Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – review

The Star Wars movies evoke feelings of nostalgia for most of us. When I first heard a new movie was coming out I thought, “How can they make a new story that will be sentimental for fans while at the same time touching the nerve of nostalgia without crossing the line to just fan-service.”  It is obvious that J.J. Abrams is clearly a true fan. This movie is like watching a fan given reign to make what they feel would be a more grown up Star Wars movie.

Set about thirty years after the Return of the Jedi, Luke has gone into hiding. The Empire has become the First Order. Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac, gets information on Luke Skywalker’s location on the desert planet of Jakku. Poe gives the map to his droid, BB-8. BB-8 escapes and makes friends with a scavenger girl named Rey. Together they must find a way off the planet in order to get the map to the Resistance.

The movie is beautiful and the mixture of CGI and practical effects is seamless. The acting is solid and the new heroes, Rey, Finn, and Poe are all fascinating and well-played characters that are a delight to watch and acted superbly. The action scenes are thrilling and the nostalgic cameos are used like a spice in a perfectly cooked dish.

There were a few welcome changes that I want to acknowledge. For instance, the casting of more female characters made the universe seem much more believable and diverse. It was also shocking to see blood in a Star Wars film. It added a level of darkness never seen before in the franchise. Creating more complex villains was a novel concept that really landed well. Kylo Ren, the film’s villain is a fascinating villain that goes from homicidal to petulant. It is interesting to watch the goings on in the life of Stormtrooper, which for the most part have been faceless minions for most of the films.

The Force Awakens is just what the franchise needed. It is Star Wars growing up and taking chances. Audiences are tired of movies playing it safe all the time and the prequels were all safe. You knew who would live and who would die by the end. In this this trilogy anything can happen. It is a great movie that uses silence and every shot to its advantage to tell a wonderful story. See it if you can.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

For as long as there have been Paranormal Activity movies I have been an avid watcher. I defended each movie thinking that there was some method to the madness and that one movie would reveal the answers to all the questions I had. I am a fool. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension touts itself as the sixth and final installment, which is supposed to tie all the loose ends. Instead, this movie is a testament how lazy filmmakers are and how gullible they view their audiences.

Starting off with the final events of Paranormal Activity 3, the ending is re-capped. Then we are taken 25 years later to find that a new family has moved into the house. They discover an old video camera and a box of old VHS videos. The videos are of Katie and Kristi doing ritualistic cult stuff while the camera is discovered to have the ability to see the demon Tobi. They attempt to put an end to the demon’s hold on their house and hopefully rid their family of the curse that is now afflicting them.

If this movie was not a Paranormal Activity movie the spirit camera idea might have worked. As it is, it comes off as really stupid and takes all the fear away when you see Tobi as an entity and even more so when you see he has a face. There is nothing wholly remarkable about this movie and really it answers no big burning questions you might have had if you are a fan of the franchise. If anything it raises more questions and even creates an ending that would be suitable for a sequel that nobody will be asking for.

What made the Paranormal Activity movies so great were the sense of dread and powerlessness that was created in something that you could not see. It was left up largely to the imagination to develop why it was doing what it was. As the mythos grew the quality of the narrative dipped with each foray into suburban horror.

So why was this made? To put it simply, the Paranormal Activity movies are lessons in making movies on the cheap. They have a built-in audience and they cost very little to make. For a rough $10 million dollar budget they have made out well, raking in nearly $80 million dollars.  This movie is such an obvious cash-grab that I am shocked they didn’t split it into two parts. None of the former cast that you have come to enjoy is there and the ending is awful. Even if you are a die-hard fan of the franchise don’t bother, there are much better movies out there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – review

The third and final book of the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, is okay at best and disappointing at worst.  On a positive note, the war scenes are developed and chilling. The acting however, has all the charisma of the sleepwalker going through the motions. The film even commits the cardinal sin of telling rather than showing key plot points.

Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is going up against the capitol of Panem. Deciding that she will be the one to kill President Snow, Katniss joins a ragtag band of misfits specialized to look good for the camera. They must face the war torn districts that look like scenery out of Band of Brothers and beware of the new traps that await them in their mission.

This was one of the few times that Josh Hutchinson did a decent acting job. While Hutchinson did a fine job portraying him it is really difficult to like the Peeta character. Even after four movies he is in constant need of rescue. In this movie he kills his own teammate at the first sign of danger, and the chemistry between him and Katniss feels as fake as Jena Malone’s shaved head.

There are some compelling shots that really play into the “war is hell” theme. The movie unfortunately feels forced and like they struggled to make it at all. If you saw the other movies then, by all means see this as a rental. On its own it is fairly subpar for the genre. There is very little action, some of the key plot points happen off-screen, and there really is no climax to speak of.  This is certainly a weak entrĂ©e into the franchise that might have been great if they simply edited the two films into a single movie.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Creed – review

After the previous film in the Rocky series I was sure that the story of Rocky Balboa was wrapped up tighter than a snare drum. I was dead wrong. A cleverly written story encapsulating all the heart of the original characters and bringing a new life to the franchise I can see Adonis Creed as a people’s champion for a new generation.  The acting is great and the story is fantastic. Considering this is the first of the Rocky series to not be written by Sylvester Stallone, it feels like his hand is certain involved in the spirit of things.

Adonis “Donnie” Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan is the bastard son of Apollo Creed. After finding out his who his father is, he attempts to make a name for himself in the boxing world. He goes to Tijuana and wins a few fights and finds that he needs a trainer if he will ever move up the ranks in the boxing ring. Adonis enlists the aid of Apollo’s greatest rival Rocky Balboa to train him.

If there were anything bad about this movie it would only be small, nitpicking stuff. For example: No one ever mentions Ivan Drago as the guy who killed Apollo Creed in Rocky IV. No one ever discusses the failed time Rocky trained Tommy Gunn in Rocky V. I could really piss and moan about how Rocky isn’t more famous after his exhibition match in Rocky Balboa with Mason “The Line” Dixon. It is hard to be upset though when this is the same series where a robot with artificial intelligence was given to Paulie for his birthday. Pick your battles.

The movie has all the feel of a Rocky movie. The main character is charming and is believable as Apollo Creed’s son. Rocky is still as strong-hearted and good-natured person. The cast does a great job bringing this underdog story home. Once again creating a believable task and facing a “villain” that is not bad but merely an antagonist in every sense of the word. I would not be shocked if Stallone was nominated for best supporting actor come Oscar season.

I would recommend, first and foremost, if you decide to watch this movie that at least see the previous films. The previous films will give you insight on who everyone is or was. Creed is worth seeing, especially if you are a fan of the Rocky series. Creed is a welcome addition and was clearly written by someone that knows the characters and loves the material. See it if you can.