Happy Star Wars Day! Ranking the Star Wars (live-action) films

happy star wars day

Happy Star Wars Day, everyone! Now, to preface this post, I should say that I’m not exactly a SW super fan, despite having grown up in the 80s with two older brothers who loves the franchise. They were only seven years old when the first film was released in 1977, but I remember they watched the VHS tapes repeatedly years later. So I was familiar with the franchise early on, but I actually didn’t watch the entire original trilogy until my college years. I have since watched ALL of the live-action feature films to date.

Now, I’m excluding the animated feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) as I have not seen that one, so we’ve got eleven live-action films total including the spin-offs. Of course with ANY list, it’s all subjective so the ranking is really in order of our FAVORITES 😉

– As to be expected with a list like this, there’ll be spoilers galore – 

I’m inviting my friend + loyal FC contributor Ted Saydalavong to join the fun as well, so let’s start with his ranking.

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TED’s Ranking

Ted’s ranking is based on re-watchability, creative storytelling and most importantly, entertainment value. So here it is from BEST to WORST.

  1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
    Yes, this film tends to be on top of many Star Wars fans and I think it’s still the best in the series. Great storytelling with a dark and twist ending.
  2. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
    The original film still entertains by today’s blockbuster standards. Sure some of the effects and dialogs are a bit cheesy but it’s still an entertaining film.
  3. Star Wars: Rogue One (2016)
    I still would like to see the original and darker cut of this film but I think it’s the best one in the newer Star Wars films.
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
    It’s basically a remake of the original Star Wars film but it’s very entertaining. The film has lots of weaknesses but as a fan, I can overlook those flaws.
  5. Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker (2019)
    Same can be said of this last film of the so-called Skywalker saga, it has tons of flaws but I was entertained.
  6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
    Hate to keep repeating myself but this one also has tons of flaws and to me, it’s the least entertaining of the new trilogy.
  7. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
    The weakest of the original trilogy but it’s still very entertaining and the speeder chase is one of the best action sequences in the franchise.
  8. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
    A show off of what CGI can do in films and Lucas had a lot of fun with this prequel. Now if only he never included Jar Jar Binks and wrote a better script for the actors, this one could be higher on my list. Still this one might have the best action sequences in the entire series. The Pod race and Duel of Fate are two of the best action scenes in the series.
  9. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
    Lucas tried to create an emotional send off for the final film of the prequel but sadly he didn’t know or care to write or direct dramatic sequences. The movie has great special effects for its time but the acting was atrocious and I cringe every time the words were spoken by the actors.
  10. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)
    Again, here Lucas tried to create some dramatic and romance for this film but the writing and acting were atrocious. The only things I liked from the film were the action scenes. I love the climactic battle near the end of this film. I think Lucas only wanted to show off the special effects and cool action scenes for the prequel. He should have hired additional writers to fix his scripts for these prequels. Also, this one was shot in the early form of digital filmmaking and it has that flat and dull look that you see in early days of films shot with digital cameras.
  11. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
    This is on the bottom of my list because it’s the most boring and unimaginative of all the films in the series. I actually fell asleep halfway through the film when I saw it in the theater. Gave it another try when it came out on disc and I wish I hadn’t done that, I was not entertained at all.

RUTH’s Ranking

Same with Ted’s criteria for ranking, I too feel that re-watchability + creative storytelling (instead of just plain fan-service) are key, and obviously they’d have to be fun to watch. Anyway, here’s my ranking:

  1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
    I actually go back and forth between this one and the first one, aka A New Hope (now I feel like George Lucas should just leave the original title Star Wars). In the end, this one wins as it’s got the most iconic, emotional moments (the ultimate hero/villain, father/son duel) that is so indelible even people who don’t watch the films know the ‘I Am Your Father’ reference.
  2. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
    I remember really enjoying this one and was in awe of how George Lucas launched such a behemoth franchise that span five decades and beyond with this first film. It’s the first time I heard that amazingly iconic theme song by John Williams and being transported into a galaxy far, far away. After re-watching this a few more times, I was still invested in the journey Luke, Leia, Han and the whole space opera gang.
  3. Star Wars: Rogue One (2016)
    I love this one the most out of the spin-offs. I like Gareth Edwards’ direction and Felicity Jones as the lead. It’s got plenty of fun and humorous moments (esp. Donnie Yen’s scenes!) as well as emotional resonance I’m looking for. I wish Edwards had stayed on to direct some of the Skywalker saga movies.
  4. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
    I have to say I’m just not fond of Jabba the Hut at all, I tend to fast forward his scenes a lot whenever I re-watch this one. The whole sequence with the Ewoks aren’t my faves either, though I enjoy the Leia + Han romance and the adventure with Lando Calrissian, etc. So overall still a great end to the first trilogy that leaves so much room to expand the story.
  5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
    I’m baffled by all the hate towards this one. I guess haters are gonna hate, which is a prime example of toxic fandom. I personally enjoyed Rian Johnson’s take on this franchise, adding some surprising twists whilst still staying true to George Lucas’ legacy. I know many fans hated the direction of Luke in this film but I appreciate the deconstruction of such a titular character of why he’s a legend, who gets to have the Force, etc.
  6. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
    Unlike Ted, I don’t find this boring at all and I like the fact that it’s a space heist flick. I actually like Alden Ehrenreich as Han and enjoyed all the bits between him and Donald Glover’s flamboyant Lando. I’ve rewatched it on Blu-ray since seeing it in the theater the first time and still enjoyed it a great deal.
  7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
    This movie reminds me a lot of Superman Returns where Bryan Singer just paid homage to Richard Donner’s Superman. JJ Abrams did the same thing with this one, as Ted said above, It’s basically a remake of the original Star Wars movie. There’s a sheer lack of suspense and even the death scene involving a beloved character didn’t give me the emotional resonant I expected. I do love the introduction of Kylo Ren who provides some of the unexpected hilarious moments of rage, ahah. I also love Rey when she was just a petulant, defiant desert dweller, that is until Abrams abominably ruins her character in Rise of Skywalker!
  8. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
    I guess I can’t blame George Lucas in wanting to give us the backstory of his space opera, esp. his most famous character that is Darth Vader. If only he’d hire a good writer or collaborate with one to execute his vision. I mean, there is no excuse for such an irritating character like Jar Jar Binks! I do like Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor as the two powerful Jedis and I think their casting save the film for me. Like Ted, I also enjoy the action scenes of the Pod race and Duel of Fate. I actually love the music of Duel of the Fate scene so much that I used that particular score for a re-cut of Face/Off I did in a video editing class!
  9. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
    I actually just rewatched the last battle scene between Obi-Wan and Anakin and it’s so heartbreaking! I remember tearing up during the last moments, esp. when Obi-Wan screamed ‘You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you!’ Ewan McGregor is so good as Obi-Wan, I’m glad he gets to reprise it soon 16 years later! Overall though, Anakin’s journey to the dark side under the wing of Emperor Palpatine could’ve been more compelling. I think what makes the last scene of Anakin becoming Darth Vader so poignant because we know just how evil this lost kid could become. 
  10. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
    As I mentioned, I hated the fact that Abrams practically ruined Rey’s character by making her the grand-daughter of Palpatine, ugh! Plus the entire movie consists of SO much nostalgia. Now, while I enjoy seeing beloved actors from the franchise, seeing them distracts me from the actual story. Fan-service rarely make for good movies and that is the case here. I also think Abrams gave the talented Adam Driver such a disservice by making his character into nothing more than a conflicted man-child. As funny as emo Kylo Ren is, in the end he isn’t really a compelling character.
  11. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)
    I honestly can’t remember much about this movie other than the cheesy dialog between the two lovebirds Anakin and Padme. I totally agree with Ted that Lucas should have hired good writers to fix his scripts for the prequels.
may the force be with you

Well, what do you think of our rankings? How would YOU rank the eleven STAR WARS movies?

Musings on Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker (2019)

So here we are… forty two years after the first ever Star Wars film opened in 1977, the final chapter of the Skywalker saga is released. There was a huge anticipation for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, naturally, given its place in the franchise history as the final conclusion. In preparation for this, my hubby and I saw Return of The Jedi the night before (and we actually saw Empire Strikes Back in October as part of MN Orchestra LIVE in concert series).

When I finished watching the movie, I turned to my hubby and whispered, they might as well call this franchise SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) ‘evil space grandpas’ If you’ve seen this movie, I think you know why. Just like what I did on The Force Awakens, this post is not a review per se, more of my random thoughts about the film and the franchise as a whole, so proceed with caution if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Unsurprisingly, I have a lot of the same quibbles with this one as the 2015 movie that JJ Abrams also directed… mainly the excessive amount of nostalgia, as some critics have rightly called ‘fan pandering,’ and lack of suspense throughout. Yes there are some fun moments, but the big moments are pretty much predictable. The key phrase ‘no one’s ever really gone’ uttered by Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi came up again in this movie. Beloved Carrie Fisher returns as General Leia Organa (via the use of repurposed unreleased footage), but she’s not the only one.

In fact, the entire movie is basically a road trip of sort to find a supposedly dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who now resides on the planet Exegol. Apparently he’s so NOT dead after all, in fact he’s been a puppet master to Snoke, Supreme Leader of The First Order. But before Rey, Poe and Fin could get to Exegol, they had to find a device called Sith Wayfinder. I feel like that plot is basically a way to reunite Rey & co. with yet another returning character Lando Calrissian. The crew looked practically giddy to be meeting Billy Dee Williams in that scene, and vice versa, that it took me out of the movie a bit. That’s what nostalgia does… while I enjoy seeing certain actors back in a certain franchise, it distracts me from the actual story that unfolds before me.

Speaking of the story… there’s a lot of ‘more of the same’ in The Rise of the Skywalker. Interesting that there were some rumbles on the interweb that JJ Abrams was subtly dissing Rian Johnson‘s The Last Jedi, saying that it was “a story that I think needed a pendulum swing in one direction in order to swing in the other.” Now, whether Abrams was throwing shade at Johnson or not, the fact of the matter is, the two filmmakers didn’t seem to see eye to eye. As a more casual fan of Star Wars, I actually like the fact that Rian had the guts to do something different and subverting the franchise. Unfortunately I’m in the minority and because many die-hard fans hated what Rian did, so naturally he’s not invited back to helm this one.

The biggest ‘twist’ of this movie is in regards to Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) identity. “People keep telling me they know me. No one does,” She quipped in frustration. But her reluctant ‘nemesis’ Kylo Ren claims he does, then he just said it blatantly who her parents really are. It’s supposed to be a gasp-inducing moment, but for some reason it was just ‘meh’… in fact, Rey’s similar lineage situation that bears such resemblance to Luke’s and Kylo’s feels like convenient (read: lazy) writing to me. The part I like most about Rey when she’s first introduced in The Force Awakens is that she’s just a scavenger with no Jedi blood in her, and that her parents are just ordinary people.

In The Last Jedi, Kylo himself told her ‘You come from nothing. You’re nothing’ which undeniably made him even more furious that she could wield as much power as he does. Then the ending that film (the scene with the young boy) also hinted that there are other ‘ordinary’ people with no prominent lineage who could use the Force. I love that message that people are more than who they’re born to be and where they come from, that we do have the power to become more than what’s been imagined for us. So by making Rey as a Palpatine obviously undermined the storyline that’s been set before and render many other plot points meaningless. I don’t know in what other cinematic franchise is that ever a good thing??

I have to say that the nostalgic moments have different degrees of impact. I said I enjoyed seeing Leia and Lando, and the final arc of General Leia Organa is a memorable moment. But the now decrepit Palpatine is mostly eye-roll inducing (especially since the scene of Vader throwing him down the space abyss is still fresh in my mind). Not only would it seem impossible that he survived that fall, but just when did he have time to have a son who later becomes Rey’s dad?? On top of that, he’s also mighty enough to build an entire armada and hides ALL of them from every single creature until the opportune time dictated by the script to reveal it.

I barely have time to ponder on that as there’s a ton of stuff going on in this movie… the crew frenetically jumped from place to place in search of that Wayfinder thing-y, which eventually leads to the main battle between Rey and Kylo. No doubt the lightsaber duel of two crucial characters, on top of the remains of the second Death Star no less, looks epic. With the waves and torrential rain, it’s an atmospheric scene to be sure.  It’s got some wow moments, but overall the scene just didn’t have as big an emotional impact as I thought it would.

SPOILER ALERT (proceed with caution as I’ll mention key plot details below)
Since Force Awakens, I’ve grown to appreciate Adam Driver more and more (you could even say he’s my current cinematic crush), but I gotta say Kylo’s got the short end of the stick here in terms of his character. Yes he’s a Darth wannabe from the start, longing to be a powerful Sith leader like his grandpa, but this final movie just renders him into nothing more than a conflicted man-child. It pains me to see Driver, who’s so excellent in Marriage Story which I saw just two months prior, barely given much to do here than looking mostly dazed and discombobulated.

Now, given how powerful Rey’s become, the outcome of the duel and what she did afterwards didn’t really surprise me. In a key moment in the movie, suddenly Han Solo turned up again… Was it a dream? A hallucination? Was Kylo delirious? Does it matter?? In another nostalgic scene, Harrison Ford revisited his most famous ad-lib in Empire Strikes Back as his prodigal son struggled to find the words to say … that part made me smile, but I find this dramatic scene more schmaltzy than genuinely moving.

Still, Driver at least still has a compelling arc and a dignified resolution… gone is Kylo Ren’s toxic power-hungry machismo, in the end he’s Ben Solo after all, and he’s got an honorary ‘death’ as a Jedi. But where is Rose Tico?? The spunky mechanic with a big heart had a big role in The Last Jedi… Kelly Marie Tran was a great addition to the Resistance crew. But here she’s hugely sidelined for most of the movie while Fin is off doing his heroic duty with a new compatriot, Jannah, a Resistance sympathizer. Now, Naomi Ackie is fine in the role, but I can’t help missing Rose in the journey with the Resistance fighters.

Now, after teasing us for four years whether Rey will finally turn to the dark side… well, the final answer is something so utterly predictable. Once again our heroine, just like the original hero of the saga, is facing a family member [yawn]. Rey matters because she’s part of an important, all-powerful family. It’s treading familiar [and familial] grounds the fact that bloodline and lineage is the key to achieving real power, that is the ability to use the Force. Perhaps the fact that we’ve seen all before, the action-packed battle of ‘all of the Sith’ VS ‘all of the Jedi’ barely holds a candle of the original battle between Luke vs Vader/Palpatine. It’s what follows that would likely be the talking points about Rise of Skywalker… yep, it’s all about Reylo.

Not satisfied with just an epic battle of good vs evil, we’ve got to have some controversial romance thrown in. I wonder how the convo goes in the Writers Room… ‘hey wouldn’t it be surreal to have Vader’s grandson making out w/ Palpatine’s granddaughter?’ I supposed Kylo’s longing look every time he sees and ‘feels’ Rey from a distance (boy that came out SO creepy) has suggested he has feelings for her from the start. And who could forget that shirtless scene during a Force-bond in The Last Jedi that bothered Rey so much she asked him to put something on? But yet, I still wasn’t prepared for the kiss… it feels like it came out of nowhere. I mean all the mutual pull between the light and dark side that haunts both these poor souls is SO massive… it took so much out of them with huge stakes on both sides that you would think romance is the last thing on their minds. Naturally plenty of fans have always wanted to ship the two of them, as Reylo has been the subject of a plethora of fan-fiction, which makes the kiss feels obligatory. There’s been a lot of shared motifs in Star Wars and Shakespeare–we’ve seen the Romeo and Juliet plot between Anakin and PadmĂ© before, so I guess their grandson is bound to share similar fate.

All in all, The Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable but also frustrating film. I was caught up in the rousing nostalgic moments and even felt emotionally moved by some of them, but as soon as the movie’s over, I was left with an overwhelming sense of meh. It’s not a bad movie per se… I mean the actors did a good job in their roles, production design & special effects are top notch, John Williams‘ music is obviously still iconic, even Abrams’ direction is enjoyable… but at the end of the day, Chris Terrio and Abrams’ script is serviceable at best.

It proves that no film, no matter how beloved the franchise it, can simply ride on nostalgia alone. At the end of the day, as a film fan, we crave innovative storytelling that sparks one’s imagination… I don’t think JJ Abrams gave us that with this one. Honestly, after nine films, I’d be hard pressed to know just what the Force is supposed to be about since the franchise’s overall narrative is so discordant and inconsistent. Perhaps it’s a good thing this is the final installment of the cinematic Skywalker saga, but of course, with Disney+, no franchise is ever really gone. Especially one as lucrative as this one.


So for those who’ve seen this one, what did you think of The Rise of Skywalker?

 

Christmas Weekend Recap: Scrooged + binging on Westworld

Happy last Tuesday of the year folks! Hope you had a lovely Christmas break. Mine is relatively mellow on Christmas day, though we did go up North to Duluth Friday and spent the night there to see the Bentleyville Tour of Lights (I’ve shared the pics here).

We came back in time for Christmas Eve church service, which was wonderful. For the next couple of days, we pretty much hibernated indoors as the weather is quite frightful outside. But hey, it gave us a chance to finally watch a Christmas classic we’ve missed all these years


SCROOGED

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Thanks to Courtney’s post on her favorite things about Scrooged, I thought it’s about time I checked it out. My hubby and I loved Bill Murray and the movie is directed by Richard Donner, who I’ll love forever for giving us Superman: The Movie. Well, the updated Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a Christmas staple and it’s easy to see why. Murray is perfect as a selfish, heartless TV exec, he’s just effortlessly funny and the slapstick stuff was hysterical. Nice to see Karen Allen here too though she’s barely given anything to do. The movie itself isn’t exactly perfect but still it was a lot of fun and has that rousing ending with great music. Glad I finally saw this movie, a Christmas must-see movie I can now cross off my list.

WESTWORLD

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If you were to ask me to sum up what I did on Christmas weekend
 it’d be bingeing on Westworld! My hubby and I couldn’t wait to finally have time to devote to this series, and I much prefer to binge on tv shows these days, and having a free subscription to HBO on the first month certainly helps! It took us two days to get through halfway of the first season, with just five more episodes to go.

Well, first impression is
 we LOVE it!! It’s definitely the kind of sci-fi shows we like
 bold, visually-stunning, thought-provoking, well-written and well-acted
 it pretty much ticks all the boxes of what a binge-worthy show should be. It reminds us a bit of another sci-fi we used to binge-watch, Battlestar Galactica, an ensemble-cast series which also deals with the interactions of humans and robots but I think Westworld is even bolder and sharper in scope. I love that the show is not melodramatic or bogged down by unnecessary romantic plots, but man does it give you a ton of stuff to think about. It’s what people call a mindf*ck in the best possible way! The cast are simply astounding and most of them bring their A-game to the series. If I had to list my four favorite characters, it’d have to be these:


Anthony Hopkins effortlessly adds gravitas as the park creator, whilst Ed Harris is wonderfully menacing and cool as hell as Man in Black. He’s such a terrific actor, and he adds SO much to his role. I can see why Margaret goes ga ga over him now 😉 I haven’t seen Evan Rachel Wood in hardly anything, but she’s no doubt the heart of the show and her acting is phenomenal!! I sure hope this show will give a boost to her career as she’s clearly very talented. As for Thandie Newton, this is perhaps the strongest performance I’ve seen her in, though she was memorable in Crash and Rocknrolla.


I’m also impressed with James Marsden who I think is an underrated actor who people might not take seriously because of his good looks. Well he’s still a sight to behold here as the cowboy Teddy, but at least he gets to show his acting chops too. I’m most intrigued by Jeffrey Wright‘s Bernard, as he seems to have a hidden agenda that’s been hinted out since episode 1. But please guys, NO SPOILERS in the comment as I’ve only got to episode 5. My hubby and I couldn’t help watching fan theories on youtube after each episode, there’s really SO MUCH to ponder and analyze, that’s why we’re limiting ourselves to a couple of episodes a day even though we can’t get enough!

The Nolans sure have the brains for storytelling. Jonathan Nolan‘s written a ton of my fave films with his brother Christopher (esp. The Dark Knight). Here he teamed up with his wife Lisa Joy who’s a talented TV writer in her own right. Executive producer JJ Abrams sure has a midas touch too, is there anything that guy can’t do?? I might also check out Michael Crichton‘s 1973 film Westworld in which the series’s concept is based on. I had no idea Crichton was also a film director on top of being a best-selling author.

Well, I’ll do another summary post again once I’m done w/ the season. So far I think Westworld does live up to the hype!


So what did you watch this Christmas weekend? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Westworld too!

FlixChatter Double Reviews: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Ted’s Review

I don’t consider myself a Trekkie, I’ve seen all of the Star Trek films but never got into any of the TV shows. I enjoyed the first two films by JJ Abrams, even the much-maligned Into Darkness. When Abrams decided to jump ship and take over the other space adventure franchise, Justin Lin was hired to direct this third sequel. Lin made his name by retooling the Fast & Furious franchise and those films made millions. Personally I thought he’s an odd choice to take over a sci-fi franchise but thankfully he delivered one of the most enjoyable Summer films I’ve seen so far.

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Three years into their five-year mission, the enterprise crew is feeling the grind of their routine space work. As the film opens, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is giving back an artifact to a group of alien creatures but it didn’t turn out well as he’d hoped. Later the crews are heading to a new advance space station to get some R & R. While stationing at the new space station, Kirk received a new job offer and contemplating leaving the Enterprise. Before he can decide to accept the new job offer though, there was a stress call from a lone survivor who needs help. Kirk and his crew set out to rescue more lives from danger but as they approach their destination, it turns out to be a trap. In a pretty spectacular sequence, a group of aliens with advance spaceships attacked the Enterprise and broke the ship into pieces. The ship crashed landed on an isolated planet and the crew got separated. Kirk must find his friends and also figure out who these aliens are and their purpose for attacking the Enterprise.
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The script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung is pretty simple, maybe too simple for my liking. The premise is basically search and rescue and lots and lots of action. But they were able to throw in a lot of funny dialogs and lighten up the mood of the film quite a bit. Speaking of action, Lin definitely delivered on that front. The space battles were well-staged and very exciting to watch. If there’s a theater near you that has Dolby Atmos surround sound, I highly recommend you see it there. Lin also was able to move the film along at a brisk pace, never linger on any subplots that might slow the story down.

One minor complaint I have is the way he shot the climatic showdown between Kirk and the main villain. He moved the cameras way too much and I wasn’t sure what was going on. I thought Abrams did a much better job in a similar scene for Into Darkness when Spock and Kahn had their showdown.

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Performances by the actors were great, since this is their third outing, I thought all of the actors look comfortable in their respective roles. Since plot have them separated from each other, many of them got equal screen time. The best pairing to me has to be Spock and Bones, their bickering were fun to watch and the two actors have good chemistry. The weakest link here though is Idris Elba’s villain Krall. He’s yet another one -dimensional evil character whose purpose is vengeance against Starfleet. Elba didn’t have much to do except scream and spouting clichĂ©d evil dialog.

It may not be the best film in the franchise but definitely an upgrade over the too serious Into Darkness. The film contains great action sequences and a touching tribute to the two deceased actors. I’m not a trekkie but I thought this one can be considered one of the best in the franchise.

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Ruth’s Review

I wasn’t going to review this one, but seeing that I have quite a different reaction than Ted, I thought I’d post my thoughts on it as well.

Like Ted, I’m not a Trekkie either, but JJ Abrams actually managed to make me interested in the Star Trek Universe with the first film. I also enjoyed the second installment Star Trek Into Darkness that Abrams also directed, and I really dug Benedict Cumberbatch’s villainous turn as Khan. I said in that post that it was a huge improvement over Eric Bana’s role in the first film. Well, unfortunately in this third installment we’re back to another clichĂ©d, one-dimensional villain in Idris Elba‘s Krall, as Ted has pointed out above. It’s a travesty that when they hide incredibly good looking, massively talented actors under such heavy makeup and give them banal dialog on top of it.

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It’s no fault of the insanely-charismatic Elba that Krall is such a terrible villain. But he’s so terribly-written it made me cringe. But interestingly enough, the one person I thought would be cringe-worthy turns out to be quite okay. I’m referring to Sofia Boutella‘s Jaylah (who I initially thought was Rihanna), a scavenger who rescued Scotty (Simon Pegg) and took him to her home. Her house turns out to be an early generation Starfleet vessel USS Franklin, and she needs Scotty to help her fix it.

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The moments between Jaylah and Scotty are pretty fun. I quite like Jaylah, and she’s given a pretty decent character arc. The movie’s best moments to me are in the the dueling banters, whether it’s Scotty & Jaylah, or Bones & Spock. Karl Urban‘s grumpy-ness is so endearing and he’s got as good chemistry with Chris Pine as he does with Zachary Quinto. The film did boldly go where no previous Star Trek film has gone before in making Sulu (John Cho) gay, though it only amounts to barely a minute of screen time showing him with his husband and young daughter.

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Unlike Ted though, I’m not too crazy about the frenetic action sequences. I find it to be too dizzying and goes on far too long. It seems endless to me that my mind started to wander and it actually took me out of the movie. I don’t remember feeling this way in previous Star Trek films, but this one has so much combat scenes and explosions, even the USS Enterprise was blown to bits. There’s also a ton of chase sequences, so I guess I could see why they hire Justin Lin for this movie. During one of the many extended action sequences, I whispered to my husband that this is basically Fast & Furious in Space! The one part I did enjoy was towards the end when they used loud rock music as a countermeasure against the tiny ships ‘swarm’ controlled by Krall.

I guess this movie would satisfy action fans. But for me, I expect Star Trek to be a space adventure drama, more about Starfleet’s journey and the relationships of its crew members. The film touched upon that in Capt. Kirk’s opening monologue, but that’s pretty much it. I guess there’s not much room for characterization amidst the dizzying action, apart from a few fun banters here and there. Even the quiet moments of Spock mourning the passing of Ambassador Spock doesn’t elicit much emotion as it should’ve been. It did pain me every time I saw Chekov on screen though, I still can’t believe Anton Yelchin‘s gone.

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So despite some fun moments, overall it’s just hard for me to feel invested in Kirk & co.’s journey this time around. The faster the chase scene the more tedious it becomes for me. Perhaps the movie’s aimlessness has been hinted in the intro voice over of Captain Kirk
 “As for me, things have started to feel a little episodic. The farther out we go, the more I find myself wondering what it is we are trying to accomplish” Yep, that’s how I feel as the audience too, Cap. The ending also feels a little too neat, resolved perfectly just in time for yet another episode (read: sequels) in a not too distant future. Not sure I’m too excited for future Star Trek movies after this one.

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So what did YOU think about ‘Star Trek Beyond’? 

Musings on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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I wasn’t going to blog about Star Wars as I didn’t think I’d have time before my East Coast trip on Tuesday. But you know what, I can’t help it. Hubby and I actually watched the original trilogy a few weeks ago, just to refresh my memory as I barely remember any of the story. We even watched the last half hour of episode III around the time the final duel between Anakin Skywalker & Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin becoming Darth Vader.

Well, naturally there’s a feverish anticipation to The Force Awakens, a decade after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005. I’m glad the film is finally here so I can actually talk about it and not worry about spoilers. Given the behemoth box office take of $238+mil, surely most of you have seen it by now? I pretty much avoided reading a lot of reviews and articles before this weekend and I’m glad I did. Well, this post is not a review per se, more of my random thoughts about the film and the franchise as a whole, so SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen it yet.

A balance of homage & re-imagining

After refreshing the sci-fi classic Star Trek, it’s incredible that JJ Abrams ended up getting the torch to refresh yet another beloved franchise. In a way he’s the right man for the job, and he’s dealt with audience’s passion AND wrath for some of his own creation, i.e. LOST. It’s crazy to think that this is only his fifth feature film as he mostly serve as producers in a plethora of film and TV series.
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Abram’s revealed that it’s nerve-wracking to be helming such a massively popular franchise with such ardent fans who are quite tough to please. So I can see why he sort of played it safe with Episode VII and the plot was a nice continuation from where Return of the Jedi left off three decades earlier. The trio of writers, Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, were respectful to the original story whilst making it current in terms of tone and narrative for the new generation of fans.

The one major update seems to deal with the Force itself. In The Phantom Menace, the Force was measured by Midi-chlorian counts found in the cells of a human being. Anakin had a high amount of that and that’s why Qui-Gon Jinn deemed him to be the Chosen One. But he had to be trained to be able to use the force optimally, but now it seems that the Force-sensitivity is more of a mythical thing that isn’t quantifiable, as the case with Rey who doesn’t require much training to use it (more of that later).

After the Galactic Empire was defeated, a new threat emerged in the galaxy, this time it’s called the First Order. Its similarities to the Third Reich is palpable once again, down to the army formation, uniform, etc., led by the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). It’s clear from the start who the good and evil parties are, which kind of takes away the suspense.

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What I like about it

There’s plenty of familiar faces that’s thankfully more than just for nostalgia sake, as the major players Luke & Leia Skywalker and Han Solo’s are integral to the plot. But the fresh faces add a dose of new energy to the story, and the female-driven plot is a welcome but not-surprising move coming from Abrams.

The adventure pretty much began the moment we meet Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger in the desert planet Jakku and Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who found his conscience and escaped from the First Order headquarter. I love both Ridley and Boyega as the two young fresh faces, that’s inspired casting there to cast two unknowns who have a nice chemistry together. Ridley’s given the most to do here as the Chosen One character, both in terms of physicality and emotionally. I think overall she pulled it off. Boyega is an effortlessly likable lead who’s got a pretty strong screen presence, too. They’ve signed on to multiple Star Wars movies and I certainly welcome seeing more of them.

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Both of them have some funny and even sweet moments with the original cast, especially Harrison Ford who have the most screen time compared to Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, the latter had no speaking part at all. Like an old shoe, Ford filled his role of Han Solo effortlessly, complete with his curmudgeon attitude and dry wit. His loyal companion Chewie was right there beside him up until the end and perhaps the only moment I choked up a bit was when Chewie witnessed his BFF being murdered right in front of him.

Lupita Nyong’O, whose face was never seen, added gravitas as the wise Maz Kanata, a petite pirate of some kind who’s lived a thousand years. It’s a memorable motion-capture performance and her character is a pretty important one as she seems to know the whereabouts of Luke and also has his lightsaber.

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Like in Abram’s Star Trek films, there’s an underlying humor throughout. The banter between Rey, Finn and Solo are a hoot when they’re trying to operate (and fix) the archaic Millennium Falcon. I also find Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) hilarious when he’s angry. The dude has major anger management issues as he’d blast an entire control panel with his lightsaber upon hearing some bad news, ahah. He does have great hair though and what’s the secret to him NOT having helmet hair? Now that‘s a secret worth knowing about 😉 I think between him and resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), they can practically do a Pantene commercial!

My new fave characters are definitely Rey, Finn AND the spherical droid BB 8. It’s the most adorable droid yet and he’s an absolute blast to watch! Just like Baymax in Big Hero 6, I had a big smile in my face every time the droid appeared on screen and it even knew how to give a thumbs up!! So yeah, thanks Abrams for introducing such a fun new character that made me forget about that super annoying amphibious whose name rhymes with jinx.

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When I learned that the film is 2 hrs and 15 minutes long, I was worried I’d be bored stiff but I’m glad that’s not the case at all. In fact, the film felt like a breeze thanks to the dynamic pacing and fun action scenes, especially the flying sequences. That said, I didn’t think the special effects were THAT spectacular as some people have been saying. I mean, it’s to be expected from a modern movie with a humongous budget of $200 mil. It wasn’t as jaw-dropping as Mad Max: Fury Road which was made with $50 mil less and it didn’t feel so CGI-heavy as this one.

Lastly, I have to mention about John Williams‘ score which was still as awesome as the first time I heard it. The new score is wonderful and rousing as well, which mixes the old and the new, just like the film itself.

What I’m not crazy about

I mentioned the lack of suspense, well that’s how I feel throughout the movie. I can’t tell you a moment where I was genuinely surprised, let alone shocked by it. It’s also very predictable, which takes away the impact of some of the big moments of the film. I could see the death of a major character from a mile away, and I didn’t shed a single tear when it happened (and I’m a cryer!). So you could say that the film wasn’t as emotionally gratifying as I had expected.

Now, my main *quibble* that I discussed on my way home with my hubby was the fact that there are more questions than answers after seeing it. I read this article on Tech Insider on 11 biggest questions after seeing the movie and I agree with all of them. The main one is about the protagonist Rey, who we knew nothing about when the film started and she remained a mystery up until the end. Why is she force sensitive? How does the force work within her without ANY kind of training? Yes of course given that Disney is going to milk this franchise for all its worth, I said to my hubby that we probably won’t know much about her until Episode XII! Heh.

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The other main issue I had was that it was never explained why Kylo Ren had such a major beef with his parents? I’d think they’d mention a bit of that when Han and Leia talked about him, but no, we only learned that he had been trained by Luke but then got seduced by the dark side like his granddad. I kept thinking how this seems akin to those parents who learned that their sons had secretly joined ISIS. Ren himself is far from the great villain Vader was (which is obviously the point I guess, hence his constant self doubts), and he’s far too emo and prone to tantrum-throwing to be effective as an evil leader. It made me wonder how he got to be in such a high position to begin with, is it because Snode saw a potential in him given that he’s Vader’s grandson? As much as I enjoy seeing his gorgeous hair though, I think Ren should’ve worn his mask more often as he’s not at all menacing when he takes it off.

“A soap opera about family, not spaceships”

That’s a quote from George Lucas himself I read in this article. “People don’t actually realize it’s actually a soap opera and it’s all about family problems — it’s not about spaceships.” Well, that is fine and dandy because even stories that take place in space have to be somewhat relatable for it to resonate with audiences. But do they need to have familial link for every single character though?? I think if Kylo had been someone NOT blood-related to any of Star Wars’ major character, but that he somehow received training from a Jedi (Luke), I doubt that it’d make that much of a difference in the story. Yes obviously having Han being killed off by his own son, instead of some stranger baddie who happens to be a Vader groupie, has a bigger shock value (though I wasn’t all that shocked, to be honest).

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In any case, I do think the Star Wars saga is NOT just about spaceships. It’s got some Biblical values of good and evil, generational sins, and a good message about self-control, self-sacrifice and what it means to be a hero. It’s also a story about loyalty and friendship, as with Han and Chewie, as well as those droids being so loyal to their masters. The Force Awakens introduce new best friends too, Rey and Finn, Finn and Poe, and even Rey and Chewie?

So is it a perfect film?

Well, the short answer to that is NO. As I mentioned above, Abrams took a pretty safe path and made it more of an homage with a few new things added and so I feel that it’s a bit derivative and even predictable. Just as the original trilogy were best appreciated as a whole, as a stand-alone film, The Force Awakens is good but not spectacular, but it works as a continuation of a larger story. The finale hints that Luke would have a larger role in Episode VIII alongside Rey, so it’ll be interesting where the story goes from here.

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Yes it is indeed better than the prequels, and the dialog has more zing and not cringe-inducing, thank goodness. I’m glad I saw it and I think having just seen the original trilogy helped with my enthusiasm for this new film. Having said that, my hubby and I didn’t absolutely LOVE this enough to see it again on the big screen though. We might rent it again later once it’s on Blu-ray. Thus, as entertaining as The Force Awakens was, I’m actually looking forward to talking about other movies other than Star Wars in the new year.


Well, what did YOU think? Did you share my thoughts about Episode VII?

Five for the Fifth: JUNE 2013 edition

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Hello folks, welcome to the 6th Five for the Fifth of the year!

As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

Wahlberg_2Guns1. Today Mark Wahlberg turns 42! It’s funny how I first noticed this Boston-native when he was still Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch. Well, he’s certainly has come a long way from that as he’s now been quite a force to be reckoned with as a movie star, even garnering critical reception with not one but TWO Oscar nominations for The Departed and The Fighter.

Now, I haven’t seen any of his latest films, I mean Broken City and Pain & Gain just didn’t appeal to me. I might rent the later as it looks pretty hilarious. Interestingly enough, Wahlberg’s latest films have consist of him being paired with another movie star. Russell Crowe in Broken City, Dwayne Johnson in Pain & Gain, and now he’s paired up with Denzel Washington in what appears to be an action comedy where he & Denzel played A DEA agent and an undercover Naval Intelligence officer being set up by the mob.

Check out the trailer:

Looks like it’s more of a rental for me. I’ve only seen about 10 of Wahlberg’s movies so far, and I think my favorites are The Fighter and The Other Guys, yes I know, it couldn’t be more different from each other, but I actually think Wahlberg’s quite fun to watch in comedies, though generally he doesn’t really have much range, ahah.

So what’s YOUR favorite Mark Wahlberg’s movie? Will you be watching 2 Guns?

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2. Now, for my second question, I’m actually borrowing from the Twitter #MTOS series (Movie Talks on Sunday) which you should absolutely follow if you haven’t already. This past weekend, the focus was on Christopher Nolan, hosted by @Pandadeer. I particularly like this question:

Nolan is known for returning to the same pool of actors; who would you like to see added to it?

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Nolan with his Batman posse

I like Andrew’s answer below, esp. one about Lazenby:

Recently Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain have joined Nolan’s upcoming sci-fi film Interstellar. Though of course he still has his regular go-to actor Michael Caine in his cast. Now these would be my top 5 wishlist for Nolan to consider: Richard Armitage, Clive Owen, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch and Helen Mirren.

What about you? Which actors would you like to see working with Chris Nolan?


3. It’s been a while since I talk about Bond on this blog! Well, there have been some developments on Bond 24. As you might’ve read on Terrence’s Movie News Monday, Sam Mendes is expected to return in the director’s chair for both Bond 24 and Bond 25, so probably until the end of Daniel Craig’s reign as Bond.

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Now, we’ve also got news that Spanish beauty Penelope Cruz has been cast as Bond girl! Wow, so they’re upping the ante as far as getting more quality performers in Bond movies. I mean, Cruz is an Oscar winner for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and has been nominated three times for an Academy Award. Funny that Daniel Craig is probably the first Bond ever to be seduced by a team of husband and wife, ahah. Cruz’s real-life hubby Javier Bardem sort of put the moves on Bond in Skyfall, remember? 😀

Well, most of you might not know this, but this won’t be Cruz’ first time appearing with a Bond actor. As a Timothy Dalton fanatic, I also noticed her brief appearance as Dalton’s girl in the British miniseries FRAMED back in 1992. As Lola Del Moreno, her character name is almost Bond Girl-ish too, no? It’s a great crime/thriller series if you haven’t seen it, fantastic performance by Dalton and David Morrissey.

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In any case, what’s your thoughts on Mendes coming back and Cruz as the next Bond girl?


4. Now this is a film that wasn’t on my radar previously but boy, I love the pairing of Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall in this intriguing crime drama CLOSED CIRCUIT.

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Martin and Claudia are lawyers — and ex-lovers — who find themselves put at risk after they join the defense team for an international terrorist’s trial.

I was quite impressed with director John Crowley, who did this great indie Boy A with Andrew Garfield (which could be his breakthrough role) and Peter Mullan. We’ve also got the script by Steve Knight (Amazing Grace, Eastern Promises) and a slew of great character actors CiarĂĄn Hinds, Riz Ahmed, Anne-Marie Duff, Julia Stiles and Jim Broadbent. I was VERY impressed by Ahmed in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, so I’m looking forward to seeing him in another film.

What do you think of this  movie? Does it appeal to you?


5. Now, last but not least. Time for some TV updates. Yes, I know I’m quite terrible with keeping up with TV shows, but with Karl Urban, this just might be the new show I’d be [trying] to watch regularly this Fall.

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We’ve got some detailed synopsis from Teaser-trailer.com:

The year is 2048. John Kennes (Urban), a cop who survived one of the most catastrophic attacks ever made against the police department, wakes up from a 17-month coma, he can’t remember much – except that his partner was killed. Because of the attack he lost one of his legs and is now outfitted with a highly sophisticated synthetic appendage.

Now by mandate, every cop must partner with a robot. And despite his passionate aversion to androids, John is paired up with Dorian (Michael Ealy), a discontinued android with unexpected emotional responses. Although such responses were deemed flaws, it is in these ‘flaws’ that John relates to Dorian most. After all, John is part-machine now, and Dorian is part-human. John and Dorian’s understanding of each other not only complements them, it connects them.


This definitely looks very promising and the set pieces looks pretty sleek. I do realize that with a lot of these shows, the premise and promo seems to be more compelling right off the bat. The show’s created by the same folks behind the popular FOX sci-fi Fringe, J.H. Wyman & J.J. Abrams.

I’ll definitely give this one a shot. I mean a futuristic sci-fi + Karl Urban already sounds like a winner to me 😀

Well, now my last question to you is two-fold: Are you excited about this show? Otherwise, what’s the TV show you’re looking forward to most this coming Fall season?


That’s it for the JUNE 2013 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these subjects.

Somehow JJ Abrams & co. made me interested in the Star Trek universe

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Well, one of my most anticipated movies of the first half of the year has come and gone. I finally saw Star Trek Into Darkness Wednesday night and you know what, despite the huge hype machine working overtime for this film, this film somehow lives up to it. So yeah, I really enjoyed it.  Instead of doing a straight review, I feel like jotting down my change of heart of sort, in regards to this franchise.

Now, Star Trek fever has been high the past few weeks not only because of the studio’s marketing machine, but also sparked by various bloggers and sites posting all kinds of Star Trek-related stuff in anticipation for the new movie. Strangely enough, instead of being blasĂ© or even rolling my eyes about the whole thing, for once I was actually intrigued. I guess it was started back in 2009 when I saw JJ Abrams’ Star Trek for the first time. For some reason, the whole franchise sort of eluded me when I was growing up, as I had never followed any of the TV series nor seen any of the previous films. Ok I did see clips of the 1986 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, this Spock swimming with the Whale scene is such a hoot! It’s one of the best ‘fish out of water’ comedic scenes ever, pardon the pun 😀

Oh and I did see the comedy satire Galaxy Quest which is not only hilarious but spot on – one doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to recognize the obvious subject of its parody. Nonetheless, I was practically Star Trek virgin four years ago. The only ‘knowledge’ I knew of Star Trek is from pop culture, the iconic phrase Live long and prosper, the Vulcan salute that I have to admit I have trouble doing, that Spock & Kirk are cross-species BFF and that Klingons are their longtime nemesis. But other than that, I’ve no clue about their universe, so I’ve got to admit that whole Spock + Spock scene in the first movie was quite discombobulating for me. My hubby had to explain a lot of the basic Star Trek 101 and all the jargon, ahah. I guess perhaps his enthusiasm might’ve rubbed off on me a bit, but I think it’s more than that.

As I mentioned in my review of the 2009 version, I think the casting and the chemistry of the cast is what I really enjoyed about the film. But what I didn’t mention then is how timeless the story of Star Trek stories, depicting the adventures of this group of humans and aliens on board the Enterprise spaceship. The underlying themes war and peace, loyalty, personal courage, the role of technology, etc. are human motifs that still relevant to this day, but of course it’s now enveloped in a shiny and cool wrapping with the latest special effects and gadgetry… oh and of course, sprinkled with lots and lots of lens flares! 😉

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Thankfully Abrams’ obsession with the lens flare didn’t bother me as it did in the first movie (maybe I just chose to ignore ’em), but what we still get in this sequel is the zippy and fun tone, boosted by the chemistry of its cast and spectacular special effects. Despite the title, the movie is really not as dark as we’re led to believe. Yes it’s slightly darker than the first, but by no means grim. Everything I like about the first movie is present, the bromance between Spock and Kirk are funnier and snarkier – Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine are one of those perfect casting choice that gets even better the more I watch them together. More screen time for Karl Urban‘s McCoy (yay) and also Simon Pegg‘s Scotty relishing in his Scottish brogue whilst being in a hysterical state of panic for most of the movie.

Cumberbatch_StarTrekIntoDarknessBut really, the REAL star of Star Trek Into Darkness is the villain. Much like The Dark Knight‘s The Joker, Benedict Cumberbatch villainous turn as the intergalactic terrorist John Harrison stole all kinds of scenes every time he’s on screen! As the superior being – in every way, as the character pompously claim – Cumberbatch is such a perfect choice for the role and he brings that same cocksure swagger from his role as Sherlock Holmes. Yes his delivery is a bit too theatrical, perhaps intentionally so, but there’s no denying his screen charisma. Cumberbatch is unconventionally good looking, but he made those who are classically handsome oh so boring! Oh, and I think there should be law that require him to wear long, cape-like coat in every movie, yes?

I think in terms of the characterization of the villain, it’s definitely an improvement over the first (no offense Eric Bana!). Somehow Cumberbatch’s role isn’t the typical two dimensional bad guy hellbent on destruction, though certainly it’s not an excuse on his means he chose for his mission. What really works is how the series of destructive events truly test those in leadership roles of the Starfleet, particularly Kirk as he often has to make split-second decisions with the crew’s life hanging in the balance. Despite the eye-popping action in 3D (those warm-speed scenes are pure geek-gasm stuff), sleek set pieces and futuristic fashion, it’s not really style-over-substance (thank goodness!). I’d readily give the movie a 4.5/5 rating!

Thanks to the trio of writers Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci in creating a reboot that still pays homage to the original, but yet feels fresh and cool. In a way, it’s kind of like the motto that Gene Roddenberry created back in 1966.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the star ship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Well, one thing for sure, the journey of the Enterprise crew seems endless. With a projected box office take of $100 mil in four days, even without Abrams at the helm (as he’d be too preoccupied with yet another behemoth franchise Star Wars), we’re likely to see more sequels in the works. Hey I’m fine with that, fingers crossed that somehow Cumberbatch would return as well?

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In the meantime, I’m inclined to check out previous Star Trek films, starting with the original William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (particularly The Wrath of Khan) . Then later on I might move on with The Next Generation with Patrick Stewart as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, especially since Keith highly recommended Star Trek: First Contact.

So I guess thanks to Mr. Abrams bold and exciting voyage, I just might jump into the Star Trek bandwagon after all. No, I don’t think I’ll be a Trekkie nor would I start be buying a Captain Kirk action figure any time soon, but somehow now I see this 47 year-old franchise in a whole new light 😀


So tell me where do you stand in regard to this sci-fi franchise? Let me know your thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness, too!

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