Comics, Movies, Video Games, and More

"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Rurouni Kenshin (Film) Review

Himura Kenshin is one of the few manga to be consistently 5 star quality. Each of the main characters are given fantastic development throughout the 27 volumes. It being samurai based, there's this feel of nobility which author Nobuhiro Watsuki conveys throughout, especially in the title character himself. Many manga have the character go through this arc of being a troublemaker/punk to a hero, but Kenshin from the onset is a noble character, with a tragic past. It's a refreshing read in the modern age. I would say it's shocking it hadn't gotten a live action adaption until this one, but the fact is that many popular manga have not been adapted. (One Piece, Naruto) and when they are, they're usually either unfaithful to the source material or just plain bad. (Dragon Ball Evolution, and more recently the Attack on Titan adaption.) With a noble character like Kenshin, adapting it would prove tricky with this track record. Director Keishi Otomo delivers a worthy adaption, expertly nailing what the character is all about.

If you've read the manga you know what to expect here. The film adapts the first main arc, and very faithfully at that. There are movies out there over 2 hours where you look at your watch while watching (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) but not this one. That's the first sign of success. While there's certainly a lot of great positives to go over, there are some negatives. The fist one is how Sanosuke is introduced. Muneteka Aoki did a really good job portraying the character. He got the look and personality down. The problem is the writing. He joins with Kenshin and then the dojo unnaturally fast. His plot from the manga was partly cut, probably to save time. In this case, I think adding an additional 20 minutes deepening his character arc would have been better. Another thing is that Megumi also joins up with the dojo rather quickly.  She barely had any words with Kaoru. This stuff happened smoothly in the manga but in the film it's a little choppy.

The biggest negative would have to be Teruyuki Kagawa's portrayal of Takeda Kanryu. Now Kanryu is not a likable character in the manga, and the film doesn't pretend he is either. But, Kagawa's rather comical acting took away from any little menace this guy possessed from the manga.

With those out of the way, we can discuss the many things the film did right, namely Takeru Satoh as the title character. This definitely rivals Kenichi Matsuyama as L from the Death Note series. Satoh grasps the peaceful nature of Himura, expertly delivering his quotes. His transition to serious Battosai mode was also fantastic in his battle with Jin-e. Kaoru was solid. It's still a little funny how she leads this dojo but loses every real fight she's in, but that's how the manga did it too in the arc. Yahiko was also solid. The character isn't given much to do, but again in this particular story he doesn't really do anything. Megumi's character arc was certainly interesting in the manga and the film manages to convey it well.

The fights are a lot of fun, and very well choreographed. One of the best things was the careful attention to detail. The choreography makes it a point to show in present day Kenshin is not killing anyone. With over 30 men rushing at him this is truly an accomplishment. Like the manga, the arc really ends when Kenshin battles Jin-e. While perhaps not as deranged as his manga self, Koji Kikkawa did a solid job portraying him and shows what a stark contrast he is to Kenshin. Saito has always been a fan favorite, and rightfully so. His hardcore demeanor with his sense of justice as a samurai police officer has always been compelling. The film nicely sets the kind of relationship he and Kenshin have in the prologue flashback. I'm looking forward to more of their interactions in the sequels. The soundtrack is very solid. Every theme which played at the onset of a fight scene was done well.

Overall, KENSHIN could be the archetype of a live action manga adaption. The first step is grasping who the main character is, and that is done here. The next is a faithful adaption of the story, and it adapts the first arc wonderfully. (It sadly does cut out somethings which would have made it feel truly complete.) The flashbacks to Kenshin's past were done really well, showcasing who he was back then in contrast to who he is today. The theme of redemption and not letting the past rule over is a major theme in the franchise, and I'm thrilled to see the film utilize that well.


Sunday, February 14, 2016


"Hey have you seen Return to OZ?"
"Yeah I've seen Wizard of OZ."
"Of course, everyone has. But I'm talking about its sequel."
"There was a sequel?"
"In the 80's."
"Never heard of it."

That's a conversation which is common when one brings up the sequel to the 1939 classic. I remember as a kid when Blockbuster was still around always seeing that cover with the giant pumpkin head. I was always greatly curious about it, but never got around to renting it. Though the film has always been in the back of my head to check out someday. We've all seen the Wizard of OZ, hailed by many as one of the greatest movies of all time. Imagine back in the day you saw the film as a kid, and almost 50 years later it gets a sequel. Unfortunately, it didn't fare well at the box office and critics at the time weren't kind to it. Still, with a 55% on Rotten Tomatoes that means quite a few liked it, with many saying it to be a more faithful adaption of the books than the classic. Interestingly, this is Walter Murch's only directed film. What we have is a truly interesting sequel that pays respect to the classic while introducing lots of welcome new elements. An excellent, relatively unknown novelty is how I would describe it.

Taking place 6 months after she returned to Kansas, Dorothy Gale keeps recollecting about her adventures in OZ, much to the dismay of her aunt. So, the latter brings Dorothy to a psychiatric ward for evaluation. But what ward in film has proven to be legitimate? As expected, they try to sabotage Dorothy but someone there helps her escape. Soon Dorothy winds up back in OZ and finds out it has been taken over by the Nome King. It's up to her to overthrow him and save King Scarecrow!

One of the big things I liked about the beginning is how it uses the events of the previous film. The tornado which destroyed Dorothy's old house is mentioned. Its consequences on the family is made known to the viewer, which is interesting. The ward is appropriately a pretty frightening place. I liked the dynamic between Head Nurse Wilson and Dr. Worley. Wilson is stern, while Worley is the seemingly nice doctor whom gets the patient to trust him. The lead-up to OZ is intense, and the only complaint I have is that the ECT didn't turn out to be anything more than a machine. With its design and words of hype, it's a shame it wasn't given more to do. Anyways, the real action of course begins when Dorothy wakes up in the middle of a barren OZ. From here the story is nicely paced as, like in the previous film, she meets her upcoming friends. Let's take a look at some of those friends.

Billina is Dorothy's chicken which accompanies her throughout the story. Billina is a very fun character to have around, providing funny lines. Denise Bryer did an excellent job voicing her. Tik-Toc was excellent, being sort of like the Terminator guardian to Sarah Connor in Terminator: Genisys. One of my favorite scenes was in the climax when Tik-Toc pretends to have his action stopped so Dorothy can get a head start at finding Scarecrow. Jack Pumpkinhead (Jack's a pretty popular name) is introduced later in the plot. In retrospect, he didn't actually do much, but was nice to have around if only for his cool design. Scarecrow is the only character from the previous film to have a role with dialogue. While it would have been nice to see Tin Man and Cowardly Lion more, it was good to see the film introduce the other major characters in the OZ series.

How about Dorothy herself? While Fairuza's Balk portrayal isn't quite as iconic as Judy Garland's, she was still very good throughout. Her politeness, even to the Nome King, was fantastic. While there's great continuity between both films, there are some things missing. For one thing, Glinda the Good Witch isn't mentioned at all. The Munchkins which inhabit the land of OZ are also missing. Ozma is basically a much younger version of Glinda. While not quite as enchanting as the later, Ozma was still very good.

As many have said, the film is noticeably darker than the 1939 classic. Is this a negative thing? Many would say so. It's true the film does have surprisingly grim aspects. The headless dancing girls eludes to decapitations, and we actually see those heads later in the film as Mombi says she uses those heads on different occasions. The masks on the Wheelers when they first appeared were also creepy. I think the tone is fantastic and grips the viewer from the start until the end. These things, while dark, never leaves the overall fantastical atmosphere of OZ. I think Return is the very definition of how to properly do a "darker" story in a film sequel.

The biggest highlight may be the antagonist, the Nome King. From early on he is established as a true menace with his commanding voice. Every scene in the climax he's in was fantastic. The writing was incredible, having him be a manipulator. One of the best scenes is when he shows Dorothy the Ruby Slippers, stopping her in mid-sentence, saying "No, MY Ruby Slippers." He taunts her with the idea of she being able to return home, saying there's nothing she could do about her friends. Another great line is when he says, "Perhaps you'd like to visit my fiery furnace" which is followed by a scene of flames appearing. He's a fantastic character and Nicol Willamson did a superb job portraying him. His sarcasm and great anger made him a blast to watch. The climax features an intense race against time, followed by a last stand against a giant monster. The way it goes down, while perhaps meant to be funny, is a little anti-climatic. Still, the last act of the film was fantastic, on par with the climax of the 1939 film. The stop-motion used throughout was very good; the Nome King's final form looked really realistic. The servant face in the mountain was also very good. The soundtrack isn't anything special sadly. The best theme was in Mombi's palace, when the heads all woke and started chanting Dorothy's name. The viewer feels a sense of immense urgency when that started to play. (That, and the fact there were over 20 heads talking!)

Overall, Return to OZ is a very fun watch. It's a really cool sequel to the classic movie we've all seen and have ingrained in our memory. The story is much like a classic fantasy adventure with a character wanting to save the land from an evil ruler. It pays tribute to Wizard while introducing all these new elements. If you haven't seen this, I definitely recommend it. It's far better than the recent OZ: The Great and Powerful.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Fantastic Four (2015) Review

The Fantastic Four haven't had much success on the big screen. The two major film adaptions are usually in any "top ten worst comic book films" list. "How difficult is it to make a film about a family of superheroes?" is often the question. Apparently very, since FOX laid the series dormant for eight years. In this case, it was wise to reboot it. Last year saw the release of the revamp. Marketing was rather poor leading up to it, releasing perhaps the most generic trailer of all time and "hyping up" characters, such as Doom being a blogger. (Which thankfully was pretty much cut.) I've always enjoyed the Fantastic Four because of the family dynamic, which is really at the core of every FF story. This is something director Josh Frank's reboot didn't seem to understand. While not the worst comic book movie out there, it definitely deserves its razzie. Still, unlike the first origin story, it's certainly not boring and provides a rather bizarre experience for a longtime comic fan.

Transported to an alternate universe, four young outsiders gain superhuman powers as they alter their physical form in shocking ways. Reed Richards becomes Mr. Fantastic, able to stretch and twist his body at will, while pal Ben Grimm gains immense strength as the Thing. Johnny Storm becomes the Human Torch, able to control and project fire, while his sister Sue becomes the Invisible Woman. Together, the team must harness their new abilities to prevent Doctor Doom from destroying the Earth.
The beginning played it very good, showcasing how Reed Richards and Ben Grimm met as kids. It's interesting to see the dynamic back then since the comics haven't really explored it all too much. Fast forward to modern day when they're at college. This is where the problems begin. At the science fair the teacher literally witnesses something get teleported away, yet dismisses it as if it wasn't anything extraordinary. There's no indication that this is a world in which stuff like this happens, so the reaction was incredibly strange. The action really begins when Franklin Storm asks Reed and Ben to join up at Baxter Foundation to complete a device which Victor Von Doom had started.

It'd be good to go over each individual character, which accounts for a good chunk of the negatives. The blatant one at first is Susan Storm. (Kate Mara.) She literally smiled about three or four times in the two hour run-time. She showcased virtually no emotion and her face pretty much had the same expression throughout the whole film. In the comics Sue is one of the most caring individuals in the Marvel Universe. Here...nothing. I'm not sure if the writing forced her to act like a statue or Mara just can't bring emotion into her role. A primary example is when she finds out that Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Victor are in great danger. Her statement "I'm trying" and her completely stiff face expression was just sad. I'm tempted to say she's just as emotion-less as Bella in the Twilight movie series. (If that were even possible.)

You're going to see a pattern here with the acting. One of the most laughable scenes was in "the other dimension" (which in itself wasn't explained at all) with Victor grasping the hand of Reed before plummeting below. There's yelling but it looks and sounds fake. The point of peril in films is for the viewer to feel the character's anguish and danger. One doesn't get the feeling here. It watches like the actors are just reading lines off the script and yelling when necessary. The film often feels like a low budget college project in this regard, which leads us to our next negative. While as terrible as the last two Fantastic Four movies were, they at least retained the feel of the classic comic books. What the writing and directing tries to do here is make it a gritty (generic word, but it's the only one that fits) almost alternate history type of story. There's unnecessary language being thrown around just to have some edginess for example. Even worse, there's a scene where some of the characters get drunk. (Basically, the opposite of stuff you find in the comics.) Take away the name, switch around the powers and this wouldn't resemble an FF movie in the slightest.

Back to characters, Milles Teller as Reed is often a mixed bag. Sometimes he's good, but the acting is so lousy sometimes it's hard to say anything positive. In the climax for example, his one-liners to Doom such as "Victor don't do this" was so terribly acted one has to imagine how this got pass the green screen. Michael B. Jorden as Johnny Storm wasn't bad. He definitely got the humor down which the character is known for. Perhaps the film's biggest positive is Ben Grimm. When Jamie Bell becomes the Thing, he completely nails the character.

As they say, a story is as good as its villain. Unfortunately for the previous two films, they didn't pass the test with their depiction of Dr. Doom. With a reboot, FOX had another chance. Did they succeed? It's an interesting answer. The problem I have is not with Toby Kebbell specifically, but before transforming into the antagonist the writing should have tried to develop the hate relationship between him and Reed. Later in the climax Doom states to Reed,"You always thought you were smarter than me." This makes no sense, since the two had only known each other for about...a few days, weeks maybe?" There's no buildup to such a statement. With that said, when Doom becomes Doom, he was a very enjoyable antagonist to watch. He commanded the screen, something the old Dr. Doom never quite achieved. Sadly, the writing strikes again since his goals and motivations are poorly explained.

If it isn't evident yet, the writing is pretty bad most of the time. Not only in the lines spoken by the characters, but on the plotlines themselves. There are two primary examples. Remember the laughable scene when Victor seemingly plummets to his doom? (Unintentional pun, I promise.) This wasn't mentioned by anyone afterward. It's almost as if the writing forgot about it until later. Another thing is that Ben blames Reed for his condition. When Grimm captures Richards, he makes the bold statement of "I'm not your friend." Yet about 20 minutes later they're pretty much back to being buddies, and by the end that line is completely rendered irrelevant. Despite there not being too much action, the film thankfully manages to move at a solid place. The climax isn't terrible, and there are some nice effects utilized. In retrospect however, it's probably the worst action film climax of 2015. Nothing really "big" happens, and looks low budget when compared to say Age of Ultron or Jurassic World. (Even tiny characters in Ant-Man provide a more grand climax, though to be fair few can beat Thomas the Tank Engine.)

Overall, Fantastic Four is one of the strangest comic book movies out there. It doesn't necessarily deserve its 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, but also doesn't really deserve anything above 30% either. The problem first from a comic book fan's perspective is that it doesn't look or feel like an FF movie. At least the previous two movies kept the family dynamic; here it's as if the goal was to make a sci-fi film with the characters in name only. It's truly bizarre, and an example that the "gritty reboot" isn't always the right call. I will however give credit for it having virtually no romance. But the language, the tone, the drunk scene, this is not the Fantastic Four. From a non-comic book fan's perspective, the writing is just bad a lot of the time. There is no great acting to be found here. The best FF film is still the unreleased Roger Corman one from the 90's.


Monday, January 25, 2016


I don't think I've ever met someone who wasn't a fan of the Terminator series. There have been many films having humans war with robots, but few as refined as this franchise. Interestingly, Terminator is much like Alien. The first two installments are universally acclaimed (with the second one in particular being hailed as two of the greatest action movies of all time.) Alien 3 and Terminator 3 aren't as renowned. I would consider them both underrated, but those are reviews for another day. Resurrection is known as the worst Alien, and Salvation is known as the worst Terminator. (Is T4 really that bad? I don't think so, but again a review for another day.) Years passed and many thought we wouldn't be seeing another film. Enter GENISYS. Marketed as a sort of reboot, it appeared this film was looking to emulate the first two. In some ways it succeeds in that. But, it goes about this in perhaps the moist bizarre way possible. Genisys has one of the most convoluted storylines I've ever seen. It is however also one of the most fast-paced and fun movies I've ever seen, so at least there's that.
 When John Connor (Jason Clarke), leader of the human resistance against Skynet, sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), from a Terminator assassin, an unexpected turn of events creates an altered timeline. Instead of a scared waitress, Sarah is a skilled fighter and has a Terminator guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger) by her side. Faced with unlikely allies and dangerous new enemies, Reese sets out on an unexpected new mission: reset the future.

What I find most peculiar is the audience this film is attempting to cater to. It tries to be a reboot, thus bringing in new fans while also attempting to continue the ongoing storyline. Let's try to put this bluntly: the story basically erases all the previous movies from existence. It then decides to transform John Connor into a Terminator for the film's antagonist. Sound insane? That's because it is. The writing just doesn't do a good job explaining any of it. There's a brief scene with Sara Connor telling Kyle Reece about this timeline mishap. It's meant to inform the viewer, but instead of the viewer going "Oh wow!" it's "Wait what?" It doesn't get any less confusing as the story goes along. Interestingly, the film's first act even attempts to retell the events of the first two installments. New fans will be almost completely lost, and longtime watchers will be alienated by the poorly written time travel aspect.

What the film does succeed in is action. This was one of the most fast paced films of 2015. Much like Judgement Day, the film never lets go of its fast pace. The fight scenes are all excellent and contain a large amount of tension. One of the best scenes for example is when T tells Sarah Connor "I'll be back" before skydiving into the helicopter. The final fight with John Connor is great because the viewer knows T is severely outclassed, so it's fun seeing how the heroes will get out of it since it's impossible to think of a logical reason. As for the cast, they aren't bad...but are they good? Kyle Reece wasn't a terrible focus throughout. Generic for sure, but not horribly so. Sarah Connor has always been more on the crazy side, and Emilia Clark does a solid job recapturing that from the older films. (Though, can someone please tell me why "bite me" is even a saying?) The romance between the two was pretty bad and poorly developed. The obvious highlight is Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom after all these years can still play an excellent T-800. (I will also give the story credit for at least trying to present a reason why a robot would age.)

It's always impressive when a film can keep at least one immensely surprising plot twist free from its marketing and trailers. (I just found out that they had released a TV spot and poster spoiling the twist, terrible move Paramount!) Based on everything we had seen, it appeared the new T-1000 would be the antagonist. While lacking the engaging cool factor of the original one from T2, this guy was pretty solid. But, he was only a villain for about 20 minutes. The story takes a 180 and introduces John Connor as the antagonist. It was a bizarre move, but definitely an interesting twist. Though, perhaps a little too much. Connor's role in the franchise has always been the resistance fighter, the person who leads humanity. To transform him into a Terminator, even if Skynet forcibly does it, destroys a fundamental part of the franchise. I can applaud them for taking a risk. Whether or not that risk was worth it is another story.

Later in the story Reece and Sarah travel to 2017. At this point the story takes a jab at how much we're invested in the internet. If computers become so advanced and we're willing to accept basically anything when it comes to being "plugged in," can we unknowingly let them take over? It's fascinating how the story manages to squeeze in this allegory amidst the chaos. The soundtrack is very strong, as expected from a Terminator film. The tension is given even greater depth in each of the fight scenes thanks to the themes.

Overall, Terminator: Genisys is definitely one of the more interesting films I've seen in awhile. It contains one of the most poorly written time travel plots out there in relation to previous events. The action is some of the best however, so at the very least one wouldn't be bored while watching. (Which is the biggest crime a film can commit.) While very poorly explained, Director Alan Taylor knows how to deliver a story that doesn't lose its momentum. Plus, Arnold delievers another stellar performance as T-800.


Saturday, January 9, 2016


There's never been a movie quite like INSIDE OUT. Pixar has a solid reputation of outdoing themselves. They're responsible for some of the finest movies in animation. Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Toy Story 3 are just a few examples from the company's portfolio. There have been some misses (Brave) but every studio has a couple of hiccups along the way. Inside Out joins the greats. There may have been movies before targeting the human mind, but none as engaging, funny, and emotional as this one. Most of Pixar's films find a ground which is for kids and adults alike. As someone 20 years of age, I can say I have never been more engaged by a film from Pixar just with reflecting on how well-done the overall concept is executed.
Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl, but her world turns upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Riley's emotions -- led by Joy (Amy Poehler) -- try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event. However, the stress of the move brings Sadness (Phyllis Smith) to the forefront. When Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley's mind, the only emotions left in Headquarters are Anger, Fear and Disgust.
The story poses a question at the beginning, "Do you ever look at someone and wonder what's going on inside their head?" Putting it bluntly, the film is basically about emotions in a kid. That sounds like a complicated subject on paper. The story however establishes it well, and swiftly. We're treated to truly excellent animation from the start (some of the best from Pixar yet) and from that intro with Riley as a baby the narration carries it onto the title screen. Riley is definitely a good character, representing the archetype kid at this stage. What's interesting to think about is that the story takes place in the real world. Yes, her mind is filled with fantastical things, but it's meant to exemplify her thoughts and emotions.

We have Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. First, I want to say I'm glad they went with the term "joy" over "happy." To have have inner joy is more substantial than being happy. Since we're on the subject, Joy is definitely one of the greatest characters Pixar has envisioned. While the writing for her is fantastic, a huge amount of credit goes to Amy Poehler for a stellar voice portrayal. These emotions imagined as characters are really interesting to watch. With different life events, it can be hard containing joy. Moving for a young kid for example, going to a new school, and things related can affect how they feel greatly. Watching the emotions go back and fourth in Riley's head was interesting because it's an analogy for how people do things in real life. Riley is generally a happy person, so Joy reigns supreme. So when gloomy events happen, Sadness for example starts affecting the thought process. The story expertly portrays sadness as reluctant, but it can be such a strong emotion we sometimes let it take away joy, as in the case with Riley in the classroom scene. She tries to be joyful, but recalling certain events from her move makes Sadness come out.

Running away is a tough subject for parents, and it was interesting how the story tackled that here. Sometimes a person just doesn't "feel anything." We let our joy get buried beneath because we're so consumed with emptiness and "how wrong things look." We let our emotions anger, fear, and disgust run wild, and do something we normally wouldn't, and shouldn't. But at the last moment as Riley gets on the bus to complete the running away process, her emotions start to re-think. And what's fascinating about these few scenes is that it's not Joy who saves the day: it's Sadness. The story makes a bold move in portraying sadness here. Sadness is generally not an emotion we like, but it can be necessary. Without sadness, we can't allow others to comfort us, case in point with Riley's flashback memory to her hockey game. Without her showing sadness her parents wouldn't have known to comfort her then. How Sadness plays out with the other emotions is a really neat thing the film tells us to think about.

The film besides going through the different emotions is also a story about memories. One of the funniest things is toward the middle act as two characters in Riley's mind go through "cleaning out memories." For example, they contemplate whether leaving in the names of the presidents is a good idea. They decide something along the lines of, "George Washington and Abraham Lincoln should just be left in." This is beyond hilarious because just think for a moment: do you know the numbered presidents besides George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? Almost everyone learns about the presidents but most of us only retain those two core president numbers, and we forget the others because having the complete knowledge isn't important to us. It's the same thing with them erasing a few years of piano practice back when Riley was younger. She no longer has a passion for that, so why would she keep in-depth memories of it? They would disappear as the years go on. (I took piano when I was younger, and because that's something I never pursued afterward memories of it has faded.) And then this idea of a pit where memories go and are forgotten: we don't think about them anymore. The film brings in an imaginary friend, who ends up having one of the most emotional scenes in the film as we see him being forgotten.
Joy reminds me of another character whom is always smiling...

Overall, Inside Out is one of the smartest films I've ever seen. It amazingly portrays the human mind of a kid, as she goes through different emotions of a life-changing event. Not only that, but we're treated to brief scenes of other human minds, such as her parents'. The family interactions are great, and there really aren't any notable negatives to mention. (The mom holding on to the memory of an old boyfriend is unnecessary though.) Riley isn't some fantastical character; she's just a normal kid. And that's why this film is so engaging. It never dips out if its realistic atmosphere. Joy is always fun to watch, and the way the emotions interact with each other was fascinating. There's a lot that can be done in sequels if the company decided to continue. For now, what we have is a fantastic one-shot and well deserves the award for best animated feature of 2015.


Friday, January 1, 2016


There are films every now and then that are simply more than "just going to the theater" for. One just goes to the theater to watch Alvin and the Chipmunks for example. Some films however are an event. These are the movies everyone is talking about. When you're sitting down at a pizzeria you'll hear across from the table in front of you about them in conversations. Examples include The Avengers, Godzilla, and The Dark Knight. If the box office numbers are any indication, then the subject film for today is an even bigger event than the aforementioned. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has been a primary topic in many fan circles for a few years now. When Disney announced they had acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, hype became real as the countdown to Episode VII began. In perspective, there hasn't been a major Star Wars production since 2005's Revenge of the Sith. (There was also the Clone Wars animated film in 2008, but that was just a launch pad for the the cartoon.) The stories have continued in comics & video games, but to the general public the saga ended in 1983's Return of the Jedi with the death of Darth Vader and the fall of the Empire. The Force Awakens is the first thing to officially continue the story. It's an interesting venture as it brings back old faces and introduces new ones. It tries to find ground between being a tribute to the old films while having a new story. J.J. Abrams delivers a film keeping the original spirit of the series. It's a flawed experience, but sill enjoyable.

 Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order. When a defector named Finn crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last of the Jedi Knights.
It's obvious from the start that the film is basically aiming to be the new A New Hope. The opening sequence is reminiscent of Darth Vader's invasion of Leia's ship in that very first film. While it's definitely interesting to see the idea of A New Hope being revisited, this can be the story's undoing sometimes. Sometimes it feels like more of a retread of the film rather than a tribute. When Kylo Ren first walks off his ship for example it's hard not to think of him as a second rate Vader. As the story goes on Ren manages to escape being thought of like that and becomes probably the best character of the whole thing. We'll go into more detail soon, but let's spend some time on the other characters.

Rey is a likable main character throughout. What's confusing is who exactly she is. The story hints that she could be Luke's daughter, but this isn't made evident. That's why the very last scene isn't as effective as it could have been since there isn't a definitive connection made between the two. Rey in the final act utilizing the force effectively came very sudden. Luke had two films to master it, so it came naturally there. But by the end of this film Rey is more than a match for Ren, who supposedly had been in training for sometime. Despite these things, Rey is still one of the highlights in the cast. Finn is the other main character, and provides most of the comic relief. While I did enjoy this story arc of a Stormtrooper betraying the Sith (or in this case The First Order) Finn is just over the top sometimes. For example in the later part of the movie when Han Solo motions to him to look behind, how did he not know what Solo meant? It might have been funny in the moment, but in retrospect it just didn't make sense. The final scene with him is also very unclear, especially with Rey's line.

A rather major negative is the character of Captain Phasma. There's nothing wrong with her specifically, it's what the film does with her. For awhile marketing hyped her up as an important, powerful character. Rightfully so, because we've never seen a female imperial commander before in Star Wars. Combine that with the awesome armor and we have what could be a highlight, much like Boba Fett of the original movies. That isn't the case here. In her brief scenes she does nothing of importance. Her final scene involves her being thrown in the trash. Literally. What we have is the definition of a wasted character. I don't think anyone would have minded if they had cut down on Finn in favor of more Phasma. Hopefully in the next Episode she's given more to do. (Though it's hard to be respected by the audience after being thrown in the garbage!)

What I find most amazing about the return of Han Solo and Chewbacca is how similar they are from the original trilogy. One can watch Episode's IV, V, VI, and then VII back-to-back and he/she wouldn't see any kind of change. Keep in mind that Harrison Ford's last film was way back in Return of the Jedi, so it's uncanny how he's able to bring back that character so effectively after all these years. Seeing the duo and C-3PO later in the story was like seeing old friends. Princess General Leia was very good, though has a minimal role. This is expected since the story isn't about the Resistance at first. The plot at its core is about finding Luke Skywalker. The reason given to why he's left is pretty poor, so hopefully that gets expanded on in the sequel. Because of his leaving things have gone to heck, so hopefully he feels some kind of guilt for making such a terrible decision.

Alright, now for Kylo Ren. This guy has the menacing look and persona. He was a blast to watch whenever he was on screen, much like how Darth Vader was in the original films. (One of the reasons why the prequels were boring in comparison is because they didn't have that ongoing engaging character.) As stated earlier, the character manages to escape being a second rate Vader. His conflicted arc is very interesting. The scene where he's talking to Vader's destroyed helmet and his line "I will finish what you started" was a powerful moment, arguably one of the most powerful of the entire film. I think one of the most interesting aspects of the story is that part of Ren's arc is a reverse version of the ongoing father son conflict of Vader and Luke in Episodes V and VI. It's really intriguing how the story went with this in the climax. Adam Driver did a solid job delivering the human aspect when the mask was off. Though, the people I was watching the film with made an interesting observation: he looks nothing like his father or mother. It seemed to me the story was aiming for a resemblance to the young Anakin Skywalker, but in doing so destroys the realism of him being the son of Solo and Leia.

Snoke is the same thing as Emperor Palpatine, just 10x more generic. There's literally nothing interesting about him at all, so hopefully this is rectified in the sequel. The climax on the bridge was excellent, and contains a very unexpected ending in retrospect. Hopefully the final film in the storyline doesn't go ahead and copy Return of the Jedi's ending and have Kylo turn good. The thing is that it's mentioned by one of the characters here that "there's still good in him," which is a reference to Luke telling his father that same line in Return. The thing is that here with the climax there actually is seemingly no more good left in him, which again is an interesting reverse version of the family conflict in the original trilogy. So to have him redeemed by the end would be almost a carbon copy of Vader's arc in that film. The soundtrack is fantastic, containing many of the old themes while featuring new ones which fit right into Star Wars. (Which is fitting, since John Williams came back to do the score here!)

Overall, The Force Awakens is a worthy continuation in the beloved sci-fi series. Right from the iconic "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far way..." to the classic title screen music you can feel yourself filled with great anticipation. It's a quality adventure with fun characters for the most part. You feel invested in the conflict with this classic good vs. evil story. While perhaps taking too much from A New Hope (even copying the famous destruction of the Death Star idea) it's great to see the old characters brought back. Kylo Ren is an excellent antagonist whom I look forward to seeing more of in the sequel. Unlike A New Hope, this film leaves many plot lines open which as a whole might make the film feel incomplete, but as part of the larger story it's fine. It's definitely good to have Star Wars back in the spotlight.


Sunday, December 13, 2015


When you watch a film in the theater, often you don't know what to expect in terms of trailers. Aside from the jaw-dropping fact that we're somehow getting a Snow White spin-off called The Huntsman, the obvious highlight was The Boy. The tagline "When you Break his rules" was so hilarious I felt the need to stop myself from bursting out laughing.

With that out of the way, let's talk about the final movie in the Hungers Games saga, MOCKINGJAY PART 2.

The Hunger Games is without a doubt great book series. The films have been very good in adapting the source material. The first film set the tone well. Catching Fire was excellent. Now when it was announced that Mockingjgay, the third and final book, would be split into two films, many were displeased. Sometimes it works (many would agree Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows needed to be two films) but in the case of The Hobbit (In this case three films!) it's been said there's so much buying for time and filler that one begins to think that they're just being stretched out for more $. Mockingjay thankfully fits more into the Harry Potter side of things. Part 1 almost perfectly set the stage for the grand final battle without feeling like a holdover. Yes, there was at least one completely filler scene, but overall Part I was great. Now here we are, three years after the first Hunger Games and an end to another book series come to film. Part 2 isn't perfect, but still nicely provides closure and pretty faithfully adapts the story.

Realizing the stakes are no longer just for survival, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) teams up with her closest friends, including Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick for the ultimate mission. Together, they leave District 13 to liberate the citizens of war-torn Panem and assassinate President Snow, who's obsessed with destroying Katniss. What lies ahead are mortal traps, dangerous enemies and moral choices that will ultimately determine the future of millions.
I remember reading Mocklingjay when it first came out and seeing how to end such a great a concept for a story. When the first Hunger Games film came out, I was thinking, "Seeing some of the key scenes in Mockingjay is going to be something else!" As expected, this film is basically one big climax, as a Part Two should be. We see Katniss finally taking the fight to the Capitol. The road to there is interesting because as readers know, a few pivotal characters meet their demise. The book definitely handles the deaths better, but what happens in the film is effective. Jennifer Lawrence once again does a fantastic job portraying Miss Everdeen. She can go from super serious to extremely emotional in a very realistic manner. It's great to see her character confident in her leadership role, and remains one of the better protagonists in recent years.

Peeta has always been a fan favorite, for being kind and a wise voice of reason. Unfortunately he spends most of the time being out of it here. I suppose the leap to film made that entire plot point a little more grating to watch than it was to read. Plus, he snaps back to attention right after that kiss? That was pretty generic and sudden, even if that's how it was in the book. A negative thing I noticed here is that Peeta literally murders a comrade when the flood happens. This is never brought up by anyone after (besides Peeta himself later) and it felt odd, and empty. Sure, it's established Peeta isn't in his right mind, but him murdering one of their squad members and no one bringing it up was just crazy.

The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale was always unbearable to watch, and here it's no different. At least here Gale is somewhat engaging throughout the story. His character arc comes to a sudden halt in the climax; it would have been nice to get at least a final scene with him in the epilogue. Finnick always provides some genuine comic relief. There's a few characters in the middle act Katniss works with. Perhaps the most notable is Boggs, whom only appears briefly yet somehow becomes one of the most likable characters in the series, so props to the writing. (Though, his role is more substantial in the book.) There are a couple of other characters, but nothing noteworthy. The scene in the tunnel with Castor talking about how scared Pollux is of being underground was unnecessary and didn't add anything to the film. (That entire plot point is basically forgotten five seconds later.) We already have the uneasy Peeta, we don't need another mention of uneasiness.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow has been doing a marvelous job portraying the character since his brief scene in the first film. I was really looking forward to seeing the famous scene near the end of the book in the flower garden adapted, and Sutherland nails the dialogue. President Coin was an interesting and unexpected character in the book. It was intriguing to watch her character arc develop and come to fruition in the climax there. The main problem I have with her here is that she's simply boring. Still, I will give credit for the news broadcast scene.

A thing the film does extremely well is make known to the viewer a very desolate feeling. The infamous underground battle with the "Mutts" was very intense. I think perhaps the most well-done sequence is the brief one where the team finally gets deeper into the Capitol. The incinerators added a sense of dread and gives an intense look into this war zone. Tension is greatly built up as Katniss and Gale attempt to blend into the crowd with the Stormtroopers Peacekeepers searching people. The climax in the book is infamous for not having Katniss be the one to kill Snow. I personally thought that ending was really well done and was looking forward to seeing it portrayed on the big screen. It played out well in the on-screen adaption, and provides a satisfying conclusion to tyranny in the story. The epilogue is great and provides definitive closure, as the book did. The soundtrack is solid throughout. A highlight would be the drums in the background as Katniss walks in for the execution.

Overall, The Hunger Games film series ends on a high note. Some things in the book were more bearable to get through than the film. (Peeta's ongoing confusion for example.) There are a few questionable things the film does, and ironically I would say Part 1 was better written. Coin was much better in the book; here she's just boring and her character arc could have been much more engaging. Despite all this, Mockingjay Part 2 is a very good watch and does the book justice. Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen perfectly once again, and Snow was a very good antagonist throughout. Director Francis Lawrence has delivered three quality adaptions.