultaneous battles: one in a forest and the other in a second Death Star.

The beginning of the film functions mainly to reunite the main characters. 3PO, R2, Luke, Leia, and Lando all try to free Han Solo from his encasement in carbonite in the palace of Jabba the Hutt. After a deadly fight in the desert over a monster pit, the allies escape and plan their next action against the Empire. This part of the movie also serves to tie some loose ends with Luke. When he returns to Dagobah, he witnesses the death of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s spirit. Not only does he learn the truth about Darth Vader, but also another family secret.

Darth Vader once again makes his appearance, but this time alongside someone even more menacing and ruthless: Emperor Palpatine. We also get a glimpse of the Emperor’s inner sanctum, complete with an Imperial Royal Guard whose faces are completely concealed. With Palpatine’s presence, Darth Vader and the rest of the Imperial officers become simply pawns in our eyes. That is significant, because as Luke Skywalker believes, even Darth Vader has a little bit of good in him and not fully seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.

The film after the desert scenes takes place on the forest planet of Endor, populated by short furry creatures called Ewoks. There haven’t been any cute creatures seen in the Star Wars films so far (except Yoda, maybe), and with them, there even seems to be some extra humor added to one of the final three battle scenes. For some, it may make the film have less of a dark tone, but then again, aren’t 3PO and R2 more of the humorous characters in the film? After all, they don’t do too much direct fighting and are just caught in the middle of everything.

Nevertheless, Return of the Jedi is a marvelous film that still delivers what A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back had given to the fans. It has characters we care about, a plot that engrosses our imagination, and impressive visual effects leave us in absolute awe. The musical score by John Williams continues to be great, using familiar themes established in Episodes IV and V. The film ends the Star Wars series nicely simply because its ending is a heartwarming wrapup. In the battle of good versus evil, evil has been rooted out, and the good folks of the galaxy rejoice, which the last scene of the film does a great job portraying.

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