Carlo Carrasco’s Movie Review: Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

After enduring two whole years being depressed and uncertain about Star Wars movies due to Rian Johnson’s arrogant deformation of the franchise with his abomination The Last Jedi, I am happy to say that I’m happy again after watching Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

This is my review of The Rise of Skywalker directed by J.J. Abrams and co-written by Abrams, Chris Terrio, Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly.

Early story

The movie begins with the First Order’s supreme leader Kylo Ren on an unrelenting quest that leads him deep into the galaxy where he finds the uncharted destination of Exegol. There he meets a living Palpatine who turns out to be the creator of the late Snoke, the previous supreme leader of the First Order.

Palpatine knows that Rey is still training as a Jedi and he tells Kylo to eliminate her. Palpatine also has a brand new fleet composed of advanced star destroyers armed with powerful weapons capable of destroying planets.

Meanwhile, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca travel in the Millennium Falcon to obtain crucial information from a spy about the location of Palpatine.

Quality

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Chewbacca, Poe, C3PO (hidden), Rey and Finn.

Let me start with the fact that The Rise of Skywalker is, unsurprisingly, a flawed movie that happens to have more good stuff than bad ones. To put things into perspective, J.J. Abrams and their creative team had to make a new movie following the abomination The Last Jedi which, literally, dug a large hole and let the Star Wars film franchise fall deep into it. Not only did Abrams and team work to lift the franchise up and move it forward by having a story that not only made sense but resonated with Star Wars fans while delivering long bouts of cinematic fun. If you want to focus on the fun factor, The Rise of Skywalker is a joy ride while Rian John’s The Last Jedi was sluggish and frustrating to watch.

Storytelling? This movie has been bashed for having a video game-inspired approach of narrative: the band of protagonists go to a new location where they meet people as they move to fulfill a goal only to be hounded by opposition from the antagonists, then they go to a new location where they meet people and similar events repeat.

In some ways, The Rise of Skywalker reminded me about the video game Grandia, Final Fantasy IX and other role-playing games (RPGs) I personally played. While the use of video game-inspired narrative is not the perfect tool to use for a movie, this approach actually works in The Rise of Skywalker! For one thing, the sense of excitement and adventuring I enjoyed from the original Star Wars trilogy returned and I enjoyed every moment of it. This translates into fun while remaining focus on the story objectives and characters. I do confirm that there were lots of spectacles (lots of lightsaber action, shooting, running and spaceship battles) throughout the movie that kept me entertained most of the time. There was no boring moment, not even in the slowest scenes.

The use of video game-inspired narrative also worked in building up the tension leading into the series of events that lead into the final conflict. The result? It paid off nicely! The final conflict and the way the story ended were all worth the wait and build-up! Considering how terrible events happened and ended in The Last Jedi, what was achieved in The Rise of Skywalker was a tremendous achievement!

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Spaceship battles in this movie were plenty and fun to watch!

On the aspect of emphasizing the Force and the Jedi themselves, this movie, in my honest opinion, took inspiration from the non-canon Star Wars Legends (previously referred to as Star Wars Expanded Universe), specifically with elements from the Dark Empire comic book mini-series of 1991-1992. When a key visual in the film was shown to explain Palpatine’s survival, I was not surprised at all.

When it comes to performances, Daisy Ridley really defined herself as an actor and she really defined Rey as a Jedi (with assistance from Abrams and the screenwriters) who carries a huge burden related to her heritage (you’ll find out in the film). After watching Rey in the first two films struggling to learn and move on, she is a more developed character in this movie. That’s not all. Poe and Finn have been more refined and it is through adventuring that they really became lively and believable characters. Adam Driver’s take on Kylo Ren consistently delivered the symbolism of the dark side of the Force (specifically consuming the younger generation) with the exception of a key twist that took place much later (you just have to watch the movie). Ian McDiarmind’s return as Palpatine is undeniably great and a welcome return to form. The actor really showed he is great in portraying cinematic evil.

When it comes to classic Star Wars characters, the filmmakers cleverly used existing footage of the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia and by means of editing and scene set-ups, they succeeded in inserting the character into the narrative complete with recorded dialogue that relate to the events that happened. Billy Dee Williams, meanwhile, made a great return as Lando Calrissian. While I wish his screen time was longer and his character was more involved with the remaining Resistance, it was still nice to see Williams literally disappear letting Lando come to life on-screen once again.

Conclusion

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The Millennium Falcon is better used in this movie than in The Last Jedi.

As mentioned earlier, The Rise of Skywalker is a flawed film. For one thing, there are several plot holes here and there (responded to via visual dictionary). There were also new Force powers that were not fully explained in detail. Those weaknesses, however, did not really drag the film that much. The bad stuff here is NOTHING compared to all the creative garbage Rian Johnson (plus the trash from the Political Left in Hollywood) filled in The Last Jedi since that director was too obsessed with subverting people’s expectations all throughout.

What I admire in it is the effort done by Abrams to connect it with 1983’s Return of the Jedi. The shots of the remains of the 2nd Death Star in the previews only literally show the tip of the iceberg.

As a follow-up to The Last Jedi, this movie moved in two ways: correcting what was set in Rian Johnson’s abomination while also somewhat building up on what was also established in that same abomination. Ultimately, the course-correction done by Abrams and team made The Rise of Skywalker not only fun and engaging, but also recaptured the elements that defined Star Wars as a cinematic experience. There were also key scenes that, in my view, allowed this movie to punch back at the deformation done in The Last Jedi. I smiled a lot when those creative moments took place.

When compared to The Force Awakens, this movie is actually more fun and more engaging. In fact, it is indeed the best of the current Star Wars trilogy (2015-2019).

With this current Star Wars trilogy concluded, I do regret that the classic characters of Han, Luke and Leia ended up as supporting players and the trio of Rey-Finn-Poe (who are welcome additions to the Star Wars family of characters) as protagonists still pale in comparison to them. To simplify things, Luke-Han-Leia are iconic while Rey-Finn-Poe are serviceable protagonists at best.

Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker is a solidly good Star Wars film and is itself a major recovery from the debacle of The Last Jedi. As the ninth chapter of the entire Star Wars main movies franchise (which first started in 1977), it is a flawed yet worthy addition (and also worthy as the new conclusion) into the saga that involved the Force and the Skywalkers. It is nowhere as great as The Empire Strikes Back (the best Star Wars movie ever) but it is, in my opinion, better and more engaging than The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith respectively.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is recommended.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

Carlo Carrasco’s Movie Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

I will just say it straight and clearly – the Terminator film franchise is truly unnecessary today and, having seen its debut in the year 1984 (written and directed by a very young James Cameron), I should say that the saga really ended with 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron’s masterpiece).

Out of curiosity, instead of anticipation, I got to watch Terminator: Dark Fate at the local cinema. Having been disappointed with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator: Salvation (a bad movie notorious for Christian Bale’s loss of self-control) and Terminator: Genisys (the most insulting and most screwed up film of the franchise), I had low expectations for Dark Fate.

Ultimately, I left the cinema disappointed yet again although the experience was not as bad as that of 2015 (with Genisys).

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Clearly, the filmmakers took inspiration from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and mix the more established film franchise stars (in supporting roles) with the younger actors.

To put it short, Terminator: Dark Fate took creative inspiration from 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This means it was made with recycled concepts, told the story through its new characters (played by actors who are much younger and who are supposed to appeal to younger viewers) and back them up with the old, more iconic actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton) limited to supporting roles. When it comes to presentation, this new movie felt more like a roller coaster ride than an actual story laced with spectacle stage-by-stage.

That is pretty much how Terminator: Dark Fate turned out. It does not matter that this was directed by Tim Miller, the guy behind 2016’s Deadpool. It does not matter that the great James Cameron got involved with producing and story credit (he shared with a few other names). It does not matter that this movie was made with a large budget of $185 million and relied heavily on computers to generate the visuals (which look fake most of the time). Whatever the preparations made, they did not matter at all because Terminator: Dark Fate is a rushed and creative disappointment that does not deserve your time nor your money.

The movie opened with archived footage of Sarah Connor expressing the darkness of the future coming. This was immediately followed by a scene set in 1998 showing Sarah and her son John living in an age in which Judgment Day did NOT occur on August 29, 1997. Suddenly another Terminator T-800 Model 101 (another Schwarzenegger-type Terminator) appears and actually kills John Connor leaving Sarah in turmoil.

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This is the protector sent through time by the human resistance.

John Connor, who has been a central story element in the 1984 and 1991 (memorably played by Edward Furlong) movies as he was destined to be the human resistance leader in the war with Skynet, was eliminated so quickly in the opening of this new movie very similar to how the character of Dwayne Hicks (played by Michael Biehn in the James Cameron-directed Aliens) got killed in a very dismissive way in the beginning of Alien 3. This move was nothing less than cynical, ill-conceived and even a daring disservice to Terminator fans.

From this point on, Terminator: Dark Fate turns into a “what if John Connor was dead and a new future war followed?” type of story.

Even though Judgment Day got prevented in relation to what Sarah and John achieved in Terminator 2, a new war between man and machines in the far future still occurs only this time Skynet is no more and the new enemy artificial intelligence (AI) this time is called Legion. This new story concept, by the way, is pretty insulting to any fan who loved the first two films directed by James Cameron as those flicks told a complete saga.

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This is the new, future leader of the human resistance.

And then the plot of The Terminator got recycled. A human fighter is sent back through time to protect a person who is destined to become the leader of the human resistance. Also sent back through time is a Terminator designed to look human and infiltrate society with a mission to kill the future human resistance leader. This is essentially what Terminator: Dark Fate truly is and even though Sarah Connor returned (plus another Terminator T-800 played by Schwarzenegger), there really is nothing new, nothing fresh and nothing worth enjoying.

When it comes to quality, this movie does not have much standing for it. The new characters are not engaging at all and their respective performers really had nowhere to go to engage moviegoers. Mackenzie Davis playing the new combat-ready protector only served to beef the film with action and there is nothing compelling about her act, nor did the script provide anything to make her androgynous character memorable. The new human resistance leader played by Natalia Reyes is forgettable and unbelievable even though she tried hard being dramatic. Compared with Sarah Connor in 1984’s The Terminator, the chosen one Dani Ramos in the film was transformed from a struggling, working-class person into a brave fighter in a very rushed and unconvincing manner. Also, if you take a close look at Natalia Reyes, she is too short to be a figure of authority, too small to use weapons and her act is clearly sub-par in terms of quality making her big misfire in terms of casting. The performance, script and directing really had no depth when it comes to developing the characters.

The new Terminator (Rev-9) played by Gabriel Luna was nothing more than an uninspired attempt to outdo the T-1000 of Terminator 2. Luna was decent with playing cold and emotionless but when he acts human to infiltrate human society, he’s just generic at best.

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This is the new cinematic villain that won’t stop to kill the future leader of the human resistance. Oh, the computer-generated visuals are often fake to look at.

As for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton returning, it is sad for me to say that these two iconic performers of the film franchise got wasted. Sarah Connor in this movie was poorly written and this modern version ruins the legacy the character had since 1991. Schwarzenegger meanwhile played another T-800 Terminator whose adjustment into human society turned out to be unconvincing, even outlandish. A Terminator adjusting into domestic human life? Totally unbelievable!

If there is anything to admire in this ill-conceived movie, it is Schwarzenegger’s delivery of his lines as the Terminator. He was over 70-years-old at the time of filming and he no longer has the super fit, muscular build he was famous for but he still proved to be excellent in being robotic with the dialogue. Sadly, this good stuff from the ex-governor of California was not enough to save this movie from its dark fate.

The film has a lot of action and there is a notable variety of it here. Even though action-packed and the action quality is an improvement over Terminator 3, Salvation and Genisys, Terminator: Dark Fate is ultimately a ride that can only provide temporary relief from the pain of the weak script. Oh, the use of fake-looking CGI hurts the action and stunts

Conclusion

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Let this be the LAST Terminator movie and let it fade away. How? By NOT spending your precious time and money on it.

Although it is better than Terminator 3, Salvation and Genisys respectively, Terminator: Dark Fate still failed to be a solid film and definitely it is NOT worthy of being the official follow-up (the “real Terminator 3” to the first two films written and directed by James Cameron. Cameron’s involvement with this movie did not really improve the situation of the deteriorating Terminator film franchise and even worse, this big disappointment taints his record of excellence as a producer. Director Tim Miller, in my opinion, should go back to superhero movie making or try directing a brand new project of science fiction that does not involve an established intellectual property. How he will recover from Terminator: Dark Fate remains to be seen.

Bottom line – Terminator: Dark Fate is not recommended. You are better off skipping this movie but if you intend to watch it at all, do it out of curiosity. Don’t spend your money on this movie (the cinema, future release on streaming services, Blu-ray, DVD, etc.).

If you want to experience the cinematic greatness of the Terminator film franchise, go back to watching The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day instead.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

Carlo Carrasco’s Game Review: Gears of War 4 (Xbox One, Single Player Campaign)

Believe it or not, I completely missed out on Gears of War 4 on Xbox One back in 2016. I simply had other priorities and I was unable to raise the money needed to buy the game. A year after that, I downloaded the demo of the game and managed to play

Finally, thanks to a recent sale online at Xbox LIVE, I purchased the game at last and recently managed to finish it. Gears of War 4 proved to be a lot of fun and even until now it still is a gem of game design and visual art.

To put things in perspective, I played the first three main Gears of War games from 2006 to 2011 and those games were mainly designed by the talented Cliff Bleszinski who had NO INVOLVEMENT with the latest game. Gears of War 4, by the way, is the first-ever internally developed game of Microsoft through its studio The Coalition.

The good news is that Gears of War 4 is not only a fun and engaging game. It is also a continued evolution of the game franchise’s design and it is easily the best cover shooter game design to date.

On face value, it looks like the creative team led by Rod Fergusson (The Coalition studio leader) and director Chuck Osieja decided to play safe on game design by retaining the gameplay functions from the past. Quite easily, I managed to reclaim that old Gears of War feel in terms of control, shooting, moving and aiming. Like past GOW games, you must take cover for protection from the bullets fired by the enemies then peak, aim and shoot. Then when possible move forward to take cover at the next protective object and make your way to beat the other side. Then there is the classic reload function which, when well timed, can grant you temporary strong firepower.

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Melee attacks in Gears of War 4 have improved and are more satisfying.

But as the game progressed, the new gameplay features emerged. For the first time, I can finally grab an enemy (who is crouched taking cover) from the other side of a protective object or barrier, pull the enemy and get to do a melee attack (or shoot with the gun). There is also the feature of the knocking the enemy off balance (by means of jumping over cover to kick the enemy on the other side) as well as performing the shoulder charge. Take note however that these new gameplay features – which add a lot of depth on the classic GOW gameplay – can be used by the enemies against you.

And then there are the new weapons like the Buzzkill (watch those flying sawblades ricochet!) and the Dropshot (challenging to use but very satisfying when the target gets hit!) that add new dimension to the gameplay.

More on gameplay, if you are expecting enemy artificial intelligence (AI) to be the same as before (remember all the Locusts?), you will realize that’s not the case at all. The new enemies behave differently in combat and you will be compelled to change your strategies. Expect to see the enemies (which include robots) be more tactical with their movements and attacks, and you will also realize you will need to move out of cover more and search for a new place to take cover at.

That’s not all. The weather effects impact the gameplay a lot this time. There are these windflares that not only blow strongly (watch the environment move) but also generate electricity that you must avoid touching. When the weather changes, you will not only have to take cover but be more strategic moving around as well as adjusting your aim when firing at the enemy (example: strong wind can alter the direction of the Buzzkill sawblade you fire). Lastly, there is a motorcycle chase scene that is quite action packed!

Visuals? This game really looks very great! The art is top-notch. The animation, the textures, the special effects and lighting effects really make a great showcase of the Xbox One, especially the Xbox One X (4K resolution with high-dynamic range). The character faces are very detailed and very photo-realistic! Facial expressions really will convince you into thinking you’re watching real people instead of computer-generated ones.

When it comes to storytelling, Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the previous game. You play as JD Fenix (son of hero Marcus Fenix and Anya Stroud) who is accompanied by Del and Kait. In terms of personality, JD is witty, striving to figure out things and he does not carry the cynical mindset of his father. Del and Kait are likeable characters for different reasons. Del is also witty while Kait has the strong, fighting lady personality. The good news here is that their respective voice actors performed nicely.

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Father and Son.

Back to the plot, the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has been reformed but something is not right and right from the start JD and Del deserted the coalition to join the group called the Outsiders. Government leadership is felt in the story and having the COG as the anti-hero element really makes Gears of War 4’s world really look and feel new. Forget about the memories of fighting for the COG in the old GOW games, Gears of War 4 is a whole new world to figure out what’s been happening while fighting to survive. If you are the kind of gamer who has the anti-authoritarian mindset, then this game is for you.

Strangely enough, this game’s story has some notable similarities with the 2015 blockbuster film Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Without spoiling the story, I should say that Gears of War icons like Marcus Fenix (the central figure of the franchise) return in supporting roles. Instead of being the hero, he is the mentor to his son JD and even to you the gamer.

While the gameplay is excellent and deeper than ever before, the storytelling this time lacks the depth of Gears of War 3 but in fairness, this new game’s story had to show how much had changed in the world and society in general. Gears of War 3, by comparison, is a war story and the resulting build-up from the first two games led to it having a very engaging conclusion.

Back to Gears of War 4, the ending lacked punch and yet it has a lot of intrigue or even shock, especially if you paid very close attention to the small but key details in the previous games. The ending feels underwhelming as it happened following the high-octane, final battle sequence of the game. Although the conclusion lacked punch, I still felt satisfied. By the way, there is a post-credits ending scene to watch out for.

Overall Gears of War 4 is easily the best 3rd person-view cover shooter and is a true evolution of the Gears of War game design. Now that the game costs much less, it is a great bargain! At the same time, it makes sense now to play GOW4 as Gears 5 (Gears of War 5) is expected to be released this year.

Gears of War 4 is highly recommended!


Thank you for reading. If you find this game review engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com