Star Wars- The Force Awakens Review

9 01 2016

Star_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakens_official_poster

It’s now been long time ago in a theater not that far away that I watched the new trilogy in the Star Wars saga begin, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write a review a month later, does it? Thanks to the power of procrastination, this late review is later than I ever thought it would be, but at least no good movie ever gets released in January (looking at you, Dirty Grandpa, The 5th Wave, etc). Also, this seems relevant, because not only did this movie break almost every box office record in the books, but it has achieved enough popularity for hipsters to now dislike it.  Depending which one you ask, it’s either a blatant theft of Episode IV’s plot, or it’s a complete departure from the series that makes no sense.

Like many fans, I was nervous- what if this was the ghost of the prequels rising again to destroy the original characters that everyone loved? What if they killed off a beloved character? Wouldn’t that be a debbie downer?!  But hey, mission accomplished- this film didn’t suck. In fact, in this fanboy’s opinion, The Force Awakens is miles ahead of the cheesy, CGI filled sequels.

star-wars-7-force-awakens-rey-finn

Why? Well for one, the new set of actors/actresses were great (Daisy Ridley as Rey steals the spotlight), and they weren’t instructed to speak in the wooden manner of the prequels. Harrison Ford, stealing every scene? Check. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega bringing us two likable new leads? Check. Adam Driver being a combination of psychotic Sith trainee and hair product model? Check. Carrie Fisher with a voice like she smoked too many death sticks? Uh, check.

The writing was also light years ahead of our past three movies, with the majority of the jokes actually being funny (why was that so hard, prequels?!), although maybe was a little too heavy with joke volume at times. It’s nice to have jokes based on timing and humor instead of Jar Jar dropping the ENTIRE tray of tools (hysterical, right?) or Anakin saying a one-liner so bad your brain melts out your ears. Some of the best moments weren’t even spoken, such as stormtroopers walking the other way from Kylo’s tantrum or Han’s childlike joy using Chewie’s crossbow.

star-wars-7-force-awakens-han-solo-chewbacca-harrison-ford

After the first viewing, my thoughts on the music was that it didn’t fall flat, but I didn’t pick up on any new themes. Since I love John Williams and the memorable music he always brings, this was somewhat disappointing. However, after my second viewing, I couldn’t understand how I missed them all the first time- Rey’s theme, The Resistance’s march, etc., are all welcome additions to this saga’s musical legacy. Hopefully we’ll get some Imperial March or Duel of the Fates successor in the next entry.

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On that note, basically every part of the movie got better the second time I watched this film. I picked up more details, twists and changes from what seemed at first to be a bit of a rehash of certain storylines. I could set aside years of expectations of what a Star Wars sequel should include, and just enjoy the second viewing. I honestly didn’t realize how much I missed this universe until I was in the middle of experiencing it again. And yes, it was somehow even more sad to see (SPOILER) my favorite character, Han Solo, die, and his lil’ Wookie friend deal with sudden loss. (END SPOILER)

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Time will tell where this is all going (hopefully someone has this all planned out). Hopefully we’ll have more Mark Hammill in Episode 8. He looked good in this film during his intense staring scene, but I guess we know why Luke wasn’t very prominent in the marketing now, huh? One of my only real disappointments with the movie was how we never (nor ever will) got to see Luke and Han Solo meet again. It just seems like a missed opportunity for a film that seemed to be all about fan service. However, I can say besides that point, this was a genuinely fun ride back into the legend of Star Wars.

Final thoughts:

  • Why do they keep building giant explodable weapons? Why not put eggs in other baskets, too?
  • I like how Kylo Ren story continues the Skywalker saga, but where does the supreme leader fall into this?
  • What if Supreme Leader Snoke was just four feet tall in his real form?
  • Captain Phasma- aka Chrome Trooper- was way underused for the amount of marketing that went into her character. You can’t just look Boba Fett cool, you have to BE Boba Fett cool (fight a little).

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Spectre- Review

16 11 2015

Movie Poster 007

Let me start by saying that I have not seen every “classic” Bond movie, and this is a movie that is clearly a love letter to 007 fans who have enjoyed the classics. I have watched the other Daniel Craig films, and absolutely loved Skyfall for its exceptionally good villain, twisting storyline, and legitimate loss at the end (I heart Judi Dench). Spectre is an exceptional classic James Bond film, but it is an oddball Daniel Craig James Bond film. The movie is filled with classic references, including a well-crafted, intense train fight that calls back to From Russia with Love, and the return of perhaps James Bond’s greatest nemesis. Not only is his visual style a blend of previous film incarnations (Blofeld’s been in at least six other movies), but he’s also given a more personal wrinkle with Bond’s past. Does his character work? Mostly, yes, but compared to jkljl; in Skyfall, he doesn’t come across as threatening even if he is “the architect of all Bond’s pain.” Maybe if he had been mentioned/teased more in the previous films, he would have earned the “final boss” status more. However, the friend I watched this with had no idea who Blofeld was, so there was real payoff, and unfortunately that works against the movie for people who only know Bond from the last decade of movies. Also, his actual world domination goals are sort of unclear due to the focus on his relationship with Bond.

Christoph Waltz

Maybe he’s just here to steal the girl.

More than that, what rubbed me the wrong way was how mostly predictable the plot was. I mean, duh, Bond’s gonna save the day, but the actual story beats were following older Bond films that sometimes seem a world apart from Daniel Craig’s reboot series. We had the tough right-hand man of the villain (hi, Dave Bautista!) fight Bond in a duel, we had the random Bond girl encounters, a car filled with gadgets, and even the supervillain giving a monologue while Bond is caught in a deathtrap, allowing him to escape. James Bond gets drilled in the head, then without any side effects (I’d get a refund on that drill set, Blofeld) and then runs through the base like a video game, blowing up an entire structure with one shot. This would have been gold for a Pierce Brosnan or Sean Connery, but it took me out of the movie seeing Daniel Craig do this. Also, compared to Craig’s other films (particularly Casino Royale and Skyfall), we don’t get a lot of actual emotional moments, with no big character losses or just an honest glimpse of the stifled emotional side of Bond.

How do they carry all these outfits to each country?

How do they carry all these outfits to each country?

Now with all that Negative Nancy stuff out of the way, let’s go over what was great about this movie. The cinematography is spectacular as usual, with the long opening shot in Mexico City’s Dia De Los Muertos festival one of many highlights. And geez, the train fight and Rome segments were pretty. Everything is tightly shot, paced, and acted. The effects look great, whether it’s Bond escaping a collapsing building or a pyro-pleasing fireball of an exploding secret base.

Good thing Bond didn't use Q's watch alarm to wake up.

Good thing Bond didn’t use Q’s watch alarm to wake up.

Sherlock’s Moriarty actor was a welcome surprise (yes I’m sure the actor has a name, but he’s Moriarty to me), but he seemed a tad underused, maybe just because we’ve all seen him do so much more when given the chance. Ben Whishaw as “Q” is a highlight again with all his bantering and dry humor with Bond, and the new “M” and Moneypenny are do their job but won’t stick out in my memory. Daniel Craig does his job, but my take on him might have been tainted a little by his very public boredom with the role. Yeah, poor Daniel Craig and his hard life. Earning millions of bucks as a movie star playing in film’s longest running franchise. Maybe the suits are too tight. I guess that could get old.

"This job sucks!" - Daniel Craig

“This job sucks!” – Daniel Craig

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as the last film, please don’t think I hate this movie. The last twenty or so minutes made up a lot of ground with the final showdown in a location that evoked so much nostalgia for Craig’s other movies. Not to mention even a bit of closure for Bond- is this actually Daniel Craig’s last film? I don’t know why but I thought he had one more in the contract. Anyway, this won’t be a Bond film for my collection, but it’s at least one good experience in the theater. It looks great, sounds great, but lacks the freshness and heart of his other films. I guess you could say Spectre left me slightly shaken, but not stirred.





The Martian- Review

14 10 2015
Mark Watney Astronaut NASA

Dr. Mann’s Return!

First things first- to enjoy The Martian, you have to separate it from Interstellar. Forget about the shared cast members and space cinematography. We aren’t supposed to despise Matt Damon here, and he’s not out for revenge on Matthew McConaughey’s daughter. However, it is another sci-fi storytelling and visual treat with an almost-too-large cast.

Matt Damon carries the movie, which is good because he’s the bulk of it. It’s easy to cheer him on through his optimism, ingenuity, and sarcastic humor in the face of overwhelming odds. He’s supported by a talent-filled cast who are criminally underused, due to there being so many of them. But it was fun to see Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, and Jeff Daniels in the same film. During the Earth scenes, I regularly forgot who had what title (besides the head of NASA), but luckily it didn’t really seem to matter. That pleasant feature can be said for much of the movie- most of us won’t understand all the science babble all the actors spout out (it’s not like they really get it either), but the story doesn’t demand we do to enjoy it.

Matt Damon Mars

Pretty.

As I mentioned, the effects and scenery are gorgeous and approach the beauty of last year’s space blockbuster Interstellar. The rugged, hostile beauty of Mars contrasts perfectly with the corporate, structured box of NASA. Come to think of it, practically everything contrasted between those two settings- Mars had Damon, while NASA had what felt like a dozen characters, plus background workers. The only real bridge between the two were the clever uses of models of the rover and explorer that NASA brought for hands-on research.

Any drawbacks were due more to personal taste for me- I basically squinted the entire scene where Damon un-impales himself because I’m squeamish. But dang, that scene was detailed, unflinching, and a bit long for my side. We get it, doctoring yourself on Mars is bloody and sucks, ok?! The other drawback I had was the soundtrack didn’t stand out in any way, at least compared to other space movies that seemed to catch the wonder of space with music (Gravity, Interstellar) . This isn’t a huge deal, since some would argue that the best soundtrack props up the movie without standing out and getting in the way (I would disagree though).

NASA the Martian Movie Wiig Daniels

It’s still hard to take Kristen Wiig seriously.

Side note here, but that whole Project Elrond bit was comedic gold for those inside the joke.Sean Bean and The Secret Meeting caused my theater to erupt in laughter (yay fantasy nerds!). Surprisingly, this whole scene almost didn’t make it into the final cut, but a higher-up in the studio liked it so much he demanded it be kept. Weird, a demand from the studio that actually improves the movie, right? Anyway, The Martian is a tense but entertaining ride through the unknown, and it looks great on the big screen.

Sean Bean Boirmir Joke LOTR

One does not simply go to Mars.





Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials- Review

29 09 2015

maze-runner-the-scorch-trials-posterThis may not be the grand comeback review you’ve all doubtlessly waited for, but hey it’s been a while, and you gotta start again somewhere. At least this isn’t a Fantastic Four review (although that might be fun!). And to answer your judgmental question, no, I haven’t read any of the books. Apparently, that’s not an issue with spoilers though, as I keep hearing the events of the book are quite different from the movie. As in, telepathy has been left out, characters are mixed around, and plot details reversed. I figure, different medium, different story techniques, right? End of controversy (haha!). My point is, don’t expect me to gripe about differences between the two.

Overall in quality, The Scorch Trials is an improvement over the first Maze Runner. It features the sun burned lands instead of a lush maze, while still keeping with the themes of our heroes running from scary stuff in a dark maze-like area. Speaking of which, the action scenes are frenetic and entertaining, especially the climax and the sort-of-zombie bits. Those were actually borderline terrifying for me, who was unaware that anything like that would appear in the film. The creature designs were disturbing and fantastic, even if the camera always quickly cut away to maintain a PG-13 rating. Pausing on those frames could still give small children (and me) nightmares.

Kaya-Scodelario-Dexter-Darden-Dylan-OBrien-Ki-Hong-Lee-Thomas-Brodie-Sangster-Alexander-Flores-Bryce-Romero-in-Maze-Runner-The-Scorch-Trials

They changed WHAT from the book?!

The pacing kept everything moving nicely before I had a chance to figure out what would happen next. The soundtrack was terribly generic, but I guess we can’t all be The Hunger Games‘s James Newton Howard score. Effects and CGI? Polished. The three main characters of Thomas, Newt, and Teresa were still engaging and sympathetic, until Teresa pulls that crap with the betrayal. If we’re supposed to still root for her after siding with such an obviously bad entity, I’m not sure how.

I’m a huge fan of Giancarlo Esposito, so I was pleasantly surprised when he appeared in the movie as Jorge (obviously I didn’t research this much beforehand). Jorge and his surrogate daughter Brenda provided the most interesting new characters, and I enjoyed their murky motivations and unpredictable actions. I was expecting Jorge to betray them (not Teresa) at the end to help Brenda, or Brenda to become a zombie, but neither happened and I guess that’s a good thing. Giancarlo Esposito makes such a great villain, it’s interesting to see him play the (flawed) hero.

Giancarlo Esposito

Gus lives!

A main issue I have is that the villains’ plans, at least in the movies, still don’t make much sense. The children’s blood is the cure, so why is slaughtering them and killing the supply better than accommodating them, and just drawing some blood every few weeks? Why is Wicked so impatient? Where do they get their post-apocalyptic funding  and manpower to build these billion dollar mazes with robotic spiders and helicopters? They guys and their shoot-everyone-approach are now so obviously bad that “the end justifies the means” argument that Teresa uses is laughable.

Besides the villains, my only other hangup has to do with how this feels less like a movie and more like the next episode of a television special. This is a sad symptom of an increasing number of franchise movies- each new installment works as a sequel, but pitiful as a standalone movie. All in all though, I was entertained, and I’ll be in the theaters for the next one to see if they ever stop running through those blasted mazes.





The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

19 05 2015

Ultron_Group

First of all, sorry about the late review. I’ve assembled (zing!) twice now in the theaters to see this popcorn blockbuster known as Age of Ultron, but life happens, and it’s not like anyone was waiting for my opinion anyway. BUT, I do want to talk about this latest entry. Ultron is less straightforward than the first Avengers film, but that’s actually a good thing in my view. I like that they created their own greatest fear (pointed out by Ultron), and also the whole twin subplot. In addition, we got everything most people want in these movies. More heroes and villains? Check. Easter eggs and crazy action scenes, including that sweet slow-mo sequence around the “key”? Double check.

That’s not to say this was a perfect movie. The weakest parts of this and most current Marvel movies were the awkward setups for another movie. Hey look, Asgard is going to pot for some reason. Don’t really care now. Go fight Ultron. I’m going to watch the next Thor movie, Marvel. Just quit reminding me that there are more movies with these characters, because that really takes the tension out of this one.  Please just make a solid, standalone movie, preferably one without a random cave sequence with a side character (steps down from soapbox).

In other news, Black Widow has no idea who she likes. I mean, first Avengers, who is she paired with? That’s right class, Hawkeye. And remember how she flirts and kisses Bruce Banner in Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Oh wait, that was Captain America. Anyway, if you accept this left-field mood swing (who HASN’T had this happen in a relationship? Sorry, bitter.), it’s not too unbearable. Call me whatever you want, but the scenes with their awkward flirty banter dragged on too long for my tastes.

James Spader Ultron poster

Don’t get on his Black List.

The original magic of seeing all the separate heroes in one movie is gone, but honestly there’s no way that could be replicated. Perhaps the new Avengers at the end will help in the next one? I actually enjoyed how we could jump straight into their team fighting a massive battle in the first scene. And, despite what I said about Thor’s visions, the Avengers’ fearful dreams caused by Scarlet Witch’s manipulations were a brilliant way to deepen each character, while still advancing the plot. I’m looking forward to more of the new recruits, but it will be depressing if we don’t get to watch the originals’ fun dynamic anymore.

James Spader and Elizabeth Olsen were my standout favorites. Elizabeth Olsen (thankfully not the twins) hasn’t been in a lot of big movies, and that actually helped her character’s innocence in a way. She and Quicksilver were convincing along their personal journeys. James Spader basically played Robot James Spader, and that’s a good thing. Some comic book purists apparently took issue with him not being as menacing as in the comics, but he DID nearly destroy the entire Earth, right? Not too shabby, all while being zany in a creepy way. Look, when have we ever been worried that the villain will win in these movies? There’s way too many more movies to make. Finally Vision was interesting, but I have no idea where they’re going with his character, especially after a random god reference. Don’t expect him to help out in any solo movies soon- he’s way too powerful.

Elizabeth Olsen

I seem to remember Quicksilver from a separate movie universe…

Hawkeye also got some great moments with meta one-liners and self-deprecating humor (We’re fighting an army of robots, and I’ve got a bow. None of this makes sense.)  Speaking of humor, the jokes never stopped dropping. Some worked, and some didn’t, but nothing was as painful as say, Transformers’ idea of humor. For example, the hammer lift sequence was a genuinely funny moment that played off each character in a natural way. And of course Robert Downey Jr. starred as his rich, funny self.

Overall, there were tons of eye-candy, action scenes, humor and just about every Marvel character that’s been in this universe (besides Loki). There were so many random story lines and characters (literally) flying around I’m surprised it wasn’t a complete mess, but I guess that’s a testament to Josh Whedon. Unfortunately, yes, this is his last entry in the Marvel Movie Universe (sigh). Will he jump over to DC? Who knows, but it’s going to be hard to match his style of film-making next two Avengers, since it seemed to complement the theme and tone so well. Either way, he’s given audiences the two of the more enjoyable blockbusters of the last few years, and that’s worth some revelry.

If only this had happened.

If only this had happened.





Run All Night- Review

3 04 2015

Run_All_Night_Liam_Neeson_Poster

Run All Night is one of those films Liam Neeson fans will flock to, but maybe not other moviegoers. That’s a doggone shame, because it has a surprising bit of emotional weight, and is better than some of his latest offerings (looking at you, Taken 2 and 3). Speaking of which, no it’s not Taken 4, all you haters. Neeson plays a bit against his everyman hero type this time as Jimmy Conlon. Honestly it’s almost hard to root for him at times. Jimmy is a guy who’s hasn’t just become an alcoholic or lost touch with his family- he straight up murdered innocent people for his  “best friend” Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) for years, and now he’s a pathetic shell of a man, wavering between apathy and regret. So, not quite an ex-CIA family man. Along the way, he delivers the “best” worst party Santa ever, but that’s another story.

 

Joel Kinnaman Conlon

At least they haven’t taken his son.

 

It’s little layers like this that help the film rise above the average action flick. Ed Harris and Liam Neeson work well together, helping sell their (soured) friendship. They’ve been through bad and good together (mostly bad), and even though it’s obvious the relationship has been a bad influence on Jimmy (and maybe even Shawn), they cling to some sense of loyalty even to the end. The conversations they have about having to kill the other strike an odd tone, and highlight how lost the two criminals are in their own actions.

 

Shawn Maguire

The friend your mother warned you about.

 

So blah blah story, how is the action, you impatiently inquire? Well, let’s just say that once the plot gets moving Liam starts Neeson-ing everything and everyone and doesn’t let up. There are several standout moments, including close combat inside a burning inferno, and a slick slow-motion rifle scene that reminded me of Non-Stop‘s crazy climax. Neeson is still fun to watch as an action hero, and Joel Kinnaman fills in nicely as his son Mike Conlon. While Mike coaches boxing, ultimately his character ends up watching or running while Papa Jimmy clears the room. Rapper “Common” brings a formidable opponent as hitman Andrew Price. My only issue with his character is the ridiculous laser that remains on and brightly pointing the entire movie. What’s with that? I get it’s there to look cool in the fog and darkness, but would an elite hit man really give his presence away like that? It’s not even a sniper, just a sidearm.

Common Rapper Andrew Price

Sweet laser tag arena.

 

Finally, amidst the chaotic firefights and chases, we get a wonderful introspective moment where the weight of his choices (and life) finally hits Jimmy. It’s not played off in a corny way- instead it becomes a surprisingly emotional moment that stuck with me a little longer after the credits. The ending may or may not be surprising to the audience, but let’s say there’s more to think about than a typical guilty pleasure Neeson action flick. Don’t take my word for it- check this one out for yourselves. Or else, Jimmy will come for you.

 





The Hobbit- The Battle of the Five Armies Review

26 12 2014

Martin Freeman bilbo

First of all, yes, this Hobbit trilogy should have been just two movies. No matter how many extra sources Peter Jackson pulled from (what’s up, The Silmarillion?), each installment has had parts that felt like cinematic fluff to fill in these long running times. The Battle of the Five Armies is no exception, most notably in the meaningless made-up character Alfrid and his unremarkable plot. Wasn’t it awesome when his story ended with him running away in a dress? No, no, it wasn’t.

Looking past the filler, I still enjoyed the spectacle and story closure this film gives us. A little explanation as to why Dwarves and Elves are usually at odds? Check. Tying up all the characters’ stories, while also giving us a bridge to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy? Check. A huge battle that goes on for basically the whole movie? Yep. An opening battle that’s better than the main event? Yes (unfortunately).

 

battle of the five armies

World of Warcraft shut-ins.

 

The superior action sequence of Smaug attacking Lake Town should have been the second movie’s finale. It’s poor writing to construct a false cliffhanger just by cutting an action scene in half, and then expecting the audience to remember/care about the characters a year later. Also the random, made-up hide and seek segment with the dragon in the Lonely Mountain felt weird and made Smaug look like a burglar from Home Alone. The attack on Lake Town was splendid and eye-catching, but imagine if it was the emotional payoff of a movie instead of a random opening act with two characters most people would have forgotten about. Maybe I’m just sore because I didn’t have enough built-up emotion to tear up.

 

benedict cumberbatch

He still kicked butt though.

 

Besides the misplaced initial fight, the rest of the movie deals entirely with the setup and execution of the Battle of the Five Armies. We do manage to get some character moments however, and as usual the entire cast is stellar. Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) sudden transformation into Scrooge McDuck is a little jarring but necessary to the plot. Seeing Galadriel, Elrond, and an energetic Saruman fight Nazgul was as awesome as it sounds. Martin Freeman‘s final job as Bilbo sealed his perfect portrayal for the trilogy. Also, my crush on Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel) remains intact.

 

tauriel legolas evangeline lily orlando bloom

Sorry Legolas, you’re just too tall for her.

 

I’ll say it one more time- CGI Orc fights are just a shadow of the earlier stuntmen duels. Think back to The Fellowship of the Ring and the gritty finale with the band of Uruk-Hai. How much better did that look with the stuntmen in full costume, swinging real metal? The heroes actually flinched a little when knives were thrown and blocks were made, because there was an element of actual danger. No matter how good the CGI is, the audience still picks up on elements that look or feel off.

I did find myself feeling emotional during the post-battle scenes, only because I knew these would be the final Lord of the Rings moments on the big screen. The film writers were obviously addressing their longtime fans from Bilbo’s farewell to the Dwarves to the final callback to The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s a bittersweet moment for an epic movie saga.

 

Sorry, but really.

Sorry, but really.