2022 Movie Ranking

2022 movies

I started writing about movies in 2014 under The Colorful Silver Screen; I’ve written about them under several different blog titles since, but I had a regular audience throughout those title changes. I’ve stuck with T.’s Take since 2017, and it’s now hard to stay motivated to write for a blog when I can’t build a regular audience anymore. Still, I occasionally want to have a more personalized place than Letterboxd and Twitter to jot down my thoughts, so I’m going to rank every 2022 movie I’ve seen by now on this blog.

I’m not a fan of straight-up dramas and art house films, so this isn’t the most comprehensive year-end list you’ll find. In fact, since I don’t watch many new movies, I rank everything I see in a year instead of give a top ten. That said, this is one of the widest varieties of new releases within a year I’ve seen, even if there are still stragglers from this year I won’t be able to get to until after I’ve posted this list.

I’m splitting the ranking into four categories: movies I DISLIKED; movies I MODERATELY LIKED; movies I GENERALLY LIKED; and movies I LOVED. I also want to give a shout-out to some of my favorite not-new movies I saw for the first time this year: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020), One Crazy Summer (1986), The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), Love and Monsters (2020), and Searching (2018). Now onto this year’s titles:


DISLIKED

20. Old (PG-13) – M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of a graphic novel about vacationers who experience rapid aging on a beach they can’t escape from is, like Split (2017), another recent horror effort of his that’s missing the heart of his inaugural efforts like The Sixth Sense (1999) and Signs (2002); also like Split, it’s my least favorite movie of its year. These days, Shyamalan’s content with being weird and nasty just for the heck of it; I can’t call his creative vision uninspired, though.


MODERATELY LIKED

19. Jurassic World Dominion (PG-13) – Like the previous Jurassic World movies, it’s unremarkable but palatable fluff, with its greatest offerings being the dino action and the nostalgia of finally seeing Sam Neil, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum reunited.

18. Uncharted (PG-13) – Calling this one of the most competent video game movies I’ve ever seen isn’t saying much, but as someone who likes the Uncharted games more in theory than in their vulgar and mean-spirited practice, I found the movie’s thrills and laughs agreeable enough. (Full review)

17. Nope (R) – I have specific tastes in horror, so Jordan Peele’s previous works don’t pique my interest; hearing that this one is more of a monster movie, though, made me want to check it out. The irony of this is that I liked the movie’s first half of buildup much more than the second half’s turn into a monster movie, where the nature of the beast disturbed me more than it scared me while also having silly weaknesses. I can say that this is the first movie I’ve ever seen that has a made up SNL skit as part of its lore, though.

16. The Lost City (PG-13) – The entire first act of this Romancing the Stone (1984) for the 21st century had me laughing hysterically; on that level, it agreed with me more than Romancing the Stone. Alas, the last two acts have merely occasional laughs, opting to be more cute than funny. It’s also unfortunate how the story validates the idea of smutty romance novels.

15. See How They Run (PG-13) – Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan lead this self-aware whodunnit with terrific comic timing, especially from Ronan. Alas, the laughs and meta commentary fizzle down after a while.

14. Thor: Love and Thunder (PG-13) – It wastes its villain’s interesting potential, a couple subplots go too politically correct, and it forgets that the gods in the Marvel Cinematic Universe aren’t actually gods. But, it did have me laughing throughout, it has a couple of innovative action scenes, and its ending is touching. While it’s far from the greatest Marvel movie, Bao the God of Dumplings may be the greatest thing I’ve seen in a Marvel movie.

13. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (PG-13) – I enjoyed its ambition and admired its attempts at poignancy, but I didn’t really feel those attempts until some very late flashbacks to the first movie. It’s not a bad sequel, but, since I don’t think the character they’ve chosen to now lead this franchise is qualified to do so, there could have been a better sequel had they recast T’Challa.

12. Kimi (HBO Max) (R) – A conspiracy thriller that has a couple of brilliant gags and payoffs, but for all its potentially thought-provoking themes, it ultimately ends up feeling disposable. Still, I really connected with the protagonist, played compellingly by Zoë Kravitz, even if her anxiety issues are more extreme than my own.


GENERALLY LIKED

11. Night of the Coconut (Nebula) (NR) – It’s hard to explain the very premise of Night of the Coconut since it’s the feature-length culmination of a storyline that developed throughout a series of video essays by Patrick H. Willems. Still, I now want to see Patrick produce a feature-length movie with this same sense of coco-nutty invention that doesn’t require a series of video essays to understand, as long as he doesn’t throw in another anti-Catholic joke.

10. Ambulance (R) – This isn’t the first Michael Bay movie I ever liked since I used to love his Transformers movies, but between this and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016), Michael Bay now has two movies that appeal to my current sensibilities. With Ambulance, I’m still not a fan of how hyperactive Bay’s camera and editing can get, its runtime feels a little too long, and its conclusion is morally muddled, but I was invested in its story, characters, and Bayhem to the end, with its effective buildups of tension and humor to break them, even if some of the jokes feel forced.

9. Beast (R) – It may not have been a hit at the box office, but it was a hit with me, pitting a family against a rogue lion with unique camera staging, scary suspense, and a human element that’s not the brightest but nonetheless sympathetic. (Full review)

8. Prey (Hulu) (R) – More enjoyable to me than the original Predator (1987), presenting its gore less in-your-face and making up for its unintentionally hokey dialogue with thrilling action direction (it missed the opportunity to be called Predater, though). (Full review)

7. The Batman (PG-13) – It’s hard to picture this reboot leading to a planned trilogy when this one movie is long enough to already feel like a whole trilogy, but it refreshingly brings Batman to his detective roots that the mostly superior Christopher Nolan trilogy merely touched upon.

6. Thirteen Lives (Amazon) (PG-13) – Ron Howard nerve-wrackingly directs this retelling of a true daring cave rescue that happened in 2018 Taiwan, with Viggo Mortensen as rescuer Rick Stanton adopting an accent so British that it takes me aback even as a Lord of the Rings fan.

5. Avatar: The Way of Water (PG-13) – Not only does this have some of the most stunning visuals and immersive world building ever put to film, but it also introduces a new cast more endearing than the original’s while adding more dimension to the existing cast. That said, the teenage angst and over-ambition within the family at the center of the story can be frustrating, major threads are left dangling for its sequels, and the plot takes many detours during its middle act that I couldn’t appreciate until my second viewing where I knew where they were going. An uneven yet enchanting experience.


LOVED

4. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (PG) – I have so many questions about its world building, and it could have done without a couple of edgy jokes, but those problems sink into the background when it has me smiling and laughing throughout and even almost makes me shed tears for a snail shell. A person really is a person no matter how small, or shell-like.

3. Belle (PG) – Despite pacing issues that became more apparent on second viewing, I think the story’s emotional impact is more than powerful enough to overcome them, and its music and visuals are gorgeous. (Previous review)

2. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (Roku) (TV-14) – UHF (1989) is one of my all-time favorites, but Weird Al’s exaggerated autobiography that fittingly mocks the cliches of the biopic genre is downright brilliant, making me laugh until I couldn’t breath on several occasions.

1. Top Gun: Maverick (PG-13) – The platonic ideal of a crowd pleaser, perfectly balancing action, drama, and humor. And if Avatar aims to wow us with what can be done with computers, Maverick aims to wow us with what can be done in-camera, with actors being flown in real airborne jets. As I’ve said elsewhere, the original Top Gun (1986) grated on me so much that I couldn’t finish it, so it’s outright miraculous that its sequel is not only a great movie on its own but also my favorite movie of 2022.


While there weren’t any movies last year I outright loved, this year has four, and given how many movies on this list I liked in general, I’d say this was a pretty good movie year! Here’s to hoping for next year to also be good, even if not many of its titles have caught my interest as of now – and to hoping that I can produce at least two 2D animated shorts next year (my first one).

Happy 2023!

July-August 2022 Media Roundup

one crazy summer

I post about media on Letterboxd, Backloggd, and Twitter; here’s my monthly (bi-monthly in this case) roundup of it.


MOVIES

I finished watching through the Mission: Impossible movies (skipping M:I-2) with my best friend who hadn’t seen them, and… well, I now feel that Ghost Protocol has taken Fallout‘s place as my favorite one and that I feel a little more mixed on Fallout like I did on first viewing, after I’d raved about Fallout in my post that ranked the series. I also revisited The Shallows (2016), which I saw in theaters and found too harrowing at the time, but I decided to give it another chance now that I’ve seen more survival-creature movies; I still don’t like it as much as I want to, but I did find more to appreciate about it. I also wrote a full review of Beast (2022), though I may stick with these monthly roundups for writing about movies here.

More new-to-me highlights: 

https://media-cache.cinematerial.com/p/500x/pcyqqg51/one-crazy-summer-dvd-movie-cover.jpg?v=1456547757One Crazy Summer (1986)
Because I saw movies like UHF (1989) and Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002) at an impressionable age, I have a pretty zany sense of humor; alas, a lot of similar movies like The Naked Gun (1988) come with a heaping of raunchiness that puts me off. Thankfully, One Crazy Summer – a standard coming of age story at heart – has that kind of zaniness with virtually none of the raunchiness (if with other caveats like some profanity and risque beachwear); topped off with a protagonist who’s striving to become an animator (which, as @JanelleWaz observed, makes sense of the zaniness), it’s a comedy that feels tailor made for me. 


belle posterBelle (2021)
I don’t watch anime often, but I have seen non-Ghibli anime movies like Your Name. (2016), Weathering With You (2019), and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006). Belle, a sci-fi pseudo retelling of Beauty and the Beast that’s wrapped in commentaries on trauma and virtual reality, comes from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time‘s director Mamoru Hosoda, and while Leapt Through Time has a fun concept, it got bogged down by too much teenage relationship melodrama that I didn’t care for. Belle, however, blew me away throughout its runtime, even though it juggles so many ideas and deals with such heavy subject matter at times that I’m still not sure if it entirely gels for me; what I do know is that certain sequences are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in any movie.


https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMTU3MzUzMjIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODY5MTIzNDM@._V1_.jpgPlease Stand By (2017)
This joins the ranks of Galaxy Quest (1999) as a great movie about Star Trek fans, where a young autistic woman played by Dakota Fanning sets out to prove herself to both her caregiver and her own frustrated sister by journeying to Paramount Pictures to deliver her own Star Trek fan script for a contest. Movies that cast non-autistic actors as autistic characters often get criticized, but given the reviews I’ve seen from autistic viewers who’ve connected with this movie, I can’t be one of those critics. Saying it’s great isn’t to say that it’s a cinematic masterpiece, but it is sweet (aside from a couple of distressing moments), endearing, moving… It made me shed tears in the end.


https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BNjY2Mzc0MDA4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTg5OTcxNw@@._V1_.jpgAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
My best friend and I love watching guilty pleasure-type movies together, such as The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), Van Helsing (2004), and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), the last of which I introduced to him and probably had more fun with his reactions than he had reacting to the most bonkers introduction to Godzilla anyone could have. This time, he introduced me to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, whose trailers I remember making me laugh at the time for their sheer lunacy. Sure enough, it’s exactly the kind of movie that’s promised, one that would make Abraham Lincoln himself roll in his grave but that’s a lot of fun to watch, somehow playing itself both straight and with a wink at the same time.


https://i0.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/PREY-poster.jpeg?resize=740%2C1096&ssl=1Prey (2022)
Even though I wasn’t crazy about the original Predator (1987), I wanted to see a fresh take on this franchise, especially from the director of 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). While there is gruesome violence aplenty, it isn’t filmed as in-your-face as the original’s; not to mention, CGI gore doesn’t hit me as viscerally as practical prop gore does. The action choreography in general makes up for some unintentionally hokey dialogue; though what really puts me off is when the hero commits a cruel act of vengeance against a third party that plays a major part in the climactic showdown. Aside from that unfortunate descent into darkness, Dan Trachtenberg has impressed me once again.


VIDEO GAMES

jedi academyI finally beat Star Wars: Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast (2002) after I beat to the ultimate boss years ago but couldn’t figure out how to defeat him, and I still needed a walkthrough this time. I have beaten its followup, Jedi Knight – Jedi Academy (2003) many times throughout the years, though, and I still enjoy it despite its flaws, definitely in my top ten favorite games. I’ve also started Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered (2022) for PC; I don’t know whether I’ll write a review for it here, but it’s given me good first impressions.


MY OWN PROJECTS

I’ve finally finished my first 2D animated short, “A Snowman Walks Into a Wendy’s”! Hopefully I can finish my next 2D animated short sooner than I did this one.

 

Beast (2022) | Movie Review

Beast posterMonster movies like Jaws and Jurassic Park aren’t only landmarks in cinema history, but they’re also landmarks in my own taste in movies; they also come courtesy of Universal Pictures (and also of Steven Spielberg, but that’s beside the point), who have a long history of bringing monsters to screen, from sharks to mummies to dinosaurs to werewolves to giant sand worms to vampires.

With Beast, lions can now join that roster, with a lion who’s become a serious misanthrope after poachers slaughtered his pride, and his latest targets are a doctor played by Idris Elba and his two daughters played by Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries who are vacationing in Africa with an old family friend played by Sharlto Copley.

I’ve seen one other work from director Baltasar Kormákur, 2018’s Adrift, based on the true lost-at-sea story of Tami Oldham, and while that story’s poignancy ultimately shines through in the end, the choice to start with the survival portion of it and continuously flash back to how Tami got there instead of playing it out chronologically kept taking me out of the moment. Of course, Adrift is a survival drama that can play more loosely with structure than a survival thriller like Beast can, but in thriller mode, Kormákur doesn’t let up the tension when it kicks off, limiting his characters’ choices of weapons and methods of outside communication as the titular beast keeps them trapped in a car for much of the story.

What helps keep up the tension is Kormákur’s unique choice to film much of the movie in dynamic long takes, giving the action a refreshing sense of clarity in an at times over-edited genre, and while the violence is gruesome, it’s never overdone or played for shock value. He also uses this situation to heal the bonds between Elba’s Nate Samuels and his daughters after Nate split with their mother and wasn’t there for them while she was fighting a losing battle with cancer, a decision Nate deeply regrets.

Of course, like with many monster movies, these characters end up making decisions that keep them in trouble, though to be fair, how many of us would be thinking straight in such a situation? While such character writing has taken many viewers out of the movie, it didn’t do that for me too much. What troubles me more is how the script introduces the idea of vigilantes who murder poachers, and while this minor subplot does lead to consequences, it doesn’t exactly call out the anti-poachers’ vile methods.

Still, I’ve come across quite a few disappointing monster movies, whether they’re poorly made, depressing, or plain unremarkable; while Beast may have its far-fetched moments, its competent staging, scary suspense, and sympathetic human element did not disappointment me. There was hardly an audience when I went opening night, and I hope it finds one, both for the sake of the movie itself and for the sake of original modestly budgeted movies continuing to get released in theaters.

T.’S GRADE: B

June 2022 Roundup

top gun

I post about media on Letterboxd, Backloggd, and Twitter; here’s my monthly roundup of it.

MOVIES

Obviously, since I dedicated a whole post to it, one of the biggest movie highlights of this month was Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes. My review even got a couple of family members interested in checking it out; I haven’t heard from one of them about it since, and the other didn’t finish it because it wasn’t for them. Still, I’m happy to give attention to a hidden gem for once.

I tried looking for a decent monster movie, and I almost did in the shark-based 47 Meters Down (2017) and the crocodile-based Black Water (2007). Both have effective suspense, especially the terrifying Black Water, and that’s partly because its characters are sympathetic enough for me to want to see them survive; 47 Meters Down‘s characters are compelling at least as surrogates for us to picture ourselves in their situation. Alas, both movies’ downer endings fail to stick the landing emotionally.

Since my search for a decent monster movie resulted in disappointment, I capped off said search with one that never disappoints: Jaws (1975). Granted, I’ve seen scarier monster movies than Jaws (i.e. A Quiet Place Part II), but its character work makes it the best one I’ve ever seen regardless.

I went to the theaters twice for the first time since March to see Top Gun: Maverick. The characters in the first Top Gun (1986) are so lewd that I couldn’t finish it, but positive buzz convinced me to see its long belated sequel, and sure enough, it’s the best time I’ve had at the movies since Avengers: Endgame (2019). Granted, a great theater experience doesn’t always equal a great movie; I had a blast in theaters with with merely good movies like Endgame, King of the Monsters, and Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), and I had conflicting theater experiences with great movies like Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Into the Spider-Verse; however, I truly believe Top Gun: Maverick is a popcorn masterpiece.

Not only does that mean that my favorite movie since Into the Spider-Verse is somehow the sequel to a movie I couldn’t stand, but that also means I’ve seen a parody of Top Gun (Hot Shots! [1991]), a ripoff of Top Gun (Fire Birds [1990]), and a sequel to Top Gun without having finished Top Gun.

TELEVISION

Every episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi has now been released. I loved the first three episodes; the fourth episode threw the series off, but the last two brought it back a bit, so despite the series’s flaws, I generally felt positive about it. Then I rewatched the whole thing, and… I have mixed feelings.

On one hand, it relies on some major contrivances, especially ones that make Darth Vader look really dumb; there’s too much time spent on a secondary villain; both the cinematography and the musical score make it feel like an expensive fan film; and it lacks a sense of invention in its production design that’s been missing in most of Disney’s live-action Star Wars. And yet, the final confrontation between Obi-Wan and Vader hits me on every rewatch, bringing much better closure to their relationship before they meet again in A New Hope than Revenge of the Sith does, especially on Anakin’s/Vader’s end where he has something much more thoughtful to say to Obi-Wan than “I HATE YOOOOUUUU!!!”

So, in certain regards, the series is worth watching once. But in general, I don’t feel that it needs to exist. Hopefully The Bad Batch season 2, The Mandalorian season 3, and Ahsoka won’t disappoint.

VIDEO GAMES

I didn’t beat any new-to-me games this month, but there is one I would have beaten: Project Eden (2002). It’s a sci-fi third-person shooter that requires us to switch between four team members: one who has security clearance to unlock certain doors, one who can hack tech, one who can repair tech, and one who can enter hazardous environments. Despite its setting of an overpopulated dystopian future where the antagonists are a gang who takes drugs that mutate them into eldritch monsters, I was enjoying the methodical gameplay. Alas, when it got to a part where an innocent community turns into these hostile creatures, including a little girl, it finally surpassed my grimness tolerance.

I revisited a title I could put on a “video games I’ve played the most” list: Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (2003), which takes place in a universe where the trip to Jurassic Park apparently went well because Alan Grant, Ray Arnold, Ellie Sattler, and John Hammond are assisting us in building our own Jurassic Park. It spits in the face of the franchise’s caution against messing with nature, and I don’t usually like simulation games, but regardless, I still enjoy it, if up the point my park gets a five-star rating. There are additional modes to unlock, but I’m not so interested in doing so at the moment.

MY OWN PROJECTS

A quick preview of my current animated project. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I’m proud of the character animation so far; I’m willing to take pointers on it, though.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Droste no Hate De Bokura) (2020)

infinite two minutes

As I indicated in my May 2022 roundup by highlighting titles like Gravity, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Coherence, science fiction is the genre that can wow me the most, whether by providing thrills or brain teasers, whether on macro or micro budgets (which is similar to what I said about the genre in my Metropolis review, but I’ve seen a lot more movies since). In fact, it may impress me the most when a film like Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes can pull off a cinematic magic trick with practically no budget.

Of course, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is not the first film in a recent trend of microbudget Japanese productions that each appear to tell their stories over one unbroken shot, though I can’t find any other title of this genre other than its 2017 initiator, One Cut of the Dead, which does not sound like my cup of tea.

But Two Minutes‘ magic goes beyond its immersive illusion of an unbroken shot filmed over the course of a week, where a cafe owner discovers that the computer monitor in his apartment can see two minutes into the future through the TV screen in the cafe below, and he begins to have conversations with his two-minute-in-the-future self; soon, other acquaintances discover this anomaly and move back and fourth between each monitor to discover what the future holds as the evening goes on. While it does feel a bit repetitive at first, the situation progresses in inventive ways, and the amount of rehearsal it took for the actors to repeat their own performances as they switch between screens must have been painstaking.

The one real problem I have with it is that the lighthearted tone is thrown off when the situation starts to lead to some potentially life-threatening consequences, if for using the future to obtain material riches; thankfully, the violence doesn’t end up getting too menacing, and this predicament’s clever resolution provides cathartic laughs. Also, as the characters try to figure out ways to see further into the future and fulfill the actions they see their future selves perform, the question is raised of whether knowing the future makes us deterministically controlled by it; once again thankfully, it’s ultimately revealed that a presented outcome can be changed. It may create a paradox, but it validates the potential of free will.

While it’s not a premise that would likely interest kids, its subtitles (at least on Amazon) present no foul language, and at little over an hour long, the end result is a quick, contained, and charming hangout movie with an ingenious sci-fi twist that could both please genre fans and inspire indie filmmakers.

T.’S GRADE: B+

May 2022 Roundup

may 2022

I don’t post on this blog often, but I often write about movies and video games on Letterboxd, Backloggd, Twitter… So, starting with this post, I’ll try to write monthly roundups of media I’ve experienced. And since this roundup will have to catch up on highlights from the rest of the year, it will likely be longer than subsequent roundups.

MOVIES

Last year, I started regularly watching movies I hadn’t seen before, whether they were new releases, classics, or obscurities; most of these movies have been from the 80s and onwards, and many of them have been meh, but the new-to-me title that really blew me away last year was Gravity (2013), the kind of movie that would have shaped the way I view movies had I seen it at release.

This year’s biggest highlight came early with 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), which was the most tense a movie had made me feel since A Quiet Place Part II, and it was so good that it had me fist pumping by the time the credits started rolling; I enjoyed the original Cloverfield, too, and since this franchise is an anthology, 10 Cloverfield Lane can’t count as one of the greatest leaps in quality for a sequel, but it’s certainly one of the greatest leaps in quality for a franchise’s second entry.

This year has had other highlights, such as the mind bending and mostly improvised sci-fi thriller Coherence (2013) and the Danish fantasy franchise The Ash Lad; I also saw The Batman (2022), which is now my favorite Batman movie behind Nolan’s first two entries, even if it’s truer to the character’s spirit than those. Shazam! (2019) can also now join the ranks of DCEU movies I like, along with Aquaman (2018) and Wonder Woman (2017).

However, a couple of the movies I’ve enjoyed the most since 10 Cloverfield Lane I viewed this month: The Aeronauts (2016), a fictionalized but nonetheless thrilling, awe-inspiring, and moving retelling of a true scientific hot air balloon expedition; and A League of Their Own (1992), which, given its baseball subject matter, isn’t my usual kind of movie, but it is heartwarming and at times hysterically funny.

I also finally saw icons like Titanic (1997), which, despite the problematic affair at the core of the story, sucked me in with its craft; and Saving Private Ryan (1998), which had been on my watchlist for a long time until I finally decided to brave it on Memorial Day. It’s one of the most riveting movies I might never watch again; its graphic violence is meant to show the realities of war, but it still feels like it goes too far.

TELEVISION

I don’t usually watch TV; heck, the most TV I’ve watched in recent years are Marvel and Star Wars shows on Disney+, and if Disney+ didn’t have such exclusives, I probably wouldn’t support it. Still, these Disney+ shows have really redeemed the Disney era of Star Wars for me, especially with The Mandalorian. The Book of Boba Fett was alright, and it ironically jumped in quality when it became The Mandalorian season 2.5; I’ve heard it referred to as a good Star Wars show but a bad Boba Fett show, and in the words of young Boba in Attack of the Clones: yep.

However, these series reintroducing characters who were established in the Star Wars animated series finally persuaded me to check out The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Bad Batch, and the best of these shows is some of the best Star Wars period!

Granted, I had to follow Kotaku’s essential Clone Wars episodes list due to the amount of filler, and it made Anakin look even worse in Revenge of the Sith because of how well the show characterizes him and his central relationships; on the other hand, it does add the emotional resonance to the Order 66 sequence that used to be there only in theory.

That brings us to Obi-Wan Kenobi, which premiered with two episodes this month… I can’t say too much, but I love what they’ve done with it so far. I think Ewan McGregor is one of the few actors in the Prequels who could deliver the hokey material he was given with confidence, but even then, the flat performances surrounding his distracted from it. This time, Ewan neither has bad material to work with nor bad performances to distract from his, allowing us to really feel for his Obi-Wan. There are specific things I want to see in this series, especially acknowledgements of Clone Wars characters who were important to Obi-Wan and Anakin, but if it could at least keep up this quality, then in the words of George Lucas while working on The Phantom Menace: it’s gonna be great.

VIDEO GAMES

The “Television” section isn’t the last time I’m going to be talking about Star Wars this month, because in March through May, I beat some Star Wars games that were years in the making: Dark Forces (1995), Jedi Knight – Dark Forces II (1997), and Jedi Knight – Mysteries of the Sith (1998).

I’d beaten Dark Forces‘s fourth sequel Jedi Academy by the time I first played Dark Forces itself, but Dark Forces II was the first game in the series that I knew about; in fact, when I first played Dark Forces a decade after its release, I was expecting low-polygon 3D models instead of sprites. All three of these are shooters, but the latter two add the options of a 3rd person perspective, lightsaber combat, and Force powers; in addition to more varied gameplay, they offer more complex storytelling than the original’s.

Alas, Mysteries of the Sith is the least worthwhile of the lot, practically punishing us with overpowered enemies if we’ve only upgraded non-combative Light Side powers before we’re forced to stick with our lightsaber in the climactic portion of the game, even though the story’s ultimately about trying to save someone from the Dark. I felt foolish about all the walkthroughs I had to look at for all the switches I missed in Dark Forces II (heck, I gave up on Dark Forces for years because one part stumped me), but this one had me looking at walkthroughs so many times that I feel it’s the game’s fault more than mine.

Fortunately, Dark Forces and especially its first sequel are worthy classics. Though while the Steam port of Dark Forces runs fine, the Steam port of Dark Forces II is unplayable; get the GOG port.

Now, Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force (2001) is another FPS from my childhood that I got stuck in and dropped until now, except it’s from the previous franchise’s archrival; but hey, if Ravensoft could go on to develop the last two Jedi Knight games after this, I can like both, too. While I don’t know Voyager well, I appreciate that this game brings in the show’s actual cast, which is secondary to the titular special ops team that goes on off-ship missions. Although shoot-em-up gameplay doesn’t quite fit the spirit of Star Trek, and the combat could be more challenging, the game aesthetically nails the Star Trek universe despite poorly aged graphics, it moves at a brisk pace, and I actually didn’t have to look at walkthroughs.

I also started its sequel, Elite Force II (2003), and it was actually better than the first one in almost every way until it introduced a character who’s so sexualized that she ruined the whole game for me.

Although Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003) is one of my favorite games (I spent a good amount of time earlier this year learning to speedrun it), I’ve avoided its main sequels due to their edgier content; thankfully, The Forgotten Sands (2010), which takes place between Sands of Time and its first sequel The Warrior Within (2004), scratches that Prince of Persia itch for me. The story is unambitious, recycling a lot of ideas from Sands of Time, but it’s engaging enough; the horde-based combat often lacks challenge, but the platforming sections and the inventive mechanics used to traverse them make up for that. While it’s a fairly fluffy experience, I can picture myself revisiting it.

Also, given the mediocre Sands of Time movie adaptation from that same year, it can’t be a coincidence that the Prince’s brother looks kind of like Jake Gyllenhaal.

MY OWN PROJECTS

I launched my own business, Martin Media, where I can provide video editing, graphic design, and illustration. I also posted a new stop-motion video, “Iacon P.D. 2”, on my absurdlyawesome Youtube channel, and I have gone back to work on a 2D animated project that I’ve stalled for months and am planning to launch a 2D animation channel with it.

Uncharted (2022)

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There have been video game movies that were a hit with critics and audiences alike, like Werewolves Within and The Angry Birds Movie 2. Even more miraculously than them being well-received video game movies are how they’re based on games that are all about gameplay; they have no real narratives to adapt. But what about video game movies based on games with cinematic storytelling, acclaimed games-turned-derided movies like Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, and most recently Uncharted?

The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time movie does cut down on the game’s biggest caveat, the pervasively scanty attire; the recent Tomb Raider movie also improves on the game it’s adapting by not repeating its excessive brutality. And yet, both of these movies avoid adapting elements from the games that would have made them more compelling, such as Sands of Time‘s titular prince accidentally unleashing sand zombies and Tomb Raider‘s supernatural conceits being, well, supernatural.

As for Uncharted – which, like Tomb Raider, is in the treasure-hunting spirit of Indiana Jones – , I played the first three games a few years ago; although I was charmed by them on first playthrough, the novelty that wore off on an attempted second playthrough could no longer make their vulgarity and mean spiritedness easier to overlook, so I figured a movie adaptation could improve upon these elements. Sure enough, while the movie doesn’t completely clean them up, it does reasonably cut back on them.

What it unfortunately doubles down on are the lead antiheroes’ penchant for unjustified theft. After living his childhood in an orphanage, protagonist Nathan Drake even grows up with a disdain for nuns that his colleagues tease him for, and they’re not afraid to potentially disrespect church property in order to find the treasure they’re seeking. Still, if it weren’t for these elements, I’d be able to give a solid endorsement.

Tom Holland and Mark Walhberg may not recapture the games’ Nate and Sully, but they bring their own charisma. Drama is undermined often by punchlines and eventually by a late narrative switch-out, but the jokes are funny, and the action scenes are creative enough. It’s faint praise to call this one of the most competent video game movies I’ve ever seen, but I had a fairly good time with it. I’m still waiting for a movie based on a video game with built-in cinematic potential that’s more than just okay, though.

T.’S GRADE: C+

Five More Video Games I’ve Played the Most

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There are games I enjoy – or even used to enjoy – that I want to write about but don’t have enough to say for full reviews, so I’m putting them into another “Five Video Games I’ve Played the Most” list. This time, the list is based not only on how many hours I put into each entry but also on how many times I’ve beaten them, because most of these titles can be beaten in just a few hours if one knows them well enough.


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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003) is the first taste of parkour I got from video games, and playing it still feels really cool, even though the camera can be a mess at times, during both the platforming and the sword-based combat. Still, said combat is pumped up by both the acrobatics the titular Prince can perform and the musical score that mixes Arabic with rock and roll, and being able to turn back time with the Dagger of Time can thankfully prevent complete start-overs after slipping up. Amid the coolness is a solid morality tale about the dangers of trying to bring glory to oneself, where the Prince is fighting to undo his own mistakes; the relationship he develops with Princess Farah also adds a witty and emotional core to the story. The one major caveat is the constantly scanty attire, and I’ve avoided its sequels (sans the slightly censored Wii version of the third one) because they’re even worse in this regard; I also hear that they’re more brutally violent and less thematically sound. Here’s to hoping that the Sands of Time remake turns out well.


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Half-Life 2 (2004) blew me away when I first played it, even though I first played it two gaming generations after its release, and I’d seen it being played a few years earlier. I beat the first Half-Life (1998) beforehand, which itself was revolutionary for its own time, but it didn’t prepare me for the craft, attention to detail, and constantly innovative gameplay of its sequel; I can’t believe it was only released in 2004. On a now-defunct blog, I even wrote several essays trying to decipher this game’s theological implications and moral themes. Ultimately, though, after my most recent attempt to play it (which was a couple years after my last full playthrough), I couldn’t finish it. The game wallows too much much in grimness, and it makes the villains horrifically evil as to justify the brutality we pay them back. Still, part of me continues to be invested in this series; watching the ending to Half-Life: Alyx (2020) blew my mind, and I’m curious about how the long-fabled Half-Life 3 will play out.


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Shadow of the Colossus (2005), along with its spiritual predecessor Ico (2001) on the same remastered collection, is the reason I don’t fully regret buying a PS3 (other iconic titles like Uncharted and especially The Last of Us didn’t do it for me), though they weren’t enough to make me keep my PlayStation account. Still, Shadow of the Colossus is exhilarating – a game with an empty world that only offers boss fights, with us as Wander having to tensely keep our stamina meter up as we climb these creatures and stab their weak spots, with a grandiose musical score elevating the battles to a whole other level. I just don’t know what to make of the game’s story; it seems to be a cautionary tale about making a deal with a metaphorical devil even for the right reasons, but the consequences of this deal are mixed, and those who committed the injustice that Wander’s trying to correct with this deal are ultimately validated. Still, I’ll never forget what makes this game exhilarating.


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Portal (2007) and Portal 2 (2011) are both short enough to count as one entry. The original Portal was picked up by Valve, the developers of Half-Life, when a team of indie developers pitched a game that used, well, portals as a traveling and puzzle-solving mechanic, and it developed into the game that would become a cultural phenomenon. This first entry is short, sweet, and to the point, and I’ve played it the most of the duo, but technically, it does feel like a prototype for Portal 2, which is more expansive, even more inventive, and even funnier than the original, with Stephan Merchant and J.K. Simmons providing many of the laughs. Granted, Portal 2 also has a bit of a more mean-spirited tone than the original, and it’s less critical of the A.I. GLaDOS’s status as a man-made godlike figure. Nonetheless, I still enjoy revisiting both of these games.


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Mirror’s Edge (2008) is the closest game I have to a guilty pleasure, and like every title on this list sans Prince of Persia, I first got to it after the generation it was first released in. While I’ve seen others hail it as a masterpiece, I think its plot is nonsensically convoluted and its controls at times clunky; even for a game that can be beaten in an afternoon, its story feels stretched out. But boy does its parkour gameplay feel cool, and unlike Prince of Persia, it’s in first-person. And for as wonky as this game is, its unnecessary and repetitive 2016 reboot, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, managed to make it look even better, making me realize how charming the original’s cast of characters are and how much more a short, linear story fits this kind of gameplay than an open world.

The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year – or at least its first entry, The Fellowship of the Ring, is. I wasn’t old enough from 2001 to 2003 to see the trilogy in theaters, but I grew up from there watching it at home, and since it all functions as one continuous story, I consider it my favorite movie of all time.

Along with Star Wars, Zelda, and The Wizard of Oz, it’s also the reason why fantasy is my favorite genre, or at least in theory. There are times where the genre can be too fantastical for me, like Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Wolfgang Peterson’s The Neverending Story, and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Then again, those films are more in line with Oz than Rings, where protagonists from the real world are transported into fantasy worlds; Oz‘s weirdness is made palatable to me by its sense of whimsy and nostalgia.

Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, is a swords and sorcery epic, with its source material having invented the modern iteration of the genre, completely taking place in a richly crafted world with various kingdoms and races, like hobbits, men, elves, dwarfs, goblins, wizards, and even walking, talking trees.

While the sorcery in many examples of this genre veers uncomfortably close to actual occultism, such as in Matthew Robbins’s Dragonslayer (I haven’t seen and judged Harry Potter, the common go-to example of this, for myself), Lord of the Rings ironically pioneered this genre from a Christian imagination, where the sorcery is used exclusively by angelic beings, where supernatural abilities are part of the elves’ nature, and where the corruptive One Ring is a metaphor for sin. Alas, the movies don’t make it clear that wizards are angels, but it does enhance the movies knowing additional details from the books.

While Hollywood has since attempted to recapture the epic fantasy of Lord of the Rings, such as with the similarly based-on-a-Christian-author’s Chronicles of Narnia, it hasn’t done so with the same sense of mastery; Peter Jackson couldn’t even do that with his later Hobbit trilogy, though one of that trilogy’s biggest problems comes from turning a children’s fairy tale into a Rings-type epic. Narnia‘s solid first entry (and only its first entry), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is arguably the next best thing to Rings.

But Lord of the Rings is remarkable all the way through The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King; it’s sold especially by the use of practical effects as much as possible, New Zealand’s landscapes, Howard Shore’s score, and the performances from Ian McKellen (deservingly nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Fellowship), Viggo Mortenson, Sean Astin, and Andy Serkis.

Its CGI, while still the best of the early 2000s, doesn’t look seamless like it did when it was first released (and I disagree with those who claim that it looks better than most movies today), and there are moments where the spectacle feels like it’s done for the sake of spectacle, but far more often than not, the genre-defining battle sequences are exhilarating, especially in Return of the King, which is essentially the action-packed third act of a normal movie stretched out to three hours. But the battles would feel empty if they didn’t involve characters worth caring about, and Return of the King manages to keep its heart afloat.

The only real problem I have with Return of the King is that after one character commits a huge mistake during the climax, said mistake is swept under the rug for the emotional twenty-minute epilogue, and said character is completely lionized; on the other hand, how culpable this character is of making this mistake is up to debate. Other than this ambiguity, Return of the King blows me away like no other movie; if it’s not the greatest film ever made, then it’s hands-down the greatest threequel ever made.

Of course, Tolkien’s writing doesn’t have such an emphasis on action; rather, it’s deliberately paced and filled with poetry. Peter Jackson’s vision of the story, though, is still an historic achievement; unlike in other Jackson works like The Frighteners and King Kong where the creative ambition is both a merit and a detriment, the ambition of filming three humongous movies at once and releasing each one a year after the other fully pays off, and its story remains a powerful testimony to fellowship, self-sacrifice, and hope.

T.’S GRADE: A