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Movie Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens

Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford
Director: J. J. Abrams

As I'm probably one of the last people on Earth to see this film, this review may contain a few spoilers. Unlike others when they first announced this film I was not excited in the least. After the prequels it seemed to me that the Star Wars universe might be best served by sticking to games, comics, and cartoons. If the original creator of the series couldn't put something worthwhile together, then what chance did Disney have? Then footage from the film starting showing up on the web and it was hard not get excited. The look and feel of the original Star Wars we all loved was back.

Much of Star Wars Episode 7 feels like it was patterned after the first Star Wars film. That isn't to say that the plot is exactly the same but it's very similar. There is a conscious effort to get the old fans back on board. The plot revolves around finding a Droid with sensitive information, a weapon that can destroy planets, and ordinary people who turn into heroes (sound familiar?). Almost all of the original cast is back and the film has many tongue in cheek references to first films. Sometimes it crosses the line, for example when they go to a seedy hideout that is exactly like the Cantina from Episode 4. For the most part though it works and still feels like an original story.

The main purpose of the film is to introduce the new characters and setup what should be a successful trilogy. A passing of the torch from the characters of the original trilogy to those of the new. And the new characters hold their own quite well. Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) have natural chemistry on screen and the dialogue is well written (unlike the prequels). Finn is interesting in that they have never shown a Stormtrooper as a real person before. They were always mindless drones. The comparisons to Nazi Germany aren't subtle but do add some new themes to the series. The one character that could have been better is the villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He isn't the classic villain that many were expecting and often seems to be a rather weak. Although I believe this will be resolved in the next episodes it still would have been nice to see a true villain in Episode 7.

Now onto the action and special effects, the most important parts of any movie. The special effects team really excelled in the aerial combat sequences. While computer graphics were employed it still had the look and feel of the original Star Wars. It captured the spirit of the first film while adding things that just weren't possible at that time. The alien creatures were somewhat of a mixed bag as some relied on CGI and others on more old school techniques. Having both in the same scene would sometimes throw off the realism a bit. The Lightsaber battles felt a bit muted as they didn't rely on acrobatics as much as the prequels or even the original films.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn't a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. It is not the instant classic that was the original trilogy. It is a fun film for fans though, a nostalgic trip back in time. It may not be the most original but it manages to make one hopeful for what lies in store for Episodes 8 and 9.

Movie Review: Jurassic World - Expect The Expected

Jurassic World Official Poster

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard
Director: Colin Trevorrow

Jurassic World is set 22 years after the original film. Somehow in that time the dream of first films was realized. The film doesn't explain how this happened we just know that the park is now up and running. Leading the project is Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) a career focused woman who sees the Dinos at the park as corporate assets instead of living breathing animals. This corporate greed motivates the main story of the film. To keep the park attractive to tourist new Dinos must keep being introduced. Eventually the scientist decide to come up with a creature that never even existed that they call Indominus Rex. Basically Indominus Rex is a bigger, badder version of the T Rex from the original movies. When the Indominus Rex begins exhibiting strange behavior, Owen (Chris Pratt) the park's resident hero and animal expert is called in for consultation. As you may have guessed things soon go terribly wrong.

The main thing lacking in this film is any originality. Most of the films ideas seemed to have been lifted from the other films. They simply try to one up the other films in terms of special effects and action. It's like Jurassic Park 2.0 more than a sequel with it own story and characters. As an example like the first film we again have two children who get lost in the park at exactly the wrong time. This time it is Claire's nephews who are making a visit to the park. In the first film the kids were a little too precocious at times, in this one they are just not very likable at all. They mostly serve as a reason for Claire and Owen to venture into the park together. The only truly likable character is Owen. Basically he gets to be the action star version of Sam Neil and Jeff Goldblum's characters from the first film. He gets to point out when the other characters are being foolish with sarcastic comments and one liners. Bryce Dallas Howard gives a fine performance as Claire but the role is very predictable. Claire goes from closed off career woman to down to earth heroine. Of course she also falls in love.

All the negatives aside though the movie does manage be fun and entertaining. The special effects are quite impressive, bringing to film some spectacular new creatures that fans of the series will enjoy. The tweaked soundtrack is different enough to be interesting while still retaining that nostalgic feeling from the first films. The actions scenes are big and suspenseful but not always logical or realistic.

Jurassic World is exactly what people have come expect from a sequel like this. A slightly different take on story that has already been told. With beefed up special effects and action to satisfy the masses. On those counts Jurassic World delivers.

Movie Review: The Age Adaline - A Curious Case Of Misguided Ambition

Age Of Adaline Final poster

Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Starring: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman and Harrison Ford

Some ideas are just bad. No matter how much you believe that they will work they never will. Age Of Adaline is like one those ideas. While everyone involved in the film seems confident that they are in an Oscar award winning film it just never gets over the main premise. Age Of Adaline tries to emulate old holywood romances and at least in the look, feel and tone it gets it right. The big concept and character development fall flat. Any thinking person will see that the story is contrived and ultimately pointless.

Blake Lively stars as Adaline a woman who after a car accident in the 1920s mysteriously stops aging altogether. This is explained away in a "sciencey" sounding voice over that really makes zero sense at all. That wouldn't really be problem though because any movie with a big concept will have that moment where you must suspend disbelief and just go with it. The problem with Age Of Adaline is that the concept doesn't lead to any logical story development. Instead of gaining any happiness from being an ageless beauty Adaline spends most of her time alone. She constantly changes her identity so no one will find out her secret. She can't bring herself to have any real close relationships, knowing that in the end it will lead to loss and heartbreak.

Since most of movie is set in present day that means that Adaline while appearing young is supposed to have the knowledge and wisdom of someone almost 100 years old. Surprisingly Blake Lively does quite well in carrying her scenes. It is very hard to believe that given 100 years time Adaline would not have matured enough to have a real relationship though. The whole thing is just a contrivance to keep her away from her true love. Enter Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) who meets Adaline at a party and falls in love from the minute he sees her. Even though he only gets her name, he uses that to track her down at work and later at her apartment. Of course this being a movie, he eventually gets a date and the police are never called. I guess it doesn't hurt that he is handsome and rich.

To add more drama to the film their is a surprise twist involving Ellis' dad who is played by Harrison Ford. Although Ford does admirably in the role the whole thing is incredibly dumb. It's one of those "coincidences" that only seem to happen in movies. The whole sub-plot seems to have been added to create more fake inner turmoil for poor Adaline.

Age Of Adaline tries desperately to have some sort of  message about love, loss and life but ends up being just another ambitious but poorly thought out hollywood film.

Movie Review - Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol Official Poster

Movie: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Starring: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton
Directed by: Brad Bird

After three Mission: Impossible films you pretty much know what your going to get. Lots of high tech gadgets, disguises, car chases, some super secret item that can't fall into the wrong hands. Ghost Protocol gives you all the things that you'd expect but somehow still manages to feel fresh and hold your interest. Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt and does admirably although the character is less than challenging. New addition Simon Pegg as computer expert Benji Dunn brings some comedic relief lighten the film up a bit. The plot here is typical for these type of films and really is of no consequence.There are some nice surprises but if you're expecting mystery and intrigue then this film will surely disappoint.  Only the original film really succeeded in that element.

However, what the movie does excel at is the action which begins at the opening credits and doesn't stop for a minute. Director Brad Bird does an excellent job of setting up the different action sequences so that while being rather implausible you stay with them. It would be easy for a film like this to cross the line into eye roll inducing action movie ridiculousness but it manages to stay right behind the line. The action scenes also make good use of some exotic locales that have not been seen on film before like the tallest building in the world in Dubai or a parking garage where in  Mumbai where a machine parks the cars automatically moving them up and down the many levels. The scene in Dubai is particularly spectacular for it's real sense of danger and use of great heights. Many of the gadgets are interesting as well and not too beyond believability. Like a screen that displays whatever is behind it at just the right angle to create a 3-D illusion. Or contacts that take pictures when you blink (in the first film they were glasses so fake technology is progressing).

Ghost Protocol inserts just the right level of wit and humor without detracting from the action or making the film feel like one of those buddy cop movies. Simon Pegg does a wonderful job as the Computer Expert on the team who has never really had much experience in real life missions. Jeremy Renner's Agent Brandt is good counter balance to Cruise's character as well. This is also chance to add a human element to the film and resolve some issues about what exactly happened between MI:III and Ghost Protocol. Which is all wrapped up neatly in the final scene which also sets up the possibility of a MI:5.

If you like action films or to have fun at the movies then Ghost Protocol is far superior to any of the summer movies that came out this year or the past couple of years even.      

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes Game Of Shadows Official Poster

Movie: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

Directed by Guy Ritchie. 
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Stephen Frye, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris.

I have so many feelings about this movie that in order to be coherent, I'm going to have to look at one aspect of the movie at a time.

The plot: One of the (few) flaws of the first Holmes installment was the mystery and villain. While almost everything else in the movie was spot-on, the actual diabolical plot turned out to be pretty transparent. This installment remedies this. While the mystery is still, at heart, fairly straight-forward, Moriarty's planning and execution of such a complex scheme with so many moving parts is impressive and, thankfully, worthy of such an iconic nemesis. Because the plot is much more political and clever, the movie itself is a little slower than the first one, though it is in no way less interesting or lacking in action.

In the middle of all the political intrigue, we have two big subplots that really take over by infusing a human element to movie. First we have the upcoming nuptials of Watson, which we saw Holmes balking at in the last movie. In this movie, we don't see him balking so much as resigning himself to a life of loneliness. On the other hand, we see Watson starting to realize that while his life is full, Holmes' life is not. He is Holmes' only friend and that is a hard place to be for any person. Then we have Holmes and Moriarty's mental chess game (and literal chess game at one point). Holmes has finally come up against someone that he cannot wow with his mental prowess. He tries to confront him with his usual brash style and faces a man who is unimpressed and heartless. It is at the moment - when Holmes realizes that Moriarty is not above cutting down everything and everyone in Holmes' life - that we realize this movie is serious business.

We also have plenty of symbolism which was kind of refreshing because the first movie seemed to lack it, and because it is not heavy-handed. There are running symbols throughout the movie, including devil imagery tied up with Moriarty, the fisher and the trout story, and the, of course, chess pieces. These symbols help us to realize that the mystery is not really what we're watching - we are watching Holmes and Moriarty. We are watching Holmes and Watson. Everything else is just caught in their gravity.

Movie Review - "Anonymous"

Anonymous Movie Poster

Movie: Anonymous

Directed by Roland Emmerich. 

Starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Sebastion Armesto,Jamie Cambell Bower

First of all, I feel like I should put a disclaimer here that says that I will NOT be basing this review on the movie's historical accuracy. No, the movie is not accurate. No, it does not present convincing evidence that Edward De Vere wrote the plays of Shakespeare. I feel this is irrelevant. If you are very protective of Shakespeare, than this fact might be just enough to prevent you from enjoying it. But I am not writing that sort of review.

The plot is misleadingly simple - At the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign, there is a intense struggle about who will succeed the childless ruler. King James, son of Mary Queen of Scots (otherwise known as Bloody Mary) is the preferred candidate by the Cecil family whom are employed as Elizabeth's advisers. Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford and a young ward of the royal house, is pushing for the Earl of Essex to succeed Elizabeth because it is common knowledge (in the film) that Essex is actually Elizabeth's son. De Vere decides that the best way to convince Elizabeth that the choice of the puritanical Cecil family is not the right one is by reminding her of her youth and her love for plays - a sinful thing, in the Cecil's eyes. "Words will prevail with Elizabeth", he says. The only problem is that an Earl cannot write plays and so De Vere asks Ben Johnson to stage his work for him. Johnson has a moment of ethics and hesitates when it is time to bow to the applause of the first widely accepted performance, and an illiterate actor name William Shakespeare grabs his moment. Thus, history is made (in this movie). What follows is the more of the political maneuvering that many may not be expecting in a movie that presents itself as just being about Shakespeare.

Overall, the plot is purposefully over-dramatic. The movie itself is presented as a play and, in keeping with the tragic turns of Shakespeare himself, it is rife with miscommunication, shocking reveals (maybe one or two a little TOO shocking), and lost dreams.

The directing is both one of the movie's strengths and one of its weaknesses. Emmerich - surprisingly -manages to create a rich atmosphere in individual scenes and really gets the best from the the actors. The level of detail is wonderful and Emmerich does especially well in the theater scenes (harkening back to the play-within-a-play favorite of Shakespeare) by showing how up close and personal the groundlings were to the action on the stage of the Globe and what the theater experience would have been for Elizabethans

Emmerich's cinematography is absolutely breathtaking and it is even more admirable to know that they actually filmed most of this movie in front of greenscreen in Germany. The old England of 'Anonymous' is stylish and downright gorgeous.

Movie Review: Limitless - A Smart Thriller

Limitless Official Movie Poster

Movie: Limitless (2011)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish & Robert Deniro
Director: Neil Burger

Limitless is a rare film in that it is a high concept film that actually works. The setup: Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling writer, slob and all around loser. When his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish)  dumps him it's not mean spirited it's just necessary. Then something comes along and changes his life. That something being a pill called only "NZT" given to him by his brother in-law that allows him to access previously locked portions of his brain. In doesn't exactly make him a genius right away but instead he is then able to easily recall small facts and details he had long forgotten. Learning becomes simpler and even enjoyable, he can easily read people in a way that he never had before. In a matter of days he finishes his novel. Matters are complicated though when he finds his brother in-law dead at his up-scale condo. It seems the pills are important to others as well. Eddie turns the place upside down looking for the secret stash. Luckily he finds what he is after. From this point on Eddie forgets about writing as it becomes clear to him in his altered state that the real money is in stocks & bonds.  It seems the pills not only give you intelligence but a clear sense of direction and purpose in life. Or perhaps that a large part of intelligence is simply the confidence to know what you want and go for it. To get in the stock market game Eddie gets a black market loan from a shady character (not too smart). He quickly amasses a fortune in the market and gains the attention of Carl Van Loon (Robert Deniro) a big shot CEO who chooses him to head up a major merger but who seems to have ulterior motives.

Although Bradley Cooper probably won't be getting any Oscar buzz for his performance it's a credit to him and the writers that both the genius Eddie and the loser version still seem like the same guy. Which would probably be true if this scenario was played out in real life. Director Neil Burger uses some fancy camera work to try to show what it would feel like to be a genius. It's all very stylish if not illuminating. Let's face it unless you're a genius then you will never know what it feels like no matter how many camera tricks you use. However, it is all very sleek and entertaining nonetheless.Which is what a movie like this is all about anyway.

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau - Not Meant To Be

The Adjustment Bureau Movie Poster

Movie: The Adjustment Bureau
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt
Writer & Director: George Nolfi

The marketing for The Adjustment Bureau would have you believe that it is a suspenseful SciFi film with a dash of romance. This is very misleading, the movie is more of an old fashioned romance with the SciFi elements acting as nothing more than window dressing. The movie centers around David Moriss (Matt Damon) a politician who has just lost his senatorial bid. He's a bit down, preparing for his concilation speech in the mens room when he meets Elise (Emily Blunt). They have the kind of cutesy, love at first sight meeting that only happens in movies. Why is she in the men's room? Doesn't really matter the point is that now David is smitten. He is rushed off though to give his speech without getting more than her first name and thinks he'll never see her again. And he wouldn't except three years later one of the members of the adjustment bureau makes a mistake and he ends up meeting her again by chance on a bus. This is where the SciFi/Supernatural element comes into play. As the movie tells it the agents of the adjustment bureau are like the hands of fate changing small events in people's lives to make sure that they stay on their life plan. They wear fedoras and overcoats and carry small notepads that show people's predicted life course. When an important event takes place it shows up as small circle on the life path. After the chance encounter with Elise, David stumbles upon the agents of fate in action changing his bosses life plan. He has seen behind the curtain so to speak and they try to persuade him to tell no one about it and above all to forget about seeing Elise ever again.

Movie Review - Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America The First Avenger Movie Poster

Movie: Captain America: The First Avenger

Director: Joe Johnston. 

Staring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Sebastian Stan, Stanley Tucci, and Haylee Atwell

I've already seen Captain America twice - something that would imply that I think the movie is great. However, this is a bit more complicated. So complicated that I am going to resort to the old pros and cons list to describe my feelings about this film.

The good:

The acting. Evans, who plays the titular character, and who just so happens to be an actor that I normally think of as mediocre (to put it politely) is actually quite well cast here. He plays Steve Rogers as earnest and determined without bordering on gung-ho patriotism and heroism (most of the time, but more on that later). He plays skinny Steve Rogers as a weakling, true, but also as someone brave and intelligent. We never really find ourselves laughing at pre-serum Steve because Evans plays a 90 pound asthmatic as a normal human being who realizes he is inadequate physically but who still exudes a sort of confidence that makes him likeable and real. As post-serum Rogers, he is humble but proud - a nice little hint of this is when he is watching a bad war propaganda movie featuring himself as Captain America and can't help but smile at it - even as he develops a little cockiness, he still seems so down to earth that it isn't aggravating.

Tommy Lee Jones is great as an old and quick talking sergeant who likes Steve but doesn't really believe in him, even post-serum. He barks out orders and quips nicely and makes a role that might have been cliché and rote seem fresh and entertaining to watch.

Haylee Atwell plays the obligatory love interest, but the story makes a point of highlighting the connection she has with Steve as someone else who has always been overlooked or put down (because she is a woman in the army) and Atwell does very well in giving her some personality so that she does not just simply become the busty, vapid blow up doll that so many other women become in "guy" movies. It doesn't hurt that she is shockingly pretty.

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