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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Great Wii game! But does not quite work as canon continuity material, sadly.
I guess the title of this comment pretty much says it all. From what I can see there are two possible outcomes when played on the Wii console, only one of which could be considered as coming close to fitting in with the already somewhat shaky continuity of the new Star Wars universe. If you haven't played the game to the end stop reading because I'm about to tell you why the two outcomes don't really work other than as Expanded Universe material.

The better ending, where you resist the dark side, turn against Vader's teachings and fight the Emperor to save the fledgling rebellion had me absolutely enthralled the first time through. I was also wowed by the fact that we had just been told that the birth of the Rebellion was actually pushed into being with the help of a plot by Vader and his secret apprentice to "out" the would-be rebels. (And the use of the name Starkiller was also a nice nod to old, concept-Star Wars material that didn't quite make it into the film...the name was at one time even the last name of Luke!) But then after playing it through a second time I realized that something didn't quite fit. The fact that Vader finds out that Bail Organa, Leia and Mon Mothma are all rebels prior to the events of Star Wars A New Hope in which Leia and her family reveal their allegiance by stealing the plans for the Death Star doesn't work well in terms of continuity and theme. The dialog in the original 1977 film would suggest that Vader would still have a lot of trouble proving to the Senate that Leia was a rebel without the stolen plans. But in the Force Unleashed the Emperor commands Vader to go out and hunt the now exposed rebels mercilessly. If the game had made some excuse as to why the Emperor and Vader would have to contain their anger and try to expose the rebels some other way, say perhaps that they are embarrassed and thought that a loss of power through fear would be the outcome if they had to admit they were defeated by a young apprentice and the escaped rebels, then it would almost work. Or perhaps the game should not have allowed Vader to see who the rebels were and instead the apprentice protects them and confronts Vader before he finds out their identities...but having brought together the Rebellion nonetheless. Regardless, as an "alternate universe" idea it is very interesting. Also, to complicate things, Lucas has always said that the Star Wars radio dramas are considered canon and in those it is made quite clear that though the Organas are suspect they are still far from being exposed as rebel sympathizers.

The second possible outcome is most definitely NOT canon. If you choose to obey the Emperor and attack Vader to finish him off you end up wounded and reconstructed as a new, ninja-like Vader and the rebels you assume have all been slaughtered with perhaps no hope that Luke is ever contacted on Tatooine. I don't think that game designers were in any way the trying to make this alternate ending fit in with the films, it was just another way to end the game.

The game play on the Wii is great! Not having to "thumb" your light-saber moves on a more traditional game pad, and even pull off some Force moves like "push" by actually pushing with your own arm, is fantastic, even if the graphics are less spectacular and the game engine less "next generation" than the X-Box or PS versions.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

The popcorn was good
I went to see this film in a theatre for two reasons. One, I believed from what I had seen in previews that one of its merits would be its presence on the big screen (I was wrong since most of it was just talking heads). Two, I was anxious, like many people, to see what Spielberg would do with something that had once passed through the mind of Stanley Kubrick. In a nutshell, if there had ever been anything of merit in Kubrick's original idea, it had been "Spielberg-ed" out of it a long time ago. The irony of the title in relation to the handling of its subject matter is painfully obvious. Spielberg uses all the artifices of manipulative Hollywood cinema to have us believe that he is dealing with "intelligent" subject matter. Ultimately, he is doing nothing more than yet again playing at being one notch above the public, continuing his self-appointed roll as "teacher" (begun in films such as Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan) by treating us like we are stupider and more easily manipulated than anything Pavlov could have hoped for. When will we learn that 'complex and subtle' does not mean 'it made me cry'! So very, very unfortunately, this ends up being a thinly strung together story drowned in a swamp of overused and sappy music, plot holes so big they would make a first year film student blush and so little imagination one is duty-bound to wonder how this guy can so easily continue to make money off our backs. The only scene worth mentioning is the one in which Jude Law tries to explain to a sobbing woman why she should not be afraid to have sex with him even though he is a robot. It was the only scene that spoke of genuine(ish)human fears and the (possible) unusual problems one might face when creating an artificial human being. Everything else just ran the spectrum from (my-mind-is-as-numb-as-my-bum) cliché to just plain syrup.

Life Without Death

Unique film, missing an openness to question
This documentary, part travelogue, part philosophical inquiry, concerns filmmaker Frank Cole's quest to resist the idea of death by confronting one of the harshest landscapes on earth: The Sahara Desert. After preparing himself physically and mentally, he sets out from Ottawa, Canada and begins his year-long, solo-journey across the desert by camel. His claim is that he felt compelled to undertake the journey after watching his grandfather die and realizing he had a fear of death. He sets out wishing to resist this fear by proving that he could fight death and win. The idea for such a film is full of possibilities though it fails to take advantage of such a rare opportunity.

Once in the desert, the cinematography is beautiful, though it tends to become repetitive as the film progresses. This lack of evolution in the cinematography becomes understandable as we discover that the film itself suffers from a lack of development in the filmmaker's assumptions about the life/death dichotomy. As the journey progresses, it becomes evident that Cole seems only to have set out to test himself physically. There never seems to be a moment of doubt for him over his prejudice against death. One might expect something to change in a person as they make such an arduous trek, but unfortunately Cole begins to seem only more and more obsessed with being right about his somewhat ill founded and confused notions of what it means to live without death. This is perhaps not doing the overall film justice, as such a journey is not something most of us could accomplish, and, even under the weight of these questionable personal-truths, there is still much to think about as he closes in on his goal. But this makes it all the more disappointing that such an opportunity seems to have been somewhat wasted and underdeveloped. There are moments of insight that are rare in any film but they almost always seem to suffer by the oversimplification and repetition of Cole's ideas of life and death. I believe that if he had relied less on voice-over analysis and allowed the unfolding of his lonely journey to speak for itself that the experience he wished to share could have been much more profound, rife with possibilities and, in the end, every audience member's own personal journey. Having said all this, I think it still puts to shame all the reality-based TV shows such as Survivor that attempt to make facile entertainment out of resisting the comforts and trappings of the civilized world.

The Adventures of Sebastian Cole

Subtlety and sincerity and a great sense of time and place
Rarely does a film capture with any kind of authenticity the subtleties of the qualities of a particular time and place. When it does so it is something that can be appreciated not for standing out from the story but for becoming integral to the fabric of the narrative. The "Adventures of Sebastian Cole" achieves this rare unity of time, place, character and story and it does so in the most unassuming way. The atmosphere of Sebastian's world is undeniably one of normalcy and yet it is also undeniably beautiful and rich with possibilities for anything. In this world even the smallest of pleasures, the smallest of adventures takes on a sublime quality and seems ready to infect the future of the character with an understanding and appreciation of his youth. We can appreciate everything about this story for being small and unassuming and yet alive. Sebastian's confusion and "posing" seem somehow sincere and he remains likeable as the protagonist. As the story unfolds, watching Sebastian Cole lead his life of adventure, no one could possibly feel unable to identify. There is something very genuine in the story and lives of the characters. At the same time there is a deep sense of loss, of delusion, of dislocation. There is something intangible about this film, something that goes beyond story and plot. The characters are both likeable and despicable. The acting is almost flawless and a pleasure to watch, Clark Gregg is never over the top in his role as Hank/Henrietta. There is very little moralizing, very little hitting over the head with a message. The story is presented as a slice of life and we are allowed to fill in the blanks and make judgments for ourselves. It is, overall, a film that reminds you a life is always a complicated, disappointing and wonderful thing and always what you make it.

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