Thursday, December 31, 2015

Movies of 2016: The Good, the Bad, and the Maybe

Yet another year has come to a close. As such, it's now time to look forward to what movies the new year has in store for us! To do this, I will split the movies into three categories: the movies I'm looking forward to (the good), the movies I'm not looking forward to (the bad), and the movies that have me on the fence for one reason or another (the maybe). This is the third year that I've done my yearly preview this way and I've found it's a great way to talk about a lot of movies in a short amount of time instead of just limiting myself to 10 or 15 because there is a lot to talk about when it comes to 2016. It's also fun having on record what I was thinking going into each year. In the past two years, there's been several movies that I put on the good list that I didn't like. There's also been several movies that I put on the bad list that I did like. So we'll see what happens this year because I'm sure that this will again be the case. This is also not all inclusive. I'm just going for the highlights of what we know at this point. No reason to talk about every movie, especially since there's a lot that aren't even on my radar right now. With all that in mind, let's begin! And yes, the order here is by release date.

The Good:

Kung Fu Panda 3 - January 29
I loved the first Kung Fu Panda. When Dreamworks announced the second one, I was really nervous because Dreamworks has a habit of just making endless sequels when they find a hit, but Kung Fu Panda 2 was fantastic! This time around I am all in for the third, especially since Kung Fu Panda 2 set itself up for a sequel.

Hail, Caesar! - February 5
Like most fans of movies, I've had this one marked on my calendar for a while. It's the Coen brothers! Whether they're directed, producing, or writing, these two have proven time and time again that they know how to make a movie. This time they are doing all three. And they have a big cast and an intriguing premise to make things even better.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - February 5
I'm not a fan of Pride and Prejudice. Sorry. I watched the 300-hour-long version once and that was one time too many. But this adaptation of the classic tale gave me a big grin from the second I heard about it. From the same author that did Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter if you need a clue as to what we're in for here.

Deadpool - February 12
A violent, foul-mouthed, superhero that's cracking jokes and breaking the fourth wall throughout the entire movie? I'm not going to lie, I'm a lot more excited about this movie than I probably should be.

The Witch - February 26
I love myself a good horror film. The sad thing is, there's usually only one good one for every 10 or 20 that are released. I'm counting on this one to be the good one this year. And I'm cheating a bit because this came out at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and I know someone personally who saw and loved it, so I've been impatiently waiting for like a year now.

Zootopia - March 4
Have you seen the teaser for this movie? The one where the fox goes into a DMV full of sloths? Holy cow I was laughing uncontrollably when I watched that for the first time. I think Disney has us a surefire winner with this new animated movie of their's.

The Jungle Book - April 15
I actually had this movie on my list last year because it was supposed to come out in October. The cast alone had me excited for this first Jungle Book adaptation, but then we saw the trailer. Wow! Disney has actually yet to satisfy me with any of their live-action remakes of their old animated classics. I think this could be the first.

The Huntsman: Winter's War - April 22
Speaking of live-action remakes of Disney's classic animated movies, the best one yet in my opinion was Universal's Snow White and the Huntsman. Yes, that movie still had its fair share of issues, but how about this decision with the follow-up? They took the best parts of that movie, the evil Queen and the Huntsman -- played by Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, and they do a movie following them. Add in Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain and you have me sold.

Captain America: Civil War - May 6
As you may know, I recently revealed that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was my favorite Marvel film to date, so of course I'm excited for the sequel. Especially since it starts the Civil War story arc, which I've been intrigued by since they announced they were doing it. I just hope they don't make up and become friends again at the end. They need to play this out for all of Phase III.

Snowden - May 13
Talk about a controversial figure, just look up the Edward Snowden if you haven't already. Hero or criminal? That usually depends on if you're asking a democrat or a republican. Even then it's still split. The documentary Citizenfour already dove into this recently, winning an Oscar at this most recent Academy Awards. Now since we can't be satisfied with just a documentary, we're getting a movie. I'm intrigued actually, especially since Joseph Gordon-Levitt is playing Snowden.

The Angry Birds Movie - May 20
"They're making an Angry Birds movie?!?!?!?! Has Hollywood run out of ideas?!?!" That's generally the reaction that people had when this was announced. Except for me. I thought this could be a lot of fun, especially with that huge cast. Now that the trailer is out, it's funny how a lot more people are on my side.

X-Men: Apocalypse - May 27
I've always had a unique opinion on the X-Men franchise. However, I was right along with everyone else in thinking that X-Men: Days of Future Past was totally epic. Easily the best X-Men movie in my opinion. And now we're going Biblical with the huge villain Apocalypse and I'm stoked. No Hugh Jackman this time around, but I'm excited to see our additional cast added to the already great cast of Days of Future Past and First Class. It's a new generation of X-Men and I like it!

Finding Dory - June 17
I'm not going to lie, when I heard they were doing a sequel to Finding Nemo, I was concerned. Great movie, but did it need a sequel. Then I saw how ecstatic Ellen DeGeneres was about this and I was sold. It even follows her character of Dory this time around. Pixar brought it big time with Inside Out this past year and I expect them to continue that with Finding Dory after a slight misstep with The Good Dinosaur.

The BFG - July 1
I can't say I know a ton about The BFG. When everyone freaked out about the trailer, I felt like I was suddenly out of the loop. But I'm still excited, though. And it's not because everyone else is excited. The "directed Steven Spielberg" is what got me. I always look forward to his next movie, whatever it is.

La La Land - July 15
Yeah, I know. I also think that's a bit of an odd title. La La Land? Then I looked it up. Oh. This is Damien Chazelle's next movie. Whiplash was one of my favorite movies from 2014, so I'm excited to see what he has in store for us next. He is bringing back J.K. Simmons and also has Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling on board, so it's looking good already. And it's a musical drama again, too!

Bourne 5 - July 29
I'm sure this movie will get an actual title here soon. Bourne 5 is all I got for now. While I did like Jeremy Renner in Bourne Legacy, I also thought that movie paled in comparison to the first three. You can't do a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. But hey! He's back! Matt Damon is in this movie and Paul Greengrass is back directing as well! I don't know what strings were pulled to make that happen, but that is fantastic news!

Suicide Squad - August 12
I'm not a declared Marvel fanboy. By that I mean I think it's stupid to think you can only like Marvel or DC. Why not both? Sure, Marvel is doing a better job in the movie universe, but DC is totally killing them on TV. Suicide Squad is the movie that I hope brings DC into the conversation again . At the very least, I'm a lot more excited about this one than Batman v. Superman. I love the idea of the Suicide Squad. Arrow did it in the TV universe and it was pretty boss. Plus, we actually have a good director on board here in David Ayer, who really killed it with Fury.

Kubo and the Two Strings - August 19
If you know me well enough, you'll know that I love the heck of the of the stop-motion animation genre. And we got another one here. Specifically, this is Laika's next movie! They did Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, all of which I enjoyed. We've only seen one teaser, but already it seems like Kubo and the Two Strings could be their best movie yet. I can already see myself cheering this movie on when it comes to the best animated feature award at the Oscars in 2017.

Sully - September 9
Remember that huge story on the news several years back where a pilot heroically landed a plane in the Hudson River? Yeah, we're getting a movie about that this year. It stars Tom Hanks as the hero pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. And it's directed by Clint Eastwood. Sounds like a recipe for success to me. And apparently a lot of drama happened with this man after the heroic landing?

Deepwater Horizon - September 30
Speaking of recent news events getting the movie treatment, that huge oil spill in 2010 is also getting the movie treatment. You know, the biggest oil spill in U.S. history? I was initially going to put this specific project in the maybe category, but then I saw that this is another collaboration between Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg. That combo owned it in Lone Survivor.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back - October 21
Out of all these movies I've mentioned, this just might be my most anticipated movie. Jack Reacher was one of my favorite movies of 2012 and I was deeply saddened when it initially seemed like the movie was a financial disappointment. Then a miracle happened. The movie held extremely well in the U.S. and killed it overseas. A sequel was justified. Now four years later, we are finally getting that sequel. And I hope many more sequels will follow. Let this be the new Bond or the new Mission: Impossible.

Doctor Strange - November 4
The recent honest trailer for Ant-Man had a line that really cracked me up. After Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, it seems like Marvel is selecting their movies based off a dare. I know very little about the Doctor Strange comics, but this is Marvel and they are on a roll right now. What little I have heard sounds pretty epic, though. And Benedict Cumberbatch is our star, so you can't go wrong there, right?

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - November 11
I've tried to point out more than just the big blockbusters when reviewing this year and that gets hard when we are previewing almost a year in advance, so I tried to pay close attention to directors that have a good track record and who better than Ang Lee? His last movie was back in 2012 with Life of Pi and if this one is even half as good as that one, we're in for a treat.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - November 18
The Harry Potter universe is back!! Many years of my life were spent either looking forward to the next book or movie and when the last movie came and went, it felt like there was a huge void left in me. Nothing more to look forward to? Way sad! But now we're back! We're doing a trilogy based on the life of the man who wrote this Fantastic Beasts textbook. J.K. Rowling has written the movie and David Yates is back directing, so we're in good hands! No original cast, but we have a new cast led by the great Eddie Redmayne.

Moana - November 23
For some reason I was under the impression that Disney's Moana was going to be hand drawn and I was excited about that. Don't know where I got that idea, but I recently learned I was 100 percent wrong. It's the Tangled and Frozen style again, which isn't bad I suppose. Moana has the directors of several Disney classics like Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, and The Princess and the Frog, so I really hope we have another great addition to the Disney legacy here.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - December 16
Before we move onto Episode VIII, we will first get our first Star Wars anthology movie! If this is successful, it probably means we will be getting various Star Wars movies for the rest of our lives, which I'm not necessarily opposed to. There's a lot of opportunities for stories in the galaxy far, far away outside our normal story arc. This one is a movie that takes place right before Episode IV as it's about the rebel force trying to steal the Death Star plans. How epic is that! It's a great day to be a Star Wars fan!

The Bad:

Norm of the North - January 15
After all that good, it's now time to talk about the bad. January is known as the dumping ground for movies and this January looks like it has several stinkers, starting off with this atrocious looking animated movie. Marketing is being aggressive with this one and it's really getting on my nerves because none of the jokes in this land at all, yet they overuse them anyways as if they think they are funny. And I've only seen the trailers. I can't imagine with this full movie will be like.

Ride Along 2 - January 15
Ice Cube got put in the spotlight in a huge way with the movie Straight Outta Compton. I totally respect his background and his story after seeing that. But I still hate him as an actor. He can't act. Putting him along side the super annoying Kevin Hart was a really bad idea in the movie Ride Along as that was painful to watch. Yet it earned a ton of money somehow and now we have to suffer through a sequel.

The 5th Wave - January 22
Ever since franchises like Twilight and The Hunger Games broke out, Hollywood is always searching for the next big young adult series to adapt to the big screen. I'm kinda getting sick of it. The 5th Wave stands trial next and it looks like it is bringing nothing new to the table at all. Can we be done with this trend? I really hope this movie flops so it can help end this trend. I mean, I liked The Hunger Games, but I'm ready to move on.

Fifty Shades of Black - January 29
It's bad enough that we were subjected to the garbage that is Fifty Shades of Grey. It doesn't help matters that we get a parody movie that almost looks as dumb as the movie it is trying to make fun of. The Wayans once were actually funny. I don't know what happened, but they lost their touch a long time ago and it doesn't look like they're getting it back.

The Choice - February 5
I should just ignore this one. But since I just put a lot of effort in my Brooklyn review about how romance dramas CAN be good, I have to point out that we are probably getting another bad one with yet another Nicholas Sparks adaptation. This opens on the same day as Hail, Caesar! and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. If you can get your girl to go with you to either of those instead of this, you know you have someone special. 

How to Be Single - February 12
How fitting! Valentines Day gives us a movie about single's awareness this year! I should be intrigued, except this is a raunchy comedy with Rebel Wilson in the lead, whose comedy I find the most unfunny and painful to watch in the business right now. Let that girl's tongue unleash in an R-rated comedy and it's a disaster. I don't care who her costars are. Plus, Dakota Johnston and Leslie Mann don't make things much better.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant - March 18
Okay, I'll give this franchise a tiny bit of credit for trying to trick their fans into thinking they aren't just doing the same thing as every other book franchise by splitting the last book into two movies. Instead of calling it Allegiant Part 1 and Allegiant Part 2, it's now Allegiant and Ascendant. But you can't trick me! This is the first half of the final book in a trilogy that was bad to begin with and got worse with the sequel. You knew this was going to show up here.

God's Not Dead 2 - April 1
The more I think of the movie God's Not Dead, the worse it gets. As someone who believes in God, I listened to that debate at the end and found myself thinking that the kid's arguments were horrible. The professor won that debate. Except he didn't because the writing in the movie was putrid. And now we're doing it all again. In a court case this time. Oh dear...

Amityville: The Awakening - April 15
I told you the one horror movie I'm excited for (The Witch). Now are you ready for another long string of horrible horror movies? When it comes to bad horror, one thing Hollywood is really good at is not letting go of a once loved franchise. All they have to do here is slap "Amityville" on the title and they'll make a profit. They don't care about the quality.

Mother's Day - April 29
Oh how nice! Mother's Day is finally getting a movie to call its own. I genuinely think that's a fantastic idea! It's just that in this instance it's the same people that did Valentine's Day and New Years Eve, both of which where horrendous.

Alice Through the Looking Glass - May 27
I've praised Disney enough in this post. I've gotta slap them in the face just once. Back in 2010 they made a pretty terrible adaptation of one of their great animated movies in Alice in Wonderland and because it was the next 3D movie after Avatar, it somehow made $1 billion. So of course we get a sequel. I know there are people excited for this. I'm not. I hope it flops so we don't get a sub-par Alice in Wonderland trilogy.

The Conjuring 2 - June 10
Don't let them trick you! Sequels to good horror movies never work!! After focusing on quality the first time around, they get greedy and realize that if they can somehow come up with a sequel idea, they can earn even more money because it costs nothing to make horror movies. I hope it's different this time around. I hope they are trying to give us a quality sequel. But I won't believe it until I see it.

The Purge 3 - July 1
Speaking of which. I told you there are a lot of bad horror movies coming. And I told you that all they care about is money. We're going to get Purge movies until we're all old and grey because it costs nothing to make them and they're going to trick enough people into thinking it's good every time.

Ghostbusters - July 15
It's not that I don't like the idea of a politically correct Ghostbusters movie. Give me a good cast and I'll be like, fine whatever. But that's the thing. They're bringing back one of the most beloved 80's movies and they're turning it into another dumb Melissa McCarthy comedy. That's what it looks like anyways. And I'm not happy about it.

Ice Age: Collision Course - July 22
Yes, they are doing a fifth Ice Age movie. Do you know why? Because when you look at the overseas box office, three and four are two of the highest-grossing animated movies ever. The only thing that beats them is Frozen and Minions. I don't know why the rest of the world loves these movies so much, but they do and now because of it we are also going to get Ice Age movies until we are old and grey.

Star Trek Beyond - July 22
I make no secret over the fact that I thought Star Trek Into Darkness was a bad movie and a disgrace to the Star Trek name. Now that we sent J.J. over to the franchise where he belongs, the new direction for this franchise looks like we're turning it into a Fast & Furious spin-off movie. Oh hey! Look at the new director! It's Justin Lin from the Fast & Furious movies! It all makes sense now. Don't get me wrong, I love the Fast & Furious movies. But not in Star Trek.

Ben-Hur - August 12
Oh dear. Why are we remaking an old classic as amazing as Ben-Hur? Can't we just go back and watch the 1959 Charlton Heston movie again? It's still good! Okay, fine. At least give me a good director for this. Timur Bekmambetov? The director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Oh dear. A good cast? Jack Huston, Nazanin Boniadi, and Haluk Bilginer. Who? I'm ready to be surprised, but the initial promise isn't looking good.

Mechanic: Resurrection - August 26
Because the world really needed a sequel to The Mechanic. Well at least they're bringing Jason Statham back, which is something the Transporter franchise didn't think they needed to do this past year. The late August release date is what really gets me here. That's a sign of zero confidence from the makers of this movie.

Underworld 5 - October 14
You thought this franchise was done, did you? Ha ha ha! Underworld Awakening still made a lot of money back in 2012 comparatively, so apparently there's still a crowd of people that like these movies. They're moving from the dumping ground of January to the Halloween world of October. That's an interesting idea.

Ouija 2 - October 21
Making a bad horror movie and slapping on the name of a known franchise is one thing. Making a sequel to a beloved horror is a second. But the worst of worst comes when they make a sequel to a horror movie that everyone hated in the first place. But Ouija made money, so here's proof that the people making these movies really don't care about people's opinions. They just want to make money and making dumb horror movies is a good way to do that.

Bad Santa 2 - November 23
Out of all the Christmas movie franchises that could be brought back for a second go around, this is not the one that I would've guessed or hoped for. But after 13 years, it's back! I suppose The Night Before showed us that some people love raunchy Christmas movies. To each his own, I suppose.

Jumanji - December 25
Merry Christmas everyone!! The director of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, who also directed Battle Los Angeles and The Wrath of the Titans, is at it again. Ruining the childhoods of 90's kids all over the planet with another remake of a beloved 90's movie. Thank you Jonathan Liebesman. I appreciate it. And I'm also sure that Robin Williams is now rolling over in his grave at the idea of this.

The Maybe:

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - January 15
Following the success of Lone Survivor and American Sniper in the past two years, we now have to continue the tradition of making a war-themed movie in mid-January. This one was actually looking really good when I first saw the trailer. Then the reveal of "directed by Michael Bay" happened. My spirit sunk. So I drop this from good to maybe. But I'm not ready to call it bad just yet. Although if Michael Bay fails here, he should just quit making movies.

The Boy - January 22
Based on premise alone, this horror/thriller doesn't look that promising. A family's 8-year-old boy is a life-size and you have to follow his rules or else you're in trouble. Add to that the January release date and this looks like a disaster. HOWEVER. This does come from new production company STX Entertainment whose first movie was The Gift, which just happens to be one of my favorite movies of 2015. So I'll give The Boy a chance.

The Finest Hours - January 29
In case Michael Bay fails with his war drama in mid-January, Disney's got his back with another war drama that they are advertising is the true story of the most daring rescue mission in American history. We're talking about the Coast Guard here in 1952. Okay Disney, we'll see what you've got conjured up here.

Zoolander 2 - February 12
Zoolander is quite the funny movie. I'm not going to argue that. But comedy sequels are a tricky thing. Before I dub this as a must-see, hilarious comedy, might I remind you that Anchorman 2 and Dumb and Dumber To didn't quite hit the mark for people. I liked those two more than most, but still. This is one to be cautiously optimistic about given the history of this genre.

Gods of Egypt - February 26
"From the visionary director of I, Robot and The Crow" comes a movie from a director who's done nothing else that people have really remembered. But nice try trailer. Here we have a big, gorgeous CGI fest that could either be the big surprise of February or this year's Jupiter Ascending. I haven't quite decided which one it'll be.

London Has Fallen - March 4
Well this is a movie that came out of left field. I never actually got around to watching Olympus Has Fallen, but it looked like a fun movie. Yet I didn't expect a sequel to happen. But okay. I guess I'm fine with watching London get destroyed. I'll make sure to catch up on Olympus Has Fallen beforehand. If this does well again, what major city is next?

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice - March 25
I know, I know. It's Batman and Superman together on the big screen for the first time in cinematic history! And yes, I've defending the Batfleck from day one, unlike most of the world. If they let Ben Affleck direct this one as well, I'd be totally down. But it's Zack Snyder again, who directed the atrocity that is Man of Steel. It looks like this will be a better movie, especially since we revealed the whole movie in the recent trailer, but I still can't get excited for anything Zack Snyder does until he proves to me that he can actually make a good movie.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 - March 25
Talk about a movie sequel that I never saw coming. The first one is great. I hope this one is as well, but I'm not sure. Here's a fun fact for your day: My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the highest grossing movie ever to not hit #1 at the box office. It made $241 million over the course of 52 weeks in theaters. It's highest-grossing three-day weekend was only $11 million. That's quite the run.

Barbershop: The Next Cut - April 15
Sequels, sequels, sequels. I feel that's all I'm talking about on this list. So many of them this year. That's the day we live in. Cut and paste what I said about Zoolander 2. Except add that I personally have never gotten into the Barbershop movies.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows - June 3
Surprised that this didn't make the bad list? Yeah so am I. I was dreading the first one ever since it was announced and the ensuing trailers didn't help that case. They looked bad. And I was right. The movie was pretty bad. Although not quite as bad as I thought it was going to be. So how did this one miss the hate list? Because I watched the trailer and it actually showed signs that it could be entertaining. A lot of TMNT fan service that has never shown up in a turtles movie yet. Action sequences that actually may be fun. And best of all, Stephen Amell is in the movie playing Casey Jones. That last part at least makes this movie worth trying.

Now You See Me 2 - June 10
I told you. Sequels, sequels, sequels. This one here is a sequel to one of my favorite movies from 2013. Now You See Me was such a great movie! But it was the type of movie that I thought was better as a stand alone film. I have no idea how they are going to make this sequel work. I'd explain that more, but it would require spoiling the first movie and I'm not going to do that.

Warcraft - June 10
Please don't hurt me for not salivating of this upcoming Warcraft movie. I've never gotten into Warcraft and certainly not World of Warcraft. I'm open to the idea of this being good, but there's two huge red flags for me. First is that this movie looks like it has way too much CGI. It's to the point where they might as well have made this an animated movie. Second is that video game movies rarely work. You'll hear that come up again later in this list.

Independence Day: Resurgence - June 24
Yes, I love Independence Day as well. But we have to keep in mind that this is a Roland Emmerich movie. His movies only go two ways. Either they are big, fun, Summer blockbusters that people love or they are big, stupid, wannabe blockbusters that everyone hates. Right after he made Independence Day, he made that horrible 1998 Godzilla movie. I hope this is the former category, but he's done too much of the latter that makes me put this sequel on this maybe list instead of the good list.

The Legend of Tarzan - July 1
We have have three big live-action remakes of a Disney animated movie this year and each one goes in a different category for me. Although to be fair, Tarzan has been around a lot longer than Disney's 1999 classic, but it still counts. This one, done by Waner Bros., has a great cast led by Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie as Tarzan and Jane. But I don't know. I'm not completely sold on this one yet.

The Secret Life of Pets - July 8
Illumination, the animation studio that brought us the Despicable Me films, has put together quite the hilarious marketing campaign for this movie. But it looks like it's just Toy Story with pets. I'm trying to figure out how this is going to work out. And I'm seeing a lot of funny scenes in the trailers, but I'm not getting what the storyline is or who our central characters are. It's just pets doing funny things while their owners are gone. But maybe we'll learn more of that later?

Sausage Party - August 12
Well this is a weird title for a animated kids movie. *looks at premise, cast, and crew* Oh. This is an animated movie meant for adults? I think? While I don't know if this specific movie will entertain me, I'm totally down for more animated movies directed at adults. Let's break that stereotype in a way that doesn't just include raunchy animated movies.

Pete's Dragon - August 12
Before we write off the idea of a live action remake of Pete's Dragon, perhaps we should look at the cast of this movie and perhaps consider that this could be a fun family affair in August made by Disney? We have Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, and Robert Redford signed on to do this. Not bad.

The Magnificent Seven - September 23
You saw my thoughts on the new Ben-Hur movie and thus you know that I'm not a huge fan of remaking old classics, but the advantage that The Magnificent Seven has over Ben-Hur is a good cast led by Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, and Ethan Hawke and a capable director in Antoine Fuqua. So maybe this one could work?

Storks - September 23
Sony Animation is releasing some sort of animated movie at the end of September that they haven't told us about yet. Since we don't know about that one yet, I won't talk about it. Instead I will talk about this other movie that will be in direct competition with whatever that is and that is Warner Animation's new movie Storks, which seems fun. Warner joined the animation party in a huge way with The LEGO Movie the other year, so I'm in good terms with them right now.

Gambit - October 7
If this movie actually happens this year, I will say I'm intrigued. I don't know if Gambit is a character that needs his own movie, but I'm open. Word on the street is that this could be pushed to 2017 if it even stays on the schedule at all. So we'll see what happens.

Inferno - October 28
I'm going to be honest, I don't know a whole lot about the Robert Langdon series. The first two books in that series were turned into movies. That's The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels & Demons (2009). Apparently Inferno is the fourth book in the series. I'm not sure what happened to The Lost Symbol or why Inferno is coming first, but it is. Ron Howard and Tom Hanks are both on board again, so that's good news right? I promise that I will have more of an opinion by the time this movie actually comes out in October.

Chicken Soup for the Soul - December 28
I remember this being a book that was read and loved by a lot of people back in the day. I was not one of those people that read it and I don't really know much about it outside the fact that it exists. But seeing a movie announced for this year about it caught my attention, so I'd figure I'd point it out. Not much is known about this and I'm not even sure if it's going to stay on the calendar for this year, but it's something to keep an eye out for.

Assassin's Creed - December 28
Remember when I talked about video game movies rarely working when I mentioned Warcraft and how I said I will come back to that? Well here we are. If there is any video game adaptation that is going to break that trend, it's Assassin's Creed. The story and the universe of this game lends itself very well to a movie or a series of movies. If this movie doesn't work out, then they should just stop trying to make it work. Let video games be video games and movies be movies.

Passengers - December 28
Last but not least, we also have a movie that I don't know a whole lot about. I just know that in about a year from now we have some sort of space adventure starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence that's not Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy. It's directed by Morten Tyldum, director of The Imitation Game. Space movies have had a very good track record recently, so I'd say this is good news. I just don't know enough about this to put it in my good category, but I'm leaning that way.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Brooklyn Review

We're post Star Wars on this blog and now it's time to dive into a movie that I actually saw long before Star Wars, I just never got around to writing a review of it because the month was so busy and I spent so much focus on my Star Wars reviews. But now that that time is past, it's finally time to dive into Brooklyn, a movie that was initially released at the Sundance Film Festival this year and has received huge buzz ever since, especially for actress Saoirse Ronan, an actress who makes me glad that I only have to type her name in this review instead of saying it, because apparently I've been pronouncing her name wrong all these years. Just go watch any of the recent nominations, like the Golden Globes, and watch as everyone pauses for like five seconds before announcing her name because they have no idea how to pronounce Saoirse. Apparently the way she says it is "Sersha" as in rhyming with "inertia." I have no idea how the Irish get that pronunciation from that spelling, but apparently it's Irish for "freedom," which is cool. Anyways, I've been a huge fan of the girl since Hanna in 2011, a very underrated film, and I was excited to see her in another award-worthy role as she was nominated for an Oscar in 2007 for her role in Atonement.

As far as the movie itself, I was slightly confused as to why this was getting so much awards buzz. It's a movie that many would call a "chick flick." An Oscar-nominated chick flick? What? Certainly there's more too it than that that has people's attention, right? Well yes. And no. I'll get to that in a bit, but first I want to talk about what a chick flick actually is, because I've often said that I'm not a huge fan of chick flicks. This statement has had people concerned and a lot of discussions recently have ensued that have led me to realize that there doesn't seem to be a consensus on what a chick flick actually is. The first definition that I've heard is that a chick flick is a movie that has a mostly female cast. I'll go right on record to say that I have zero problem with this type of movie. The second definition that I've heard is that a chick flick is a romantic comedy. I'm also usually fine with romantic comedies, although I usually call those rom coms, not chick flicks. The third definition is the definition that I've always used and that is that a chick flick is a romance drama. So is Brooklyn a chick flick? I don't know. It depends on your definition. Is it a romance drama? Absolutely. And honestly it's a pretty dang good one that proves you can make a good romance drama that everyone loves, not just females.

Why is it that I don't usually like romance dramas and what makes Brooklyn different? Let's first talk about that first question. I have no problem with a movie that has a romance in it. That's most movies. But when the whole movie is nothing but the romance story, it often gets very boring for me. Think of pretty much every Nicholas Sparks movie that has been made, like The Notebook, Dear John, or Safehaven. Guy meets girl. Guy and girl fall in love. Guy and girl experience some sort of falling out that make it so their romance almost doesn't happen. Yet despite whatever it was that troubled them or almost separated them, they somehow make up in the end and live happily ever after. That's a formula that works for many people and if you are one of them, then that's great. But for me, if I can see the end of the movie from a mile and a half away, that's often a problem. Sure, some movies are more about the journey than the end result, but many of the journeys in these romance dramas are just boring and repetitive and when you cap a boring journey with cookie-cutter ending, it's just not enough to please me. Sure, I'm not the target audience for these movies and if the target audience is pleased by simply watching a basic movie where two people fall in love, then that's fantastic. They did their job. But I know that there are movies out there that can please both the girl that wanted to see this movie as well as the guy who got dragged along with her.

Brooklyn is that movie! It's the type of movie where guys and girls, teenagers and adults can all enjoy and be completely captivated by. It's the movie that I will bring up every time I get into a disucssion about romance dramas and how there are ones that actually entertain me, despite the fact that most of them don't. As someone on IMDb said, Brooklyn is the movie that every Nicholas Sparks movie wishes it could be. What's the difference? Well, while this is still a movie that follows the romance drama formula, at its core it's not just about the romance. No, the romance story is not just a side dish or a sub-plot. It's definitely the main course. But when you walk out of this movie, the romance will not be the topic that's on your mind. You'll be reflecting on the journey you went on with this girl where she tried to figure out her place in the world. It's a story about a girl who didn't feel at place in her home country of Ireland and so she decided that she needed to move to America. Yet when she got to America, she was so alone. Life was rough. This was an emotional journey for this girl that I think we can all relate to. Regardless of our situation, change is hard and transition is often tough to deal with. How is she able to overcome this difficult situation and accept her new life in America? She gets set up with a school to go to in order to keep her occupied and then she finds a boy to fall in love with. Thus sets up our romance drama.

I was fully invested in this movie during this journey and a big part of that was the amazing performance by Saoirse Ronan. She totally sold this role and made you really feel for this girl who was feeling lost, both at home and even more so away from home. Then you feel happy for her as she finally seems to find her place in the world. I would've actually been satisfied with a happily ever after story just like that, but then about halfway through the movie something happens that completely blindsided me. I guess I should've seen it coming, but I didn't because I was so invested in the current story with Saoirse Ronan and her new guy. As I stated before, in most romance dramas we have the formula where guy meets girl, guy and girl fall in love, something happens that causes guy and girl to experience a falling out, then they make up and live happily ever after. Yes, Brooklyn started down this path, but it was already a whole lot deeper and more captivating that I didn't know exactly what to expect. I'm not going to tell you what does happen, but needless to say the second half of this movie becomes almost a totally different movie from the first half and I honestly had no idea how it was going to end. Like I said, I don't like it when I see the plot of the movie from a mile and a half away, which is why I really appreciated this movie for taking me in directions that I didn't expect.

I also can't end this review without praising the production quality of this movie. We're set in the 1950's and it definitely has the feel of the 1950's. It's not a movie that just puts on the mask and tries to trick you into being a movie set in the past. I actually felt like I was taken to the past for this movie. There were a lot of things that combined to give me this feel from the production design to the costume design to the makeup and hairstyles to the actors giving believable performance with believable accents. It was all done very well. Adding to this was gorgeous cinematography and a fantastic score. Saoirse Ronan also wasn't the only actress who gave a fantastic performance. I was captivated by the performance of Domnhall Gleeson as well. I'm not going to say what his character does, but he's an actor who has impressed me for a long time now. You all know him now as General Hux in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but he's also been in the Harry Potter franchise (Bill Weasley), he was in About Time, he was in Unbroken, he was in Ex Machina earlier this year, and in each movie he is in he has played a very different role and he's been able to submerse himself in each role to the point where you almost don't recognize that it's him. I love it when an actor can do that. One of these days he's going to get an Oscar nomination and I will be happy for him. But speaking of which, Saoirse Ronan is about to get her second Oscar nomination and I am very happy for her because this is well deserved.

Yes, this is a romance drama and even though I normally don't like romance dramas because they are boring and predictable, Brooklyn I did love. It's a story about a girl trying to find her place in the world and since we all have been in that situation in one form or another, I do think that this is a very relatable movie that those beyond the target audience for the genre can and will enjoy. So if you are a girl or guy who loves romance dramas, go see this movie. You'll love it. If you are a girl or a guy who doesn't typically love romance dramas, go see this movie. It's a wonderful character piece that you can relate to and enjoy as well. All signs point to multiple Oscar nominations for this movie and I am totally fine with this. In a year that has been jam packed with tons of fantastic movies, I'm not sure if it will make my top 5 or my top 10, but it's still very worth seeing. I have loved Saoirse Ronan since I saw the movie Hanna and I think she's done a great job in everything I've seen her in since. That fact that she's only 21 makes me very excited for her future because her career has already been really good. Make sure to keep an eye out for this girl if you haven't already. And go seek out Brooklyn. You'll be glad you did. My grade for Brooklyn is an 8/10.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review (SPOILERS)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens triumphantly graced theaters this weekend in the most grand and glorious way. Everyone knew this was going to be big. But we all wondered how big it would be. Well, the official answer is that it earned $247.9 million. In three days. Out of nearly 150 movies this year that have been released in at least 500 theaters, only six of them have earned more than that total in their entire theatrical run. The previous opening weekend record was Jurassic World with $208.8 million earlier this year. But that was in the Summer when people are known for rushing out to see a movie on opening weekend. That doesn't usually happen in December, which makes this opening for The Force Awakens even more impressive. Movies in December are known for opening smaller and holding really well throughout the holidays. Before this weekend, no December release had even opened higher than $100 million and there's been some pretty big movies that have been released in December. Like all the Lord of the Rings movies and all the Hobbit movies. This means that Avatar's all-time domestic total of $760.5 million is in deep trouble.

Why do I spend that whole first paragraph talking about only money? The first reason is that I personally find it fascinating. The second reason is that wanted to buy myself a bit of space. This is a SPOILER review. I will be ruining this movie for anyone who hasn't seen it. As such, I didn't want people who didn't read the full title of this post to accidentally come across information that they didn't want to see. Normally when I do a spoiler review, I first write a spoiler-free version. I didn't do that this time around. The marketing for this movie had done such a good job with this movie that I knew almost nothing about the movie going in. To complete this experience, I even avoided the internet as much as I could for most of last week leading up to this. I personally think that this is how this movie should be viewed. I don't even think people should read any reviews before seeing this, so I didn't write one. Plus, anything I would've said in this instance would've been at least a minor spoiler, so I just decided to wait things out a bit. But now that the opening weekend is behind us, it's time for me to pour out my soul regarding this film. If you read beyond this point, it's your own fault that you got this movie spoiled.

 Shortly before this movie was released, the YouTube channel Screen Junkies released a fascinating video called "What if Force Awakens Isn't Good?" I have it linked there for you to watch it if you haven't. In the video, Hal Rudnick had Kristian Harloff (The Schmoes Know) and Michael Barryte (Belated Media) on to talk about how they would react if The Force Awakens didn't live up to the hype. Also, YouTube reviewer Chris Stuckmann also released a video at the end of November that he titled "On Fanboying" where him and John Flickinger discuss the dangers of fanboying. Both of these videos combine to tell a message that I think is very important. I don't think it's good to praise a movie just because it is a part of a franchise that you love. If you're a Marvel fan, it's okay to admit that Iron Man 2 wasn't that good or that The Incredible Hulk is now irrelevant. If you are a DC fan, you better admit that Batman and Robin sucks and it's even fine if you point out that The Dark Knight Rises has a ton of plot holes that not even "Because I'm Batman!" is a good enough answer to. Don't praise a movie just because it's part of a franchise that you love. Yes, I was very excited for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but at the same time I went in with my critic hat on very tight. I wasn't just going to accept this movie into my heart because it was Star Wars. It needed to earn a place in my heart.

"But Adam, why don't you just go enjoy the movie? Stop being so critical!" No. I'm not going to stop being critical. I'm not going to just go enjoy a movie. Why do I say this? Because I've learned that when you are critical like this, when a movie comes around that actually earns your respect, that movie going experience is so much better. You search and search and search and you finally find that one movie that hits you in all the right places and it's such a beautiful moment. The other part of this is that it's okay for a movie to just be good. No black and white needed. There was so much hype with this movie that it would've been really tragic if people had started hating on it if it was simply good, not great. This movie didn't need to be on the same level as The Empire Strikes Back or A New Hope. There's been a lot of movies this year that have been just good. And I'm fine with. I say all of this just so you know that I'm not going to praise this movie just because it's Star Wars. There is such thing as a very bad Star Wars movie. There is such thing as an average Star Wars movie. There is also such thing as a great Star Wars movie. I just spent the last six weeks going into very great detail about all of this when I reviewed all six previous Star Wars movies. Go back and re-read those if you want. I'll even put links at the bottom of this review for each one. With all of that said, I'm here to tell you that Star Wars: The Force Awakens IS a great Star Wars movie. And now I'm going to tell you why.

Yes, if you couldn't tell, this is going to be a very long review. I do feel that introduction was very important and thus I wanted to take time with it. That said, since we are already on paragraph five and I haven't even started to talk about specifics, we're going to cut to the chase because I don't want this review to be 30 paragraphs long. In essence, what I spent six Star Wars reviews detailing and explaining was that the best Star Wars movies were ones that had two to three great characters that we dive really deep into with a lot of great side characters that make for a well-rounded movie. Yes, the action is fun and the space battles are great, but it's the character arcs and relationships that make for a great Star Wars movie. It's best if those character arcs span multiple movies and the relationships are deep and complex, because that is where we learn the most. The tricky thing about The Force Awakens is that I don't yet know the full picture. Unfortunately you won't be getting my review of Episode VIII next week or Episode IX the week after. But I do believe that we have the beginning of something great here. The Force Awakens has done EXACTLY what I wanted it to do. I wish I could spend a lot of time on the action and the side-characters, but instead I'm going to mainly focus this review around the two characters that completely stole the show for me. The Skywalker cousins.

What do I mean by the Skywalker cousins? One of them doesn't even have the last name Skywalker and the other isn't even officially confirmed as a Skywalker. But you know who I'm talking about. I'm talking about Kylo Ren and Rey. The grandchildren of Anakin Skywalker. Thus the Skywalker cousins as they both belong to the lineage of Anakin Skywalker. After watching the trailers, I immediately came to the conclusion that these two were siblings. My first thought was that they were Han and Leia's kids. But then analyzing things further I concluded that they were Luke's kids. I'm not going to dive deep into my reasons behind each theory, but needless to say things were pointing both ways. Turns out both ways were being pointed because Kylo Ren is in fact Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia, while Rey is the daughter of Luke Skywalker. Technically the latter hasn't been confirmed, but there are almost literally a thousand things in this movie that point to the fact that Rey is Luke's daughter. I'm not going to spend much time on those specifics. That's a conversation for another day, but with what they've given us, if they throw a huge curveball and reveal that she's NOT Luke's daughter, I actually might be upset.

Let's first talk about Kylo Ren. You know I love myself a great villain. In my review of The Empire Strikes Back, I dove deeply into what makes a great villain because Darth Vader is just that. He's a great villain. And do you know what, so is Kylo Ren. In fact, I'm going to be super bold and say that at this point I think Kylo Ren is a deeper, more fascinating villain than Darth Vader. Obviously the jury is still out because we haven't seen how his story arc finishes and we don't know too much about his past yet. But right now I absolutely love his character. He's so deep. He's so complex. He's very broken. Yet he's human. He's someone we can relate to and feel bad for. When push comes to shove, that's the most important aspect of a great villain. The humanity in the villain. Looking evil and acting evil is important, but if you don't add humanity to the villain, the highest a villain can get in my eyes is good. Marvel has had a lot of good villains in their cinematic universe. But their biggest problem is that they've only had one great villain. Loki. You may not always like or agree with what Loki does, but you feel bad for him. He's got one heck of an emotional backstory that gives him great motivation for what he does. He didn't just wake up one day and decide he wanted to kill all the good people. He has very fleshed out reasons for what he does that make perfect sense. He's truly a great villain.

Thus is the case with Kylo Ren. We don't know all the backstory for him and that's going to be very important moving forward, but we know that bad things happened. Luke actually listened to the instructions that Yoda gave in his dying breath to pass on the ways of the Jedi and as a part of that, he took it upon himself to train Ben Solo, the son of Luke's sister and Luke's best friend. But something went wrong and we know it has to do with a man that for now we are calling Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke seduced Ben somehow and something happened that was so bad that not only did it cause Han and Leia to separate, but the great Luke Skywalker, who had come so far when we left off in Return of the Jedi, completely gives up on everything and goes into hiding. Wow! I'm excited to learn more about what happened there, but as of now, we are immediately introduced to a man that is dark, mean, and ruthless. He's also very powerful with the dark side of the Force and skilled with his super awesome light saber. The opening scene in this movie on Jakku is pretty crazy. Kylo Ren, as he has called himself, is dead set on finding where Luke is hiding. The goal is to exterminate the Jedi for good. In doing so, he takes captive the super cool new rebel pilot named Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac, and gives the order to kill everyone else in that village.

The first that that really impressed me at the beginning of this movie was that this First Order is possibly the most terrifying group of villains in all of Star Wars. They don't mess around. They kill people when they are given the command. They burn villages to the ground. The Stormtroopers are actually super dangerous and hit targets. In fact, to create the army of Stormtroopers, the First Order kidnaps young children from their families and brainwashes them into being killing machines. In doing this, they just humanized all the Stormtroopers, who before were just random soldiers in awesome suits. From this we get the character of Fin, who decides that after going into battle for the first time, he doesn't want to do this and he escapes. The fact the we have a Stormtrooper who escapes the First Order and joins the good side is fascinating. We were only like 10 minutes into this movie and already I was sold. Then after we set the stage like this, we start to dive deeper into Kylo Ren and quickly we learn that he is a very broken man who is far from being fully trained as this big, bad villain like Darth Vader was. He doesn't have control. He throws tissy-fits in private when things down go his way. He's not as powerful as Vader. In fact, his biggest fear is that he will never be as powerful as Darth Vader. When he gets into what is probably his first light saber battle in a long time, he is really rusty.

Most interesting of all, he is being pulled in by the light side of the force. We learn rather quickly that he is the grandson of Darth Vader and the son of Han Solo. This is the aspect of his character that elevates him from a good villain to a great villain. Knowing that he his being pulled to the light side, he goes to his master, Supreme Leader Snoke, and is very open and honest. He doesn't want to go to the light, so he asks Snoke for his help to get him through this. What was it that turned Vader to the light side again? Family. We don't know if Luke told Kylo Ren the truth about Darth Vader's death, but nevertheless this family influence is affecting him. Specifically, his father is around. This leads to easily the most emotionally powerful scene in the movie. Leia has told Han to go bring their son back. So when Han goes to the enemy base with Fin and Chewie to rescue Rey, he takes a slight detour to confront his son, calling him by his actual name: Ben. The two meet and Ben takes off his helmet and pours out his soul to his father. What he told his father really hit me emotionally. Despite what happens next, I saw a human being at that moment. A human being that was troubled and broken. A human being that wanted someone to help him. But because he's so broken, he thinks that killing his father is what is going to end his troubled mind. So he does. Han Solo is no more. But yet he goes out in the most emotional way possible as he strokes the cheek of his son right before he falls.

All of this really hit me very hard. Yes, it was sad to see Han go, but I've accepted this as necessary. Not only is the movie a little too crowded with characters, but the death of Han Solo at the hands of his own son gives the rest of the trilogy the emotional impact to carry forward. This takes this beyond the basic story of we need to stop this evil villain, it makes it personal. Leia's lost the man she loved. Rey and Fin have lost their mentor. Chewie has lost his best friend. Luke has lost his best friend. We as an audience have lost a character who has been near and dear to our hearts for nearly 40 years for some people. For me it's been at least 20 years of emotional connection to Han. Is Kylo Ren redeemable? Star Wars has always been about the fight between good versus evil and the struggles we all have with the dark side of humanity. Many will say that human kind is inherently good. But yet we all get tempted and swayed by the forces of evil. Some of us hold strong. Others sadly give in. Ben Solo gave in and became Kylo Ren. But he obviously still has some good in him. Can he be rescued? If he's going to be rescued, our heroes are going to need to exercise some powerful forgiveness. Can they do it? Should they do it? Can we as an audience forgive this man who has killed someone we've all loved for a long time? Should we? Or are we justified in wanting this man to be die a horrible, painful death?

See what I mean? This is what Star Wars is all about and I'm so excited to see where they take this. I want to put in the DVD for Episode VIII next week, but since that is not an option, I will instead take advantage of this opportunity to ponder on these deep, powerful questions over the next year and a half. And it's for these very reasons that I will be upset if Rey is not Luke's daughter. She has to be. She has seen this man kill her friend right in front of her. Once she trains up to become a powerful Jedi, if she has no connection to this man, she will have no problem striking him down and the emotion will be gone. But once Luke tells her that he is her father and she makes the connection that this is her cousin, this will make her troubled as to what she needs to do. Because it will be her facing him. After all, she is our main character. There are two strong moments in this movie that have already started to build up to this emotional confrontation. The first is when he first captures her. She is accusing him of being this faceless monster hiding behind a mask when out of nowhere he just takes his mask off. He's a man. He's an ordinary man. That takes her by surprise and I think will effect her in the future. Then when the battle at the end, he gives the offer that he could train her. Personally I think at this point he knows who she is and that she's his cousin. Darth Vader felt this family connection at the end of The Empire Strikes Back and gave Luke a similar offer. Join me. And for the record, she's not Han and Leia's daughter. That was obvious to me. There were also so many parallels to her and Luke. I'm not going to go into them, but they're there.

Hollywood is always on the search for strong female characters and, as I've said in my reviews of the original trilogy, they had one in Leia starting back in 1977. Well these Skywalker girls are quite the breed because Rey is so much like her aunt Leia that it's pretty awesome. Her grandma Padme also had some similar qualities if you examine the ideas behind the character of Padme that weren't fully taken advantage of with the poor writing and direction by Lucas. But still, it's the principle that counts. These Skywalker girls are boss and while Kylo Ren is my favorite character from this movie, I really, really love Rey. Personally I think she's been abandoned by her father Luke because Kylo Ren killed Luke's wife and Rey's mother. Such an event would not only take a toll on Luke because he has failed training the boy, but he's lost someone he loved and he doesn't feel he could be a good enough father. But we shall see what actually was the case. I hope it's something good like that. But either way, Rey has been left on this desert planet and has learned to fend for herself, defend herself, and even fly whatever ship is in front of her. And it's all very believable. Major kudos to Daisy Ridley for pulling off this character. Daisy is truly what I'd call a revelation. Adam Driver, who plays Kylo Ren, is someone who I already knew and loved as an actor, so I knew he could do this. But Daisy Ridley literally comes from nowhere. I don't know how they found her, but I'm glad they did.

When it comes to the character of Rey, of course I need to talk about her abilities with the Force because it's quite amazing. Up to this point, most characters have to be taught how to use the Force. At the beginning of this movie, she doesn't even know that the Force is real. It's all mythical and legendary in her mind. Yet she is kinda forced into this adventure after taking in the adorable robot BB8 and later running into the Stormtrooper fugitive that is Fin. Before she knows it, she is flying the Millennium Falcon like a boss, running into Han Solo, and being told that the Force and the Jedi are real. She's later told by this weird alien creature Maz Katana (who I really like) that she needs to embrace everything and move forward. This coming after she just touched her father's light saber and received a partial vision of what happened in the past that freaked her out. So she's introduced to it, but doesn't want to use it. Until she is captured by Kylo Ren. He tries to interrogate her with the Force like he did with Poe earlier, but it backfires on him. He leaves to talk to Snoke and in that Rey decides that she doesn't want to just sit there, so she experiments with her powers and convinces James Bond to release her. Yes, that Stormtrooper is played by Daniel Craig, which is awesome. Her figuring out the Force on her own I think is great. Then it all accumulates in the scene where Kylo has just injured Fin and is trying to take back the light saber when he's overpowered by Rey as Luke's light saber goes to her instead. Boss!

Yes, I loved this movie. And it's because of these two characters. When they fight for the first time at the end after Rey steals the light saber, that is fantastic. That's one of the best light saber fights in all of Star Wars. There's so much raw emotion with both characters and that shows. It's not a choreographed dance where they hit blades. It's a fight. Not only can Rey hold her own and is probably a decent fighter in the first place, but she is also fighting with double the emotion that not only did this man kill Han Solo, but he also just badly injured her good friend Fin. I'm excited to see where this goes. I look forward to Luke being on the other side of an "I am your father" speech. I'm fine with Luke barely being in this movie, by the way. That final shot with him and Rey was such a great look that told enough. When it comes to our old cast of characters, this is where Harrison Ford got his time to shine as he was given more depth in trying to turn his son back. Yet he was also as funny as heck. His banter with Chewie was amazing and so was his banter with Fin and Rey. But next movie will be Mark Hamill's movie. And by the way, if you ever need more confirmation that Mark Hamill can still act, go look up his episode of Criminal Minds and watch that. Then go look up his two episodes in CW's The Flash where he reprises his role as the trickster. He's still got it. And I really look forward to him and Rey in the next movie.

Like I said, this is a really long review. But all my Star Wars reviews have been. It's a franchise that means a lot to me and it wanted to do it justice and I can't do it justice in just five or six paragraphs. We've now equaled my longest review so far and yet there is still a whole ton that I want to say. But I'm not going to say it. In my opinion, this is a lot like my review of The Empire Strikes Back where I spent most of the time talking about Luke and Darth Vader. I feel comfortable with that. This movie was all about Kylo Ren and Rey and so I feel comfortable leaving it at that. But just let me quickly point out that this is a well-rounded movie. As I said earlier, the best Star Wars movies are the ones that dove deeply into two or three characters and still had a lot of great side characters and side stories to make it an overall success. That's what happens here. There is so much fun going on in this movie. I love Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron. I love John Boyega as Fin. I love BB8. I love how C-3PO, R2-D2, Leia, and Chewie are used. I wish I could spend a paragraph on all of them. And there's probably others I'm forgetting. I did like Domnhall Gleeson as General Hux, yet I was disappointed in Captain Phasma and Supreme Leader Snoke. However, I do realize we have two more movies to dive into them, so I hope we do. Can I quickly thrown in how cool it would be if Snoke was actually Darth Plagueis? The only thing I didn't like in this movie was Starkiller Base. Can we drop this whole Death Star storyline, Star Wars? Once was great. Twice was too much. Three times was ridiculous. But comparatively that's a small complaint. I still think Star Wars: The Force Awakens is well worth a 10/10.

As promised earlier, here are my reviews of the other six movies:
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars
The Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Return of the Jedi Review

I'm super excited that I am now giving you my review for the final movie in the original Star Wars trilogy. That means that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is right around the corner. The Force Awakens not only ushers in a brand new era of Star Wars, but it also coincidentally is the beginning of a brand new chapter in my personal life. But that's a discussion for another day. Now is the time for our epic conclusion to this epic trilogy. If you haven't already, make sure to check out my reviews of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. It's been a lot of fun for me to dive deep into all of these movies these past six weeks and I really hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. It's given me a time to seriously reflect on this great series and what I honestly feel about each individual movie. I've also enjoyed putting on my critic hat this time around as I've watched the movies so that I can put my honest feelings into words. As I've done so, I've noticed that my opinions of these movies have changed over time. Certain elements worked very well for 10-year-old Adam that don't work quite as well for 26-year-old Adam and vice-versa. Last week I explained to you why The Empire Strikes Back has gotten better over time. This week I'm here to explain the opposite, because yes, Return of the Jedi is a bit of a step down from the previous two movies.

Growing up, this one was always my favorite of the trilogy. As I look back, this is not surprising at all. George Lucas has stated that when he originally made Star Wars, his target audience was a much younger audience, specifically 12-year-old boys. Yet he ended up creating a universe that appealed to a much broader audience. For The Empire Strikes Back, a lot of people stepped in to help him with this universe and at the time he was much more willing to listen as he didn't direct the movie or write the screenplay. I'm sure he still had a huge say in what happened, but compared to the other five movies, his stamp is less present. What resulted was a simple, yet deep movie that I think resonates a lot more with adults than kids. Yes, I still enjoyed the movie as a kid, but it felt a lot more dark and incomplete. I didn't fully understand the deep themes or appreciate the relationships and well-developed character arcs. In general, it's safe to say that I didn't appreciate movies as much as I do now. Thus when we put in Return of the Jedi, I was much more entertained because this is the chapter that has a lot more action from start to finish. It doesn't rely as much on deep themes or complex relationships. It also has a happy ending. It was perfect for a kid like me. Yet that's the thing. As I watched this time around, I realized that Return of the Jedi does a much better job at fulfilling Lucas' original goal of making a fun movie for 12-year-old boys.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that this is a bad movie or is a movie only for 12-year-old boys. I'm just saying that with The Empire Strikes Back there was a lot of stuff that I appreciate a lot more as an adult and a fan of film that I realize is less apparent in Return of the Jedi. This is a much safer film that doesn't dive as deep as The Empire Strikes Back in terms of story, themes, and characters, deciding to focus instead on action and adventure. As a kid, I had no problem with this. I just enjoyed watching a fun movie. As an adult, I still like sitting down and watching fun movies, which is why I still really like this movie, but I also have learned to love analyzing and critiquing movies. It's fun to dive deep and pick movies apart, discussing which elements worked and which didn't. In writing reviews, my number one rule is to be completely honest with both myself and my audience, regardless of whether or not that puts me with the flow or against it. All of this makes it even that much more rewarding when I do run into a perfect movie or a near perfect movie such as The Empire Strikes Back. So yes, I will be honest here. I have to be honest. No, it's not fair to expect every movie to be at the level of The Empire Strikes Back, but Return of the Jedi does have it's fair share of flaws and I'm going to talk about those along with the good elements.

Once again following the pattern set by its two predecessors, the plot of Return of the Jedi is a very simple one and can be divided into three main parts. With this review, we're going to go through chronologically instead of jumping around a bit like I did with The Empire Strikes Back. That means we get to start with Jabba's Palace, which I think is actually a pretty fantastic introduction. For two movies now, we've referred to this mysterious character named Jabba. Don't let George Lucas deceive you. Jabba does NOT show up in the first Star Wars movie. Adding that scene ruined the build-up. It's better that we don't know Jabba. All we know is that he's not someone you want to get mad. When we finally introduce him, it's pretty great. The master plan by Luke, Leia, and Lando is to send the droids first. C-3PO is terrified. He knocks on the door and quickly tries to get out of it by saying no one answered. Yet R2 is persistent. He has a message to relay and when R2 is told to relay a message, he doesn't give up until the message is relayed. So the doors open and R2 bravely gets them directly to Jabba. Then we finally see Jabba and even brave, little R2 becomes terrified and lets out his scared beeps. After being so brave in getting them there, he actually hesitates in giving the message, which is a warning from Luke that he's a Jedi Knight and is coming to negotiate.

In my review of The Empire Strikes Back, I dove pretty deep into what makes a great villain. I'm not going to rehash that here, but I will say that Jabba is a pretty dang good villain. He lacks the attributes needed to make him a great villain like Darth Vader, but in this case he doesn't need to be great because he's just there to start our movie off with a bang and in that he succeeds. First off, his look is disgusting. In a good way, of course. You see him and are just repulsed. He's a big nasty, slug-like character with a lot of power and influence. Every creature there in his little palace is there to serve him. If they make Jabba mad, they quickly turn into entertainment for Jabba because he loves watching people die. And he probably has one of the best laughs in movie history that just makes him sound like a scumbag. Added to that is the fact that the guy has no soul and no heart. Carbonite Han was a great decoration for him. Scumbag bounty hunters are his favorite. You make him mad, you end up in the little pit with that monster that'll eat you. Because of this disgusting atmosphere around him, he also attracts a bunch of weird, creepy creatures and a few odd humans. This makes our rescue mission to save Han pretty great.

Speaking of rescue mission, I was at first going to criticize this plan and execution. Luke is now trained with the force and a light saber. He could've easily just walked into the place, killed everyone in his path and saved Han. Easy. But he doesn't. Why the heck not? Why hide his light saber in R2? Why use the force to get to Jabba and then not use it after he gets there? But then it hit me. This is the first sign that Luke has started to become a seasoned Jedi. Compare this to the whiny, impatient kid at the start of the first movie and we see one of the greatest character arcs that I've ever seen in any movie trilogy. Obviously he cares about his friends, yet instead of impatiently running into the place and causing immediate destruction like Anakin did in Attack of the Clones when he was out to save his mom, Luke exercises a lot of patience. He walks into the place and kindly offers to make a deal with Jabba, giving Jabba plenty of chances to make things right. He doesn't attack until the very last moment when him and his friends are about to be thrown into the mouth of that scary sand creature thing that will slowly digest you over the course of a thousand years. Yeah, this could be seen as a ploy to make the movie suspenseful by unrealistically dragging things out, but I actually think this is a great way to showcase the maturity of Luke. More about Luke later when I talk about the finale of this movie.

Before I move on from Jabba's palace, there's a couple of things that I need to address. The first of this is slave Leia. As I've emphasized in the other two movies from this trilogy, Leia is no damsel in distress. In fact, she's a very strong female character who definitely doesn't need a ton of help from others. In fact, she's leading the way in most of her scenes when it comes to the fights. So why turn around and sexualize her by putting her in this skimpy slave outfit? Was this necessary? No. The movie could've done without it. However, I do think this is a bit different than what they did with Padme in Attack of the Clones. In that movie, Padme makes the personal decision to wear these tight, revealing outfits and the movie makes the dumb decision to randomly cut off half of one of her outfits for no apparent reason other than to show more skin. That was a dumb move by the movie. Leia, on the other hand, didn't choose her outfit. And it's not handled in a dumb way. In fact, if anything it reflects more on the scumbag that is Jabba that he would take this strong female character and force her into this with no remorse. This, of course, backfires in a big way and subsequently adds to the character of Leia when she turns around and chokes Jabba to death. No, she doesn't need Luke to save her with his light saber or Han to save her with his blaster. Despite being chained up to Jabba while being forced to wear almost nothing right in front of the people that she cares about, she takes matters into her own hands and saves the day. You go Leia!

I did say I had a couple of things to address and since I've already spent longer than I initially intended on this first act, I'm going to keep things simple. Boba Fett gets killed in the dumbest way. So much more they could've done with him, which is a shame. There. That's it. Now it's time to transition to the second act, which is the act that has the most flaws in it. But speaking of transitions, I need to first address the important transition between these two acts and that is Luke going to Dagobah to meet Yoda. I didn't talk as much about Yoda in my last review as I wanted to and I won't dive into him too deeply into this one, but nevertheless he stands as one of the greatest characters in this trilogy. The advice he gives is not only pertinent to Luke, but us pertinent to everyone.  He has the perfect balance between humor and seriousness. The way he talks is classic. His knowledge of the force is so strong, that he doesn't need a light saber. And the puppetry used is perfect. Great character. And yes, that's another bash on the prequels. They got Yoda wrong. Anywho, Luke gets to Yoda to continue his training and Yoda decides to die. This is very sad. It gets me every time. Yet in his dying words, he states three important things. First, Darth Vader is Luke's father and Luke needs to face him again. Second, Luke needs to teach others the way of the force. Third, Luke has a twin sister.

Finally we move to this second act. This is where things could've really picked up, building towards the great finale. Yet this is where things slow down. Remember how I spent the first three paragraphs explaining why I think that this is a movie that works more for kids than adults? This is where that is evident. First off, I do have to admit that the story is recycled. Remember how Star Wars was a movie where the evil empire builds this Death Star in order to easily destroy the rebel alliance? Yeah, our squadron of heroes came and destroyed that. As epic and fun as that was, this universe that was created is so huge. There so many different things that could be done that would make for a fascinating ending to the trilogy. Yet we pick the same exact story as the first movie? Empire builds Death Star. Rebels destroy Death Star. Did we need to do that again? I give a lot of points to Lucas for his high level of creativity with this universe. Yet I do have to admit that he loses a few points here. I don't need to describe the specifics of the plot, but nevertheless because of this new Death Star, our heroes gather on the Forest Moon of Endor in order to enable them to destroy the Death Star while our new squadron led by Lando go to attack this new Death Star.

This sequence on the Moon of Endor starts out pretty great. We have stormtroopers on the moon, making things very complicated. We get these chase sequences between the stormtroopers and Luke and Leia on these bike things. In addition to stormtroopers, the Empire sends more of the coolest weapon they have, the AT-AT Walkers. Those things are boss. This could lead to a duel that is super fun and epic. Then we get the introduction of the most controversial creature that kinda derail things. The Ewoks. These things divide Star Wars fans like none other. A lot of people hate them and a lot of people love them. Where do I lie? Right in the dead center. I don't hate the Ewoks. I think they are fun, cute, cuddly characters. I would love to own a tame Ewok. They are like living, over-sized teddy bears. But this movie spends way too much time with the Ewoks and there are way too many of them. Having an Ewok or two show up would be great. Having a whole colony of them was overkill. And the whole sequence where our main characters get captured by the Ewoks, taken to their colony, and almost prepared for dinner is actually pretty boring. Imagine for a second if Ewoks were replaced with Wookies. Running into a colony of Wookies would be amazing. Then using the Wookies to help fight for them would be great. I want to see a real Wookie battle in Star Wars and that's something that we've never really had outside a brief, unsatisfying minute or two of CGI Wookies in Revenge of the Sith.

The overuse of the Ewoks is my main argument for why this is a movie that seems like it's more geared towards kids than adults. They could've done something epic with this battle, instead George Lucas decided to create a cute, fun group of characters for the kids to love instead of doing something much more epic. The other reason why I say this doesn't work as well is that they don't dive very deep into the relationships. The Empire Strikes Back establishes several great, complex relationships that they could've built off in Return of the Jedi, but they don't. They're not cringe-worthy, of course. It's nothing like Anakin and Padme in Attack of the Clones that literally made me want to fast-forward the movie. But coming off of near perfection in The Empire Strikes Back, the lack of depth is a bit disappointing. Take Lando, for example. Last time Han saw him, he was turning Han over to Vader. Shouldn't a strong personality like Han be at least a little upset next time he sees Lando? Then we have Han and Leia. Stuff almost happens here. Han is clearly jealous of Luke when he's certain Leia is in love with him. There could've been some great tension between the two like in Empire, but instead Jedi mainly avoids it. They're in love now. No tension needed anymore, right George? Speaking of Luke and Leia, Luke drops a huge bomb on her. They're brother and sister and Darth Vader is their father. This could've broken Leia, troubling her for the rest of the movie. But no. She just accepts it like she's known all her life, which is weird because she just made out with Luke not too long before.

Like I said, very little depth to this movie. Ewoks playing a big role. No tension. No drama. Our biggest sense of danger comes with wondering if our main characters are going to be eaten alive by a bunch of cute teddy bears. This isn't Star Wars like it should be. And for a while I was wondering if I was going to give this a much lower grade than I initially thought I would. But then after a fun first act and an underwhelming second act, the final act gets back to what Star Wars should be. Deep. Thought-provoking. Intense. What saves Jedi is what I spent most of my Empire review talking about. Darth Vader and Luke. Luke quickly realizes that going to the moon of Endor has jeopardized this mission because Vader can sense him and so Luke decides to do what Yoda told him to do and that is face Vader. Now first off, a few things I don't completely understand. What's the logic behind force detection? Why is Vader always able to detect Luke, but not Leia? Does it have to do with him training with the force? Vader can't detect him until Luke activates his force usage? But Leia sensed Luke in the second one. What's the deal with that? Shouldn't that make Vader be able to sense her? But after Yoda and Obi-Wan revealed to Luke that Leia is his sister, then Vader can detect her? Does George Lucas even know the answer to this or is it all just random? Because when George revisited this in the prequels he messed it up in all sorts of freaky, weird ways. Need I mention young Anakin and midi-chlorians?

The other thing I realized I don't misunderstand is the motivations of the Emperor and his methodologies. Why is he so intent on Luke joining him? And has just telling trained Jedi that they are now his apprentice worked in the past? It seems like it would take a very weak mind to give into things so easily and while Luke hasn't quite arrived, he's far from weak at this point. Yet after only like 5 minutes of an attempted persuasion, the Emperor just gives up so easily and decides to kill him? Okay. He looks sinister and crazy, his talk is super creepy, and he can shoot people with lightning, so I'll give him a pass as a good villain. But not a great one. Speaking of our great villain in this movie, we definitely know Darth Vader's motivation for wanting to turn Luke. And it's pretty rock solid motivation. Luke is his son. He loves him. Despite him being crazy and sinister, he yearns for this relationship and he's doing his best to convince Luke, but it's not working. But then he says something that hits a nerve with Luke and in my opinion is the turning point in this relationship. Vader finally is able to sense Leia and threatens Luke that if he won't turn to the dark side, maybe she will. Luke cares deeply about his sister and if there is one thing you don't do, you don't threaten to harm or turn his sister. Luke then completely unleashes and attacks Darth Vader with a level of pure, raw emotion that you don't see at any other point in the Star Wars saga.

It would've been great to see this level of depth and emotion with our other characters, but at least we got to see it with Vader and Luke and the way this wraps up is absolutely beautiful. After what I call the best light saber duel in all of Star Wars because of this level of raw emotion, Luke strikes down Vader and is ready to kill him for threatening his sister. This is no small feat. Yes, Vader is older. But he's proven in the last two movies to be a pretty dang good warrior still. After this, the Emperor foolishly interrupts. If he really wanted Luke to turn to the dark side by killing Vader, he should've just kept his mouth shut because Luke might've actually killed Vader. But the Emperor speaks out his praise and this is the moment where I feel Luke officially arrives as a Jedi Knight. He's been troubled, he's been tempted, he's be tried, and he almost breaks, but then he looks at the situation and turns off his light saber. He isn't going through with it. So then the Emperor shocks him like no other with the intent to murder him. This is where Vader arrives. And it's not forced one bit. I attribute this to Leia. To me, I feel like Vader saw how much Luke cared for his sister. Seeing that high level of love followed by Luke's sacrifice makes Vader realize that none of this dark side stuff is worth it. He has a choice to make as he watches the Emperor killing Luke and he chooses his children over the Emperor, sacrificing his own life to save his son.

Wow! After seeing a fun beginning and mediocre middle, I was ready to downgrade this movie, but this finale really got to me. So much emotion. So much depth. This is Star Wars. The final interaction between Luke and his father, who I'll now call Anakin is touching. Anakin asks Luke to take off his mask so he can see him with his actual eyes and I nearly lost it. Such a beautiful scene. Such a high level of triumph. Luke then escapes from the Death Star before Lando blows it up and gives his father a proper Jedi burial. A burial that only Luke witnesses, which is something that I never caught until Chris Stukmann pointed it out to me in his Return of the Jedi review. I think I'll be talking more about this in my Force Awakens review, because based on the trailers, I think J.J. Abrams will be better at picking up on all these small little details than George Lucas himself was. But anywho, Return of the Jedi ends with two very powerful scenes, both of which George annoyingly changed. The first is seeing OLD Anakin up in the sky next to Obi-Wan and Yoda. The later addition of Hayden Christensen was offensive to me and made no sense. Neither did taking away the Yub-Yub song, which is the second powerful scene. I absolutely love the Yub-Yub song. It might be my favorite Star Wars song. I've always hated how George took that away. And it never made sense to show the whole galaxy celebrating. Seeing this small group of rebels celebrating their victory makes a lot more sense.

I think this is now paragraph 16, which makes this the longest Star Wars review yet. If you've made it this far, having read the whole thing, congratulations. You win major points. And if you've read every word of all six of these reviews that I could now probably put together in one decent-sized book, give your self even more points. I've had a ton of fun with this series of reviews and I'm super excited for this to come to an end with me reviewing The Force Awakens. In wrapping this up, this really is one of the best trilogies of all time. Yes, Return of the Jedi is a little under-whelming when compared to The Empire Strikes Back as it focuses on creating a fun adventure for teenage kids instead of giving us a deep, thought-provoking finale as shown by the lack of depth in most of the relationships and the decision to spend way too much time with the Ewoks, but any flaws are made up for in part by an incredible finale with Luke and Darth Vader. Luke becoming a Jedi Knight and Darth Vader becoming Anakin once again. I have a feeling that The Force Awakens is going to take this idea and run with it and I'm stoked, because it's fantastic. But we'll get to that later. Now it's time to grade Return of the Jedi. Halfway through I thought I was going to give it a 7.5 or 8. But that ending took it up a notch and now my final grade is a 9/10.