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Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I can say that if you are a fan of the Star Wars Saga, you will not be disappointed by this latest entry in the series. In preparation for the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I sat down (and for the first time) watched the original trilogy of films that starred Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford. Of the three films, I loved The Empire Strikes Back and I enjoyed A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. Following my two day marathon of the original trilogy, I was set to see the new film at a 10PM showing the night after it nationwide release of December 18th. I entered the theater, excited, and prepared myself for another two hours of Star Wars.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens picks up thirty years after the destruction of the Galactic Empire. A new dark side has formed and it's called The First Order and it is lead by sith in training, Kylo Ren (Played by Adam Driver) and Hilter-like General Hux (Played by Domhnall Gleeson) with Supreme Leader Snoke (Played by Andy Serkis in a motion captured performance) being the mastermind hidden in the shadows (a sort of Emperor Palpatine-like character). The First Order is out to destroy the Republic and Luke Skywalker (the last Jedi).

In the opening crawl, we learn that Luke Skywalker has disappeared and that Princess Leia (now, General Leia) has sent her best pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) to a village on the planet of Jakku to retrieve new information on the whereabouts of her brother.

After Dameron retrieves the information from the village elder (Max Von Sydow, in a cameo appearance), The First Order arrives and destroys the village. Dameron quickly places the information inside his trusty robotic buddy BB-8 (a soon to be fan favorite character of the series) and tells the robot to get the information to General Leia. Dameron is then captured by Kylo Ren and brought to Starkiller Base where he is tortured into giving up the location of the information (BB-8).

While transporting Poe Dameron to a cell, a storm trooper (Played by John Boyega) decides to go AWOL and helps Poe Dameron escape Starkiller base. Dameron crashes their stolen TIE fighter in the desert of Jakku and is seemingly killed in the action leaving the storm trooper, who he nicknamed Finn, stranded in the desert.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Rey (Played by Daisy Ridley) who barely makes a living as a scavenger on Jakku. Rey stumbles upon BB-8, who has been captured by another scavenger, and saves him and the two form a tight bond with one another.

Finn encounters Rey and BB-8 at a junkyard settlement and when the First Order arrives to kill them and take BB-8, they escape on the Millennium Falcon and are then intercepted by Han Solo and Chewbacca who now work on a freighter.

Did any of the story I just told you sound familiar? That's because it is familiar...Most of the story in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is basically redone from Star Wars: A New Hope with a twist or two. It is more than a little bit irritating. However, I forgive the film of its narrative similarities with the original film because this one seems to do all the same stuff uniquely and updated to the point where I do feel like i'm watching a new film even if it's more or less the same as the original.

A problem with Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that it somehow cannot quite conjure up any emotional connection with the audience. In moments such as when Han Solo and Chewbacca are reintroduced to the audience or when Han Solo meets up on screen with his love interest from the previous trilogy, Leia, we should feel excitement or nostalgia or joy but we don't feel anything. This is in part because of the score and also in part because of the script. When Leia and Han Solo come onto the screen together, the score should get loud and dramatic! The score needs to say 'This is a big moment', but it doesn't. The script needs to have action when reintroducing us to our favorite characters....

I want to connect the last paragraph to another sequence in the film, which also had the same problems but additional ones... When Han Solo confront his son in what is supposed to be a very dramatic - very tense - very emotional sequence of the film, we don't feel anything. When Han is killed by his son in that sequence, we should be horrified and shocked and sad but somehow we aren't... It isn't because of poor direction or staging or conception or acting (That is all brilliant) it's because the script hasn't formed any relationship between Han Solo and his son (this is the first time we see them together in the same scene!). We hear Han and Leia talk about their son and we hear people talk to Han's son about Han, but that's it... It makes for an emotionless twist.

The cast is phenomenal. Returners Peter Mayhew (in a suit as Chewbacca) and Harrison Ford (as Han Solo) are great and seem to have a lot of fun. Other then Mayhew and Ford we don't see much of the original cast (appropriately, for this is a NEW trilogy centered on NEW characters). Carrie Fisher (as General Leia) has a couple of scenes and so does Anthony Daniels (as C-3PO). Mark Hamill (as Luke Skywalker) only has a cameo appearance at the very conclusion of the film and his cameo has no lines.

The real talent comes with the new cast. Daisy Ridley (as Rey) is spectacular; she was a real catch... Ridley is a very talented young actress and she displays charm and heart in her performance and makes her character a favorite of the whole series. Ridley's costar (whom she shares the screen with for the majority of the film) is John Boyega, another talented young actor. Boyega's chemistry with Ridley and Oscar Isaac is oozing. Boyega gives a very funny and scared performance as Finn. Another casting success is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren... Driver successfully differentiates his character from Darth Vader by making Kylo Ren a more vulnerable and hot headed and crazy guy. Adam Driver stole every scene he was in as Kylo Ren and I was glad he didn't have his mask on the whole movie. I'd also like to give praise to Domhnall Gleeson for his scary and inspired performance as General Hux... Gleeson's speech was probably one of my personal favorites of the film. Lupita Nyong'o does fantastic motion capture work as Maz Kanata and nails Kanata's voice. Finally, Oscar Isaac gives a very likable, heroic and charming performance as the Resistance's best pilot - Poe Dameron.

The visual effect in Star Wars: The Force Awakens are awards worthy... The action sequences are stunning and real looking... I give a lot of praise to director J.J Abrams for bringing practical effects and sets and location shooting back to the Star Wars series... The use of practical effects and sets and location shooting gave the film a strong look of realism instead of the cartoony effect the second trilogy of films carried.

I give a lot of praise to J.J Abrams for making a pretty enjoyable Star Wars film that spill all its beans in just one round. J.J Abrams got the most out of the cast's performances, the script, the cinematography and practically everything else.

After watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens I walked out of my movie theater wanting to see the film again, and that's a good thing.

All and all, Star Wars: The Force Awakens features excellent performances, great directing and visual effects and a lot of fun; this all overcomes the disappointingly familiar story and lack of emotional connection between the audience and the film. B- 12/21/2015 & 12/22/15

P.S I'd say this film is better than the second trilogy of films but falls behind the first trilogy. I'd rank it fourth of the seven films.

Trainwreck (2015)
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I'm reviewing a sleeper hit called Trainwreck that actually isn't a train wreck.
The film is directed by Judd Apatow and, in double duty, written and starring somebody named Amy Schumer. Schumer, who nobody knew when this was released back in July 2015, is practically a household name among film fans now because of her memorable work in this film. Judd Apatow has directed a few fairly funny raunchy comedies and this is no exception either, this is a fairly funny foul mouthed movie (thanks to Schumer) filled with buckets of sex jokes - sex scenes - and practically everything else your dirty mind could imagine...

Trainwreck is the story of a dirty men's magazine writer named Amy (Played by Amy Schumer) whose life consists of one night flings, hangovers, and working at the magazine. One day, Amy is assigned by her boss Dianna (Played by the unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) to write an article about a sports doctor named Aaron Chambers (Played by Bill Hader). Soon, Amy finds herself falling for Aaron and vice versa.

Amy Schumer stars in Trainwreck, and it's her first time leading a film (She has a popular television show Inside Amy Schumer which she also leads). Schumer is great - she hits all the right notes as Amy, she has comedic timing and she effectively displays Amy's imperfect habits and traits and also a lot of heart and relatability and awkwardness that make the character who she is. Bill Hader is only OK as Schumer's love interest. LeBron James and John Cena are scene stealers and (in a small cameo) Leslie Jones had me laughing my head off. One other thing; kudos to anyone who recognizes Tilda Swinton in this film...

For a comedy, there is a surprisingly strong amount of pure romance and pure drama. You can't call this a rom-com or a dramedy because this film isn't solely two genres it's a comedy and a drama and a romance film. All these different genre make it difficult for the film to find a beat and a tone. You'll watch this movie and you won't quite be sure whether it's appropriate to laugh or be sad or be happy. This consistent tonal shift causes some of the jokes to fall flat.

I also found that the film was way too raunchy and that its raunchiness took away from the enjoyment of the film. There isn't a line of dialogue that comes out of Schumer's mouth that doesn't include an innuendo. We see John Cena's buttocks several times (just because it's Amy Schumer writing this film) and we see John Cena and Amy Schumer get down with it early on in the film. If I got a penny every time there was a sex joke I would be a millionaire now. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the sex jokes were funny but after a while they began to overwhelm.

I think the best writing came in the film's final half hour... In this final half hour, I laughed a lot more than I expected to and when the film concluded I felt satisfied.

All and all, Trainwreck is a funny and enjoyable film (thanks to Amy Schumer) even if it suffers from a lack of consistent tone and overwhelming raunchiness. B- 12/18/15 & 12/21/15

Creed (2015)
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I admit to being a Rocky virgin. That's right, I had never seen a Rocky movie until I watched Creed though I guess you wouldn't call Creed a Rocky movie, because Rocky himself is only a supporter in this tale that mostly follows Adonis 'Donnie' Creed (Michael B Jordan). I may have never seen the Rocky films, but I was very familiar with them. I read the entire synopses of the film series just in case this film was to reference any of those (which it honorably did). I walked into Creed with my friends Jesse Zoeller and Kristian Plummer in tow Thanksgiving weekend, ready to see the film that had been reportedly well received.

Adonis Johnson is the son of heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Adonis participates in underground boxing matches as a pastime to his day job in a security firm. One day Adonis decides to quit his job at the security firm to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer. Adonis' mom Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) disapproves of Adonis' decision to become a professional boxer, reminding him of how his father had died in the ring 30 years before... However, Adonis' mom cannot dissuade Adonis for he has decided to follow his dream and nothing and nobody can stop him from doing this.

To become a professional boxer you need a trainer so Adonis heads over to Philadelphia and finds Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone returning as good as ever) running a Italian restaurant named Adrian's (More honorable tribute to the Rocky film series). At first, Rocky declines Adonis' plea to train him though he eventually reverses his decision and agrees to train Adonis at Front Street Gym.

After defeating a local fighter, Adonis gets the attention of heavy weight champion Ricky Conlon's (Tony Bellew, a professional boxer in reality) trainer who caught word that Adonis Johnson is really Adonis Creed. Ricky Conlon's trainer wants Adonis to be Conlon's final competitor because Conlon is going to prison soon. Adonis accepts the match (after changing his last name from Johnson to Creed at Conlen's trainer's request).

I found Michael B Jordan to have given a powerful leading performance as the fully developed Adonis Creed and he shines next to Sylvester Stallone, who gives another solid performance as Rocky Balboa. The standout of the supporting cast is Tessa Thompson as Michael B Jordan's love interest who is more than your typical love interest... Thompson's character is nearly deaf and a very talented singer/songwriter. Anytime Tessa Thompson is singing, I close my eyes and smile - her voice is beautiful.

The screenplay written by director Ryan Coogler (whose directing work in Fruitvale Station and Creed is top notch) and Aaron Covington is great in terms of character development (they did an excellent job of forwarding the development of Rocky)and pacing but the story itself lacks originality... It's too predictable. The climatic boxing scene in Creed is really exciting and well staged and acted but its outcome felt like a really forced wink toward the first Rocky films conclusion. However, I feel that Coogler and Covington got away with their other tributes to the Rocky series.

Creed features strong performances and character development and excellent directing though the film doesn't have as strong a story as it does everything else. After watching Creed, I find myself wanting a sequel... B+ 12/2/15

Seven (Se7en)
Seven (Se7en) (1995)
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Let me set the scene. Halloween night 2015; trick-or-treaters gone and my parents retired to sleep... Its cold and the darkest shade of black outside... I pop some popcorn and grab my blanket from my bedroom in the back of the house. I head into the living room and put my BLU-RAY copy of Seven into the player. I turn on my father's 65 inch widescreen television (He got it on sale at the Black Friday the year previous to this one) and turn on the sound bar connected to the television. I sit back on the sofa and press play on the film ready for my Halloween finale.

I think David Fincher is a very talented director. I have enjoyed almost every film he has made (that I have seen). I thought The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was excellent and I voiced a similar opinion of Gone Girl and Panic Room. I didn't care for Zodiac but that wasn't because of Fincher in particular. After viewing Seven, I feel it renews my faith in David Fincher as a great director. Seven is smart and equally spooky and its script packs quite a punch (its twisted ending most of all).

Seven is the story of two police detectives, a freshie (Brad Pitt) and a soon to be retiree (Morgan Freeman) who are on the trail of a serial killer who bases his murders off the seven deadly sins.

Each scene pulls you deeper into the mystery as we follow two developed and likable characters down a road of gruesome murder scenes and vague clues. I liked how Fincher portrayed the murder scenes and the lighting during these scenes.

David Fincher directs excellent performances from Morgan Freeman to Brad Pitt to Gwyneth Paltrow to R. Lee Ermey to Kevin Spacey in a small but crucial role late in the film. Pitt and Freeman and Spacey were excellent in their roles and I feel that Spacey's character could've have had a better actor. Freeman seems to add something to this particular performance (something you can tell when watching him speak with Gwyneth Paltrow's character in a particular scene set in a diner) . Pitt demonstrates his acting chops during the ending and it's this one scene in particular hat made me conclude that Pitt had an award worthy performance on display.

I found the script to be sharply written, well paced and full of thrills and chills and character development. You know a script is well written when it ties all the plot points together into a twisted finale. You know a script is sharply written when you can understand and hate a villain with only a handful of scenes. You know a script is sharply written if it is original and smart and filled with good dialogue and that's what the script for Seven is. The final line in the film is the best as it summarizes the story's message "'The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for'...I agree with the second part.". That's what sharp writing is.

I think that Gwyneth Paltrow was sidelined too much in the film (as she is in most films). I feel that if Fincher wanted to, he could've cut her almost completely out of the film and it wouldn't have made much of a difference except in the conclusion of the film.

This is a dark, thrilling and well made film by David Fincher featuring appealing performances from Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. A 11/2/15

Jupiter Ascending
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I had semi retired from film reviewing after my review of the science fiction disaster, Tomorrowland, was written... I was brought out of retirement, today, to review the latest science fiction disaster that is Jupiter Ascending... Did you happen to see last year's Winter's Tale? Or 2012's Cloud Atlas? Maybe you did, but you didn't like them if you did see them... Both films came to mind as I watched the Wachowskis' latest nonsensical film.

Jupiter Ascending begins with our lead character's dad (James D'Arcy) looking into space with his treasured golden telescope. As he and his pregnant wife (The wife is pregnant with our lead character) smile and look happy as hell, a group of robbers break into their house and begin to take their stuff. One of the robbers grabs the golden telescope and James D'Arcy goes crazy, begging the robber to leave the telescope behind. The robber shoots and kills James D'Arcy thus leaving our lead character without a dad. This is the last time we see or hear of our lead character's dad.

The film then jumps years later and we are introduced to our lead character, Jupiter Jones, (Played rather lifelessly by Mila Kunis). Jupiter Jones cleans wealthy people's houses. One day she goes to donate her eggs so that she will have money to buy a golden telescope. During the egg donating procedure, the nurses and doctors operating on Jupiter are revealed to be aliens sent to kill her by Balem Abrasax (Played by Eddie Redmayne who sounds like a dying whale in this movie) who is a part of an outer space dynasty and has control of the Earth. Jupiter is saved by an alien mercenary soldier named Caine Wise (Played by Channing Tatum). It is revealed by Balem's sister (Tuppence Middleton) that Jupiter is the rightful owner of Earth. Jupiter seeks to claim the planet Earth from Balem Abrasax, who will do anything and everything in his power to stop her from taking the Earth, with the help of Caine.

Jupiter Ascending contains the exact same narrative befuddlement and attractive visual effects that Cloud Atlas and Winter's Tale both displayed.

Watching Jupiter Ascending was like watching a football game if you didn't understand football at all. Jupiter Ascending was confusing and I was befuddled the entire two hour length of the film. The script is so heavy on science fiction thrills that it fails to take the time to explain these thrills or the story that make these thrills possible.

The story of Jupiter Ascending was so heavily conceived that what we end up getting on screen is a humongous pile of ideas but no idea of what these ideas are. The characters in the film never explain enough to satisfy our thirst for knowledge of this world that Jupiter Ascending is set in. If clearer exposition was added to the script, maybe I would've understood what was happening in Jupiter Ascending.

This film was so confusing to watch that it made me very angry. I wanted to turn the film off a half an hour into it, but didn't because I figured that later on the story would become coherent. The story never did become coherent it became even more incoherent.

Another thing is that the big visual effects heavy action sequences themselves aren't very enjoyable to watch. These sequences are so fast paced and repetitive and long that they begin to cause the viewer mental agony. There is one particular action sequence in the beginning of the film in which Jupiter Jones and Caine Wise are be chased by aliens as they fly around the city of Chicago that cause the most damage to my father and I as we sat and endured it. It is the longest of the action sequence in the film, apparently running for a total of EIGHT minutes... That is way too long and the sequence is also way too fast paced. We the viewers cannot make sense of what is going on because of the fact that this sequence is so fast paced... Everything goes by in a blur... We end up not caring about what's going on, we just want this scene to end.

Visual effects are great when they don't overpower the movie. It's just like how spices make food better when they are used in small amounts but when they are used in large amounts, it's the exact opposite effect. The Wachowskis' film Jupiter Ascending features an eye sore of beautiful visual effects. If the effects hadn't been as beautiful as they were to behold for two hours, I would've given this film a very pathetic one star rating.

The performances, lead by Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum, are surprisingly weak considering all the talent in this film. Just about everybody underperforms here. Kunis, who is excellent in films such as Book of Eli and Friends with Benefits, comes off lackluster and (as I said earlier) lifeless as Jupiter Jones. Channing Tatum is so-so and Eddie Redmayne, who won the coveted best actor award at the Academy Awards 2015 show for his work as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, is absolutely horrible as the lead villain of this movie. Redmayne voice in the movie is so strange that you wonder what he was going for with it. Was Redmayne trying to impersonate a dying whale or a very old man on his last leg? I don't know, all I know is that I couldn't hear any of his lines due to his inaudible voice.

Actually, all the actors were pretty inaudible because every actor in this movie seemed to mumble their lines! It got so hard to hear the actor's lines, to the point in which I had to turn the volume of my sound bar up to its highest level just to be able to get the slightest idea of what everybody was saying... That's another reason why I didn't understand anything that was going on. Even if exposition was being given, I couldn't hear it.

The bottom line is that while Jupiter Ascending looks great... It's an incoherent and confusing mess of a film with bad performances, action sequences that are too fast paced and too long, and a screenplay void of explanations. D- 9/12/15

I observe now that the Wachowskis' continue to dispense expensive and unenjoyable film one after another.