Archives for posts with tag: 2015

 

Score: 4.0 out of 5

(This review is NOT spoiler free!!!)

Here we are, the big one. I’ve been thinking about writing this review for a few months now, ever since we started this blog. To be honest I haven’t looked forward to writing this one because it’s such a massive series, one that I’ve followed since I was a child. How do you even begin to write about something like that? How do you organize your thoughts? Regardless, for better or worse, here we are.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), directed splendidly by J.J. Abrams,  is the seventh entry into the film series created by George Lucas way back in the 70’s. It’s hard to imagine a individual series as successful or popular as Star Wars. Star Wars has spawned countless video games, tv shows, documentaries, board games, clothing lines, novels, etc. You get the picture, the series is massive! Needless to say, the pressure was on when it came to making this film. After the abominations that were Episodes I-III, all I hoped for was a decent movie that opened the series up again for future development. I didn’t expect anything too risky or innovative by any means. I’m happy to report that the film blew my expectations away! This movie was so good that I went to see it twice in the same week and it was even better the second time around.

One of the first things that immediately stands out in this movie is the great script, something the prequel trilogy did not have. Let’s face it, no actor in the world could have made some of the lines in episodes I-III work. When you compound that with having wooden/monotone Hayden Christenson as your lead, you’re gonna have a bad time. Luckily the team that put the script together in this newest film did a great job. There was the right amount of fan service with plenty of clever quips and references and it was also the funniest Star Wars movie yet. At some points it almost even felt like it was becoming too comedic like in that later scene with Fin and Captain Phasma but luckily they never really went overboard with it. One thing that did bother me a tad was the amount of moments that felt like pure exposition. Specifically I noticed this in the moments where Kylo Ren and General Hux were talking to Snoke. These dark side conference calls felt like it was just the bad guys monologuing and outlining their plan in order for us to know what they’re doing. I made a point of focusing on these moments more the second time around and they didn’t bother me as much but I still noticed it. Given how sharp the writing was, I’m willing to give these small moments a pass because I’m really just nitpicking here. Han sounded like classic Han (“Move, ball.”), Leia sounded like Leia, and Chewbacca sounded like Chewbacca. None of the heroes we know and love were ruined or said anything that was out of character. As for the new characters, they have their own eccentricities and personalities that felt fresh.

Getting back to the acting, the casting here was spot on. A large part of why the original trilogy is far superior to the prequel trilogy is that Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill were all relatively unknown actors when they were cast so they WERE Han Solo, Leia, and Luke Skywalker. Their acting was believable. I hate to beat a dead horse here but the prequel trilogy has incredibly cheesy dialogue and bad delivery which completely breaks immersion and the authentic feel of the original trilogy. Don’t even get me started on the whole, “I hate sand” debacle! Anyway, this new movie is a return to form and whoever was in charge of casting deserves a bonus.

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I don’t know where they dug up Daisy Ridley but she is a straight up gem! Daisy plays the badass female lead, Rey. I’ll get more into characters later but I love the fact that Rey, a woman, is the main protagonist here and yeah, she’s pretty, but she is never sexualized or simplified or inferior. Rey is a well written character who everyone is dying to know more about and she’s a star not just in the context of the film but outside of it because now little girls around the world have a character who they can identify with and look up to and she bucks the trend of what a female character traditionally is in these types of films.

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John Boyega also knocks it out of the park as FN-2187, better known as Finn. I actually watched Boyega’s acting debut on the big screen back when my cousin gifted me passes to a special screening of Attack the Block (2011). I was pleasantly surprised with both the film and Boyega, who certainly stole the show. In the years between then and now I’ve occasionally re-watched Attack the Block found myself wondering if he’d ever make it big or if I’d ever see him again. When I saw his face pop up in the initial trailer for the new Star Wars, I was pumped! He’s a talented and relatively fresh actor who certainly has the ability to fill his big role. He was probably the most innocent and funny character in this movie and he clearly has the heart of a hero. I have high hopes for Finn in the future! I will say that his American accent threw me off the entire first showing because I only ever knew him as having a thick British accent but I got used to it. The same way Ridley is a hero young girls can look up to, Boyega is a hero that young black kids can look up to. I won’t jump into a sociological tirade because I could go on for days but we all heard of the outcry from a certain ignorant portion of the population regarding the “impossibility” of a black stormtrooper. That should be enough right there to show you that there was a need for a character like Finn. Sure, Star Wars had Lando Calrissian and Mace Windu in the past but neither of those two ever took center stage the way Finn did. And to those people out there hating on Finn I say: 1. Brush up on your Star Wars lore because the Empire stopped using clones for their army way before the destruction of the first Death Star 2. Shut the hell up.

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OSCAR FREAKING ISAAC, this is my dude right here! It’s really a toss up as to who my favorite new character is. On some days I might give it to Rey but on most days I’d have to go with Poe Dameron, the best fighter pilot in the Resistance. I’m very biased here because unlike the other new main stars, I’ve seen many of Isaac’s previous roles and I’ve been a fan of every single one. I liked the guy in Drive (2011), he really caught my attention in Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), and by the time A Most Violent Year (2014) and Ex Machina (2015) came around, I was completely sold. Oscar Isaac is one of my favorite actors given his role selection and he kills it as Poe. There will never be another Han Solo but Poe Dameron gives me the most Han Solo vibes of anyone besides the man himself. Poe has the swagger, the charisma, (had) the leather jacket, the piloting abilities, and the one-liners that have me thinking Han Solo 2.0. Not to mention he’s latino! Maybe that makes me more biased but he’s definitely tied for #1 coolest Guatemalan I know (shout-out to Mario Briones).

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Adam Driver as the new red saber wielding bad guy, Kylo Ren, is certainly the most controversial of all the additions. Part of the complaints are that Kylo Ren acts like a spoiled child in some scenes and part of it has to do with his appearance. I’ll get into that former part a bit later but I’ll get the latter part out of the way here. I agree that the reveal of Kylo’s appearance could’ve been handled a bit better. There was a palpably awkward moment in the theater when Kylo first took off his helmet for the first time because we all knew by then that he was Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia. Everyone in the crowd had expectations as to what he would look like and when he took off his helmet he just didn’t look like what anyone was expecting. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily but it could’ve been done way better. I agree that Kylo looks nothing like Han or Leia but I think he has similarities in likeness to a young Darth Vader aka Hayden Christenson, which is good enough for me. I’ve pictures of Driver with what looks like a trademark goatee and mustache and I would’ve much preferred if they kept that look because he looks a bit more sinister and less like a smooth faced tantrum-thrower. Anywho, I’ve read nothing but great things about his acting abilities and he showcased them well here. His character had some critical moments of internal struggle in the film and Driver handled it very well! With the wrong actor the lines he had to deliver and the pain he had to show could’ve come off as really cheesy but he executed it well. He’s what I wish Anakin Skywalker had been in Episode III. Driver also certainly nails the voice! His deep voice fits perfectly as the villain.

Those are the only new additions I wanted to branch out and discuss because I feel like they were the most important and most talked about. Besides them there were obviously others that are worth a mention at least. Domhnall Gleeson takes over the new Governor Tarkin role as General Hux. I’ve been a fan of Gleeson’s previous roles but here there simply wasn’t enough of him to really say much. His speech to his army before the first firing of the Starkiller weapon was some of the best acting in the movie though and it bought him a pass in my book. Lupita Nyong’o is also in the movie but this was possibly the biggest let down for me. Lupita has all the acting ability in the world and she has a KILLER aesthetic for making a badass Jedi or Sith or something. Instead they used Lupita as the cgi Maz Kanata. Maz is a cool character, she’s supposed to be like the new Yoda or something, but it feels like a criminal underutilization of Lupita’s talents. They could’ve used anyone’s voice for Maz! Save Lupita for something special!

Before jumping in to discussing my thoughts on the events of the film, I want to finish off praising the film’s other aspects. The movie predictably had a perfect score given it was the master John Williams in charge. If anything I think we could’ve used a little more innovation in this area. Again, this just more nitpicking because the classic star wars music was just as fun to listen to today as it has been in every other movie. Williams also brings some solid new sounds. Moving on, the cinematography was also fantastic! This wasn’t the most gorgeous movie of the year by any means but the set pieces were great. The landscape views of Jakku and Takodana were beautiful. If you know me or have at least read some of my other reviews you’ll know I’m a big fan of the tracking shot. There was a phenomenal tracking shot here where Poe takes on about five or six tie fighters that I felt captured the thrill of being a pilot better than any other Star Wars scene before. Back tracking a little bit, I want to say a little more about the locations in this movie. As I was saying, Jakku and Takodana were cool. There were a few more locations that were great as well but overall if you think about it the locations were a bit too familiar. Starkiller Base was essentially Hoth, Jakku was obviously reminiscent of Tatooine, and Takodana was reminiscent of Endor or any other lush, green planet. This wasn’t extremely bothersome but it was something that I was very conscious off both times I watched the movie.

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Now let us get to the heart of the thing here, what we all came for, the STORY! I loved the story of this new Star Wars but it wasn’t perfect.

First of all, let me say that I was disappointed by how familiar the story felt. If you look at the story broadly you’ll notice it is almost step for step the same thing as A New Hope (1977). You have the young force-sensitive prodigy from a desert planet who gets caught in an intergalactic struggle against an Empire-like entity who wields a planet destroying weapon. I said before that I expected them to stay sort of safe with this one and just reintroduce us to the series but that’s different than straight up copying the plot of the original movie. That was a bit lazy in my eyes.

One of my biggest story complaints was HOW THE HELL did Leia and the rest of the Resistance STAY the Resistance?! If you backtrack to Return of the Jedi (1983), the entire point of the movie is that the evil of the Empire is defeated. The Emperor is killed, Darth Vader finds redemption in his dying moments, and the rebels party like crazy with the Ewoks because they did the impossible. We don’t know yet what officially happened in the time between A New Hope and this movie. Since Disney took over the series they’ve undone a bunch of the previously canon storylines. I know there is going to be a series of books that bridges the story between A New Hope and The Force Awakens but until then I’m left wondering how the rebels screwed up so bad that they’re still the rebels. How terribly did they mess things up that with Darth Vader and the Emperor out of the picture, Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia, and the rest of their army still couldn’t finish off the remnants of the Empire?

Another thing that bothered me, what exactly was going on between the Republic and the Resistance? I know it was stated by Hux that the Republic was responsible for supporting the rebels but we didn’t get much more than that. The whole thing just raised many questions that were never answered before the Republic was destroyed. How was the Republic supporting the rebels? Why weren’t they seemingly doing anything about the fact that the Empire was still out there regrouping? Why did they not see giant lasers coming at them from across immense distances? I don’t know, maybe we’ll get some answers some other time.

Before jumping into a discussion on the bad guys, a quick word on the good ones. The cast of characters that form the heroes is fantastic because there are cool and fleshed out people everywhere. I’ve said enough about Rey, Poe, and Finn, you get the picture, they’re all great! I love how they gave Rey the most power or potential for most power, it was about time. I have my fingers crossed that she decides to go with a saber staff instead of a traditional saber when it inevitably comes time for all of that. Anyway, this movie was all about the new faces and passing the torch on while honoring the legacy of the characters that came before. I’m glad they went in this direction instead of trying to make our classic heroes the focal point. How awesome was it that Han could see how talented Rey was that he basically passed on the Millennium Falcon to her?! (Speaking of which, that initial escape from Jakku almost made me jump out of my seat in ecstasy after Rey powered the ship off, Finn got that perfect shot, and then they sped off into space!) We all know how cool Han and Leia are and about the amazing things they’ve done but lets face it, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fischer are old. Maybe being old isn’t as big of a damper on Leia because she’s a general and not out in the field but it was hard for me to imagine them pulling off Han Solo as a hotshot gunslinger for much longer. Note that I didn’t mention Mark Hamill. This is partially because we essentially didn’t see him at all in this movie. On top of that, you can get away with being old if you’re possibly the most powerful jedi master of all time. Actually, being old kind of helps because it just makes you seem more wise and experienced. I definitely had chills seeing Luke at the top of the hill at the end of the movie.

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Now for the bad guys! I don’t know who these people really are, I don’t know if they’re considered the Sith or not. Snoke references the Knights of Ren and the fact that Kylo is their leader but we don’t explicitly hear who they are or what their ultimate goal is. I didn’t like Snoke one bit in this movie. He seems to be the new Emperor type character and he may very well have incredible power but we never get to see it. I assume he can hold his own if he’s training Kylo Ren and is treated as all powerful but again, we only ever see his hologram. I was not in favor of the way they presented Snoke either. First of all, his name is trash. You can’t go from having great sounding bad guys like Darth Vader, Darth Maul, The Emperor/Darth Sidious, General Grievous, etc. to Snoke. Whenever I think Snoke I also think snot and that’s not a good look. Speaking of looks, I didn’t like that either. I don’t want to sound like I just hate cgi characters since you already know I wasn’t a big fan of Maz’s appearance but that was for a different reason. I had no problem with Maz’s appearance itself, I had a problem with them not using Lupita’s appearance as a character of her own. As for Snoke, he didn’t look menacing at all. We only saw his hologram but he looked decrepit and fragile. I’m willing to rethink my stance on Snoke after learning more about who he is and what he’s done or after we see more in future movies but as for now this is all we have to go off of.

I’ll keep my bit on Captain Phasma short, I was disappointed in her character. She has the potential to be great and I’m sure she will be but she wasn’t developed at all and barely made any appearances. I only included her here because I assume she’s special if she’s wearing that special chrome suit which admittedly looks really cool.

Likewise, I’ve said pretty much all I’ve wanted to say about General Hux as well. He has potential and his speech was great but I need to see more of him before I form an opinion either way.

Now, Kylo Ren, the divisive. I already talked about Kylo’s appearance but I’d like to address other complaints people had. The reason I do this is because I think Kylo Ren is the most compelling villain amongst the lackluster “bad” side. The previous movies always had great villains, even the prequels did a solid job of that. You always had a good set of bad guys to keep you interested. If you’re like me, sometimes the villains were even your favorite characters. I think Kylo has the most potential to be one of these great villain. People didn’t like that he seemed to throw tantrums when things didn’t go his way or that his arrogance often times had him do something stupid. Everyone has to remember Kylo is young! He isn’t a master yet, he hasn’t even completed his training. He has so far showcased impressive powers like being able to read people’s minds and being able to stop a powerful blast in mid-air. Think back to Anakin when he first became Darth Vader, he was reckless and arrogant too. His recklessness and arrogance is what ended up getting him into that iconic Vader suit in the first place. What do we know about the dark side of the force? We know that rage and anger are the tools of people who use the dark side. Being able to passionately channel rage at the right moments and being able to control it is the whole point. Of course Kylo is going to be angry and show displays of frustration, he hasn’t learned how to fully control his anger yet. I think it would’ve been a huge misstep and boring if they had made Kylo Ren a master of sorts from the get go. Think about it, have we ever had the pleasure of watching a bad guy really mature? Count Dooku was always quite powerful and so was Darth Sidious. General Grievous seemed to be at the peak of his power as well when we met him and Obi-Wan killed him quickly anyway. We had Darth Maul but he was diced up quickly too. The only bad guy we’ve really seen develop is Anakin/Vader but we only got a real glimpse of that in Episode III and once we’re into Episode IV, Vader is already a master. Give Kylo Ren a chance, I don’t think the people in charge of writing the story will screw him up. Also I think his struggling with the draw of the light side versus the dark side was a nice touch that shows he still has Luke, Leia, and Han’s spirit in there somewhere. To people saying he’s weak because he couldn’t beat Finn and Rey in a lightsaber duel there at the end, remember two things: 1. Rey is obviously some sort of prodigy who tapped into the force to catch an overconfident Kylo off guard. 2. Kylo had just taken a hit straight on from Chewie’s blaster which the movie made a point of showing as being very powerful.

Of course, I can’t write this review without talking about the death of the beloved Han Solo. I was lucky enough to have not had this movie spoiled for me so when this moment happened it really hit me full on. Han Solo is without a doubt my favorite Star Wars character. I know he doesn’t wield a lightsaber and he can’t use the force but he’s undeniably the most cool character and the fact that he’s a legend in a universe where superheroes essentially exist speaks for itself. I won’t say the moment was entirely unexpected when it happened, looking back it was pretty obvious at various points that something terrible was going to happen. For me it went a little something like this: 1. Han and Chewie splitting up had me worried a death was coming. 2. Han approaching Kylo on the bridge made the thought of Han dying cross my mind but I didn’t want to think it was possible. 3. The vagueness of Kylo’s speech when he was talking about Han helping him do what he had to do pretty much gave it away. 4. When the light dimmed I knew it was the end. At first I felt extremely sad and angry that Han died in that way because I couldn’t imagine this great smuggler and survivor taking such a stupid risk but the more I thought about it the more I accepted it as the correct decision. Han wasn’t just a smuggler and escape artist anymore, he was a father. He knew there was a good possibility of death but he used the last minutes of his life to try and save his son. I didn’t know if they’d ever kill Han Solo but I assumed that if they did he’d go out with a bang. He didn’t go the way I was expecting but he went unflinchingly knowing he was staring death in the face and that’s about as cool as it gets. Despite all of this, his death stung. While I saw his body fall into the pit below I still had hope that he was alive and would find a way out. He’s Han Solo after all! You never tell him the odds! I knew it was practically impossible but Han had been in tight situation before. I bet I wasn’t the only one who felt that way either.

After a few minutes I of course knew that was the end of Han but I accepted it. We have to realize that Star Wars has never been about an individual person. No one is bigger than the galaxy itself. Maz said it best when she said she’s been around for a long time and has seen the same eyes in different people. There have been many names and groups, some of which have destroyed planets, but everything balances out and life continues. Over the years I’ve spent many hours on Wookiepedia reading all about Star Wars story arcs that take places dozens of generations before the movies to dozens of generations after and everything in between. Many of those stories are substantially more fleshed out than even the movies are. The story that we all know is but a speck of dust in the overall story of beings throughout space and time. This is one of the biggest appeals of the series for me. We have this epic adventure with huge implications but it is still only the tiniest slice of what is happening in the grandest scheme of things. There will always be people struggling for something or other, when you zoom out far enough the lines of good and bad don’t even matter anymore. The most you can hope for as a character in Star Wars and even in real life is to make an impact relative to your existence. In the incomprehensibly large Star Wars timeline, Han Solo may just be a blimp on the radar but if anyone could have as large an impact as he did in his time and place, then that person is undoubtedly a legend as well. In a universe full of stars, Han Solo’s star will always be one of the brightest there ever was.

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P.S. They better do a hell of a job casting Han Solo for his spin-off because whoever gets the part will have an immense amount of pressure and wild expectations to live up to, mine included.

To close out this review I’m going to mention a few quick things I didn’t find a place for elsewhere. I want to give props to whoever choreographed the fights scenes. The lightsaber duels here were perfect. I’m not going to lie, as a kid I really enjoyed the crazy fights of the prequel trilogy. Once I grew older and was able to appreciate more, I realized that sometimes less is more. The fights here were believable and the tension had me on the edge of my seat without the need for flips and spins. Speaking of the final fight scene, I was disappointed in the way it ended with the Earth splitting to separate Kylo and Rey. Of course I didn’t think they’d kill Kylo Ren then and there, that would’ve really been wild, but there were better ways to spare him. You could’ve had the planet really start to erupt and Chewie show up just in time for them to get on and leave. You could’ve had Rey think she fatally injured him only to be mistaken. You could’ve even had Rey take some sort of pity on Kylo and leave him to die on an exploding planet. Instead we ended up with the earth splitting perfectly to put Kylo Ren juuuuust outside of Rey’s reach. That felt lazy and like a bit of a cop out but it wasn’t a huge deal.

BB-8 was phenomenal! It’s crazy how they can create a droid that communicates in beeps that has so much personality but it was done once with R2-D2 and they struck gold again with BB-8. C-3PO was in the movie for a little too, the line about his red arm was funny. Overall great job on the droids.

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Lastly I want to praise the use of cgi in this movie (not Snoke). That whole thing about less being more applies here even more so than in the fight scenes. I’ve seen the documentaries and read the stories about how George Lucas went from being reined in with the original trilogy to being allowed to run wild in the prequels. Obviously this shows when you look at the prequels and see the overwhelming amounts of crappy cgi that was used for essentially everything besides the actors. This film did a great job of bringing back the feel of the original where cgi was used much more sparingly and in the right places. We aren’t forced to watch entire planets made of cgi, everything looks much more believable this way.

Well there you have it! This was a big review and a bit of a mess of one too. I apologize for the messiness of this review but like I said, I had much to say and no clue how to organize it. I hope I got my general message across though, this movie was a very pleasant surprise for me. I was expecting to like it but I wasn’t expecting that it would have a legitimate case for being one of the best movies of the year. Is it the best movie of the year? No, probably not, but it is one of the best Star Wars movies ever made and that should be enough to excite us all for what is to come.

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Omar: 4.0 out of 5

It has been a little over one month since my last review, I swear that wasn’t intentional! Every week I’d plan to write a review only to find myself putting it off for some reason or another (mainly law school). Now that I’ve finished writing my first law school final I am back to hit you with a Spectre review! I am a huge fan of the 007 series, specifically I am a huge fan of Daniel Craig‘s take on James Bond. I’ll be honest, Spectre wasn’t my favorite movie in the series but it wasn’t terrible by any means. Spectre is also one of those films that is worth the price of admission and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you watch it in theaters.

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Spectre is the twenty-fourth film in the James Bond series, the second directed by Sam Mendes, and the fourth starring Daniel Craig as the main man. That’s quite a bit of 007! Just to make it clear, I have NOT watched all of the previous movies or read the books, I apologize if that offends you. I have watched pretty much all the classic films in the series though. I wasn’t as big a fan of the series before the Daniel Craig era because I grew up watching Pierce Brosnan as a kid and his Bond movies were too ridiculous and comic-like  for my taste. Craig came on the scene at the perfect time when I was old enough to appreciate a more dark and brooding character and storyline. I won’t waste time going too deep into it but Casino Royale (2006) hooked me completely, I enjoyed Quantum of Solace (2008) when factoring in the circumstances surrounding the movie, and I absolutely loved everything about Skyfall (2012). I had extremely high expectations going into Spectre because Skyfall was one of my favorite films of 2012 and Sam Mendes was returning to direct. The additions of Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, and Andrew Scott also had me counting down the days until I could rush into theaters. These new additions didn’t collectively disappoint but they didn’t exactly hit a grand slam either.

As always, I’ll begin with the positives. Spectre is a gorgeous movie. You might think that this isn’t saying much because all four of the last Bond movies have been gorgeous but this movie might just be the prettiest one yet. I was enamored with the cinematography, locations, set-pieces, etc. in Skyfall and I didn’t think Spectre had a chance of topping it. Whether Spectre actual tops Skyfall is subjective but I think at the very least the films are even in this regard. One of the fun things about these movies is that they have specific elements that you look forward to seeing in every movie like when the Bond girl will show up, the opening song, when Bond will say “Shaken, not stirred”, and the opening sequence. There have been many great opening sequences but the one in this film was the coolest and most gorgeous one to date. Maybe I’m biased because dia de los muertos is a part of my culture and I have an obsession with tracking shots but that scene was jaw-dropping from a technical standpoint. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gone back to watch True Detective‘s stunning tracking shot in season 1 episode 4 and the same is probably going to happen once this film’s opening sequence is on Youtube or I buy the blu-ray. While Mexico City highlights one of the film’s more colorfully eye-pleasing moments, the scene at the Spectre meeting in Rome highlights a different type of beauty. The scene in Rome is gorgeous for its use of shadows, silence, and pauses to create what is likely the film’s most menacing and tense moments. In typical Bond fashion, the cars, locations, and clothing were all beautiful. You get the picture, this is a good looking film.

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The second thing I liked about the film was the script. I wouldn’t say this was a masterpiece script but it was fitting for what it was. Bond was suave and confident under pressure as ever and there was more than enough witty banter to go around. Waltz was clever and cruel, Seydoux was funny and alluring, and Scott was as big a jerk as always. I also want to sprinkle a little praise onto Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw, all of whom were dynamic in their roles. One of the things I hate is when a film focuses too much on developing one or two characters and leaves the side characters feeling flat. Again, the script won’t be winning any Oscars but it was solid.

I’ll give some brief praise for the film’s score. During my very short time double majoring in film sound was always one of my worst subjects. I can’t recall exactly why but I definitely didn’t do those sound chapter readings. Anyway, this movie has an awesome score. It’d be kind of hard to mess this up when the series has such iconic sounds. Think of Star Wars, just recycle those classic Star Wars sounds in the new movies and your job is done. As for the opening song, Sam Smith is no Adele but I enjoyed his rendition.

Onto the action sequences, you can’t review a 007 film without talking about the action. As you might expect, this movie had spectacular sequences! From the opening scene in Mexico to the car chase in Rome to the plane scene in Austria, this is a movie that is worth watching on the big screen.  I like to compare this movie to The Dark Knight Rises (2012) in that it is such a grand movie that you just enjoy it more watching it at least once in theaters with a large screen and great sound system.

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Now for the bad stuff, I’ll carry my Batman comparison a bit further to explain how this movie fell short. At this point I hope we’ve all watched The Dark Knight (2009) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). I think most people would agree that the former was a near perfect movie (for a comic book movie). TDK introduced Batman’s most iconic enemy in The Joker, had the series’ best acting performance (Heath Ledger), had a fantastic story, and had very few, if any, plot holes that broke immersion. Fast forward to TDKR and we have another great and authentic comic book film with all the series staples. That being said, Bane (Tom Hardy) was never going to be as compelling as The Joker, the story wasn’t as good, and there were many plot holes and moments where you had to consciously suspend your disbelief to enjoy what was going on. In the context of the recent Bond series, Skyfall was my Dark Knight and Spectre was my Dark Knight Rises. This isn’t a perfect analogy because Skyfall certainly had some notable plot holes but they never truly broke my immersion. There were many moments in Spectre where I had to make a real effort to not let a wild action sequence, random sex scene, weird character motivation, etc. break my level of immersion. Specifically (but not too specifically for spoilers sakes), Blofeld’s motivation and Madeleine Swann’s relationship with 007 were highly unconvincing. I wasn’t as upset with the outcome as I was with the way the film got there. The way Swann and Bond developed really cheapened the authentic feeling of Bond’s relationship with Vesper (Eva Green). The results were fine if I look back at them in a vacuum but in the larger context of the film they weren’t convincing enough for me to feel entirely happy with them.

I want to talk specifically about Christoph Waltz now. Waltz is one of my favorite currently active actors. In fact, I like him more than every other actor/actress in Spectre. Christoph Waltz’s name is usually enough to get me to the theater and usually I come out with no regrets. Spectre is guilty of criminally underusing one of the best actors in Hollywood! IT’S CRIMINAL I SAY!! It’s my understanding that Blofeld (Waltz) is supposed to be Bond’s foil, the Joker to his Batman. If that’s actually the case then I think the writers missed a big opportunity with Waltz. I feel that Javier Bardem did a much better job of being Bond’s foil than Waltz did. Bardem was intelligent, physically imposing, flamboyant, and everything you could hope for in a Bond villain. I don’t want to give anything away but Blofeld’s motivations were pretty lame. Hell, even Dave Batista was a more menacing villain! There was one moment when Blofeld finally posed a real threat to Bond, one moment that had me on the edge of my seat, only for it to end in disappointment with another plot hole. Spectre (the organization) was shrouded in mystery and menace for the first three movies, an organization that moved in the shadows and had seemingly limitless power. When this movie revealed the inner workings of the organization it felt like your mom came in and turned the lights on when you were telling a scary story and the whole thing lost much of its bite.

This movie was great for many reasons beyond what I listed above and I definitely recommend watching it while it’s still in theaters but if you go in expecting to be blown away you’ll probably leave a bit underwhelmed. This movie seemed like a return to the older style of Bond film where things were less realistic and a tad more on the ridiculous side. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it marks a difference in style from the rest of the films in Daniel Craig’s run. I had heard criticism that Craig’s movies were too much like regular spy movies and had lost the flair and wonkiness that were in previous entries into the series but I was a fan of the more serious and brooding style. Maybe that explains why I wasn’t as thrilled with Spectre as I was with Skyfall. All that being said, watch this movie.

 

 

Omar: Unrated out of 5

Well, well, well…the time has finally come for me to review Straight Outta Compton (2015), directed by F. Gary Gray but lets be honest, this movie is the brainchild of Dr. Dre aka Andre Romelle Young. Man, I gotta admit, this is a difficult review to write for many reasons. The main reason why this review is tough is that it’s just too hard to separate my love of N.W.A., Eazy E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre’s music (not to mention all the people Dre has heavily influenced like Tupac, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, etc.) from what was depicted on the big screen. My love of hip-hop and rap would have me say, “10 out of 10 stars! This is a hip-hop movie done PERFECTLY!” but I can’t say that because to do so would be hypocritical. There are simply too many important thing left out of this movie and to further ignore them in writing this review would be an injustice. But we’ll get into that in a minute.

Before getting into all the heavy criticism, I’ll start with the positives because there are plenty of positives to be discussed. I stand by my early statements that this is the best hip-hop/rap movie I’ve ever seen. For starters, the casting and acting were phenomenal. I’ll be honest, I don’t know too much about MC Ren or Yella so I can’t speak to how faithfully Aldris Hodge and Neil Brown Jr. were in their portrayals but to the untrained eye they did a good job. Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., was about a perfect as a casting call gets, for obvious reasons. He channeled his father’s aura well. Jason Mitchell was DOPE as Eazy E! I was a bit doubtful when Eazy first appeared on screen but the guy has some acting skills. That piece of acting at the end of the film hit me on a deep emotional level. Corey Hawkins did a good job of channeling Dre to the extent that the script and plot allowed him too. I can’t say his portrayal was accurate to what Dre was like in real life but that’s not his fault. Paul Giamatti was great as always in the role of the white, corporate, scumbag, exploiter. Also shout-out to all the side characters! I don’t feel like googling their names but the guy who played Tupac looked uncannily similar, I really thought they just got hologram Tupac to star in the film. The guy who played Suge Knight was perfect and the guy who played Snoop Dogg may not have looked entirely accurate but his voice and flow were very well done.

The atmosphere of this film was awesome in that it did a good job of showing the harsh environment that was the necessary incubator in creating a group as revolutionary and in-your-face as N.W.A. Some specific examples to this are the numerous instances of police brutality, the L.A. race riots, and the heavy gang presence. They showed the social reality of the time that was essential to N.W.A.’s message. I read that before 2005’s awesome Hustle & Flowhip-hop/rap movies too often focused on glorifying the hood and the hood lifestyle instead of showing the desperate reality of the situation. This is one of those movies that shows the harsh nature that comes with living in the ghetto and the desire to find a way out by any means necessary (school, music, drug-dealing, etc). This movie also shows just how violently mainstream America reacted to N.W.A., a group that did nothing but speak the truth about their lives.

Another thing I liked about the movie was how they incorporated all the iconic music, labels, and figures that comes with making a film about west-coast hip-hop at the time. I loved seeing how bits of different iconic songs are pieced together or teased as the film progresses. Seeing Death Row Records or Tupac and Snoop Dogg in the studio are just example of things that today have huge status but at the time were just everyday occurrences. That was all really cool to see. I also HAVE to make a statement about all the RAIDERSSSS gear. Being a diehard Raiders fan, it was awesome seeing all the Raider influence.

This movie was a long film but it was impressive how it didn’t feel anywhere near as long as it is (2 hours and 30 minutes). Maybe this was because I love the subject matter so much but I really feel like the movie was just paced well. Every time it looked there was going to be a lull, something significant would happen.

I could honestly go on for much longer about what this film does right because it is undeniable that this film is well made and tells a hell of a story. For the purpose of this review I’ll leave the praise there and move on to the critical portion of this review.

If you didn’t already know, Dr. Dre is a bit of a temperamental ass in real life and that’s putting it mildly. Ice Cube and Eazy E were no saints as well. By no means am I judging them because I don’t have that authority or desire. Society can’t give people failing schools, failing institutions, failing social services, and deny them access to opportunities and expect them to grow up to be upstanding law-abiding citizens. This sort of reminds me of how middle-class and upper-class (predominantly white) pundits, citizens, and the media have no restraint when it comes to chastising people like Dez Bryant or Josh Gordon for things they say or do without acknowledging that they come from an entirely different world. (Btw I highly recommend this recent Rolling Stones interview with Dez Bryant: http://rol.st/1KeotM37). Also it’s a bit hypocritical to bump someone’s music, a product and reflection of their lifestyles, and then call them bad people for genuinely being what they say they are, what entertains us when it’s music but repulses us when it’s real.

That being said, what I have a problem with is erasing history. Specifically what I’m talking about in this instance is violence against women. This movie does an amazing job of talking about the horrifying state of race relations in this country but it says nothing about violence against women. In fact, this movie does worse than ignore the subject, it avoids and erases it entirely. Dr. Dre and Eazy E have a history of abusing women to brutal levels and the film says nothing. Until very recently (conveniently coinciding with the release of this film), Dre didn’t even apologize for his past. Dr. Dre is a figure who has largely remained immune from criticism for his repeated history of abusing women because he is such an influential character and that is an injustice.

Originally I was just going to give this movie a very high grade and dock it a few points for failing to acknowledge some important issues but that didn’t sit well with me. To have done that would be to continue to trivialize a very real and very pressing issue harming our society and ruining countless lives. The point of N.W.A. is that they are flawed individuals with awful circumstances who said, “So what?” and threw everything back in your face, to erase history goes entirely against this. I can accept and respect flawed individuals portrayed honestly SIGNIFICANTLY more than I can appreciate fabricated squeaky-clean images. That’s unfortunate in this instance because this really is an amazing story that was told powerfully well if we choose to ignore it’s few troublesome flaws.

Omar: 4.0 out of 5

Liz and I finally made it out to the movie theater! The Movie Theater (capital letters) is like a safe haven for me, obviously being the huge film fans we are we wish we could make it out there more often but we haven’t had the chance to lately. I’ve also had the unfortunate luck lately of never being free to go to the movies when all the good movies are out and in the rare instances that I CAN go, the line-up is quite unappealing. That’s what makes our recent trip so exciting! A rare chance to see a critically acclaimed blockbuster?! Helll yesssss.

Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation, of course, stars Tom Cruise in the leading role along with Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner,  and newcomers to the series Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, and Rebecca Ferguson. The movie was directed Christopher McQuarrie who was involved in writing The Usual Suspects and Edge of Tomorrow, two movies that I really enjoyed, so I was excited to watch this one.

The premise of the movie is that Ethan Hunt and the rest of the IMF crew are facing two separate but important battles. The first of those battles is with the CIA and its director (played by Alec Baldwin) who convince the powers that be that the IMF is a costly and unnecessary operation with a messy track record. The second  battle is with the menacing Syndicate and its shadowy leader (Sean Harris) who is bent on destroying something or other for a reason I can’t remember. But that’s not the point! The point is that they’re a spooky organization that seems to be always a step ahead of the IMF and CIA. In fact the CIA don’t even believe the Syndicate exists and is part of the reason how they get the IMF to be officially disbanded. What follows is a global three-part chase between the CIA, IMF, and the Syndicate.

Let us start with some of the reasons why this movie was so enjoyable. First, I absolutely loved the action scenes. Ethan Hunt is a spy of seemingly equal skill to Jason Bourne and James Bond, though admittedly not as cool as either. The car and motorcycle chases were exciting, the hand to hand combat was awesome, and the various stunts were creative (giant water safe, hanging outside an airplane, etc). The action goes beyond Tom Cruise though as Rebecca Ferguson does  a very good job of portraying MI6 agent Ilsa Faust. Not only does Ilsa Faust have a sick name, she is also more than capable of holding her own in combat or high-speed chases. At times Faust proves to be an agent of even higher skill than Hunt which is refreshing to see. The best thing about her character is that she wasn’t reduced to the role of a love interest and seeing her always double or triple crossing people made her character quite dynamic.

The rest of the cast also does a great job for the most part. Jeremy Renner is great in the role of IMF director of sorts but Simon Pegg was possibly the best part in the role of IMF agent Benji. Benji is the groups tech-genius and behind the scenes guy and Simon Pegg is more than ideal in the role that is clearly meant to provide comedic relief. Alec Baldwin and Ving Rhames (playing a retired IMF agent) also do a good job but they’re really just there on the side and don’t do all that much. On the side of the villains, Sean Harris does an EXCELLENT job playing the bad guy! He seems to be more of a thinker than an agent in the field but he’s constantly ahead of everyone else which makes him formidable. Harris also naturally has a very menacing look and his raspy voice makes him a bit spooky. I think of the MI series in a way as a much less suave, less polished, and less serious 007 and Harris seems to exude the type of cool and menace that could easily transition into a Bond film.

The story was pretty ok for an action movie. That doesn’t mean it was bad but it was convoluted at times and I wasn’t sure what the motivation was for some of the stuff that was going on. The final chase and fight scene were a little underwhelming to me after all the grand chases and action sequences that preceded it but it wasn’t awful either. I did like the…smokey…finish, I thought the visuals there were cool. Additionally, the scale of the movie was impressive and the locations were beautiful but the cinematography never blew me away. Again, not awful but certainly nothing amazing. In the end this movie was a great time for coming out to the theater and if you have a chance I would recommend it because this is the type of movie that is best suited for the big screen. As of now I’m comfortable saying I enjoyed Ghost Protocol more than this one but this one was still a fun movie and a great entry into the series.

Keep an eye out for my next reviews, Boogie Nights (1997) and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)!!