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?