Review 75: Backgammon (Thumbs Down)


Directed by Francisco Orvañanos

Starring Brittany Allen, Noah Silver, Alex Beh, Olivia Crocicchia

Released on March 11, 2016

Running time: 1h 29m

Not rated (Suggested rating: R for brief violence, language, heavy drinking, and brief nudity)

Genre: Drama, Thriller

I came across Backgammon by accident, as I felt that it had been a while since I reviewed something obscure. Though audiences (the few people that saw it) welcomed it with open arms, the critics had slammed it. Surprised at the contrast, I knew I’d have to take a look at the film. It was hard to find, but I was finally able to rent it on Amazon for eight bucks. Eight effing bucks. And I will never get those eight bucks back.

Because this movie is terrible.

Have you ever encountered a movie that thinks it’s so much deeper, more meaningful, more relevant, more philosophical, more transcendent, and more emotional than it really is? A movie that is desperate to be Oscar bait but ultimately winds up making itself look pretentious and self-important? A film that holds its head high and looks down its nose at the masses? A film that screams, “I’m complex! I’m tortured! I’m smart! I’m intellectual! You should watch me and analyze every frame of me!”

Well, Backgammon is that film.

Normally I would go into detail on the film’s story while jabbing at it at random intervals, but the story here is so minimal and borderline nonexistent that I’ll just quickly sum it up. As you can imagine, I won’t have much to say, and this review will be shorter than normal.

There are four people at a house in seaside Maine. They are Miranda (Allen), her boyfriend Gerald (Beh), Lucian (Silver), and his girlfriend Elizabeth (Crocicchia). Okay, who on earth would name their son Lucian? Gerald is an abrasive, ostentatious artist and attention hog who only paints nudes of Miranda. He loves pissing everyone off by either quoting Baudelaire ad nauseam or showing that he clearly hasn’t taken Insults 101, and after an uncomfortable poker game in which he abuses Miranda, Miranda kicks him out of the house. We never learn what happens to Elizabeth, as she disappears from the house for some vague reason. Over the next day, for some reason, Lucian and Miranda begin to suspect that Gerald is still in the house, screwing with them, because one of Gerald’s paintings keeps being altered. Sexual tension between Lucian and Miranda starts building up to the point of being awkward and uncomfortable. This was the only thing preventing me from drifting off. Half for the discomfort, and half for the promise of sex. Miranda starts acting increasingly atypically. Lucian tries to leave the house, but the script won’t let him. One night, Miranda starts cutting her wrists for some reason, but Lucian stops her, and the incident is forgotten within minutes. A game of backgammon is played, and Miranda and Lucian have sex offscreen. Booooo. The next morning, Miranda reveals that she’s been the one altering Gerald’s painting, and that Gerald was never in the house. Quite literally out of nowhere, in a snore-worthy attempt at a twist ending which is executed with the same deftness as a little child trying to recreate Van Gogh’s  Starry Night, Miranda and Lucian discover Gerald’s corpse outside the house. Lucian decides that Miranda is crazy, and finally the script lets him leave the house. Well, we see Lucian go inside the house, presumably to go pack his things, but we never see him leave. And then the movie just kind of…ends. Scratch that; the movie sort of just…stops.

See? Instead of several pages of explanation of the plot, I have a slightly overlong paragraph.

It’s just a series of events rather than a structured, methodic story. And even those events take a back seat to what the movie really is. It’s all just a series of allegedly “abstruse”, “emotional”, “meaningful”, and “symbolic” “psychoanalyses”, “mind games”, and conversations on various topics. These vast swathes of walls of words are usually borderline incoherent, ambiguous to the point of insult, and filled to the brim with non sequiturs. I know that there were supposed to be Baudelaire quotes in there somewhere, but the rest of the awkwardly antiquated dialogue buries them. The dialogue clearly does not belong in a movie set in the 21st century or even the 20th…except when we hear lines of such discrepant vernacular. For example, one particular time in the movie, Miranda says this:

MIRANDA: A quiet feeling of liberation has come over me.

But another time in the movie, Lucian says this:

LUCIAN: [Talking about GERALD.] I can’t stand that guy…all he f—ing does is quote French poetry.

See what I mean? And the dialogue is even more painful because the actors are American instead of British. It’s like doing the same thing, only in a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest, except in that play, the dialogue is actually well written, in its proper vernacular, and is actually deep and personal while also being comedic, and at times downright hilarious, especially with the explanation of the death of Bunbury.

I think that this movie was attempting to recreate a classic novel, perhaps written by Dickens, Austen, or Bronte, but failing to understand what made those books memorable, deep, emotional, unique, or good.

Throughout much of the film, I kept asking myself, What is even happening? because for long stretches of the almost-ninety-minute movie, literally nothing happens. I even kept asking myself, What even is the point? What is this movie trying to do? What are its makers trying to do? What is this movie’s purpose? What is it trying to say? What message is this movie trying to convey? And what is more, what am I even watching? Why am I even watching this? I certainly don’t regret watching this (I never do), but come on! It’s impossible to make your plot interesting when you pretty much have no plot at all. Also, the morning after I watched the film and did some research, I learned that the series of events in the film are told out of order. Not only is it astoundingly difficult to tell when that happens, but unless you’re Memento or The Prestige or a movie like that, telling your story out of order is an incredibly idiotic and confusing attempt to make the audience think that you’re oh so much cleverer than you really are.

Not only are the characters still as impassive and lifeless by the end of a film that entirely consists of so-called “character development”, but the acting is literally some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Even the acting giants at my high school put forth better performances (they are good actors, by the way). But I can’t even blame the actors – director Francisco Orvañanos directed them to act in such a way.

Brittany Allen as Miranda is supposed to be seductive, thereby adding to the already uncomfortable amount of sexual tension. But she steals across the movie with her mouth open, like Vince Vaughn in The Cell, but she’s so much more pretentious and vain. She makes awkward, unnatural facial expressions that try and fail to be sexy, and she inelegantly chortles after twelve too many of her lines. She just paces around the house showing off her large and mysterious array of frisky, toddlerish foibles. And she as a character is just as bad. She’s an insufferable but innocuous highbrow chatterbox. She and Lucian are obsessed with obsolete intellect, and she acts like a character from a presumptuous, self-important novel rather than a human. But what is more, she, Lucian, and Gerald throw tantrums, quote more poetry, and drink heavily out of what I can only describe as manic narcissism. But Miranda’s most prominent trait is that she went off her rocker long before the movie started.

Noah Silver as Lucian also walks around with his mouth slightly agape, also like Vince Vaughn in The Cell, trying to be daaaaark and brooooodiiiiing. Unfortunately, his attempts to be daaaaaaark and brooooooodiiiiiiing only result in a painfully bland performance. Noah Silver’s face never exudes any emotion whatsoever save for one exceptionally creepy smile in the sequence before he and Miranda have sex. He as a character is beyond idiotic and is naïve to the point of ridicule. There is literally no explanation as to why he doesn’t just up and leave Miranda until the end of the film. The script just won’t let him leave, I guess. But seriously, when the object of your fleshly desire is acting like she’s a bomb about to go off, not to mention that she’s cutting herself and demanding that you play backgammon with her, it’s time for you to get the eff out of there. I know that you want to screw her to your heart’s content, but goddammit (and I’m totally stealing this from you; sorry, Sean), there are four billion vaginas in the world. You can find another one. Plus, he and Miranda lack any and every sort of what could be considered chemistry, and we never even learn the motives of his and Miranda’s clearly unhealthy relationship. Also, if how poorly our characters’ dialogue is written couldn’t get even more obvious, about of a third of the way into the film, this happens. Miranda nonchalantly tells Lucian that she thinks Gerald might be dead. And Lucian has absolutely no reaction to this. Oh, and there are two or three sequences in which Lucian showers in slow-mo. Why? I don’t know.

Alex Beh as Gerald is the equivalent of pepper spraying yourself. Not his acting, which, while being constantly overshadowed by Miranda’s “acting”, makes Jeremy Irons from Dungeons & Dragons or Meat Loaf from Bloodrayne look Oscar-worthy, and the fact that I can’t tell whether he’s an American trying to be a Brit or if he’s British and trying to hide his accent. Rather, his horrifically constructed character. All he wants to do is earn the ire of everyone around him by quoting Baudelaire ad nauseam or spouting worse insults than when Avery Schreiber guest-starred on The Muppet Show. Gerald is also a lousy painter. Even some of the artists at BYU-Idaho, where I’m attending college, do significantly better work. Besides being a crappy painter or an insufferable jackass, he’s also a helpless drunkard and he abuses Miranda. But when Gerald disappears from the house and Miranda suspects that he might still be there, there’s no sense of suspense, as not only do Miranda and Lucian rarely address the situation, but Gerald has never been presented as a threat. What could he do to Lucian and Miranda, anyway? Spout more poetry and worthless insults, abuse Miranda some more, and drink himself to death? What even was the point of such a plot thread, anyway?

Elizabeth shows up for two scenes and inexplicably disappears. That’s it.

I almost remember a fifth character, but if such a character existed s/he was only in the film for a single scene and for a few paltry minutes.

The movie says that it’s a psychological sexual mystery thriller. What? Where was that? Was it in some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen? Was it in the borderline nonexistent plot? Was it in the flat, dead characters? Was it in the barrages of allegedly deep dialogue that has no place in the 21st century or even the 20th? Was it in the unnecessary amount of increasingly uncomfortable sexual tension leading up to the inevitable but offscreen coitus? And what is more, where were the thriller elements? Where were the mystery elements? Where were the psychological elements? While some moments promise violence or a deeper mystery, the promises are never kept.

The film as a whole is tactless, egotistical, arrogant, and full of hubris. It tries to explain everything to you while not understanding its own material. Moments that are supposed to be subtle and subversive aren’t subtle and subversive enough. Moments that are supposed to be big, have gravitas, and hold magnitude are not big and lack gravitas or magnitude. Throughout the entire movie, we are led around on an increasingly uncomfortable leash by our Dynamic-less Duo, who lack the nuance and chemistry necessary to legitimize their performances and carry the movie. It tries and fails to set up the idea of Gerald still being in the house as a suspenseful situation, instead leaving us with zero buildup to the so-called “twist ending”. It similarly tries and fails to use its “deep” dialogue to lead to deeper questions about identity, instead leaving us with an unrelenting borefest consisting of not letting us get to know our characters beyond their own fustian vanity.

When your film is this bad, the fact that it has admittedly nice camerawork as well as a nice balance of lights and darks is hardly consolation. But the film looks decent. There are some well done establishing shots of the beach and the house’s interior. If only the editing received so much attention.

As I watched this travesty, I didn’t get angry. Instead, I sat, staring at my computer screen, stupefied by how little actually was happening, and occasionally adding to my notes.

Am I just too stupid to see a deeper meaning? Am I just too stupid to see the genius of this film? Because if what I feel about this movie is stupidity, then in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I long not to become smart. Maybe there is a deeper meaning to this, and through what we can learn from this movie, we can all join together around a Backgammon board in a deep hole of poetic boredom. Because this is how close a movie can get to giving its audience literally nothing. It’s almost equivalent to staring at a blank screen for ninety minutes and imagining that there’s a much better movie playing.

The only reason Backgammon is not worse than Chaos is because while watching Backgammon, I didn’t feel personally attacked. But that’s hardly consolation.

By the way, I’ve never been able to get the hang of the actual game of Backgammon.

Final Verdict: Thumbs Down.


Review 74: Paranormal (In)Activity (.5/5)

Paranormal Activity

Directed by Oren Peli

Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Released on October 14, 2007

Running time: 1h 26m

Rated R (Edit out all of the f-words and it’ll be PG. Seriously.) F-bombs per minute: 0.45

Genre: Horror

I was in middle school when this movie came out, and the general consensus among the student populace was that Paranormal Activity was effing scary. I looked it up, saw the R rating, was dismayed because my parents would never let me watch it, and forgot about it a little while afterward. I remembered it a few years later. You see, in the middle of my high school years, I became interested in finding the scariest movies ever made. I searched far and wide across the Internet for ways to watch these movies online for free (I didn’t own a debit card). I saw plenty of movies, and rarely did they scare me. And then I remembered Paranormal Activity. Looking forward to a hopefully terrifying experience, I sat down at my computer, made sure my parents weren’t watching, and watched the movie.

I almost fell asleep.

When the movie ended, I said to myself, Wow. That was really freaking bad. I researched how it did critic- and audience-wise, and saw that the reviews could be grouped into two main groups: 1) the “true horror fans” who say that this is one of the scariest movies of all time, and 2) those who call it a boring, flimsy mess. I gladly sided with the latter. I let Paranormal Inactivity sit in the dark recesses of my mind until January of 2016. With the intent of reviewing it, I watched it again. It was just as bad as I remembered, but I didn’t have enough material for a review. Then came March of 2016. I thought, Screw it; I really detest this movie; I’m going to review it by hook or by crook, and watched it again, making sure to really pay attention, take more detailed notes, and really think about it afterwards. And yes, it was just as bad as I remember it.

Before the movie starts, it acts like it really happened, saying that this was footage held by the police and was only just released to the public. Yes. Because the events in Paranormal Inactivity totes happened, like, 4 real.

You probably already know this, but Paranormal Inactivity is found-footage. Because I’ve had sooooo much fuuuuuun reviewing that type of movie. The Gallows is still fresh and painful in my memory.

A young couple, Katie and Micah, have moved into a new house in San Diego. Micah has bought a professional camera to record all paranormal activity that may or may not occur. Question: what made Micah buy the camera? What made Micah think that the house was haunted? Judging by what we learn about Katie later in the movie, there should have been no paranormal activity happening at all. They’ve just moved in.

It’s a bit funny when Micah talks to the camera. By the way, when you consider memory space and battery issues, Micah using this camera to record his and Katie’s daily life would be seriously impractical. He would have had to have purchased a dozen batteries and some terabyte-sized memory cards. Plus, this movie is set in 2006. Do the math.

By the way, both before and after dinner that night, their living room flatscreen TV is still playing the same scene of All in the Family. Oooooooops.

After a few funny lines, Katie and Micah go to sleep for their first night. All right, I’m going to try harder to be scared by letting my imagination fill in the blanks! And…all that is heard is a few footsteps, as well as a low humming sound that accompanies every haunting in this movie. Ooooh. I’m really trying to be scared by this. I’m just…not.

The next day, Micah checks the camera, and we get a just-long-enough-to-be-awkward shot of Micah’s CoinNet t-shirt. Can you say “product placement”? An admittedly funny sequence happens involving Micah in the pool, miming a fishing pole with one hand, and reeling in a middle finger from his other hand. Later, Katie receives a visit from Dr. Fredrichs, a psychic. After a Kirkland water bottle product placement, Katie tells him that a presence has been haunting her since childhood. Katie gives us a bit of history that will only be referred to once more in the movie: her childhood home burned down. After telling Dr. Fredrichs her spiritual issues that are intentionally vague (all will be revealed in the sequels), Dr. Fredrichs tells Katie that the presence is not a ghost, but a demon, and that it will follow her everywhere she goes.

Uh…why are you revealing such a heavy plot device so early in the movie? We’re less than ten minutes in and already the haunting is revealed and explained! Katie’s demonic stalker becomes a contrived, downright idiotic Deus ex Machina! Now, I realize that demonic stalkers are a real issue. No sarcasm whatsoever. Some people have described being followed by demons for decades. Yes, that could possibly include the Follower from It Follows. But this is a ridiculous plot point that applies a Band-Aid to the cancerous tumor of the plot hole of “Why don’t they just leave the house?”. In fact, it would have been scarier if there was no facepalmingly contrived background whatsoever. It’s so much scarier when you don’t know why the haunting is happening. Sinister was scary because we were only fed tiny, precious tidbits of information on what Bagul (Bughuul?) actually was. We finally got an idea of who he was and how he worked just before the twist ending. Plus, I thought that this movie was about paranormal activity, not demonic stalking. Why not just title the movie Demonic Stalker? Also, if this movie’s antagonist is a demon, that means it is here to possess Katie. Why doesn’t it just cut to the chase? Why does it need to do some practically childish stuff before the eventual possession?

And of course Micah is skeptical of all of this, even though he’s the person who bought the camera to record the paranormal activity. Oh, and here’s another issue with Micah: the way his name is pronounced. Instead of pronouncing it “my-kǝh”, it’s pronounced “mee-kǝh”. Instead of referring to him with the same name as the Old Testament prophet Micah, I’ll call this little pink pincushion in my underpants Meekah.

Dr. Fredrichs tells Katie that demons are not in his jurisdiction, but then proceeds to give Katie a barrage of information about demonic stalking. He then tells Katie to contact a demonologist, Dr. Johann Averies, for extra help. He leaves soon after.

That night, Katie tells Meekah that she’s going to contact the demonologist, but Meekah is adamantly against that, calling the demonologist a “Jesus freak”. Well, eff you too. Katie compromises, saying that she’ll contact the demonologist if things get worse. Gee. I wonder if this is going to come back to bite her in the ass. But no, seriously. This is serious, actually dangerous stuff. If there’s demonic activity going on, you need to get as much help as you can as soon as possible. The idea that we have no idea what demons are capable of could have been scary in this movie, but as we’ll learn soon enough, our demon is an effing moron.

Katie and Meekah go to sleep, with Meekah wearing the same shirt he wore last night for some reason. Okay, here’s another night of paranormal activity! I’m going to try harder to find this scary! I’m going to use my imagination to fill in the blanks! And…a door moves on its own, and keys drop on the floor. Oooooooh. Well, I’m only twenty minutes in. I’ll give it time.

The alarm goes off at 6:14 the next morning for some reason. Evan Almighty reference? Stuff happens the next day, and the next night arrives quickly.

Meekah is reading up on demons and what they do. Does that include lightly nudging a door and dropping keys on the floor? Meekah also talks about the intelligence of demons. Yeah, I know that demons are incredibly intelligent, but this one is really freaking stupid. Meekah also mentions that Katie never told him about her demonic stalker. Uh, Meekah, when is there ever a good time to talk about demon stalking in a relationship? Before he and Katie go to bed, Meekah goads the demon into doing more stuff. Because that will totally help the situation.

Katie and Meekah go to sleep. All right! I’m going to try harder to be scared! I’m going to make my imagination fill in the blanks! And…all we get is a bang, giving us a cheap jumpscare. Dammit. This is just not scary. I’m sorry; I’m really trying to be scared. I’m just not.

The next morning, when Meekah goes over the footage from last night, he mentions buying a Ouija board to communicate with the demon and ask what it wants. Because that will totally help the situation. Katie is adamant that he do no such thing.

That night, before going to bed, Meekah calls the demon “worthless”. Yes. Because that will totally help the situation. Seriously, you don’t EVER insult a demon or goad it into doing more stuff!

Okay! It’s another night of alleged scariness! I’m really going to try to be scared by this, and use my imagination to fill in the blanks! And…a few hours after they go to sleep, Katie and Meekah are awoken by a demonic screech and a loud bang, giving us another damn jumpscare. I’m sorry! I’m just not scared by this! Despite their fear, they still go down and check things out, only to see their chandelier swinging. Why? If there were real people in this situation, they’d still be in bed, clinging to each other.

The next morning, Katie tells Meekah that all the paranormal activity happened after Meekah bought the camera. Because it’s totally the camera’s fault. Meekah goes into the bedroom with an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) recorder and a microphone. Meekah starts asking questions, but it quickly devolves into quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This breaks the unspoken rule of not referring to a better movie in your own crappy one. Meekah goes over the recording and hears a demonic grunt when he asks if he should buy a Ouija board to communicate with it.

Stuff happens, and then the next night comes. Okay! I’m going to really try to be scared by this and let my imagination fill in the blanks!  And…Katie gets up, stands at the foot of the bed staring at Meekah for about two hours, then goes outside and sits on the backyard porch swing. This means that Katie’s possessed, right? I’ll admit that this would have been a little creepy, but events later in the scene completely ruin it. Meekah wakes up and goes outside to find Katie. She refuses to come back in, so Meekah goes back inside to fetch her some blankets.  That’s nice of him. But Meekah hears a thump, and the TV in the bedroom turns on. And it’s the giant box type. If Meekah and Katie are so rich as to afford all of this stuff that they have at their house, then why haven’t they replaced the giant box TV with a flatscreen? They clearly had one downstairs. Meekah goes upstairs to investigate, but Katie all of a sudden appears behind him, exhausted. Meekah asks Katie what’s going on with her, but Katie doesn’t remember what happened. Katie and Meekah go back to sleep.

The next morning, Meekah confronts Katie about the previous night, though he doesn’t even show Katie the footage of her acting weird. Katie seems to have returned to normal.

Wait, what? The demon clearly took possession of Katie’s body last night! But then…the demon left Katie’s body soon after! Uh…I guess the demon…took a sample? Like at Costco? I used to be able to go there, do a sample run, and leave stuffed, but now that’s not the case. At least I can get a hot dog and a frozen yogurt for less than five bucks. And the hot dog even comes with a free drink. I guess the demon wants to do more creepy crap first.

Katie and Meekah plan to go on a date that night, but Meekah surprises her with something he bought: a Ouija board. Katie reacts accordingly, but, strangely, she doesn’t cancel the date on the spot. In fact, she still takes Meekah out, probably to verbally castigate him in public.

First, Meekah, you’re a bastard for getting that damn Ouija board. Second, Meekah, you do not want to mess with this type of thing. It can and will hurt you physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.

While Katie and Meekah are gone, the camera at home records the planchette on the Ouija board moving around, and the Ouija board itself catching on fire. Uh, not only is the board wooden, but the table and the floor are too. How does this fire on the Ouija board not spread to the table, the floor, and the entire house?

But we forget about the fire as soon as Katie and Meekah get home. Meekah goes straight to the board and checks it out. It’s not burned, surprisingly, and is only covered in odd scrawls that just look like somebody added a bit of sediment to a glass of water and dropped drops of water + sediment all over the board. Kind of like the tap water at the house I lived in while attending college. Also, Katie kicks Meekah out of the bedroom. Oh, the horror! Relationship issues instigated by the male! Meekah resigns himself to his couchly fate and goes to sleep.

The next morning, Meekah asks Katie what he needs to do for forgiveness. They make a compromise. Katie forces him to film himself verbally signing a vocal contract to abide by Katie’s camera rules and regulations. In return, Meekah gets to try out an experiment: tonight, he will sprinkle talcum (I think) powder in the upstairs hall, at the top of the stairs, and in the doorway to their bedroom. Meekah goes over the footage from last night and tries to determine what letters the planchette moved to on the Ouija board. That night, Meekah is allowed back into the bedroom, and I guess…all is forgiven. That issue was let go with ease. If only Katie’s rules and regulations applied to the rest of the film.

Okay! New night! I can try to be scared of the movie again! I can use my imagination to fill in the blanks! And…unless your eyesight is effing Godlike (mine is not), you’re not going to see the three-toed footprints that are about two-foot-tall-goblin-size. Seriously, those footprints are tiny for a demon. They’re even smaller than my hand. And yet, Katie and Meekah don’t decide to get the heck out of the house. Instead, they decide to investigate. They go down to a closet near the end of the hall, where the attic access panel is open. Meekah decides to further investigate. Meekah climbs up into the attic and finds a slightly burned photo of Katie as a child. Katie is disturbed by this. I’m disturbed too! The demon’s been living in the attic all this time with a childhood picture of Katie in its possession! That’s creepy! That’s like a weird, dodgy uncle who’s legally ordered to stay over a mile from any elementary school! Katie, are you sure that it’s a demon that’s haunting you? Are you sure you don’t have a strange, suspicious-looking uncle that’s gone missing recently? Check your fridge, he may have stolen food. Check the attic some more, he may have a sleeping bag up there, as well as a bottle of lotion and a box of Kleenex. Seriously, ew. Okay, our villain may be creepy, but it’s creepy in the wrong way. I could understand if this was Asmodeus, the Prince of Lust, but it’s clearly not, as Asmodeus is significantly smarter than the demon we have here.

Also, don’t get used to this plot point. It’s tossed aside just like Katie’s temporary possession and the Ouija board. You’ll forget about the picture by the end of the next scene. But seriously, what was the point? Meekah could have just heard something, seen a pair of eyes, or even been accosted by the demon. But no.

Speaking of the next scene, Meekah tries to tell Katie that he’s making progress, that he’s in control of the situation. Katie rebuffs him in the obvious manner, by telling him that he’s clearly not making progress and that he’s obviously not in control of the situation. Katie goes farther by telling Meekah that the demon wanted them to find the picture. Yes. The demon totally wanted you guys to find the photo by putting it in the attic instead of on the bedside cupboard, the kitchen counter, or on the coffee table.

Katie tries to contact Dr. Averies. You know, the demonologist that we totally forgot about. Unfortunately, Dr. Averies is out of town. And apparently there are no other demonologists in the world, because Katie makes no attempt to contact a different one. Come on. If you wanted, you could have called on Lorraine Warren. She’s still alive. Ed’s dead, though, so you won’t get the full effect. Either that, or the filmmakers couldn’t afford to hire another actor while still keeping the movie on a $15,000 budget. Gee. It’s almost like refusing to contact the demonologist until now was a bad idea.

Ooookay…here’s ‘nother night…gonna try to be scared…gonna let my imagination…screw it. I’ve already been burned too badly by how infuriatingly unscary this movie is, so I’m not going to bother. Anyway, the lights on the stairs turn on and off, and the bedroom door slams in a cheapass jumpscare. Katie and Meekah wake up with a start, and hear the demon bang on the door and rattle it. Strange. If the demon slammed the door, shouldn’t it be on the inside? Katie and Meekah get out of bed and open the door for some reason. Katie grabs the camera and follows Meekah. They go to the hall closet again for some reason. Katie says that it might be a trap. I respond, “No, Katie. There’s still thirty minutes left. You’ll be fine until those thirty minutes run out.” But the bedroom door slams and gets banged and rattled on again. It then creaks open.

Two issues with this scene.

First: I know horror movies rely entirely on people being stupid, but this is a found-footage flick that’s claiming to be real! Why do Katie and Meekah immediately run to investigate everything? Why, in this night’s situation, did Katie willingly get out of bed to follow Meekah, carrying the camera for him, no less?

Second. I was serious when I said that we have only thirty minutes left. Why am I still dealing with the issue of movies being too short for their own good, showing that the movie clearly lacks substance? It’s a vexatious situation.

HENRY VIII (A Man for All Seasons): I will not brook! It maddens me! It is a deadly canker in the body politic, and I will have it out!

I heavily panned The Forest and The Gallows for their astonishingly short lengths and poor pacing. They gave too much time to the gap between exposition and the final buildup to the climax. However, I have seen films that actually do well with short lengths. One of my favorite movies of recent years is Taking Chance, and it didn’t even reach an hour and twenty minutes. But the story was short and restrained. Any longer and it would have overstayed its welcome. Plus, during its seventy-four-minute length, stuff happened. A story was told. We met our characters and got to know them. A virtuous message was given. We cried for a person we hardly knew. And at the end, we felt a sense of completion. Unfortunately, such is gone from The Gallows, The Forest, and, in turn, Paranormal Inactivity. Heck, this issue goes as far back as Darkness Falls.

But I’ll complain about everything after I’ve finished going over the plot of the movie.

A few hours into the next morning, Katie and Meekah hear a bang. They go upstairs to investigate (again, why?) and find that one of their photos of them has had the glass shattered and Meekah’s face scratched out. Katie, who is standing by the closet at the end of the upstairs hall, stops moving, and quietly says that she can feel it breathing on her.

Since Dr. Averies is out of town, Katie calls Dr. Fredrichs. Upon his arrival, he is immediately intimidated by the demonic presence. Telling Katie that the demon is pissed that he’s there, Dr. Fredrichs quickly leaves. Uh…does that mean that Katie and Meekah are just supposed to find a demonologist that the demon…likes? Plus, if the demon is mad that Dr. Fredrichs is there, does that mean that he could do the demon some sort of harm, including but not limited to banishing it back to Hell? Also, why did Dr. Fredrichs come just so he could spout the same BS that he gave last time? Could he not have just told Katie that over the phone?

Meekah, you’re an idiot for refusing to let Katie contact Dr. Averies. Katie, you’re an idiot for agreeing with Meekah.

When night finally came, I found myself amazed that Katie and Meekah were still sleeping with the lights off.

Okay…another night to be oh so scared…because I’m using my imagination to fill in the blanks. And…the sheets move, a shadow appears, a light turns on and off, the demon breathes on Katie and growls. Hey, at least we can actually see a shadow.

The next morning, Katie tries to ignore the situation by studying, and gets pissed at Meekah carrying the camera. She goes off on Meekah, telling him and his camera to eff off. But a few minutes later, Katie is on the floor sobbing. And Meekah is still filming her. I can’t tell whether Meekah is being a craphead, or if he has to be one to get it all on camera for the director.

Problem: the movie had to tell us that Katie is breaking down. Therefore, the movie has failed to actually show Katie slowly breaking down. We’ve seen her breaking down, but we haven’t experienced her breaking down.

Here’s where things get real…with only about ten minutes left in the movie. Come the eff on.

Some tapping is heard during the day, and night comes quickly. I’m going to dispense with the usual nocturnal opening. The demon drags a screaming Katie out of bed and into the hall and slams the door. Meekah, for the first time, doesn’t pick up the camera as he dashes down the hall to grab Katie and briefly try to get Katie out of the demon’s clutches. Meekah gets Katie back into bed. Oh, so now he doesn’t pick up the camera? We could have actually seen something.

The next morning, Katie and Meekah have decided to leave the house. Katie is downstairs on the couch. She is absolutely dazed. She may as well still be in shock from what happened last night. Even though the demon clearly didn’t bite her last night, Katie has a bite mark on her back. Seriously? Katie’s screams last night were out of fear, not out of pain.

Later that day, Meekah has packed some bags and gotten them in the car. But Meekah finds Katie in the kitchen, gripping a cross so tightly that her hand is bleeding. Meekah gets Katie to a couch and tends to her. Meekah, don’t take Katie to the couch. Put Katie in the car, and take her to a hotel. At least you’ll be out of the house. Better yet, take her to a church. Any church covered in Christian paraphernalia will do. A demon cannot tread on hallowed ground. Get to a church and get some spiritual help. If demons are real in the world of Paranormal Inactivity, God is obviously real as well. Get some serious help from the other side of the spiritual spectrum.

But Meekah, as usual, refuses to use the slightest amount of logic, and that night, in bed, Katie quietly insists that it’ll be safer if they stay at the house, and that everything’s going to be okay now. Obviously, that’s a lie.

By the way, I forgot to mention a scene in which Katie and Meekah find the account of a woman online who’s had the exact same experiences Katie had, but back in the 1960s. But this scene is never mentioned again, therefore making it entirely pointless.

We arrive at the final night, and the final two minutes of the movie. The night begins with a clattering sound. Katie wakes up, stands by the bed, and stares at Meekah for almost two hours. She goes downstairs, and, surprisingly, at the same time Ronald DeFeo Jr. killed his family (3:15 AM), Katie begins screaming for Meekah. Meekah runs downstairs to help Katie, again not taking the camera with him, but Meekah is attacked and killed. Heavy footsteps are heard ascending the stairs. Meekah’s corpse is thrown at the camera, knocking it to the floor. Katie is standing in the doorway with blood on her shirt. Katie walks to Meekah’s corpse, then gets down on her hands and knees and sniffs it. She then notices the camera. She crawls up to it, grins, and then lunges at it, her face demonically contorting just before the screen cuts to black. Way to break the fourth wall.

Meekah’s body was discovered soon after, and Katie’s whereabouts remain unknown…until Paranormal Inactivity 4.

We get a “the characters and events in this film are fictitious disclaimer” and ninety seconds of a black screen instead of credits.

Four issues.

One. Why didn’t Katie just kill Meekah upstairs? She didn’t have to get up, stare at Meekah for two hours, go downstairs, scream for him, kill him, then drag his body upstairs. She could have just killed him while she was upstairs.

Two. Why did the possessed Katie lunge at the camera, other than to break the fourth wall and give the audience a cheap scare? In a film that focuses mostly on atmosphere (whether or not this worked is another question entirely) rather than cheap scares (though there are some of those), ending the movie with a cheap scare because “boo” ruins whatever atmosphere the film might have built up.

Three. If the demon attacked the camera, why didn’t it destroy the footage? The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing people that he doesn’t exist!  I’m pretty sure that demons know how to use computers. Oh, wait, I forgot how stupid of a demon we’re dealing with.

Four. After all that work you went through to make this movie seem like real life, you’re going to put a “people and events in this film are fictitious” disclaimer at the end? You just shot yourself in the foot before you even started to reach for your gun. The gun inexplicably discharged in your holster and fired a bullet into your foot. The wound will be particularly grievous, and will require amputation.

So that was Paranormal Inactivity, and let me tell you, it did not deserve even a shred of the hype it got.

This movie got hyped literally to hell and back as the next scariest movie ever. It showed audiences jumping in their seats. At that screening, people allegedly became so scared that they walked out. And if the movie wasn’t playing in your area, you could go to and demand it to be shown in the theaters nearest you. If you demanded this movie on, you could have your name added to a list of people who helped make Paranormal Inactivity. By the time November 2009 came about, the film was playing worldwide. By the way, The Gallows tried the same marketing scheme sans, and it still made a ton of money hand over fist.

The movie acts like a morbidly obese guy trying to run a marathon. He rockets right out of the gate, flab bouncing everywhere, but he won’t even get fifty feet before he has to slow down and rest. He tries to get going again, but he’s clearly done. That’s the energy that the movie has. It can do nothing but plod along at a sluggish pace.

The movie also acts like a typical Internet screamer. Say that this video is about a minute long. The user gets hyped as s/he clicks on the link and the video starts. The user gets bored as the video goes on. The user then jumps with a start as the scary face pops up in the last few seconds of the video. That’s Paranormal Inactivity in a nutshell. Heck, even Scary Maze Game easily mirrors the structure of Paranormal Inactivity.

It’s the ultimate bait and switch. It’s like being told that you’re getting served a nice, juicy, marinated, medium rare 12 oz. sirloin steak, and then you’re given and forced to eat a whole durian. Just the edible parts, though. You’re immediately taken aback when you see it, it tastes disgusting, and your breath smells awful for hours afterwards. Your breath will smell so awful that you won’t even be able to go into certain buildings because of signs that prohibit durian inside.

Please stop trying to tell me that Paranormal Inactivity is Hitchcockian just because of its slow pace. In the sacred Psycho, the plot took its time, but it still moved fast enough to keep us interested. To supplement the pacing, Hitchcock made sure that stuff happened. Major stuff happened. Marion Crane and Detective Arbogast were stabbed to death, and the ever-twisting plot kept us guessing the whole time until literally the final two minutes! Moreover, the characters we were dealing with were actually interesting and relatable. The characters in Paranormal Inactivity are not.

The Blair Witch Project, while not good, excellently executed the Slow Build. But it forgot to resolve after the climax. In fact, it ended just as it might have actually been getting good. But in Paranormal Inactivity’s case, the climax never came. It was just a boringly and painfully slow burn that never attempted to build up until the last two nights. It’s like arriving at the most hyped Super Bowl in history for the last minute of the game. Paranormal Inactivity just barely started to get going when it stopped.

The plot makes some semblance of sense, but it is full of sinkholes. We don’t even get to learn how and why this started and why it’s still going. Yes, I know we learn in the sequels, but the first movie should not have such gaping plot holes, especially because the filmmakers had never thought about sequels, let alone come up with ideas for them while making the movie. Insidious explained why the stuff was happening. Dalton’s astral self was unable to get back to his body, and there were a ton of ghosts and a literal demon trying to get into Dalton’s body. That’s why legitimately scary stuff happened. That’s why the hauntings followed them to their new house. Katie and Meekah should have at least had the common sense to take the opportunity to get to the bottom of things and to actually do something about it, or, at the very least, get help. But no. They were too stupid to even do that.

If the antagonist was a demon, why did it act like a poltergeist through most of the movie? Why not push one of them down the stairs? Why not throw one across a room? Why not toss objects around willy-nilly? Well, we do get one scene of Katie getting dragged down the hall, but that’s about it. Oh, and the bite. And the possession at the very end. Seriously, do more demonic things! Don’t just wait until the last ten, then two, minutes! I could bring Shia LeBeouf in here and have him scream at the demon, “JUST DO IT!” Do you remember the paranormal activity surrounding Regan’s possession in The Exorcist? Those incidents were creepy!

Even the sound quality is poor. If The Gallows and even The Blair Witch Project have better sound quality than Paranormal Inactivity, it did something wrong. And The Gallows was shot on camcorder and mobile phone!

But what makes Paranormal Inactivity truly bad is just how unscary it was. My threshold for horror in film is amazingly high. I guess Paranormal Inactivity was not meant for horror junkies like me. Every scary scene boils down to this: We hear a sound or something changes its position, and then we’re supposed to scream. The film forsakes scaring us for feeding us such riveting scenes involving people sleeping, brushing their teeth, chatting, eating, arguing, whining about their situation, etc. Sure, there are some foreboding moments, but they were poorly set up, lacked sufficient payoff, and were quickly forgotten. Tension is not allowed to build, and things end too quickly. There is no sense of peril toward the actors until the end.

I get that you’re supposed to use your imagination to fill in what the camera cannot. But we have to be given a foundation on which to base our imagination. But Paranormal Inactivity is the equivalent of being given a piece of paper and being asked to build the Burj Dubai on it. Plus, the idea of “you just have to use your imagination” has gotten so tired. If I want to use my imagination when seeing a movie, I’ll go watch an actual good movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Seventh Seal or Eraserhead or Perfect Blue.

I also understand that what isn’t seen can be scarier than what is seen, but we need to actually have an idea that there might be or there is actually something there. Stuff needs to actually happen. I get that just seeing something slightly out of place or seeing something move slightly can be scary, but we need to actually see stuff happen.

Also, part of what’s scary about a demon infesting a house is the investigation to see what’s really there. This psychic claimed that a demon was present based only on feelings. Why not investigate and see what he finds?

But what truly undermines this movie’s scariness is this: its lack of developed, likable, relatable characters. For most of the movie, the characters seem largely unaffected by what’s happening. Even though roughly 85% of the movie is entirely character-focused, we’re not allowed to empathize with them or even get to know them very well. Katie and Meekah share very little chemistry, and fail beyond measure as coming across as a real couple. In fact, they feel more like caricatures than characters. However, you could learn some important relationship lessons. For example, if your girlfriend’s being haunted by a demon, get as much help as possible as soon as possible. Don’t buy a freaking Ouija board. Be there for your girlfriend, as her emotional stability will be at an all-time low. Katie at times had glimmers of depth to her, and at times I felt sorry for her. But when she’s as stupid and annoying as she is, all sympathy vanishes. And Meekah is an idiot desperately trying to come off as a big, bad, rough, tough, suave, slick, cool, “TESTOSTERONE-FILLED MAN-PENIS!” Sorry, Doug, I totally stole that. Good horror movies derive their fear from us not wanting characters that we like to die. This is something that this movie did not understand. When a horror movie tries to scare us, but its characters are unlikable and underdeveloped, all fear goes away. In rare cases, developed and likable characters can even make up for a less-than-fantastic story.

I will bring up Taking Chance again. I got to know each of the small characters in Taking Chance in a few minutes, let alone the entire running time. Paranormal Inactivity failed to do even that. Taking Chance developed its characters through deep, emotional dialogue. What was more, Taking Chance was able to make us empathize with each of its characters because each of its characters were directly written to be human and lifelike. In fact, the majority of them were directly taken from the account that Lieutenant Colonel Strobl wrote. In fact, they felt like actual American citizens not only being open and personal and letting us get to know them, but showing their gratitude toward and respect for Lance Corporal Phelps through small acts of kindness.

In an era of failed remakes and sequels, a contrived film that is painfully unscary fails to stand out to me from the muck. Films like The Hills Have Eyes, Cloverfield, 1408, and Orphan that came around back then were scary. Orphan and THHE are two criminally underrated examples. Orphan was scary because of the stark contrast between the innocent, angelic “Esther” and the insane, homicidal Leena. I had grown to love “Esther”, thinking of her as the perfect solution to Kate’s grief over losing her unborn child. It was horrifying to see “Esther” become Leena and try to kill off her adopted mother, brother, and sister, and have a sexual relationship with her adopted father. THHE was terrifying because its characters were up against an unseen but ever present threat that was willing to go to great lengths to kill and eat them. The villains were terrifying, and when I watched the movie for the first time, I was almost in shock (obvious exaggeration) seeing Pluto and Lizard attack the group and not only rape one and kill three, but kidnap the baby and torture the father with her cries. And do you know what those two movies had in common? They had interesting, well-written stories, and developed, likable characters that we did not want to see die. That’s part of what makes these movies scary. Not only having characters in peril, but having characters that were developed and likable.

And finally, Paranormal Inactivity was made out of greed, by spending the minimum amount of money for the maximum amount of profit. Paranormal Inactivity uses its micro-budget as an excuse to forego a well-written story, developed and likable characters, good writing, passable acting, camerawork that is pleasing to the eye, and actual sound quality.

Paranormal Inactivity is an unbelievable and hokey film that was only rated R because Katie and Meekah dropped F-bombs willy-nilly.

Thank heaven that Oren Peli wasn’t trusted to write another film until 2012’s amazingly dull Chernobyl Diaries, and not trusted to direct another film until 2015’s lethargically dull Area 51.

But I have one last question for you, dear reader, to whom I send a virtual handshake.

Who hasn’t heard bumps in the night?

Final verdict: .5 out of 5 stars.

Review 73: Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (.5/5)

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie

Released on December 14, 2015

Running time: 2h 15m

Rated PG-13

Genre: Sci-fi, Fantasy, Adventure

I’ve had a decent history with the Star Wars universe. I grew up watching the movies. A New Hope was the first one that I remember watching. Despite its corniness, it’s a fantastic movie, and it and the rest of the movies will remain staples in sci-fi, for better or worse. I would give it a 4.5 out of 5. The Empire Strikes Back took it to a whole new level, and it is one of my personal favorite coming-of-age stories. I would give it a 4.5 out of 5. Return of the Jedi wasn’t as good as the previous two, but it was still damn good. And no, I didn’t mind the Ewoks. I would give it a 4 out of 5. My views of the prequel trilogy have probably been tainted because of how young I was when I saw them. Because I think they, at the very worst, are just fine. I would give both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones a 2.5 out of 5 on a bad day, and possibly a 3 out of 5 on a good day. I legitimately liked Revenge of the Sith despite some crappy romantic dialogue. It even contains one of my favorite moments in cinema. Remember the scene in which Anakin is in the Jedi council room, and Padme is at her and Anakin’s home, and they’re just staring out the window in the general direction of each other? Nothing really happens in this scene, except just focusing on Anakin and Padme fearing not only for events going on and their own relationship, but what the future has in store. Not only is there a war going on, not only is there corruption in the Senate and the Jedi, not only are Anakin and Padme having a harder and harder time keeping their marriage secret, but Anakin and Padme are going to have a child, and it’s going to be born into a war-torn galaxy. Oh, and there’s Anakin’s visions that Padme dies in childbirth. It’s a legitimately powerful moment that shows that when done right, some of the most powerful scenes in cinema need no dialogue whatsoever. I would give the movie a 3.5 out of 5 on a bad day, and a 4 out of 5 on a good day. The saga as a whole is, on average, good, and I’ll definitely watch all six movies multiple times in the future.

Rumors of a sequel trilogy had been circulating for decades. I never took them seriously until maybe 2014.

When I first heard about Disney buying LucasArts, I got angry. When I heard about Star Wars VII coming out, I scoffed. When I heard that Disney had declared that all of the Star Wars Expanded Universe content was officially declared non-canon, I was absolutely pissed, as I loved a lot of the Star Wars Expanded Universe content. I loved seeing the journeys of characters I loved before, between, and after the films. I loved meeting new characters and following them through their adventures. I could step into the shoes of Galen Marek in The Force Unleashed and kick ass with him as he, in his personal war against the Empire, became the spark that would ignite the Rebellion. In The New Jedi Order, I could fight alongside the characters from the movies as well as their children and other characters in the Yuuzhan Vong War. I could follow Jacen Solo on his journey to the Dark Side and adopting the name Darth Caedus in Legacy of the Force. I could step into the shoes of Cade Skywalker in his final battle against Darth Krayt in Legacy. In Death Troopers, I could both laugh and be terrified as I fought alongside Zahara Cody and Trig Longo against the zombies reanimated by the plague known as Blackwing. I could regard Darth Maul as much more of a badass as I read about his earlier life. I could kick ass with Dash Rendar in Shadows of the Empire. I could play as Darth Revan in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I could be with Wedge Antilles as he led Rogue Squadron. I could even imagine what happened if events in the films had gone differently with the Infinities stories. I could even read the graphic novel adaptation of George Lucas’s original The Star Wars screenplay. The Star Wars universe was rich, ripe, expansive, and full of potential for tons of storytelling until Disney declared all of the Expanded Universe content non-canon, despite the fact that the Outrider, owned by Dash Rendar from Shadows of the Empire, actually appears in the Star Wars IV Special Edition.

However, as the movie’s release date drew nearer, I actually became more optimistic, thinking, How bad can it be? It’s Star Wars, dammit. And then Star Wars VII finally came out. I intentionally avoided looking at how well the movie did critically. I didn’t want to spoil it for myself. I thought to myself, Some sequels actually seem to be doing decently this year. Creed was pretty damn good. How could Star Wars VII not be? About a week after it came out, I went by myself to the nearest cinema. This was before I moved out of my parents’ house to go to college. I bought my ridiculously overpriced ticket, popcorn, and icee for about thirty bucks (seriously), went into the theater where the movie was showing, sat down, and prepared myself. I was not exactly excited, but I was interested in how creative of a story that J.J. Abrams, director of the okay Mission: Impossible 3, the good Super 8 and the solid Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness, had come up with. How could he impress me? Obviously, I knew that to even be passable, the movie would have to be really damn good. By the time it was fifteen minutes before the movie started, the theater was packed. There was not a single seat left empty in the theater.

And then the movie began. I smiled and clapped with everyone else as the opening theme blasted from the speakers and the title sequence we all knew and loved played on the screen. My smile began to slip as I realized that the opening text crawl just didn’t have that unique feel of telling its own miniature story by itself. It wasn’t grand or sweeping or epic. It didn’t immediately engage me and suck me into the world of Star Wars. And even the opening theme sounded off. And as the story began, my smile slipped farther. And when the movie ended, I was the only person in the audience that did not clap. In fact, I quickly exited the theater before anyone else did.

As I exited the cinema, I attempted to gather my thoughts and discuss the movie with myself as I drove home. But as I stepped out of the cinema doors, I realized that I remembered so little of what I had just seen. I knew I hadn’t been distracted. I knew I hadn’t fallen asleep. But I remembered maybe ten to twenty frames from the entirety of the movie. I barely remembered the elements of the story, except the realization that it mirrored the plot of A New Hope almost exactly. I realized that I hadn’t even been able to do something as simple as assign an adjective to each of the characters. I realized that none of the dialogue was quotable. I realized that the soundtrack, while well-written by the legendary John Williams, was nowhere near as memorable save for a few moments. I had been able to hum the Imperial March to myself since my early childhood. But I could not and still cannot hum the theme to be associated with the bad guys in The Force Awakens. But all of this was dwarfed by the stunning realization that dominated my brain at that moment. I realized with absolute certainty that this, above all others, was easily the worst Star Wars movie I had ever seen. Even the prequels had been better. Yes, even The Phantom Menace.

When I got home, my parents and brothers could barely believe that the new Star Wars movie was somehow bad. And then I consulted Wikipedia just to remind myself of what had even happened (if I actually had to consult Wikipedia just to remind myself of the plot, you did something wrong, movie). And that’s where I saw that the movie had received almost as good of reviews as Star Wars IV, making it the third-highest-reviewed Star Wars movie, just behind The Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope. What were the critics smoking?  The next Saturday, I tried and failed to upload a video of me talking about the movie. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t like the format my video was in, so I wasn’t able to post it. The rest of my family saw the movie about a week or so later, and while most of my family thought it was good, they understood that I didn’t like it. In fact, my mother doesn’t like it anymore. But my oldest brother, who’s two years younger than me, hated it. He agreed with me that it was definitely the worst Star Wars film. I may have not liked Star Wars VII, but I definitely didn’t think it was awful.

The movie dropped off my radar for about three months, well into my first semester of college, until I saw that it was coming to my local second-run theater. I thought to myself, I need to see this again to get a better grip on it. I need to get a better idea of what I might have missed that all the critics enjoyed. I went and saw it on March 5th. I snuck my laptop into the theater so I could take notes.

The movie was worse than I remembered. It still wasn’t absolute piss in a bucket, but still was awful. I was able to remember more of what I saw. It wasn’t much, but it was still too much.

From the instant the movie began, I noticed that the opening music actually felt way different. More hostile. Sure, it’s a new decade, and they probably needed to get a new orchestra, but come on.

We learn from the opening crawl that Luke has disappeared. Why he has done so will actually be explained later, even if it’s only in one sentence.

From the collapsed Empire, the First Order has arisen. Why didn’t they just call themselves the First or Second Galactic Empire? In the Expanded Universe, it was shown that the Empire needed more than the deaths of its two biggest leaders to collapse. In fact, the Empire lived on for over a dozen years before finally capitulating to the New Republic.

Leia Organa-Solo now leads the Resistance, which is backed by the new Republic. Why is it not still called the Rebellion? Also, if the Resistance is backed by the new Republic, and if the First Order is an up-and-coming terrorist organization and an offshoot of the collapsed Empire, shouldn’t the First Order be calling themselves the Resistance and the Resistance be calling themselves the Republic Army? Plus, the First Order sounds nowhere near as sinister as the Galactic Empire.

Leia has sent the Resistance’s best pilot to find an old ally of the Resistance on Tatooine – I mean, Jakku.

Question. Didn’t Anakin Skywalker already bring balance to the Force by killing the Emperor? Is this movie just going to ignore the prophecy? Scratch that – is it just going to ignore the prequels? I understand why, but this is a serious plothole that needs to be addressed.

Max von Sydow’s unnamed character gives Poe Dameron (Isaac) a section of a supposed map to find Luke Skywalker hidden on a futuristic flash-drive-type gizmo. Within seconds, we hear that ships from the First Order have landed. Poe puts this flash drive inside his BB-8 droid, which is essentially a smaller version of R2-D2’s head on a big ball a little smaller than a beach ball. I get that the production team actually built BB-8, but how does it last more than a second on sand? Anyway, the First Order ships land and Stormtroopers, led by Captain Phasma (Christie) who wears chrome Stormtrooper armor and a cape, come out of them, firing on villagers and killing those who try to fight back. And these new sturmtruppen look terrible. Their new costumes look like they were made on a significantly smaller budget, and they look like, well, costumes, rather than military uniforms equipped with body armor, and their blasters look more like, well, toys, rather than military-grade weaponry. Poe and BB-8 try to escape in Poe’s X-wing with Poe trying to shoot at the sturmtruppen rather than take off, but fire from the sturmtruppen prevents it from taking off. Weren’t sturmtruppen supposed to be unable to hit the side of a barn? One lone Stormtrooper (Boyega) seems to not be able to handle the violence, and his experience leaves him with a bloody handprint on his helmet from one of his fellow sturmtruppen.

Another ship, a sleeker, Imperial Shuttle-esque one, lands, and here is where we get a look at our villain: the dastardly Kylo Ren (Driver), who has probably the pussiest villain name in Star Wars movie history. The names “Darth Vader”, “The Emperor”, or Darth Sidious”, heck, even the names “Darth Maul” and “Count Dooku”, “Darth Tyranus”, “General Grievous”, and even the names “Grand Moff Tarkin” and “Boba Fett” scream evil. They emit this undeniably threatening aura. The name “Kylo Ren” does not. And then we actually see our villain, and oh my gosh, he is skinny. And his helmet is the bastard child of the helmets of Darth Vader and Darth Revan. It’s not obvious to the uninitiated, but it’s still undoubtedly a cruddy version of Darth Vader’s helmet, somehow looking less futuristic and advanced. And above all, Kylo Ren is just not threatening. What made Darth Vader stand out was his very evil look, being dressed entirely in black, and towering over everyone onscreen. He stood out from the white walls on the Tantive IV. Plus, his costume has become iconic. Thank you, David Prowse, for walking the walk, and James Earl Jones for talking the talk. Unfortunately, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is skinny, just barely taller than Max von Sydow, and his helmet’s mask has a voice changer to make his voice deeper, deeper so than James Earl Jones. Jones’s voice was relatively untampered with. Kylo Ren is one of the most annoying characters in the movie. Not his voice; not like Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks or Jake Lloyd as young Anakin Skywalker. It’s his personality. But I will go into that later. I should mention that Kylo Ren is not his real name. That name is such because Kylo Ren is the leader of a faction known as the Knights of Ren. What are the Knights of Ren? We don’t know! The movie only mentions the Knights of Ren once! I will go into greater depth with the character of “Kylo Ren” later.

Now, it was big news when Max von Sydow was cast in Star Wars VII. He was billed pretty high, too. Surely he has some decent-sized role in the movie, right? WRONG! Kylo Ren kills him before the character has even had two minutes of screentime, reducing his role to a hyper-glorified cameo! By the way, I think Kylo Ren’s new lightsaber just looks tacky. When The Phantom Menace introduced Darth Maul and his double-sided lightsaber, ass was kicked. Everyone I know will say that it kicked ass, and we will agree that it was at least one element in The Phantom Menace that kicked ass. Unfortunately, Kylo Ren’s lightsaber does not kick ass. It’s bulky and unnecessarily large. It looks like it’s about to explode all over Ren at any moment. Whenever Ren used it, I was always amazed that he didn’t chop himself up with it. You would need years and years of training just to learn how to use the damn thing. Also, Ray Park, who played Darth Maul, was an experienced martial artist with more black belts than I can shake a stick at, so he could handle his double-sided lightsaber with ease and not look like he was about to chop himself into pieces with it.

Anyway, Poe tells BB-8 to run away and attempts to snipe Kylo Ren, but Ren uses the Force to stop the blaster bolt in midair. I call BS. Poe is brought before Ren, who questions him without even thinking about the blaster bolt. Poe is taken away, and the sturmtruppen massacre the rest of the villagers. That One Stormtrooper from earlier cannot bring himself to fire a single shot. The blaster bolt from earlier is left to fire into something. Kylo Ren clearly notices that That One Stormtrooper is having conflicting thoughts, but does nothing about it because…plot, I guess. The troops leave and go to a Star Destroyer wannabe that is never fully shown.

That One Stormtrooper, whose number is FN-2187, is apparently pretty scarred from the incident. If only we actually saw more atrocities than we did, and Boyega’s acting was more convincing. Captain Phasma – oh, forget it. Her costume and name are so stupid; I’m just going to call her Chrometrooper. Chrometrooper orders FN-2187 to submit his blaster for examination and undergo some sort of psychological examination. It is in this scene that FN-2187 removes his helmet, revealing that he’s a black guy. I had no idea that these Space Nazis (quite literally) were so racially diverse. I’m not racist, and have no problems with a black Stormtrooper, but it just looks out of place.

Much like Chrometrooper. Gwendoline Christie as Chrometrooper was heavily marketed as a big character in an attempt to appeal to the Internet Nerd population. She was even more heavily marketed than Max von Sydow. I may be an Internet Nerd, but I was not impressed. But Chrometrooper is in Star Wars VII for maybe four scenes. She speaks in three of them. She has less than five lines in the first two, and maybe five in the fourth. Her role is also little more than a hyper-glorified cameo. I’m not kidding when I say that she literally has a minute and a half of screentime. Max von Sydow had more screentime.

We then meet Rey (Ridley). Her age in the movie is unknown, but Daisy Ridley is twenty-three, so I’ll judge her by that. She lives on Tatooine – I mean, Jakku – in a crashed Star Destroyer, from which she scavenges parts that she barters for food. In the one day we get to see her daily life, we see her get one quarter of a day’s rations. She’s eating less than one meal a day. And yet she looks surprisingly healthy. I call BS. She still lives there for some strange reason involving her family leaving her behind. One day, she rescues BB-8 from another scavenger who lets BB-8 go pretty easily for some reason. I don’t know how far BB-8 had to travel to get to that location, so I have the right to say that I think Rey and BB-8 encountering each other is way too convenient. Apparently, Rey can understand BB-8’s blips, beeps, and screams (how?), and learns that it is carrying important information to the Resistance.

I think that the battle on Jakku which caused the crash of that Star Destroyer would have been a better movie.

Get used to Daisy Ridley, as she can’t act to save her own life. Seriously, the only emotions she can actually emote are concerned, slightly concerned, bored, and asleep. But that’s just her vocal acting. Her facial acting consists of four facial expressions: 1) resting bitch face (pardon me), 2) widening her eyes, 3) holding her mouth agape, and 4) widening her eyes and holding her mouth agape. Thankfully, her bodily acting consists of just enough energy to not be ungodly sluggish. Seriously, Daisy Ridley gave a significantly better performance as a naked corpse in Silent Witness.

Poe is interrogated, but no one can get any information out of him until Kylo Ren is brought in. Ren tortures Poe with the Force, not killing him because plot, and learns that the information is inside of BB-8, who is still on Tatooine – sorry, Jakku – screw it, I’m just going to call it Tatooine. Why not just rely on Kylo Ren first for successful and thorough interrogation? It is about now that we meet General Hux (Gleeson), a high-ranking official of the First Order. And Domhnall Gleeson desperately wants to be Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. But Gleeson does decently enough, save for one scene which I will talk about later. But enough about him. FN-2187 breaks Poe out of his interrogation chamber through flagrantly idiotic methods, and the two steal a clearly painted black TIE fighter and escape. Why did FN-2187 rescue Poe? I can understand when FN-2187 says that it’s the right thing to do, but why was the decision made so quickly? Poe and FN-2187 introduce themselves, and Poe gives FN-2187 the name Finn.

Finn? Rey? Poe? Kylo Ren? Hux? Phasma? These names aren’t nearly as inventive as earlier Star Wars media. Hell, even the crap-ass names they came up with for Star Wars: The Clone Wars were more inventive!

Poe and Finn, in the TIE fighter, head back to Tatooine to fetch BB-8, but the Star Destroyer Wannabe shoots the TIE fighter down. We never see the crash, and we see the destroyed TIE fighter in a ridiculous position. Despite hurtling toward Tatooine’s surface at top speed, the two somehow survive. Finn is thrown from the crash somehow. Poe is nowhere to be found (and yet his jacket is still there because plot) and Finn presumes him dead. Yeah, I’m sure he’s dead. I seem to remember the trailers showing him alive and well later in the movie. How convenient that the two of them got separated. Finn forgets about Poe for now, takes Poe’s jacket which was somehow not on his body, and starts walking in an arbitrary direction. By the way, the movie never explains what happens to Poe – he just appears inexplicably later in the movie. Thas totes not lazzy ritig at al. Is totes smrt ritng lik 4 rel u stipud fagaht.

Finn coincidentally reaches the same small village where Rey trades spare parts for food each day because he and Poe totally crashed in the same general area as Rey out of all the possible places to crash on an entire goddamn planet. He comes across Rey and BB-8. Rey receives one half of a day’s rations for the parts she scavenged, and after some thought, decides that BB-8 is not for sale. After some funny business involving the shop owner ordering some thugs to steal BB-8, Rey fighting them off, BB-8 accusing Finn of stealing Poe’s jacket because he’s black (becuase that’s totally the only one of that type of jacket in the galaxy), and Rey attacking Finn, Finn lies that he’s with the Resistance, and says that the map that BB-8’s carrying leads to Luke Skywalker. Rey has always believed that Luke Skywalker was a legend, even though he was one of the biggest figures in the Rebellion. Does she at least know that it was him that destroyed the first Death Star and, according to everyone else except him, killed Darth Vader and the Emperor? Apparently not. Rey, Finn, and BB-8 don’t have much time to talk, as a TIE fighter airstrike is ordered, and the three run to Rey’s speeder, but it is blown up in the airstrike. Why was this airstrike ordered? The map that the First Order is looking for could easily be destroyed by the damn airstrike! The three then spot the Millennium Falcon sans Han Solo and Chewbacca. How effing convenient! Wait, what? The Millennium Falcon? Where are Han and Chewie? Why are they not with the Millennium Falcon? How could anyone have stolen the Falcon from Han and Chewie? Anyway, Rey, Finn, and BB-8 hijack the Falcon, which is somehow functioning after all this time, requires no keys or button combinations to activate, and is somehow travel-worthy, and after a shootout with two TIE fighters (try spinning. That’s always a good trick. [no it isnt u f*kg fagot]), they escape Tatooine, somehow not running into the Star Destroyer Wannabe, which should still be right effing there. During all of this, Rey is flying the Falcon almost effortlessly.

Aboard the Star Destroyer Wannabe, Kylo Ren is informed that Finn, Rey, and BB-8 escaped from Tatooine. As I asked myself why Ren couldn’t just do all the damn work himself, Ren then showed how much of a pussy his character is by throwing a literal temper tantrum. He gets out his lightsaber and slashes the hell out of some innocent machinery. Though I laughed in the theater, it was in this sequence that I asked the question, How has Kylo Ren not sliced himself into pieces with that thing he calls a lightsaber?

Finn, Rey, and BB-8, in the Falcon, experience a breakdown. They fix the problem, but they are captured by a First Order ship. Telling Rey that the sturmtruppen’s helmets only filter out smoke and not toxins, Finn and Rey get to work un-fixing the problem. Why the hell has the First Order never thought of adding a toxin filter to the helmets of the sturmtruppen? But the capture by the First Order is a fakeout, as this ship is actually owned by Han (Ford) and Chewie (Mayhew), who are happy to have the Falcon back in their hands again. Why the hell was it not in their hands to begin with? Sure, we get a half-assed explanation about it being stolen, but Han and Chewie would have fought to the death to keep the Falcon. Also, why the hell are they not with the Resistance? Where the hell have they been for the past thirty years? Why the hell did they leave Leia? And I know that this is kind of a nitpick, but what the hell is up with Chewie’s costume? I know it’s the same actor in it, but did they have to make a new costume? It’s definitely not the same costume I saw in the original trilogy and even in Revenge of the Sith. In fact, the overall costume design in Star Wars VII is pretty bad, especially in the case of the sturmtruppen. The costume design just doesn’t feel very Star Wars. In fact, I am stooping to the level of saying that the costumes in this should have gotten nominated for a Razzie, not an Oscar. By the way, what are those three little weird cylindrical thingies in Han’s jacket?

Anyway, after some funny business involving two gangs that Han owes money to (which include two cameos from The Raid 2), some black-market tentacle monsters that Han has aboard his ship, an obligatory “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, some really idiotically convenient circumstantial happenings, and the Falcon somehow being broken but somehow not, Han, Chewie, Rey, Finn, and BB-8 flee in the Falcon. Also, I love how Rey magically repairs the Falcon, pinpointing the problem before Han does, despite Han having flown the Falcon for over thirty years and Rey having only just flown it for the first time today. its bcuz reys a womxn and we hav 2 b incilsuv u fagat.

Kylo Ren and Hux leave the Star Destroyer Wannabe, and go to…well, what else can I call it? They go to the Death Star 3.0. The Death Star 3.0 is ten times bigger than the original Death Star. Wait, I thought that the First Order was a fringe remnant of the collapsed Empire and therefore is not the dominant force in the galaxy. How the hell did they get the resources to make a planet-sized weapon that has the ability to store all the energy of a freaking sun inside, and that has the ability to destroy multiple planets? And how the hell did they manage to conceal this weapon’s existence from the Resistance? The Death Star 3.0 is clearly part of the green screen. To describe how bad the Death Star 3.0 effects are, just imagine a circular cutout in the green-screened space filled with mist that looks like the Death Star 3.0. That effing bad. It is the worst special effect in the movie. At least the first two Death Stars were actually there. In fact, here’s the Death Star 3.0 for your viewing pleasure!

The real name of the Death Star 3.0 is Starkiller Base. And yes, I realize that Starkiller is the code name of the main character from The Force Unleashed. But thanks to effing Disney effing declaring the Expanded Universe content effing non-canon, this is apparently totally effing okay.

Plus, this is just another Death Star. Do the bad guys in Star Wars ever learn?

It is here that we meet our Darth Sidious Wannabe, Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis), leader of the First Order. And I take back what I said about the Death Star 3.0 being the worst special effect in the movie. This is the worst special effect in the movie. Here it is. Pretty unconvincing, huh?

Snoke tells Kylo Ren of an awakening in the Force that will never be addressed again in the entire movie. Also, Snoke reminds Ren (but really he’s just telling us) of his father’s identity: Han Solo. Wait, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher combined results in Adam Driver? So, this is just Jacen Solo, right? Oh, wait, this is evil Jacen Solo, so Darth Caedus. Also, here is where the Knights of Ren are mentioned for the only time in the entire movie.

Sometime around now, we get a brief exchange between Darth Caedus and a heavily burned helmet of Darth Vader. Wh – how the hell did he find that? Darth Caedus is internally conflicted, but he has resolved to finish what Darth Vader started, addressing the helmet as “grandfather”. I guess Darth Caedus is a copycat killer. Woo hoo. Also, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Darth Vader who started the Great Jedi Purge. It was the Emperor who executed Order 66. So, shouldn’t Darth Caedus be idolizing the Emperor? Plus, does he not know that Darth Vader became good before he died? Or did Luke keep that a secret?

In space, Han, Rey, and Finn have some sort of conversation about various plot points I’ve talked about already. But in this conversation, we learn that in between Return of the Jedi and … whatever the hell this crap is, the Jedi have been completely forgotten, including the fact that it was Luke that destroyed the first Death Star, and, according to common Rebel belief, killed Darth Vader and The Emperor as well. How in the holy names of God and all His angels has the galaxy forgotten about all of this?

Our heroes land on the planet Takodana (my brother and father had a decent laugh at “taco-donna”) to visit Maz Kanata (Nyong’o) for…some reason. I forget. Maz is just an alien version of Edna Mode sans accent. And her castle is…ugh…where’s the Mos Eisley Cantina when you need it? And the music being played inside…ugh…where are Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes when you need them? Han discusses stuff with Maz, a First Order spy secretly lets the First Order know that BB-8 is there, Finn breaks off from the group to get a job with…some guys, Rey tries to stop him and fails, and Rey goes down to the basement to discover a box containing…Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber. … How the hell did Maz find that lightsaber? Upon touching it, Rey has a disturbing vision involving…stuff that relates to the plot…somehow. I don’t even know. When the vision concludes, Maz finds her and tells her that she’s…special. Rey essentially says “f— this”, and runs away.

And it is in this next scene, at the Death Star 3.0, where we see Domhnall Gleeson’s ridiculously, laughably over-the-top acting. This scene is intentionally reminiscent of a Hitler speech, which should make Jews older than their seventies very uncomfortable.

Hux gives a hot-air-filled speech saying that the Republic is bad and that today it shall be destroyed by the Death Star 3.0. But Gleeson doesn’t just chew the scenery. He devours it whole. When I first saw this movie in theaters, I burst out laughing at this scene. And then the guy sitting next to me told me to shut the f—k up or he’d shut me up. The guy next to him then told him to shut the f—k up. I thanked the second guy, and burst out laughing at Gleeson’s acting again.

Hux gives the order to fire. The energy beam that the Death Star 3.0 fires is red rather than green, and the beam splits into multiple beams. Darth Caedus, on his ship, watches the beam fly past. We see that J.J. Abrams has graduated to red lens flares. Each of these beams hit a planet and destroy it. The soundtrack says that this is supposed to be a devastating scene, as the Republic is being destroyed. But the Republic has not only been mentioned very few times in the movie, but we’ve never seen it onscreen, so this scene feels pointless. What reason do we even have to be devastated by this destruction? Are there any characters we know on these planets? Heck, none of these planets are Coruscant. Why has the Galactic Senate relocated? Or was this even the Senate? The aftermath of this genocide is never expanded upon, and never seems to matter to anyone after it happens. In fact, even mentioning the idea that the Republic has reorganized after the death of Vader and the Emperor was completely pointless. The movie could have just said that the Empire was still going strong and that the Rebellion was still fighting against it.

Back on Takodana, Finn sees the destruction, ditches his new employers, and rejoins Han and Chewie. Maz gives Finn the lightsaber. But when asked where and how she found it, she dodges the question by saying that it’s a tale for another day. To give you an idea of how stupid this is, Corporal Hicks used the same idea to explain his survival in Aliens: Colonial Marines, a game that made many “Worst Games of 2013” lists. Dammit, Maz! This is an important question! Tell us how you found the lightsaber! First Order forces land and start shooting up the place, and Finn gets the lightsaber out and starts using it. Obviously, no Average Joe can just pick up a lightsaber, as Finn clearly has no idea what he’s doing with it. Though he kills a few sturmtruppen with it, once he gets his hands on a blaster, he’s able to contribute more to the fight. After some funny business involving a weird Stormtrooper who’s clearly trying to make the most out of his one scene that carries some sort of weapon that’s able to withstand a lightsaber, Finn, Han, and Chewie are captured. Of course Han and Chewie got themselves captured again. However, a Resistance X-wing strike force comes in and quickly overwhelms the sturmtruppen. In fact, Poe is leading this strike force. And I’m not a fan of the X-wings’ new paint job. And I call BS on Poe destroying five TIE fighters in less than ten seconds. But off in the nearby woods, Rey is accosted and captured by Darth Caedus after somehow having become a perfect freaking shot with her blaster pistol when compared to legions of sturmtruppen that have trained their entire lives for crap like this, but BB-8 escapes and rejoins Han, Chewie, Finn, and the Resistance. I love how Darth Caedus thinks that he doesn’t need BB-8 now despite it having the freaking star map, and can just decipher the map from Rey’s conciousness And it is in the sequence in which Rey is captured that John Boyega showcases his own few seconds of over-the-top acting.

FINN: [Sees KYLO REN’s ship take off with the captive REY inside.] NO! REEEEEEEEEEEEEEYYYY!

Why did the Resistance strike force never think to at least disable Darth Caedus’s ship?

As the sturmtruppen retreat, a Resistance ship lands, and at long last, we get to see Leia (Fisher) and C-3PO (Daniels), and oh, wow, has Leia gotten old. Leia has a significantly less tacky hairstyle, and 3PO has a red left arm. We never learn why 3PO has a new arm. Han and Leia have a very deadpan reunion, and of course 3PO never knows when to shut up. Also, it’s been at least thirty years since Leia was made aware by Luke of her capacity for Force usage, and yet Leia has not capitalized on it one bit. By the way, this is totally what the fans wanted to see. They totally wanted to see one of their favorite badass onscreen couples GET DIVORCED.

Han, Chewie, Finn, and the Resistance forces leave Takodana and fly to some planet in the…uh…Ilenian system? I think that’s how it’s spelled. Poe reunites with BB-8, and then reunites with Finn with a bro hug. I know that Poe survived the crash earlier, but he only tells us that he was thrown from the crash. He does not tell us how he made it back to the Resistance. R2-D2 is seen, but it has deactivated itself since Luke’s disappearance. Finn somehow knows info about the Death Star 3.0, and he is brought into the Resistance HQ. It is here that Finn and Poe tell us that the Death Star 3.0 is about the size of a small planet. Finn somehow knows all about the Death Star 3.0 because…plot. It forms its beams of energy that it uses to destroy planets by sucking every last bit of energy from a star, hence the name Starkiller Base. And Neil Degrasse Tyson was quick to point out that trying to fit all of the energy from a star into a terrestrial weapon would vaporize the planet. But Finn points out that the Death Star 3.0 has some sort of oscillator that, according to fans, negates that risk.

Fans of Star Wars VII, please stop trying to tell me that the oscillator negates the risk of the planet getting vaporized. You’d need a pretty big oscillator to do that. One that’s much bigger than the one on the Death Star 3.0.

Also, where the hell is Lando? This is a big character to leave out of your movie. I can understand not having Wedge Antilles there because Denis Lawson said that the movie would have bored him, but what was Billy Dee Williams’s excuse? Oh, I know why. Disney just didn’t cast him for some reason, much to the displeasure of fans.

Poe plans to lead the fleet of X-wings to the Death Star 3.0 to destroy the oscillator, because of course the big bad superweapon has a weak spot that the bad guys have overlooked. After Leia implores Han to bring their son home, Finn, Han, and Chewie sneak in ahead of the fleet to disable the shield and rescue Rey. And then we get this little exchange:

HAN: What was your job when you were based here?

FINN: Sanitation.

HAN: [Immediately incensed. Slams FINN against a wall.] Sanitation? Then how do you know how to disable the shield?

FINN: I don’t. I’m just here to get Rey.

HAN: [Taken aback.] People are counting on us! The galaxy is counting on us!

FINN: So? We’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force.

HAN [Taken even farther aback.] That’s not how the Force works!

CHEWIE: Aghh-rrrgh-urrgh.

HAN: Oh, you’re cold?

Best damn exchange in the entire movie.

Oh, and I just realized the racist implications of the black guy being the sanitation worker. HA.

Darth Caedus enters Rey’s interrogation chamber. He takes off his mask to reveal that…he’s just a normal guy. No scars, burn damage or anything. Give me a moment; I want to address the rest of the scene before I rant again. Darth Caedus attempts to interrogate Rey and…somehow get the map from inside her head. But Rey turns the interrogation around on him with her newfound Force powers (uh…), and she learns that Darth Caedus is a whiny, insecure little emo manchild that idolizes his grandpa. It’s all Rey can do to not laugh at his baby face. As if we needed any more reasons why Darth Caedus is such a non-threat. Darth Caedus leaves in frustration and whines and complains to Snoke. It’s the equivalent of passing yourself off as a big bad bully, but when you get the absolute crap kicked out of you in a fight, you limp away, bloody, bruised, and crying, saying, “I let you win!” Meanwhile, Rey tricks her single guard (Daniel Craig cameo) into letting her go and giving her his weapon. Rey flees the room, and when Darth Caedus returns, he throws another temper tantrum.

First problem with the scene, Darth Caedus. Darth Vader wore a helmet because it was physically necessary. He needed it to survive. Darth Caedus wears his helmet because he’s insecure, and wants to be like Darth Vader. Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader because of severe emotional trauma. He had foreseen his wife dying in childbirth, he was desperate for any way to save her, and he was finally claimed by the dark side when she died. He didn’t even know that the child(ren) had survived until The Empire Strikes Back. Jacen Solo became Darth Caedus out of insecurity and other reasons that we’re going to have to wait for the sequels to learn. If you really want to make your character a threatening villain, this is not how you go about it. Our villain is little more than a cosplaying child. He was picked on in the lunchroom in elementary school, and now he’s made a planet-sized wedgie machine, but when he picks a fight and gets his scrawny ass kicked, he’ll limp away from the fight, bloodied and bruised, shouting “I let you win!” That reminds me – why is Jacen Solo Darth Caedus to begin with? When and why did he leave his family to join the dark side? I know that I forgot to mention that Luke took Jacen under his wing to teach him the ways of the Force and that Jacen rebelled and became Darth Caedus, but we’ve never learned why.

Second, there’s Rey. Are we seriously expected to buy Rey just learning how to use the Force in seconds? It takes years to learn to use the Force. It took Anakin Skywalker years to learn how to use it correctly, and he was the Chosen One! It took him until he was twentysomething and in the middle of the Clone Wars to earn the rank of Jedi Knight! Why is Rey so good at using the Force now? Rey didn’t even know that the Force even existed until that very freaking day! I understand that you want a strong female character. I get that. In fact, I’m totally for that. But you have to make your character realistic and human. That’s how we identify with them. But this is just ridiculous.

Third, screw Snoke and all of the subpar CGI in this movie. Go back to costumes like in the original trilogy! At least they were actually there and looked impressive! Here, I know that these creatures are not actually there. For comparison, I shall bring in the bear from The Revenant. That was CGI. And I believed that that bear was really there and attacking Leonardo DiCaprio.

It is now that the First Order begins to harvest the energy of the nearest star, much like the Sun Harvester in Transformers 2. I think Star Wars VII needs a science lesson: A star is not a big ball that happens to be on fire. Stars are made up entirely of gas and plasma, mostly superheated hydrogen and helium. If the energy of a star is sucked away as if through a gigantic straw, it would not recede like the tide going out. The star would just shrink.

Strangely, the Resistance, knowing that the Death Star 3.0 is about to fire on them, make no attempt to evacuate.

Finn, Han, and Chewie enter the base, force Chrometrooper to lower the shields, and toss her into a trash compactor. That was unnecessarily cruel, but considering that Gwendoline Christie’s reprising her role in Star Wars VIII, she’s still alive.

So that means that Chrometrooper has done absolutely nothing in the entire movie. That’s…actually kind of funny.

Poe shows up with a fighting force of maybe thirty to forty X-wings. That’s pretty pitiful considering the number of TIE fighters at the Death Star 3.0. At least half of the X-wings are shot down pretty quickly. And the battle is pretty terribly structured. All of the other movies had better space battles than this. Oh, wait. The Force Awakens has no space battle. In fact, so little of The Force Awakens takes place in space. The X-wings fail to destabilize the oscillator on the first run, so they go back around again.

Oh, and by the way, apparently the Death Star 3.0 won’t detect you if you just haul ass directly at it and don’t pull out of light speed until you’re maybe about a thousand miles above the surface. YOLO! Remember when light speed travel required precise calculations?

Han, Chewie, and Finn coincidentally run into Rey. They set explosive charges to the oscillator. However, Darth Caedus senses their presence, and takes a squad of sturmtruppen down to the oscillator. Darth Caedus walks out onto a walkway over the oscillator’s reactor for some reason. Han sees this happen, walks out to the walkway himself, and calls his son’s name. And his name is not Jacen. Darth Caedus’s real name is Ben.

What reason did Han and Leia have to call their son Ben? Luke Skywalker at least had a reason to name his son Ben; it was the fake name that Obi-wan Kenobi had used for years. Luke and Obi-wan had had what could be considered almost a father-son relationship. Luke naming his own son Ben was his way of naming him after Obi-wan. Leia only knew Ben as Obi-wan. Han is the only parent in this situation to have ever known Obi-wan as Ben, but he was never shown to have been that affected by Obi-wan in any of the previous movies.

Since this is not Jacen Solo, I can’t just call Kylo Ren Darth Caedus. So what should I call him, then? Hold it – an idea just came to me.

So Han tries to talk to Pussy Darth Vader Wannabe, whose performance ranges from slightly bland to a very strange display of emotion. But as Harrison Ford is desperately trying to act off of Adam Driver, he starts to show that he’s starting to get a little decrepit. I like him as an actor as much as the next person, but ever since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, his age has really been starting to show. But Ford shows his age in not only becoming less able to do action scenes, but by straight-up forgetting to act in some scenes. Like this one. Ford’s mood in this scene never strays from “I’m done with Star Wars. This is my last scene. Just finish it, give me my check, and let me go home.” This is particularly evident, as Han’s tone of voice barely shifts from “Leia told me to bring you home, so I guess I have to do it.”

Han tells Pussy Darth Vader Wannabe that he and Leia miss him, that he has become Snoke’s pawn, and that he should come home. PDVW tells his father that he’s being internally torn apart, and that he needs his help. Han quickly agrees to help him. I personally would have told him, “All you need to do is toss that helmet and that lightsaber over the side, and go home to your family.” Had Han said that, PDVW might actually have done it. But Han doesn’t. And as Finn, Rey, and Chewie watch, PDVW shanks Han with his lightsaber. Gasp! PDVW shot first!

HAN: I love you.

PDVW: I know.

Han briefly caresses his son’s face before he falls off the walkway into the oscillator’s reactor.

I stood up in the theater and yelled, “Oh, come on!” I am not the only guy to get pissed at that. The Force Awakens just killed off the only major character from the original trilogy that had a starring role in the first installment of the sequel trilogy. Though to be perfectly honest, once I removed that reaction from my brain the second time I watched the scene, I realized just how unintentionally hilarious it was. I seriously laughed for ten freaking minutes.

Yes, I get that PDVW is not a straight-up evildoer, and that he’s more emotionally complex than that. I get that he’s a person behind that mask. But here’s the thing. When the original trilogy began, Darth Vader was just a big, bad man in a mask. But as the trilogy went on, we slowly learned about Darth Vader’s inner struggles, and by the end of the trilogy, he became a really tragic figure. And PDVW is a poor recreation of Darth Vader. His internal emotional turmoils were revealed too early, and now, PDVW’s emotional journey has pretty much nowhere new to go, and he as a character has no new territory he can explore, save for either turning good at the end, or remaining evil. Oh, and it’s pretty obvious that he will inevitably sacrifice himself for the good of the galaxy, just like Darth Vader.

Finn and Rey shout “NO”, Chewie screams, and Leia, who’s still back at Resistance HQ, makes a sad face. And then the death of Han is pretty much forgotten. Come on, I felt more emotion when Han was frozen in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back, and felt even more when the movie ended on one of the biggest and greatest cliffhangers in film history! Darth Vader got his own funeral scene! Obi-wan Kenobi’s death affected Luke Skywalker for the rest of the original trilogy!

Chewie takes advantage of PDVW’s distraction to shoot him in the side. I called BS, as PDVW had previously been able to stop a blaster bolt in midair. He was even able to keep that blaster bolt in midair while killing Max von Sydow! Is a blaster bolt from a Wookiee bowcaster just too strong? Couldn’t he have just blocked it with his lightsaber? How strong even is PDVW? Considering the first scene of the entire movie, are we to just assume that he’s that powerful and not to be effed with? If so, then why is he so weak in this scene?

Finn, Rey, and Chewie escape the base as Chewie detonates the explosives in the oscillator, seriously damaging it. Chewie goes a different way than Rey and Finn go, and makes it to the Falcon. It is now that the Death Star 3.0 finishes sucking the star dry. Considering that the star was about the same size as our sun but is much closer to the Death Star 3.0, Finn and Rey have maybe four or five minutes before the planet completely freezes. Rey and Finn are accosted by PDVW, who briefly incapacitates Rey. Finn pulls out Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber and duels PDVW. As expected, PDVW quickly gains the upper hand, injures Finn, and renders him down for the count. Though, to be honest, I’m actually pretty stunned that Finn, a non-Force-user, held his own against a Sith Lord that spent most of his life being trained by Luke freaking Skywalker for as long as he did. Rey comes to. PDVW attempts to Force Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber into his hand, but Rey out-Force-es him. Seriously, she out-Force-es a freaking Sith Lord. She duels PDVW. I was hoping for another black Jedi, but instead we just got serious suspension of disbelief.

Meanwhile, Poe and the remaining X-wings are getting their asses handed to them on silver platters. Poe sees the explosion caused by Chewie, and rallies the remaining X-wings for a final push. They cover him as he just blasts the heck out of the oscillator, finally destabilizing it and causing the Death Star 3.0 to start falling apart.

And after about a minute of getting her ass handed to her, PDVW offers to teach Rey in the ways of the Force. Reminded of the Force’s existence, Rey calls upon the Force and immediately turns the duel on PDVW. And she kicks his ass, despite not having known of the existence of the Force until that very freaking day. She seriously injures him, but before she can kill him, the Death Star 3.0 further starts falling apart, and a crack separates the two. She returns to Finn, even though Finn was clearly on PDVW’s side of the crack, and Finn and Rey are rescued by the Falcon.

Snoke orders Hux to bring PDVW to him to complete his training. The sequence of PDVW’s rescue is never shown.

The Falcon and the remaining X-wings flee the Death Star 3.0 as it goes boom in one of the worst explosion effects I’ve ever seen as the Death Star 3.0 transforms into a small star. The scene from 2010: The Year We Make Contact in which the monoliths transform Jupiter into the star Lucifer looks infinitely more convincing than this.

First, we have Rey. Usage of the Force came to her within seconds. And now lightsaber combat comes to her in seconds. Luke trained with Yoda for months and still got his ass handed to him by Darth Vader. Yet Rey can pick up a lightsaber and kick the ass of PDVW in seconds? Again, I’m all for having a strong female character in a movie, but this character has to be realistic! If she’s not realistic, she loses her humanity, we can’t identify with her, and any of her potential of becoming a well-known hero is gone.

Second, the Death Star 3.0 was able to be destroyed just by blasting the oscillator. It didn’t require a precise proton torpedo shot or going into the reactor core and bombarding it until it’s destroyed. It was just blasted willy-nilly with the laser cannons of an X-wing fighter! Starkiller Base was thrown in late in the movie and all of a sudden became a driving plot point, but prior to its introduction, the movie was entirely focused on the search for Luke Skywalker. Do you remember the Rebels in A New Hope? Their entire goal in the movie was to destroy the Death Star before it could destroy them. This all led up to the Battle of Yavin. However, in The Force Awakens, the Resistance’s goal was to find Luke. But when the Death Star 3.0 was brought to their attention, they quickly switched their goal to “Oh, wait! We gotta blow this thing up first.” Also, when exactly did PDVW build the Death Star 3.0? The lack of explanation is lazy and presumptuous.

Finn, Rey, Chewie, and the remaining X-wing fleet return to Resistance HQ. Finn is taken to the medical bay for his injuries. The movie forgets about Poe. Leia ignores Chewie. Rey and Leia hug despite not knowing each other. R2-D2 reactivates (HOW? WHY?), much to the joy of 3PO and BB-8. We bear witness to the film’s biggest Deus ex Machina: R2 has the rest of the map to Luke Skywalker in his system. BB-8 completes the map, revealing that Luke Skywalker is on…some unnamed planet. Why did Luke leave a freaking map instead of coordinates? And why did he give the last section to Max von Sydow? How does Luke even know Max von Sydow? Also, with R2 having an incomplete map, couldn’t the Resistance have possibly singled out an area where Luke might be?

Finn is still comatose from his fight with PDVW, so Rey bids him goodbye while banishing him to the friendzone. She takes Chewie and R2 in the Falcon to go find Luke. Leia stays behind because reasons.

And they find Luke on some unnamed planet. Yeah. Screw the Resistance; they’ve only been spending the entire freaking runtime of the movie trying to find him; Rey finds him like that *snaps fingers*! Rey finds Luke standing out in the open. Rey presents him with his father’s lightsaber.

Now, Mark Hamill reprising his role as Luke Skywalker was heavily advertised. So you’d expect him to do something cool, right? WRONG! Luke doesn’t take his lightsaber. He doesn’t even get to say a line. All we get is a terrible 360 shot before we iris out and see the end credits.

The first time I saw this in theaters, I facepalmed as literally everyone else clapped.

It is the worst Star Wars movie I have ever seen for a reason.

Literally everything Luke, Leia and Han fought to achieve, what countless Rebels fought and died for, and what finally drove Anakin Skywalker to return to the light side of the Force and sacrifice his own life for, WAS ALL FOR NOTHING. Seriously, just think about it: the Galactic Empire is back as the First Order, with forces more numerous and weaponry many times more powerful than ever before, and is again led by two Sith. Luke’s new Jedi Order has been completely destroyed, and he is so ashamed that he has gone into hiding. Han and Leia’s love has fallen apart, their own son has turned to the dark side and has become a mass murderer on a galaxy-wide scale and worships Darth Vader, and Han has even abandoned the Rebellion for a time. The galaxy has even completely forgotten just what the Rebellion has done for the galaxy. Everything that Luke, Leia, Han, and countless rebels fought and died to achieve has been for absolutely nothing; worse, the galaxy is now in an even worse position because of what they did. Move aside before you break a hip, you geriatric geezers, it’s time for the next generation to step forward!

I was not kidding when I said that The Force Awakens is worse than the prequels by a long shot. Do you know what the prequels did? They actually tried. Whether or not it all worked out is another question entirely. But at least the prequels introduced subjects into the Star Wars universe that were new and unheard of at the time.

But The Force Awakens is basically the same script as A New Hope. It’s the same story with the same characters, but with the original characters shoehorned in because fanservice. Really, the only thing different between The Force Awakens and A New Hope is a slightly different tone.

And people ate it all up, giving the film over two billion dollars. How did Disney and J.J. Abrams manage to repackage A New Hope and resell it to audiences a second time thirty-eight years later? Because it’s exactly what audiences wanted. They wanted the exact same movie, repackaged and resold. It was a corporate repackaging of a nostalgic product purely for the sake of making one of the most massive film profits in history. It was a cautious retread done for job security and to milk every last teat dry on the cash cow, made up entirely of pandering to the fans. And audiences ate it up. I can’t say that The Force Awakens insulted its audience’s intelligence, because these trained seals and moronic sycophants that make up this movie’s audience have no intelligence to insult. Bread and circuses, people. Bread and circuses. It’s times like these that make my faith in humanity drop that much lower. Imagine that you got the A New Hope DVD a few Christmases ago. You’re expecting a Christmas gift from your friend this year, but he has no idea what to give you. So he sneakily steals your A New Hope DVD, gift wraps it, slaps a snazzy bow on top, and gives it to you for Christmas. That’s how I feel. Now get the hell out of my house.

Though to be honest, I can’t really get too aggravated at this movie. It had a lot of expectations it needed to fulfill. It needed to satisfy every single Star Wars and/or Internet nerd’s lofty demands. It needed to apologize for some of the mistakes made in the prequel trilogy. It had to reintroduce the franchise to a new generation. It had to make enough money to pay for the rest of the franchise an hundredfold. It needed to tell an interesting, well-written, memorable story. It needed to introduce a new set of characters while still featuring the old ones, and make the new characters interesting, well-written, and memorable. It needed to showcase the talents of a slew of newcomer actors and rising stars. And it also had to be a good movie in the process. No pressure. And to be honest, I realize and respect that a lot of effort went into making this movie. But some areas were worked on harder than others. And the areas that were neglected should have been the ones worked on the hardest.

The plot had no structure, no driving Force. Ho, ho. This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, all with no plot threads connecting them. In fact, even though the story is very small-scale, it felt very rushed, despite the fact that a ninety-minute story is being stretched out to fill a one-hundred-and-thirty-five-minute movie. It’s pacing was very, shall we say, spastic. It felt like the shortest Star Wars movie I had ever seen. It simply has no time to tell a good story or develop interesting, relatable characters.

It was a complete retread of A New Hope, from the cute droid on a secret mission to the big bad superweapon that can destroy planets. And fans of this movie need to stop trying to tell me that The Force Awakens needed to prove itself by redoing familiar material. Just rehashing old, worn material is no way to prove yourself if you do it in such an immature, arrogant, lazy, politically correct way. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Kotaku put it perfectly:

“If Kylo Ren drops an ‘I am your brother’ bombshell on Rey, I’m totally going to walk out of the cinema.”

So let me rephrase parts of the plot for you so I can further overstate my case. The film starts with the Galactic Empire – I mean, the First Order – pursuing a Rebel leader – I mean, a Resistance pilot – who has the Death Star plans – I mean, a star map to Luke Skywalker’s location. The Rebel leader – I mean, Resistance pilot – stores the information inside of R2-D2 – I mean, BB-8 – who flees into the deserts of Tatooine – I mean, Jakku – to somehow get the Death Star plans – I mean, star chart – back to the Rebel Alliance – I mean, the Resistance. The very literal Space Nazis are led by an evil Sith Lord named Darth Vader – I mean, Pussy Darth Vader Wannabe – who was once the apprentice of Obi-Wan Kenobi – I mean, Luke Skywalker – but turned to the dark side because of all sorts of emotional trauma – I mean … oh yeah, we literally have no reason why PDVW turned to the dark side. On another part of Tatooine – I mean, Jakku – lives Luke Skywalker – I mean Rey. R2-D2 – I mean, BB-8 – conveniently finds Luke – I mean Rey. Luke – I mean, Rey – through perilous circumstances, meets up with Obi-Wan Kenobi – I mean, Han Solo – who will serve as a mentor figure. Toss in a space cantina scene. We learn that the Galactic Empire – I mean, the First Order – has created a massive Death Star – I mean, Starkiller Base – that has the ability to fire a laser beam to destroy a planet – I mean, multiple planets. Show an actual planet-destroying scene. The heroes sneak into the Death Star – I mean, Starkiller Base – and disable a particular system in it. They escape, but Obi-Wan – I mean, Han Solo – dies. The Rebels – I mean, Resistance – discuss how to destroy the Death Star – I mean, Starkiller Base – which has an easily exploitable weak point that only a group of small fighters can access. The fighters can fly through a trench-like structure and blast the weak point, somehow conveniently blowing the whole damn thing up. That happens. The Force Awakens even tosses in a scene from The Empire Strikes Back in which Luke – I mean, Rey – leaves the Rebels – I mean, the Resistance – to seek out Yoda – I mean, Luke Skywalker. OBVIOUS YET?

The only way to impress anyone (namely me) with a new Star Wars movie is to create an original story, and do it well. Tell an original story. Bring back the old characters and give them starring roles. Introduce the new stars, but make sure that the old stars are still stars instead of side characters. Write a good script. Have memorable, well-written dialogue. Compose a memorable soundtrack. I know that J.J. Abrams has the ability to head all that. He’s done it before with both of the solid Star Trek movies, Super 8, and Mission: Impossible 3 to a lesser extent. In fact, I feel like this movie’s failure (in my eyes) was the fault of Disney, not Abrams.

Do you remember that A New Hope was a standalone story? The Force Awakens is not. Too many plot points were either not explained or simply alluded to. It’s okay to do this in the sequels, but never in your first movie. The only nod to a sequel to A New Hope was Darth Vader escaping in the end.

The number of in-jokes in The Force Awakens was absolutely excessive. It’s the equivalent of a guy sitting next to you, constantly roughly elbowing you in the ribs, getting in your face, and loudly exclaiming, “Hey! Hey! Remember what franchise this is? Remember what franchise this is! This is Star Wars! This is Star Wars, goddammit! Hey! Hey! Hey! Asshat! Remember what franchise this is! Hey!” The guy has yellowed teeth, horrible breath, dirty clothes, urine-stained pants, grimy hands, dandruff to the nth degree, and hasn’t showered in months. He occasionally stops to pick his nose and scratch his ass. It’s literally impossible to turn away and ignore him. Oh, and you’re sitting next to him on a bus trip from Seattle to Miami. Annoying yet?

At the end of Return of the Jedi, a new era of peace began with the collapse of the Empire. It took years for the Empire to finally collapse. The galaxy entered a new era of peace which was quickly ended by the rise of the First Order. So what is the political climate in The Force Awakens? Are the First Order in control of the galaxy, or are they just a newly emerging threat? If the Republic is in power, why is the Resistance called the Resistance? The prequel trilogy got criticized for being too involved in political maneuvers. The Force Awakens went too far in the opposite direction.

If casting a black guy, a British woman, and a Hispanic guy as the leads was done to be politically correct, then why would you do it in the first place? It’s pointless.

Speaking of political correctness, why is Rey made to be a perfect character? How is she able to understand BB-8’s chatter? How is she such a good mechanic? How was she able to fly the Millennium Falcon flawlessly? How was she able to learn to properly use the Force in seconds? How was she able to take on PDVW in lightsaber combat and not only not get killed in seconds, but actually defeat him over the course of about two minutes? While I admire the fact that her morals are sound, it’s the degree to which it went to.  Luke Skywalker was flawed. He was headstrong. He was impatient. And that was his downfall in his first duel with Darth Vader. He finally overcame those flaws in Return of the Jedi. Rey is completely flawless to the point of being ridiculous and unrealistic. When she’s so good at everything and has literally no relatable character flaws, she ceases to become relatable, and therefore ceases to be human. But hey, it’s the age of the social justice warrior, and if Rey is even the slightest bit imperfect, then the insane, overly sensitive, loud, shrill, easily offended harpies will go ballistic.

Finn’s kind of a weakling, Rey’s “Practically Perfect in Every Way”, Poe’s barely in the movie, Han’s getting really old, Chewie’s not as much of a big, furry, lovable goof as he used to be, Ben “Kylo Ren” Solo is a pissy pussy (HE’S SO WHINY AND ANGSTY! HE’S LIKE BELLA FROM TWILIGHT!), Snoke’s just not threatening, Hux is over-the-top, Captain “Chrometrooper” Phasma is underused, and Luke and Leia don’t get nearly enough screen time.

At least the acting was decent. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher did as well as they could, considering how little material they had to work with. Peter Mayhew was Peter Mayhew. Sure, John Boyega was cheesy at times, but he did pretty decently for being this early in his career. Daisy Ridley was insufferable. Adam Driver was really weird when his helmet was off, but when the helmet was on, he did at least okay. Oscar Isaac at least acted like a badass, but he didn’t have enough screen time to cement his character. Domhnall Gleeson was actually pretty good when he wasn’t laughably over-the-top. Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, and Anthony Daniels, to a greater extent than Oscar Isaac, simply didn’t have enough screen time to properly cement their characters, though they did well with what they had.

The cinematography was unflattering and at times awkward. The battle sequences were rushed and not thought out.

And my final question is this: What awakening in the Force even happened? If this is what consists as an awakening in the Force, I can’t wait until Episode VIII: The Force Says “F— That Noise” and Episode IX: The Force Goes Back to Sleep.

Because this is just ridiculous. It will never measure up to the original Star Wars.

And to me, it will never be canon.

Final verdict: .5 out of 5 stars.

 Review 72: The Pyramid (1/5)

The Pyramid

Directed by Gregory Levasseur

Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare, James Buckley, Christa-Marie Nicola, Amir K

Released on December 5, 2014

Running time: 1h 29m

Rated R

Genre: Horror

In 2013, the citizens of Egypt revolted against the government led by the relatively new President Mohamed Morsi after a constitutional declaration that would give Morsi unlimited power. I personally thought that Morsi was just as bad as, if not worse than Hosni Mubarak. Well, I had already detested the Muslim Brotherhood for years, and was not happy to see them take charge of Egypt. So, obviously, I was relieved when Morsi was ousted.

While The Pyramid is set during this time, the revolts by the Egyptian populace are simply mentioned but once. Scratch that – the revolts were shown, but they were never explained or given context. In fact, they are pretty much ignored, as there are much more important things happening – a new Egyptian pyramid has been discovered. It has been buried below the sand for the past several thousand years. This pyramid is a triangular pyramid rather than a square pyramid, and it is over six hundred feet tall – over one hundred and forty-five feet taller than Khufu’s Great Pyramid.

This pyramid has been discovered by an archaeological team led by Dr. Miles Holden (O’Hare), his daughter, Dr. Nora Holden (Hinshaw). I buy Nora being an archaeologist about as much as I buy Denise Richards being a nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough, or Tara Reid being an anthropologist in Alone in the Dark. Both Drs. Holden are being interviewed by award-winning documentarian Sunni Marsh (Nicola) and her cameraman, Terry “Fitzy” Fitsimmons (Buckley). While Dr. Holden mentions that he believes that this pyramid may be the lost pyramid of Amenhotep IV, better known as Akhenaten, Nora believes that this pyramid’s purpose was entirely different. Dr. Holden’s belief that this is Akhenaten’s pyramid is only mentioned once by himself and once by Nora. It is forgotten pretty quickly, and it is replaced by Nora’s belief that this pyramid holds potentially revolutionary secrets.

Before I continue, here’s a bit of history. Since the movie’s titular pyramid was mentioned to be the final resting place of Akhenaten, I thought I’d give some background. Amenhotep IV got the idea to switch Egypt from its typical polytheistic religion that worshiped gods such as Ra, Amun, Horus, Osiris, Anubis, and various others, to a monotheistic religion that believed solely in a new sun god named Aten. Akhenaten had a son, who he named Tutankhaten to honor Aten. After his death, the monotheistic practices were abolished, and the polytheistic religion we all learn about was reinstated. Tutankhaten was renamed Tutankhamun to honor the god Amun-Ra (Amun and Ra were combined into one god after the resurgence of Egypt after the Hyksos invasion).

Anyway, satellite imagery reveals a tunnel that leads to the apex of a pyramid. The hired excavation team breaches the tunnel, which leaks a toxic, acidic green gas that kills a worker, and leads to a pointless jumpscare. Uh…I’m pretty sure air stuck underground will just turn into carbon dioxide, rather than turn green and become acidic. Later that day, the team is ordered to leave because of the Egyptian revolts spreading to Giza. The Drs. Holden get into an argument about whether or not they should leave, because they have no idea when they will be able to return. After some frank exchanges of ideas, the group, comprised of Dr. Holden, Nora, Sunni, Fitzy, and Nora’s friend Michael Zahir (K) decide to send in WALL-E – I mean, Shorty – no, screw it, I’ll call it WALL-E. I didn’t like WALL-E, so I can totally use it to mock The Pyramid. The group sends WALL-E into the tunnel, using the two cameras on its head to view the inside and read the hieroglyphs on the walls. Thankfully, we have both Drs. Holden here to translate the glyphs for us. And of course they scream despair, doom, death, and damnation. Two jumpscares happen as a creature slinks past WALL-E’s cameras and a few creatures attack WALL-E, causing it to go offline. Quick – send in EVE to fetch him! It turns out that WALL-E was a several-million-dollar robot, and on loan from NASA, so the group decides to go in to fetch WALL-E. An Egyptian soldier named Shadid shows up and orders them to leave, but Zahir convinces Shadid to back off.

The group goes in to fetch WALL-E and quickly become lost after coming to a fork in the passage and climbing up and back down a hole. Uh, you could just look at the sand-and-dust-covered floor and find the passage that has footprints in it. The group picks the wrong passage and arrives at a room with, to their horror, a floor that’s about to collapse. Instead of staying next to the walls where the floor is strongest, the group decides to cut across the middle. Sure enough, the floor collapses. Conveniently, the camera cuts out when they fall, and comes back on well after they’ve hit the ground. After they get up and try to get moving, a piece of the floor above falls and crushes Zahir’s leg, giving us another cheap jumpscare. Strangely, after Zahir is given water, his moans of pain stop.

Sunni sees a hole in the ceiling that she can climb up, thinking that she can get back to where they were and find a way out. She climbs up the shaft, coming to a small hole just small enough for a person to not be able to fit. She shines her flashlight down the hole, showing a strange, hairless creature. In another terrible jumpscare, the creature rushes at her and scratches her face. Sunni falls down the thirty-foot shaft and is somehow uninjured, save for her scratch. Bullhonky. Promising to come back for Zahir, the group exits the chamber through a passage they suddenly find. While proceeding through it, they hear Zahir scream. The Drs. Holden run back to the room only to find Zahir gone and an unrealistically large trail of blood leading up a wall. And for some reason, when the Drs. Holden rejoin Sunni and Fitzy, Dr. Holden says that Zahir tried to move the rock and that it fell over and crushed him. Why would he say that? It’s an obvious lie, as both Fitzy and Sunni call him out. And Nora seems to be in on this lie. Why?

The group comes to a tunnel that they start to crawl through. But while they do so, they hear the same creature that attacked Sunni. This time, these creatures have appeared in large numbers. But the group hears Shadid calling for them. How did he find his way in here? In a pointless chase sequence, the group crawls away from the creatures, and are pulled out of the other end of the tunnel by Shadid. The creatures burst through the other end of the tunnel, but don’t attack. The creatures are revealed to be hairless, feral cats that have survived for thousands of years through cannibalism. I would presume that these are Sphynx cats. Pity – Sphynx cats are cute, even though they’re hairless. As Shadid is standing by the tunnel, two clawed hands burst out in another jumpscare and grab Shadid. Shadid is snapped in half as he is dragged into the tunnel and killed.

The group comes to a wall that depicts a carving of the Egyptian Final Judgement. I will explain what that is later. Dr. Holden explains to Fitzy and Sunni that in this Judgement, the Egyptian person’s heart would be weighed by Anubis against Ma’at, the goddess of truth. I balked at this, and I personally told the screen that that was wrong, and that an Egyptologist should know better. I then personally explained the Egyptian Final Judgement to the screen. Again, I will explain later, because there is a forthcoming scene that also gets the Judgement wrong.

The group comes to another passage, this one having lion heads carved into the wall just below the ceiling. Dr. Holden sees three rocks held up by ropes and touches one. In another jumpscare, it falls to the floor with a bang, and sand starts leaking out of the mouths of the lion head carvings. Dr. Holden stands there for almost an entire minute wondering what’s happening, during which I was yelling at the screen “It’s an effing sand trap! Don’t just stand there like a moron! Effing run!” The group finally takes off running. They barely make it through, but the passage ends in a short platform, and Sunni is knocked off. She falls into a pit of spikes, making the most stock of squishing sounds. The cat creatures attack Sunni, tearing small chunks of flesh away with some pretty poor gore effects that are at least the right color. Take that, The Hills Run Red. And yet, Sunni is screaming her head off. If she was impaled in that manner, not unlike Trinity in The Matrix Revolutions, she would be in shock and choking on her own blood. By the way, in this scene, I heard vocal percussion replace ethnic percussion in the soundtrack. That’s freaking cheap. The rest of the group climb into the spike pit, scare off the cats, and try to lift Sunni off of the spikes impaling her. The right thing to do here, medically, is to just break off the spikes rather than remove them, because that would make her bleed out. But because they suck so bad, Dr. Holden doesn’t remember that until Sunni is nearly off the spikes. They set her back on them, but this just causes further damage, and Sunni goes into convulsions just before she dies. Well, that death could have been avoided if not for the idiocy of our characters.

Somehow, the group gets back to the room with the Judgement on the wall. Dr. Holden goes over to a statue on the other side of the room and touches it in the right place, causing the wall to rotate, leading to another passage, lined with carvings of screaming faces. After wandering for a few minutes, the group reaches a burial chamber. Dr. Holden says that they’ve reached the bottom of the pyramid. Unless they somehow fell six hundred feet earlier, I’m going to call BS. The group comes across the desiccated corpse of a Freemason who was killed by an Alien chestburster. And that means a Xenomorph is running around the burial chamber. This is a bug hunt! Game over, man! Game over! And the Xenomorph actually shows up as a clawed hand bursts through Dr. Holden’s chest, doing a Kali Ma from behind. Except this is not the Xenomorph you are used to. I will reveal what it looks like later. Nora and Fitzy run away and split up, but Fitzy winds up in another part of the burial chamber. He hides behind a pillar when he sees the Xenomorph.  Fitzy also sees Dr. Holden, still alive, tied against another pillar with the Xenomorph next to him. The Xenomorph takes Dr. Holden’s heart and sticks it on a scale. Apparently Dr. Holden is unworthy to pass on to the afterlife, because his heart is heavy with sin, and fails the Judgement. Insert the loser horns from The Price is Right. The Xenomorph eats the heart, and Dr. Holden dies. Fitzy runs away, finds Nora, and shows her what happened on his camera. Nora says that this isn’t a Xenomorph – it’s the Egyptian god Anubis. That explains why the Xenomorph is humanoid, but has the head of a jackal and clawed hands. The altar in the burial chamber, Nora explains, shows that Anubis, son of Osiris, was merciless in his desperation to reunite with his father, and that this pyramid was created to imprison him.

Unfortunately, these are some grievous inaccuracies with Egyptian mythology. First off, Anubis was not the son of Osiris – he was the son of Set. Second, Anubis was not evil. He was simply the god of funerals who officiated the Final Judgement. If any deity in Egyptian mythology was evil, it was either Set, the brother and murderer of Osiris, or Apophis, the serpentine embodiment of chaos and disorder, and mortal enemy of Amun-Ra. Third, Anubis never entered the corporeal plane. He was always represented in Egyptian mummification procedures by a priest wearing headwear designed like the likeness of Anubis himself. Fourth, Anubis did not eat the heart during the Final Judgement.

It is now that I shall go into detail about the Egyptian Final Judgement, depicted in Spell 125 of the Book of the Dead. When the soul of an Egyptian left the body, it would enter into the underworld, or the Duat, enter the Hall of Two Truths, and face Anubis. The Egyptian swore that he had not committed any sin from a list of forty-two grievous sins. While the goddess Ma’at would be present and the god Thoth would be off to the side, transcribing the events, Anubis would take the person’s heart and weigh it against Ma’at’s special ostrich feather, which is her hieroglyphic symbol. If the Egyptian led a righteous life, the heart would be the same weight as the feather, and the Egyptian’s soul would become “maa-kheru” and be allowed to proceed into the afterlife. If the Egyptian did not lead a righteous life, the heart would be heavy with sin, and would be heavier than the feather. Anubis would give the heart to Ammit, a horrible demon with the butt and back legs of a hippo, the torso, front legs, and mane of a lion, and the head of a crocodile. Ammit would eat the heart, the Egyptian’s soul would be subjected to a second death, and the soul would cease to exist. This is one of few sections of the Book of the Dead with any explicit moral content.

I really hope that both Drs. Holden paid attention in Egyptian Mythology class, because these issues would have made them fail their finals.

Anyway, through some unintelligible BS, Nora and Fitzy find an air shaft and start climbing out, but the Xenomorph – sorry, Anubis – sees them and begins climbing up after them. Fitzy is dragged back down to the burial chamber. Nora is accosted by Anubis, but she fends him off with a flare, sending him tumbling to the bottom. She climbs up to the top of the shaft, but Anubis shows up in a crappy jumpscare and drags her back down to the bottom. She is tied to…something. Anubis, in a terrible jumpscare, kills Fitzy by crushing his head, and prepares to remove Nora’s heart. And it is in this scene that we see the poorly CGI’d head of Anubis in all its facepalmingly atrocious glory. It is truly a shining example of terrible CGI. It’s clearly a guy wearing a mask with sensors on it so CGI can be added in post. In fact, you won’t even need to go see the movie to see the poor CGI for yourself. Here it is.

Anubis, of course, does the long, slow, drawn out movement toward removing Nora’s heart. But Nora breaks her bonds with an ax she found earlier that we’ve forgotten about and fends off Anubis. She starts running back to the air shaft, but she stops when she sees the cat creatures. They surround her and Anubis, but for some reason, the cats, who I’m just now noticing are also poorly CGId, attack Anubis. Why? This distraction allows Nora to escape and almost make it outside, but she passes out before she can. She wakes up to see an obviously American child playing with her camera. And then the movie ends on a final jumpscare as Anubis bursts out of the darkness and lunges at the camera. Of course.

I completely forgot to mention the subplot about the toxic air inside the pyramid infecting them and causing some sort of transmutation to each of the characters. Actually, I probably shouldn’t, as it has about as much impact on the plot as a pebble thrown into a river. You’ll remember the subplot then, but you’ll forget it almost immediately.

I didn’t know until afterward that The Pyramid was supposed to be found-footage. What? When in the movie was there ever found footage? Okay, it showed up in a few moments, but it rarely showed its face! Why did The Pyramid market itself as found-footage? And if this movie is found-footage, why is there a subpar soundtrack? Hey, at least the lack of found-footage footage made sure that we never had to deal with a vomitorium of shaky-cam like The Blair Witch Project.

The plot is obviously generic and cliché, with the only originality being its setting. It’s boring. The exposition makes little sense. The Egyptian riots are shown, but we’re never told what they are or given any context. It is such a slow, uninteresting drag. You know what? I just realized how lethargic our plot actually is. It straight up slows to a crawl in every scene until the end of each scene when a character finds something, be it a passage, a tunnel, a hidden room, etc., and pushes the plot forward a few inches. This happens. And then this happens. And then this happens. The plot lacked a driving force. It’s like a little boy playing with a toy car. He places it on the ground and gives it a gentle push. The toy car travels a few feet, slows, and stops. The boy runs up to it and gives it another gentle push. Rinse and repeat until the movie is over. Or how about this idea: a guy sits on the toilet and painfully, strenuously, over a period of several minutes, poops out an arm-sized log. And when he tries to flush it down the toilet, it folds in half and clogs the toilet. And then another guy comes along, sees the log, and comments that it folded in half “like the Titanic.” And then he comes up with the silly nickname of “Sh!tanic”. This incident actually happened at band camp the summer after my freshman year of high school. But it can be likened to the plot of The Pyramid. It’s disgusting to look at, will bring up a laugh whenever it’s talked about, and will be forgotten quickly.

The characters were underdeveloped to the point of ridicule. These characters even lacked the ability to think things through. And the manner of their deaths are just too everyday and unimaginative to be gruesome. We never felt any tension regarding who will live or die, and we never had any reason to care. We were never given any false hope that Nora might make it out alive. Nora was just a weak, scared, blonde version of Lara Croft. If Sunni was an award-winning documentarian covering Egyptian mythology, why did she not know her stuff? Why did she not contribute?

The setting was at least okay. The acting was at least okay.

Do you have any idea how scary Anubis could have been had he been kept in the shadows? Or, maybe, all we saw of him was just a hand? Or, maybe, we only saw him for a split second? That could have worked. It worked in Signs. It worked in The Exorcist 1 & 3. Everybody remembers that split-second shot of the alien in Signs. It had people watching it at home going, “Holy crap! Holy crap! What was that? What was that? Rewind the movie so we can get a good look at that!” Everybody remembers that split-second flash of that demonic white face from The Exorcist. Everybody remembers the nurse station jumpscare in Exorcist 3. Everybody remembers the glowing red eyes from The Amityville Horror. Everybody remembers the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” scene from Jaws. Everybody remembers the shower scene from Psycho. Everybody remembers the scene from Insidious where we see the Lipstick-Face demon over Josh’s shoulder for a split second. Everybody remembers the first sighting of the crawlers from The Descent. But The Pyramid just wasn’t scary. Sure, there were several cheapo jumpscares, but that doesn’t count. The atmosphere was just there; it wasn’t creepy, and it didn’t get under my skin. If I want to watch a scary movie involving Egyptian mythology, I’ll just go watch the original The Mummy with Boris Karloff.

Look. If you’re going to make a found footage horror movie in this setting, then make it like Grave Encounters. Make the plot about getting lost, the labyrinthine passageways turning around on themselves, and ultimately have paranoia, desperation, and insanity set in. Only give us a taste of supernatural stuff. Have the movie end with the audience wondering whether or not it was supernatural forces or just insanity.

Strangely, though the previous year had brought us the actually decent As Above, So Below, The Pyramid follows every single plot point of As Above, So Below save for As Above, So Below’s negligibly successful attempt at psychological horror.

I get the fact that darkness is a place in which evil creatures can hide and lurk and wait to pounce. But there is a huge difference between darkness and pitch blackness. And The Pyramid is rarely in pitch blackness. We get adequate lighting. This already makes it that much better than The Gallows. Take that.

But The Pyramid is bad. Really bad. But not bad enough to be memorable. And that is a particularly grievous sin. It’s like Nightmare on Elm Street 4. And, believe it or not, Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I know I watched those movies, but I only remember a few sentences, a few split-second sequences, and a few frames, and that it was ridiculous to market your movie as having Max von Sydow in it and essentially just giving him an extremely glorified cameo before killing him off before the movie’s even been going for ten minutes. Sorry, I didn’t intend to go into a mini-rant about Star Wars 7 being forgettable, but that’s kind of like what happened with The Pyramid. I watched it once last summer and attempted to review it then, but I remembered so little about the plot that I was unable to do so. I’m doing it now, though.

Come on, Alexandre Aja! You directed the solid remake of The Hills Have Eyes and produced the decent P2!

Why did you produce this crap?

Final Verdict: 1 out of 5 stars.