Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Movie Review

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (PG-13) Starring Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Greg Grunberg and Max von Sydow.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams & Michael Arndt.
Directed by JJ Abrams.


Rewatching the first six movies reminded me of something - the cognative dissonance required to enjoy the prequels. I have to ignore the stilted dialogue, stiff performances, over-reliance on CGI to get to the parts I like. None of that is required here. This movie is a pleasure from beginning to end, reimursing us in the original Star Wars galaxy.

One of the joys of the movie was seeing everything I didn't know was going to happen. We've gathered certain scenes and characters in general - i.e. the Millenium Falcon will fly again!  This one dives right into the action from the opening scrawl. (And yes, there were cheers when the Star Wars logo hit the screen.) We may start with some of the new characters, but we know we'll eventually see all of our old friends.

Of the new characters, there is Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on Jakku, a junkyard planet that makes Tattooine look like a luxury resort. There is Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who grows a conscience. There is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a cocky but skilled pilot. And there's BB-8, a roller-droid that kids will love as much as they did R2-D2.

Every scene builds on the next. It hits a lot of familiar beats but it also managed to build a lot of suspense as to what direction it was going to ultimately go. I can't wait to watch it a second time to look for things I missed.

I hope this movie makes enough money that they'll decide to make Episode VIII.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Spotlight - Movie Review

SPOTLIGHT (R) Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian D'Arcy James, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan, Neal Huff and Len Cariou.
Written by Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer.
Directed by Tom McCarthy.


Spotlight is a tightly directed, straightforward journalism mystery in the spirit of All the President's Men, when a small group of journalists decided to take on a giant institution.

This is about the "Spotlight" team at the Boston Globe, which refers to the team that does long-form investigation. This is back when print still mattered more than the internet, in 2001. When Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) took over the Globe, he was seen as an outsider, and it took an outsider to focus the spotlight team, led by Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), on the recent stories of Catholic priests molesting children in Boston. At first it seemed like two or three cases, but Baron wanted them to look at the system that was enabling these priests.

It's a great example of when a thoroughly-researched story can make a difference, and how much work actually went into said research. In the internet age, this may be becoming a lost art. There is not a wasted scene, and each one builds the next. It's a precisely crafted procedural that manages to build suspense even as we know what the outcome is.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice - New trailer

Trailer 1
Trailer 2

Even though Man of Steel was not a good movie, and this sequel looks like it's going to make many of the same mistakes, I was still hyped by the second trailer in spite of myself. Hyped for parts of it. Overall, my guess is still that this movie won't be that good. Here's 5 thoughts on the new trailer.

1. I really like Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne; it looks very interesting. We've had Bruce in his 30's with Christian Bale, but now Bruce is in his 40's, and he looks a little more weary and angry. He looks like the Bruce that would be sick of dealing with the Suicide Squad. I like the way he stares through Clark Kent. He knows he can crush anyone physically or with his wealth and power, and he constantly has to stay the good guy. After all the destruction from Man of Steel, he's a Bruce who deeply resents the existence of Superman. This is a Bruce you really hope doesn't develop a drinking problem.

2. I'm not sure what Jesse Eisenberg is doing quite yet as Lex Luthor but I'm willing to go with it. I've never pictured Luthor as a squirrely guy, but Eisenberg seems to be going for evil-geek-genius. He looks like he'll be the main source of humor from the movie, which is fine. Gene Hackman was hilarious as Lex in the first film. There's still a great chance that this Lex is a wild misfire.

3. The film still looks too much like a Zack Snyder film. I've liked some of Zack's films in the past (Watchmen, 300, Dawn of the Dead), but after Man of Steel, I thought it was pretty clear he shouldn't be the one in charge of Superman. Therefore this movie looks like it's going to repeat many of the mistakes MoS made. Way too dark, self-conscious action sequences that go too long, and general black-red sheen that depresses the viewer the longer they're trapped in this world. That sheen's great for dark movies like Watchmen, but for Superman and the Justice League, can't we lightnen up a little?

4. Turning General Zod into Doomsday might have sounded like a good idea on paper to someone somewhere, but he looked like a cave troll from Middle Earth. Doomsday has a brain; he's not some randomly-roaring monster.

5. I'm a little worried about Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Her acting hasn't jumped out to me in the Fast & Furious movies, and here all we've seen so far is her posing. She looks great in the part, but is there going to be more to it?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is #1 at box office

For the weekend of November 27-29, 2015, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 held on to the top spot despite the latest Pixar title coming to town. THG:M2 is still trending behind the other three films domestically, but as it's already at $440 million wordlwide, I can't imagine studio executives are too upset about it.

The Good Dinosaur hasn't had much of a ramp-up compared to most Pixar fare, but it's been able to enjoy the long Thanksgiving weekend, and it should stay the #2 movie in America until the new Star Wars gets here.

Creed has the reviews to back up it up as its own movie and not just Rocky VII.

Victor Frankenstein was a spectacular bomb. Not even having Professor X (James McAvoy) and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) could save it.

Thanksgiving weekend is usually good for box office overall, and titles that were already open had small declines.

Award-hopefuls like Spotlight, Brooklyn, and Trumbo could really use some actual nominations for something to use in their marketing.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Beasts of No Nation - Netflix Review

BEASTS OF NO NATION (R) Starring Abraham Attah and Idris Elba.
Written & directed by Cary Joji Fukunaka.


The country may be fictitious, but you can tell it borrows heavily from the quagmire of war-torn Congo. The story centers on Agu (Abraham Attah), a 12-year-old boy who sees his family slaughtered by government guards. He flees into the jungle, barely escaping his own execution, before he runs into Commandante (Idris Elba), a rebel leader with an army of young killers.

At first, Agu and his new brothers seem like they're fighting for a just cause, overthrowing the corrupt and murderous government. But soon enough, Commandante's true nature is revealed, and the boys are whipped into frenzies to commit worse and worse atrocities. There are no heroes; there are no good guys.

We witness the horrors of civil war through the eyes of Agu, and innocence is lost on a devastating scale. Newcomer Attah does an amazing job, which is significant since he has to share the screen with Elba, who might be doing his own career-best work.

This is all directed masterfully by Cary Joji Fukunaka (True Detective), and his camera work is on par with anything from Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket. There's almost a poetry to the carnage.

This movie manages to sink into the bones of its audience. It makes the mentality of mass murder comprehensible, and therefore all the more disturbing. It goes to some dark, dark places; I don't think I can exaggerate how dark it gets.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is #1 at box-office

For the weekend of November 20-22, 2015, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 had the fifth-highest opening of the year. It's the lowest opening of the series, but if your lowest opening is still $100 million, you've had a good franchise.

The Night Before was a disappointment for Seth Rogen and crew, but they kept the budget relatively low. Secret in Their Eyes bombed, surprisingly. This movie should have opened in March or September, and even if he has the biggest part, I would not have top-billed Chiwetel Ejiofor over Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman. But the reviews are bad, so maybe marketing did the best they could.

Spectre has passed $675 million worldwide. If I was Daniel Craig, I'd make sure to get in a fifth Bond movie to pass Brosnan. Maybe even a sixth to tie Connery. Roger Moore has the most at seven, but keep in mind those seven films came out in a 12-year span. Craig now has four Bond films down in a 9-year span.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Spectre - Movie Review

SPECTRE (PG-13) Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Andrew Scott and Rory Kinnear.
Written by John Logan & Neal Purvis & Robert Wade & Jez Butterworth.
Directed by Sam Mendes.
It’s not quite Quantum of Solace bad, but it’s not Skyfallgood either. Here’s where I first thought we might be in trouble. The movie opens with an impression opening scene in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. A giant parade of thousands going down the street. James Bond (Daniel Craig) sees his target and shoots. Somehow the building blows up. I couldn’t tell if Bond had some sort of mini-rocket or if some villains blew up the building. Anyway, after the explosion, he sees his main target still alive and he chases him.
About two blocks later, the parade is still going as if no one heard that building explode. The celebration continues. The movie seems to forget that it just blew up a building. When Bond catches his guy trying to escape by helicopter, the shots of the city somehow don’t include a burning pile of rubble. “You just blew up a building two blocks away. How comes no one’s noticed?”
Spectre feels like an assembly of cool set pieces and stunts, but they never really strung them together with a compelling plot. I think that’s why it feels empty when we get to our showdown between Bond and Franz (Christoph Waltz). What is Franz’s ultimate goal? Why is he doing what he’s doing? Why doesn’t he just kill Bond?
Don’t get me wrong. The set pieces, the stunt-work, the locations, etc., are all top-notch. I also liked how Bond’s supporting characters are given more to do than be in the office and the beginning and end of the story. M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw), and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) all actually go on the road to help Bond with his latest, off-the-books mission.
Really, a few of the Bond films have suffered over the years from not having villains with clear motives. So this seems to follow in that tradition.