Category Archives: Film Reviews

Finally, A New STAR WARS Movie!

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Star Wars and I jumped on the Jawa Sandcrawler from day one when I was six years old. As such, I’ve been waiting for a new Star Wars film since 1983’s Return of the Jedi and Rogue One certainly did not disappoint.

I know you want to remind me that there were three prequels between 1999 and 2005, and that last year, The Force Awakens began the much anticipated final trilogy in George Lucas’s ambitious space opera (now owned and operated by Disney).

In my humble opinion, the prequels held none of the charm and magic possessed by Episodes IV through VI. This I blame on the writing and overload of unnecessary special effects and not on the fine cast.

While The Force Awakens graced us with the return of our favorite classic heroes Han Solo, Leia Organa, and (briefly) Luke Skywalker, the film was, for me, utterly forgettable. Although, it was a better J.J. Abrams vehicle than his paltry efforts on the first two films in the Star Trek reboot, which isn’t saying much.

For me, Rogue One simply felt like Star Wars. It resurrected the spirit of the original films, something for which I’d lost all hope while slogging through the prequels. While Rogue One certainly held its own with a solid story and exciting plot—detailing the events leading right up to the Death Star plans falling into the hands of Princess Leia—its consistency with, and nods to, Episodes IV through VI were delightful. No spoilers here, just effusive praise and a hearty congrats to director Gareth Edwards and an excellent cast that includes Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Genevieve O’Reilly, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, James Earl Jones, and more.

Rogue One Poster

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso

Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso

AT-AT

Stormtrooper Doll

Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera

Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma

 

 

From Star Trek to Stranger Things

Two weeks ago, I was off from work on a Tuesday to deal with some personal matters. To take the edge off, I decided to pop over to the local Carmike Cinemas and catch a matinee of Star Trek: Beyond.

I was not terribly fond of J.J. Abrams’s 2009 reboot. Further, I absolutely abhorred its sequel Into Darkness and among my circle of friends, I was not alone in that sentiment.  When early reviews for Star Trek: Beyond were surprisingly effusive from those very same friends, I thought I’d give it a chance—and I’m glad I did.

Finally, they got it right.

Star Trek: Beyond, while not perfect, is a grand adventure that allows generous screen time to each cast member. The story was well-written, although it’s another variation of “we have met the enemy, and he is us” that seems to plague Starfleet in some of the previous films such as Undiscovered Country, Insurrection, and the aforementioned Into Darkness.  I won’t give away spoilers, but you’ll understand if you see it.

The pacing, action, and humor were impeccable and the tribute to Leonard Nimoy and the original cast was a fine touch. Even if the last two films didn’t do it for you, I recommend Star Trek: Beyond.  As both a writer and a loyal Star Trek fan, collector, and convention attendee since the late 70s, I actually walked away from this film feeling buoyant, as if the weight of my recent personal stresses had been lifted, if only temporarily.

Star Trek Beyond poster Star Trek Beyond poster

After that, things got weird…or should I say strange. Last week, my wife learned about the new eight-episode Netflix mini-series, Stranger Things. I hadn’t heard one peep about it until we sat down to watch it and I was instantly hooked by this atmospheric science fiction thriller.

It’s 1983 in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. Led by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), the Department of Energy conducts mind experiments on an 11-year-old girl named, appropriately, Eleven (deftly portrayed by Millie Brown). At the same time, Will Byers, a boy of similar age, goes missing. His frantic mother (Winona Ryder) and older brother (Charlie Heaton) are convinced that Will is alive, but their search leads them to bizarre and horrifying territory.

The two plots intersect in a story that channels everything from The Twilight Zone to E.T. to The Goonies.

Although much darker, Stranger Things is comprised of many of the same tropes and story elements as J.J. Abrams’s Super 8 (which I thoroughly enjoyed). Both focus on the adventures of a group of pre-teen boys and one girl, clueless parents, an alien creature, and a secret government project.

Stranger Things is not only privileged with brilliant casting, but the 80s styles, music, and pop culture references were crafted with a respectful nostalgia for the time period in which I grew up. I look forward to season two!

Stranger Things Alternate Poster Stranger Things Poster

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Two quick observations: J.J. Abrams’s talents are far better suited to Star Wars than to Star Trek, and I believe that Max Von Sydow stopped aging somewhere around 1993 (or has had some amazing work done).

And one quick opinion: I am SICK of the number of commercials and movie previews audience members are forced to endure before the feature film these days. I pulled down the bill of my baseball cap and took a nap through most of them.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been out for 10 days and yet at 1:30PM today, the only empty seats in the theatre were in the first two rows. Such is the enduring allure these films maintain going on three generations. George Lucas’s brainchild has long secured a foothold in our culture and I say this as a thirty-eight year fan and collector.

Overall, I enjoyed The Force Awakens. I have no complaints. All of the main characters were strong, the plot was well constructed (and, yes, partially derivative), the pacing and editing reminiscent of the original trilogy—much like the story itself with its unabashed resemblances to A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. I won’t hold that against it, however.

To see the heroes from my childhood back on screen in their iconic roles was a joy. Nothing new there. By now, expressing that sentiment has become a staple in almost every review written by a veteran fan. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) had the most screen time and it was equally satisfying to see the Millennium Falcon back in action.

Our new heroes do not disappoint, and each one contains an amalgam of different traits from Luke, Han, and Leia. The true protagonist, Rey (Daisy Ridley) possesses formidable piloting skills and a redoubtable ability to control the Force with no training whatsoever. I regret that the story did not allow for a more organic process for Rey, and the audience, to discover the latter. It seemed to just, well, happen. Perhaps I need to see the film again.

It was obvious from the trailers that Finn (John Boyega) was a deserter from the First Order (read: Empire wannabes) who eventually throws in with the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Sounds similar to the life story of a certain Corellian smuggler (who is back to his old tricks at the beginning of The Force Awakens).

The first of the heroes to appear on screen, crack pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), was also the least developed, but instantly brought to mind former rebel pilots Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter from the original trilogy.

A friend of mine remarked in her review that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was little more than a volatile, immature juvenile with the demeanor of a spoiled prick whenever something went awry—and she was correct in her assessment. In that way, he channeled young Anakin in Episode II more so than the Darth Vader that was introduced to fans in 1977.

Kylo Ren is a child, not even fully trained in the Force, with just enough ability to inflate his ego and allow it to dominate him. He is not leadership material—at least not yet—and definitely not worthy of the title Sith Lord. His destructive outbursts clearly display a severe lack of discipline and self-control, all of which become quite apparent during his final confrontation with Rey.

Of course, it would not be a mainstream Star Wars flick without our beloved droids C-3PO and R2-D2, the latter having the least amount of screen time (for personal reasons), which allowed newcomer BB-8 to assume the role of the adorable chirping sidekick. Even C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) was minimized. To be honest, both classic droids were gratuitous to this chapter of the saga. Perhaps they, like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), will return to more integral roles in the sequels.

I look forward to seeing The Force Awakens at least once more before it leaves the theatres.

Finn with Lightsaber - The Force Awakens Han and Chewbacca- The Force Awakens General Leia - The Force Awakens Rey - The Force AwakensDarth Vader Helmet - The Force Awakens X-Wing & TIE Fighter - The Force Awakens

Topps Cards - The Force Awakens

 

Interstellar

Finally watched Interstellar last night. Quite an all-star cast with Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, etc. Overall, I enjoyed it. Strong acting and story. Solid pacing, although one observation Evon and I made was the abrupt cut from Cooper agreeing to pilot the ship to the ship leaving Earth. No simulator training time? Yes, Cooper had been a pilot, but it seemed he was a farmer for quite some time afterward.

The concept of a fifth dimension, where gravity and time can be manipulated, was presented with captivating visuals. The exterior shots in space were reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Certainly the most unusual characters in the film were the cuboid robots TARS, CASE, and KIPP, and the various shapes into which they could transform for rapid movement or manual dexterity. They appeared clumsy at first glance, but continually amazed me throughout the film.

 

Gargantua Matthew McConaugheyInterstellar film posterAnne Hathaway

TARS

CASE