Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie posterSynopsis
After a botched job, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians are being chased by the Sovereign. They are found by a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. They go to Ego’s planet to search for the truth behind Peter’s mysterious heritage.

Review
In 2014, Marvel put their blockbuster powers to the test, releasing Guardians of the Galaxy. It was filled with lesser known characters, even to some regular comic readers, who are unique unto themselves. It turned out to be one of Marvel’s best films and now comes the inevitable sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the qualities that made the first so much fun and enjoyable, albeit without the surprise of what to expect.

As I said, everything that made the first film so fun and enjoyable has returned. Everything and everyone are just as quirky and zany as you have come to expect. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill is the main funny man, but Dave Bautista’s Drax get his fair share of comedic moments. Zoe Saldana is the green-skinned bad-ass Gamora. Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, is more adorable than ever and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, wants to get a hold of everyone’s prosthetics simply to see their reaction. All the while, it has a rocking soundtrack in the background.

Doctor Strange is probably Marvel’s most visually vibrant films to date, but this movie give that one a run for its money. The most notable is Ego’s planet. The moment the team sets foot on it, it just pops. The fauna are colorful, the buildings are shiny and bright, even the soil is a vibrant color unlike what you would expect. However, it’s not just Ego’s planet. The opening battle between the guardians and an interdimensional creature (a big part of the trailers) and scenes where Yondu’s ship is jumping through several wormholes are also vivid scenes worth mentioning. At the very least, your eyes won’t be disappointed.

One of this films best characteristics is its character development. Most of the second act is spent really diving into the characters and their relations with other members of the team. Some you would expect, like Peter and Gamora, but there are some that you wouldn’t, like Rocket and Yondu or Drax and newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff). These interactions do a great job of building the characters and lead to some strong, emotional moments.

Much to my surprise, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has one of the greatest arcs of the film. His moments with Rocket and their similar histories really tug at the heartstrings. As Peter’s adopted father, he had to deal with Peter finally meeting his real father, Ego (Kurt Russell). In the previous movie, he felt like a throwaway character; someone who was there when the plot needed it but didn’t feel like he had much importance. This time, he is front and center and gives the film’s most emotional scene. Speaking of Russell, he was a great as the living planet Ego. Like most villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he isn’t going to have any lasting presence, but Russell gave one of the more memorable villainous performances is the MCU. The relationship between Peter, Yondu, and Ego would make a great conversation starter between step-children and step-parents.

I wasn’t as in love with the soundtrack as I was with the first Guardians movie. It was still bouncy and fun and integrated into the movie well but it wasn’t as entrancing as before. Maybe it’s because I was unfamiliar with more of the songs this time around or maybe it was that I expected a rocking retro soundtrack and it wasn’t as much of a surprise. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t blown away but I still was rocking out nevertheless.

This might sound contradictory, but despite all the great character development throughout the second act, it also felt like the weakest part of the move. Weakest isn’t the right word but I’m not sure exactly what word I’m looking for. During this time, the team is split into two groups. The bouncing back and forth between the groups, as well as the balancing of those serious moments with the humorous ones gave it a really weird pacing. Whenever the movie slowed down to give the great character moments, it immediately went into a joke / gag or changed scenes. I liked that they managed to get as much development in as they did but the jumping around made my head spin after a while.

I thought Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was GOOD πŸ™‚ This movie is a good example of a movie studio giving a director the freedom to do their movie their way. James Gunn brought as much heart and soul into Volume 2 as he did in Volume 1. A slow and somewhat oddly paced middle act does not deter from what this movie does well: great characterization, a fun soundtrack, and plenty of humor to rival any comedy film. It can feel like much of the same but if you liked it the first time, you’re going to like it here as well. Once again, I left the theater excited to see where these characters go next.

Favorite Quote
Yondu: He might be your father, but he ain’t your daddy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
James Gunn – Director / Writer
Tyler Bates – Composer

Chris Pratt – Peter Quill / Star-Lord
Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Dave Bautista – Drax
Vin Diesel – Baby Groot (voice)
Bradley Cooper – Rocket (voice)
Michael Rooker – Yondu
Karen Gillan – Nebula
Pom Klementieff – Mantis
Kurt Russell – Ego
Sean Gunn – Kraglin
Elizabeth Debicki – Ayesha
Chris Sullivan – Taserface

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story movie posterSynopsis
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans for the Empire’s super weapon, the Death Star.

Review
As much as I enjoy the Star Wars films, I love delving into the Expanded Universe, exploring characters and stories that take place outside of the films. These stories help enrich the Star Wars universe, making an already great story even greater. Rogue One is unique as it is the first Star Wars live-action movie that is not an β€œepisode,” a spin-off meant to expand on events of the main Star Wars story line. With the pre-Disney Expanded Universe out the window, Kyle Katarn is gone and in his place is Jyn Erso and her band of Rebel misfits to steal the Death Star plans for the Alliance.

One thing that the original trilogy never showed was what it meant for the galaxy to be under Imperial rule. We see their villainy through Darth Vader, Tarkin, and the Emperor but don’t actually feel their grip besides what is told to us by the characters. Rogue One shows what life for ordinary citizens in the Empire was like, having a Star Destroyer loom ahead and stormtroopers walking around city streets. The original trilogy also shows the Rebellion after its success and as the Empire begins to fall apart. This movie takes place during the height of the Empire, when the Rebellion is at their most desperate. It’s a tonal shift from the other films but works so well because it makes their accomplishments during the original trilogy mean so much more.

As I said, during Rogue One, the Rebels’ backs are against the wall, leading to a feeling of desperation. This creates a darker, grittier tone for the film. One of my favorite Star Wars video games is Republic Commando. In that game, the player is taken to the darker side of the Clone Wars, fighting battles away from the flash of Jedi lightsabers. This reminded me a lot of that. It looked at the Star Wars universe where blasters are the norm and laser swords are nowhere to be found. Although the tone was darker than your standard Star Wars fare, it never became dispiriting. Whenever things began to go bleak, there was a quip or a funny action to lighten the mood, mainly from everyone’s sure-to-be-new-favorite droid, K-2SO.

K-2SO is only one of the several new characters introduced into the Star Wars universe. Besides K-2SO, there is Jyn Erso, an Imperial prisoner and daughter of the engineer overseeing the Death Star’s construction, Cassian Andor, a Rebel intelligence officer, Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior, Baze Malbus, a mercenary and friend of Chirrut’s, Bodhi Rook, an Imperial defector, Orson Krennic, the director of Imperial weapons research, and many others. Already, you can see that it has become cumbersome. This doesn’t change in the film either. Jyn gets the most development, with most of the other characters just kind of being there. This makes them feel underdeveloped, especially since this is the first time we are meeting these characters. However, I like to think that this movie isn’t really about these characters but about the Rebellion itself and, like I mentioned before, showing where the Rebellion was before the original trilogy. Yes, it would have been nice to learn more about these new characters but I don’t think the purpose of this film is to care about the characters, it’s purpose was to care about the Rebellion. By following this line of thinking, the minimal backstories given for the characters is enough for me.

Throughout the original trilogy, every action is seen as black and white; The Empire is bad, the Rebellion is good. This film mixes that up a little bit and trots into the moral gray area of war. There is still the feeling of Empire equals bad, Rebellion equals good, but throughout the movie, there is a subtle blanket over the film that removes that cheery atmosphere from the original trilogy. This helps create the grittiness to Rogue One. Although these are Rebels, it wouldn’t be difficult to picture a few of them fighting for the Empire based on their actions and our views on Imperials developed in the original trilogy.

It is clear from A New Hope that Grand Moff Tarkin was integral in the Death Star’s history. It is also clear that the villain of this film is supposed to be Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), so the film had the difficult task of needing to have Tarkin in the story but not too much that he overshadowed Krennic. I think they used just the right amount of Tarkin to make it clear his importance to the Death Star but still allow Krennic to remain front and center as the main baddie.

Peter Cushing, the original actor to play Tarkin, passed away in 1994 so he obviously wasn’t available to reprise the role. Rather than recasting the role or using Wayne Pygram, they used a body double and CGI’d Cushing’s face onto the actor. The effect looks amazing and if you just look at him, it would be hard to tell it wasn’t actually Cushing… until he talked. I don’t know what happened, but when Tarkin talks, his mouth doesn’t move quite right and is very distracting. Not many things have pulled me out of a film but that was one of them.

Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without Darth Vader having some sort of presence. Like Tarkin, the film had to balance how much Vader was in the film to not take way from Krennic or the other characters introduced in the film. Again, he has the perfect amount of screen time. His first scene with Krennic showed us this was a return to the Vader of old, not the Vader seen at the end of Revenge of the Sith. That he was a force to be feared, even by his own men. Then his final appearance in the hallway of a rebel ship, mowing down Rebel troops was something out of a Star Wars horror movie. This is a return to form for the character, showing how badass and powerful he is.

The announcement that Rogue One would not contain an opening crawl created contention among fans. How can a Star Wars film not have an opening crawl? Everyone knows that’s how they begin. Although it is a controversial decision, I do think it worked well. The plot is pretty straightforward and first few scenes did a fairly decent job setting up the film that I don’t think not having the crawl negatively impacted the film.

Now, I will admit the film did start off rather slow. Since the movie was dealing with all new characters and they bypassed the opening crawl, it had to take the time to establish them. The second act was not much better. It still moved slowly but not as slowly as the first act. However, it did a great job of building off of what was established in the first several scenes. I think one of this film’s strong points was that it got exponentially better as the film went on, each scene improving on the last. As I said earlier, there wasn’t a whole lot of development for the new characters but this movie slowly established a connection with them and the Rebellion. So by the time the movie hits the explosive final act, I cared enough about the characters to feel some emotion towards them.

Speaking of the final act, what an action scene! Say what you will about Gareth Edwards, but he has a knack for setting up action sequences. The fight scene at the end of Godzilla was pretty epic and that pales in comparison to this one. One of my favorite thing about The Force Awakens was its use of practical effects as much as possible and that praise applies to Rogue One as well. Return of the Jedi is my favorite film of the original trilogy mostly because of the final battle on and above the forest moon of Endor and the duel on the Death Star II. There was something very similar in this movie, with Jyn and her squad battling stormtroopers on Scarif’s surface while the Rebel fleet battled Star Destroyers in space above the planet. The scale is amazing, the action is well shot, and it is easy to follow despite jumping between several places. Not only is this my new favorite action sequence from the Star Wars saga, but it is one of my favorite action sequences of any movie.

I thought Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was GREAT :-D. I’m a bit of an oddity when is comes to being a Star Wars fan. I like the prequels more than most and The Force Awakes less than most. It may then come as no surprise that I really enjoyed Rogue One. The disappointing amount of character development can be overlooked if you focus on what the movie was trying to focus on, which is the Rebellion as a whole, not the individual people within the Rebellion. When Lucasfilm announced they were doing one Star Wars film a year until 2020, I was a little skeptical. After seeing how the first two films have turned out, I’m getting more optimistic towards the future of the franchise.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Gareth Edwards – Director
Chris Weitz – Screenplay
Tony Gilroy – Screenplay
John Knoll – Story
Gary Whitta – Story
Michael Giacchino – Composer

Felicity Jones – Jyn Erso
Diego Luna – Cassian Andor
Alan Tudyk – K-2SO
Donnie Yen – Chirrut Imwe
Wen Jiang – Baze Malbus
Ben Mendelsohn – Orson Krennic
Forest Whitaker – Saw Gerrera
Riz Ahmed – Bodhi Rook
Mads Mikkelsen – Galen Erso
Jimmy Smits – Bail Organa
Alistair Petrie – General Draven
Genevieve O’Reilly – Mon Mothma
Ben Daniels – General Merrick
Ian McElhinney – General Dodonna
Paul Kasey – Admiral Raddus
Stephen Stanton – Admiral Raddus (voice)
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader (voice)
Guy Henry – Grand Moff Tarkin

Lightning Review: Airplane II: The Sequel

Airplane II: The Sequel movie posterSynopsis
During the maiden voyage of the first commercial flight to the moon, a faulty computer sends the shuttle hurtling towards the sun. Ted Striker (Robert Hays), who is aboard the shuttle to win back Elaine (Julie Hagerty), must once again assume control after the captain become incapacitated.

Review
Airplane! is one of my favorite comedies of all time. I think I have been staying away from Airplane II: The Sequel because I have heard it pales in comparison to its predecessor. After finally seeing it for myself, I would have to agree. Honestly, how could it not be? When Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker created Airplane!, they caught lightning in a bottle and that type of film is really hard to reproduce. Airplane II reuses many of the same jokes as Airplane!, which is not unusual for a comedy sequel. Many of the new jokes were either hit or miss. I did found myself laughing out loud regularly but not as many jokes hit this time. One of the best aspects about Airplane! was the rate at which the jokes flew at you. Even if one missed, they were already at the next joke and you didn’t have time to dwell on it. The jokes per second didn’t seem as high this time so if one missed, it lingered around longer. It was very self aware, making fun of itself and that it was a sequel. Plus William Shatner has a great cameo that pokes fun at science-fiction, which is priceless given his history with the genre.

I thought Airplane II: The Sequel was OK :-|. Airplane II: The Sequel has its moments but it can’t escape the big shadow of Airplane! and ends up feeling it is trying to ride a wave it can’t stay on.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ken Finkleman – Director / Writer
Elmer Bernstein – Composer

Robert Hays – Ted Striker
Julie Hagerty – Elaine
Lloyd Bridges – McCroskey
Chuck Connors – The Sarge
Rip Torn – Kruger
Chad Everett – Simon
John Dehner – The Commisioner
Peter Graves – Captain Oveu
Kend McCord – Unger
James A. Watson, Jr. – Dunn
William Shatner – Murdock

Galaxy Quest Review

Galaxy Quest movie posterSynopsis
The cast of the hit 80s show Galaxy Quest don’t have much of a career anymore. Going to conventions and doing promotions in character is the only way they can make money. When an alien race called the Thermians mistake the show as β€œhistorical documents” and seeks the crew’s help to save their people, the cast of Galaxy Quest must pretend to be the heroes the aliens believe them to be.

Review
Whenever I think about my favorite parodies, one of the first ones that come to mind is Galaxy Quest. This is one of those comedies were everything just seems to pull together perfectly. All the jokes are funny without being forced, every character gets their chance to have their laugh, even the serious ones you don’t expect, and the cast just works.

It is very obvious that the cast of Galaxy Quest was having a good time. Even with such a large, eclectic group of actors, the chemistry between them is great. I don’t know how they did it but Dreamworks managed to assemble one of the best casts in any film ever. Each character has their own unique personality. They all resemble the different types of actors that are no longer in their prime. From the attention seeker to the drama queen, they are all here.

Tim Allen has no problem portraying the self-centered β€œleader” of the group who feeds off of the audience’s fondness for him. He brings his signature wit and comedic timing. I’m a big fan of Allen and although this may not be my favorite role of his, he is still very enjoyable to watch.

Sigourney Weaver could not be any more perfect for her role. In the film’s TV show, she is a stereotypical science-fiction female character, not really providing much value except for eye-candy and but dammit will she do her best. This is perfect for her given one of her earliest and best roles was one of the most badass females in science-fiction, or even cinema for that matter.

Alan Rickman plays a British actor who longs to be back on the stage but instead is stuck in this role repeating a catch phrase he is getting tired of repeating. He plays the down-on-his-luck Shakespearean actor part so believably. Some of my favorite moments are in the beginning when he is at conventions and this fans say his catch phrase to him. I laugh every time he begrudgingly signs his autograph. However, this moment is probably my favorite for the character (it’s a little hard to set up with words so you’ll just have to watch it yourself).

Tony Shalhoub is the most deadpan of everyone in the group. He doesn’t seem phased when the crew first gets teleported to the Thermian ship, he’s in no rush when delivering vital news about damaged systems and he doesn’t think twice about opening the hatch when landing on an alien planet. Shalhoub delivers every line with the perfect tone and attitude.

Sam Rockwell is the biggest surprise of the bunch. He plays an extra who appeared for a few minutes on one episode before being killed off and is starstruck being around the show’s other actors. It’s hard to say he is the comedic relief with every character offering so many comedic moments but he made me laugh the hardest.

There are so many more excellent characters but I don’t want to get into everybody because then we would be here for a while. I have talked a lot about the cast because they are really why this film works so well. However, what helped them is the fantastic script. Even with a cast so large, no one feels like they are getting shafted on time. They each have their shining moments. It is very difficult to pick a favorite moment for each character because they all have so many. Best of all, every character has a completed arc by the end of the film. That’s quite a feat given a) it’s an ensemble and b) that doesn’t happen in comedies very often.

This film is often viewed as a parody about science-fiction shows, such as Star Trek, but it parodies more than that: it parodies the fandom. Conventions are a huge part of the film, it is where we meet the characters after all. There is this subtle show of affection towards fans. People who, like myself, get completely engrossed in a show or movie, whether they are called Trekkies, Brown Coats, Potterheads or what have you. It’s not poking fun at them as much as it is celebrating the idea of being part of a fandom.

I thought Galaxy Quest was GREAT :-D. It is often an overlooked gem of a movie. The casting is spot on and the script is brilliantly written. This film both pokes fun and pays homage to the classic science-fiction shows and, more than that, their fans. Few parodies can deliver such reverence and humor at the same time that Galaxy Quest manages to.

Favorite Quote
Guy: I changed my mind. I want to go back.
Alexander: After the fuss you made about getting left behind?
Guy: Yeah, but that’s when I thought I was the crewman that stays on the ship and something is up there and it kills me. But now I’m thinking I’m the guy who gets killed by some monster five minutes after we land on the planet.
Jason: You’re not gonna die on the planet, Guy.
Guy: I’m not? Then what’s my last name?
Jason: It’s, uh, um, uh… I don’t know.
Guy: Nobody knows. You know why? Because my character isn’t important enough for a last name because I’m gonna die five minutes in!
Gwen: Guy, you have a last name.
Guy: Do I!? Do I!? For all you know I’m just Crewman #6!

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Dean Parisot – Director
David Howard – Story / Screenplay
Robert Gordon – Screenplay
David Newman – Composer
Tim Allen – Jason Nesmith
Sigourney Weaver – Gwen DeMarco
Alan Rickman – Alexander Dane
Tony Shalhoub – Fred Kwan
Sam Rockwell – Guy Fleegman
Daryl Mitchell – Tommy Webber
Enrico Colantoni – Mathesar
Robin Sachs – Sarris
Patrick Breen – Quellek
Missi Pyle – Laliari
Jed Rees – Teb
Justin Long – Brandon
Jeremy Howard – Kyle
Johnathan Feyer – Hollister

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens movie posterSynopsis
Thirty years after the Rebel Alliance defeated the Empire, The First Order threatens the peace of the galaxy, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). One stormtrooper (John Boyega), defects from the First Order with the help of the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and along with the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), they join the resistance against the First Order, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Review
Star Wars is in my blood. That is as true as Han shoots first. I have been anxiously awaiting the return of Luke, Han, and Leia to the silver screen since Disney bought Lucasfilm. The last time I was remotely this excited for a film was The Lego Movie, and my excitement for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens exceeds my excitement for that (though not by much actually). Was it worth the hype? I would say yes, but not as much as everyone else seems to think so.

It is very clear that the writers wanted to return to what fans liked about the Original Trilogy. Unfortunately, that meant recycling the plot of A New Hope. The move feels too safe; It leans too much on the nostalgia factor. This type of film should want to give fan service. There are all kinds of references that are inserted into the film without feeling intrusive, which is great. However, fan service also doesn’t mean repeating the story, but with different characters and slightly different settings. Say what you want about the Prequel Trilogy, but each one was different and, for better or worse, told a unique story. When it comes to The Force Awakens, it feels like I’ve seen this story before.

When I left the theater after watching this movie the first time, it felt like there was something off but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then after my second viewing I was able to put words to what I was feeling. To me, this felt more like a middle entry of the trilogy instead of a beginning. This has more to do with Kylo Ren’s development. When we learn who he is, what he did, a certain scene over a certain bridge with a certain someone, they all felt like moments that should have been after spending time with the characters and in the new films. I want to expand on this more because but to do so would go into spoilers. If you want to discuss this more, shoot me an email.

The biggest issue I have with The Force Awakens is how many elements are introduced with very few resolutions. Again, as lauded as The Phantom Menace was, one of the things I thought it did very well was show the political state of the galaxy and exactly how different the Republic was from the Empire we met in A New Hope, although I will admit it dwelt on it too long. Regardless, we were introduced to the First Order, the Resistance, and the New Republic but not given much context how they are related. How big is the First Order? If they are a huge threat, why isn’t the New Republic fighting them directly? Or why did the Republic allow them to get so big if they came from the ashes of the Empire? Why does the resistance need to exist in the first place? I know it is meant to be only the first step in a larger journey and I expect (hope) these questions will be answered in due time but one of A New Hope‘s strong points was despite taking place across an entire galaxy, it kept its scope small and still easily set up a larger universe. The Force Awakens isn’t very self-contained and that bothers me.

I was worried that the returning cast wouldn’t be given the screen time necessary to pass the torch to the new cast. Thankfully, Han Solo has a huge, integral part to play that put those fears to bed. Harrison Ford doesn’t miss a beat returning to everyone’s favorite smuggler. Although, he does have a hard time carrying the film without his original costars, Mark Hamill and Carry Fisher, constantly by his side. This is easy to forgive because he has no problem bouncing off Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. It’s not as satisfying as his chemistry with Hamill and Fisher, but it creates some pretty funny and heartwarming moments.

Within the first few minutes, I knew The Force Awakens was going to be an exhilarating ride. As soon as the first stormtroopers rush the sands of Jakku, it barely slows down to take a breath. Every new scene either begins or ends with a big action piece. JJ Abrams and the rest of the crew are obviously fans of the Original Trilogy because they take every great action sequence from those films, throw them in here, and crank them up to ten. There are space dog fights, land battles, lightsaber duels, and even wild escapes from terrifying creatures. It has some of the best action scenes in the entire saga.

With characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, the new characters had a lot to live up to. From the opening scene with Poe Dameron, I knew they weren’t going to have any trouble living up to the legacy left behind for them. Poe is an ace pilot for the Resistance who is criminally underused. Finn, a stromtrooper with a conscience, might be the most interesting. Any previous depictions of stormtroopers show them as mindless and heartless drones. Now we actually get a look under the helmet and realize that there might actually be some morality in there somewhere. Rey is hands down the best new character to come from this next generation of Star Wars. She’s strong, smart, and knows her way around a ship. Daisy Ridley does absolutely magnificent and may be the find of the century.

When it comes to Kylo Ren, I have mixed feelings. It is clear that he is a strong force user (some of his skills include stopping a blaster bolt midair and interrogation techniques that would make Darth Vader jealous), but it is also clear that he is still just a boy with incomplete training. He has temper tantrums and doesn’t have much self-control. He is a stark contrast to Darth Vader, who was always so calm and collected while force choking someone.

Poe’s first interaction with Kylo Ren gave a good idea on the tone for the rest of the film. It is so funny! It reminds me of The Avengers where the comedy was organic and sprang from great chemistry between the characters. Nothing ever felt forced. You could tell the cast was having a blast filming. Finn had his moments with everyone. He and Poe, he and Rey, he even had a moment or two with the adorable BB-8. There are play on words, visual gags, and everything in between. There is a little bit of humor for everybody.

2015 has been a great year for practical effects. First Mad Max: Fury Road, now The Force Awakens. It makes a huge difference when compared to CGI heavy movies. When a movie uses too much CGI, it can remove the audience. While I applaud George Lucas’ willingness to fully embrace CGI in the Original Trilogy special editions and prequels, he embraces it too much, further proving that too much of a good thing can become detrimental. Remember, the special editions and The Phantom Menace were released in the earlier days of CGI (I consider the start of CGI as it is today to be Jurassic Park), so it was good on Lucas to realize what the technology could bring to films. Now, film directors, like JJ Abrams, are moving back to primarily practical effects with CGI to fill in the gaps. It makes a huge difference and greatly enhances the experience.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is GOOD :-). There is so much more I want to talk about but then I would be moving into spoiler territory. This is the story Star Wars fans have been waiting for since 1983. The return to practical effects and limited use of CGI makes it feel like I’m watching the original Original Trilogy again. Daisy Ridley is the standout performance but all of the newcomers have great chemistry together and easily fill the big shoes left for them. Great action and comedy is just icing on the cake. However, the recycled plot and introduction of so many elements with few resolutions hold this movie back from being as great as I know it could be.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
JJ Abrams – Director / Writer
Lawrence Kasdan – Writer
Michael Arndt – Writer
John Williams – Composer

Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia
Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Daisy Ridley – Rey
John Boyega – Finn
Adam Driver – Kylo Ren
Oscar Isaac – Poe Dameron
Lupita Nyong’o – Maz Kanata
Andy Serkis – Supreme Leader Snoke
Domhnall Gleeson – General Hux
Gwendoline Christie – Captain Phasma
Pip Torrens – Colonel Kaplan
Simon Pegg – Unkar Plutt
Max von Sydow – Lor San Tekka

Also read my reviews for the rest of the Star Wars saga:Β The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

The Martian Review

The Martian movie posterSynopsis
The crew of the Aeris III mission on Mars is forced to leave the red planet earlier than scheduled when a gigantic storm approaches their base camp. In the evacuation, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and believed dead. Watney wakes up and realizes that he is alone on Mars and will be months or years before he can be rescued, so he does everything he can to survive until help arrives.

Review
The concept of someone getting lost in space has been done time and time again over the years. Some have tried to be more serious, while not many that I recall try to be lighthearted about the situation. The Martian opts more for the latter. What becomes of it is a fun adventure that reeled me in with its whimsical nature.

A man or group lost, alone, and without help is nothing new in the world cinema. So to stand out The Martian goes a route not many comparable films have gone: it remains laid-back. This sub-genre has the tendency to become serious and dark, this movie separates itself by never becoming like the others. Sure, there are moments when Matt Damon’s character feels hopeless, but his optimism always shines through. As a result, there are many moments that made me laugh. I honestly wasn’t expecting a movie about a man stranded on a planet to be so humorous.

This film lived or died based on Matt Damon’s performance. While a good portion of the film is spent on Earth, that group is composed of an ensemble. The majority ofΒ The Martian is spent solely with Mark Watney and his escapades on Mars. If Damon dropped the ball, the movie fell with him. I guess it is good then that he did a fantastic job. Watney went through a range of emotions while stranded, from terrified to ecstatic, from anger to joy, and many in between. Damon expertly portrayed these emotions as well as the character’s signature snarky-ness.

I didn’t really pay much attention to the cast list before going into the movie. Besides Damon, I had little idea who else was in the film. To my surprise, the cast was full of big names, such as Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, and Jessica Chastain, as well as some other surprises including Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Michael Pena, and Donald Glover. While Damon was on his own for the majority of the film, the rest of the cast had each other to work off of.Β  The folks at NASA in particular were an interesting bunch to watch together. This is where most of the all-stars were. Jeff Daniels may have been my favorite but they all did a good job.

Not a significant amount of time is spent with the rest of Watney’s crew, which was played by Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie, until more towards the end. Each had their own unique personality and seemed like a fun group to be around. It was clear the actors were having a fun time together and had good chemistry. I would have liked to see more of them, but that may have stemmed from my selfish need to look at Kate Mara some more.

If I didn’t know any better, I would say The Martian was shot on the surface of Mars itself. The special effects look great and the practical effects are even better. And the cinematography was beautiful, too. So many times I was awestruck, thinking I was actually with Watney on the red planet. I don’t know what to say other than this film is very well shot and looks stunning.

The Martian isn’t your average man-stranded-in-space-alone movie. There are the helpless moments you’d expect but they are spaced between the main character’s humor and optimism. Carried by Damon and combined with its great special effects, The Martian is one of the most fun space movies I have seen in a long time.

Rating
4/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ridley Scott – Director
Drew Goddard – Screenplay
Andy Wier – Novel
Harry Gregson-Williams – Composer

Matt Damon – Mark Watney
Jeff Daniels – Teddy Sanders
Sean Bean – Mitch Henderson
Kristen Wiig – Annie Montrose
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Vincent Kapoor
Jessica Chastain – Melissa Lewis
Michael Pena – Rick Martinez
Kate Mara – Beth Johanssen
Sebastian Stan – Chris Beck
Aksel Hennie – Alex Vogel
Mackenzie Davis – Mindy Park
Benedict Wong – Bruce Ng
Donald Glover – Rich Purnell
Nick Mohammed – Tim Grimes
Chen Shu – Zhu Tao
Eddie Ko – Guo Ming