22
May
15

Review: Tomorrow! You’re Only a $10 Pin Away!

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After the CGI douche-theatrics of Furious 7, the pop spectacle of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the riveting post-apocalyptic reality-based pyrokinetics of Mad Max: Fury Road, the arrival of Tomorrowland seems at its best, quaint. But at its worst, underwhelming and obvious.

Perhaps the lack of surprise and/or the intensity of its sense of adventure is because, bottom line, Disney has made a film for kids. (Vaccinated) kids who will pester their parents to take them to see the real Tomorrowland. The marketing genius even shows in what is likely to be the most easily attainable movie tie-in toy—a lapel pin that gives our heroine a glimpse of Tomorrowland, emblazoned with the letter “T”, approximately $10 on Amazon and perfect for sticking on the outside of a school backpack.

In the film itself, we get flying jetpacks, cute but effectively deadly robots, a gloriously tech-booby-trapped house, and a new use for the Eiffel Tower, but it’s all so blah since there’s no infinity stones involved. Nothing in the conflict quite feels truly at stake. Tomorrowland itself, white and shiny, kinda looks like an Apple store without the employees in t-shirts. This magical realm is actually a parallel universe/dimension/thing where all humanity’s best and brightest gather to nurture great ideas and create and imagine unimaginable feats of technology. A lot of marijuana smoking probably goes on behind closed doors.

“Throw me the fast pass, I throw you the pin!”

Hugh Laurie is on hand as the villain who wants to destroy the “real” Earth since it’s basically destroying itself anyway. That kind of megalomania seems a bit excessive since he’s in charge of the most perfect place in existence anyway but whatever. A plot to revive Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen body would have been cooler.

Sadly, this may be Brad Bird’s most uninspired movie yet. After his live-action debut with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and especially his animated efforts, The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, somehow, we just expect more from him. The action scenes aren’t particularly exciting or witty; nothing seems to stay in the memory and the biggest let-down, we catch a glimpse of Space Mountain in the skyline but we don’t get to experience it. (Instead we get It’s a Small World. Don’t ask.) Wouldn’t it have been great if our heroes were trapped in a vehicle chase inside Space Mountain and then everything shuts down and the lights go on and you’re just looking at steel girders? Sorry. I’m still bitter how a certain incident during a childhood vacation ruined the illusion.

This pin? Ten bucks?

This pin? Ten bucks?

And we expect more from George Clooney too, and here, as a genius who was exiled from Tomorrowland a long time ago, he just seems to be going through the rumply, crankily charming motions. Feminists and Black Widow-Gate/Supergirl-Gate conspirators should be thrilled “the chosen one” for the planet’s future is a plucky teen girl, played by Britt Robertson, who is probably fielding offers for a young adult film adaptation at this very moment. The real casting find though is Raffey Cassidy as a young Tomorrowland android that protects the heroic humans and has a genuinely poignant backstory with Clooney’s character. She’s like the Terminator, but little.

At Tomorrowland’s gleaming, wanna-be vintage heart, there is an old-fashioned (too) strong message about going green, saving the environment and how the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. With $10 pins. Barf.

Tomorrowland is now playing in theaters everywhere.

14
May
15

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

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I’ve lamented it many times on the blog, but it seems like the studios keep putting out remake, after reboot, after reset. That said, when it was first announced that we’d be getting another Mad Max movie I was pretty indifferent to the news. Another remake? Meh, nothing to get excited for. When the first trailer came out it definitely looked cool, but yet even then I still wasn’t intrigued. Now that Mad Max: Fury Road is finally here all I have to say is that I thought no film this summer could top Avengers: Age of Ultron in the sheer amount of action in a movie . . . I was wrong.

Mad Max: Fury Road stars Tom Hardy as Max, a lone wolf of a man who wanders the post- apocalyptic wasteland just trying to survive; the role made famous by Mel Gibson who starred in the first trio of films back in the early 80s. Max gets caught up with Charlize Theron’s Furiosa when she initiates her plan to steal baddie Immortan Joe’s most precious cargo, The Wives. What starts out as a basic escape plan turns into a battle for survival against warring post-apocalyptic tribes with a chance at rebuilding civilization hanging in the balance.

Immortan Joe's wives. Who wouldn't want to get them back?

Immortan Joe’s wives. Who wouldn’t want to get them back?

Back to that action though, it’s the first thing that grabs when you once the film begins and never lets up till the end. And it doesn’t get tiring either. Well, okay, some might find it tiring, but I was entertained the entire time. The scenes are so masterfully put together that never at one point did it feel like cars just crashing together. There is real thought and coordination that went into producing some of these sequences and the stunt work is simply amazing. There are guys literally jumping around from car to car or falling of chase vehicles and when they hit the ground, you definitely feel it. The way the action is shot and how they handle the camera really put you in the middle of the action. When you have guys swinging back and forth on poles jumping from one car to another, you never really know what to expect next.

The world building is great as well. While the film is itself visually stunning, everything about the details–from the cars and trucks that are driven, to the costuming, to props, and to the way the characters talk to each other give you a good sense of how far humans have fallen in the years after a catastrophe struck. You definitely feel that everything in this world is just cobbled together piece by piece. All the vehicles are mutant versions of the vehicles they once were: dual Cadillac Coupe De Villes welded together on top of each other on top huge wheels; the War Rig (the main vehicle in the film) being a marriage between a semi truck and a hot rod. Things just feel as if they were Macgyver’d together as best they could by those that are still standing.

Immortan Joe and his band of "half-life" humans.

Immortan Joe and his band of “half-life” humans.

Even each of the characters in the film all really distinct and unique, which only adds to the crazy world that they all are from. First from a visual standpoint you can tell who each character is, even though you may not know their name, you know exactly who they are by the way they look. How these people speak and interact with one another also adds to each of their characters. While the film is more action-heavy than dialogue heavy, from the short lines or moments that people are given to speak, you can pick up on elements of their personality and sometimes even fills us in on why they look the way that they do.

And none of the characters are more unique than Max. Tom Hardy is not doing a Mel Gibson impression, and he doesn’t have to. We get everything we need to know about Max from from what we see of him in the film. In the first sequence of events, we get a good sense of who he is. We know he’s a tough guy from the way he puts up a fight as he is about to be captured and even after he is captured. We know he can think on his feet (which is a good survival trait) from the way he makes decisions in a mere second or two. The decision may not work out, but he commits to it as soon as he does make it. You get a sense that he is a loner and is fine working that way from the way he talks to people and how little he does talk when he’s around people. Whether this was the way that director George Miller envisioned this character or the way Tom Hardy wanted to play him, you get who Max is by the way he’s portrayed on the screen. It’s the same reason why I guess that Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception director Christopher Nolan tapped Hardy to play Bane:

Tom is somebody who really knows how to put character into every gesture, every aspect of his physicality in the way that great actors can. He’s a very, very physical actor. He transforms himself and it’s there in every movement.

Hero Complex, LA Times (2011)

Lethal Weapon this ain't.

Lethal Weapon this ain’t.

While you don’t need to have seen the previous Mad Max films to inform you as to what’s happening in this film, if you do have that knowledge, I think you are a little better off. At the very least you know what to expect from director George Miller as he’s back in the saddle directing Fury Road. Yes, the man that directed the first set of Max films (and who also directed Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet) is back for Fury Road. If you’ve ever seen scenes or stills from the first set of films, you definitely see that this Miller back in the world he created over thirty plus years ago. Visually, things look very similar. Mostly everything is shot in the same Australian desert that the previous films were shot in. And like I mentioned previously; all the characters, cars, and gonzo-ness of it all are nearly the same as in The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Though it’s not meant to look modern, Fury Road really is a Mad Max that was made today. While there are some visual effects at play here, I feel a lot of the practical work is on a different level from the first films and wouldn’t have been achievable years ago. Credit Miller for being able to bring his vision of Max to 2015 filmmaking.

Probably my only knock against the film is that there really isn’t too much to the story itself; which is a small nitpick and also totally fine. Even with the characters, outside of Max, what you see of these characters on screen is what you get. There’s some filling in of backstory for some of these characters, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because the driving force here is either that characters want to stay alive and survive or are following orders and are chasing people down. Having said that though, the way the story is told through the action, through the bits and pieces of dialog that we do get fills in enough details for you to understand what everyone’s motivation is.

Furiosa (Theron, right), Nux (Nicholas Hoult, left), and The Wives . . . the ultimate road trip. Are we there yet?

Furiosa (Theron, right), Nux (Nicholas Hoult, left), and The Wives . . . the ultimate road trip. Are we there yet?

In a summer where you have Avengers: Age of Ultron kicking things off, you wouldn’t think that you could get any higher than that. Mad Max: Fury Road proves that it can. You need to be a fan of action to be sure, but Fury Road is more than just action. It also showcases great storytelling and a distinct and unique visual style as well. Though this is a reboot/remake/reset or whatever you want to call it; it’s probably one of the better efforts Hollywood has put forth in the past few years. I’m not saying I’d like to see more remakes or that this proves the point. But I do think Mad Max: Fury Road is more the exception than it is the rule. And because it’s exceptional, it’s a remake that I won’t mind seeing again.

Mad Max: Fury Road is now playing in theaters worldwide.

4.5 / 5 stars // rated R // 2h

 

30
Apr
15

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Seven summers ago there was an idea . . . the idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to make the movies that that no one else could.

From his first foray into what we now refer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with 2008’s Iron Man, president of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige collected talent and creatives and guided them on a path to create the largest “universe” of films anyone has seen. Forget the characters on screen. Names like Joss Whedon, Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson are now real life Avengers. And Feige, he’s the real world equivalent of Nick Fury; ever so astutely manipulating storylines and stars as deftly as Fury could manipulate secrets and spies.Flash forward to 2015 and that Marvel machine shows no signs of stopping. Avengers: Age of Ultron is the second film in the MCU that brings together the “group of remarkable people” we know as the Avengers. With the Battle of New York now three years past, we join right in as the team is in the heat of battle; still cleaning up Hydra agents from the events that took place in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Flash forward to 2015 and the Marvel machine shows no signs of stopping. Avengers: Age of Ultron is the second film in the MCU that brings together the “group of remarkable people” we know as the Avengers. With the Battle of New York now three years past, we jump right in as the team is in the heat of battle; still cleaning up Hydra agents from the events that took place in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

In an effort to close the book on Hydra, the Avengers are tracking down Loki’s scepter (which we last saw in Hydra’s possession in The Winter Soldier and which Phil Coulson discovered intel on its whereabouts in this week’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD). Having neutralized the Hydra threat, the Avengers discover that Hydra has a focus on collecting Inhumans–a sub-race of humans who possess special abilities. Hydra’s Inhumans, aka The Twins, aka Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (also seen at the end of The Winter Soldier), manipulate Tony Stark and turn his fears from the Battle of New York against him which leads him to create Ultron–initially a protocol of automated Iron Man suits to fight large threats and protect the human race; but morphs into an evil artificial intelligence bent on “protecting” humanity by destroying it.

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Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson join the cast as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. They’re more Inhuman than human.

 Avengers: Age of Ultron has all the action that you’d expect from an Avenger movie. While we’ve gotten some cool action sequences in the stand alone Avenger films, it’s totally amped up in Age of Ultron since in nearly every scene you’ve got at least two Avengers working together. A lot of action scenes in the film are fun because the Avengers are fighting together, working as a team, and riffing off of each other’s weaponry and special talents. When you see Captain America whipping his shield around, Black Widow catching it, throwing it back to him–but knocking bad guys into the air, with Iron Man flying in and repulsor blasting said bad guys in mid air and then finishing off with Thor slamming his hammer down on Cap’s shield creating a shockwave that knocks everyone out . . . you can’t help but crack a smile on your face because yes, this is what superhero team-up movies are supposed to be.

Whedon’s comedic stamp is still all over the film as well. From the quick one-liners during battle (Cap’s chastising of Iron Man’s “language”), to our heroes being self-deprecating with one another, to fun scenes of comradery (like say when you’re hanging out after a party and everyone tries to lift Thor’s hammer); all the little touches and flourishes of humor that made the first Avengers so fun is still here as well.

Great action and fun laughs aren’t the only things that Age of Ultron gives us. It also does some table setting for Phase III and also subtly explain other goings on in the MCU. Things like “well where was Hawkeye when all that stuff with SHIELD going down” are in fact addressed and answered (no, he wasn’t just appearing on Fallon). Then there’s the role call of cameos from supporting characters from many of the other stand alone films. Not only do we get to see War Machine and Falcon, but we also get the inclusion of two new Avengers as well (spoiler alert–it’s The Twins). We all know that Marvel can’t keep this train with the core group of Avengers going forever. They literally can’t afford to as the actor’s salaries will keep getting higher with each passing movie. The next logical step is to bring in new blood and set things up for a changing of the guard. I mean, in the comic books the Avengers are a big team of superheroes so it only makes sense that new Avengers are introduced in Age of Ultron.

Where did you come from where did you go? Where did you come from cotten eye Hawkeye?

Hawkeye’s still super as they are.

In a similar vein, Age of Ultron also moves us ever so closer to the next Avengers film three years from now: Infinity War. From the discovery of the tesseract in Captain America: The First Avenger to the outright explanation of the Infinity Stones in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, you can’t help but notice that these items seem to be the most power artifacts in the universe if everyone is out to get them. While I won’t give too much away from Age of Ultron, the Infinity Stones are referenced several times in the film. If one by itself commands so much power, just imagine an enemy who possesses all of them.

If there was one thing that felt a little out of place in Age of Ultron, it would have to be the developing relationship between Bruce and Natasha. We saw a few hints at this in the first Avengers film. In Age of Ultron, it is in full bloom. What I found out of place about it was that I thought it was completely unnecessary. Did they want to keep the female audience interested by introducing a romance element to the story? Who knows. What I do know is this . . . you have a strong female character in your comic book movie (something in short supply and high demand at the moment) and you give her character weepy eyes throughout the film? Sure they gave us some backstory and point of view moments for her, but I think the end result was not worth adding that in. Talk about sidelining your character–it just makes her character look that much more vulnerable on a team packed with powers.

DID YOU ORDER THE CODE GREEN???

DID YOU ORDER THE CODE GREEN???

While Avengers: Age of Ultron does deliver the fun, I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing after the movie was done. I laughed and I cheered throughout the movie and yet I didn’t feel as good as I did when I got out of seeing The Avengers. The best way to equate this is probably to The Dark Knight and The Dark Night Rises. With The Dark Knight being as good as it was, expectations for it’s follow up were sky high. When The Dark Knight Rises came out, due to those high expectations, many people felt that Rises was a bit of a letdown. And that what we’ve got going on here.

Pound dog!

Pound dog!

Though Ultron is a diabolical foe, the entire movie feels a bit like more of what we wanted from the first Avengers movie but just didn’t have time to have in there. There wasn’t anything that special that blew me away. This time around we don’t have the novelty of seeing these guys come together for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great scenes and I did enjoy myself throughout the film, but at the end of the day I thought Ultron was just another bad guy in the long list of Marvel bad guys that got left in the dust. What he did was the typical things that we’d expect any one-note bad guy to do: he came up with a plan to destroy the world, he got the Avengers to fight each other, and he had the whole multiple versions of himself going for him. With all of that, none of it left a lasting impression on me.

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To be sure, I’ll see this movie a couple more times in theaters. And like I mentioned at the top, Marvel has nothing to fear in regards to their universe slowing down anytime soon. Feige, Whedon, and the entire cast have put together something that is special. What I’m hoping we get next time is a movie that “becomes something more” and is not just more of the same.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is now playing in theaters worldwide.

4 / 5 stars // rated PG-13 // 2h 21min

 

24
Apr
15

Review: The Age of Adaline

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The thing you have to remember should you choose to see The Age of Adaline, is that the film is much more about the ‘what’ more than it is about the ‘why’ or ‘how.’ If you expect to find out exactly why Adaline doesn’t age, you do find that out. In fact, the film dolls out a long winded explanation via some sort of pseudo-sciency Neil deGrasse Tyson-esque explanation. But the film itself is more interested in asking, what would you do with your life if you could live forever?

The Age of Adaline stars Blake Lively as the ever-youthful Adaline, who finds herself in a unique position of everlasting youth after a freak car accident and a little help from planetary alignment. Born in the early 1900s, Adaline finds herself stuck at age 29 for roughly 80 years. During this time, she leads a solitary life; moving around and changing her identity every ten years so her secret isn’t discovered. However, in present day San Francisco she meets Ellis (Michiel Huisman), a charming philanthropist who gives her a reason to open up and love again.

As the film plainly illustrates, Adaline not being able to age is more of a curse than a blessing. Having lived alone for so long, Adaline doesn’t let people get close. Though she is well off financially, she lives modestly so as not to attract any attention. And probably the biggest heart breaker . . . she keeps a photo album of all the pets she’s lost over the years. This all points to the fact that you can’t really live your life when you confine yourself like this.

Adaline with her regular aging daughter.

Adaline with her regular aging daughter.

Of course, this story wouldn’t be interesting unless a curveball was thrown her way. Adaline’s daughter, who she had before her accident and who has aged normally, pushes her to not worry about her in her old age, but more importantly; to find love and live her life. And what do you know, on the day before her birthday (New Year’s Eve), she meets Ellis. From the moment he lays eyes on her he is transfixed and for a few fleeting moments she seems to be a little intrigued. This leads to Adaline questioning the life she’s lived up until this point. Should she stick to the plan that she’s set out for herself–solitary, alone, but safe? Or should she open herself up to love, even though she will most likely outlive the person that she’s with? While these are all great questions, the film pretty much takes all the expected turns.

Adaline and Ellis's first encounter on New Year's Eve.

Adaline and Ellis’s first encounter on New Year’s Eve.

Blake gives a nice performance in the film and plays an ‘older person trapped in a younger person’s body’ fairly well. I always got a sense that she was holding something back, not really opening up fully anytime Ellis made advances on her. And of course she looks great in any time period and got to show off a bunch of great looks as there were multiple flashbacks of her through the years. Michiel’s Ellis, meh, I could take him or leave him. He wasn’t bad in the role, he was more okay than anything and I think someone else could have played that role just as easily. His character did come off a little stalker-ish at times when he kept showing up at places Adaline was at. He’s actually more carismatic in his role as Daario Naharis of the Second Sons in Game of Thrones.

And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about that narration. Within the first few minutes of the film, the narrator comes in and literally tells us about Adaline and her life. It then moves on to tell us specifically how, in scientific terms, why Adaline no longer ages. I’m not a purist by any means, so I’m open to narration providing me straightforward details when it’s applied appropriately. But, in this case, the narration was so out of place and so unnecessary that it almost made me feel dumber for listening to it. Had the narration not taken place, myself and I’m sure much of the audience could have inferred what happened to Adaline. The narration, however, was not limited to just the beginning of the film. The same style of narration is employed several more times throughout the film and actually closes the film out with more unnecessary mumbo-jumbo.

Adaline celebrating New Year's in the 1940s

Adaline celebrating New Year’s in the 1940s

On the whole The Age of Adaline doesn’t do much in terms of providing drama or romance. Yes, romance is displayed for us on-screen but I never really fully bought into Adaline and Ellis relationship. Still, it’s an interesting film in the sense that it tries to be a little bit more than a romance movie. If you’ve ever had a burning question about whether or not to find someone to love if you were forever young, then you’ll definitely want to check out The Age of Adaline. Or if you’re just looking for a decent date movie before heading out to Avengers next weekend, then Adaline fits the bill just nicely too.

The Age of Adaline is now playing in theaters everywhere.

⅗ stars // rated PG-13 // 1h 50min

23
Apr
15

Post View: Thoughts on The Force Awakens Trailer

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I’ve had a lot of cautious optimism since the dual announcement of the LucasFilm acquisition by Disney and the creation of new Star Wars movies two and a half years ago. Though I have fond memories of watching each of the episodes in the New Trilogy (NT, Episodes I, II, & III), they just weren’t as memorable or as imaginative as the Original Trilogy (OT, Episodes IV, V, & VI) was. That’s why since the announcement I’ve been patiently waiting to see how the franchise would be guided and what kind of storytellers would be brought in to carry the saga forward.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that hot on JJ Abrams decision to nix the script that Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt was working on in favor of a storyline that brought the OT leads back. I wanted to see what new stories and challenges the characters in a post-OT Star Wars universe would have to face; not tagging along with Luke, Leia, and Han for “one last ride.” Their stories have been told already. Been there done that.

When the Star Wars – The Force Awakens teaser trailer came out last December I was intrigued, but not blown away. I mean really, all we got were a couple of short scenes that gave us an idea of how the film would “look.” Probably the biggest takeaway for me was that this film “looked” like it fit in with the OT and not dramatically different like the NT did. While everyone was excited to see the Millenium Falcon (the only appearance of something from the OT), I was excited to see that scene as well. Not because we got to see the Millenium Falcon, but because of how we saw it. That over the shoulder tracking shot of the Millenium Falcon as it did a loop and then turned right side up was so dynamic and exhilarating that it was definitely my favorite part of the trailer.

Now cut to a week ago.

Disney drops the first full trailer for The Force Awakens last week at Star Wars Celebration to rave reviews, fans crying (hell, even Matthew McConaughey shed a few tears), and nearly half of my Facebook feed wetting themselves. Again, cautious optimism. But what was getting everyone so worked up?

0423_02-HanAndChewie

. . . the reveal of Chewie and Han. I’m not going to lie, Harrison Ford looks older than ever. I don’t know if it’s because he became such a big star, but after his last slate of films that he’s been in (Expendables, Ender’s Game, Cowboys & Aliens, Morning Glory) I don’t see him as Han Solo anymore. I see him as an old and grumpy Harrison Ford. The brash and beguiling Han I know only appears in Episodes IV, V, and VI. Seeing him here at the end of the trailer telling Chewie “we’re home”, that did not do anything for me. Do not get me wrong, I am a fan of the series through and through and I love Han as much as the next fanboy; but seeing a tired Harrison Ford on-screen just kind of deflated the entire trailer for me. I’m still hopeful that maybe in the grand scheme of the movie, this wasn’t exactly Ford’s best moment. And who knows, maybe he is still is the same old Han Solo we all know and love just a bit older. We’ll have to wait and see.

Similarly to the teaser trailer, it’s the sum all the parts of this trailer that really gets me excited for Episode VII.

StarDestroyerDown

The trailer starts out with a familiar shot of Tatooine, but then as the camera pans across the desert landscape we see a massive star destroyer crashed into the dunes with a wrecked X-wing in the foreground–already I’m hooked. We’ve seen the Tatooine landscape laid out for us before, and Lucas even brought back similar shots in the NT to give Anakin an angsty emotional moment. This opening shot, however, it lets us know that we’re not in that same galaxy far, far away that we once knew–things are different now.

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Then the nostalgia train gets started with Luke (we think) reciting his line from Return of the Jedi that talks about his family “having” Force abilities. While seeing Vader’s burnt and disfigured helmet is a nice touch, it’s when we get to this particular shot (image above) that we realize this isn’t the line from Jedi that we’re hearing, but new dialogue when we hear “my father HAS it.” This could mean any number of things, but most fans are speculating that this suggests that Vader is not dead. Why would Luke say this unless he knew his father (Darth Vader) wasn’t dead right? Maybe, just maybe he lived and what Luke burned at the end of Jedi wasn’t his father. Granted, this is one possibility.

Another interpretation could be that the reason Luke said it this way is because, as Obi-Wan told us, “from a certain point of view” Luke doesn’t consider his father dead because he is still “alive” as a Force ghost–which we saw at the end of Return of the Jedi. He could still be interacting with his father/Vader’s Force ghost ever since his death.

Still another possibility is that this isn’t Luke speaking at all, but perhaps it’s his son instead. Most of the theories out there posit that this next set of episodes will focus on the children of Han and Leia–who would have Force abilities passed down to them from their mother. However, as no official synopsis has yet been released, we still don’t know what the story is. The reference to “my father has it” could be from Luke’s son being told to someone else. Fun speculation to be sure, but like I said, this could be another possibility.

As we get into the second half of the trailer though, that’s where we get to see a bunch of fun puzzle pieces . . .

An ominous cloaked figure putting a metal hand on R2D2, someone being handed a lightsaber, Oscar Isaac getting excited flying he X-wing . . . while these next set of shots didn’t move the needle too much for me, the following did:

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Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and BB8 running from tie fighter strafing fire . . . totes exciting.

 

Is this a new sith lord? Is he the main villain of the film? Always two there are right? Which one is he?

Is this a new sith lord? Is he the main villain of the film? Always two there are right? Which one is he?

 

A tie fighter shooting up an Imperial hanger--you can feel JJ’s presence with both the look of the shot and how everything is framed.

A tie fighter shooting up an Imperial hanger–you can feel JJ’s presence with both the look of the shot and how everything is framed.

 

I saw this guy and wanted to know his story. Is he the sith lord from a few scenes ago? Or is he just a badass Tie fighter pilot?

I saw this guy and wanted to know his story. Is he the sith lord from a few scenes ago? Or is he just a badass Tie fighter pilot?

 

And then, the pièce de résistance for me . . .

FalconChaseSequence

This chase sequence through a crashed star destroyer (same one from the opening shot perhaps?) is damn near genius. It’s definitely got hints of Return of the Jedi when Lando took the Millenium Falcon into the Death Star, but I also love that it’s updated by JJ with the snap zoom shot as the Millenium Falcon enters the star destroyer. It’s something we’re familiar with, but updated for a new generation.

And that last shot, well, I’ve already talked about that at the top.

After seeing this trailer, I’m much more excited and hopeful that this next set of Star Wars films will be the Star Wars movies that we’ve been waiting for. While I will always have fond memories of camping out and seeing the NT in theaters the same way the previous generation did with the OT; the newer films themselves didn’t live up to the bar that was set by the older ones.

After this trailer though, there has been an awakening . . . have you felt it?

17
Apr
15

Review: Monkey Kingdom

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Every Earth Day Disney puts out a family-friendly animal documentary. In the past, they’ve told us stories about our planet’s oceans, chimpanzees, African cats, and brown bears. This year’s film, Monkey Kingdom focuses on a troop of toque macaque monkeys in Sri Lanka.

The first thing that usually comes to mind when someone thinks ‘wildlife documentary’ is usually those old boring wildlife videos from high school with bland narration about whatever the animals on screen are doing. If you haven’t seen any of the Disneynature series of films then you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise as their films are crafted really well and present the audience with conventions that you’ll get in a regular film. Things such as a protagonist that the movie follows, a plot that tells the story of our protagonist, fun supporting characters, rising tension, and because it’s a Disney movie . . . a happy ending.

Monkey Kingdom focuses on Maya, a pretty well-groomed macaque monkey who’s at the bottom of her troop’s social strata. Like the human world, the toque macaque monkeys of Sri Lanka have a social class structure–the privileged get all the best fruit on the top of fig tree, while those on the bottom (literally the ground) have to scrounge around for food. The film follows Maya as she struggles to find food, raise her young son, and her climb up the troop’s social structure–which helps them to survive.

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It’s actually a pretty ingenious endeavor when you think about it. How do you get people to watch what might ordinarily be a boring subject? By getting them into it. Give the audience someone to root for. Someone that they can empathize with. For us, that person (or monkey rather) is Maya. I don’t know how much of Tina Fey’s narration is actually true, but from the footage the producers shot and edited together; they’ve crafted a pretty interesting story that people will sit down to watch.

When the film starts off, Maya is essentially a low income worker with no good prospects and she only stays with her troop because she knows that if she were to leave, she would not be protected by any number of predators that lurk in the surrounding jungle. We see Maya “going to work” every day as she goes out to search for food. We see her as a single mother when she begins to raise her son on her own. And we see her rise to prominence in her tribe when they start to rely on her skills as a searcher and gatherer of food.

There are a number of fun moments in the film–one or two of which I wouldn’t be surprised if they were staged. In one particular scene, Maya and some of the other low-class monkeys raid a human kitchen where a birthday cake with a bunch of different goodies are all perfectly laid out, ripe for the plundering. It’s fun to watch the monkeys go crazy grabbing at all this food, but I found it really hard to believe that the filmmakers just happened upon a scene like that.

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Conversely, there’s an emotional sequence in the film when Maya is separated from her son by “The Sisters”, a trio of upper-class female monkeys who treat lower classed monkeys badly because they can. While more heart-wrenching moments like these are few and far between, it does give us a sense that that the animal kingdom mirrors the human kingdom in many similar ways.

If I were to tell you the plot of this story without telling you that it stared monkeys, you might think it’s a halfway decent movie. And for the most part it is. Believe it or not the narration adds a lot to the film. It’s not so much Tina Fey’s personality as it is how the filmmakers edited the footage they shot and developed the narrative for it. Again, who can say exactly how much of what we hear is actually how things happened. At the end of the day, just like in any movie, you’re here to be entertained and that’s exactly what Monkey Kingdom does. It gets you to root for Maya and her family of monkeys.

As in previous years, a portion of opening week box office sales will be donated to an organization that will help the animals and/or environment that the film was shot in. In conjunction with Conservation International, this year’s collected proceeds will go towards protecting habitat across Indonesia, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. Not only do you get to see a movie the entire family can enjoy, but part of the cost you pay for admission will help Maya and other monkeys in the region. Remember, it’s only during the first week of Monkey Kingdom’s engagement (April 17-23).

Monkey Kingdom is now playing in theaters everywhere.

⅗ stars // rated G // 1h 22min

19
Mar
15

Insurgent Review: Detergent

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There’s nothing all that wrong with Insurgent. It’s actually a somewhat competent sequel in the Divergent series that doesn’t suffer middle chapter syndrome: there’s some action and the storyline moves. It’s just that… What were we talking about again?

Oh. And there you go.

Somehow, Insurgent is just not memorable. We’ve seen all of this before in Twilight, The Hunger Games, Mortal Instruments, Beautiful Creatures, The Maze Runner, The Running Man, and of course, Battle Royale. And by now, unless the young adult book adaptation movies do something drastic with their female heroines and post-apocalypse imaginings (or lack thereof), the genre is just about as burnt-out as the landscape in Mad Max.

In fact, I can barely bring myself to re-cap the last film, much less do a synopsis for this one. Frankly, I completely forgot Divergent and actually had to rent the film to watch again the night before the screening of its sequel. And once the lights went down and the screen lit up, I still did not have total recall. And no, I wasn’t drunk.

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Here’s my best try: In the future, to keep the peace, a walled city kinda like the one in Attack on Titan or Mega City One in Dredd is broken into five factions of society. Or was it seven? I’m too lazy to look it up so we’ll just go with five, yes, five factions. Our heroine Tris, used to belong to the self-less, government-ruling Abnegation but when she hit puberty, she decided to join Dauntless, a group in charge of policing the city and they like to hoot and holler, get tattoos and run around a lot.

Oh, and Tris took a test that revealed she is a Divergent—she can fit into more than one faction. So by the first movie’s end, Tris’s parents died, and she, her brother Caleb, her new boyfriend Four, Four’s abusive father, and a kidnapped member of Dauntless played by Miles Teller are on the run. The new film opens with them taking shelter in Amity, a faction devoted to peace and love. Actually, I’m not sure what the difference is between Amity and Abnegation except Amity seems more hare krishna-like because they offer good tidings when they give you your plate at the buffet line.

You know, this is actually really (too) complicated. I forgot to mention Kate Winslet, leader of the smart people, Erudite, who wants to rule the city like Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games. She needs Tris to unlock this box that looks like the Tesseract from The Avengers. Once unlocked, the box will reveal some sort of big thing. This all takes place in this room with tentacles that stab into Tris like the ones from The Matrix and Tris enters this simulation like the one in The Matrix and she does all these tasks and things explode slowly in a nice computer-y way like The Matrix and…

What were we talking about again?

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I just don’t wanna type anymore. I’m tired. The actors, Buddha bless them, don’t seem to mind relentless cinematic thievery though. Teller plays the ruthless, kidnapped Dauntless baddie Peter with the proper sense of bullying and self-loathing. Ansel Elgort plays Tris’s conflicted brother Caleb. And Shailene Woodley plays Tris with a determined ambition to not be pegged as a Jennifer Lawrence wanna-be. (Interestingly enough, Woodley slept with Teller in The Spectacular Now. She also slept with Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars. At this rate, by the end of the decade, at least on screen, Woodley could possibly sleep with the rest of the series’ male cast.)

Oh and everybody in the theater squealed when Daniel Dae Kim popped up as the leader of Erudite. He conducted himself with great dignity. (Does anybody still watch Hawaii Five-0? Oh wait yeah…my mom.)

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I think we’ve come to the point where we must simply acknowledge that these films were made from books that were made for young adults. Particularly young adults who haven’t seen many other movies. I think I’ll stop here. I’m tired of writing about it and to paraphrase the wise words imparted by Taylor Swift, I should just shake it off.

One more thing. They’re also planning to split the final book in the series, Allegiant, into two movies. Like Harry Potter. And The Hunger Games.

I’m trying to just breathe and relax. And shake it off.

Insurgent is now playing in theaters everywhere.




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