Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Well, everyone. This is it. The big one. The movie review that everyone has been waiting all year for and it’s a movie that I have been promoting throughout 2015. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the review for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

But first, let’s talk about Star Wars. To sum it up, the Star Wars franchise is my Twilight, my Harry Potter, my Hunger Games franchise. The first Star Wars movie I did not see in theaters because it came out nine months before I was born. The first time I saw Star Wars was on Videodisc in the early 80’s. Then as my long-term viewers know, my earliest childhood memory was seeing Empire Strikes Back at the drive-in in Hudson, New York when I was 2 years old. I distinctly remember seeing Yoda on the big screen. Then three years later I saw Return of the Jedi at the drive-in in Hyde Park. And when the Special Edition movies were released in theaters, I didn’t have enough money to see the special editions of the original and Empire Strikes Back but as a reward from managing Girls’ basketball at Red Hook High School I got a movie pass to the movies in Red Hook where I used the pass for several movies and the first one I used the pass on was the special edition of Return of the Jedi (and that was before George Lucas got the idea to digitally insert Hayden Christensen at the end.)

And yeah, there were the prequels. I saw Phantom Menace in theaters as well as Attack of the Clones and yes, I felt let down like everyone else. And I didn’t see Episode 3 until it came out on DVD because I didn’t have the money. And I thought that Episode 3 was the best of the prequels despite the cheesy Hayden Christensen dialogue and a cheesy “Noooo!” when he finally turns into Darth Vader. And I did not see the Clone Wars cartoon or movie but I’ll take your word for it that they suck and I haven’t seen that Rebels cartoon either.

But when I heard that JJ Abrams who is a devout Star Wars fan was going to direct The Force Awakens and after watching each of the trailers that were released since last November I got more excited but I think everyone really got stoked for when they saw Han and Chewie at the end of the second trailer. At that point I realized that this was going to be really special. And when I saw it in theaters opening night, I was not disappointed.

And since there may still be people who have not seen the brilliance of The Force Awakens yet, I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible which means I will not give away the three major spoilers (and there are three major spoilers) and they are the true identity of Kylo Ren, who dies in the movie, and probably the most important one of all: Where the hell is Luke Skywalker? In fact, the first line in the opening crawl is “Luke Skywalker has vanished,” which sets up that Luke is kind of the goal of the movie and that’s all I can tell you. Everything else, you have to see the movie. But I’ll give out one little spoiler: One of the most quoted Star Wars lines that appeared in every movie is here too and everyone knows what that line is: “I have a bad feeling about this.”

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Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

From the get-go, you can tell that this film is sort of a love letter to the original trilogy as in there is a lot of parallels to A New Hope as well as a couple little nods to The Empire Strikes Back. You get that Rey is actually being set up to be the new Luke Skywalker which is actually a big deal because she is a woman who just happens to handle herself really well despite the fact that she is introduced as this person who has pretty much been on her own all of her life. She is played by Daisy Ridley who has been compared by critics to Keira Knightley and not just because they’re both British. And the comparisons are sort of ironic because one of Keira’s earliest roles was in Star Wars (she was Natalie Portman’s double in The Phantom Menace.) And also Daisy Ridley is kind of a cross between Carrie Fisher in the original trilogy’s heyday and Natalie Portman in the prequels.

Anyway, after the iconic opening crawl sequence and the movie begins, we are introduced to the remains of the Empire, now calling themselves The First Order and they are actually more evil than even the Empire was in the original trilogy and their goal as established in the crawl is to find Luke Skywalker and wipe him off the face of the earth because he is the last Jedi Knight. On the other end, there is the Resistance which is an evolved form of the Rebel Alliance that is led by General Leia (played once again by Carrie Fisher who actually gets only several minutes of screen time.) The First Order also has a Death Star-style weapon which they’re calling the Starkiller Base (which I’m guessing is kind of a nod to Luke Skywalker’s original name when George Lucas was writing the original Star Wars) which has the power to annihilate whole galaxies as opposed to a single planet (or in the case of the second Death Star in Jedi two giant Rebel starships.)

We are also first introduced to Finn (played by John Boydega) who is still slightly controversial because of the whole black Stormtrooper thing and in later trailers when he is seen wielding Luke’s and Anakin’s original lightsaber which was lost in Empire Strikes Back and that lightsaber plays a key role in this movie which is good. At first glimpse we assumed that he was an undercover Resistance operative but the truth is he really is a First Order Stormtrooper who winds up defecting to the Resistance because he is sickened by what the First Order stands for and refuses to carry out atrocities in their name (and that is partly the reason for the PG-13 rating and it is the second Star Wars movie to get said rating along with Revenge of the Sith.)

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“Look how awesome and badass my triple-bladed lightsaber is.”

We are also introduced to the movie’s main villain Kylo Ren and his medieval-looking lightsaber who is played by Adam Driver who does a pretty good job and is believable as a villain who worships Darth Vader and follow in his footsteps (hell he even has the melted remains of Darth Vader’s mask on a shrine.) We get to see him use the Force primarily to torture people like when he tortures the X-Wing fighter pilot in the final trailer. And there are a couple instances when he comes off as whiny especially one scene where he takes his triple-bladed lightsaber and goes to town on a computer console when he finds out that our heroes got away. Thankfully, he doesn’t go too far into Hayden Christensen territory whenever he has his temper tantrums.

And speaking of the X-Wing fighter pilot in this movie, his name is Poe Dameron and he is played by Oscar Isaac and you can tell that they’re building him up to be the next Han Solo. His droid co-pilot BB-8 (the R2/Wilson hybrid) contains information vital to the Resistance and they have to get him back to the Resistance so that they can get the plans so they can save the galaxy (sound familiar?) And I actually like BB-8 who I think is actually cuter than R2-D2.

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“Chewie, we’re home.”

While the first third is introducing us to the new characters, the second act begins after they escape from the planet Jakku and we are reintroduced to Han Solo and Chewbacca and as far as I’m concerned Harrison Ford is easily the best part of the movie. Even though he is playing a 70-year-old Han Solo, you can tell he is still Han Solo and managed to avoid what happened when he made a comeback as Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (speaking of which the new Emperor, a character that is named Supreme Leader Snoke and is played by Andy Serkis actually looks like one of the aliens that appeared at the end of Crystal Skull.) Like I said before when Han is telling Finn and Rey that everything about the Jedi, the Sith and the Force is all true because before that scene, Rey was pretty much convinced that Luke Skywalker wasn’t even real. In short, she is just like the audience. And as I commented in my review of the last trailer when the scene where Han says that the Force and the Jedi are real, I was like, “Han Solo is the last person I would expect to acknowledge the existence of the Force” because when we meet him in New Hope, Han was a non-believer who felt that the only thing he needed was a gun and a lot of luck. So basically what I got out of Han in this movie is that he is basically a hybrid between the Han we all grew up with and Obi-Wan Kenobi because he is older and wiser.

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Just like old times.

And the effects are pretty awesome. There are some characters who are CGI but JJ said that he wanted to go back to how the original trilogy was done as far as using models as opposed to all CGI like the prequels did. I liked seeing the new X-Wing fighters, the new TIE-fighters and of course the Millennium Falcon and there are a lot of good scenes involving that too. But I gotta warn you there are some JJ-trademarks in the movie including of course lens flares and there are a couple instances of Shakycam which is prominent during the Millennium Falcon chase sequence on Jakku where the TIE-fighters chase the Falcon into the rocket booster of a wrecked Star Destroyer. At first I was worried that I was going to be comparing this to Star Trek 2009 which some accused of being a remake of New Hope but actually the comparisons here are minimal. About the only way I can compare the two movies is the fact that both films have the same approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent. By comparison, both A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back both have a 94 rating.

In short, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Was it worth the wait? Fuck, yes it was! This film is everything the prequels were not. This shows that this was done by someone who cares about Star Wars and about the characters rather than just churning a half-assed product out for a quick buck again like the prequels. And here’s where I will let out a teeny-tiny spoiler: JJ put a scene in where there is obviously a nod to the prequels. You have to watch for it but trust me it’s there.

The Force Awakens is so good that it will leave you saying, “Prequels? What prequels?” It’s a movie that truly is Star Wars and stays true to the ideals of the original movies. People who grew up on this franchise and felt betrayed by the prequels will feel nostalgia for the originals and it will very likely bring in new fans of the franchise as well. So if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for? Get out there now and see it and the countdown has officially begun for Episode 8 which is expected to be released in The Force Awakens’ December 2017 which is fitting because 2017 will mark the 40th anniversary of the original film. And also don’t forget about the spinoff movies that will be appearing starting with this December’s Rogue One.

 

 

Robocop (2014)

Robocop: A better remake of a Paul Verhoeven movie than Total Recall.

Robocop: A better remake of a Paul Verhoeven movie than Total Recall.

Let’s talk a little bit about remakes. Many people are getting sick and tired of them to the point where moviegoers in general are saying that Hollywood has run out of ideas. And to certain degree, I agree with them.

However, I will point out that there have been some good remakes (The 2010 version of The Karate Kid with Jackie Chan comes to mind.) But there are some remakes that have come out that actually justify people bashing the concept of remakes. The best example of this is the 2012 remake of the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall, which wasn’t even a remake of Total Recall at all. It was a really crappy remake of Blade Runner. And another major problem with that remake is that it was released with a PG-13 rating while the original film carried an R rating for its excessive violence (I mean Ahnuld rips a guy’s arms out of his sockets for god’s sakes.)

And the remake of Total Recall shares one other thing with the movie we’re reviewing today: This movie is also a PG-13 rated remake of an overly-violent R-rated movie directed by Paul Verhoeven, who was also responsible for such films as Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers (also rumored to be getting a remake,) and who could forget his crowning achievement, Showgirls. However, without going into details too much further: Let’s get on with the remake we’re reviewing today: Robocop.

As far as the story goes, it does follow the format established by the original 1987 movie which was released as an ultra-violent satirical take on the world of the not-too-distant future (this film is set in 2028.) One thing I do like however is the fact that the remake’s director, Jose Padilha manages to keep the Robocop story relevant to going-ons in today’s world as referenced in the film’s opening where a show called “The Novak Factor,” a Fox-News type show hosted by Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak opens his show with a news story about how America is using robot drones to liberate Iran and cut back on military casualties and has the host praising the drones’ successful thwarting of a suicide bomber attack and believes that the drone program could also work to curb the increase in crime and cut back on the casualties of law enforcement officials.

The drones are actually the product of Omnicorp, whose CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) gets the idea of putting a permanently-injured police officer inside one of the robotic drones to help sway public opinion in favor of the use of drones in American law enforcement and enlists his top scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to find a test subject for their “Robocop.”

Eventually they find their subject after a car bomb placed by a drug lord severely injures maverick Detroit Detective Alex Murphy (played by Joel Kinnaman.) And here’s where things differ from the original: In the original, Murphy (who was played by Peter Weller) was killed by a hitman. Here, he is still alive when he is integrated into the Robocop suit with the consent of his bereaved wife Clara (Abbie Cornish.) And another big difference from the original is that Murphy’s partner Lewis is a man rather than a woman, probably to focus more on Murphy’s family which they weren’t really able to do in the original.

After extensive training that includes tinkering with his brain to suppress his humanity and natural decision-making to make him more efficient, Robocop is unveiled to the public where he immediately wins the public over by arresting a wanted criminal who managed to blend into the crowd. And for a while the crime rate begins to drop. That is until Murphy’s human side begins to override his programming as he sets out to solve his own attempted murder, just like in the original.

There are also some Easter Eggs from the original movie that pop up during the remake: For example the original Robocop theme music pops up occasionally during the course of the movie, most notably during Samuel L. Jackson’s Novak Factor reports. Plus the model for the original Robocop is seen in Sellars’ office. The ED-209, another drone robot that was one of Robocop’s adversaries in the original movie pops up as well. But with some deviations here and there partly to keep it relevant with today’s society, the remake more or less follows the original story pretty well.

The acting for the most part was pretty solid. Joel Kinnaman is a little bit more human in the role of Robocop than Peter Weller was in the first. Once again, I also like the fact that we got to see more of Murphy as a family man in the remake which more or less corrects a mistake that was made in the original films. Abbie Cornish also does a good job for what little screen time she has as Murphy’s wife. However the real performances comes from Gary Oldman as the conflicted scientist who knows that what he’s doing is wrong as far as tampering with Murphy’s brain to make him less human but ultimately redeems himself when he saves Murphy’s life when Sellars orders him terminated. Also Samuel L. Jackson comes through yet again as only he can and here’s where I will give out a little ending spoiler here: He gets to say his favorite word even though it’s bleeped out because he’s on air at the time. I’ll say, if Samuel L. Jackson really was a reporter for Fox News, I would definitely watch. Also Jackie Earle Haley (who also starred in a remake: Playing Freddy Krueger in the 2010 remake of Nightmare on Elm Street) is pretty funny as the military guy who trains Murphy and consistently refers to him as “Tin Man.” And Michael Keaton does a brilliant job channeling an evil version of Steve Jobs as Sellars.

The effects are awesome in this movie and as far as the new Robocop armor goes as well as the new capabilities it possesses goes, I was blown away. For starters, the trademark Robocop helmet with the visor only goes down when he goes into combat mode whereas when he is not in action, the visor is up and you can see his face. When I first saw production stills for this movie with Kinnaman in the Robocop armor, I was like “Did he raid Christian Bale’s Batman costumes from Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy?” Again the Batman connections to this movie are enormous (in addition to original Batman actor Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman who played Commissioner Gordon in the Nolan films.) And I also like the idea of Robocop creating a weapon to suit whatever situation he faces rather than relying on only one giant gun that only he can fire. For example, instead of just a gun where he can only kill people like in the original, he also has an assortment of non-lethal weapons including a taser which he uses quite a bit. Plus he also runs and jumps, which is something he couldn’t do in the original.

So I know what you’re thinking and despite the fact that the movie received a mixed reception from both critics and fans of the original franchise, I have to file this remake under “good remake.” For one thing, this movie is a better remake of a Paul Verhoeven movie than Total Recall, especially since this is an actual remake of Robocop rather than another movie that is pretending to be a remake of Total Recall. And comparing it to the original films, I have to say that while it’s almost as good as the original (the prolonged training sequences slow the movie down,) it’s way better than Robocop 3 (the franchise’s other attempt to make Robocop more appealing to a wide audience apart from the cartoon series and live-action TV series, both of which I watched growing up.)

So if you want to see a good remake and are a fan of the franchise and want to see a fresh take on an iconic character, then this movie is for you. I can’t recommend this enough.

 

The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie

Well it’s been a while since I’ve actually seen a kids movie in theaters primarily because there are none that were released that were actually interesting. Well that is until now. This movie I am reviewing today is a movie that has received almost unanimously positive reviews and you would think at first that the concept would be silly but it is probably one of the most brilliantly executed movies in a good long while. And this movie also marks a milestone for me because this movie is actually not the first movie that I have seen in 3D overall (that honor belongs to Friday the 13th 3D) but this movie marks the first movie released to theaters that I have seen in 3D. So without further ado, here is my review of the movie that has taken the world by storm: The LEGO Movie.

This movie has been in development for several years even though I’m pretty much convinced that this film’s existence is primarily due to the success of shows like Robot Chicken and also due to the success that LEGO has had with its video game adaptations of popular film franchises such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Batman, and Pirates of the Caribbean among others and there are plans to release games based on Ghostbusters (in June) and Back to the Future (next year.)

However, enough said here. Now let’s get on to the movie.

The movie focus on a LEGO minifigure named Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt) who is basically an Average Joe construction worker who isn’t really creative or popular yet maintains an overly optimistic outlook. However, he is soon mistaken to be the man known as the Special who will find the Piece of Resistance which is the key to stopping a weapon that threatens all of LEGO-kind. Opposing him is Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) who is also the president of the dystopian LEGO city that Emmett lives and works in and his right-hand man Good Cop/Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson.) When we first meet Lord Business, he is wearing a headpiece that kind of makes him look like Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and he is seen stealing the secret weapon known as the Kragle which has the ability to freeze all the LEGO figures in place.

Soon Emmett is joined in his quest by a mysterious woman called Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks from The Hunger Games), her boyfriend LEGO Batman (yes, you heard that right. Her boyfriend is LEGO Batman and he’s voiced by Will Arnett who actually does a decent job portraying the LEGO version of the Dark Knight,) a wise blind sage called Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) and Princess Uni-Kitty (voiced by Community’s Alison Brie) among countless other.

As far as the pace of the movie goes, there isn’t really a bad thing I can say about this. Pretty much every joke used in the movie works. The 3D effects are pretty good and I also like the effects involving the construction of many various LEGO objects and they put the number of the product right next to the blueprints. I also like the transistions that pop up throughout the movie like for example at the beginning of the movie where Emmett is singing the theme song of the movie he remarks that he could sing that song for hours. Then the caption comes up “Five hours later…” and he’s still singing. The voice acting is pretty decent, especially by Liam Neeson, who sounded like he was having a good time playing the bad guy. And there is a bit of a twist toward the end that I won’t spoil here. And also look for some cleverly-placed cameos from all the characters that LEGO adapted into video game characters, such as LEGO Superman, LEGO Wonder Woman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and even a cameo by the Millennium Falcon piloted by Han Solo with Lando Calrissian and C3-PO in tow (Note: With the exception of Han Solo, Lando and C3-PO are voiced by the original actors.)

So in short, if you haven’t gotten out to see this movie, you have to see it while it’s still in theaters. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or a kid at heart and don’t let people say that you’re too old for a movie like this. I’m 36 and I enjoyed this movie. I’m glad I went to see it and I’m really proud to say that this is the first movie I saw in 3D in theaters.

So there’s nothing really left to say about The LEGO Movie except that just like the theme song says, “Everything is awesome!”

Man of Steel

Man of Steel.

Man of Steel.

Okay, here it is folks. The review you have all been waiting for. Here is a review of a movie that I have been waiting several months to see and I originally was supposed to attend a special opening night screening of this movie that was sponsored by Walmart this past summer but then Mother Nature decided to cancel my plans and give us a flood warning instead so I couldn’t be able to go. And so I waited and waited and waited until I finally bought it on DVD. Well I finally watched it and since I still owe everyone this review now seven months later I am finally going to deliver. Ladies and gentlemen, here is my long-awaited review of this past summer’s Superman reboot as produced by Christopher Nolan (who successfully reimagined Batman for modern audiences) and directed by Zack Snyder (300 and Watchmen.) And without further ado, here is Man of Steel.

When this came out, I was shocked at the fact that it holds a 56 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the reception for this movie has everyone on the Internet split right down the middle as far as whether this movie is good or this movie sucks. Now what do I think about it? Well, I actually thought that the movie was pretty good for a reboot of a character that many people cannot really relate to as I mentioned in my review of Superman IV. I mean, how can people relate to a man from another planet that appears somewhat God-like? I guess that was the whole point of the reboot: How to make Superman more relatable to a modern audience, hence the reason for the dark tone of the movie. In this movie, Superman is portrayed more as an outsider who is conflicted about what his lot in life is. He has all these powers, he’s indestructible and all that stuff. But he’s torn over whether he should use his powers for good or evil. He was practically raised to do the right thing but as an outsider, he is conflicted. Like he says at the end of the movie, “I’m from Kansas. That’s as American as it gets.” And for generations the Midwest has been known for its good moral values.

So why does this movie have everyone split down the middle? Let’s find out.

The movie opens on Krypton (of course, this is an origin story) and the Krypton scenes are very well done, almost to the point where it looks more like Pandora from Avatar than it does the Krypton we saw in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies.  On Krypton, they ride winged creatures as well as space vehicles. Russell Crowe is actually pretty badass as Jor-El and he turns in a pretty decent performance and on the plus side, at least he doesn’t sing  in this movie.

"I WILL FIND HIM!" Must be the 21st Century's version of "Kneel before Zod!

“I WILL FIND HIM!” Must be the 21st Century’s version of “Kneel before Zod!”

The scene where they put the baby Superman (Krypton’s first natural birth in centuries as opposed to everyone else who are actually harvested like in the Matrix movies) into the spaceship is handled with a bit more emotion than in the original version. At the same time, Krypton is under attack from General Zod, an ex-military general who wants to take over Krypton. Here he’s played by Michael Shannon and like Crowe as Jor-El, he is more badass than Terence Stamp although Terence Stamp’s interpretation of Zod in the Reeve films is still iconic. I mean, Zod in this movie doesn’t even say “Kneel before Zod!” like he does in Superman II. The closest he gets is when he shouts “I WILL FIND HIM!” before he is sent to the Phantom Zone.

Of course everyone knows the story up to this point. Baby Superman flies toward Earth; General Zod gets sent off to the Phantom Zone; Krypton go boom; Baby Superman crashes on a fishing boat. Wait, what?

Well, I guess the remainder of the first half of the movie plays like a remake of Batman Begins recast with Superman.

Right after the Krypton scenes, we cut to the grown-up Clark (now played by Henry Cavill) who is working on a fishing boat when they come up on an oil rig that is about to explode. Clark saves the people on the rig, but then we cut to Clark as a boy in school discovering his powers. Then we cut back to him as a man and then we cut to the young Clark saving a school bus full of kids. And you pretty much get the idea.

And here’s where we come to the first real low point of the movie: Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. When he chastises Clark for exposing himself to save a bunch of kids, it shows you how much of a dick he is in this movie. And I agree with a lot of the Internet reviewers on the grounds that Kevin Costner is the worst Jonathan Kent ever. As far as I’m concerned the best Jonathan Kent ever was Bo Duke on Smallville with the guy who played him in the original Superman movie a pretty close second. The part that pissed a lot of people off (myself included) was when Clark asks, “What was I supposed to do, let them drown?” To which Kevin replies, “Maybe.” I literally shouted “What the hell!” I mean, this is not Field of Dreams Kevin Costner. This is not Dances With Wolves Kevin Costner. Hell, this isn’t even The Bodyguard Kevin Costner. This is Waterworld Kevin Costner and this is the Kevin we’ve known for the last 20 years.  Does that mean that every movie he’s done since The Bodyguard was bad? No, but unfortunately he hasn’t had any good ones either. The last Kevin Costner movie I actually enjoyed post-Bodyguard was 3000 Miles to Graceland and that was because he was so hilariously bad in that movie as the psycho Elvis impersonator. And to think Kevin passed up Django Unchained for this. You know what? Maybe he should have done Django Unchained.

As far as Jonathan Kent telling Clark to let the kids die instead of risking exposure, I don’t buy it for a second. You’re supposed to be raised to do the right thing and then you turn around to let kids die? If I had super powers and I had to deal with a busload of kids drowning, I would have done the same exact thing Clark did: Save the freakin’ kids!

And later in the movie when Jonathan dies in a tornado, it’s basically done for the stupidest of reasons. He tries to rescue a dog and ends up breaking his leg. And this is something that he could have sent Clark to do but you know Jonathan, he doesn’t want Clark exposing himself because he’s afraid those pesky scientists will take him away and experiment on him. So he ends up getting swept away by the tornado. And the reason I don’t like this is because it cheapens Jonathan’s death to the point where the audience does not feel sorry for him when he buys the farm. I’m sorry but I’m not sorry to see this character go. At least with Jonathan Kent’s death scene in the original film, him dying of a heart attack and Clark being powerless to save him, at least that scene had more emotional oomph than Kevin Costner’s death in this movie.

But anyway, I don’t want to drag this on any longer, let’s continue. Right after the whole Kevin Costner controversy, we revert back to the present time where after being humiliated by a truck driver and later avenging that by crucifying his truck on an electric pole, Clark heads up to the North Pole where the US Military have discovered an unidentified object which turns out to be a Kryptonian ship buried in the ice. This also attracts the attention of reporter Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams, who is actually the best Lois Lane ever.) This Lois comes off as gutsy, independent and a risk taker as opposed to someone who just gets into trouble just so Superman could save her. And at least this Lois has the guts to say to Colonel Hardy (played by Christopher Meloni from Law and Order: SVU,) “Now that we’re done measuring dicks, you want to tell me what you found?” Let’s hear Margot Kidder say a line like that.

And the less said about Kate Bosworth the better.

So anyway, Lois sees Clark entering the Kryptonian vessel and follows him inside only to be attacked by one of the robots which Clark destroys and he heals her wound with his heat vision. Then he dumps her outside the vessel and takes off with it. And while Lois attempts to get her story of the spaceship out, Clark is learning all about his destiny and heritage from a hologram of Jor-El which leads to him putting on the costume (which in this case actually looks like a special body armor but not that far removed from the iconic costume that we all know and love) and learning how to fly.

And while that’s going on, let’s talk about another member of the cast: Laurence Fishburne who is playing Perry White (in a little twist of racial irony.) When we first meet him, we think he’s going to be another dick like Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent but at least Perry White has a valid excuse (he’s the editor of a newspaper.) When he first refuses to run Lois’ story, she considers putting it out on the Internet, but she eventually reconsiders running the story when she eventually tracks Clark down to Smallville. I actually like the fact that she knows that Clark is not of this world before he actually turns into Superman as opposed to her finding out later like she does in both comic and film canon.

However, General Zod resurfaces (apparently after Krypton was destroyed he and his followers were automatically released from the Phantom Zone) and takes over the world’s communication systems in an X-Files meets Independence Day sort of way. He demands that Clark surrender to them or they will destroy the planet. And so Clark arrives in costume and surrenders himself to the military to show them that he is not a threat and he talks to Lois (who had also been arrested by the government for what she knows) and here’s where we finally learn what the S on his chest really means. And the S doesn’t mean Superman. It is actually a symbol on Krypton meaning “hope” which makes sense because Superman is supposed to be the embodiment of hope.

Eventually Zod’s soldiers (including an Ursa lookalike) arrives to collect Clark and they take Lois too and Clark cannot adapt to Zod’s vessel’s atmosphere because it’s Kryptonian and he has been on Earth all his life. Well, you get the idea there. And it is here where Zod tries to get Clark to join him because Zod has a terraforming device that he wants to use to create a new Krypton. And if you remember Star Trek II (the original Star Trek II not the JJ Abrams version,) when a terraforming device is used on a planet where life exists, all life will be wiped out.

A new Superman for a new audience.

A new Superman for a new audience.

And with that, Lois and Clark escape from Zod’s ship with the assist of the hologram Jor-El and set out to stop the Kryptonians from destroying the Earth with their terraforming device which they have two such devices installed: One over Metropolis and the other over the Indian Ocean.

After saving Smallville (what’s left of it after the battle and finally convincing the military that he really is on the side of good,) Clark finally becomes known as Superman and sets out to destroy the terraforming device that is over the Indian Ocean while Lois and the military try to destroy the one over Metropolis. They eventually succeed but not before Metropolis ends up looking like 9/11, therefore making Man of Steel the second summer movie released in 2013 with said references (the other one being Star Trek Into Darkness where Khan attempts to crash the USS Vengeance into Starfleet Headquarters.)

And the final fight between Superman and Zod begins with even more destruction and this was also heavily critcized by audiences primarily because of the collateral damage assuming that Superman was also responsible for several deaths even though we don’t actually see any dead bodies in the wake of the falling debris. And here is where we come to the most controversial scene in the movie: The part where Superman breaks Zod’s neck.

Now before you get started on the whole “Oh, Superman doesn’t kill people!” rant, he has killed before, both in the comics and in Superman II and in both instances, the victim was General Zod. The point is that Superman does not enjoy killing people which is why he has that code in place and since this is an origin story, we need to see how Superman gets his no killing policy. And the main reason why he kills Zod was because Zod gave him NO OTHER OPTION! He was actually going to kill those people with his heat vision despite Superman telling him to stop. And it also shows Superman screaming in remorse even though in this case he did the right thing.

And as far as whether or not that scene bothered me, it didn’t.

However, the ending is kind of rushed although the joke about the female army captain remarking how hot Superman is was actually funny. And the movie ends with Clark finally donning the glasses and working for the Daily Planet.

And now on to performances. Henry Cavill actually did an awesome job and gave us a fresh take on the character. And here is the difference between him and Brandon Routh in Superman Returns. While Brandon Routh was trying to play Christopher Reeve, Henry Cavill was trying to play Superman. However it’s safe to say that Christopher Reeve’s legacy is safe. Amy Adams is by far the best actress to play Lois Lane. It erases the bad taste in my mouth that I got from Kate Bosworth in the last movie. Michael Shannon I mentioned before; Russell Crowe I mentioned before; Kevin Costner I mentioned before so no need to revisit that again but I do have to make one more remark about that: You know your Superman movie is in trouble when Russell Crowe ends up being the better father figure than Kevin Costner.

As far as everything else goes, Zack Snyder did a pretty good job with directing. Visuals were good even though it suffers from the same problems that many people accuse the JJ Abrams Star Trek films of: Too many lens flares and the Battlestar Galactica Shakycam effects. Hans Zimmer’s score is good even though I miss the John Williams score.

So as far as Man of Steel goes, it is at least as long as the original Superman movie (just under 2 and a half hours) and while it seems to fit right in with the movies that are released for people with short attention spans and expect movies like Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. However, Man of Steel is actually a pretty good movie. It fixed most of the problems that plagued Superman Returns (except for the whole Superman as a religious figure idea.) In short, Man of Steel is good despite its many flaws. Is it as good as the first two? No. Is it better than the other films? Yes.

And some final thoughts on Batman vs Superman which is currently set for release on May 6, 2016. How do I feel about Ben Affleck as Batman? Well I guess I’ll have to wait until that movie comes out. Christian Bale will be the best Batman ever but if Ben can pull it off then more power to him. Same goes for Gal Gadot (the hot girl from the Fast and Furious franchise) who had just been cast as Wonder Woman.

So my final thoughts: Don’t let the negative publicity surrounding this film dissuade you from seeing. If you want to see this film, see it with an open mind. If not, well just stick with the Christopher Reeve films. Well, except for Superman IV because we all know that was the worst Superman film ever.

 

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness. Better run, JJprise!

Star Trek Into Darkness. Better run, JJprise!

Well last week I reviewed the first big summer movie of the year, Iron Man 3. Today I am going to review another one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the year: Star Trek Into Darkness.

But before we begin, let’s look back at the last movie, 2009’s Star Trek reboot that was directed by JJ Abrams and written by the dream team of fanboy movies: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. This movie, which reintroduced Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew of the Starship Enterprise to a new audience after the franchise was nearly killed by endless sequels and spinoff TV shows. Many people were skeptical as to whether or not the movie would be successful enough to reinvigorate the franchise. The end result was a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which as far as I know still stands to this day,) positive reviews out the wazoo, and a nearly $400 million dollar worldwide box office haul which is the most a Star Trek movie has ever grossed at the box office, therefore making it cool to like Star Trek again.

But the film was not without its haters, or as people like to call them “Star Trek purists.” This group could not resist watching the movie and finding something to bitch about, be it the fact that JJ Abrams retconned 40-plus years of established canon in the first 10 minutes of the movie; Spock getting into a relationship with Uhura; the fact that they didn’t like the redesign of the Enterprise (or the “JJprise” as it’s less than affectionately known) or the fact that it was built in Iowa rather than in space; and probably the biggest complaint of all: JJ Abrams is more of a Star Wars fan (and I’ll get to that in a minute) and they criticized Abrams for making the last movie more like Star Wars. However, Orci and Kurtzman are in fact Trek fans, most notably fans of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and they attempted to recapture the emotion, spectacle and action that made that film so beloved both by Trek fans and moviegoers in general. And judging by the positive reception, they succeeded. And that continues in this movie.

So is Star Trek Into Darkness better than its predecessor? Let’s find out. Punch it.

The movie opens on an alien planet where Kirk and Bones (played again by Chris Pine and Karl Urban respectively) are being chased by angry natives while Spock (Zachary Quinto) attempts to prevent a potentially devastating volcano eruption. By the way, this scene was part of a 9-minute sneak preview that premiered with The Hobbit over the holidays so chances are you probably seen it already so it’s hardly a spoiler. At one point, Spock becomes trapped in the volcano and the Prime Directive (if you are an established fan of the franchise, you will know that the Prime Directive is a rule that prohibits Starfleet officers from interfering with a primitive culture’s natural development) expressly forbids them to rescue him without exposing themselves to the culture. But you know Kirk, rule-breaking cowboy that he is, rescues Spock anyway. How he does it actually pisses off Starfleet to the point where Kirk gets the keys to the car (meaning the Enterprise) taken away because he has not fully grown up.

Yes, folks. This scene is  in the movie.

This summer’s hottie to watch. 😉

However, there is more going on at Starfleet than Kirk’s blatant disregard for authority. And the main reason why people want to see this movie this year surfaces. And that reason can be summed up in two words: Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays the mysterious John Harrison, an ex-Starfleet officer who has declared war against the Federation, committing all sort of terrorist acts against key Starfleet installations, including Starfleet Command. And faster than you can say “Warp speed, Mr. Sulu,” Kirk is ordered by Admiral Marcus (played by legendary sci-fi actor Peter Weller) to take out Harrison. If Peter Weller is playing an admiral, then I guess it’s only fair that I rename him “Admiral Robocop.” And his daughter, Carol Marcus (if you don’t know who she is, see Wrath of Khan for further details) manages to sneak aboard the Enterprise as they go off on their mission. She is played by Alice Eve, one of the hot women to watch this year, and here’s where I am going to give out the only real spoiler in this movie. Yes, folks. The picture to your left is in the movie and no, she and Kirk do not do it.

Along the way, there are going to be some nods and winks to the original continuity in which I will only name a few of them because if I name all of them, we’ll be here all day. For starters, the Klingons are in this movie. The Klingons were originally written into the last movie but their scene was cut and the only way to actually see it is if you buy the 2-disc DVD version of the last movie which contains the deleted scenes which includes the scene where the Klingons are torturing Nero with those eel creatures that Nero later uses on Captain Pike and if you saw that scene, you’ll note that the Klingons are wearing metal helmets which at first glimpse would seem that JJ remade the Klingons to look like the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica. Here, you actually get to see one of the Klingons without the helmet. So does JJ stay true to the design of the Klingons as depicted in the original continuity? Well, watch the movie and find out.

In addition to the Klingons there is also a reference to Christine Chapel, who was a regular character on the original series. Here, Carol Marcus is telling Kirk that she knows Christine Chapel which seems to imply that in the JJverse, it was implied that Chapel was one of Kirk’s conquests at the academy whereas in the original continuity, Chapel was in love with Spock (not that this little factoid gives JJverse Uhura any comfort.)  The confrontation between the JJprise and the renegade Starfleet vessel the USS Vengeance (which is literally the Enterprise on steroids with a darker paint job) has shades of the final battle between the Enterprise-E and Shinzon’s ship in Star Trek: Nemesis. Not to mention that there are many more numerous references to Wrath of Khan, including a certain scene that will forever remain synonymous with that movie.

Thankfully, JJ eased up on the Star Wars references this time around. Don’t get me wrong. They’re still there. For instance, the order to go to warp speed is still “Punch it!” The other one is the Vengeance which can also be described as Darth Vader’s Super Star Destroyer in The Empire Strikes Back redesigned as a bigger, meaner, and nastier Starfleet vessel.

Now on to the performances. Chris Pine once again shines as Kirk, who starts out as though nothing has changed since the last movie but the audience will get to see him grow up as the movie progresses. Zachary Quinto brings even more depth to Spock than he did in the last movie. Zoe Saldana has even more to do as Uhura and you even get to see her mix it up in some really big fight scenes. And here’s another thing that separates the original series from the JJverse. When Star Trek first came out, it focused on the trinity of Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy. However, in the JJverse, the trinity is now Kirk, Spock, and Uhura. True, Spock and Uhura are still in a relationship but whenever they fight over Spock’s inability to show emotion, they try to bring Kirk into the argument. Hey, Uhura, you knew what you were getting into when you decided to date a Vulcan. Well with a trinity like this, it’s no wonder the JJverse’s Bones is grouchy in this.

Simon Pegg is still funny as always as Scotty and he has a much larger role this time around. The rest of the crew is kind of relegated to the background, with the exception of John Cho who actually gets a badass moment when Sulu is put in temporary command of the Enterprise and orders Harrison to surrender.

"Shall we begin?"

“Shall we begin?”

But the movie rightfully belongs to Cumberbatch. From the first teaser for this movie, it was clear that he was going to own this movie. He is definitely a much stronger and more menacing villain than Nero was in the last movie. Plus he is also a multi-layered character where you actually begin to question his motivation and yes, in typical Chris Nolan fashion, there are numerous twists and turns that affect both his character and the character of Admiral Robocop.

And Kirk and Spock’s interrogation of Harrison has echoes of Batman’s interrogation of the Joker in The Dark Knight, a scene that has been duplicated since then in such movies as The Avengers and the recent James Bond movie Skyfall.

And now to the million dollar question: Is John Harrison the JJverse’s version of Khan? My answer: Watch the movie! And if you have seen the movie, do not post the answer in the comments below the video in case anyone who watches this review have not yet seen the movie.

So as far as the movie goes, is it as good as the last one? No. It’s better. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and manages to recapture the spirit of the original franchise even when dealing with a hot-button topic which the original series and films have been known for. It’s one of the few TV series that actually dared to do that when it first came out in the 60’s. In the case of Into Darkness, the topic here is terrorism and there are shades of 9/11 here as well. In fact, if you stay past the credits, you’ll see that the movie is dedicated to the 9/11 first responders. The action is really awesome and once again, it’s story and character-driven rather than effects-driven. It’s good to see the friendship between Kirk and Spock take center stage again and this was a good move on JJ’s part.

The JJprise definitely looks like it's seen better days.

The JJprise definitely looks like it’s seen better days.

And all you haters of the JJprise will not want to miss this movie. As you’ve seen in the trailers, the JJprise gets more than a little beat up in this one.

And with that being said, some more questions are being raised now that JJ Abrams is heading over to direct the next movie (still unknown if he’s directing the whole trilogy) of that other sci-fi franchise. The biggest one of all being, will he be coming back to direct his universe’s version of Star Trek 3, which at press time is slated for 2016, the franchise’s 50th anniversary? I guess only time will tell.

Okay, I know this review went kind of long because I had a lot of territory to cover. And as I mentioned last week in the Iron Man review that it’s kind of hard to review a big movie like this without giving anything away. So that being said, I hope you enjoyed this review/editorial of one of the biggest movies of the year.

That being said, 2 summer blockbusters down. Now bring on Man of Steel!

Iron Man 3

Do you see what I see?

Do you see what I see?

Well the summer movie season is now officially underway and it’s another reason why I love summer, in addition to hot weather, hot chicks wearing skimpy clothes, swimming, no school… oh, I could go on and on about why I love summer but I have a review to do. And there’s a wide crop of big summer movies coming out this year and I’m going to see if I can review as many of the big movies as possible. And today I am going to start with the movie that officially opened this year’s summer movie season: Iron Man 3.

To start off, when I was in high school during the 90’s I collected Iron Man comics in addition to Spider-Man and Batman. And as I mentioned in my review of last summer’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers, Iron Man was the only Avengers-related comic I collected. And as far as the movies go, I enjoyed the first movie even though I had to wait until I bought it on DVD to see it. I enjoyed Robert Downey, Jr. in the role of Tony Stark, the cocky, snarky billionaire playboy who was seriously injured by a piece of shrapnel close to his heart which leads to him become Iron Man as a means of survival. The success of the first Iron Man movie was the beginning of a string of successful movies for Downey after surviving two decades of being a drug addict that nearly derailed his career. Iron Man 2 on the other hand, I thought was kind of meh despite Downey’s performance, War Machine, and the fact that I got to see Scarlett Johannson, who debuted her Black Widow character from The Avengers in that movie. And of course, you know how I feel about The Avengers if you saw my review of it last year and as far as the other Avenger-related movies go, I saw Thor in theaters and I thought it was pretty good and I had to wait until DVD for Captain America: The First Avenger and that was really good. And now that the countdown to Avengers 2 has officially begun, it is time to review the movie that is going to kick off The Marvel Universe: Phase 2- Iron Man 3.

The movie begins with Tony suffering from panic attacks from what appears to be post-traumatic stress disorder. Helpful hint: You have to have seen The Avengers before you see this movie. At the same time, two new threats emerge to plague our hero: A mysterious terrorist called The Mandarin (played by Sir Ben Kingsley, Gandhi to you and me) and Killian (played by Guy Pearce) an industrialist with a personal grudge against Tony who is showcasing his new weapon code-named Project Extremis. And they cause all sorts of chaos, which means lots of things blowing up including Tony’s nice Malibu Oceanside mansion. Well, of course Tony gets away and hides out in a remote town in Tennessee and bonds with a little boy who helps repair his armor.

"Do you mind? We're trying to watch the game here."

“Do you mind? We’re trying to watch the game here.”

Also along for the ride is Don Cheadle who plays James Rhodes (aka War Machine) although his War Machine armor from the last movie got both an upgrade, a new paint job (red, white and blue), and a new superhero name. He’s now called the Iron Patriot and is the US Government’s number one weapon in the war on terror. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, Tony’s love interest that is still pretty good despite receiving the dubious title of the Most Hated Person in Hollywood (she edged out Kristen Stewart for that honor. Who does that?) And Jon Favereau (who directed the first two Iron Man movie and serves as executive producer on this movie) returns in a smaller role as Happy Hogan and he gets a couple good lines in.

The movie is directed by Shane Black who ironically worked with Downey before on a movie called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but is best known for creating the Lethal Weapon franchise for Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and director Richard Donner. Black, who was an action movie staple in the late 80’s and the early 90’s, brings the series back to form with incredible action sequences, rapid-fire quips courtesy of RDJ and some pretty shocking twists and turns that you have to see to believe. At first glimpse of the trailer, I wasn’t sure if Iron Man 3 was going to be another Dark Knight Rises or something but it turns out that it was actually better than I expected and avoids the pratfalls suffered by most threequels in a film franchise.

One of the pratfalls of reviewing a movie that’s in theaters is that it’s hard to do reviews without doing spoilers. I usually do my best without giving too much away (unless it’s a Twilight movie or anything with Stephenie Meyer’s name attached to it in which case spoil away because a majority of moviegoers know that if Stephenie Meyer’s name is attached to it, you know it’s gonna suck.) And Iron Man 3 does not suck. It’s actually a fun enjoyable ride and I will recommend it.

Skyfall

Skyfall

Skyfall

Well, I figure today for a change of pace that I will do a written movie review blog instead. And it’s also about time I did a review of a James Bond movie. And what better movie to do a review on than the new Bond film Skyfall. Skyfall is the 23rd installment in the 50-year-old franchise that is directed by Sam Mendes, the man who won an Oscar for directing the 1999 film American Beauty but is probably better known as one of Kate Winslet’s ex-husbands. He seems like an odd choice to direct a Bond movie, but he pulls it off really well and the end result is one of the best Bond films ever.

But before we begin, let’s take a look at the last film, Quantum of Solace. Though while I thought the movie was good, I did have a couple of problems with it. For one thing, it was too short and the theme to that one was uninteresting. Nevertheless, it was still pretty good despite its flaws. Daniel Craig was just as badass here as he was in Casino Royale (his debut movie as 007) and the acting was still pretty good. However, Skyfall is a big improvement.

The movie begins with Bond (once again played by Craig) nearly getting killed while on a mission to obtain a document that has the identities of MI6 agents who have infiltrated terrorist organizations around the world. If the document falls into enemy hands, their identities would be compromised leaving them vulnerable to assassination attempts.

The enemy hands this time around is Silva (Javier Bardiem), an ex-MI6 agent who is out for revenge against M (again played by Dame Judi Dench) for betraying him to the Chinese government years earlier where he was subsequently tortured by the Chinese (apparently someone was pissed he married Penelope Cruz. :D) And when MI6 agents begin getting killed after being exposed by Silva, M is put under an investigation headed by Ralph Fiennes, who starts out as your typical arrogant bureaucratic jerk but plays a much bigger role by the end of the movie (I won’t spoil it here.)

Meanwhile, Bond who had been in hiding since his “death” resurfaces to resume his duties. However, his gun arm is kind of shaky as a result of a shoulder wound he got at the beginning of the movie. Despite that, M clears Bond to pursue Silva. And here is where we are introduced to the new Q (played by Ben Whishaw) who is a quiet, sarcastic 20-something computer geek as opposed to a cranky old man that he was in the original movies. And yes, folks. This Q does make some new toys for Bond though not as extravagant as they were in olden times. This time, 007 gets a customized Walther PPK gun which can only be fired by him. “What did you expect? An exploding pen?,” Q quips to Bond during their first meeting. Points if you can guess which Bond film the exploding pen appears in.

"Do I make you horny, Mr. Bond?"

“Do I make you horny, Mr. Bond?”

Back to Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Silva. I got to say that he is one of the best Bond villains to come out of the franchise in years. He plays the character as really creepy and psychotic that you got to take him seriously. In short, he is basically the franchise’s version of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. Among some of his highlights includes a scene where he interrogates Bond and he’s checking to see if he has a wire and well, I’ll let the picture right next to this paragraph speak for itself. And when he does allow himself to be captured by MI6 agents (and the movie ventures into Chris Nolan territory) and where he masterminds yet another terrorist scheme from the confines of a glass cell (which seems to be the in thing for big movies these days.) Hey, it worked for the Joker, Loki from The Avengers, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, and for the main villain in the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness.

What ensues after that is some real suspense-filled edge of your seat thrills as Bond and Silva play a game of cat and mouse that ultimately ends up at Bond’s childhood home, Skyfall presided over by Albert Finney (in a role that was rumored to have been offered to Sean Connery which would have been the icing on the cake commemorating the 50th anniversary of the franchise by seeing the original Bond interact with the current Bond.)

The Bond girls this time around are Naomie Harris who starts out as Bond’s partner at the beginning of the movie and also has a major twist at the end of the movie which I will not spoil and Berenice Marlohe as the mysterious Severeine who has a secret past and is actually the girlfriend of sorts of Silva.

This movie is nothing short of awesome. This definitely ranks among the best of the Bonds that deserves to be named along with movies like From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale. It’s also one of the best spy thrillers ever. And that’s saying something. Plus I love the awesome theme song from Adele which is actually a drawback to the Shirley Bassey themes from previous films. Craig is still as badass here as he was in his previous two Bond movies and here’s hoping he still has his edge being that he is signed on for at least two more Bond movies. And if those two are as good as this movie was, then the Bond franchise will definitely have potential to make it to its 100th anniversary.

The Hunger Games

Girl on Fire? You said it. 😉

Today’s review is a movie that I have been waiting all year to see and it is the third-biggest movie of the year, behind The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. So what movie would this be? Well, in a word, it’s The Hunger Games.

Before we get started with this review, I have a bit of a confession to make. Going into this movie, I had never read any of the Hunger Games books yet I heard that it was really popular. When I heard that it was another series of books that had an enormous fan base and that it was going to be a movie, I was like, “Oh, great. This is going to be another Twilight.” Then I heard all the reviews and the positive word-of-mouth coming in and I was like, “Maybe I should check this out.” It took me months to see it and I finally saw it last Friday before I went into school and sure enough, it was everything that the critics and moviegoers said it was.

The world of The Hunger Games takes place in the future where the whole continent of North America has been turned into the fictional nation of Pardem. That means no US, no Canada and no Mexico. At least we can’t blame Obama for that one. Pardem was supposedly divided into 13 “districts.” (kind of similar to how America got started. Get it? 13 districts, 13 colonies?) However, at one point, all the districts revolted against the Pardem government, a revolt that the president ruthlessly suppressed by wiping out District 13 (I think they nuked it or something) and they passed what is known as the Treaty of Treason, which created the idea of the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games was designed as punishment for the failed uprising in which every year each district offers up one boy and one girl (usually between the ages of 12 and 18) to compete in the Hunger Games, which can basically be described as the Olympics from Hell. However, there is no gold, silver, or bronze medals rewarded. There can only be one winner. Everyone else dies. And we’re talking about kids here. Kids killing kids, unpleasant to say the least.

So I’ve said enough, now onto the movie.

The movie actually starts in District 12, which is a coal-mining district that looks like something out of the Depression-era. I did mention this was set in the future, right? Here we are introduced to our main heroine, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (played by Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence) who is actually the strongest female character we’ve seen in movies in ages. She is sort of the man of the house (her father was a coal miner who got killed in a mining accident) who goes out and hunts with a bow and arrow which she is pretty good at and will serve her later on.

Soon enough, the government of Pardem comes a calling because it is Hunger Games season which means time to round up their one boy and one girl to see die on national television. Sent to pick the District 12 contestants is a rather flamboyant reporter (played by Elizabeth Banks.) Normally, Elizabeth Banks is a hot chick. She appeared as Betty Brant in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies but she’s probably best known as the sexy yet freaky girl in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Here, she’s virtually unrecognizable under the excessive make-up, bizarre hairstyle, and an outfit that looks like Victorian Era-meets-80’s era MTV. In fact, when we get to the Capital, you’ll notice that everyone is practically dressed like her, but I’ll get to the capital in a bit. However, all this works for the character and she ends up stealing the movie.

So they come and they pick their two contestants: A boy named Peeta (played by Josh Hutcherson) and Katniss’ 12-year old sister Primrose. Horrified that they would pick her younger sister, Katniss volunteers to take her place, which moves everyone in the movie. So Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capital of Pardem which is ruled by the rich and by the media. (Sound familiar everyone?)

There they are introduced to luxuries that they are not used to, like exotic food, a comfortable penthouse apartment with a remote-control window that can change the scenery at any time, and more elegant clothing and spa treatment. Apparently Pardem wants its contestants to live like celebrities before they kill each other. And everything leading up to the games themselves (a parade and talk show interviews) kind of resembles American Idol from Hell. Katniss wows the audience by wearing outfits that emits fire which leads everyone to call her “the Girl on Fire.” Take that, Kristen Stewart!

And finally, we get to the main event, where Katniss puts all her skills to the test against the other contestants, who have been training for this their entire lives. And yes, things do get very intense. After all, this is a duel to the death. Now there have been some criticisms about the violence in the movie and the harm it may have on children. I have to say the violence in the movie isn’t really that bad. It gets its point across without being overly excessive.

As far as the performances go, everything’s pretty good. As I mentioned before, Jennifer Lawrence is a really effective screen heroine. She’s vulnerable when she needs to be but otherwise, she is pretty strong-willed and fearless. In short, she has characteristics that have been missing from big-screen heroines for years. The male performances were pretty good, most notably Woody Harrelson playing Haymitch Abernathy, a former Hunger Games champ turned mentor who spends his time drinking and cracking jokes. In short, he’s playing Woody Harrelson and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Another actor in the movie I didn’t recognize right away was Lenny Kravitz (who plays Katniss’ stylist.) I mean, it’s been years since I last saw or heard from him. And Donald Sutherland turns in a chilling performance as the President of Pardem who at one minute is heaping praise on someone and showering complements on someone and at the other minute is plotting to have that person killed. In short, he’s like the Emperor in Star Wars.

And there is something else I like about this film that I don’t like about the Twilight series (both book and film incarnations), the author of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (who also co-wrote the screenplay which gives it a degree of authenticity) treats its readers with dignity and intelligence, unlike that OTHER young adult movie series!

So how does The Hunger Games compare to Harry Potter and that franchise that will not be named? For one thing, the film is as good as the best of the Harry Potter movies (maybe even better) and it completely blows the Twilight Saga out of the water. And by Twilight Saga, I am also including Breaking Dawn Part 2 in the mix even though it’s not out in theaters until next month. I saw the trailer for that movie and it sucks! It confirms every bad thing everyone has been saying about that series for years. That while I have said in the past that it’s not required to have seen a Twilight movie to know it sucks, I think I’m actually going to see Breaking Dawn: Part 2 when it comes out so that way if it really does suck, I’ll be able to show it no mercy. Besides, I hope it bombs worse than John Carter and Battleship combined.

But back to Hunger Games. Awesome movie, really worth checking out. I’m glad I saw it. Trust me, it was well worth the really long wait I had to endure just to see it. And if the next two movies (because there are two more books to adapt and the next one comes out next fall) are as good as this, we’re gonna be in for a really awesome film series.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

Well friends, this is it. The big one. The review that everyone has been waiting for. A review of the most anticipated film of 2012. So sit back, relax, and buckle up because I am about to get this review underway. Ladies and gentlemen, here is a review of the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga, The Dark Knight Rises.

But before we get started, I want to offer an apology for not reviewing the previous film, The Dark Knight. I was just starting to film myself on YouTube at the time The Dark Knight came out and I meant to do a review of that film at the time, but I forgot all about it and by the time I would have gotten around to it, everyone would have said everything I was going to say about it anyway so I decided not to go through with it.

So as my way of atoning for that, I am going to review this movie. One suggestion I would make about this movie is that you better pack a lunch because this film is almost 3 hours long. You heard that right, folks. Almost 3 hours long, a rarity for a summer movie blockbuster. So let’s not waste any time, shall we?

I’m gonna start off with a recap of the last movie, so this is hardly a spoiler because it’s safe to say that everyone by this point has seen The Dark Knight. Batman is wanted by the cops for murdering District Attorney Harvey Dent, even though by that time, Dent was corrupted by the Joker and turned into Two-Face. As Two-Face, Dent kidnaps Commissioner Gordon’s family and Batman saves them, even though Dent is killed in the process. In order to ensure that Dent’s good-guy reputation is secure, Batman and Gordon hatch a plot in which Batman will take the fall for both Dent’s death and the crimes Dent committed as Two-Face.

When this movie begins, its 8 years later and Batman has pretty much disappeared and the man behind the Bat, Bruce Wayne (again played by Christian Bale) has become a crippled recluse. Meanwhile two new villains have emerged to plague Gotham: Selena Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar who we all know in the comics as Catwoman even though she isn’t called Catwoman in the movie and the main villain, Bane (played by Tom Hardy.) Now here is where I have to show some praise. Despite a liberty taken here and there, this movie’s Bane is closer to the real Bane as seen in the comics as opposed to the ass-raping the character received by Joel Schumacher in Batman and Robin. This is one of Batman’s most dangerous villains and the only real villain to actually defeat Batman and he is portrayed as such here but I’m not going to give too much away. I mean, it’s hard to do a movie like this without giving away too many spoilers.

Anne Hathaway does a pretty decent job here as Catwoman (I’ll call her that even though Nolan doesn’t call her that in the movie.) She has the right amount of sex appeal, physical prowess, and vulnerability that the character should have. And we sort of do feel the conflict that Catwoman has: She doesn’t know whether she wants to be a villain or a hero, just like in the comics.

The actions of both these villains force Bruce out of self-imposed exile and puts on the Bat suit again to save Gotham. Yes, folks, Christian Bale’s Bat-voice is back too, although it’s more toned down here than it is in the previous two movies. And what ensues is probably the biggest battle of his life.

And some of the supporting actors in this movie are pretty good too. Nolan Bat-regulars Michael Caine gives off an extremely touching performance especially for having significantly less screen time than in the last movie. Morgan Freeman again shines as Lucius Fox. Gary Oldman again does a pretty decent job as Commissioner Gordon. And the newcomers do a pretty decent job as well. Note that at least five of the main actors came over from Nolan’s last film, Inception (also a good movie I saw in theaters.) In addition to Tom Hardy (Bane) and Michael Caine (Alfred), Marion Cotillard (who appeared with Bale in the film Public Enemies) does fairly well as Miranda Tate, who has been handling Wayne Enterprise activities in Bruce’s absence.  You might think she doesn’t play a major role in the story, but she does (especially towards the end of the movie.) And Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as idealistic cop John Blake does most of the hero stuff whenever Batman is off-screen. And he does share a connection to Batman (which I also will not give away.)

The visuals are absolutely incredible. Everything from Batman’s newest vehicle, the Bat (a variation of the Batwing from the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher franchise) to Bane blowing up various sections of Gotham City (including a spectacular sequence where a football field is destroyed while one player plays on oblivious to the destruction around him.) And the climactic battle between Batman and his army of cops and Bane and his army of liberated criminals will clearly take your breath away.

Also of note is that this movie was filmed in New York City during the Occupy Wall Street movement which actually gives a hint of realism to this film (something the Nolan Bat-films have done pretty well) and from what I’ve heard, actual protesters were used as extras in the film further adding to the authenticity of the film.

So now on to the story. The story is a mixture of some of the best Batman stories ever told in the comics: “Knightfall” (the Batman/Bane storyline), “No Man’s Land” (criminals controlling a cut-off Gotham City) and the landmark mini-series, “The Dark Knight Returns” (Batman returning after a prolonged absence) and the story is told really well. In fact, the pacing is so good that you forget that this film is almost 3 hours long. If a movie can do that, then that’s the sign of a good movie.

So now the moment of truth: Is The Dark Knight Rises good or is it a colossal letdown? Well, in my honest opinion, The Dark Knight Rises is really, really good. In fact, I think I liked this better than The Dark Knight. It kept me really interested and it is clearly the ultimate Batman movie. A true epic and it’s also one of those rare threequels that is actually just as good as or better than the original movies. Other examples of this include Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (even though I never seen it and as I’ve mentioned before in previous videos, I am not a Lord of the Rings fan.)

So there you go viewers. That is my take on The Dark Knight Rises. I highly recommend it to everyone and if you don’t want to see the Olympics, I suggest you go to the movies and check it out.

The Avengers

The Avengers

The Avengers

And now I am going to do a review (even though it is actually almost three months late and it’s pretty much out of theaters now) of what is not only the highest grossing movie of 2012 (although a certain Dark Knight could change that) but it’s also the third highest grossing movie of all time and the only one in the top 3 that is not directed by James Cameron. So without further ado, here is my long-awaited review of The Avengers!

So what do I think of the movie? It can only be summed up in a few words: Now THIS is a superhero team movie! I mean, the first two X-Men movies were good. I didn’t see the third one but I heard it sucked. And don’t get me started on the not-so-Fantastic Four movies. I really like the way that they used five movies (Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) to set up this movie. Aside from the fact that I did not see the 2008 Hulk movie (the one that is part of the Avengers franchise despite being owned by Universal), I thought that the Avenger-related movies have been handled pretty well. And we’re up to this movie. And as soon as I heard Joss Whedon who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer was gonna direct this movie, I knew this was gonna be in good hands. And it shows.

The main plot involves all the aforementioned superheroes Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton from the 2008 film), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson, reprising her role from Iron Man 2), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are brought together by SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to save the world from the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a race of aliens who steal a cosmic cube so they can, you guessed it, take over the world.

And of course, like in every superhero team movie, there’s some good conflicts in the film and not just against the evil aliens but also among the heroes as well, the main ones between the squabble matches between Tony Stark (the self-absorbed cocky anti-team player) and Steve Rogers (the humble yet patriotic boy scout); Thor and Loki (adopted brothers but on different sides of the coin); and probably the best in-team fighting in the movie: Thor and Hulk (demigod vs indestructible 10-foot green monster who becomes so whenever he gets a little teed off.)

Now before we continue with the review, I just want to say that I personally haven’t read any of the Avenger-themed comics growing up, except for Iron Man. Iron Man was cool, especially in the early 90’s with the kick-ass Terminator-style artwork and I was a huge fan of War Machine. I was mainly into Spider-Man and Batman (I have already seen the Spidey reboot and I’m planning to go see The Dark Knight Rises sometime this month.) But as far as the other Avengers go, I never really got into Captain America or the others.

There are loads of action sequences littered throughout the film that will practically leave you at the edge of your seat and the climactic battle in New York City pretty much rivals the climatic battle for Metropolis in Superman II. It will blow you away. And while the film was released in 3D, you don’t really need to see it in 3D to know what scenes were converted in 3D.

Now on to the performances. Robert Downey, Jr. is still in top form as Iron Man and Tony Stark. In fact, Robert Downey, Jr. post-drugs is awesome. Chris Evans is still good as Cap, but he’s more like a general in this one than he was in. But to be fair, he’s better as Cap than he was as the Human Torch in the not-so-Fantastic Four movies. Mark Ruffalo pulls off both Bruce Banner and the Hulk (who is easily the best character in the movie) really well, considering that the only real successful attempt to bring the Hulk to life was the TV series in the late 70’s. The 2003 Ang Lee/Eric Bana film sucked and like I said earlier, I haven’t seen the Ed Norton film to give it a good-enough judgment but this is by far the most successful attempt to bring the Hulk to the big screen. Ed Norton must be kicking himself now for not wanting to be a part of this movie.

As far as the non-super powered Avengers go, Scarlett Johannson more than holds her own, proving that she is more than just eye candy for the guys (she takes out three guys while handcuffed to a chair in a hot black dress.) That’s the way you do it. And Samuel L. Jackson is awesome as usual as Nick Fury despite being a little more subdued than usual (mainly because this is a PG-13 movie.) But if there’s one nitpick that I have with the movie, it’s that Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is a little too underdeveloped. He doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time.

Now on to the main villain. For one thing, I like how multi-layered Loki was. He starts out as a General Zod-like character (again another Superman II reference) during his battle with Captain America, mixed with Hannibal Lecter (when he is captured by the Avengers and he does have one scene with Scarlett Johannson that echoes the Clarice/Lecter conversations in “Silence of the Lambs.”) It’s also amusing when he and Tony Stark are talking smack to each other back and forth. But like all villains, he gets his comeuppance in the end and it’s one of the best scenes in the movie so I will not give that away for those of you who have not seen the movie yet.

So basically as far as some closing thoughts on the movie goes, I just want to make a note that I’ve been going to movies since I was 2 years old and never once in my 30-somewhat years of going to the movies have I seen moviegoers on their feet and cheering for a movie than I have for The Avengers. Trust me, it’s that good. If you haven’t seen it yet and by some miracle, it’s still in theaters, go see it. You definitely will not be disappointed.