Book Review in Brief – IT – Stephen King

It

It by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going in to this novel, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve seen the trailers for the movies, but never actually watched them. As a huge fan of Stephen King, I can say this is one of his best. IT stands as a unique horror novel that thrives by focusing on the lives of people in a small town. Mich like Salem’s lot, the horror lives in the character’s reactions and emotion moreso than the thing itself.

Throughout the book, King manages dual timelines without confusing the reader, and developed a memorable set of characters that are instantly recognizable. My only complaint is the length. While the first two thirds feel like every page is necessary, some of the later chapters end up feeling like they could have used more brevity. All the same, the fact that King manages to keep the book engaging for a thousand pages is mind blowing in its own right.

Overall, if you can commit to the length, it’s worth your time. Also worth noting, the audio version can make it difficult to discern when the book switches timelines, but is very well read.

4/5 Stars

View all my reviews

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Attack of the Clones

Hello and welcome back to my re-review series for the wonderful Star Wars Skywalker Saga, and a few spin-off movies along the way. So far, I’ve reviewed Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) , The Empire Strikes Back(5/5) and The Phantom Menace(2/5) which unfortunately means it’s time for… Attack of the God Damned Clones. I’ll be honest, going into this movie, I knew that I was going to have some strong opinions, but I tried my best to keep an open mind. There must be a reason it’s rated 13% higher than Phantom Menace on Rotten Tomatoes, right? Wrong, dead wrong, good lord, this movie is hot, and I mean burning to death on Mustafar level hot, trash.

Much like Menace, Clones has a lackluster opening mired in political intrigue. There’s a short scene telegraphing that Padme is in danger by blowing up a hand maiden no one really cared about (sorry Corde), and then we’re immediately brought to the political theater. There’s even a line in the immediate aftermath of the attack where Captain Panaka tells Padme: “This vote is too important, your highness.” Where the original trilogy always opened on some intriguing predicament for our heroes, the prequels instead tend to dive headfirst into exposition. If I had a say in it, I’d throw the assassination attempt in the opening crawl and start the movie with Obi Wan and Anakin’s chase through Coruscant looking for the assassin. It’s one of the better scenes in the movie and gives the audience an interesting look at a planet that is otherwise just a backdrop for political machinations.

More of this, please

Luckily, Lucas did start to take the hint with Clones and moves the politics into the background for the most part. Unfortunately, the new focus of the movie is somehow worse, a love story between Anakin and Padme. Setting aside the age difference, how they met, and the creepy, stalker vibes Anakin gives off… Never mind, can’t set it aside, this plotline completely wrecks the movie. Attack of the Clones has plenty of interesting directions to go, but the bulk of it is spent watching Anakin’s transformation from obsessed teen, to creepier, murder-happy obsessed teen. The worst part is, it works on Padme, and we’re forced to watch some of the most painful romantic interactions I’ve ever seen on screen.

It’s shit like this that makes for great memes, but kills a film

Focusing on Anakin was a given based on how Menace was made, but unfortunately, the script does nothing to move him forward as a person. Instead, Lucas rests on the fact that we know he’s going to become Darth Vader to justify a landslide of increasingly bad decisions with literally no character motivation to drive them. Maybe it could have been helped if Hayden Christensen had a bit more experience at the time, but the dialogue isn’t doing him any favors either. It’s easy to put the blame on Mannequin Skywalker, but the fact of the matter is, Hamill wasn’t that great in his first movie either.

What made Hamill’s lackluster performance bearable in A New Hope was the support from an amazing cast of characters and a very clearly defined character vision. Anakin has a pre-set story from the beginning, but none of the actions that lead him there feel earned. Instead we have: I hate sand, my mom is dying, better go slaughter an entire village of Tusken Raiders. It doesn’t help that he’s not given anything to play off with other characters either, because in the prequel universe, everything revolves around Anakin. It’s hard for a character to show growth when literally every conversation is about them and nothing else.

My feeling about any scene with teen Anakin

When the Jedi council meets, they’re talking about the Sith, but also Anakin. Padme isn’t given more than five lines that aren’t about Anakin. In fact, the only person that does seem to care about something else is Anakin’s alleged teacher, Obi Wan who fucks off to the other side of the galaxy for most of the film. So, rather than an engaging teacher-student relationship where we can watch Anakin transform, he’s sent to a boring planet with the object of his lust. And I do mean object, because this movie straight takes a machete to Padme’s character, removing everything that made her interesting and hog-tying her plot to Anakin. It makes me viscerally angry. At the beginning of the movie, Padme is a bit of a badass, working as a politician, sure, but still a strong character. She’s refuting Anakin’s advances, which good, because the age difference is weird as hell and he’s a creep, but she’s also got some good one-liners.

Somehow, over the course of a thirty-minute flower-field romp with bulbous ass-cows on Naboo, she falls helplessly in love with her stalker and forsakes everything that gave her character purpose. The love story that Attack of the Clones is firmly about never really has time to breath, feels rushed, and isn’t believable in the slightest. As far as I can tell, Anakin wins over one of the smarter characters in the prequels using cheesy pickup lines and by leering at her even after she’s asked him to stop. It’s especially unfortunate given that Natalie Portman could have supported Hayden Christensen with her acting had she actually been given something to do.

Now, while the love story in Clones is by far my biggest issue with the film, it’s also not the only one. The B-plot belongs to General Kenobi’s adventure to Kamino and Geonosis. The Kamino plot in particular is very problematic and confusing. Even as an adult, I found myself heading over to Wookiepedia afterward to try and understand just who the hell Jedi Master Sifo Dias was and why they had ordered a clone army. Dooku gets into a bit on Geonosis, but honestly, it’s needlessly complicated. It would have been just as easy to create a plot where Dooku orders the clones when he’s still part of the Jedi Order and say that’s why he had a falling out. There’s another freebie for you Lucas.

Put your helmet back on and go do some cool jet pack tricks

Kamino also does a disservice to a fan favorite from the original films, Boba Fett. Clones establishes that Boba is in fact an exact replica of his father, Jango, a bounty hunter that has similar Mandalorian armor to what Boba Fett wears in Empire/Jedi, but with a different color scheme. The problem here is, we see Jango without his helmet for most of the movie, and that’s a big sticking point for Mandalorians; they’re never supposed to do that. Just watch the first episode of The Mandalorian and they’ll tell you, once you put that helmet on, it never comes off. This pokes a few holes in Boba’s later plot lines, and also, feels completely unnecessary. The clones didn’t need to be modeled after a fan favorite character, and much like Boba Fett later in the films, Jango is done dirty and killed quick with less than ten minutes of total screen time. At least this time we got a few good fights out of him.

Which finally leads me to the only truly enjoyable part of Obi Wan’s arc, and that’s Geonosis. Aside from the stupid I love you line between Anakin and Padme, the twenty minutes the film spends on Geonosis are its best.  We get to see a droid creation facility, Padme spends most of her time trapped in a bucket, and we get some cool lightsaber battles. Before I get to that final climactic battle, I want to talk briefly about another side character that is just given some weird motivation in this film, R2D2.

I really enjoy the droid factory scene, it’s fun, it’s got some decent CGI and Padmanakin don’t have time to make doll eyes at each other. However, there’s a big problem for me in the way it starts. R2D2 and C-3P0 are supposed to be friends, but R2 straight pushes C-3P0 to what should have been his death. It’s a bizarre choice for C-3P0 to come along period, because, well, he’s not exactly the most mobile of characters, but even weirder to have R2 try to kill him. Even if it’s supposed to be tongue and cheek, that should have been a lethal fall, just saying. C-3P0 then gets his head swapped with a battle droid and somehow retains a weirdly inconsistent set of functions… In the final battle, both bodies are still shooting at the Jedi, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me. But, major gripe, R2 is a murdering sonofabitch, moving along.

At least 3-P0 gets some good puns and R2 brings his head back…

Alright, the last bit of this review, because it’s getting long and I could go on for days about how much I truly, deeply dislike this film, is going to be about the battle on Geonosis. This battle kicks ass, gave way to a bunch of great video game levels, and is generally fun to watch. It’s the one time in the series where we get to see an army of lightsaber-wielding Jedis go into battle and fuck shit up. Sure, they’re losing until the clones show up, but it’s an awesome sequence to watch. Mace Windu gets to bust out his purple lightsaber and decapitates Jango in front of his son, it’s a fun time for all. Even the lead-in with Padme, Anakin, and Obi Wan fighting a trio of CGI monsters is great and feels like a callback to the Rancor in Jedi.

When the clones show up, the battle retains its cinematic quality, albeit interspersed with some terrible dialogue again, and keeps the tension up. It leads us to the climax of the film where Obi Wan, Anakin, and eventually Yoda fight Count Dooku, and hell, that lightsaber fight is incredible. I still got chills when Yoda ignited his lightsaber for the first time and watching him flip around that room like a deadly pinball is awesome. Also, Anakin loses an arm, so, full circle for the Skywalkers.

This almost makes the film worth it… almost

Overall, Attack of the Clones is a hot mess. It focuses on the wrong parts of the storyline and the wrong characters for the most part. The film is at its best when it’s shadowing Obi Wan and not getting too bogged down in the convoluted evil plot working in the background. The dialogue and character growth are by far the worst in the series, spearheaded by the Anakin-Padme plot which is almost unwatchable. I think in future re-watches, I might skip this one. Attack of the Clones is the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of this franchise, and critics should be ashamed for rating it higher than Phantom Menace.

Got a different opinion? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter/Facebook.

A History of the Mystery – The Jersey Devil

This ‘real’ video is legit some of the best evidence for the myth…

On this episode of the critically acclaimed (by about 5 people) episode of Cryptids Decrypted, Ashton Macaulay, Tyler Mitchell, and John Ceccareli break down the Jersey Devil Myth. Now, you might ask, what gives us the right to deface such a legend? Well, as it turns out, the qualifications for expertise are simply owning a microphone and basic Google-Fu!

Jokes aside, this is without a doubt the wildest myth we’ve covered so far and it’s a fun conversation. If you’re interested in hearing about army generals firing cannonballs at mysterious figures in the fog, or a beast just trying to hail a cab, this is the episode for you. As usual, it’s up on most streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Podcasts. For more locations, check out our Anchor page below.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – The Phantom menace

Well, with The Mandalorian coming out tomorrow, it’s time I get back to my reviews, and here we are, the prequel trilogy. You will never find a more wretched hive of bad dialogue and poor plot decisions… Or at least that’s what some people say. The prequel trilogy has provided the internet with fantastic meme fodder, and I’ve still got pleasant memories of watching Phantom Menace as a kid (I was 9), but let’s see how it holds up on a re-watch 20 years later. As a quick reminder, here’s where I am in the order, and here are links to my reviews for Rogue One (3.5/5), A New Hope (4.5/5) , and The Empire Strikes Back(5/5).

Unlike most of the other Star Wars films, Phantom Menace does not open on its best note, in fact, it opens clumsy. The better part of the movie’s first half is slow, with exposition-heavy dialogue and little to no character development beyond the basics (e.g. Jar Jar is a bumbling idiot that can jump real good, Obi Wan has a rat tail, and Qui Gon Jin is dour). Sure, the audience is introduced to a host of new and exciting planets, but the story is bogged down by the one thing no Star Wars fan ever wanted more of, politics. Re-watching the struggles of the Naboo and the Galactic Senate is a painful reminder of just how slow and inefficient governments can be. It’s interesting in the lore that it creates, but it should have been a footnote, not the plot of the whole damn movie.

One of the many memorable lines of shit dialogue

The story is especially damaging to one character in particular, Obi Wan. Going back to watch the prequels, I was particularly excited for Obi Wan given his relatively short presence in the original trilogy. Sadly, in the Phantom Menace, he’s not given much to work with and is practically reduced to a side character. Aside from the film’s opening, Obi Wan sits on the sidelines for the majority of the film until the final, climactic battle. One can only imagine the better decisions that might have been made on Tatooine had they brought him along for the ride. There are glimmers of Obi’s dry charm and humor, but ultimately, this story isn’t about him.

Unfortunately, rather than an interesting character, this story is about Anakin, a walking pile of terrible dialogue and awkward child-teenager romance. The one thing I can say is Jake Lloyd surpasses Hayden Christensen in the role, but that’s only because adult Anakin is just so god damned creepy (more on that in the next film). Anakin’s plot on Tatooine is boring, formulaic, and hosts one of my least favorite scenes in the entire saga, his first meeting with Padme. All I had to hear were the words “Are you an angel?” and immediately my headed exploded Scanners style.

For those who need reminding

Luckily, there’s a glimmer of greatness at the end of Phantom’s stay on the miserable desert planet, and that’s pod racing. The Boonta Eve sequence is one of the coolest in the franchise, and arguably better street racing than the Fast and the Furious series (come at me Vin Diesel). There’s a memorable cast of racers, amazing effects, and to this day, it’s still exciting. As a bonus point, it also spawned one of the better Star Wars video game incarnations and should be brought back as a modern game immediately.

Dear EA, do something good with the Star Wars license, please

Now, the pod racing scene was amazing, but in the words of Yoda, there is another. The fight between Qui Gon, Obi Wan, and Darth Maul at the end of the film is the best saber fight in the entire series, hands down. Once more, I encourage you to fight me if you disagree. With one of John Williams’s finest scores, Duel of the Fates, pumping in the background and some excellent fight choreography, the scene holds up and is still incredible to watch. However, and there’s a big however, this scene also kills of the film’s two most interesting characters.

Missed opportunity for a great death line

Darth Maul is set up as an amazing baddie that could have easily carried over to menace Obi Wan through the rest of the prequel series, but sadly, he’s the one Star Wars character that can’t recover from dismemberment.  Of course, Darth Maul had a big presence in the expanded universe of books, television, and even in Solo, but he could have really helped the prequel trilogy along. By killing him, Obi Wan completes what could have otherwise been an exciting emotional journey. Struggling with the need for revenge and a pull toward the dark side could have given him better character beats moving forward, but these films aren’t about characters, they’re about CGI.

And boy, a lot of the CGI does not hold up well here. As a kid, I remember thinking the battle of Naboo was one of the more memorable in the series, but as an adult, it’s hot trash. Not only do we have Jar Jar as a clumsy, but somehow lethal general, the CGI battle with the droids feels like a miss and lacks some of the weight of the other fights in the series. Especially coming hot off watching the Battle of Hoth in Empire, this one is hard to stomach. The accompanying space battle is great, but the ground game could have used some more up close scenes with practical effects.

No, but I would watch The Fast and the Furious Tatooine Drift

In the end, Phantom Menace felt like Lucas really wanted to flex his newfound CGI muscles, who didn’t it was the late 90s, but in the process, he lost the realness of the original trilogy. Even going back to watch those older films forty years later, they still hold up better than the 20-year-old Phantom Menace. That’s the problem with CGI, it advanced so rapidly, that even more recent films start to look old faster. It doesn’t help that the computer-generated characters were also tropes with little personality beyond being various racist stereotypes (Looking at you trade federation).

 Overall, Phantom Menace is just bad. It can be fun to watch at times and has some of the coolest scenes in the series, but action scenes knit together by politicians providing exposition does not make a film. While the original trilogy was heavy on tropes and didn’t offer an original overarching story, we knew why the characters did what they did, and their actions were consistent. Phantom Menace shortchanges its best characters in exchange for cheap, walking piles of CGI garbage that are forgotten almost as soon as they’re off screen (except you, Jar Jar, Lord of the Sith). Together, all this makes for my lowest ranking in my rewatch so far.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – The Empire Strikes Back

Just a quick reminder for those who are new, below is my watch order for the Star Wars films, and the goal is to re-review them all before Episode 9 releases in December! Links to reviews of Rogue One (3.5/5) and A New Hope (4.5/5)

For being the movie that most hail as the best in the series, I think Empire might be the one I’ve watched the least from the original trilogy. As a kid, it didn’t hold the same allure as Return of the Jedi or A New Hope, likely because of it had a darker tone than both of those films. Rewatching it as an adult, I was genuinely surprised with how well most of it held up, and how many pieces I missed as a child. As a narrative, Empire might be sandwiched between Hope and Jedi, but as a film, it stands alone.

The first thirty minutes of Empire are what I remember most from when I was a kid. There are so many memorable moments, from Han slicing open the tan tan, to the imperial walkers bearing down on the rebel base across the snowy plains. It’s those high-action scenes that stuck with me as a child, but as an adult, it’s the character moments in between them that truly make Empire great. Han had plenty of great one-liners in A New Hope, but he gets more character development in five minutes of Empire than the entirety of the previous film.

Even Luke and Leia who were a bit bland and predictable in Hope gain some much needed depth in this film, mostly through separation. The splitting of the main characters after the battle of Hoth allows the movie to cover a lot of narrative ground while also keeping the film snappy and interesting. There wasn’t a single point in Empire where I started to feel bored, which again, heavily contrasts my childhood opinions. Hamill still feels green through the whole thing, especially with his horrible “Noooo” scream, but he’s still miles better than in A New Hope.

Truly painful to watch

Acting wasn’t the only thing to improve either. The effects in Empire feel more polished, and hold up well, despite the fact that over thirty years has passed. There are some notable exceptions, like blue halos around pilots when they look out their cockpit window because of the blue screen, but for the most part it’s unnoticeable. For once, I can say George Lucas’s tinkering actually helped this film out too. There are a few memorable moments that were added after the fact, and they help the film shine. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Wampa Work – In the 1997 re-releases of the film, more shots of the Wampa were added with a person in a more realistic suit. This helped us get the shot of the creature with its arm off, and generally made the scene more cohesive. Bonus fact that I love about this scene, it is rumored to have been added to explain the scars Mark Hamill got from a car crash in between filiming Hope and Empire. Either way, great scene, and potentially great save from the film crew.
Can’t a wampa enjoy a tan tan drumstick in peace?
  • Battle of Hoth – This battle was generally cleaned up a bit as some of the previous shots still had weird outlines on the speeders from blue screens, and the cockpits of the snow speeders were made transparent so we could see the battle beyond. In addition, there were a few extra CGI shots of the snow speeders added in throughout the first third of the movie. All of this served to enhance and didn’t negatively impact the film in my opinion
  • Bespin – Another great addition was the CGI makeover Bespin was given. This makes the city look vibrant and generally more interesting. There are a few extra shots of ships flying in next to the falcon, and the exterior aesthetic looks far superior to the original.
  • Boba Fett Voice – In the bluray re-releases of the films, Boba Fett’s voice was changed to match the Australian accent of the prequels. I really don’t have an opinion about this change, as I didn’t feel it served any purpose other than continuity in the films.  

With all those changes in mind, the battles in Empire are memorable, and that’s great, because relatively speaking, there are less of them. Really, the film has three big action sequences: The battle for Hoth, The Falcon escaping through the asteroid field, and the final faceoff at Cloud City. Each of these scenes are remarkably unique, with none of the action feeling stale or too similar to another scene. The Hoth battle is quick paced with scores of rebels dying, plenty of explosions, and some great tow cable work. It’s one of the best in the series, and I’ll even put it above Scarif from Rogue One.

Never forget, Dak Ralter, the true hero of Hoth

As a counter-point to Hoth, the chase scene through the asteroid field is almost more subdued, focusing more on the character reactions to the situation, rather than the action taking place around them. Hiding the Falcon inside the asteroid worm (I’m sorry for not looking up the creature’s name, is it Fred?) serves as another opportunity for dedicated character interaction and growth (see kissy kissy in the Falcon’s maintenance area). It’s an amazing set of scenes and still gets my blood pumping to this day.

Just another poor beast boi trying to get a snacc

Finally, the final battle between Luke and Vader is slow and methodical, just like Obi Wan on the Death Star. We get the opportunity to see how much Luke has learned, but also get the first introduction to the seductive powers of the dark side. This scene is really Vader’s first big emotional beat as a character. Before the Cloud City fight, he’s more of a generalized opposition, menacing and choking people (he chokes a lot of people in this movie), but not really showing any character traits beyond angry and disappointed. His conversations throughout the fight with Luke lay the groundwork for Vader’s eventual fall, but also raise the stakes for Luke, showing just how close to turning he could be. 

Opening crawl to end credits, Empire Strikes Back is a masterpiece. The only real knocks I have on it are a few corny one-liners and some mediocre acting, but those are part of the charm of Star Wars in the first place. With a darker tone than most of the other mainline films in the series, Empire stands out from the pack and brings something different to the table. It also sets up the characters better than any of the other films, giving them good moments to interact with each other. In addition, it introduces some wonderful new side characters of its own and expands the already wondrous universe.