Don’t Believe the Hype! Issue 4: Star Wars: Rebels Season 2 Finale

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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It has been a couple of weeks since the “big” finale of Rebels, so I wanted to take a step back to analyze why the season finale did not work for me.

We all knew it was going to happen—Ashoka Tano versus Darth Vader.  What we didn’t know is that in the same episode Darth Maul fights Ahsoka, and the Inquisitors, who are fending off a temple.  The episode sure was filled with a lot.  In fact, too much.  All I ever hear about is this show has cool ideas, but a lot of filler.  Why would you utilize three of your biggest characters in the show in the same episode?  Not only does that diminish the impact they have on the show, but also it’s a wasted opportunity to explore such potentially rich material.  I feel that this episode could have been spread over a few episodes.

For the most part, the episode is hard to watch because of the extreme difference between this show and Clone Wars.  The most annoying difference is in the tone.  This show tries to be serious, but comically stumbles.  When Darth Maul appeared and told Ahsoka his plan to train Ezra, I laughed.  We know Maul to be a brilliant mastermind in war, yet he picks this loser to be his apprentice?  What also makes this show less serious are the color tone, drawing schemes, and direction.  For a second, let’s compare the two Clone Wars shows (the most recent one, and the one from 2003).  We can agree that the animation is totally different, but they remain serious.  I think it’s because the two shows portray their characters “equally”, and they work in the universe that each of them built.  With Rebels, that’s not the case.  One minute you have Vader destroying an entire fleet.  The next you have Inquisitors escaping via lightsabers that are used as helicopters(?). It seems like this show can’t decide if it wants to be like the cartoonish 2003 Clone Wars show or the dead serious 2008 version.

I mentioned that Ahsoka, Maul, and Vader are all in this episode.  That is another problem–none of those characters are Rebels characters.  You can even say that the story is not even a Rebels story.  Instead, this episode felt like Dave Filoni’s attempt to finally finish his Clone Wars series.  That’s cool and all, but don’t make the main characters take the back seat in their own show.

Yes, we got to see Ashoka versus Vader.  That’s a great idea, but the execution was poor.  Lighting and color did so much for The Clone Wars.  I remember many episodes where Maul would be enhanced by lighting, to where his eyes and diabolical speeches were you knew he wasn’t a throwaway character.  Each time I see Darth Vader in this show, I instantly say, “This is a kid’s show.”  I know people are going to say to me, “Well, dur!”, but don’t forget that this show, prior to its premiere, was advertised as “the new Clone Wars.”  So, how can the two shows not be compared?  Whether or not you agree with the right to compare, the bottomline is that the lighting and animation of the villains are too cartoonish, which robs them of being convincing threats.

I used to think that Rebels was a new direction for the better.  Instead, we are seeing that this show is not intended for people who get what Star Wars is.  Instead, the powers that be are looking for a new audience.  By doing so, they not only have to retell stories, but also tell it in a less mature way.  Hopefully, Rebels is just a stepping stone for Filoni’s next adventure.

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Choreography 101: Please Light the Fight!

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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After watching Batman v Superman and Netflix’s Daredevil, I realized that nobody cares about lighting anymore.  What is lighting?  Why use this ancient technique?  Well, I’m here to tell you that lighting is one of the most important devices to use in storytelling, preferably in dialogue scenes.  But, I will try to shed some light on how lighting can make a fight scene special.

Movies like BvS feel so emotionless mainly because the lighting is non-existent.  Lighting is supposed to show how serious a situation is (like, ya know, fighting a godlike creature without killing numerous civilians in the process).  Lighting also helps to show us who the characters are, so that when they are in a fight, we care about them.  In fact, lighting can be part of a character signature look (picture how Don Corleone is lit as he sits behind his desk in The Godfather).  If that same lighting was used for everyone else in that movie, it would, obviously, not be as definitive of Don Corleone. 

But, when watching BvS, it’s very clear that there is no distinct lighting for anyone.  This is a problem because not only does everyone look the same, but also it sets the tone for everyone to be the same.  In Fist of Fury, the starkly different lighting of the protagonist and antagonist creates tension between them.  The lighting on Bruce Lee makes him look heroic, and the villain’s lighting, of course, makes him look evil.  How can you tell that, you ask?  Villains usually have shadows underneath their eyes, while protagonists have a glow to their figure. 

Logical lighting is part of what qualifies film as art.  Now, you maybe thinking, “What a film snob!  Good day!”.  Well, don’t leave yet, because I’m not done.

My biggest complaint with Daredevil is that you cannot see any of the fights.  I wasn’t a big fan of season one fight scenes, but at least I could see the characters’s actions.  What is so cool about a scene that is too dark to see?  This was a problem in all thirteen episodes.  Inexcusable.  In Empire Strikes Back, the Luke vs. Vader fight scene is dark, yes, but you can still clearly see everything that’s going on.  With Daredevil, it’s almost like the crew knew what they were doing.  I believe that the reason why people make their scenes so dark is that they know their fights are weak.  That said, when you can see the fights, they are very lame.

As I mentioned, lighting can do some unique things, such as build tension.  It can reveal sweat on the two fighters, or emphasize something you would normally not see in a fight.  The scenes in Batman (1989) make good use of lighting.  Not only do they make the action scenes feel like a fantasy, but also it creates a unique universe.  With BvS, the lighting makes us feel…like we’re in the real world…I guess?  Regardless of the filmmakers’ vision in terms of lighting, the movie looks just like the Daredevil show, which looks just like The Dark Knight.  At least Batman ’89 looks different from Superman ’78, and even from the other Tim Burton movie—Batman Returns.  And that is the beauty of lighting: you can use it build your characters and your universe, while making the audience feel real emotions.

There’s no easy way to say it: lighting is a dying art.  More people need to realize why certain movies/ television shows don’t look great.  The reason is that the lighting is not there.  Lighting is one of the harder things to do and is a time-consuming job, which is why movies and TV shows do it less in our fast-paced production world.  Maybe we can try to evolve lighting to enhance our fights and story instead of downgrading films and using “going for realism” as an excuse for laziness.

Action Review: Eye in the Sky

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by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Eye in the Sky is not your normal action film.  To be honest, I don’t know if it even is an action film.  However, it has traits that a good action film should have.  This weekend, I got to watch Alan Rickman’s last major role, and I was not disappointed.

The movie doesn’t take long to set up.  The main three characters, played by Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Alan Rickman, are introduced and are defined within ten minutes.  It also helps that the movie is only 100 minutes.  Shorter running times often force the film to move straight into the conflict, rather than adding scenes that aren’t needed.

It has been a while since I have seen a small movie.  What I mean by a small movie is that the scope of the movie only focuses on a small group of people in a specific, limited situation. It’s about a certain select people who are in danger, not the fate of the world.  Overall, the conflict hinges on a little girl who is playing next to a house. There are armed suicide bombers are in the house, and her proximity to the house means she would die if an airborne drone were to strike at the terrorists. Who knew a movie can cut so deeply over a small problem? That’s what makes this movie intense.  Not only can every human understand what the problem is, but you follow the little girl throughout the movie.  This helps the conflict build as she becomes someone you want to see survive.  How many times do you watch an action movie and feel emotional by the end?  Not many.

In Eye in the Sky, the character’s personalities are shown through their decision making.  Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren are strong leaders who will do whatever it takes to get the job done.  Aaron Paul is a new pilot whose never experienced war, but follows orders. The rest of the government officials have most likely never experienced battle.

Helen Mirren, who has worked on the case surrounding these terrorists for six years, is fixated on getting the job done.  Not only does she know what is at stake (the little girl’s life and the repercussions of the missile fire), but also she has a task to do, and she wants to prevent as many casualties as possible.  I could never accomplish what Helen’s character did.  But, I can see her point of view.  In her mind it’s either one girl’s death (followed swiftly by a PR nightmare), or potentially watching eighty people get killed as a result of her failure to strike at the terrorists.  On the other hand, the little girl has a face.

Giving the collateral damage a face makes the story more powerful. For example, in Star Wars, the audience cares a lot about Alderaan when it gets destroyed by the Death Star because we have seen and gotten to know Princess Leia, and understand how much her home means to her.  Contrast this with the destruction of the Hosnian system in The Force Awakens. Because we know so little about those affected by the disaster (or might have missed the system’s name even mentioned), as an audience, our ability to sympathize is significantly lessened.  Besides giving the girl a face, how the filmmakers showed her character, as a peaceful child who respected her elders and worked hard, was very effective. She was also innocent to the events happening above her.

As the film progresses, the stakes are continually increased.  At first, the mission was one of capture, and suddenly it became shoot to kill.  At this point, the situation gets more serious.  The stakes do rise, and they make sense for the film.  The opening scene sets up the little girl in the story too, so that the audience isn’t shocked that she is part of the conflict in the movie.

The final twenty minutes is gripping, but also ends it the best way possible.  In the end, you leave with a lot of questions.  Personally, I knew I could never do what these people do, but also realize that nobody should have to make those choices.  But in this movie, the ending wisely keeps it clean.  Yes, it is a serious topic, but it is tamed.  What also helped me enjoy this movie was that it didn’t beat me over the head constantly with its point.  Eye in the Sky is a great film; and in a world of huge blockbusters, it proves that less can be more .  The story delivers from beginning to end.  It is not the greatest movie of all time, but never tries to be.

Rating: 9/10

+ The entire cast

+ Pacing of the film

+ Build up to the main conflict

+ Gives a lot to question after viewing

+ Ending is great

– Wish the end had a little more impact

 

Don’t Believe the Hype! Issue 3: R-Rated BvS is BS?

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By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Recently, we heard that a 3-hour, R-rated director’s cut of Batman v Superman will be released on home video.  Whether or not you like the movie as is, will an R-rated director’s cut make it better?

Personally, I thought BvS was the most boring movie I have seen since Thor 2.  That said, if the movie is already too long, why make it longer?  (Granted, Lord of the Rings was made better because of the added footage, but that is an exception).  For most of BvS, I was either twiddling my thumbs, or looking around at the crowd to see who was actually enjoying it.  You know what the filmmakers should do instead of add 30 minutes?  They should cut 40 minutes.  Why do we need three dreams, two flashbacks, and Wonder Woman?  I know that people like her, but she was unnecessary to the story.  The closest she came to being essential was in the fight against Doomsday, but Superman could have done everything that she did!  Remove all of that clutter, plus the useless Lois Lane subplot (in which she tries to find the origin of the bullet), the needless setup scene for Justice League, and the tacked-on Doomsday appearance, and you get a much simpler movie.  Don’t add more to an overbearing movie; that just makes it worse.

Speaking of which…how about that R-rating?  Why would Warner Brothers do that?  You know, for how many times I have heard people complain about Batman Returns for being too dark (since Batman kills), there is no way they can praise this movie, where he also kills!  Making it rated R is only going to worsen this movie’s problem, and it seems like a desperate cry for love.  The rating just doesn’t belong with these superheroes.  Also, movies such as BvS think that computer graphics in a live-action movie sell.  Well, I’m here to tell you that nobody was getting excited during BvS.  Why?  Because CG effects–whether they’re PG-13 or R-rated–look pitiful because none of it looks believable.

Batman v Superman is not doing well in the critics’ minds, and has been receiving poor word-of-mouth (as evidenced by its record-breaking first-to-second-weekend box office plunge).  If WB thinks that a longer, more hardcore version is going to save the movie’s life after theaters, then why didn’t they put this in the movie to begin with?  As a superhero fan, I ask: do you think that this will service the true fans?  Do you think it will raise the hype for Justice League?  Or is this just another reason to get your money?