blu-ray

GUEST REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2018) Blu-ray bonus features

We’ve already reviewed the movie ad-nauseum, so here is something fresh:  a review of the Blu-ray bonus features by guest writer Kovaflyer!

Guest review by Kovaflyer

STAR WARS: The Last Jedi (2018 Lucasfilm blu-ray)

Directed by Rian Johnson

If you enjoyed The Last Jedi or if you have mixed feelings about the newest instalment of Star Wars and are trying to make sense of the film, the bonus features are a great in-depth look at where Rian Johnson took the galaxy that is so very far far away.

 

The Director and the Jedi – Full length documentary feature

The Director and the Jedi is your first behind the scenes look at The Last Jedi and the hard work that went into making this Star Wars movie. This part of the bonus features takes you behind the scenes of the building of up to 120 different sets, the creation of all the creatures that we have come to know and love, the eye-pleasing costumes, as well as the amount of detail involved in the makeup artistry; like the work done to create Kylo Ren’s scar.

The Director and the Jedi also features discussions with Mark Hamill about Luke Skywalker and the direction that Rian took with Luke in the film. Mark tells us that he was going to play the Skywalker that Rian envisioned regardless of how he felt about his own image of Luke. Early footage of Mark and Daisy going over lines and choreographing the Luke vs. Rey scene was fantastic.

The interviews and interactions with Carrie Fisher are both heart warming and fun and showcase Carrie at her best; the only way that Carrie knew how to be. Carrie was excited about the direction of Leia’s character in the movie, calling her strong and in charge.

 

Balance of The Force

Rian Johnson really wanted to hit the re-set button on “the Force” and what it means. He wanted to show new Star Wars fans that the Force is not a super power, but a balance between all things, the light and dark, in all living things.  It is a gift, and not all about moving rock or things across a room.

When he started writing The Last Jedi he had a look back at Star Wars and the main characters in the story and what challenges they would eventually come up against.

Rey is looking to find herself and where she comes from; who her mom and dad are and where they have been, and what her new powers mean and how to use them. With Rey there are no easy answers and if she wants them she is going to have to find them herself.

Finn has just woken up on a ship after being injured in a fight on Starkiller Base while trying to save Rey and the Resistance. He wakes up with the ship under attack and Rey missing, and therefore he has to think fast and take action to save Rey, himself and the ship.

Leia, facing more and more loss is taking charge and leading the Resistance in the biggest fight yet.

Luke is fighting his own internal battle that the Jedi must end. In his view, the Jedi have done nothing but added to the problems of the galaxy, and if he were to bring back the Jedi, the Sith would rise again. Luke believes if the Jedi die, that a new light could rise and win. Therefore, Luke Skywalker has exiled himself; he is being selfless. Rian knew that there was a reason why Luke went into hiding, that it was a selfless act and that he was not just cowering away.

Yoda, yes that Yoda (the puppet version brought to life by Frank Oz), comes to Luke when he needs him the most. Yoda reminds Luke of the same lessons he once taught him, to stop with all the big plans and to focus on the here and now, to be the Luke Skywalker that everyone needs; to be the myth, to be the legend of Luke Skywalker and to not let the light burn out. So, Luke must train Rey and keep her in the light. The most important message Yoda had for Luke, was that failure is the greatest teacher of all. Johnson insisted to have the original puppet version of Yoda and his puppeteer Frank Oz for the film. He wanted Mark Hamill to interact with Oz and not a CGI version of Yoda, and even procured the original Yoda puppet mold in order to fashion the latest version of the Jedi master.

 

Scene Breakdowns

The bonus features also offer the following scene breakdowns.

Lighting the Spark: Space battles are massive undertakings. You get the big explosions, the visual and auditory effects. However, Johnson explains that he felt that in this space battle, he wanted to show the humans behind the spaceships; to make you feel connected to what is happening based on the relevance of the battle to the characters. It is interesting and fun to learn where some of the sound effects that were used in the battle came from (e.g. a roll of duct tape), how some of the spacecrafts and battle sequences were modelled after WWII aircraft and aerial footage (e.g. a B-52 bomber), and how Kylo Ren’s spaceship was of course modelled after Vader’s own tie fighter. In this battle, that saw so many Resistance fighters lost, Johnson chose to highlight Leia’s struggle with loss and grief and her deep love for her people.

Snoke and Mirrors: Rian explains that in bringing Snoke to life, he wanted to ground him in reality; make him have a physical presence. He was worried, however, about the complexity of creating a believable character completely out of CGI technology. In utilizing a complete motion capture suit for Snoke’s character, however, they were able to use every nuance that Andy Serkis brought to the character’s physical being; every facial expression, every twitch, etc.

Showdown on Crait: Johnson explains that the scene of the showdown on Crait was one of the first visions he had when he started working on the movie. To create the visual effects for the shots fired on the salt planet, the film crew went to the salt plains of Bolivia and filmed shooting sequences. It is amazing to hear just how many different options they went through when creating the red under the salt (e.g. shredded dyed red paper), how they reinvented the Walker from Empire into the Gorilla Walker using various sounds bytes to create its own unique ‘voice’, or how they used sounds from old beaten down cars in order to obtain the sounds for the Resistance fighter ships.

 

Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)

This part of the bonus features offers a look at the first meeting between Rey and Snoke with Andy Serkis in the full motion capture suit. It is amazing to see Andy’s performance in the raw without the CGI effects. To say that Andy’s performance was intense is a serious understatement!

 

Deleted Scenes

The bonus features also provide a look at some of the scenes that did not make the final cut for the movie; fun to watch but one can understand why they were left out for the most part.

 

In closing

In closing friends, I give this bonus footage 4/5 stars and highly recommend that you pick up the Blu-ray edition of The Last Jedi as you will enjoy some fabulous bonus features that will enhance your enjoyment of this Star Wars film.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Rush – A Farewell to Kings (2017 super deluxe edition)

RUSH – A Farewell to Kings (2017 Anthem 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition, originally 1977)

And the men who hold high places,
Must be the ones who start,
To mold a new reality,
Closer to the heart,
Closer to the heart.

Today’s rock fans have a new reality of their own:  a market flood of “anniversary” or “deluxe” reissues far and wide.  The floodwaters are murkier when multiple editions of the same reissue are available, or when reissues are deleted in favour of new reissues!

2017 represents 40 years of Rush’s fine sixth album A Farewell to Kings.  An anniversary edition was guaranteed, but choose wisely.  For those who need the brilliant new 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson, you will have to save up for the 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition.  Only that massive box set contains the Blu-ray disc with Wilson’s mix.

To frustrate fans even further, A Farewell to Kings had a 5.1 reissue back in 2011, as part of the Sector 2 box set.  That 5.1 mix (by Andy VanDette) has received heavy scrutiny from audiophiles.  Steven Wilson, however, is well known for his work in the 5.1 field, and his work on the 40th anniversary mix lives up to his reputation.  His crisp mix is deep but unobtrusive.  It is occasionally surprising but always stunning, and over seemingly way too soon.  The separation of instruments is done with care, and without robbing the music of its power.  Rush albums were fairly sparse back then but Wilson managed to make a full-sounding mix out of it.

Powerful is A Farewell to Kings indeed.  Though the title track opens with gentle classical picking, before long you’re in the craggy peaks of Mount Lifeson, with heavy shards of guitar coming down.  Young Geddy’s range and vibrato are remarkable, though for some this is the peak of Geddy’s “nails on a chalkboard” period.

11 minutes of “Xanadu” follows the trail of Kublai Khan.  “For I have dined on honeydew, and drunk the milk of paradise!”  Neil Peart’s lyrics rarely go down typical roads, and “Xanadu” surely must be listed with Rush’s most cherished epics.  Volume swells of guitar soon break into new sections unfolding as the minutes tick by.

“Closer to the Heart” is the most commercial track, never dull, never getting old, never ceasing to amaze.  “Woah-oh!  You can be the captain and I will draw the chart!”  Poetry in motion.  “Closer to the Heart” may be the most timeless of all Rush songs.

“Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal” live in the shadow of “Closer to the Heart”, always there but not always remembered.  (Ironically enough, both these tracks were covered by other artists in the bonus tracks.)  “Madrigal” acts as a calm before the storm:  a cosmic tempest called “Cygnus X-1”.  Another great space epic by Rush cannot be quantified in language.  As it swirls around (even better in 5.1), you’re transported across the universe by the black hole Cygnus X-1.  Peart hammers away as Lifeson and Geddy riff you senseless.


The blacksmith and the artist,
Reflect it in their art,
They forge their creativity,
Closer to the heart,
Yes closer to the heart.

Next, Rush forged their creativity on the road.  They recorded their London show on February 20, 1978 at the Hammersmith Odeon.  Previously, 11 songs from this show were released as a bonus CD on the live Rush album Different Stages.  This newly mixed version adds intro music, the missing three songs and the drum solo.  (The missing songs were “Lakeside Park”, “Closer to the Heart”, and all 20 minutes of “2112”.)  Because this set has all the songs in the correct order, the old Different Stages version is obsolete.

Opening with “Bastille Day”, the London crowd is into the show from the start.  They cheer for the familiar “Lakeside Park”, which is followed by “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”.  This early Rush material is as squealy as Geddy has ever sounded.  He’s pretty shrill but Rush are tight.  It gets more adventurous when “Xanadu” begins, and from there into “A Farewell to Kings”.  Hearing Rush do all this live helps drive home just how talented they are.  The powerful set rarely lets up, as it relentlessly works its way through early Rush cornerstones.  “Working Man”, “Fly By Night” and “In the Mood” are played in quick succession, but is “2112” that is the real treasure here.  Anthems of the heart and anthems of the mind; classics all.


Philosophers and plowmen,
Each must know his part,
To sow a new mentality,
Closer to the heart,
Yes, closer to the heart.

What about bonus tracks?  You got ’em.  As they did for 2112, Rush invited guests to contribute bonus covers, and each does their part.  Headlining these are progressive metal heroes Dream Theater with their own version of “Xanadu”.  Dream Theater really don’t do anything small, so why not an 11 minute cover?  Mike Mangini is one of the few drummers who could do justice to such a song — well done!  Big Wreck do a surprisingly decent take on “Closer to the Heart”.  Not “surprisingly” because of Big Wreck, but “surprisingly” because you don’t associate Big Wreck with a sound like that.  Ian Thornley ads a little banjo and heavy guitars to “Wreck” it up a bit.  His guitar solo is shredder’s heaven.  The Trews’ take on “Cinderella Man” is pretty authentic.  Did you know singer Colin MacDonald could hit those high notes?  He does!  Alain Johannes goes last with “Madrigal”, rendering it as a somber tribute to the kings.

The last of the bonus tracks is a snippet of sound called “Cygnus X-2 Eh”.  This is an extended and isolated track of the ambient space sounds in “Cygnus X-1”.  Steven Wilson speculated it might have been intended for a longer version of the song.


Whoa-oh!
You can be the captain,
And I will draw the chart,
Sailing into destiny,
Closer to the heart.

Box sets like this always come with bonus goodies.  The three CDs are packaged in a standard digipack with extensive liner notes and photos.  Four 180 gram LPs are housed in an upsized version of this, with the same booklet in massive 12″ x 12″ glory.  The LP package alone is 3/4″ thick!

A reproduction of the 1977 tour program is here in full glossy glory.  This contains an essay called “A Condensed Rush Primer” by Neil.  Additionally, all three members have their own autobiographical essay and equipment breakdown.  Alex Lifeson’s is, not surprisingly, pretty funny.  Things like this make a tour program more valuable and as a bonus, this is a great addition to a box set.  Digging further, there are two prints of Hugh Syme pencil sketches.  These works in progress are interesting but it’s unlikely you’ll look at them often.  The turntable mat is also just a novelty.  Perhaps the goofiest inclusion is a little black bag containing a necklace with a Rush “king’s ring” attached to it.  Wear it to work next casual Friday!


Whatever edition of A Farewell to Kings you decide to own (the most logical is the simple 3 CD anniversary set), you can rest assured you are buying one of the finest early Rush albums.  If you have the wherewithall to own the super deluxe with 5.1 Steven Wilson mix, then let the photo gallery below tempt you.

4.5/5 stars

Blu-ray REVIEW: Star Wars – The Complete Saga (2011 9 disc set)

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning coffee or tea!

Rob says:  “May is Star Wars month on Visions In Sound and we will be celebrating the 40th Anniversary with a slew of special shows. Joining me this week will be special guests Jason Drury, Michael Ladano & Erik Woods to help with the celebration. Featured music will be from the Star Wars prequel trilogy (John Williams). Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)”

 

STAR WARS: The Complete Saga (2011 Lucasfilm 9 Blu-ray set)

Includes:  Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and three bonus discs.

Star Wars on blu-ray…it took a lot less time than it did for Star Wars to arrive on DVD!  In special features and deleted scenes alone, it was well worth the wait. You can’t do a box set like this without the bonus of unseen footage. The good news is, The Complete Saga is loaded with unseen special features and deleted scenes. In fact, the Tosche Station scene (deleted from A New Hope) is worth the purchase alone for the true fan. It’s that great.

Will this be the last time we buy the first two Star Wars trilogies? Heck, no! When 3D comes out, everybody will be having the same discussion all over again!  And when the sequel trilogy is complete, we’ll be doing it again.  Will Greedo still shoot first? Well, in my mind I have long accepted that Han shot first. Only in some weird Lucasverse is there a way that Greedo could shoot and miss at that range. That close, I’m sorry, Han is toasted smuggler stew.  Disney says there is no way to re-release the original trilogy without its Special Edition enhancements, as the original film materials are too far gone.

However about 10 years ago or so, Lucas did an official DVD reissue of the ORIGINAL original trilogy, which I went out and bought on day one. It was satisfying, it looked better than my old VHS copy, but it wasn’t cleaned up nice like the special editions were. Which, in my opinion, is fine. It looks good and it’s as close to your childhood memories as you’ll ever get. After all, we didn’t have 1080p TV tubes.

Accepting that a Blu-ray version of the “ORIGINAL” original trilogy will never happen, I am very satisfied with my Blu-ray of the Complete Saga.

The sound is awesome, very deep, and annoying to the neighbors.

The video is perfect; I realize there are probably some colour changes here and there but I’m not about to do an A/B test and find them. I don’t care, it’s sharp and bright and clear and even Phantom Menace looks good!

Content wise, you know what? Hell, I’m actually enjoying Phantom Menace. I’m lost in that moment in 1999 or whatever it was, when we sat there watching it the first time, trying to figure out who the new baddies were and checking out all the cool designs, which all stand up today. Except Jar Jar. Take him out and the movie’s not half bad at all, flawed as it may be.

Bonus featues: I wanted to watch the deleted scenes and there is good news and bad news. The bad news is, I hate how the deleted scenes are organized. You have to click the movie you want, click the planet you want, and then pick deleted scenes from the features. You can’t just go to a menu called “Deleted Scenes”. Anyways, these were mostly great although some action scenes were just animatics. And, I don’t think these deleted scenes overlap at all with the scenes provided on previous DVD editions. For example there was no Greedo scene in the Episode I deleted scenes, but there certainly was on the original DVD release for Episode I. That goes for the special features in general…I don’t think there are many that overlap at all with the ones you already have.  That could be good or bad; for most fans that’s good.  You’re buying new stuff, not the same stuff you have already.

Highlights: As mentioned the Tosche Station scene, which has all the soul of old Star Wars along with finally tying up the Biggs storyline. Also welcome was the attack on the droid control ship from Episode II — previously only available to subscribers to Lucasfilm’s ill-fated Hyperspace service.

There’s also an hour and a half (!) of spoofs from all over the place, including The Simpsons, Family Guy, Robot Chicken, Saturday Night Live (including that hilarious Kevin-Spacey-as-Christopher-Walken-as-Han-Solo one), Colbert, That 70’s Show, and many more. Most of these, I have never seen.

This is exactly what anybody who had reasonable expectations wanted.

5/5 stars

 

Sunday Chuckle: 8:30 am Walmart Run

When you know the guy ran out of toilet paper at 8:30 am on a Saturday, but didn’t want to put just the toilet paper on his debit card.

walmart-haul

 

And then I got home and it turns out I bought the “wrong” toilet paper.

#536: Obligatory Christmas Post 2016

This Christmas has been tinged with sadness.  Rick Parfitt, George Michael…and a man you haven’t heard of named Peter Cavan Sr.  I grew up with his son Peter Cavan Jr.  Pete was the best man at my wedding, and his dad Peter Sr. always treated me well.  The Cavans made me feel like part of the family.  In my first year of university, I decided to stay home from the cottage on Thanksgiving weekend, so I could study for my first exam undistracted.  Alone that Thanksgiving, Pete’s family had me over for dinner.  I’ll never forget their kindness.  I always enjoyed Peter Sr.’s stories, of growing up in Germany during the Second World War.  Those are tales you don’t hear every day.  And he was funny.  Peter Sr. was truly funny.  Whether intentionally or not, I knew his stories entertained us for many hours over the years.  I received the sad message on Christmas morning that Peter Sr. passed after a short battle with cancer, peacefully at home that morning.

So it is with profound sadness that I give you this year’s annual post-Christmas commentary.  My entire family knows and loves the Cavans, and we hope Pete and Joanne know we are there for them.


As it does every year, Christmas began early for me, at our office Christmas luncheon on November 25.  Just look at that food.  When you like the people you work with, an office Christmas party is a very rare and special chance to unwind with them.

My sister hosted Christmas Eve at her new place.  What a spread she put out!  Cheesey good appetizers, steak fondue, cheese fondue (the surprise winner), and chocolate fondue to boot.  The guests had a spirited debate on the merits of CD versus vinyl, with myself being the only holdout who still prefers CD.  (I know I’m not alone, just ask rock journalist Mitch Lafon which format he prefers.)  My sister did a great job of decorating her tree.  Have a gander.

And now, on to the good stuff.  Broken down into categories, let’s give’r!

Stuff You Listen To:

I have only played the Rik Emmett so far, given to me by Mrs. LeBrain who met Rik back in highschool as part of her guitar class.  Pretty cool!  It features a Triumph reunion on the bonus track, “Grand Parade”.  The Queen set is six discs of radio recordings.  The Rush set I am both grateful for and bitter about.  This is the third time I’ve received Rush 2112 as a gift in the last five years!  First as part of the Sector 1 box set, then the “deluxe edition“, and now this 40th anniversary edition which has some tracks not included on the deluxe (and a slew of artists covering Rush including Jacob Moon, Alice in Chains and Foo Fighters).  However, the 40th anniversary edition doesn’t include the 5.1 surround mix of the album, meaning…you kinda need both.  It’s sad that Rush reissues have become so exploitive.

The Keel reissue of The Right to Rock has a bonus track, a remix of “Easier Said Than Done”.  And this is my first time owning any version of Jethro Tull’s first album, This Was.

Stuff You Read:

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Stuff You Play With:

The Force Is With This Stuff:

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Stuff You Watch:

The Sopranos set I orchestrated myself.  Sometimes-contributor Thussy and I both always said:  “If the blu-ray set drops below $100, we’ll buy it.”  A few weeks ago he texted me that Amazon has it on for 24 hours only at just $80!  So this Christmas holiday, we will be enjoying some Sopranos and Italian food.

Stuff That Transforms From Stuff Into Robots:

Pictured below are the official Transformers Titans Return Astrotrain figure and a couple very interesting third party figs.  These are Masterpiece scale and heavy as fuck with plenty of die-cast parts.  Please meet Generation 1 Decepticon Reflector, incarnated here as KFC’s Eavi Metal series “Opticlones”.  Representing the Autobots is Dinobot Snarl, produced by the excellent Fans Toys in their Iron Dibots line as “Sever”.  I long ran out of room for more Masterpiece figures (especially Dinobots)…but who cares.

And finally…

Stuff That Flies:

I always wanted to try flying a drone.  My mom and dad surprised me with this starter drone, and is it ever a lot of fun.  I can almost get it to hover!  Getting it to fly in the direction I want is still a challenge.  So far there are no serious injuries.  Jen has a couple bruises.  I think my mistake was calling her into the room when I got it into the air, rather than when I figured out how the controls worked.  That was a lesson there.

 

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That’s another Christmas for the books!  I hope each and every one of you had a safe and happy holiday.  As I think of my friends the Cavan family, I ask you to remember that life is short.  Tell the people who matter that you love them.  Let’s try and make the world a better place in 2017.

LeBrain

REVIEW: KISS – Kiss Rocks Vegas (3 CD/1 Blu-ray Japanese import)

Two reviews for the price of none! For Deke’s review of Kiss Rocks Vegas, click here!

NEW RELEASE

KISS – Kiss Rocks Vegas (3 CD/1 Blu-ray Japanese import, 2016 Eagle Rock)

Kiss put on a hell of a show for their nine gig run in Las Vegas.  You could argue that spectacle is 50% of the Kiss experience.  That said, the audio has to hold up, and it does.  I gave it two spins before review: one at home and one in the car, and only after that did I put on the Blu-ray.  As expected, Paul Stanley’s voice is the chink in the armour.  But it is the only one.  This is one of the most musically capable versions of Kiss ever, and vocally they can’t be touched.  When Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer, and Gene Simmons start to harmonize together, it becomes a far stronger beast.  This is how Kiss have adapted to Paul’s current vocal shortcomings, and on a whole it works.  Check out “Tears Are Falling” for a version of a song that gets a serious boost thanks to these guys singing backup.  Now get ready to rock for the next 80 minutes.  Of note, some of Paul’s stage raps are trimmed for time on the CD version, as is Gene’s “bass solo”/blood spitting/flying.  The video has the whole enchilada.

The audio is clear; Gene’s bass nicely audible and in the pocket.  With the 5.1 surround sound cranked, let’s dive into the Kiss Blu-ray, a fine shining example of hi-def rock video.  You can try to count the sparkles on Paul’s guitar, when they open with “Detroit Rock City”.  Their stage looks like a cross between the Creatures-era tank stage and a Dalek.  Giant screens ensure everybody gets a good view, which is a good thing since there is so much going on.  From “Detroit” into “Creatures” itself,  and then “Psycho Circus”, Kiss started the show with three of their classic openers from three different eras!  On screen it’s clear Paul Stanley is still in excellent physical shape.  He doesn’t look like someone who’s had a double hip replacement.   He hops around a bit, plays guitar between his legs, and dances up a storm as always.

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Kudos must be given to Tommy Thayer, who takes many of the flashier solos from 80’s Kiss and adapts them to the style of the 70’s that Kiss tend to ply most.  Tommy’s re-imagining of guitar solos and giving them a Frehley-like vibe is one reason to check out new live versions of these Kiss classics.  Never to be underrated is Eric Singer, a talent to be reckoned with in this band.  His beats are always perfect, but so is his voice.  As usual, he sings “Black Diamond” towards the end of the show, with respect and class.

Other setlist highlights:

Gene’s “War Machine” from Creatures (Gene blows fire at the end).  Paul’s “Tears are Falling” from Asylum (“Some of you weren’t born in 1985!” says Paul, accurately observing his audience).   “Lick It Up”, featuring Kiss’ sometimes-segue into “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.  “Hell or Hallelujah”, from Monster.  “God of Thunder” with its flying Gene, and playing way up high on a tiny little platform.  Paul running out to sing on a catwalk suspended over the crowd on “Love Gun”.  All of this is served up with lights, lasers, explosions, levitating platforms and larger-than-life sparkle.  Kiss still deliver it.

Admittedly, when there is so much great live Kiss from the past out there, it’s hard to get excited about a new one.  (Why watch a 2016 live version of “War Machine” when you can watch one from 1983, 1984, 1988 or 2004?)  The added bonus that makes the whole thing hard to say no to is a seven song acoustic set.  This is a makeup-free event in a packed conference room.  A few more rarities are served up here, such as “Love Her All I Can”.  The loose atmosphere is refreshing.  They goof around a bit on “Christine Sixteen” (in harmony!) and Paul helps with some forgotten words on “Goin’ Blind”.  Just don’t go and compare these with the acoustic ones on MTV Unplugged.  That was 20 years ago.  Controversially, Eric sings “Beth”.  The mitigating factor is that this is a small event for fans and not part of the main Vegas concert.  It’s worthwhile to get a version of this release that contains the acoustic portion on the bonus CD.

The Japanese release is an interesting one.  Instead of one CD, the Vegas concert is split over two.  This is probably because the concert is close to the 80 minimum maximum that a CD can hold, and the Japanese usually adhere to a higher manufacturing standard.  They also included a nice T-shirt in a shiny, embossed box.

As usual, any time Kiss release new product, fans will bitch that they’re over the hill.  They’ll complain that there are only two original members left, and that Paul’s voice is but a shadow of what it once was.  While these things are indeed true, Kiss have found a way to continue on with two talented members helping Paul out with the vocal burden.  If you don’t like it, fair play.  But let the rest of us continue to enjoy Kiss without your negativity.

3.5/5 stars

CD 1
1. “Detroit Rock City”
2. “Creatures of the Night”
3. “Psycho Circus”
4. “Parasite”
5. “War Machine”
6. “Tears are Falling”
7. “Deuce”
8. “Lick it Up”
9. “I Love it Loud”

CD 2
1. “Hell or Hallelujah”
2. Tommy guitar solo
3. “God of Thunder”
4. “Do You Love Me?”
5. “Love Gun”
6. “Black Diamond”
7. “Shout it Out Loud”
8. “Rock and Roll All Night”

CD 3 – Kiss Acoustic
1. “Comin’ Home”
2. “Plaster Caster”
3. “Hard Luck Woman”
4. “Christine Sixteen”
5. “Goin’ Blind”
6. “Love Her All I Can”
7. “Beth”

 

Blu-ray REVIEW: Transformers (2007)

Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment. With all apologies to the regular music readers, I decided to post my reviews of the first three Transformers movies, in reverse order.  That’s the only way I could have saved the best for last!

Click here for Dark of the Moon.
And here for Revenge of the Fallen.


TRANSFORMERS (2007 Paramount)

Directed by Michael Bay

J. from Resurrection Songs requested quite some time ago that I post this review.  I decided that the only way to post my review of this movie, the first of the loathed “Bayverse” Transformers film, was to do it legit.  I wrote up a review for my journal almost 10 years ago that has never been seen by anybody.  Back then, I actually liked the movie, and the first is still the best of the series.  Let’s look at this thing from the perspective of “then”.  Things seemed wide open!  Whatever was wrong with the movie could be fixed in the next one, right?

How wrong we were.  Read on!


PRIME

Date: 2007/07/23

TRANSFORMERS: Not actually much more than meets the eye!

I hate Michael Bay. Period. I hated him when I saw Armageddon, easily the worst excuse for science fiction I’d ever seen. I maintain that anyone seeing that movie is dumber for doing so. It kills brain cells like a shot of Absinthe, straight up. I was predisposed to hating Transformers since Michael Bay directed it, but surprisingly I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it either; it was infinitely flawed. But what I liked in the film, the stuff that they nailed perfectly, was killer.

So what did they mess up so badly that I was cringing? What did they get right? Where did they surprise me?

I am with most people who hated the robots speaking and acting “contemporary”. These are aliens after all, so why Optimus would say “My bad!” when stepping in a flower bed, or why Jazz would talk like Bill Cosby acting hip-hop, I have no idea. Bumblebee “peeing” on John Turturro irked me too. For the record, “peeing” occured twice in this masterpiece of film: Once when Bumblebee unloaded on Turturro’s Agent Simmons, and once when a puppy dog urinated on Ironhide’s foot. (I did like it when he said, “That’s going to rust!” though.) This kind of thing was stupid, juvenile, and out of place even as comedy relief. Granted we’re talking about a movie based on a toy line, but the kids who played with those toys are grown up and have kids of their own now. I would like to think that piss jokes in a science fiction movie are a little passe now. (Although I do own Jackass 1 and Number 2, so call me a hypocrite.)

The storyline was a little weak. The “Allspark” that the Transformers are seeking is nothing more than a McGuffin to drive the plot. Apparently in the hands of Megatron it can do infinite harm, in the hands of the Autobots, it can heal their homeworld of Cybertron. However, in the end, it’s just a box that robots chase each other around for, like a colossal game of Cybertron Football.

The human character of Sam Witwicky as played by Speilberg’s new protege Shia LaBouf was really funny. I don’t know if he had much more dimension than that, though. He’s an awkward teen who wants to get the girl, any girl, but Megan Fox just happens to be available at the right time. When Shia is ready to protect the Allspark with his life (“No sacrifice, no victory!”) it comes a little bit out of left field considering that he rarely showed any motivation beyond getting the girl and staying alive. However, his honest, humourous delivery will make him a star one day. This kid has yet to show what he can do. I am sure he will under Speilberg in Indy 4*. As for Megan “the” Fox, she did little other than live up to her name. She did that very well. However, she didn’t really generate any other feelings in the audience. Lots of gratuitous skin shots.

Bernie Mac had some funny lines, totally over the top. But that’s why they hired a guy like Bernie Mac to play a used car salesman. John Turturro was OK, but you can tell he just phoned in his performance. John Voight, give the man some credit, looked like he was trying. Shame his part was so generic. All the soldiers in the film were pretty much just Michael Bay Soldiers…the same, every film, every time.

The robots had no characters, aside from Optimus and Bumblebee. They could have been fleshed out a lot more, but at least they felt like characters. Megatron was completely wasted, just a really big, mean, bad guy. You couldn’t even tell it was Hugo Weaving voicing him. Peter Cullen did a great job as Optimus, of course. I’m glad about that casting choice.

There were many nods to the past. Most of the characters still transformed into similar forms. Optimus looked amazing. Bumblebee was pefect as a Camaro. Frenzy was no longer a cassette tape, but the basic gist of the robot was the same. Brawl (misnamed “Devastator” in the subtitles…will this be fixed on the DVD version?**) was still a tank. Starscream was no longer an F-15 Eagle, but now a F-22 Raptor…killer update! Scorponok looked amazing in scorpion mode, but had no character to speak of and wasn’t seen in robot mode at all. Shame, that. He was once one of the deepest characters of the old Marvel series.

There was even some dialogue from the past: Optimus says, “One shall live, and one shall fall!”, the same words he said before Megatron killed him in the 1986 Transformers movie. However, twice the words “more than meets the eye” were uttered, making everyone in the audience groan. (It was just as bad as James Cromwell saying, “And you guys are astronauts, on some kind of star trek?” in Star Trek: First Contact.)

There were many nods to the creators. “This is way better than Armageddon!” one character says, with Michael Bay’s penis firmly in mouth. Someone mentioned E.T. in honour of Señor Spielbergo. There were also a small number of original series Star Trek soundbites, since the same dudes who wrote this are also working on Star Trek XI, an original series-era movie.*** (Interestingly, Michael Bay’s cousin Susan is married to Leonard Nimoy.)  Some of these things were cool, some were not.

Michael Bay’s directing, as always, was suck-ass. Just for fun I watched Team America a few days before going to see Transformers. All that stuff that is made fun of in that film was in Transformers, in spades! As soon as we hit the desert in Qatar, there’s a piece of “Arabic” music that sounded right out of Team America. All the slow-mo shots interspersed with high-speed action, all the cheesy dialogue, all those over-dramatic camera angles and lighting effects…Michael Bay threw in the kitchen sink, every trick he knew.

I think the coolest thing about Transformers was that it opens up wide what can happen in 2 and 3 (Peter Cullen, Megan Fox, and Shia LaBouf have signed on for two more). Michael Bay isn’t necessarily doing the sequels, so maybe someone with a lighter hand can take over. Slow things down a bit. Let us actually see the robots. The action was mostly so fast and white-washed with explosions and debris that you couldn’t see the robots.

Speaking of the robots, much has been made of their look: People whine that Optimus shouldn’t have flames, the Megatron should transform into a gun, that Bumblebee should have been a VW Beetle. I say, stop whining. These robots look amazing. I’m sure Megatron will look different in the next film anyway.**^

Speaking of the next film: Storywise, it’s already been said that the Dinobots, Constructicons and Soundwave are potential characters for the sequel, opening up story possibilities big time. I’d like to see Grimlock and Optimus clash over leadership direction a little bit like in the old Marvel series. Megatron and Starscream too…their conflict was hinted at. The ending was left wide open for sequels. (Why did the stupid humans believe that Megatron could be disposed of in such an easy way? Foolhardy!)

So there you go. Go get a Coke and a huge tub of popcorn. Enjoy and most importantly, enjoy discussing afterwards with all your geek and nerd friends like I am.

3/5 stars

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*He did not.  

**It was not. Even though Bay introduced the actual character of Devastator in the next film.

***2009’s Star Trek.

**^He did look different, but not any better.

Blu-ray REVIEW: Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment.  Apologies to the regular music readers, I’ve decided to post my reviews for the first three Transformers movies…but in reverse order.  Because fuck these movies.

Click here for Dark of the Moon.


Scan_20160423TRANSFORMERS – Revenge of the Fallen (2009 Paramount)

Directed by Michael Bay

This is a movie to make you say “wow”!  Not because it’s great, or the because the CGI effects are any good (they’re not) — just because Transformers 2 mucks things up even more than the first one did.

For example, the robot dialogue is geared towards kiddies, just like the old cartoon was. Then, mixed in the middle of all that kiddie dialogue, is Megan Fox wearing a tank top, then Megan Fox wearing leather chaps, then Megan Fox stripping off those chaps…just who is this movie for? It’s either geared for kids with no consideration at all for throwing all this sexual imagery at you, or it’s geared for adults (males) and really dumbed down.

All that could be forgivable if this movie had a plot, or characters, or even decent visuals. The effects were so bad; clearly the crew only had so much time and budget to finish. So when you see a robot called “The Doctor” manipulate Sam’s (Shia Labouf) face, it looks like something out of Roger Rabbit, or Star Wars Episode I. When robots are getting blown apart, you see little pieces of junk flying off them, but they don’t look real at all — it looks like little cartoon pieces of junk. Everything looks completely fake, except the explosions. Those look real (because they were real) and there are a lot of them, because BOOM Michael Bay BOOM!

So many opportunities here are squandered. The death of a beloved character has no emotion to it; even the pathetic 1986 cartoon movie had more emotion to the scene in question. The Fallen — one of the all time great Transformers villains — is just another bad guy, not the awe inspiring menace he should be. And don’t get me started on the hip-hop-bots. Why does Devastator have genitalia again? Was that really necessary?  Like the prior film, the humour was awfully juvenile — Sam’s parents are more annoying than ever, especially his mother (who gets high accidentally) and his roommate is one character that either should never have been written, or killed off in Act 2.

There are some minor shining lights in this movie. John Turturro, as Simmons, is better and funnier than before. There are also lots more robots — dozens. I couldn’t keep them straight!

However that is part of Michael Bay’s problem. His design team makes the robots essentially all look the same, particularly the Decepticons. There are a group of “protoform” Decepticons who arrive on Earth. Since they are “protoforms”, they are actually all identical with the exact same design. Budget wise, you can see how using the same animation model for a whole bunch of ‘Cons makes sense.  Visually, it reduced the film to an onscreen mess of flying shit.  Oh sure, there were Constructicons, and Insecticons…so what?   They didn’t do anything important.  The humans, in fact, do all the thinking, talking, leading, and everything else in this movie. The plot only moves forward when the puny humans decide to do something.  That isn’t what the original Marvel series envisioned by Bob Budianski and Simon Furman was about. That isn’t even what the cartoon was about. Transformers is about the robots, and yes, they should have some characterization! If the comic book did, surely they can do it in a multi-million dollar movie. But no; either nobody thought to write interesting characters for classic robots like Sideswipe, Arcee, and Ratchet, or they just didn’t have the time to do them properly. Sad.

Plot holes big enough to drive a Peterbilt truck through:

1. A bunch of mini-bots attack Sam in his kitchen, requiring Bumblebee to barely save him. Two minutes later, Sam is telling Bee that he’s all grown up and doesn’t need his protection anymore. Then, just 20 minutes later, Sam does need protection and Bee comes to save Sam from a Decepticon Pretender…but doesn’t actually do anything! He lets the Pretender into the car, and then he just plays annoying songs on his radio and sprays the Pretender with lubricant instead of…I dunno…driving off? Seriously.

2. The tomb of the Primes! Woah!  But…as Jetfire explains it, the original Primes sacrificed themselves to create a tomb out of their bodies. Then he continues to exposit, “Only a Prime can defeat the Fallen.” Well, maybe they shouldn’t have sacrificed themselves?

3. The tomb that they sacrificed their bodies to create doesn’t actually do anything. It’s opened with one simple blast.

4. And yes, “Only a Prime can defeat the Fallen,” according to Jetfire.  We are not sure why.  When the two finally clash they just have a normal-type robot brawl. Nothing special here that any other ‘bot couldn’t do, and Prime needed all of Jetfire’s parts (seriously!) to help him do it!

Since people are going to buy this movie no matter what I say, I’ll draw this review to a close.  I have only scratched the surface of the issues with Revenge of the Fallen.  Proceed at your own risk.  This is a turd.

2/5 energon cubes

 

Blu-ray REVIEW: Transformers – Dark of the Moon (2011)

Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment.  Apologies to the regular music readers, but I’ve decided to post my reviews for the first three Transformers movies…but in reverse order.  Because fuck these movies.


Scan_20160421TRANSFORMERS – Dark of the Moon (2011 Paramount)

Directed by Michael Bay

As I sat there finishing the third Transformers movie, I thought to myself, “Does Michael Bay ever take himself seriously?” I mean, the dialogue here is so juvenile and stupid, the characters are more one-dimensional than ever (how is that even possible?), and every inch of film is so stupidly overblown, it’s beyond ridiculous. It’s like giving very expensive movie making equipment to a child with a Bart Simpson streak.  Welcome to the Bay-verse, where one can walk away from a flaming car wreck with no injuries, and no idea what the hell the story is!

The plot, such as it is, revolves around the discovery of Sentinel Prime (voice of Leonard Nimoy and Autobot mentor to Optimus) on our moon by Neil Armstrong and the crew of the Apollo 11. Sentinel has something (yet another “McGuffin” in this series – a generic object that the protagonists and antagonists seek) that can save Cybertron (again). But there’s more than meets the eye and things are not always what they seem! Funny though how Earth always seems to be the epicentre of all Transformers plots and schemes.  Are we a magnet for alien assholes?

Though it is the worst of the first three in the series, Dark of the Moon was a marginal improvement in some minor ways.  Many of the most annoying characters (Sam’s annoying parents, the hip-hop-bots) are toned down in movie #3.  The plot is still a confounding mess in a universe that defies all logic and physics.  It’s all there to support a massive end battle that takes up almost half of the movie. Is that battle spectacular to watch? Oh, sure, I guess so.  Can it hold your attention? No. After about half of the end battle had transpired, I was begging for this movie to please just fucking end.

I have to say though, Rosie Huntington-Whitely is an upgrade over Megan Fox. Something about British accents. Bad British acting always trumps bad American acting.  The cast is rounding out by Frances McDormand (also wasted here), John Malkovich (criminally wasted), Patrick Dempsey (meh) and of course John Turturro who always should have more screen time.

A thudding end to a disappointing trilogy.

1.5/5 stars

Oh, and by the by — no special features!  On the Blu-ray!  You suck, Bay!

Blu-ray REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Full-on spoilerific]

NEW RELEASE – SPOILERS

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015, 2016 Lucasfilm Blu-ray DVD set)

When we last saw our heroes in 1983, Evil had been defeated.  Seemingly, Luke Skywalker fulfilled the prophecy of the chosen one who would bring balance to the Force, via his father Anakin Skywalker.  Appealing to the good still within Darth Vader, the evil henchman of the Empire turned back to the light and betrayed his Sith lord, Emperor Palpatine.  The Rule of Two was broken and the Sith were destroyed, along with their ultimate weapon, the second dreaded Death Star.  In death, Vader redeemed himself.  Luke smiled when he saw the ghost of his father standing next to those of his old masters Yoda and Ben Kenobi.  He turned to rejoin his friends in the celebration of victory.  Roll credits.

For decades, we were told “that’s it”.  That’s the end of the story, said the man who wrote it, George Lucas.  Sure there was talk of a sequel trilogy before, even two sequel trilogies!  This seemed highly unlikely in 1983 as George was adamant that he was letting Star Wars go to work on other projects.  The legacy of a sequel, of “what happened to Luke, Han Solo and Princess Leia later” was left first to novelist Timothy Zahn and then to a whole new generation of writers who filled the galaxy with stories of what came next.  Of course, we all knew that should George actually change his mind and allow sequels to be made, all of that old stuff from the books would go out the window.  No way was anybody going to try and adhere to continuity that somebody else wrote in a novel.

In 1994 there was hope.  Lucas re-emerged and began working on the mysterious and long-awaited Star Wars prequels, Episodes I, II and III.  Questions now could finally be answered.  Who were the Jedi?  Who is Luke Skywalker’s mother, only briefly mentioned before and never seen or named?  Most importantly, how did Anakin Skywalker transform into Darth Vader, and why did the Repulic fall to be replaced by an Empire?   One of the problems with this situation was that some questions are often best left to the imagination.

It was undeniably wonderful to finally return to the Star Wars galaxy, but it is also impossible to overlook how ill-received by fans the prequel movies were.  The stiff acting, the wooden dialogue, the unlikely scenarios and muddled plots of these movies made them difficult to fully enjoy.  Although entire cottage industries had grown out of anticipating the possibility of a sequel trilogy, many fans were happy all the same if they never got made.  Lucas pooh-poohed the idea, now claiming Star Wars was always two trilogies, six movies, and the story of Anakin.  There were no stories beyond that, he continued.  It would be fun, he said, to see what Luke and Han were up to later, but ultimately they would just be extraneous to the actual story of Darth Vader.  The end.

 

"Everyone said, 'Well, are you going to do sequels to the first three?' But that was an afterthought; I don't have scripts on those stories. The only notion on that was, wouldn't it be fun to get all the actors to come back when they're 60 or 70 years old and make three more about them as old people."

“Everyone said, ‘Well, are you going to do sequels to the first three?’ But that was an afterthought; I don’t have scripts on those stories. The only notion on that was, wouldn’t it be fun to get all the actors to come back when they’re 60 or 70 years old and make three more about them as old people.”

 

Or not.

Quietly and in secret, Lucas once again had a change of heart and began work on the Star Wars sequel trilogy.  Realizing that he would not be able to undertake such a massive project at his age, he made the brave choice of handing Lucasfilm over to Kathleen Kennedy, and selling Star Wars to Disney.  Lucas’ story and characters were thrown out, but used as inspiration for what would eventually become Episode VII.  Artists dug way back into the Ralph McQuarrie archives for inspiration, and so decades-old designs for Star Wars were finally able to leap onto the big screen.

Much of this information is the included documentary, Secrets of the Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey.  Though that feature does document the emotion and gravitas of what a sequel really means, it fails to really express the true feeling of it all.  For decades, we were told this movie was never coming, but Episode VII was what we all really wanted, not Episode I.  After the credits rolled on Return of the Jedi, did we all not grab our action figures of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie and try to play out what happened next?  The toy company Kenner tried to come up with new villains (I’m sure “Mongo Beefhead Tribesman” would have been a big hit), and Marvel Comics introduced a new villain called Lumiya, the Dark Lady of the Sith.   Mace Windu, Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn did not exist.  The truth is, even in 1983, we didn’t really care about prequels.  We wanted to know what happened next much more than what came before.  So the dual challenge with Star Wars Episode VII was to not only make a movie that continues the story of the Skywalker family appropriately, but also to live up to everything we imagined and played out as kid.  No pressure, right?

Director JJ Abrams felt the pressure, but what he and his creative team emerged with in The Force Awakens is everything that fans needed it to be.  Not that there were no complaints.  The heaviest criticism laid against The Force Awakens is that it imitates the first Star Wars (A New Hope) slavishly.  Some derisively refer to The Force Awakens as a “reboot”.  The parallels are there, but let us also not forget that Lucas himself tried to make his trilogies “rhyme” with similar circumstances.  Did they go too far trying to copy the original?

A cute heroic droid carries a secret message on a desert world that must get back to the heroes.  A new young character, a loner who is unwittingly Force sensitive, meets this droid and decides to help it.  The desert world is escaped in the Millenium Falcon.  They are pursued by the bad guys, led by a Force-using guy in a black mask and cloak with a crimson red laser sword.  The bad guys have an ultimate weapon, a planet destroyer, and they use it.  Our heroes must stop them from using it again.  This large spherical weapon must be blown up, and a battle of X-Wings vs Tie Fighters will decide the fate of the galaxy.  An old hero from a prior trilogy makes the ultimate sacrifice.  Finally, our young new hero character concentrates to use the Force, and defeats the evil.  Roll credits.

That paragraph describes both A New Hope and The Force Awakens perfectly.   But a lot has changed, too.

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Although we know the events that occurred 30 years prior off by heart, we know very little about what actually took place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.  Here is what we do know.

After the Battle of Endor and the defeat of the Emperor, Han Solo and Princess Leia had a son named Ben.  The Blu-ray special features reveal that Ben Solo was powerful in the Force, but with equal portions of light and dark within him.  Director JJ Abrams tells us that the man known as Snoke, a dark side user, had his eyes on Ben Solo from the very start.  So, much like his grandfather Anakin Skywalker, young Ben was being watched by a dark side master from the very beginning, and slowly seduced to the dark side.  We also know that Luke was training a new generation of Jedi, but that Ben destroyed it all.  Luke went into hiding, feeling responsible for his failure.  We do not know anything concrete about this Snoke, or where he comes from.  All that we know is that he seems very, very afraid of Luke.  Ben Solo wants to find the map that leads to Luke’s hiding place.  Snoke on the other hand wants that map destroyed if it cannot be recovered.  He would rather that Luke never return to the affairs of the galaxy, where Ben is desperate to find that map, and therefore his uncle Luke.

Our new hero, the girl known only as Rey, has a Force vision in the movie that tells us a little bit more about what happened.  We see brief clips of a massacre in the rain.  Betraying Luke’s students by surprise in the night, it appears Ben, now known as Kylo Ren, has slaughtered Luke’s younglings with the help of his henchmen, the Knights of Ren, about whom we know nothing at all.  We glimpse Luke placing his robotic right hand on his trusted droid R2-D2, perhaps shutting him down.  And most interestingly, we see Kylo Ren killing someone through the back with his lightsaber, from the perspective of someone down below.  Someone small like a child perhaps.

In that vision, which seems to be from the perspective of Rey as a little girl, Kylo Ren appears to be killing one of his fellow Knights of Ren.  Is that indeed what is happening?  Why did Kylo kill that man from behind?  Did Kylo spare Rey from him?  And who is Rey?

There seems little question that Rey is indeed a Skywalker.  It also seems clear that Kylo Ren knows, or at least feels, that there is more to Rey than anyone else knows.  It is Kylo who freaks out every time somebody mentions the scavenger girl from Jakku.  Why?  What is it about the idea of a girl from Jakku that has him so on edge?  Rey is powerful enough to not only resist Kylo’s mind probe, but also reverse it and read Kylo’s mind.  “You’re afraid,” she boldly proclaims, “that you will never be as powerful as Darth Vader!”  She is strong enough to defeat Kylo Ren, at least semi-trained in the lightsaber, in a dual.  Much like three other key characters in Star Wars (Luke, Leia and Anakin Skywalker), she has latent Force talents that are emerging on their own.  And this terrifies Kylo Ren, very much.  “You need a teacher!” he tells Rey, trying to avoid being bested by a girl.  “I can teach you the ways of the Force!”

Kylo Ren is an interesting and complex villain.  He has the fiery temper of his grandfather, but even more wild and untamed.  His unfinished lightsaber is amaturish and dangerous.  Unlike Anakin, he does not feel pulled to the dark.  “I feel it again.  The call to the light,” he confesses to Darth Vader’s melted helmet in meditation.  “Show me again, the power of the dark side,” he begs the spirit of his grandfather.  Wait…”again”?  What’s this “again” business?  When Anakin died, did he not revert to good?  It seems highly likely that Kylo Ren’s master, Supreme Leader Snoke, is manipulating him with this Vader business.  We will not know for sure until Episode VIII…or IX.

As for Snoke, we know he’s a Force user because we are told that he senses Kylo’s weakness, his compassion.  We also know this because he says he’s going to complete Kylo Ren’s training.  And that doesn’t sound too good for Kylo!  His mucking around, trying to retrieve the map from Rey instead of destroying it in BB-8, caused the First Order to lose their gazollion-credit superweapon, the Starkiller.  Think Darth Vader was in shit when he let the first Death Star get blown up?  Just imagine the shit that Kylo Ren is in now.  That new scar across his face his the last of his worries.  When Snoke finds out that he not only got the base blown up, but also let the girl get away and the Resistance find Luke Skywalker…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be Kylo Ren right now.  The “completion” of his training will result in an even meaner and more intense Kylo Ren in Episode VIII.

Kylo’s father Han Solo went down a hero in The Force Awakens.  Now, true Star Wars fans could have seen this coming right from the day they announced the movie was going to be made.  Han Solo was supposed to die in Jedi.  At first, George Lucas wanted balance.  The victory of the heroes should be balanced by a tragic loss, because that’s life.  He eventually backed out of this.  It seemed obvious that the idea would be resurrected for The Force Awakens.  But for Han to go down the way he did?  Perfect.  Flawless.  Some complain that Han should have had the last word;  he did though — his hand on his son’s face says 1000 words.

Chewbacca’s rage in that moment reflected the shock of everyone in the movie theater.  Rey and Finn’s shock and sorrow was what we all felt, even though it was telegraphed from a mile away.  If those gangsters chasing Solo earlier in the film didn’t hint that his luck was running dry, then the moment Solo walked out onto that catwalk surely indicated it was time for his end.   If there is one rule in Star Wars, it’s be careful of catwalks.  Have these people not yet invented the safety rail?  On Earth, that catwalk would have violated so many regulations that General Hux would have been busted down to Colonel.

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The Blu-ray has deleted scenes, and some of them reveal a little bit more detail.  In one, Rey is told that Finn is going to be just fine, something left ambiguous in the final film.  In another, Kylo Ren and a squad of Snowtroopers board the Millenium Falcon after its crash landing on the Starkiller planet.  Knowing Ren would have grown up on that ship, you can only imagine his feelings as he stands in the cockpit.  Other cut scenes, like a battle with Finn and Rey using Snowspeeders, would have made the movie drag.  So here they are for your enjoyment, and separate from the film on a bonus disc.

The bonus disc also includes interesting bits about the different BB-8 droids that were built for the film, and the various creatures and monsters.  Composer John Williams is the star of one featurette.  The CG effects are gone over, and so is the end lightsaber battle with Kylo and Rey in the woods.  Few lightsaber battles in past movies were filmed in a night time setting.  In order to get the reflective glows on film, the actors used actual glowing lightsaber props for the scene.  The result is more realistic lighting in a scene featuring many trees and lots of snow.  Finally, there’s a bit about the famous “table read”.  When the cast were assembled and the script was read in one room for the first time, the photo of this epic “table read” went viral.  You may wonder, what did Mark Hamill do during this table read?  Did Luke have zero dialogue or not?  Good question:  Mark read the narration.  It’s only a shame the full two hour table read wasn’t included.

That brings us to Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker, the ideal place to leave this epic review.  There he was at the end, after 30 years of wondering “What happens to Luke, the only Jedi left in the galaxy?”   Hamill’s face speaks volumes of what happened to Luke.  Epic pain…sad wisdom…incredible knowledge.  Luke has seen these things and much more, and it is in his eyes.  His light beige cloak is a sharp contrast to the black clothes we last saw him in.  In Star Wars, this communicates a purity awash in the good side of the Force.  Whatever he has done in the years since he left, it is implied that Luke has become as powerful as the Emperor predicted.  Probably more powerful even than Darth Vader ever was.  Supreme Leader Snoke fears Luke Skywalker more than anything the pitiful Resistance can muster.  Who do you think gave Snoke those horrific scars on his head?  Perhaps the reason Snoke fears the last Jedi so much is that he has tasted the blade of that Jedi.

The Force Awakens may take all its plot cues from the original 1977 Star Wars, and that is a fair critique.  As we have shown here, there is also much more to it.  There are layers of mystery that are waiting to be peeled.  When George made the first Star Wars in 1977, he didn’t know he would ever make another one.  There were not as many questions to answer.  What Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt came up with here was a story once thought impossible to write.  They succeeded in coming up with a sequel idea that continues the story of the Skywalkers, introduces new heroes and villains, and doesn’t seem tacked on or mismatched with the original movies.  It feels completely organic and natural.  Indeed, The Force Awakens feels far more like Star Wars than any of the three prequels did.  That’s something many thought impossible, like making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.

Everybody’s going to buy this Blu-ray, so the only question left is which version to buy?  I chose Walmart’s which came in a BB-8 case with a little “trading disc” inside.  Only humbug: all those trailers we sat around and watched are not among the bonus features.  But there are many versions out there and here’s a breakdown of them:

  • Walmart – BB-8 case and trader disc.
  • Best Buy – Steelbook case.
  • Target – 20 minutes of additional bonus features including interviews with John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.
  • Disney – free lithographs.

Buy accordingly!

4/5 stars