‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Review

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Director: J.J. Abrams

Writer: J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Max von Sydow, and Mark Hamill

Synopsis: 30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The first Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: I have already seen the movie twice, and the review was ready to go on Friday. However, I wanted to wait until this week to post the review. The review is spoiler-free, but still.*

 

Look, I’m not even going to pretend that this review is going to be easy to write. Not because I thought the film was bad, because it wasn’t, but because this film is so surrounded by secrecy that most of you probably won’t read this until after you watch the film – and I wouldn’t blame you. So, I’ll keep my promise to you that this will be a spoiler review and I’ll do my best to not even hint at any possible spoiler or could be considered a spoiler.

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The Force Awakens starts off like every Star Wars film before it, with the crawl. The crawl lets us know the important thing and the plot point that will set up the new trilogy: Luke Skywalker (Hamill) is missing – hence why’s he’s not in any promotional material – and in his disappearance a evil arises called The First Order lead by Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) and his generals in General Hux (Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Driver). The one thing standing in their way is the Resistance which is lead by General Leia (Fisher) who has been fighting them since they rose to power after the Empire feel. In the middle of all this are our new heroes and lead in a Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac), a scavenger Rey, a former Stormtrooper who’s now on the run, and a droid in BB-8. Along the way they meet up with familiar faces in Han Solo (Ford) and Chewbacca (Mayhew) who also help them out to fight off the First Order and their new weapon that threatens the galaxy.

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It’s hard not to see the familiar structure of other Star Wars films in The Force Awakens, but what director J.J. Abrams was able to do with the similarities was create something that still felt fresh and was excited to watch from beginning to end. Abrams doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia, although there are scenes that are oozed in it, but instead takes what the series has already given us and adds to it. The Force Awakens has great action, cinematography and more importantly, it’s a ton of fun and lets us get to know the characters that we want to root for them and follow their journey to the end. You can arguably say that maybe The Force Awakens relies too much of the similar story structure, but it works nonetheless.

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The new characters are great, and not a stinker in the bunch. Oscar Isaac is the first new character we see and he brings a nice swagger and charm, that to be honest, I was not expecting and that’s coming from a Oscar Isaac fan. John Boyega’s Finn also brings his own swagger and charm and even brings some of the funniest moments in the film. At the same time, we’re seeing a different side in the battle between the Dark Side and the Light Side. Finn leaves the First Order and abandons his role as a Stormtrooper. We’ve haven’t really seen that side before, and given that Finn is probably one of the characters you really can’t nail down. Sure, he does heroic things in the film and is on the side of the resistance, but he was a Stormtrooper too. Boyega handles it well and if your first exposure to Boyega was Attack the Block like mine, you know he was able to rise to the challenge.

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Finally, Daisy Ridley as Rey is one of the best characters in the film. She feels like a real person and is a character that you can easily root for. She’s not just a badass character, but one that can be vulnerable, funny, and naïve. Rey, similar to Finn, is looking for more in her life. She’s also heard the stories of Luke, Han and Leia, and is wide-eyed to find out that all of it was real and she’s now going on her own adventure. Rey will definitely be a highlight for many once they watch the film. Of course, there’s BB-8 as well. I mean come on, have you seen the commercial’s, have the droids in the past not been great? BB-8 was awesome too.

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Now let’s talk about the Dark Side. Kylo Ren gets most of the screen time and attention so Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke and even Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma are just a bit underdeveloped and are clearly saved for the future films, but it still would have been nice to see them a little more, especially Captain Phasma. It’s understandable, obviously, considering this is the first movie of a new trilogy, but it was a little frustrating considering all the secrecy for the characters just to be saved for future films. However, Gleeson’s Hux does get a fair amount of screen time and you really tell there is something about him and the fact that he’s younger than other Generals we’ve seen in these films.

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Thankfully, not all of The Force Awakens is CGI (I’m looking at you George Lucas!). Abrams goes back to the roots of Star Wars and has a ton (!) of practical effects and physical creatures so the cast can interact with. It could have been easier to go with CGI creatures, but the fact that Abrams and producers Bryan Burk and Kathleen Kennedy went the route of building creatures makes the film feel so much more special. Sure there are CGI creatures, but there isn’t an over abundance of them. One of those CGI creatures is Maz Kanata, who Lupita Nyong’o does the voice and motion capture for. Her character appears right in the middle of the film and while her character doesn’t feel important, she does play an important role, and is one of the characters I’m sure we’ll see more of in the future.

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All in all, what makes The Force Awakens undoubtedly work is that the film is fun. It really is fun and funny. Abrams is always able to find a nice balance of action and comedy that they serve their purpose equally and one doesn’t overpower the other. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve had this much fun and laughed with a movie since the summer and Mad Max: Fury Road. The most importantly thing the film does however is that it doesn’t lean toward or on its past. It embraces it future while paying respect to the past. Disney, Lucasfilm, Abrams, who ever deserves the credit, should be given all the credit in the world for making that move. It was great to see the old cast come back, but it was even better to see a brand new cast of characters, especially John Boyega’s Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is truly a great addition, and continuation, to the Star Wars franchise. It will make you feel like a kid again, it will make you cry and more importantly, it will make you happy that there is another Star Wars movie in our lives.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

4.5 out of 5

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‘In the Heart of the Sea’ Review

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Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Charles Leavitt

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Frank Dillane, Joseph Mawie, Gary Beadle, Charlotte Riley, Donald Sumpter, Richard Bremmer, Jordi Molla, Michelle Fairley, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson

Synopsis: Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a giant whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the book by Nathaniel Philbrick of the same name, Ron Howard takes the books basic premise about the whaling ship Essex in the 1820s that goes out to sea and encounters a massive whale that leaves some of the crew stranding at sea for 90 days and leaving them to fight for their lives against the elements, each other, and the massive whale that inspired Herman Melville’s classic epic Moby Dick. Now, the film – despite the ads – In the Heart of the Sea is not a film about Moby Dick, it’s about the inspiration behind Moby Dick. It’s also not so much about the whale itself, its more about the crew as they survive. So does In the Heart of the Sea stay aloft or does it sink hard? Well, it’s a give and take relationship.

The film has a nifty framing device as it starts in 1850 when author Herman Melville (Whishaw) goes to speak with Thomas Nickerson (Gleeson), the last living survivor of the Essex, to hear the story – which has become a somewhat myth and tale – of the Essex so that he can write his new book. Thomas is reluctant at first, but with a push from his wife (Fairley) he tells Melville the story. We then flashback to the 1820s and the focus changes to Owen Chase (Hemsworth), an experienced whaler who is eager to get his own ship, but has to serve as First Mate to Captain George Pollard (Walker), who is the son of a prestigious whaling family. Both men are eager to prove themselves and but their conflicting personalities and backgrounds have to be put to the side as their ship is attacked by a whale that they have never seen before. Left shipwrecked, the crew have to resort to anything they can to survive.

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In the Heart of the Sea is really more of a film about survivor, and what you are willing to do to survive. For those hoping for a big whale versus ship film will be slightly disappointed. Sure there is some great stuff with the giant whale, especially the much promoted attack of the ship, but after that the whale pops up only a few times after that. The story of survivor is essentially what this film is really about, and it’s a mixed bag. You definitely feel and see the despair of the crew that include Matthew Joy (Murphy), who happens to be Chase’s long time friend, young Thomas (Holland), Henry Coffin (Dillane), who is Pollard’s cousin, William Bond (Beadle), and Benjamin Lawrence (Mawle), among a few others.

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The problem is we don’t get to know too much about them as the primary focus in on Chase, Pollard and Thomas. Joy gets an interesting subplot, but it doesn’t really go anywhere in the film which is a shame because Murphy is always great in anything he tackles. Young Thomas has some great moments, but the older version played by Gleeson is much more developed and well-rounded character. In fact, the only real characters we really get to know are Gleeson’s Thomas and Ben Whishaw’s Herman Melville. Anytime the two are onscreen they are remarkable, and arguably the best scenes in the film are their scenes, including one that happens after the two reveal to each other their “secrets.” It’s a rather powerful scene that really puts things in perspective.

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However, the only thing that bothered me but at the same time I can see why they wouldn’t show it, is when Thomas does reveal what they had to do in order to survive. It isn’t heavily hinted at, the audience knows what they did, but it never takes that extra step and shows it. I’m not saying the film isn’t good because they didn’t show the action, but if you’re going to go there, maybe show it, or at least part of it. Gleeson and Whishaw’s performance are great when they reach that point, but for a film to drive – or sail in this case – to this point and not really show is a bit underwhelming.

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The rest of the cast fares well too with Hemsworth proving he can be more than just the God of Thunder, and Benjamin Walker has a great moment to shine in the latter half of the film. Tom Holland – future Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – also has his moments, but again, Gleeson’s Thomas is much more developed.

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All in all, In the Heart of the Sea has its big moments that work, but also has some parts that fall really flat that hurt the momentum going in. Whishaw and Gleeson help make the film more worthwhile and Chris Hemsworth with Cillian Murphy give great performances and bring the dread and lose of faith within the open sea.

 

In the Heart of the Sea

3.5 out of 5

‘Krampus’ Review

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Director: Michael Dougherty

Writers: Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey and Zach Shields

Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Maverick Flack, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, and Krista Stadler

Synopsis: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

I became a fan of Michael Dougherty when I saw his great Halloween film Trick ‘r Treat. The film was funny, suspenseful and had some great moments of horror, but more importantly, it was a hell of a lot of fun. So like many, I was looking forward to him getting back behind the camera and what better way to get back behind the camera with another holiday-themed horror film. While Krampus isn’t as good as Trick ‘r Treat, Dougherty still keeps the same intense but fun holiday horror.

Krampus follows the Engel family: the somewhat down-to-earth dad Tom (Scott), trying to stay sane mom Sarah (Collette), typical teenager daughter Beth (Lavie Owen), youthful and holiday loving Max (Anthony), and Tom’s mother or as she’s called by Max, Omi (Stadler) who only speaks in German. They are joined by Sarah’s sister, Linda (Tolman) and her family of her loud and obnoxious husband Howard (Koechner), their bratty daughters Stevie (Owen) and Jordan (Samuel), son Howie (Flack), baby Chrissy and has no filter, Aunt Dorothy (Ferrell). They all come together a few days before Christmas to be together, and while the first night doesn’t go over to well – including Max’s letter to Santa being read aloud – family bickering is the least of the Engel family’s problems: the evil spirit of Krampus – the opposite of Santa Claus – has been unleashed and has made them his target.

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For those unfamiliar, Krampus is actually based on a legend/folklore. There are many interpretations of Krampus, but most agree on the same thing: he’s a villainous, horned creature that punishes children at Christmastime for being naughty. The Krampus in Krampus like that as well, but instead of just going after the children he also targets the grown-ups, whether it be himself or using his fiendish helpers that include demonic toys.

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Thankfully, Krampus himself – and the film – isn’t completely CGI. With the expectation of a handful of scenes – one of which is a fantastic scene that takes place in the kitchen– Krampus is all practical effects and puppetry. Which is a nice touch because it makes the creatures, visually, feel more real and extra terrifying once everything goes to hell. Again, if you saw Trick ‘r Treat, Dougherty different and unique style is inject here which gives Krampus some much needed fun and humor. It may not be for everyone, but it definitely works here.

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I thing I applaud Dougherty for doing is making the film more than just a horror film. It’s a dysfunctional family film too. Krampus is a slow burn film, that does get a bit sluggish at times, but before all the horror elements start, we get to know the family, and yes, even get to hate a few waiting for them to get picked off. But, what Dougherty and the other writers in Todd Casey and Zach Shields do is give them each a different personality from each other that makes us still, somewhat, root for them. Krampus could have worked as a straightforward horror film, but it’s the extra bit of humanity and the family story that gives the film that extra bit of levity and makes it just a bit better. The other part that makes Krampus works is the comedy.

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Veteran comedic actors Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner and Conchata Ferrell bring their A-game to the sharp and witted script and really deliver on not just their comedic lines, but their more dramatic lines too. The kid actors also fare pretty well with Emjay Anthony’s Max getting most of the screen time and focus. Finally, Krista Stadler’s Omi is definitely a highlight in the film. She doesn’t speak too much, but when she does you know it means something and is also part of one of the coolest part of the film as well, which I won’t spoil or hint at.

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All in all, Krampus is a lot of fun. It’s got humor, suspense, horror, and a good dysfunctional family story that is served well by its great cast. It’s also filled with awesome looking and much needed practical effects and creatures that levitate the film to a much better place. While it’s not on the same level as Dougherty last film Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus is well worth your time and a nice holiday-themed horror film.

 

Krampus

4 out of 5

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December Movie Releases

It’s December, ladies and gentlemen!

The year is almost over! How has your year been, because it’s been a great year for films huh? The month is a bit “light” in terms of releases per week, but it’s not like that matters since those releases are pretty damn huge *cough* Star Wars *cough* but it’s still should be great to see unfold. So let’s jump right in the films that will close out the year.

 

Also, Happy Whatever-It-Is-You-Celebrate!

 

4th

Limited Release: Chi-Raq

Spike Lee’s new film, which is riddled with controversy due to the title – especially here in Chicago – is finally coming out. The film is actually a modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. The film has a more impressive cast than I thought in Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, and Samuel L. Jackson.  In all honestly, I don’t think I’ll watch it, only because it doesn’t look that interesting to me.

 

Limited Release: Macbeth

Based on the Shakespearian play of the same name, Macbeth (played by Michael Fassbender), a duke of Scotland receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife (played by Marion Cotlliard), Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself. However, he becomes suspicious of everyone and does what he can to keep his kingdom and his throne safe. The film looks amazing and way better than I thought it would and is getting great reviews as well. This jumped way up in my must-watch list. The film also stars Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Harris, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Paddy Considine and David Hayman.

 

Limited Release: Hitchock/Truffaut

The film has filmmakers like Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, and Martin Scorsese to name a few, as they discuss how Francois Truffaut’s 1966 book “Cinema According to Hitchcock” influenced their work. The documentary has gotten some good word of mouth at film festivals so hopefully it finds a bigger audience.

 

The Letters

A drama that explores the life of Mother Teresa (played by Juliet Stevenson) through letters she wrote to her longtime friend and spiritual advisor, Father Celeste van Exem (Max von Sydow) over a nearly 50-year period. The film looks like it’s going to be powerful and moving, I’m buzz is pretty high on this so we’ll see what happens. It’s not getting a huge release, but a big enough one. Priya Darshini and Rutger Hauer also star.

 

Krampus

Directed by Michael Dougherty, who directed one of my favorite horror-comedy films Trick ‘r’ Treat, goes back behind-the-camera to direct what looks like another horror comedy in Krampus. The film follows a boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon, Krampus, to his family home. The movie doesn’t look like it’s going to take itself too seriously, but will have nice moments of horror. I didn’t think I would be looking forward to this, but I am.

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11th

Limited Release: The Big Short (Wide Release December 21st)

This film pretty much came out of nowhere, since some people didn’t even know this was coming out, and it’s rather surprising since the film has a great cast in Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. The film follows four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed. The film looks pretty great and is directed by Adam McKay, yes Anchorman Adam McKay. The film also stars Marisa Tomei, Karen Gillan, Max Greenfield, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Finn Wittrock, and Melissa Leo

 

Legend

Tom Hardy pulls double duty playing real life identical twins gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organized crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s. Some of the early buzz is praising Hardy’s duel performances and saying the film holds up pretty nicely, so that’s a good sign. The film also stars Emily Browning, Paul Bettany, Taron Egerton, Christopher Eccleston, and David Twelis.

 

In the Heart of the Sea

Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a sperm whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home. The film is directed Ron Howard and has an impressive cast lead by Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Charlotte Riley, Frank Dillane, Benjamin Walke, Jordi Molla and Donald Sumpter. Basing this off the trailers the film looks intense. The story is also what inspired Moby Dick, so there is that added layer.

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18th

Limited Release: Son of Saul

The foreign film follows the horror of 1944 Auschwitz, a prisoner forced to burn the corpses of his own people finds moral survival upon trying to salvage from the flames the body of a boy he takes for his son. The film has gotten some rave reviews already, so with a “bigger” release, Son of Saul could find a bigger audience. The film stars Geza Rohrig, Levente Molnar, Urs Rechn, and Todd Charmont.

 

Alvin and the Chipmunks The Road Chip

Yes, they are making another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie (sigh). Through a series of misunderstandings, Alvin, Simon and Theodore comes to believe that Dave is going to propose to his new girlfriend in New York City – and dump them. They have three days to get to him and stop the proposal. The films aren’t really targeted toward me, but from everything I heard about the series the films aren’t that good, so I’ll be staying away from this. The voice cast includes Justin Long, Jesse McCartney, Matthew Gray Gubler, Christian Applegate, Anna Faris, and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting. The human cast includes Jason Lee, Bella Thorne, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and Tony Hale.

 

Sisters

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are two of the most beloved people in Hollywood, and every time they are together, they are great. So this should go to many people’s must-watch list as the two will play sister who decide to throw one last house party before their parents sell their family home. The film looks okay, and with Poehler and Fey, we should get a funny film, but I’m not completely sold on it just yet. Sisters also stars John Leguizamo, Maya Rudolph, Madison Davenport, Dan Byrd, Ike Barinholtz, Heather Matarazzo, John Cena, Dianne West and James Brolin.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Do I really need to put anything here? Like really? Do I? Alright. The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after Episode VI – Return of the Jedi and follows the new adventures of characters like Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rey (Daisy Ridley) and their fight with new villains like Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Overall, everyone is excited for this, so let’s just hope that it’s good (please be good). The film also stars Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, and Max von Sydow. The film also brings back original stars in Peter Mayhew, Warwick Davis, Anthony Davis, Kenny Baker, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.

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25th

Limited Release: The Revenant

The film will get it limited release, with a wide release in the coming week and while I don’t write up a tidbit, I figured I should here because this film looks damn fantastic. Directed by Alejandro G Inarritu, the film is set in the 1820s following Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a frontiersman, who sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki looks equally fantastic as the rest of the cast of Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Paul Anderson, and Lukas Haas.

 

Limited Release: The Hateful Eight

Again, the film will get a limited release this week and a wider release in the coming week, but this limited release has something more special than others. The film this week will be released in a special 70mm film aka how they filmed the Westerns back in the day. Of course, Quentin Tarantino would be crazy enough to film in the actual film used to shot Westerns back in the day. The film is set in post-Civil War Wynoming as a bounty hunter tries to find shelter during a blizzard but gets involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. The film also has a crazy impressive cast of Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Zoe Bell, Michal Madsen, and Bruce Dern.

 

Daddy’s Home

A step dad’s life is turned upside down, when his step-kids father comes back into their life. The comedy reunited Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell and it looks okay, but I’m not completely sold on it just yet. Maybe when it gets closer to the release I’ll think differently. The film also stars Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, Paul Scheer, Hannibal Buress, and Thomas Haden Church.

 

Point Break

A remake of the classic 1991 film, follows the film’s basic story of FBI agent Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) infiltrating a group of thieves lead by Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez) to take them down, but starts to fall for Bodhi’s charisma. Thankfully, the remake is changing some things around by adding an extreme sports touch, and a nature-theme inspired heists. I like that it is doing its own thing, which all remakes should try to do and that’s what Point Break is doing. Also starrin is Teresa Palmer, Ray Winstone, and Delroy Lindo.

 

Joy

David O. Russell is reteaming with his Silver Linings Playbook actors Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro for this biography. The film follows a family across four generations centered on the girl, Joy, who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. The film looks like it could be good and we know the team O. Russell puts together can lead to something great, but maybe I’m not sold on it just yet. Joy also stars Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Rohm, Drena De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen and Isabella Rossellini.

 

Concussion

Based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), the forensic neuropathologist, who made the first discovery of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, in pro players. The film looks like it’s going to be a great drama and the fact that it is a very touchy nowadays, it’s going to put this subject in a better forefront to get the message out there. The impressive casts includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Eddie Marsan, Stephen Moyer, Luke Wilson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dave Morse, Richard T. Jones, and Albert Brooks.

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So, what are you looking forward to?

‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ Review

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Dir: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Dean O’Gorman, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett

Synopsis: Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review. As much as a spoiler free review goes on a movie based on a popular book and a prequel to popular series.*

 

 

Peter Jackson has done it. He has bought the world of Middle-Earth that J.R.R. Tolkein created to life on the big screen. Of course, he added in another whole movie that really seemed unnecessary but, hey what the hell right? The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies should have felt – and for some part does – as a grand finale to another ambitious trilogy that we could have only originally only imagined. The film has great moments but after a while the final film of The Hobbit series is slightly an underwhelming one.

 

Hobbit Smaug

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug left things on a cliffhanger with Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) flying toward Lake-town to cause havoc. The Battle of the Five Armies picks up right after that as we see Smaug raining down fire upon the citizens of Lake-town. It’s a great set-piece to start off but judging how short the scene was I really couldn’t see why they decided not to put it in as the finale in the last film. Yes, more money, but even so, I really couldn’t see any reason they couldn’t have squeezed in an extra ten minutes.

 

The “real” beginning of the film would have been a great start, which is the rescue of Gandalf (McKellen), by Galadriel (Blanchett), Elrond (Weaving), and Saruman (Lee). The scene is cool because it gives Blanchett, Weaving and Lee more to do than just sit around a table and talk about the “Darkness that is coming.” Also, the scene is a bit anti-climatic, which can be said for the whole film series in some way. It is a prequel after all, and while I’m good at suspending disbelief, I couldn’t help but have the thought in my mind: “they’re going to be okay!”

 

Hobbit Gand and Gala

 

But this is the problem with prequel series and older fans. We know how the story is going to, so we do have to suspend our disbelief a lot more than fans that maybe don’t know about the original series (I’m looking at you Star Wars prequels!). However, one of the great things that Peter Jackson has done with The Hobbit films is that he has created a series that is some way is new and creates great moments that you forget the previous films. Desolation of Smaug is a great example of that but The Battle of the Five Armies juggles that throughout the whole film. When the film is on full cylinders it’s an amazing experience, but when it starts to slow down and gives the audiences some winks to the future (or is it past, I don’t know) it becomes a little jarring.

 

Hobbit Thorin 2

 

Anyway back to the film. Thorin (Armitage), Bilbo and Company have finally secured their homeland and have gotten the room full of gold. Unfortunately, their celebration is cut short by Thorin, who becomes obsessed on getting the “Arkenstone.” So much that he starts to act like his grandfather before him. The obsession is described by Balin (Stott) to Bilbo as “dragon sickness,” as Thorin starts to turn on his own thinking one of his own people is hiding his birthright. Thorin starts to act brash and when the people of Lake Town come for shelter and some of the gold that was promised to them by Thorin himself in the previous movie, he tells them to leave or else. Things don’t get any better when Thranduil (Pace) comes and wants to claim the mountain as well.

 

Hobbit Thraduil

 

This puts the sides on opposite ends as Bard (Evans) tries to reason with Thorin, but again he’s having none of it. Thranduil sees this as an act of war and the Elvin army is ready to attack when Thorin’s cousin Dain (Billy Connolly) comes to help him. But before any of them can attack each other, the Orc army makes itself known and thus begins the titled Battle of the Five Armies.

 

Hobbit battle

 

Here is where Peter Jackson success and fails. Jackson gave us some great and dare I say mesmerizing battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, especially The Return of the King, and while I don’t want to compare the two final films, The Battle of the Five Armies does have title to hold to. Now, I’m all for a good battle scene and while we have to sit through about an hour or so of build up for that actual battle and characters constantly reminding us that a war is coming or about to begin, when the battle actually starts, it is only okay. Again, don’t get me wrong, Jackson is one of the best directors that can put together a grand set-piece like a war (again look at the LotR films) but unlike those previous battles, Jackson relies more heavily on CGI with The Battle of the Five Armies. Of course since casting millions of people, controlling them in just an open space would be a pain in the ass, and there aren’t any huge goblins out there, CG is reasonably the best way to go. However, at the same time it feels like we’re watching an animating film instead of a live-action film, which again sucks because of the great battles Jackson has given us in the past. And yes, I know Jackson used CG in the LotR films, but he was able to hide it more in those films than these.

 

Despite that, it’s certain characters that save (and I used that word very strongly) the film. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield character’s come full circle. You can arguably say that The Hobbit movies are as much a Thorin movie as it is a Bilbo movie. Thorin goes from sympathetic and heroic character in the past films to this crazed and troubled character for three-fourths of the movie back to being character we love. Thorin’s arc is touching, heartbreaking and an great experience to watch unfold and Armitage does an amazing job of being able to fill those shoes.

 

Hobbit Biblbo

 

Freeman is also great and while he doesn’t spend so much time on screen the scenes he has are touching and great to watch. Whether it’s a scene of him trying to bring Thorin back to normal or a simple scene of him and Gandalf sitting down not saying a word to each other because at that point there is nothing to say, Freeman has given the character of Bilbo more life than one of could have imagined.

 

The rest of the cast kind of gets thrown at the wayside, which tends to happen when you have such a huge cast. All the actors that play the other Dwarves don’t really have moments to shine expect for Aidan Turner’s Kili who continues and finishes his romance arc with Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel. Luke Evans has more to do as Bard the Bowman acting as new leader and gets to show off his fighting ability. Lee Pace has about the same amount of screen time he had in last movie as the Elvin king Thranduil but finally gets to show more of his ability to fight. Finally, Orlando Bloom as Legolas is just in the movie for the action as he doesn’t really serve a purpose for the movie other than show how he got on his adventure at the start of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

 

Hobbit Tauriel and Legolas

 

All in all, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is not a bad movie but considering that there was going to be only two movies and the previous Hobbit movies built up to this, it does leave a little bit to be desired and was a bit underwhelming. If anything, The Battle of Five Armies and the other Hobbit movies are all about the adventure and characters, and on that end it succeeds with flying colors. But when it comes to the titular Battle of the Five Armies and a final film of a trilogy, it’s only okay.

 

 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

3.5 out of 5

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‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ Review

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Dir: Ridley Scott

Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde, Sigourney Weaver and Sir Ben Kingsley

Synopsis: The defiant leader Moses rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

*Reviewer Note #2: I know I’ve been gone for a bit. I have been watching movies but I’ve been busy with school which has kept me from writing reviews. Sorry*

 

 

Before I start reviewing the movie I want to talk about the “White Washing” Controversy that is surrounding this movie, and has even caused many people to boycott it. This obviously is not the first time people have been trying to boycott a movie due to ethic casting. The other biblical film that came out this year Noah had some boycotts due to the casting and “changes” to the well-know story. Other occasions are Rooney Mara being cast as Tiger Lilly in the new Peter Pan film Pan, Idris Elba playing Heimdall in Thor and Thor: The Dark World got some people talking even though Marvel went the other way of the ethnic casting. Finally, the one I remember the most was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender which caused an uproar by all the fans.

 

The thing I want to say about the ethnic casting is for me, it doesn’t matter. I can see both sides of the argument, but at the end of day we should judge a movie by its quality aka if it’s good or bad. Again, I see both sides of the situation and depending on the adaptation I do feel Hollywood should go the way of the “source material.” But, for the most part let the acting justify if the role should have been played by someone else.

 

Now, getting into Exodus: Gods and Kings, the movie doesn’t start with the usual baby Moses getting picked up from the river in a basket. Director Ridley Scott gives us a full grown Moses (Bale) and Ramses (Edgerton) who are generals in Ramses’ father, Pharaoh Seti (Turturro). The two go into battle and something happens that starts to cause a bit of a rift between the two that have been raised as brothers. Years later when Ramses is now Pharaoh, Moses finds out that he is not who he thinks he is by Nun (Kingsley), an elder slave, and is exiled for it when it gets back to Ramses.

 

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Moses finds peace in a small village where he marries Zipporah (Valverde) and has a son. Of course if you know the story, Moses is called upon by God and tells him he must help his people (aka the slaves) and set them free, even if it means going to war with someone he thought of as a brother.

 

We all know the story of Moses and Ramses, so when the story starts to jump around in major gaps of time you don’t feel immediately lost, and even if you don’t know the story you’ll be okay too. But, with the run time being around two and a half hours long, the movie still feels like there is some stuff missing, which is a shame because the supporting cast is completely underused. Even Joel Edgerton who plays, arguably the villain of the movie Ramses is a bit used, which is a shame since he gets second billing and is the other important character of the story.

 

The movie does belong to Christian Bale. It’s not a bad thing either, he does try to humanize Moses to some extent – as does Edgerton with Ramses – but this Moses isn’t the normal Moses we know from the story. Obviously, he’s a general in the beginning of the movie, so this Moses knows how to fight and once he is put on his mission from God, he goes back to what he knows and starts to go on guerilla warfare type missions. This Moses is also not afraid to talk back to God and question him, God in this movie looks to be portrayed by a child that shows up at random times to talk to Moses.

 

I love Ridley Scott, as most people do, and while the war scene at the beginning is great to see, knowing he had a four hour cut of the movie first doesn’t surprise me. But, there is a lot that he cut out that I feel could have added to the story. Like I said, the supporting characters are really underused or not use at all. John Turturro as the Pharaoh has about five minutes of screentime before he passes away, Ben Kinglsey who feels like he would serve a greater purpose is just there, Aaron Paul who is almost unrecognizable really serves no purpose and could have been given an unknown actor if that’s how they were going to treat the character. Finally, Sigourney Weaver surprisingly only has about five lines in the movie and disappears after the first half hour, it nice to see the reunion of Scott and Weaver but it didn’t go anywhere. Maria Valverde might be the only one that gets some good material going but is a bit underwritten.

 

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The relationship between Moses and Ramses is also a bit on and off. One minute you can believe the dynamic between them and the next you can’t. It is a bit distracting and frustrating as Scott is going in a different direction with the story and there are moments where you can clearly see that but Scott and the writers go into a somewhat generic by-the-books way of going with Moses and the film.

 

This isn’t to say Exodus: Gods and Kings isn’t a descent film. The plagues sequence is one of the major, if not the major highlight of the film. Although it comes into well into the middle of the movie so you have to wait around to see that. The CGI also looks pretty impressive with the heavily promoted Red Sea sequence. The other great part about the movie is the score, which is done by Alberto Iglesias, whom I’ve never heard of (even though I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).

 

All in all, Exodus: Gods and Kings isn’t entirely the same story we all known and the changes really don’t go anywhere or they completely change the dynamic of the story. Bale does a good job of bringing Moses to life and Edgerton has his moments to shine as Ramses. The great supporting cast is underused but is saved a bit by the score and Bale’s performance.

 

 

Exodus: Gods and Kings

3 out of 5

 

December Movie Preview

Well, it’s the last month of the year boys and girls. The month that is filled with some feel good films and potential Oscar winning performances and films. It’s also loaded with limited releases that will expand before the end of the year and on to January (mostly the movies at the end of month). So I’m going to spare putting the (limited) around the films that are going to be released in a limited capacity, because chances are they will get expanded before the month is over. (Release dates are according to Box Office Mojo and IMDB)

 

5th

Pyramid: A rarity in December that a horror movie comes out, especially a “wide release” (only coming out in about 550 theaters). But, Fox is taking the risk and it’s also the only wide release the first week. The movie follows archeologists that find a mysterious pyramid, go in, and find out they are trapped and being hunted. The movie has a As Above, So Below feel but we’ll see what happens.

Wild: The movie follows Reese Witherspoon’s character on a solo hiking adventure trying to find herself after a catastrophe. The movie looks like a great character piece and straightforward drama, and is already picking up some award buzz.

 

12th

Inherent Vice: The new movie by director Paul Thomas Anderson that looks like a change of pace for him. The movie is based on a book by Thomas Pynchon of the same name and follows L.A. detective “Doc” Sportello as he investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend. The cast is impressive with the likes of Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Benicio Del Toro, and more.

Top Five: Comedian Chris Rock steps behind the camera about a comedian trying to make it as a serious actor when his reality-TV star fiancé wants them to broadcast their wedding. I didn’t even know about this movie until about a month ago thanks to a movie theater billboard. The movie will have some other comedians in it as well.

Exodus: Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott is back and this time is tackling the bible story of Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton). The movie looks like a Scott production with massive battles and some crazy good looking CGI.

 

17th

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: With director Peter Jackson already promising a 45-minute battle sequences and a title like The Battle of Five Armies, the last installment of The Hobbit movies looks like it’s going to end on a high note.

 

19th

The Gambler: Directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) stars Mark Wahlberg as a gambler that gets in over his head when he comes across a bigwig named Frank (John Goodman). It also stars Brie Larson, Jessica Lange, and Michael Kenneth Williams. Doesn’t look to bad, and with Wahlberg and Goodman attached you know it going to be at least enjoyable.

Annie: A remake of the famous musical and movie now has Beasts of the Southern Wild actress Quvenzhane Wallis stepping into the title role and Jamie Foxx playing the new Daddy Warbucks. This new iterations hasn’t really sparked my interest, but it does have a pretty good cast.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb: These movies really could have been lost at the wayside, but the last two movies were really enjoyable and have found a crowd. Needless to say, I’ll be ending up watching this.

 

24th

Big Eyes: Directed by Tim Burton, it follows painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and her success in the 1950s and her legal troubles with her husband (played by Christoph Waltz) who claimed credit for her work in the 60s. I actually don’t know how I feel about this although it does have a pretty descent cast that also includes Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Danny Huston and Terence Stamp.

Selma: One of the few movies about Martin Luther King Jr., this one has David Oyelowo playing MLK and will star Oprah Winfrey, Tim Roth (as George Wallace) and Tom Wikinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson.

American Sniper: Clint Eastwood directs Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, a Navy S.E.A.L. who has the most confirmed kills in history. The trailer looks moving and Cooper has really held his own with his recent string of dramatic roles.

The Interview: What screams a holiday movie better than a movie about killing the South Korean leader and a movie that was consider an act of war by South Korea? Of course James Franco and Seth Rogen would be behind it.

Into the Woods: Based off the popular musical of the same name, Disney brings an all star cast and even members from the musical to bring some famous fairy tale stories to the big screen.

Unbroken: Angelina Jolie steps back behind the camera to direct this film that chronicles the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during WWII. The movie looks like a harrowing, moving, true story of his man, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

 

 

So what movie are you looking forward to this December?