Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Movies 2016

DISCLAIMER: I am a big lover of movies, less so of films.  Movies have explosions, kung-fu, gun-fu, any and all manner of action set pieces, as well as superfluous profanity, nekkid people left and right and world building that is often mind blowing.  Films are about the sad clown of life and our bleak existence on this God forsaken planet.  In other words, blockbuster kick butt movies = good.  Depressing pretentious art-house clap-trap = bad.

2016 was yet another great year for movies.  There were so many good ones that I had a tougher time than usual winnowing them down to a mere top ten.  Keep in mind that I don't get out too often and that I only venture into the theater or plop my butt down on my couch for a movie that I'm already enthusiastic about.  I don't waste my time on movies or films that have subjects or flavors that I'm not interested in in the first place, which means I don't see a ton of movies during the year.  Here first are the honorable mentions in no particular order.

Just saw this yesterday and enjoyed it very much.  I watched a screener under less than ideal conditions, a brightly lit room with people talking and no subtitles - but still really dug what was going on.   I can see how this movie (which is also very much a film) has polarized people.  Some think it is the second coming, others are befuddled by all the hype.  I fall somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards a pretty big thumbs up for this very bittersweet and heartfelt tribute to older movies, Los Angeles (my home for 20 years) and grown up romance without the vulgar trappings that typically accompany the romantic genre today.   Emma Stone is remarkable and luminescent in this movie; a bona fide star and a triple threat.  Gosling has never been one of my favorites, but he is perfectly cast in this role, and unless there are mind blowing special effects at play - he sure knows how to play piano!

A lot of fun.  A big action romp with some really nice set pieces that actually holds up to repeat viewings.  I bought this movie out of habit on Amazon video and I'm surprised that I've watched it four times already.  It's not as strong as the last two modern Trek offerings, but there's a lot to like about it.  So sad every time the young Checkov kid is on screen.

Lots of hate out there for this one, and all DC movies for that matter (but that's a whole other blog post).  I for one let go of trying to compare it to the almighty MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and just enjoyed myself in this often incoherent but also often pretty cool romp through the dark underbelly of baddies and their world.   Loved Margot Robbie and am intrigued by Leto's Joker.  Viola Davis for me makes this movie - talk about a bad ass!  The extended cut adds next to nothing, but I'm still glad I bought it.

The best kind of remake in that it isn't a remake at all - but rather follows the barest storyline of the original.  It's not a musical, it doesn't take place is Passamashloddy and is in fact very unlike it's predecessor which is a lovely but flawed and frothy musical.  Instead it is a lovely, non-musical number laden and emotional story set in today's times in a town just outside of the wilderness.  Sometimes it's eco preaching is a little clumsy, but there's so much heart from the characters that it's easy to overlook.

Disappointed that my favorite director didn't make it automatically into my top ten as he always does, but still I enjoyed Zemeckis' foray into World War II melodrama.  The action sequences were crackling good, especially the assassination sequence and the editing tight.  I for sure got choked up towards the end at the heartbreaking conclusion - despite the heavy amounts of extreme drama slathered and caked onto every frame.  It very much reminded me of a Ron Howard movie like Backdraft - where the dialogue isn't quite good enough to overcome the cheese, but it still mostly works.

One of three tremendous animated films this year.  I didn't think I wanted or needed to see a movie focused on Dori, but I'm glad to admit I was wrong.  This one is very endearing and heart warming and at times a bit heart wrenching.  Some great Pixar-esque sequences and solid production value in every frame, bolstered by the usual stellar R&D,  make this one a winner.

This one is not one of the three tremendous animated films, but it's still a hoot.  Much of it is uneven and a lot of the time the vulgarity seems forced and a bit mean, but it's still mostly enjoyable - albeit on a very lowbrow level.  The opening Saving Private Ryan sequence and the 'climax' sequence at the end of the film are definite high points.  Looking forward to seeing this again.

This one would be in my top ten were it not for a bit of dramatic license taken by the filmmakers.  In every way this movie is top notch, - acting, script, production value and effects.  Tom Hanks is superb yet again and the story line is gripping.  Unfortunately I found out after reading up on the incident a bit that the storyline is somewhat of a fabrication. The FAA in real life were not the mustache twirling villains that director Clint Eastwood made them out to be in the movie.  I wish they had adhered closer to the truth, which is that the FAA were basically just doing their jobs and didn't have an agenda beyond that.  The end of the movie does soften this falsehood a bit, but not enough in my opinion.  But I can set this aside and still enjoy the movie because there is so much good stuff to chew on.  Especially uplifting is the actual sequence of the crash itself. Eastwood does a masterful job of showcasing not just Sully and his crew, but all of the first responders that helped turn what could've been a deadly disaster into an inspiring story with a happy ending.

Liked an awful lot about this very dense and beautifully made film.  I didn't care for the fact that the lead mumbled all of his lines - but I did love the two supporting characters of Queenie and the Baker dude.  And the creatures of course were fantastic.  I really hope they do keep making these, it was very much a journey worth taking, especially the bittersweet ending - so good!

Again, another near top ten miss.  Very hard this year to pick only ten!  This one is delightful in it's execution - the world building is phenomenal and the sequences are all chosen and cut expertly.  Disney does it again, again by putting story first.  I love the rabbit's train ride into the city oh so much, Shakira's music works surprisingly well in this sequence and it all works together to bring the goosebumps.  The rest of the story works well, though very derivative of all those cop buddy movies that we've seen many times.  Also, while I do appreciate and agree the message of the film of tolerance and setting aside old prejudices, it does come dangerously close to being a bit too on the nose and preachy.  Thankfully it doesn't cross the line, as there is enough humor and entertainment to keep us free from the feeling of being lectured and instead fully invested with the characters.  Well done Disney!

A very important story that I am so grateful made it to the silver screen.  Michael Bay is in his element here and does an expert job of bringing the events of Benghazi to life.  It's a shame that many liberals will avoid this one, thinking it to be a jingoistic treatise on bashing Hilary Clinton - it's really not that.  Well, maybe a little, but they don't mention her or the Obama administration at all.  Bay really goes out of his way to keep politics out of it, for the most part.  To a stalwart conservative like me it's sometimes hard to step back and see this story for what it is - a very human one that doesn't shy away from showing all that is wrong with radical Islamists. The action sequences are superb and intense, the performances are great - grounded and understated the way real military people are.  Loved this.  It just misses my top ten because it does suffer a tiny bit from the same thing that most war movies do - it's tough to identify who is who in many of the action sequences.  I'm sure it will get better upon repeated viewing, which is something I intend to do for sure.

And so onto the top ten...

Yes, this one is a film, and it's also very important historically - but what propels this one past the above movies is the incredible story telling and editing; turning what could potentially be a Lifetime Channel flick of the week into an engrossing cinematic experience.  Peter Berg is the master of bringing real life into the movie realm with seamless and powerful fluidity.  As with Deepwater Horizon, you really feel that you are at the event as it unfolds.  But far more than just a disaster movie, this story embodies what makes America great - among the very worst of humanity, which took years of diabolical planning, the very best of humanity materializes instantly.  The entire spectrum of first responders are given tribute here, led by Mark Wahlberg as a composite character of very real law enforcement officers that helped at the scene and also brought the animals that perpetrated such horror to justice.

Mel Gibson may be a bat-shit crazy Jew hating bastard, but man the guy knows how to direct a movie!  This one is great - an inspiring and often brutal portrayal of war alongside a young man who refuses to touch a gun.  Telling true stories can be a tough job for movies, there's a great risk of simply making a Lifetime television drama, but everything in this story works and still feels very cinematic.   Eager to see this one again.

Eye popping special effects that work because they are grounded with heart and Disney's full commitment to the commandment of putting story first.  Incredible that this entire movie was shot entirely in a big metal warehouse in downtown Los Angeles.  It entirely deserves it's VFX Oscar, even up against some very stiff competition - but as I said, it's a great movie because we are invested in the story and especially the lead character, and pretty much the only human in the entire movie.  The young boy who plays Mowgli is mesmerizing and perfectly cast.  Can't wait to see what he does next as he grows up.

I am a bit mystified at the critics response to this one and I am absolutely perplexed at my nerd peers online who bashed it as well.  I LOVE this superhero movie very much and it is my favorite of the modern X-Men trilogy which also includes First Class and Days of Future Past.  It has tons of emotion, I found my eyes welling up more than a few times.  I 'rolled a tear' as the manly men say because the relentless action was all grounded in these characters that we've grown to love - even the characters that are being played by new actors for the very first time.  Sophia Turner and her young cohorts all brought urgency and depth to their roles, rooted in the previous movies and the source material as well.  Bravo everyone involved.  I could watch this one again and again, and I kind of already have.

Where to begin with how much I love this movie?  Yeah, it's nasty at times and crude and all that - but it's also genuinely hilarious and absolutely righteous in it's commitment to telling a story of vengeance and love in peril.  Despite all the fourth wall breaking and snark, Deadpool still manages to drill down on truth and outshine every single other comic book movie outside of the MCU with the exception of Nolan's Dark Knight.  It has heart, it has passion and pathos - and some truly great action set pieces.  I wish there had been one or two more - the middle of the film slows down a little bit too much for my tastes, but the journey overall is more than well worth it.  Plus it's funny as fuck, if I may borrow some of the movie's vernacular.

For sure this has the single greatest superhero action sequence on film to date.  20+ minutes of pure comic book nerd-gasmic bliss.  This sequence alone would be enough to land this movie a spot on my top ten, but even better than that (as crazy good as it is with Spider-Man, Giant-Man et al kicking butt in every which way) is that this movie at it's heart has a fantastic story with a gut wrenching reveal at the end that finds our heroes NOT patching everything up and fighting the bad guy at the end.  I told my 11 year old daughter, who didn't want to see it because it has Cap and Iron Man fighting, not to worry - that they would "Join up together at the end".  Boy was I wrong and boy was she annoyed with me.  But I have to say, it is super great and powerful for defying expectations.  DC and Warner Brothers take note, this is how super heroes fighting each other is done.

I go back and forth between which MCU masterpiece I like more this year - Civil War or this one.  Right now I just bought Dr. Strange on digital and watched it the other night, so I am still giddy in love with it enough to push it just a notch above Avengers 2.5, aka Civil War.  If you had told my 13 year old self that someday they would make a Dr. Strange movie that was fun but not cheesy in a bad way and yet still managed to bring Steve Ditko's panels to life in front of me in an incredibly faithful way - I never would've believed you. This one taps right into the core of my comic book nerd being.  For about 4 years I was a voracious reader of six comic books, actually a lot more thanks to my friend Dan, but these are the ones I bought myself and never missed - Frank Miller's Daredevil, John Byrne's Fantastic Four, Chris Claremont's X-Men, The Hulk, The Avengers and The Defenders.   The last one on the list was a unique super hero team that occasionally included Daredevil, so that's why I bought it, but the leader was Dr. Strange.  And there was always stuff that looked like the final confrontation in the film - the intergalactic/cosmic/magic-infused/psychedelic world of the good Doctor was always a place I was happy to go.  And now I get to see it in the flesh, created by the real wizards at Marvel and Disney.  I am in awe of how great this movie is, again - story at Disney is KING and it shows,  Not one film frame nor one line of dialogue is wasted, it's all in service of the story, and we as grown up nerds are all the better for it.

So pleased that I can heartily recommend this movie, I was pretty scared that they were going to drop the ball on this, a story that we didn't necessarily need.  Click here for my complete review of this outstanding entry into the Star Wars canon.

I could write at length about how magnificent this one is - and maybe I will in the future, but for now let me just say that you are best served by going into this movie cold without any knowledge of what it's about beyond simply Aliens arriving on earth.  That's how I saw it and I'm very grateful I did.  I was horrified that the clips they showed during the Oscars gave so much away about the aliens themselves, how crummy for people who haven't seen the movie.    There is a great takeaway from this film - and without getting into details, it's this: In our lives we sometimes have great tragedies, if we were given a chance to foresee these tragedies, would we choose a different path?  The answer is at once incredibly moving and gratifying and will bring you to tears.  Seriously bro, if you don't 'roll a tear' on this one, you are dead inside.

Speaking of 'rolling a tear' - I did that the most this year watching an animated movie about a tropical princess.  The music, the sights, the sounds, the emotion of Moana is for me rather overwhelming.  As a huge fan of musicals I was simply blown away at how good the music and the musicianship was in this movie.  I found out later that it was written in large part by the dude responsible for Hamilton, the $2000 a seat musical on broadway that you can't get tickets for anyway because everyone is so in love with it.   Well now I get the hype for this Lin-Manuel dude - he is an incredible talent, because the songs here propel an already emotional story into the stratosphere of greatness.   I, like most parents these days, am pretty worn out on animated films - as good as most of them are, it's tough to sit through half a dozen or more every year.  Now that my kid is a bit older we don't rush out and see each and every one, but we did for a time.

I was mildly intrigued to see this one, but in no great rush.  My 12 year old daughter actually cajoled me into seeing it with her even though she had already seen it once.  She said "I think you'll really like it dad, it's really good, better than I thought it would be."  Okay, I'm sold.  So we went, and I was very very moved.  So much so that I was embarrassed to be crying so much in front of my kid.  They were manly tears yes, but still there was quite a lot of them.

I've been wondering why I am so moved by this movie, I've come up with a couple of reasons.   One, it taps right into the culture of the tropics, in this case the Pacific Island culture; and as a kid I grew up for the first ten years of my life in Key West Florida where I saw the world through a westernized version of this culture.  My dad owned a Polynesian restaurant, so the imagery, music, sounds and smells of the islands are very much seared into my consciousness. So when it came to life in such a vibrant manner on the screen, the animation is cutting edge and hyper real - expertly capturing all the iconography, textures and flavors of Polynesia - it was a bit of a sensory overload for me.  Memories, both conscious and subconscious came flooding back.  And because the story (reason number 2) is framed with a dead grandmother as one of the main catalysts for our heroes journey - for me it's a double whammy of emotion, as my grandmother passed away only a few years back and she was very much in love with Key West and all of it's best trappings; the tropical breezes, palm trees, the water and so on.  When Moana is able to reconnect with her grandmother's spirit it made me think how much I would want to be able to do that with my grandmom, and my dad for that matter.

The third reason I think that I love this movie so much is that the heroine is a super strong female and very much a role model for my kid - I would hope that she could be strong and brave like Moana and yet still have the feminine characteristics of empathy and nurturing that are also on display in the movie.  Moana is for sure my favorite 'princess' character in that she specifically rejects the label and yet still embodies all the best traits of a young woman and a royal leader.  She also finds a great mentor in 'Maui' who is actually The Rock and hilarious and talented and very much a father figure who still has to learn from his progeny and find redemption.

The story, and I know I sound like a broken record here, is given the top priority and it shows.  This, in tandem with the correct deference and adherence to the genuine Pacific Island culture, creates a potent and powerful 90 minutes, suitable for the entire family and yet meaningful on a very adult level, especially to this white boy who grew up in the sub-tropics.   I am very grateful that Disney made this film, took the time to travel to Samoa and the surrounding islands and created something that will last for generations and bring the beautiful Pacific Island culture to the world.   And I can't wait to watch it again and again and again.

And so that's it for what I loved - now here as always, a short list of disappointments.

When I see a movie that is total crap, I don't worry about it, I forget about it and move on with my life.  Unfortunately, this movie is not total crap - it has just enough good stuff (and occasionally great stuff) in it to be upsetting, because the bulk of it is simply mediocre and the story choices are all wrong.  Martha!   Warner Brothers just doesn't get it; guys, you have to do the work!  The reason the MCU is so powerful is because they have invested the TIME in these characters.  You don't start off with a movie like the Avengers - you have to have half a dozen or so solo movies before the spectacular team up.  The MCU has been percolating since 2008!  When the next Avengers movie comes out that means it will have been around for a decade!  A freaking decade!  That means the characters have earned our love and respect.  You don't just plop Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in front of us and expect us to be in love with them, especially when it's the first time we're even seeing these versions of Batman and Wonder Woman!   Yo!  WB!  Do the work!  Maybe pay attention to your television division that is doing a FAR better job at bringing DC characters to life.

Again, I have no interest in dumping all over a movie for being crap.  This movie was not crap, a lot of it was fun and worked - but it was wholly unnecessary because it is preceded by a beloved film that really shouldn't be remade.  If they were going to do it, they should've made it a sequel and paid correct respect to the original guys - rather than casting them in bit gimmick parts.  Killing off Bill Murray?  Really?  Nope.  Not good enough.   A lot of odd story choices as well, Chris Hemsworth gets all the possessed people all set up to do a dance number, and then... doesn't do a dance number.  (They do show it in the credits).  Strange and awkward.  And honestly, I can't even really remember the plot, other than it being derivative of the original movie.  Sorry, but this is ultimately a forgettable fail.  If you're going to make a movie with a message - that girls can be Ghostbusters too - that's fine, but you have to do the work and make it a GOOD movie FIRST, not the other way around.  Look at Moana if you want an example of a strong positive role model for girls, because it wasn't conceived with that as the primary goal; it was conceived out of the desire to make GREAT entertainment, that it had a strong female protagonist was a great component - NOT the central reason for making the movie in the first place.  Remember - story good FIRST.  Entertaining FIRST.  All the other stuff that you want to get across, no matter how noble it may be - SECOND.

Had zero interest in seeing this anyways but we found ourselves Netflixing it the other night.  Such a shame to see all that creativity mired down in a story that is so piss poor by today's standards.  I love fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings, this one is just weak sauce without the time and work that needs to be done on projects like this.  Too much lip service to World of Warcraft fans, not enough focus on good story telling for general audiences.   Sad.

How could they mess this up?  The other Bourne movies are pretty great, this one, not so much.  Too much long lens hand held shaky work.  Shoot a spectacular chase down the strip in Las Vegas and then cut it together so rapid fire that you can't follow it.  Weak.  The first half of the movie works, but then it goes off the rails after they kill off a main protagonist and then don't pay it off.   Do the work guys!  We are invested in these characters - if you're going to kill one of them, it better be damn well worth it in some way, not seemingly random as it was.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the original, for even as I am able to recognize that it does have problems, it is an iconic part of movie blockbuster history.  Plus my wife has a big old close up in it.  It was her first job in LA, an extra in Independence Day, and she got picked for a close up that not only made it into the film but the official trailer as well.  See if you can spot her, she's in LA just before the bad shit goes down, getting out of her car with her kid and looking up in awe.  Anyways, this sequel is pretty out of touch with what made the original enjoyable - it's set in a futuristic world that is supposed to be today and yet is pretty much unrecognizable.  Thor's brother plays the lead and I'm sorry, but he's bland and forgettable. The other lead is a black guy who I guess is Will Smith's son though he looks nothing like him and even worse he doesn't really do anything in the movie - somehow Thor's brother is the main protagonist.  What?  Why?  Pointless.


And so that's it - I laughed, I cried (especially in Moana) I kissed my $14.50 goodbye.  All in all I am very grateful that I got to see so many great movies, and even the ones I was 'disappointed in' had flashes of brilliance.   I love movies, and I want to love movies - so I'm pretty easy to please, not really a critic at all - but that's okay.   Already very much in love with the first movie I saw in a theater this year - Lego Batman is extraordinarily good!   Run don't walk, especially if you liked the first Lego movie.  It's pretty frickin' awesome!

Monday, February 06, 2017

In good company...

Interesting to me how avowed atheist and brainiac/intellectual juggernaut Sam Harris is pretty much 100% in alignment with my assessment of the election.  I don't often share a video and let it just speak for itself, but this one is six minutes of time well spent.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Star Wars: the modern era.

A year ago I foretold of a Star Wars episode 7 review and then promptly never got around to it.  I'm planning on posting my top ten movies for 2016 soon, but before I get going there's a handful of must-sees that I haven't seen yet.  So in the meantime, I thought I would weigh in on all things Star Wars in the here and now.

The question that popped into my brain right after I saw Rogue One was - "Which one was better, Ep VII or this one?"  I figured I needed to see Rogue One a second and maybe third time before I confirmed my initial reaction, so I did.

The very first time I saw it I thought Rogue One was rather slow and confusing but had a fantastic final act.  On the second viewing I was much less confused and totally dialed into the subtext of the first two thirds of the movie - in other words I liked it a lot more.  I did see it a third time, and by the time the credits rolled I was very much in love with the movie.

Rogue One is a perfect stand alone Star Wars movie, in that there will never be a sequel or prequel with it's characters (well, they may somehow talk themselves into a prequel, but that would be very ill advised) and yet this is still very much a story that will resonate for a long time.

I am never one to be enamored by prequels or origin or any kind of 'how did this go down originally?' type movie, especially when it comes to big film franchises.  I have no burning desire to see Fantastic Beasts, though I imagine I will someday, and I find the whole idea of digging out nuggets from great movie franchises and exploiting them by spelling out every detail to be rather obnoxious and speaks to a great lack of imagination on the part of Hollywood.

I don't need to see Han Solo make the Kessel Run in 12 Parsecs.  I don't need to know that Darth Vader used to enter pod races when he was 10. (Sorry George!)  Dense and layered backstories are a big part of what make franchise films great, because they are left unexplored and provide us the audience with only a blueprint, our imaginations fill in the rest.

So I was very skeptical when I heard that one of these backstory lines in Ep IV, "Many Bothans paid with their lives for these plans." was going to be turned into a full feature film.  Don't need to see that, don't need to relive the dirty dozen in space thanks.  I was fairly irritated, because what I love about the original Star Wars saga films is that there are literally thousands of little details, from lines of dialogue to set designs and costume choices, that weave a marvelous backstory just enough that our imaginations can take them and run with them.  I don't need to see the Bothans infiltrate the Death Star and die whilst fighting old school Stormtroopers and a CG Grand Moff Tarkin.

But when the first images emerged, and then the trailer, I had to admit that I was cautiously intrigued.  The trailer especially just screamed a faithfulness to the very first Star Wars movie.  I was a bit concerned though that the female lead seemed an obvious candidate to be Rey's mum, but thankfully as we know they didn't go that lazy and sloppy route.

In fact, much to my surprise and delight, they didn't make nearly any conventional choices at all in the final film.  I say final film because I understand, and can gather pretty readily by the sheer number of shots that are in the trailer and not the movie, that a lot was changed after principal photography - no doubt for the better as the final product is outstanding.

Pretty much every choice down the line was excellent; from the gritty production design, faithful to the worn-in ethos of Eps IV-VI, to the grim but determined nature of the heroes.  I even applaud that they did in fact go with a CG Tarkin, something that I had guessed at and dreaded when I first heard about this project - but somehow even that worked out just fine.  More on him later.

But of all the choices, the one that I'm glad they didn't fail to make, was the most obvious one.  Everyone does indeed die.  Spoiler alert ha ha.  This one fundamental choice, the most obvious one, yet the most likely one for a studio to fail to grasp, somehow came down on the correct side.  It in turn gives the entire movie a weight that would otherwise be absent.  Bravo Gareth Edwards and bravo Disney.

So, the characters that I loved.  Gyn Erso, from a scared little girl to an almost but not quite broken adult scrounging and scraping to stay alive.  She embodies a weary hope that eventually rises to the surface and shines as bright as the Death Star blast that ends her life.  Most of all I'm ecstatic that she has nothing to do with Rey, which would've been the easiest and laziest thing in the world.

The Samurai guy and his machine laser gun buddy.  A classic pairing of two battle veterans who somehow sense that this is the last round up.

K2SO, much needed levity and a delightfully sour disposition makes him the anti-cute droid.  When K2 got blasted in the end, I knew we were on the right path and everyone else was likely to get it too. I could also feel the collective gasp around the theater.

The characters that have grown on me - Cassian the French guy who it turns out is actually hispanic.  Had no idea.  I thought his character was a bit thin at first, I also rolled my eyes a bit at his line "We've all done things for the Rebel Alliance that we are ashamed of..."  Really?  Why?  The cause is just, don't be a Debbie Downer dude.  But okay, I can concede that war is never pretty and neither side is ever entirely clean.  The line works in the end because he does restrain Gyn from finishing off Krennic.  A great moment that gets more and more powerful with each viewing, just as the character and the actors performance grows more and more nuanced.

Speaking of Krennic, I grew to love this also-ran of a bad guy.  You can tell he wants to be a big bad ass so much, and yet just can't seem to catch a break.  Or at least that's what he thinks.  One of my favorite scenes in the whole movie is his showdown with Tarkin - the only reason that scene works is because of the actor's conviction.  Good stuff.

As for my favorite scenes - they are in no particular order...

Darth Vader kicking ass at the end.  Well duh.  Yes, this is the best moment, but it also has very little to do with the bulk of the film, in fact my big disappointment with Vader in this film is that he doesn't really need to be in it.  Still, the nostalgia juices flow heavily at the sight of this classic bad guy who demonstrates in the modern parlance of special effects wizardry just how bad ass he really was.

Gyn seeing the hologram message from her father.  Felicity Jones' performance in this scene really tugs at the heart strings, even more so than when she actually catches up with him.  She is utterly heartbroken and in her face you can see that her short life has been nothing but a long stretch of bleakness from the moment that her mother was gunned down in front of her.

The deaths of the secondary characters.  Loved how Brody the defector bought it.  So simple, so devastating.  Also dug how blind dude and machine gunner met their makers, great choices in editing  - both pacing and selection of takes.

The space battle above planet Sandals.  Very nostalgia stimulating - beautifully done.  Actually glad I saw this in 3D.  The planetside battle is also impressive, nice tactical touches keep it grounded.

The death of Gyn and French dude who was really hispanic. Probably the most powerful and affecting moment in the movie.  The filmmakers went for it and I'm so grateful they did.  My 12 year old was initially appalled, her mind was a bit blown - but I think she pretty quickly grasped that this was the way it had to be.   Very strong stuff.  I could watch those moments, when first one then the other realizes that this is to be their fate and then they embrace - over and over.  Get the chills just thinking about it.

And as for my favorite set - it had to be the Cairo like city on yet another desert planet, beautifully detailed and gritty.  A lot of labor and a lot of love went into the building of that environment.  Great action sequence in there as well.

So yes, I loved Rogue One.  It certainly wasn't perfect - a few nitpicks...

The death of Gyn's mom and her father's abduction seemed really forced and badly thought out.  It made no sense that she would try to bum rush Krennic when he's surrounded by death troopers.  I did appreciate the little girl's performance.  I also loved the production design and how everyone was soaked.  Well done.

Gyn and her father's reunion didn't play as powerfully as I thought it would - it's good, but Gyn's reaction to her father's hologram beats his actual death by a lot in terms of raw emotion.

I'm not going to bash the idea of a CG Tarkin or a CG Leia or recreations of other long gone characters and long dead actors - I'm on board with it.  But I wish that Tarkin had been a little bit more shadowed so that his CG-ness wasn't so jarring.  Same with Leia.  Still, my wife had zero idea that Tarkin wasn't real, so what do I know.

In the end - I really love this movie, and I'm very grateful that a studio like Disney which has perfected the art of the story and truly does put story first, is at the helm of this franchise.

So, how do I think this measures up against Episode VII?  Well first - I need to tell you what I think of 2015's Star Wars release.

You've probably already gathered that I love it, as it was my number 2 film of that year - but read on to delve into the what and why.

First and foremost, a new Star Wars saga film was going to live and die by it's leads, and thankfully two of the three are transcendent and the third one (the villain) shows a lot of promise.

Rey is a revelation of strength and luminescent beauty.  I am very glad as a father of a daughter who was 11 when the movie came out that Star Wars under Disney has chosen to showcase a young woman as THE hero of this trilogy.

Rey is powerful, she is strong, she is at times believably fearful and reluctant - but most of all she is hopeful.  Like Gyn Erso, she has led a very bleak existence.  Whatever happiness she might have known as a little girl evaporated in the cloud of dust that a ship left in it's wake depositing her on the God forsaken rock known as Jakku.

From that moment on it is very clear to us, and this is what I love about the best kinds of story telling in movies - that even though we haven't seen it, she has absolutely had a hell of a difficult time growing up in a very harsh and often dangerous environment.  And yet, there she sits, optomistically chowing down on her hard earned slop before clumsily donning a rebel helmet like a little kid.  I love this entire sequence, because it says so much about who she is and how she has grown up in just a handful of shots.  How many dangerous situations has she been in?  Probably a lot.  As adults we wonder how often she found herself under threat of assault of all different kinds, even the worst imaginable.  Probably a lot.  And here she is, seemingly unscathed in body and for sure undiminished in spirit.

She has had nothing but danger around her for most of her life, but she is resourceful and powerful.  She is full of hope despite everything around her that says she should be full of despair.  She is absolutely radiant on the screen and in the fully realized fictional world she inhabits.  She is completely larger than life and we are all the better for it.

But like Luke before her, she is frozen in fear of the unknown - and yet she feels the pull of destiny, and so do we.  I love Rey so much, and I am full of admiration for the young woman that is Daisy Ridley who brought her to life.

And then there's Finn.

Finn is a bit of a fuck up.  But that's why I love him.  While Rey is the larger than life Jedi to be, Finn is every bit the every man and very much one of us.

He falls down and is clumsy in almost every respect - he's afraid, he's unsure, and he is in way over his head.  And yet, like Rey, it is his hope that is his salvation.  In one moment in the first scene of the film, he makes a spectacular choice that makes him an absolute hero.  He looks at the First Order and says 'no'.  No to killing for them, no to despair.  In this way, with everything stacked against him, being stolen from his family, being indoctrinated to the nth degree, being presented with only one despicable option - he somehow looks inward and comes up with the right answer.  No.  Not this.  Not me.

In this way Finn is my favorite.  He is rightly in awe of Rey.  I mean, just look at her.  She has it all and doesn't even know it.  She's stunningly beautiful and inspiring in every way.  Finn doesn't know a nut from a bolt, quite literally in one scene.  And yet, as overwhelmed as he is, he never gives up and he never loses sight over what is right.   True, he does buck at one moment - when he almost leaves the planet with Cantina 2 on it, but Rey also has her moment of weakness there, in a spectacular flashback/dream/vision sequence when she touches the light saber and ends up forsaking it.

But in the end Finn, and Rey as well, choose to fight.  And they are each inspiring in their own way.

Kylo - what can I say.  Did not expect the choices in story or in Adam Driver's performance, but I am thoroughly intrigued by the character and I hope that Ren lives up to his promise in the guaranteed to be much darker Episode VII.

There is a lot of baggage in the Star Wars fan community when it comes to what happened after the Original Trilogy.  I am only on the periphery of this community, but I know enough to know that the subject of Han and Leia's kids has been brought up in many permutations in the books, in the comics and in the minds of fans since 1982 when the last OT film came out.  So J.J. and Larry, and Disney of course, decided to go with one kid (for now) and yes, he has fallen into the dark side.

Thankfully we are spared the details of how this happened and we can gather enough on our own to fill in the blanks.  This mostly works - but it is hard to shake the specter of fan-fiction that hangs over this choice.  This is a development that has been discussed by writers and fans for over 30 years; to have a dorky looking guy be Han and Leia's kid and have him already turned evil when the story starts - it's a tough sell, but I think they've pulled it off so far.  The success of this choice I think is largely contingent on more revelations in the next movie.

So what scenes are my absolute favorites?  Let's go down the list shall we...

The aforementioned montage of Rey at home, making dinner, eating and chilling out in a rebel helmet.  Just love how her entire backstory is captured in just these few shots, and the music is sublime.  Probably my third favorite moment in the entire film.

The reveal of the Millennium Falcon and the chase that follows.  Got a huge cheer in the theater and rightfully so, yes we are all suckers for the power of nostalgia - and the images of the old ship coming to life and staggering out of the junk yard touches the heart of every fan boy and girl.  The following chase through derelict Star Destroyers is expertly staged and utterly exhilarating, in no small part thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of Ridley and Boyega.

Rey strapped to a chair and being interrogated by Kylo.  I am in awe of the sound design of this sequence - combined with potent performances and frame perfect editing, this scene is absolutely tremendous in it's power and implications.  The sequence of events here, Kylo's attempt at a brutal violation followed by Rey's resistance and eventually turning the tables on her captor is a bold feminist statement that plays on a very adult level.  This show is still family entertainment, but if you're paying attention to how this is set up, the consequences could be every bit as dire as the most gruesome Game of Thrones scene.  Mercifully, good is triumphant - and the force awakens.  This really is the entire heart of the movie here, Rey not only repels her potential assaulter but she has a revelation and uses it to great effect to make it clear that what happened on the Cantina 2 planet, being frozen and then knocked out, will never happen again.

The death of Han Solo, or rather what happens immediately after.  Look, I was not surprised whatsoever that Han died.  I, and any other Star Wars fan that was half paying attention, knew this was his last round up.  I can say, the sequence was done exceptionally well - and yes, despite being prepared for it, the lightsaber entering Han's chest was still shocking and a jolt to the heart.  But for me what elevates this scene, isn't the dialogue between father and son and the result (though this is all done very well) it's Rey's reaction.  Daisy's expression of horror and grief segue's perfectly into blind rage and she pulls the trigger of her blaster through her tears.  Stunningly powerful, more so even than Han's actual death and again testifies to the strength of this film - it rests entirely on the shoulders of Finn and Rey.

The final battle in the forest - specifically two moments.  First, when the lightsaber finally lands in Rey's hands.  Probably the number one moment in the film - the culmination and the promise being fulfilled of a new hero for a new generation.  I cannot emphasize how happy I am that J.J. Abrahams made sure to shoot and edit moments like this correctly - to give the right amount of time on a camera move and to make sure that the correct musical cue came with it.  This is a seemingly obvious choice of obvious tools, but I am shocked at how many filmmakers over the years absolutely miss it.

George Lucas lost a HUGE golden opportunity in Ep I when he didn't give Obi-Wan the correct emotional beat before leaping out of the pit and slaying Darth Maul.  J.J. get's it right with Rey, twice. First when she catches the saber and turns it on, and just as impressively when she closes her eyes and calls on the force before putting down Kylo Ren.  Moments of stunning beauty and clarity, all made possible by performance, directing, music and editing.

So in the end, if forced to choose between 2015 and 2016's Star Wars offerings, I have to go with 2015.  Rogue One is magnificent and gets better with every viewing, but Episode VII is the Star Wars saga that I grew up with and it's imbued with a legacy and faith that R1 only hints at.  I am grateful that I got to go on Gyn Erso's journey, bittersweet as it was - but I am even more grateful that I know Rey and Finn and will get to see what happens next.