Friday, January 1, 2016

STAR WARS Episode VII : The Force Awakens (Part II)

(the "Lighter" side)

SPOILERS AHEAD
  • Daisy Ridley as Rey is pleasing to the eye and ear. I like the choice made to keep her native accent, whether or not this means she's a Kenobi. Her performance throughout is strong and fun to watch, only diminished by the ridiculousness of what the writing enables her character to do at times.
  • The performances throughout the film are generally very good, with only a handful of badly delivered lines (primarily by Finn), which is also the fault of the directing. I like Poe early on, but due to poor character writing in the 2nd half, he became less interesting to me. I like BB-8, but don't like how R2-D2 was written out to make room for him.
  • Han Solo. Harrison is great in everything he does, including the reprisal of one of his most iconic roles. Though there were a couple of awkward moments in his performance, they were the result of sub-par writing. He does deliver my favorite moment in the movie; "That's NOT how the FORCE works!!", he tells Finn. 
  • Chewie was used well in the film, with a few stand out moments (my favorite being his shrug response after being asked if that is Han Solo "the war hero"). I feel that his 'injury' was the result of a temporary solution to keep him out of the story for a while when the writers had nothing for him to do. I also wonder if there were changes made to his character during production, after having seen the early leaked concept art of Chewbacca's mechanical arm.
  • Seeing a lightsabre battle in the snow, as it snowed, was aesthetically pleasing, regardless of the MAJOR problems I have with that scene in general. 
  • Seeing Stormtrooper blood in the opening scene was a welcomed addition to this film, as we generally (and intentionally) didn't see blood in the previous Star Wars films. Because of that, it was a powerful image which signaled from the start a different tone for this movie. 
  • The idea of making a Stormtrooper who defects a lead protagonist in the story is interesting, though I'm not fully satisfied with the direction that the character was taken in. Hoping for better development of this idea in the next one. 
  • I was surprised to appreciate the extent at which JJ utilized practical locations, creatures, and effects. This was their 'selling line' from the moment production was announced, which left me cynical, but which was ultimately delivered upon, mostly. That being said, they still missed the mark on what was more important: story. Also, good call on using left-over McQuarrie concept art for the film. I like how all the wreckage on Jakku looks: Star Destroyer, Tie-Fighter, X-Wing, and especially the AT-AT.
  • Kylo Ren, as a Star Wars villain, is both interesting and still alive after one film (or so). That's more than can be said about other Star Wars villains besides Vader. 
  • Love the opening crawl: simple. Luke Skywalker is missing and Leia is looking for him. That's it. No senate or trade federation drama in sight.
  • John Williams' music is good, stronger from scene to scene than a lot of the music used in the prequels. Only difference is that there is no new stand-out track theme like "Throne Room", "Imperial March", "Duel of the Fates", "Across the Stars", or "Battle of the Heroes" - nothing that is just fun to listen to on it's own. But as a soundtrack to the film: solid.
  • Probably the best moment's for me were when Rey and Finn were star-struck at meeting THE Han Solo and hearing about Luke Skywalker, etc. I feel like I'm IN their shoes at that moment, and the gravity of the situation almost brings me to tears. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

STAR WARS Episode VII : The Force Awakens

My initial reaction... (the Dark side)

SPOILERS AHEAD
  • With an infinite selection of planet environments in the Star Wars universe to choose from, and with only the limits of the storyteller's imagination to stop them, why are we back on a desert planet? Each of the previous 6 episodes introduced us to a new environment to play in. We've seen sand; we've seen ice; we've seen forest. Why not take us somewhere we've truly never been before? Is it because Rey is a Skywalker, and so there's a symmetry to putting her on Jakku? Nice idea, but it's Star Wars. If you're going back to the desert, then at least take us back to our favorite sand planet: Tatooine.
  • Captain Phasma did nothing in this movie. What is the point of her. Seemed like she was going to be the new "Boba Fett", but instead she was a waste of space. Is she just being set up for something greater in VIII? If so, then why not introduce her in VIII, instead of taking up precious screen time in the Star Wars movie that I'm watching now?
  • Everybody loves Andy Serkis, but why was his Snoke character motion-captured? Seems to me his look could have been achieved easily and more effectively with modern prosthetics, and without losing any of the performance. Snoke is seemingly a vital character to this story, and I don't believe he's real. Also, where did he come from anyway, after the fall of Palpatine and Vader? Will that be explained later? In my opinion, he should be Darth Plagueis, who was introduced in Episode III. I hope that's the case. It's the only thing that would make sense, and would tie all the Sith we know from the movies together.
  • Finn should not have been able to wield a lightsabre as well as he did, or hold his own as well as he did against Kylo Ren, even if Kylo was injured, conflicted, and holding back. It's just not believable for a non-Jedi, let alone someone who's never seen a lightsabre before.
  • Same thing goes for Rey, though she obviously has the Force in her. But still - no training with the Force or a lightsabre, and she basically beat Kylo. Come on man.
  • And Rey's ability to pilot the Falcon the way she did, even poorly, and with the Falcon in as bad shape as it was in, and EVEN considering her (untrained) Force-sensitive skills, was unbelievable. It's a miracle that she didn't destroy the Falcon. Speaking of, the Falcon took so many BAD tumbles in this movie (I cringed every time) and somehow kept going. This movie tested my suspension of disbelief  beyond it's limits.
  • Shouldn't powerful Jedi (Master) Luke Skywalker have forseen the death of his friend Han Solo, and come to the rescue? In Empire he's a barely trained Padawan, yet Luke foresaw the pain of his friends on Bespin. I think Luke should have arrived and intervened during the Rey/Kylo battle, saving Rey (which I would have loved, and which would have been more believable than Rey doing as well as she did). It would have also been such a better intro to Luke Skywalker in the movie than that final scene was. Only thing I can think of is that Luke did foresee Han's death, but remained in hiding for fear that he would be captured by the First Order, preventing him from bringing the Jedi back and defeating them for good. If that's the case, they better sell the shit out of that in VIII. I need to BELIEVE it was worth killing Solo for. 
  • Speaking of that final scene, it didn't fill me with the emotion that I think was intended. The whole movie was leading up to that moment, and there was no satisfaction for me when I actually saw Rey find Luke. It was too predictable, and didn't feel organic. I would have at least had Luke take the lightsabre from her hand - some interaction. He just stood there. As much as I wanted to see Luke Skywalker again, it would have been better I think to give us the Empire ending, with Rey and Chewie flying off in the Falcon to look for Luke. 
  • Han Solo. Shit. I'm still working out the good and bad of his dying, and the only thing that makes me okay with it is something that I haven't seen anyone else mention: Han risked his life to bring back his son --- for Leia. That kind of makes me okay with it, though it's a hard pill to swallow. Maybe if he went out a little more heroically, saving someone else's life in the process, it would have been easier to accept. But as I'm writing this, I think I'm becoming more accepting with how it happened. I said going in that in order for Kylo to be taken seriously as a dangerous character, he'd have to kill somebody important. Well, he did. (But HAN?!?) And I guess it's fitting that Kylo had to face his father and kill him in order to advance as a Sith lord, much the same way that Luke's final test was to face his father before he could become a Jedi.
  • Most of the movie "looked" pretty good, but the CG creatures that Han and Chewie are transporting stood out like a sore thumb.
  • Star Wars usually introduces us to a memorable new species of creatures: Jawas, Ewoks, TaunTauns, etc. What was the memorable new species from TFA? Can't think of any. 
  • I'm amazed that soon after Disney bought Lucasfilm, they officially de-cannonized all of the Expanded Universe stories that came after Return of the Jedi, only to STRIP MINE many key elements from it for use in this movie! - In the EU, one of Han/Leia's force-sensitive kids (Jacen) is trained by Luke, and then turns to the darkside. In the EU, Luke has a kid named Ben. In the EU, the Empire builds a Death Star like weapon called the Sun Crusher that can take out multiple planets at once by destroying their sun. Why, with all of the money and creative talent available for STAR WARS EPISODE 7, is there a need to take from other sources? They can literally write any kind of story they want, but instead opt to re-use elements from other writers who will get no credit or $ for their ideas that have ended up in one of the biggest movies of all time.
  • Not only were important elements reused from EU content, but the overall plot of TFA, as many have pointed out, is basically the plot of the original Star Wars: A New Hope. The Empire = The First Order. Rebels = Resistance. Death Star = Starkiller Base. Unsuspecting Force-Sensitive desert-living protagonist Luke = Anakin = Rey (all Skywalkers I believe). I want originality, especially in a brand new Star Wars film. They basically pulled a Jurassic World. Such a waste of an opportunity. Taking risks can pay off - just ask George Lucas how his risk called "Star Wars" turned out. And bringing something new to this Star Wars film isn't even a risk (financially) because the movie is going to be a huge success no matter what.
  • There are plenty of proven Star Wars motifs that I do like to see again and again in every Star Wars film, like a good cantina scene, but the cantina scene in TFA was not very memorable. There are so many memorable scenes from the original trilogy; cantina, trash compactor, trench run, Hoth battle, Dagobah training, carbonite chamber, Jabba's palace, Sarlaac pit, Endor battle, Luke vs Vader vs Emperor climax, etc. How many memorable, original scenes have you taken away from TFA? Most of what I took with me was based on nostalgia from the originals, not so much new ideas, themes, visuals or emotions.
  • Lastly, many of my reservations I've mentioned can be traced to the movie's apparent dependence on Episodes 8 and 9 to fulfill satisfaction. As Part 1 in a new 3 Part series, though it's okay to set some exposition up for the following Episodes, EVERY MOVIE should stand on it's own as satisfying from beginning to end, without exception. Even Empire, which ends on a bitter note and leaves several important loose ends, manages to succeed as a satisfying standalone film.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Skyfall








Casino Royale is one of the best films of the last 10 years, largely due to the fresh performance of Daniel Craig as 007, as well as the excellent craftsmanship from director Martin Campbell and his production team. It's followup, Quantum of Solace, was also good but slightly disappointing for me since expectations were so high after Royale. This brings us to Skyfall, which for me, falls somewhere in between it's two predecessors.    

It's character-driven and quiet for the most part, which is good, but it may be just a little too quiet for a Bond film. Craig continues to evolve the character, and there are some dramatic changes with other characters in the story which may or may not set up an interesting reality for Bond to live in as the series continues. 

The A-Team-style third act was a nice change of pace for Skyfall, but again, it needed a few more fights and explosions to make it fully satisfying. I will look forward to the next 007 film with the same anticipation as I had for the previous two, but in reality we may never see another one as good as Casino Royale. At least Daniel Craig will continue to wear the tuxedo, for a few more anyway...



Skyfall (2012)  




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Wreck-It Ralph







Wreck-It Ralph is great. Those who don't know a thing about early arcade games or modern video gaming will really like this movie... and gamers will love it. The characters, relationships, visuals, and action would entertain anyone. 

Though it is a Disney Animation Studios production, it feels like a Pixar film. This is the first time I've felt the impact of Disney's acquisition of Pixar several years back. John Lasseter of Pixar was put in charge to oversee all Disney animated film projects, including Pixar productions. Now, not only do we continue to get Pixar quality storytelling and animation from Pixar, we also get it from Disney. This is good. 

This movie is in my Top 5 of 2012, and though animated films weren't a big attraction for me as a kid, Wreck-It-Ralph makes me hopeful for future animated films from Disney. (Did I just say 'hopeful' and 'Disney' in the same sentence...?)



Wreck-It Ralph (2012)  




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Monday, November 5, 2012

Looper







I've always liked time travel stories. Unfortunately, there are very few good ones that have been successfully made into movies. And it's been a while since we've had a good time travel movie in theatres, so I am very happy to say that Looper works. 

It's not a perfect film. There's an unnecessary subplot about a small percentage of the future population with telekinesis abilities. And even though I appreciated the effort of the director and makeup artists, I didn't need to see Joesph Gordon-Levitt's face manipulated to look more believable as a younger Bruce Willis. The result is that Gordon-Levitt kind of looks like himself, and kind of doesn't. It is distracting. There's not a whole lot there to beef up the story, beyond cookie-cutter bad guys and the obligatory love interest (I love Emily Blunt but her role/storyline wasn't necessary). 

What makes this film worth watching is the heart of the story, which focuses on a man who must fight with a version of himself from another time, and that was fascinating enough. It's not necessary to see this one in the theatre, which is fine because at this point you'd probably need a time machine to find it still playing anywhere...



Looper (2012)  




If there's a movie you'd like me to review, past or present, 
send me a request and I'll see what I can do.