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.

 

 

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!”

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!