So this isn’t really a review – more of a reaction to the movie. It would be very hard for someone like me to review a Star Wars movie. Just too close and too invested in the SW mythos and all that entails, which is why my reactions and viewing experience are what they are.
Which is to say… Saddened and a bit neurotic. And by the way, spoiler alert – you probably don’t want to read this if you haven’t yet seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The crew took in the final chapter of Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit last evening. We enjoyed it, of course, thoroughly entertained… Some will question the pacing, the character additions, the choices of how to portray that Battle of Five Armies on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain. Did the story and treatment merit three separate movies? (Studio executives vote yes.) Was it a good choice to make this Thorin’s story as much as Bilbo’s? Dwarf-Elf love? Why do some trolls turn to stone in sunlight while others do not? Did we really need to add Middle Earth spice worms?
The answers to these important questions depend on your perspective and level of Tolkien scholarship. For our part, we are content to enjoy the experience – the full Peter Jackson experience. Extended battle-scenes, harrowing escapes, crazily epic escapes… But we do have one nerdish question that must be posed… Spoiler alert. Read on after the break if you’ve seen the movie…
By now most with an interest have seen this:
The music, sounds, all of it has a Pavlovian effect on many from my generation… Just skin-tingly, goosebumping excitement. Grip your stadium seats, and let’s get bucket of popcorn and hightail it Tatooine!
Of course since the original Star Wars kids are now older with our own kids, there will be a certain subset of young viewers who will shrug their shoulders in adolescent defiance. Why is my dad so excited? This is dumb. We pity the fools. Fortunately that’s not the Beemsville kids (at least not yet).
We took in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar last weekend. First movie night since our previous baby-sitter went to college, so yeah, the wife and I were reminiscing with friends about how we used to see movies every weekend…
We enjoyed this film quite a lot – sometimes in spite of itself. As far as I’m concerned, the more big budget movies that reasonably attempt to intelligently tackle space travel and sci-fi themes the better. Yes, the Nolan brothers are insistent here – insisting that their framework of time and inter-generational connectivity drive the plot – even in the face of the extreme distance and sheer statistical unlikelihoods of interstellar travel. Just like the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Memento, the Nolans are all in, using the conventions of movie storytelling and expectations to reinforce their thematic agenda. As noted: insistent.
We liked the generational love-story. Very intense, very different from your typical male/female lead romance. We liked the slow-build first act, reminiscent of Close Encounters. We liked the scope and feel of the big space moments, supported by an effective score. The acting performances were all first-rate.
So the science aspect of Interstellar, the insistence on the narrative framework inter-connections… Yes, they work in the moment, but afterwards this bothered me a little. And if you look at other reviews of this movie, you’ll find the sci-fi community a little less enamored of it than the general consumer, mostly for this reason. Ideas on relativity and time, and sustainable life in the proximity of black holes – these are tough to convey to a general audience without too much dumbing down. I’d be curious to know what actual physicists thought about this.
Still, it’s a very good movie, and if you think you’re the kind of person who’d enjoy Interstellar, you should certainly give it a look.
Took in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy last weekend (along with so many others). What a fun show! Marvel Studios continues to hit that action-adventure-humor sweet spot, and we would guess that while the majority of the viewing public never heard of Drax or Groot prior to this film, they’re fans now.
Because no one’s demanded it, we’re going to try a little switch on the review format here. Instead of the longer summary form, we’ll just go with the likes and dislikes, hits and misses, cheers and jeers.
- Cosmic Marvel – The intergalactic, sci-fi area of the Marvel Universe has a lot to offer. Although Stan and Jack originally created some of the aliens and creatures just to give the Fantastic Four or Avengers someone else to fight, the vastness beyond Earth has provided creators with so many opportunities to tell new stories, mix favorite elements of space opera and sci-fi, and envision new worlds. Guardians, with its mishmash of alien cultures and locales, uses this to great effect to create that fun Star Wars vibe. We’ve seen hints of Cosmic Marvel in the Avengers-themed movies (especially Thor), but this one really nails it, with references to old school creations like the Kree and Skrull war, the Celestials, and more.
- Set Design/Art Direction – Closely tied to the above, big kudos to the visual arts team. It’s incredible what they can create on screen these days. Whether it’s Starlord’s ship (orange and blue, baby!), Ronan’s Dreadnought cruiser, the prison, Knowhere (awesome!), or Xandar, the overall result is fantastic. Not just because of the vivid colors and attention to detail, but also how these environments interact with the characters without suspending the disbelief overly much.
- Chris Pratt – Starlord, man! As a big Parks and Recreation fans, we already knew about the comic timing, which Pratt applies repeatedly and expertly. He’s a great choice as that Earth-transplant every-dude. Of course Peter Quill/Starlord has so much potential as an archetypal character. With a boyhood spend on earth in the 80s, he has those frames of reference, the music, the lingo. He knows about Captain Kirk and Han Solo and is fully attempting to pull that off. Pratt’s convincing in the action scenes, and has the range for the more serious moments as well (although you could feel the clowning right around the corner). His scenes with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) were fun and Saldana also deserves a lot of credit for her performance.
- Writers/Script – The story’s pretty straightforward: Quest for treasure turns into a mission to stop the evil overlord. The characters are your typical band of misfits. But give a lot of credit to the writing team – James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning. There’s real economy in their scenes; they set up character traits quickly, and the comedic moments are plentiful without feeling forced. Drax taking everything literally, Rocket’s antics and tough-guy veneer, Groot… We also appreciate some of those smaller moments and how they worked in a few Marvel easter eggs like usual. They didn’t overdo the Starlord/Quill character arc, they didn’t force some grand epiphany upon the character. And whoever came up with the idea for that final showdown with Ronan – well that writer deserves an award.
- I thought the post-credit mini-scene (now a tradition) was a little weak and somewhat frightening in an 80’s flashback kind of way. This isn’t really a dislike, but rather an observation: the movie had just a little too much violence and a one too many crude jokes for me to bring the kids along. They’re just going to have to wait, which is too bad, because they want to see Guardians very badly.
…written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffra, and Amanda Silver; directed by Matt Reeves; starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and Toby Kebbell. And some really good CGI guys…
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the better sci-fi dramas we’ve seen lately. Set in a post-infectious disease event world, with the vast majority of humans having succumbed to the simian virus in the previous movie, the film rightly begins with the apes. They are, after all, the stars of this show.
Caesar (Serkis) and the other apes have built a thriving hunter-gatherer civilization outside the ruins of San Francisco – and we quickly learn they have language (written, spoken, and sign), specialized roles, laws, and yes, politics. They’ve seen no humans in years (and are happy about this) when a human blunders into an ape hunting party and promptly shoots one of the apes.
Turns out, the survivors of San Francisco are running low on fossil fuels, so they’ve traveled out to the apes’ forests in an attempt to get the old hydroelectric dam working. But Caesar’s having none of it. He rallies the apes, who converge upon the humans and let them know they need to stay in the city and leave the forest to the apes.
…written by Simon Kinberg, directed by Bryan Singer, starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawerence, Ian McKellan, and Patrick Stewart.
Having enjoyed X-Men – First Class quite a lot, and with this latest X-movie drawing from some of the best X-Men comics runs of the late 80’s and early 90’s, we were really looking forward to X-Men – Days of Future Past. Time travel and the mutant apocalypse – with Bryan Singer back to direct and all the relevant cast reprising their roles. And enjoy this movie we did. In fact, I believe this as my favorite X-movies from the series, which also places it in our top few for all super hero movies.
The premise, as with most time travel movies, deals with traveling backwards to alter history to avert catastrophe. In this case we have a near future in which mutants have been rounded up or hunted to near extinction by the familiar (to comics fans) Sentinel robots. Some of the X-Men continue to hold-out, as we learn, through Kitty Pryde’s mutant power to send a person’s consciousness back to their past self a few minutes. This allows the X-Men to alter the present and avoid the inevitable mass Sentinel assault by a few moments. But more and more Sentinels are coming each time, so when the X-Men rendezvous with Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine, and some others, they decide to try something new.
The Professor and Magneto think they’ve determined a key point in history – in 1971 – when the U.S. Government under Nixon first approved the Sentinel robot program. The tipping point came when Mystique killed the man responsible for designing the Sentinels, Dr. Bolivar Trask. What she didn’t realize is that even though she delayed the Sentinel program by decades, the program continued, and Trask’s understudies managed to collect some of her mutant DNA as a result. They eventually manage to incorporate the DNA and Mystique’s shape-shifting powers into their technology, making the Sentinels so adaptable and lethal in the future. Continue reading
…written by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely, based on an Ed Brubaker story; directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; starring Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, and Robert Redford.
These Marvel movies just keep hitting the target. Thor – The Dark World was excellent, X-Men – Days of Futures Past looks fantastic based on the trailers, and we’re optimistic for the next Spider-man movie this summer as well. The only one we’ve panned of late was Iron Man 3 (because, gah.) So with the the great early buzz, we were anticipating Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and we weren’t disappointed. This is another great super hero movie.
It’s a different kind of super hero movie, though. Based on comics by Ed Brubaker, the story involves serpentine conspiracies and secrets and healthy mistrust of those in power. Pretty much par for the course with Hollywood’s take on the espionage game. This movie features Cap and Black Widow as Shield’s two prime field agents, chasing down bad guys and running ops for Nick Fury. When one of these ops goes sideways, Cap gets suspicious of Fury’s motives and goals. He becomes even more concerned when Fury shows him the strategic plan to launch three additional heli-carriers capable of linking up with surveillance satellites and securing Shield’s military dominance in the world.
But Fury has concerns as well. He’s noticed something anomalous, a security breach, and confides in the Chief of Allied Defense, Alexander Pierce (Redford). About this time, the Winter Soldier shows up and takes a crack at Fury. Black Widow tells Cap about the Winter Soldier: a legendary KGB assassin rumored to have conducted the most dangerous and sensitive assignments for over 50 years.
The Monuments Men (directed by George Clooney, based on the book by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter) would be an easy movie to dismiss or mock if you were so inclined. World War II film about aging scholars rescuing and returning art… Doesn’t Hollywood so like to congratulate itself about its own artistic contributions, etc., etc.. But, with Clooney determined to give us an effective history lesson, and with an all-star cast (Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, and Bob Balaban) determined to tell a genuine tale, the result is a very fine movie.
It is a story worth telling – the mystery and intrigue of tracking down all the art the Nazis confiscated, the misgivings of some about the allies’ goals for recovering said art, and even the race with the Soviets. And within the meta-elements of the film, a very interesting study of war-movies. The gathering of the team, the guys who despise each other at the outset only to become best friends, the showdown in Act III… At the heart of the story these Monuments Men had very noble goals, but like soldiers everywhere they continued on mostly for each other. This is a line that goes back from Saving Private Ryan to The Big Red One to The Dirty Dozen.
You leave the theater on a positive note. After all, we did rescue the art and return it where possible. The important signposts of Western Civilization return home. When President Roosevelt asks Lt. Stokes (Clooney) if it was all worth it, he has a definitive answer. A little later you may find yourself considering how the same symbols and signposts, the same Western Civilization also led to Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Well, that’s history for you.
Not a full review here, but another quick recommendation : The Lego Movie. Yes, you can add us to the many, many others lauding this clever and funny family show. Does it help that our kids are really into legos right now, that it’s their go-to creative time pursuit? Absolutely. But don’t dismiss our thumbs-up as simple consumer bias…
Writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller deserve the accolades for a fun story that gets to the heart of playing with legos – the following directions precisely mode vs. free-build creative mode. Each has its merits, but to the surprise of no one, the movie favors the latter. Creativity is the principal theme here – what it means to our kids, how we perceive and value it. And Lord and Miller so effectively capture childhood perceptions of playing and imagining with broad strokes like the different themed lego-lands the characters visit as well as small details like various sound effects (child-produced) or the artifacts from our mundane world.
And, if all that seems a little uppity, well – the jokes are really, really funny. There are a lot (and we mean a lot) of them, rapidly delivered, with numerous parenting and pop-culture references squarely aimed at the grown-ups. Due to the vastness of the lego line, the movie drops in all sorts of famous people and character cameos, and the writers obviously had a ball with these scenes and jokes.
The Lego Movie is easily Top 3 for family movies we’ve seen in the last several years – probably our favorite since The Incredibles. So we say, take your kids, grand-kids, or nieces/nephews to the cinema and enjoy.