Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

The Spoilers are strong with this post.

Helmed by J.J. Abrams and featuring all the expected classics like returning characters and that distinct nostalgic Star Wars feel, while simultaneously brimming with the best our modern day can offer in the way of special effects, thrilling excitement, and epic geekiness, ten years later, the Force has awoken!

Awakened? Awoken. Whatever -- it's awake, and it's awesome.

The plot is very Episode IV: a droid, escaping while it's master is captured, holds important information that both the good (the Resistance) and the bad (the First Order) sides want, and winds up on a desert planet (Jakku this time) where it befriends a native, whose life is about to change forever.

But in this case, two people have their lives changed forever. One is the native, a girl who fends for herself while she waits for her family to come for her, Rey (). The other is a stormtrooper, who's out on his first mission when he decides to defect from the First Order. Finn () is just FN-2187 until he helps the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron () escape the Order, and the good natured rebel gives him a new name -- just before they crash land and are separated. Finn then teams up with Rey and BB-8, and a certain circular ship, to finish the presumed-dead Poe's mission and bring the secret information back to the Resistance. But they meet with more trouble along the way, in the form of an aging Han Solo () and lovable, big-walking-carpet, who want the Falcon back, and an intimidating Sith, Kylo Ren () who wants the information stored in BB-8 -- the last piece of a map that leads to the long-missing last Jedi, Luke Skywalker ().

Tip for the baddies: never overlook the droid. It's probably very important.

Along with Han and Luke, Leia () is also back, and the leader of the Resistance. These returning characters together are the biggest reserve I ever had about this movie. I figured their inclusion would be necessary, and it certainly was, and definitely worth it, but as I fell in love with the new characters, I cared less and less to reminisce with the old ones. Han in particular is very prominent in the plot as his story line is wrapped up. And I like what they did with it; I just didn't like that it meant I'd have to wait for Episode VIII to get to know the new characters more.

The title of hero belongs to our personable stormtrooper, Finn. What I love most about Finn is that since he was brainwashed and sheltered by the Order since childhood, he's very naive, yet in spite of the brainwashing, is a first class gentleman, is super friendly, and has a great sense of humor. And honest -- I adore how honest he is. He always goes to Rey's aid, and even though every time she takes care of the problem before he can help, he still always tries again the next time. It doesn't make him clueless; it makes him a good guy, and great character. In the whole movie he has one, short-lived delusion of selfishness. His naivete along with his high energy makes him hilarious -- certainly the character with the best laugh-lines -- and engaging, but it doesn't take away from the depth of his serious moments. He is the film's tone personified, and he is what ties the movie together, and John Boyega does an outstanding job with it all.

Who knew? A faceless stormtrooper becomes a Star Wars hero!

Rey, however, is the film's main character -- along with being the heroine. It's a close call, but because she is the one destined to be a Jedi (contrary to what the trailers and posters had us believe -- nice one, J.J.), it skews in her favor that way. Really these two together are what makes it all work; almost like they are one character together. What one may be missing the other naturally fills, and they complement each other winningly. Daisy Ridley's Rey is a perfect "strong female" character because she doesn't make a show of the fact that she can take care of herself. In fact, she doesn't make a show of anything she does, and never tells anyone when she just saved their life, or how she escaped, or that she just beat a Sith Lord -- or whatever the case may be. On top of that, she's drop-dead gorgeous, but has a welcoming, down-to-earth quality to her that makes her very relatable. Ridley is a true talent and owns her character with quiet grace and British charm.

"Oh, and do drop your gun!" This girl knows how to Jedi.

I knew from the moment Oscar Isaac was cast that he'd be my favorite character, and I knew from the moment he was revealed to be a pilot that he'd be stuck in a cockpit most of the film. I was right on both counts. Poe Dameron owns the movie's opening, but once he appears later he's more in the background in favor of those previously mentioned, and, yes, spends a considerable amount of time flying an X-wing. Awesomely, of course. Oscar Isaac makes the most of every second though, leaving a great impression, and continuing to amaze me with his spot-on character acting. Every one of his characters is so unique; it's like playing that one character is his specialty. His Poe is an effortlessly cool; a loyal rogue, smart-mouthed, and laughs in the face of danger, but is friendly and easy-going with those he trusts. If he doesn't get even more time in Episode VIII, someone will have made a very wrong decision.

It Star Wars! You gotta have a good trio. Obviously that's what he's meant for, but he got a little left out...

The biggest surprise turned out to be Kylo Ren. This is rather crazy, because he was already everyone's favorite character and the designated coolest character even before anyone had seen the film. His costume, his mask, his voice, and don't forget that controversial lightsaber -- all made him stand out from the very beginning. But the film doesn't rely on that only; they give him tons to chew on, and more built-in depth than the previous three heroes put together simply by making him Han's son. Adam Driver hits a beautifully complicated conflict of thrillingly cool evilness masking an unstable storm of fear and anger. A true Sith. I love that he idolizes Darth Vader, not knowing that he turned to the Light side before dying. (Side note: why didn't Luke tell him?) I loved his temper tantrums, and I like that his neat lightsaber is useful for stabbing people during a clash -- that's just the kind of evil he is.

is again playing a CGI character, the Supreme Leader of the First Order, Snoke. Who, we were all glad to discover, is not actually a giant. But it still very intimidating and promising. is third baddie, Hux, a First Order General. His character was fun, and played off with Kylo in some very interesting and entertaining ways. 's silver stormtrooper, Captain Phasma got next to nothing to do besides look and talk cool. I was sad the 's character didn't look like him, and neither did 's, but they both still gave good stuff. Recognizable cameos and bit-parts were everywhere, and wins for being most unexpected.

Star Wars villains really know how to dress!

There were some throwbacks to the original trilogy, but it was done in good taste and with reserve. There wasn't nearly as much as there could have been, nor, in fact, as much as I expected there to be. Believe it or not, this movie seeks to separate itself from the Star Wars we already know, just with maintaining the general principles of the tone. Almost the first thing we knew about The Force Awakens was that J.J. was bringing back the practical effects. In fact, his goal was to bring back that feeling of awe and wonder he had watching the original trilogy as a kid. With that goal in mind, he put effort into creating the film practically, and with detail. And every bit of it worked together into a beautiful success. The wonder and the exhilarating thrill of watching Star Wars -- something I was only barely able to remember when recently re-watching them -- has been restored.

I feel like this story is just now finally beginning to live up to its full potential, but it's not fully there yet. In separating itself from episode six, and breaking off into its own new direction, a lot of time was spent cutting ties, making clean ends, and moving on. They did a great job with it -- it couldn't have been done better, but taking that time for the old meant giving up time from the new, and sometimes the unexplored territory seemed to sit there just out of reach, tempting. When it was being explored it was brilliant. I can hardly wait to see more new creatures and planets, and new additions and developments on the powers of the Force and the way the Jedi and the Sith use them. Everything promises to be fully thought-through and fleshed-out and awesome.

Think about it -- hilt-guards are for protection; these are for attack -- which sounds more Sith?

The script is probably the only thing that could use more improvement. Things like plot or the individual lines that characters say is one of the least important things about Star Wars, and this one was still light years ahead of the campiness of previous films, but there's still room to grow. I don't care that this movie pretty much copies episode four's whole plot outline because it was awesome and worth redoing, and I didn't mind that there were only a handful of fantastic lines, and just a lot of filler besides; but neither do I think that a smart script and a complex and unique plot would at all detract from the fun that was done to such perfection first try. The next director is Rian Johnson, and I hope he brings his signature full armory of smarts and wit and adds it to the full blast of sci-fi geeky delight.

This movie is not perfect. Honestly it couldn't have been even if a perfect movie is a possibility. It had too much baggage and too much responsibility. But it was, I believe, the best it possibly could have been, which, considering the huge amount of hype and the pressure from such a legacy, really is fantastically high praise. Also, I may think it's just shy of a perfect movie, but as far as the movie-loving little kid inside me who guides my movie-enjoyment is concerned, it was perfect, and the best movie ever. Whenever I wasn't so involved and drawn into the world that I wasn't even aware that I was actually sitting in a theater, it was only for brief moments, which I used to revel in my giddy excitement that I was once again watching a Star Wars movie for the very first time.


Overwhelmed, I was. Handle it, I could not.

Filled with absolutely incredible characters portrayed by an amazing cast, and a deep respect for its roots, balanced with an explosive sense of gleefully gripping entertainment, The Force Awakens gets it exactly right. It feels warm and familiar while surprising you with plot twists that make perfect sense, and blowing you away with breathtaking visuals that could only exist with the combination of the world of a long time ago and the movie magic of today. By the fans and for the fans, the iconic saga that is Star Wars reawakens, ushering in a whole new era of thrilling tales of adventure from a galaxy far, far away...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Gåten Ragnarok

Mild Spoilers.

It started out a lazy night in like any other. The bros and I scrolled through our Netflix options briefly before settling on a PG-13 adventure film titled Ragnarok. Not a Marvel movie that doesn't yet exist, but definitely relating to Norse mythology. It didn't take us long to discover though, a very interesting thing: the film was Norwegian -- and therefore, in Norwegian. So we did the most obvious thing to do at that point; we turned off the subtitles and watched the whole movie like that, relying only on our intuition and guesswork to fill in the the plot.

I thought it would be an amusing experience, but it wound up being way more interesting than I imagined.

It was a family adventure, borrowing plays from Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones, about a historian/archaeologist of some kind () who along with his friend and coworker () discovers the location where a Norse myth occurred. He, his two children, his friend, and the friend's sister (best guess) () travel to the small, hidden island in search of artifacts... but what they find is even more... alive.

First of all, this was no ground-breaking adventure story. It had a classic and fairly predictable plot. However, it was all done very well. As far as I could tell, the plot was thought through very neatly and concisely, and while they borrowed the fun and obvious elements from Spielberg and Indy, they also used the harder to pinpoint, but just as important elements that make those films great. Ragnarok has great adventure pacing that only feels slow very occasionally and was definitely not lazily thrown together. It features a unique location and several very memorable and fun action set pieces that keep the movie fresh and thrilling.

Translated literally, "Gåten Ragnarok" is "The Riddle Ragnarok." The American title is simply "Ragnarok," but I think we can do better... The Mystery of Ragnarok. The Legend of Ragnarok. The Mystery of the Legend of Ragnarok!

Our understanding of all the speech-related element came from listening to inflection, observing body language, and an understanding of what is usually said in particular cliched situations. This created some very cool side effects though, because obviously some things were just too detailed and arbitrary to know. Like, we knew that the kids' mom had died, but whenever people had a conversation about her, we didn't know exactly what they were saying, just that it was about her, and the speaker's emotion based on inflection.

I found it very interesting to discover that not knowing the details of a situation didn't at all hinder my emotional connection with the characters and their situations. In fact, I wonder if it was higher than if I had totally understood them. Usually sub-par scripts are most often what breaks the fourth wall for me, and in this movie's case, I honestly have no idea of the script's quality, and cannot be influenced. Here, instead, all I got was the emotion of the actor, which was realistic all-around. This was by no means a high-emotion movie, but every little bit was involving and immersing way past what I would normally expect out of a small adventure tale like this. So, in a way, this was the most realistic script ever in my eyes. Super strange, but accurate.

Yes, it is a family adventure. See, there are KIDS being terrorized by that monster!

Gåten Ragnarok had it's share of pitfalls and corny moments, but was overall an exciting, fun, and thoroughly entertaining adventure tale. Though I think the novelty of not understanding the language enhanced my enjoyment of it in an incredibly unique way, I thoroughly expect to enjoy it again when I re-watch it -- using the subtitles this time to check my work.

Out of curiosity, have any of you ever watched a foreign language film without the subtitles?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Interstellar

Some Spoilers within.

Crops on Earth are dying. Corn is the last one to survive, and only a matter of years away from meeting the same fate. And then it'll be humanity's turn. But NASA has been working in secret on a way to save the humans. When a black hole opened up in space near Saturn, they saw their chance and took it -- sending astronauts in to explore the planets in the new galaxy, in the hopes that they'll find a habitable one.

Through a series of strange events, Cooper, a pilot-turned-farmer discovers NASA's secret headquarters. There he is told the truth about Earth's impending demise and is recruited to lead one last mission into the black hole -- to visit the three planets where the surviving astronauts are sending out signals indicating that the planet is potentially habitable. Knowing that the mission would take many years, Cooper doesn't want to leave his two children behind, but takes the job anyway, to save them.

Ladies and gentlemen; 3001: A Space Odyssey.

Never mind if it's enjoyable; never mind if it's entertaining; the biggest issue and controversy surrounding 's latest blockbuster epic is whether or not it's scientifically viable. I started out without any specific explanations of the science behind this movie, but I had heard about relative time in space travel, and I know all about paradoxes too... because Doctor Who. So the parts in the film that had to do with space travel -- the black hole, the time differences, the technical aspects -- made sense to me as the film explained them. It would be a whole other issue if the story was being sold as a true story, but it's science fiction, so making sense within its own explanation is all I require to give a stamp of approval.

The previously mentioned aspects I can see the more involved (read: geeky) fans debating over, about potential holes, or whether or not the science is applicable in reality, but a lot of the less science-y events made we wonder how far people's claims of this film's incredible accuracy actually goes. Are people swallowing that the Earth will eventually die via the natural extinction of plants? That humans will eventually evolve to be able to see and manipulate time? I love a good bootstrap paradox in my entertainment, but that involves literal time travel (not just space travel "time travel"), backwards time travel, and that, as fun as it is to enjoy in a film, is a little silly to call scientifically accurate.

Short answer: no; it's not scientifically accurate. Proof? Bookcases.

Now that I've dealt with that, on to whether or not Interstellar is enjoyable and entertaining -- an underrated point that I put a lot of importance on when evaluating entertainment. And this is actually a pretty unique case. Usually in a big blockbuster I have a backup for if the plot fails to engage and impress; the cast. Usually there's at least one actor or character present that I can turn my attention to. This movie, not so much. It has a huge cast, but isn't made up of many actors that I'm automatically biased towards. Plus was the only constant character, and I'm neutral towards him. I didn't find much to connect with Cooper on, except that I really did appreciate his extreme will to survive because of his love for his children (child, really). Only, that came from the script.

I actually dislike generally, and her character being so dramatically sentimental and inept (she was probably a descendant of Gravity's Ryan Stone) didn't help one bit. She killed my favorite character, , who died predictably early. Then all I had to look forward to was 's appearance, which ended in surprise when Mann turned out to be a coward and a villain. And while I'm on the subject, can I just ask; why did Mann want to kill Cooper and the others? I mean, they all wanted to leave. I just can't see what he thought it would help. If you have an idea about that I'd love to hear it. The only possibility I see is that he was just plain crazy. Cooper's daughter Murph was best when being played by , who handled the potentially annoying characteristics of the character much better than the younger portrayal. As for the son, Tom, he was set up for development as the younger, but once he grew into , no use was made of it. I was sad for him though because Cooper never seemed to care one iota about him compared with Murph. was around, which was a good thing, and so was all of a sudden, and I spent a lot of time wondering where he came from... and who he was.

Woman, please, pull yourself together.

So since the entertainment "backup" of the cast was so slight and so often absent, I had to almost solely rely on the entertaining elements of the plot to involve and impress me. On that score the film skews toward to positive side. The movie was overlong in my opinion, but it was able to keep me interested while waiting for the cool things to happen. When the cool things did happen they weren't so exciting as to change the tone which helped. If they had been, the slow parts in between would have been more boring by comparison, and since there was more time spent in the in between, that wouldn't have been good.

Visually, the movie was pretty fantastic, with consistently great cinematography, even during the scenes that weren't really going for the "wow" factor. Hoyte Van Hoytema is cinematographer instead of Nolan's usual Wally Pfister, and he gives the movie a fresh look, but it still maintains that Chris Nolan flavor too. You know what I mean. In the big "wow" scenes the effects live up to the hype and the vision they are portraying. Even if there isn't much to see that the trailer didn't show us. The most memorable part of the whole film is how creatively beautiful it is.

Here's something I don't usually mention: the score. Typically, unless they're particularly good or particularly bad, they don't stand out to me. Well this one stands out. In a particularly bad way. I suppose I should give Nolan and Hans Zimmer credit for attempting something bold, but for me it wound up being mostly ineffective, almost always distracting and nerve-grating, and often way too loud, covering up dialogue. In fact, the sound in this movie was just the pits. Characters would mumble and whisper, barely audible, and then five minutes later would scream their heads off with no evidence of dampening. I spent the whole movie adjusting the volume. I don't care what realistic, dramatic, or edgy effect you're going for; if it causes your viewers to rewind to hear a line right before blowing their eardrums out, it's a bad idea.

Usually we take a film's sound for granted; here it's the biggest downfall. Such a little thing...

I would have liked the characters if they'd been played by different actors; I may have liked the actors if their characters were better written. The science would have impressed me more if not for random gaps in logic, and everything that happens after Cooper goes into a black hole the second time. But, the big twist would have been cooler if it didn't take itself so seriously. The big twist also would have been less predictable if less time had been spent hinting at it... And I would probably want to see it again -- if I didn't have to sit through it all again.

A little too ambitious for its own good, Interstellar never settles on what it wants to be. It winds up in an awkward middle ground of incomplete brilliant ideas and deeply thoughtful hogwash. It's too serious and focused on the theories and the science to be thoroughly entertaining as a sci-fi space adventure; too out there and theatrical with its elaborate fiction to be taken seriously for its theories and science. A grand and beautiful mess.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Upcoming Movie Roundup - December

From my November list I saw the one film I knew I would see, Mockingjay Part 2 (click here for my review) and we started The Man in the High Castle, which is great, but we're making slow progress. Still waiting on a chance to see Brooklyn and Man Up.

December, of course, has one new release that pretty much everyone knows about -- even the people who don't usually keep track of movie releases. It is undoubtedly the biggest hyped movie I have ever witnessed, and it's thrilling to be a part of it all. But, there are a few other December movies that are also worth a look:


MI-5 (Spooks: The Greater Good)
Dec 4th(limited); R
A spin-off movie of the British version of 24 (sorta), Spooks (or MI-5 in the US). I've never watched the TV show, and I wouldn't really expect this to be an actual great movie or anything, (reviews so far are expectedly middling) but the thing is, when it comes to action thrillers like this, even the bad ones are good to me. I'm definitely up for this one. I only wonder how much knowledge of the series is required. Or, maybe I should actually watch the series now...




In the Heart of the Sea
Dec 11th; PG-13
Every time I'm reminded of this, Ron Howard's latest epic, I think about it has basically everything I love to see in a movie. It looks beautiful, always a big bonus. It's an intriguing story, with lots of potential for genuine drama -- if the tone veers more to the serious, survival side, or to the action/adventure side, or lands anywhere in between it doesn't matter -- it'll all work well. Even though it's based on reality, it has that element of awe and wonder that comes from a fantasy. And it has a cast -- I mean it really has a cast. Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland top my "excited to see" list, but there's also Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson. Plus it's a period drama. And set at sea. Even if one of these elements fail to be as great as they promise to be, there's many to back it up. I have very little doubt that this will fail to be a worthy film, and I may even have to drag my family to the theater to see it!




Don Verdean
Dec 11th(limited); PG-13
Ah-hahahahahaha-ooh... Well. It's a comedy from the writers of Napoleon Dynamite, and it stars Sam Rockwell and Jemaine Clement, which is three huge pluses right there, but the part where it pretty much is constantly poking fun at Christianity is much less appealing. No real Christians are like that in reality, and I have no problem with poking fun at the fake ones who actually are, but it always irks me a little to see Christianity portrayed so inaccurately -- even in fun -- because that really is the way some people view all Christians, and c'mon -- who would want to be associated with that? Reviews are mixed so far, but I love me some Sam Rockwell, so we'll just have to wait and see.




Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Dec 18th; PG-13
Gah! Do I really even need to say anything? The fact of the matter people, is, that even if every single other movie in December were complete trash, no one would care, or probably even notice -- because Star Wars. And if it's any good, that applies the January movies too. And it's gonna be good. Even if it isn't instantly as classic as the original trilogy it's still going to be worth all the hype. It looks so beyond epic from it's trailers. J.J. Abrams... epic amounts of sentimentality... fantastic cast. Even though I've never seen John Boyega or Daisy Ridley in anything before I already consider myself to be a fan of them, plus there's my personal favorite Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis and Lupita Nyong'o, and of course the original cast of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. One sad point for me is that I can't see it until Sunday at the earliest, (so I'll be dying on Thurs Fri and Sat) but that's the one damper amongst the piles of insanely exciting things about this hugely anticipated continuation of the Star Wars saga. All aboard the hype train! Next stop: a galaxy far far away! Woot wooot!




Joy
Dec 25th: PG-13
Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell together yet again. Honestly I don't really need to know much more than that. What I do know is that the story is really four stories, each centering around a woman played by Lawrence, and, one of the stories, I believe, is true. It's a very different premise, and I hope is successful in making another good film for these three. What really sealed the deal for me was the PG-13 rating. I'm quite impressed. And if nothing else it'll be a great acting vehicle for Lawrence.




Point Break
Dec 25th; PG-13
I recently saw the original Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze film, and enjoyed it, so I don't see why I shouldn't do the same for this remake someday. This one looks much more thrilling as the daredevil aspect has been kicked up to match the modern day. Otherwise it doesn't seem to have much going for it, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's generally considered an unworthy remake by fans of the original.



 
The Revenant
Dec 25th; R
The chances that I'll ever see this are pretty slim. Even if it does turn out to be considered a fantastic film and even if it does finally allow Leo to win that Oscar, it just plain in unappealing to me. In spite of the cast, which, besides Leonardo DiCaprio, includes Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, and Lukas Haas. It looks abrasively intense and serious, and that is just not interesting to me. I've sat through the trailer three times now in theaters and every time I do, I feel embarrassed for Leo. He's trying so hard! So, so hard. Poor Leo. It would be really sad if he didn't get it this time. I would laugh. With this one, I'm really interested in knowing what you guys think. Are you excited to see this movie, and if so, why? For Leo's performance, or the movie itself? And does anyone share my opinion that this movie is trying so hard it's actually embarrassing, or am I alone in that?




Weee, what an exciting month! How excited are you for Star Wars, and when are you planning to see it? And are there any other movies this month that have your attention?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Inside Out

This review is Spoiler-free.

Pixar's back-to-form movie Inside Out gets creative with what goes on inside you head, hands out hearty laughter for free, and tugs gently on heartstrings -- but it's not all perfect. The story centers around an 11-year-old girl named Riley who moves with her parents to a new, far away home, and struggles to begin her new life there. Most of the time is spent literally inside her head as her emotions (Joy (), Sadness (), Anger (), Fear (), and Disgust ()) take turns at the console, responding to situations in Riley's life, and creating memories that define Riley's personality. Joy spends most of the time in control, but when things start to change and she begins to lose control she panics, and her every attempt to keep things happy and the way it used to be only makes things worse.

Everybody panic now!!

This film's super creative premise is its high point. From it comes all the neatest insights, funniest jokes, and most involving drama. And that is the order of what I was most impressed with. The Insights -- showing an explaining how the mind, personality and emotions work in a simplified, fantasy way -- worked really well, and felt very true to life. So much so, that I often found myself wishing that they'd gone even deeper with the idea. It stayed very basic during the movie, at a level that is understandable for the younger audience, but was too basic for my grown-up understanding. I grasped the concepts very quickly and immediately wanted more, but it is a kid's movie, so I didn't get it.

But, I was appeased by comedy. There were many great laugh-out-loud moments that I thoroughly enjoyed, but there was also plenty of great subtle comedy. The movie's default setting was funny, so though laugh-out-loud moments only came occasionally, I was almost always aware of, and amused by the underlying foundation of humor. I loved the dynamic between Joy and Sadness. They were the only two true standouts of the cast, and their conversations were naturally funny because of their clashing and extreme personalities. The rest of the cast and characters had their moments of course, but those two were consistently great under the pressure of being heavily featured.

Sadness' inexplicable need to touch all the memories though... brilliant.

The drama was a mixed bag. Half came across sincerely and I didn't mind being taken in to it, and half pushed too hard, was too unnecessary, and too contrived. The former took place mainly at the end of the movie, and the latter in mostly in the middle. Also the end-drama was directly related to the movie's premise and the middle-drama wasn't. That is not a coincidence -- the movie's most successful moments were always the moments that were close to that winning base idea.

The movie's main flaw was, basically, its entire second act -- the whole, entire plot of Joy and Sadness looking for, and finding a way back to the console room. I know, that makes it seem huge, but it was more of a missed or misused opportunity than anything else. (Or the film should have been about thirty minutes shorter.) It had a few, fleeting humorous moments, but was mostly just a sad excuse for filler. It wound up being down right boring as they tried different ideas but ended up exactly where they started several times, and then had some unnecessary rabbit trails, before eventually throwing together a lazy solution because all the good ideas had been used already. The only truly worthwhile things that happened in that section was the events in the control room, and a little of the character development between Joy and Sadness -- but only some.

The creative way of portraying the mind was the only thing that kept that section going.

Fortunately, the boring and unnecessary filler of the middle section did not at all bleed into the awesomeness of the beginning or end, both of which were full of the classic, meaningful, Pixar fun and creativity, and that helped leave the movie's impression in my memory as... a mostly joyful one.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

Spoilers throughout.

The mammoth phenomenon that, three and a half years ago, kick-started the trend of teen dystopia movie adaptations has finally reached its conclusion. The dystopia trend is still raging strong today, and shows almost no sign of relenting, yet, this final part of the final chapter of the girl who began it all feels past its prime -- and about a year overdue. The beginning of the end (in more ways than one) was the first Mockingjay movie and the decision to split the story into two movies. Did that decision help the movie-makers adapt the slightly bloated and chaotic last book more accurately? Absolutely. Was it worth it? Well...

Stick with me and we'll find out! Or die trying!

This film centers on Katniss and co. as they give their all to one final push in the war against President Snow. It starts out with the exact same dull, droning tone that Mockingjay Part 1 gave us. I was surprised at this for about two seconds before I realized that expecting this film to be more exciting when it was filmed at the same time as the last one was totally unrealistic. I kept having this conversation in my head: Me: "This is boring and I don't care about it anymore." Me: "Okay, but at least try and view it from an unbiased perspective so you can review it." Me: "Fine." Five minutes later, Me: "This is boring!" Eventually I realized that my unbiased opinion is just that -- this movie was sluggish and dull and lifeless for more than half of the run time. 

The cause of this probably came a lot from the two-part-stretch, but I also noticed that it had a lot to do with characters. The interesting, lively characters were sidelined in favor of the characters that were neck-deep in dark, heavy drama. Katniss is capable of, and has been a lively character is the past, but the movie inexplicably toned down that side of her here. For the most part she looks like she's sleepwalking through the plot. It can't be 's fault though -- she's just too good at being depressed and despondent. When she breaks out of that rut and absolutely kills a scene at the end, I wished that Katniss had been present for more of the movie.

Unfortunately even Jennifer Lawrence can't carry a movie all by herself.

Peeta () and Gale () are also pretty despondent too, as they spend the movie moping -- Gale, because he knows he's losing the love-triangle battle, and Peeta, because he randomly and unwillingly flip-flops between being a good guy and a bad guy. The book's quick dismissal of Gale always bothered me, and the film does nothing to combat that. After Katniss doesn't kill him when he asks her to, and after he (possibly) inadvertently causes Prim's death, their last conversation only touches on his side of the guilt. Though I did love the delivery of Katniss' line that dismisses him forever. On Peeta's side, things often get too mushy and verge uncomfortably on cheesy as they set up for Katniss to finally choose him, but still they don't properly cover the best of their drama. At the climax when he prevents her from killing herself, the potentially powerful moment was sadly rushed and glossed over.

I guess the film lost sight of its best features: it's powerful moments, and it's fun, memorable characters.

Relatively new characters get first priority for screen time and development, and  Natalie Dormer, , and stand out. Old favorites only really make appearances. Haymitch () lights up the screen when he's there. Johanna () is just begging for more screen time. Effie () gets to show up, but doesn't get to be her usual amusing self. Caesar Flickerman () goes full villain in his cameo-length part. and Julianne Moore keep things professional as their respective Presidents. Finnick () tries to make the most of it, but is mostly ignored before being given the same disappointing throwaway death he got in the novel. Beetee () practically doesn't even exist. Even Prim () -- the one sure-fire sucker-punch -- isn't developed enough to get the best reaction. As the characters serve their purpose as the novel dictated, they fade away, unimportant. One novel was made into 4 hour, 20 minute film, and yet there were no character expansions.

I can only guess that the film makers were literally too scared of the fans to make any changes at all.

The only thing that was deemed worth expanding, it seems, was the action sequences -- though still minimally. The action in general though is really what makes this film worth watching over reading the book. They are visually cleaner than the book's hectic descriptions, and are a welcome break from lingering shots of deadpan faces. Ideally, this and the last film combined could be at least a half-hour shorter, and that extra time was picked up mostly by making each event -- each shot -- last just a little longer. It did nothing to add to the content of course -- a ten-second shot of Katniss' face is just as descriptive as a two-second one. It's like they were too lazy to add any new content, but also knew that a movie must be over 2 hours in order to be an "epic," and these movie have to be epics.

So after an hour and a half or so off all that, we finally get to the tide-turning final battle, and the climactic aftermath, and finally, the film gets good. This is what we were waiting for, and it didn't disappoint. Because it was the best parts of the book, it was the best parts of the film. They showed it all like the book demanded, and everything fell naturally into place. I finally fully understood the scene where Katniss votes in favor of the symbolic Hunger Games. Then Plutarch's letter, read out by good ol' Haymitch, and the fan-pleasing moment between Haymitch and Effie. The way they showed the slow progression of time as life starts to find a place again with our heroine and her fellow District 12 victors was simple, and genuinely great. And then that final scene, that gives us full circle feel for the final resolution, as Jennifer Lawrence delivers one last monologue, as the woman who used to be Girl on Fire.

Girl -- fire. Fire -- girl. For the last time.

It is important to note, that though I give this film and Mockingjay Part 1 the same star score, and though my review of Part 1 may sound more positive, I definitely consider Part 2 to be the better of the two films.

It got really messy there for a while, but managed to wrap it all up in a satisfying way -- the exact same satisfying way the book did of course, but redundancy is underrated. Actually, it's not, but it is forgivable. Especially in this case when the franchise was so tired for so long I actually thought it would sleepwalk right though the end, but, thankfully, it wound up waking up just in time to conclude with a bang almost loud enough to cover up the previous sounds of snoring. So, no, I don't think the two-part split was worth it, but all things considered... there are worse games to play.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Age of Adaline

This review is Spoiler-free.

"On November 1st, 2015, at precisely 8:08 in the evening, an overly dramatic narrator began to relay a tale in the living room of an insignificant movie review blogger. The story he told was about a single woman; Adaline Bowman. In painstaking detail, he dramatically glossed over her life, spouting times and dates until the film's introduction was complete and he had finished relaying the backstory we already knew -- that Adaline, because of reckless driving and pseudo-science, was magically cursed to look like a twenty-nine year-old Blake Lively.... for the rest of her life."

Doesn't sound too terrible to me...

This movie is an astonishing mishmash of sweeping romance and melodramatic ridiculousness. The main idea -- a love story surrounding a lonely immortal -- is a classic that is capable of some pretty grand drama. The way this movie portrays it is often ill advised. If I didn't know better, I'd think they created the more unnecessary plot elements just so they could poke holes in them. Mainly, their explanation for how she gets to be immortal in the first place is a silly attempt at being science-y. Don't call it science. It's a fantasy, so call it a fantasy. Then you don't have to explain everything and you can spend more time showing Lively gliding around in elegant dresses. Win-win.

The film's main redeeming quality is that it really is a beautiful sight to see. It oozes elegance; from the leading lady, to the music, down to the framing of each shot. It lures you in, inviting you to relax and let the film just soak in, and for the most part this works. Mainly, all the drama of the plot is presented in a very mellow way (I know, it is a melodrama, but here there's a big emphasis on the "mellow" part) not trying to force you to care about Adaline's woes as much as she does which is definitely a good thing.

There were, however, two slip-ups on this point. The first was a particular scene, that for a "normal" person was a sure-fire tear-jerker, but for me (cold-hearted person that I am) it went too far trying to pull out tears, and it snapped me out of my relaxed enjoying state. And the second was whenever the narrator was talking. Seriously, it was just too much. It was so over-the-top and cheesy that if you were to satire it, you wouldn't actually have to enhance it any. It's at satire level already -- but is taking itself seriously. I didn't know whether I should laugh or groan.

Still can't decide...

Blake Lively as our ageless heroine matched the movie's calm, cold, and elegant tone with her demeanor, which is always something I like to see. Though at first it may seem wrong to have your movie's heroine be as aloof as Adaline is -- even beyond the requirements set down by plot and character arc -- but it really becomes the thing that sets Adaline's movie apart. Lively takes Adaline's smooth, refined voice, untouchable elegance, and tragic melancholy right up to the edge of believably, and sticks her toes over the chasm. And the result of the daring portrayal, for me, is what made this movie memorable. You could argue she took it too far, but since she matched with the film's level on everything, I say no.

The supporting cast took its role very seriously and never ventured to do anything but support, and thus feels a little meager. Harrison Ford does some good things and earns his place. Michiel Huisman lacks what you would really expect out of the main love-interest in a romance like this, but it's less his fault and more the script's penchant for rabbit trails. He gets some good moments of charm in there, but never gets to go very deep. The surprise for me was Ellen Burstyn as Adaline's older daughter -- and by that I don't mean "oldest daughter," I mean "daughter who is older than her," at least as far as looks are concerned. The younger woman playing motherly to an older woman was strange, but wound up being a surprise highlight of the film for me. Their unique relationship was portrayed very well, and was interesting to watch.

Weird, but interesting.

The film also had a surprisingly refined sense of humor -- when it did humor that is. It looked lovely and succeeded in presenting the film's main idea in a fairly pleasing and romantic kind of way. As far as time goes, there was more spent successfully than unsuccessfully. However, when things go unsuccessfully, they go to very far that way. The film's holes are painful, and made even worse from being presented in such a factual manner. And the previously mentioned rabbit trails distract and send the plot on aimless loops that just don't fit in the end. I find the film lands in a balance for me; I liked some things; didn't others; but for the most part I just don't care -- it just isn't the kind of movie I would ever love. So though I will say that it was worth watching, and a well-made movie, I imagine that only people who already love romantic melodramas will really appreciate what this film does.

"Then, at exactly 10:00 that same evening, 112 minutes later, the movie ended, the credits rolled, and the insignificant blogger went on with her life."

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Cabin in the Woods

Major spoilers in the second half of this review. 
&
I saw this film cut for TV.

I don't watch a lot of horror movies -- in fact, you could almost say I never watch horror movies. As a rule, I am not a fan. Even so, I was interested in this one even way back in 2012 when it came out -- drawn in by Joss Whedon's involvement and it's impressively high Rotten Tomatoes score -- but it's R-rated content was more than I wanted to handle... so I waited three years for it to make its television debut.

A long and suspenseful wait. But worth it.

The film was co-written, and directed by Drew Goddard who recently left an impression on me by being the man responsible for the excellent adapted screenplay for The Martian. Goddard and Whedon's styles pair really well with similar senses of humor, and great attention to detail. The characters are very Whedonesque, and credit for the movie's smooth pacing and wonderfully matter-of-fact storytelling go to Goddard.

The cast is full of familiar faces -- with a few Whedon regulars. The young adults who go to the Cabin are Kristen Connolly as Dana, Chris Hemsworth as Curt, Anna Hutchison as Jules, Fran Kranz as Marty, and Jesse Williams as Holden. Then in the office setting, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins and Amy Acker are responsible for raining terror down on the unsuspecting college students.

Switching back from the horror plot to the everyday life of office workers was neat and effective risk.

Even without watching horror movies I am fully aware of their pitfalls and their cliches. This film willingly hops right into all those "required" moments and then immediately and cleverly turns them around, poking fun at them with a sharp humor that points out the all the holes of the genre. For the first two acts, satire is the name of the game, and Goddard and Whedon win every hand as they use the cliches to their advantage. The plot moves along traditionally as obviously stereotyped characters bite the dust one by one in gruesome, terrifying, and brilliantly tongue-in-cheek ways.

The film's one real problem is a bit of a catch 22. It chastises typical horror flicks by doing the exact same things those films do, and while that makes it funnier in a way, and a great satire, it also means that it still has the essence of the films it is criticizing -- so it can't help but drag itself down a little along the way.

I suppose it had to be worth it though. For the most part.

Major Spoilers from here to the end!
Then the third act twists away from the typical (if satirized) mantra. At this point all the kids are dead except the main girl, Dana, (whose death we all know is optional) and the office is celebrating a successful event. But -- surprise! -- Marty, the dumb stoner dude who's been high the whole movie isn't actually dead! He's actually alive (and actually not that dumb) and his excessive smoking has actually kept him from being affected by the chemicals meant to create the cliches the lead to easier deaths. He and Dana escape to underneath the cabin where the control offices are, and that's where things get really interesting.

The film is pretty great up to this point -- it's scary, thrilling, mysterious, hilarious and very well-made -- but the final twist are what clinches the movies status as a mind-blowing and unique horror film. I expected that some twist of the type would come, but was still taken off guard by pretty much the whole rest of the film.

Got to be the movie's hero, but first had to be the movie's resident dummy.

First of all, Marty surviving was absolutely fantastic. Of the three guys, he has the least hero potential for the first two acts; he was the second person to "die" and probably the most boring character-wise (though he was the sensible voice of reason). He was the goofy comic relief. Then suddenly he becomes the hero (though Dana's heroine is still the main character) as the whole story turns round on its head. Dana stays the same in our perceptions but also becomes more endearing (and she's definitely a Whedon-writ female). The two don't get to add enough depth of character fast enough to be satisfying before the film ends, but what is left wanting is part of the charm and the cool brilliance.

I love the final scene. I can't even remember all of what the two unexpected heroes talk about after the climactic battle, but loved it out of some sort of principle because it "wasn't supposed to happen." So they sit on a staircase and share a joint, covered in blood from head to toe, and then the Earth is obliterated.

Because that's what happens when a horror movie doesn't follow the rules.

Worth it!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Signal

This review is Spoiler-free.

Two MIT college students are being harassed by a stranger who impressively hacked into the MIT servers and wreaked havoc. The "cool nerd" boys are determined to get even, so when they're helping one's girlfriend move across the country and discover that the hacker's signal is only a little out of their way on the trip, they decide to pay him a visit. From there, things start getting weird.

And the weirdness never stops growing from there on out.

It will be hard to properly represent this film without giving away spoilers, but I'll try. The thing is, the less you know going in, the more surprised you'll be, and the more surprised you are, the more successful the film is. Because, as far as I can tell, this movie's sole purpose is to surprise you -- but it fringes too closely to predictability to be consistently effective at it. So, it's a science fiction, it's suspenseful and occasionally scary, it has a mystery to it, and its filming style is slow-moving and cerebral. Also, at some point, Lawrence Fishburne shows up.

In the leading role Nic, Brenton Thwaites gives a performance that is fitting to the film's style, and is probably the best I've seen him give. Beau Knapp as Jonah occasionally outplays him though. Fishburne is a great constant. Olivia Cooke as Haley, Nic's girlfriend was unimpressive and fortunately wasn't given much to do.

I  just realized Knapp was the gas station clerk in Super 8. Yeah. He's cool.

The highlights of the movie were its surprise reveals. The slow and cerebral pacing kept a suspenseful undertone going throughout, and when it built up into an exciting moment, it did it quickly with the sudden change of pace enhancing the thrill or the shock of the moment. It was quite effective. But great technique aside, the fact that the so-effectively revealed surprises were actually legitimately cool -- or scary or creepy or mind-blowing or whatever the individual goal was -- is really the important thing here. They made the movie fun to watch in the same way that The Twilight Zone is fun to watch.

In the more boring places, the style and the camerawork was just confusing. It seemed like they were trying to say something deep or profound in the subtext, but it all wound up being a waste of time when the film ended with many question still lingering around, unexplained and unresolved. At the end, I could explain what happens plot-wise, but I'm still at a loss as to the why, the reasons for many of the side plots, or what it all was supposed to mean. I will probably never know.

"Why do I see me when I look in the mirror?? This is so trippy."

Though it attempted many things, the film succeeded in one thing only. Fortunately that one thing was the most important one. It left a big impression with its science-fiction-y elements, and The Twilight Zone-like plot. The ultimate straightforwardness of it impressed me in spite of the predictability, and a potentially pretentious indie tone was tempered some classic sci-fi coolness. If, like me, a little science fiction is all you need to enjoy a film, then by all means... take the bait.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Upcoming Movie Roundup - November

In October, I saw The Martian (click to read my raving review), and it totally rocked my world, and blew me away, and I barely even thought about any of the other movies I was mildly interested in seeing, let alone actually considered going to see any of them. Instead I spent the entire month re-watching old Matt Damon movies and longing to see The Martian again, but wasn't able to. I finally did yesterday, so now I hopefully won't be distracted from the new movies of this month of November. Cause it's looking like a very fine month for movies.


Spectre
Nov. 6th; PG-13
I'm not a huge fan of James Bond, and Daniel Craig is one of my least favorite portrayals of him. Bond movies have always been the kind of movies that are pretty to look at but not particularly deep on character, or wise when it comes to morals. But at least they were fun to watch. Recently, they haven't even been that -- just more beautiful and more meaningless than ever. So I'm more excited for Spectre being the last Craig Bond film -- so we can see who will play him next -- than I am for the actual movie. I have no doubt I will watch it eventually, it's just a matter of when. And the more thrilling and fun it is the more I'll enjoy it, and if it's just a pretty spectacle, I'll just try to appreciate that. There's a top-notch guest cast of Christoph Waltz and Lea Seydoux, but I'm most excited to see Dave Bautista as a henchman.




The Peanuts Movie
Nov. 6th; G
Okay, I just love the Peanuts too much, and this trailer did not impress me. Not even close. And it's too be expected -- I feel protective of these characters. I don't want to see some weird version of them that I arbitrarily deem to be wrong! This trailer was not at all impressive, but it didn't totally convince me that the movie will be terrible either. However, I will not be watching this movie unless something or someone can convince me that it is an actually great and actually funny and actually respectful of the source material. I'm determined to play hard to get. So win me over if you can!





Brooklyn
Nov. 6th(limited); PG-13
Set in the 1950's, a young Irish girl immigrates to America.... That's enough information for me -- they had me at "Irish." It looks like a romantic drama, and it looks really sweet. And very Irish. And very 50's. Saoirse Ronan is the girl, and the cast also includes Domhnall Gleeson and a relative unknown, Emory Cohen, who rounds out the love triangle. Honestly, this looks like the exact kind of movie that I (and the rest of the ladies in the family) will watch no matter what kind of reviews it gets, even if they're terrible, but I don't think we'll have to worry about that. It's already getting stellar reviews and I can hardly doubt it'll be a wonderfully lovely movie.




Man Up
Nov. 13th(limited); NR
Lake Bell gets accidentally mistaken by Simon Pegg as his blind date, and decides to go along with it (who wouldn't?) to humorous, and possibly disastrous results (for her -- hopefully not for the movie!). It doesn't look groundbreaking or anything, (in fact it looks downright cheesy) but hey -- it's a British rom-com with Simon Pegg! Does it really need to be groundbreaking or anything more than cute and cheesy? Answer: No. No, it does not.




The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
Nov 20th; PG-13

Ah, here we go -- the big one. Finally the end of The Hunger Games series! The dullness of Part I blew a lot of wind out of my sails, but I suppose it's time to try and get it all back for the big finale. It's looking huge and epic, and will certainly be exciting and intense. I'm looking forward to a few things... and not looking forward to a few things. Right now I can't see liking it more than the first or second films just because of the story, but maybe it'll make up for it with that giant budget and beautiful style -- or, maybe there'll be a few rewrites! You never know. But anyway, Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss is back for the last time, and is just as determined as ever. Finish strong, and may the odds be ever in your favor!




The Good Dinosaur
Nov 25th: PG
What? Did humans evolve from dogs now? Anyway, the next Disney Pixar heart-string-tugger is almost here, and I haven't even seen the last one yet! This one's trailer isn't very interesting to me, but I'm going to try not to base my opinion on it too much, considering Disney's terrible reputation for creating trailers that don't represent their movies properly. Since it's a Pixar, the big question here isn't "will it be a good movie?" but more, "will it actually convince me to see it?" Right now it's not off to a great start. But there's potential.




The Man in the High Castle
Nov. 20th(streaming on Amazon Prime); TV:MA
The pilot has been available fro streaming for a while but I've been waiting for the rest of the series to come along and it's not long now! Based on a Philip K. Dick novel, this Amazon series is set in an alternate reality where the Nazis won WWII. This trailer kicks the interest up even more by revealing that people find footage showing us winning the war, which creates that epic sci-fi mystery that a signature of Dick's. Rupert Evans and Rufus Sewell are the familiar names of the large cast. It looks terrifying and dark and intense, and as long as the content isn't pushed too far, I will definitely be watching it come the twentieth.



What movies are on your list this month? What are you excited for? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shaun of the Dead

This review is Spoiler-free.

In the first -- and the strawberry-flavored -- movie of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's wonderfully brilliant Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, Simon Pegg is Shaun, a twenty-nine year-old, uninteresting, uninterested electronics salesman, who never bothered to get his life in order. He lives with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) who is even more of a do-nothing than he is. And Shaun's girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has reached a breaking point -- a breaking up point. But things must always get worse before they get better, and that's where the Zombie apocalypse comes in.

Yes, Shaun, if the city is overrun with the undead, then you probably don't need to go into work.

In spite of (or perhaps a bit because of) Shaun's unmotivated attitude, he is still easily Pegg's most endearing character of the "trilogy." The everyday, well-meaning, average guy, who can be extremely motivated when it comes to things he truly cares about, Shaun is a fantastic character, a deceptively simple stereotype, and so easy to love and root for. If you don't like him at the beginning, but do by the end, it's not because of any change in him, but because of you, realizing that he's really been a great person the whole time. And Simon Pegg's performance as him cinches all those endearing qualities. I wonder at why mainstream movies always keep Pegg in the "quirky comic-relief side character" category. He is totally brilliant at comedy of course, but is no less great at drama. Real, actual, deep drama. Yet it seems like he rarely gets real drama to play outside of these three films. Makes them all the better for it I suppose!

These two. Oh man, these two.

And he and Nick Frost make a wonderful duo. I mean, that's an obvious thing to say, but they really really do. They work off each other and make each other funnier, and more compelling. Frost's character of Ed here isn't as endearing as Shaun, but is still very funny and goofy, and gets his dramatic moments too. Kate Ashfield as Liz basically equals Ed's character for second main character, and while she isn't characterized to be super funny, is definitely a good character. Liz's flatmates Dianne and David (Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran) don't really reach the great humorous heights of the other three leads, but they support very well, and that is plenty. Penelope Wilton is amusing as Shaun's shell-shocked mum, and Bill Nighy is as good as ever as his step-dad. Jessica Hynes (Stevenson) is Shaun's female doppelganger, and Martin Freeman has a bit-part as her boyfriend, in one of my favorite gags in the movie.

Wait a minute...

Humor is this film's main source of brilliance. The beginning shows dead-eyes humans slothing about with no purpose, and they aren't even zombies yet. The sequence of Shaun doing his morning routine, and then doing it again the next day, not noticing that zombies have replaced all the people around him, is fantastically amusing, and also pretty fantastic storytelling. I also just adore the scene of throwing records at the zombies, trying to decide which ones are worth breaking. From the extended jokes, down to the smallest hilarious expression, this movie, it's script, and it's actors, and of course the director, all really know how to handle the comedy, and it's what makes the movie as great as it is.

And that's why, when the comedic tone fades into a serious dramatic one with only a side of comedy in the third act, the tone change is too obvious, and it suddenly feels like the film had gone downhill -- just a little. Thinking about it, I like the drama; I like that this movie has a deeper meaning to it than just killing the undead in humorous ways, and I love that it has an underlying heart beneath all the strawberry-flavored gore. If it could have those things without having to cut back as much on the hilarity though, it would have been that much better. There are still often funny and amusing moments, but it gives way to the drama, instead of letting it come up beside and work in tandem. It's not the worst trade in the world though; Simon Pegg is a great crier, looking so incredibly and pathetically sad, and the dramatic twists and conflicts give much more interest than people whacking zombies on the head.

Not that whacking zombies on the head isn't fun or anything...

Understandably, this film is rated R, with some language, and one particularly violently gross spot. And, I have to say that I don't love the ending. I respect it, but it's not what I would have wanted to do. But then again, what I would have wanted to do wouldn't have matched the style of the rest of the film, so I suppose I have to admit that it was the right ending. With Edgar Wright's brilliant directing vision, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's winning combo, all the wonderfully original and incredibly smart jokes, and the endearingly off-kilter style, Shaun of the Dead absolutely kills.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The History of Future Folk

This review is Spoiler-free.

On the distant planet of Hondo, there lived a little boy named Trius who promised his mother that when he grew up he would find a way to destroy the comet that was heading toward their home planet. He grew into the greatest Hondonian General ever known, and one day set out to save his people. He crash-landed on a planet called Earth, which was the perfect planet for the Hondonians to relocate to.

But -- just as he was about to release a toxin to eradicate the current inhabitants, he heard something in the local Costco: music. Hondonians don't have music, and he had never heard anything so amazing before. It changed him. He learned how to play the Banjo and started up an act in a club. He got married, and had a kid, and years went by. But he never forgot his mission or his promise.

General Trius (right) and the mighty Kevin.

The two stars of this strange, strange little film -- Nils d'Aulaire who plays General Trius, and Jay Klaitz who is Kevin, an assassin sent to kill Trius and complete his mission -- are actually a musical duo with an act like the one in the movie. In fact the movie was made because of their success and is based on the fictional backstories they created for the show. They are called Future Folk (now the movie's title make sense) and they play space-themed folk music. Yes, you heard that right. Space-themed folk music. And it's awesome. The two are enormously talented, and their music is equally beautiful and hilarious.

The movie is worth watching for the musical scenes alone. Unfortunately the rest of the film suffers by comparison. It does have a consistently engaging plot though. There's decent acting, and even a few interesting and humorous filming techniques. The writing is hit-and-miss. The feel is decidedly Indie and the deadpan tone enhances the humor of it all very well. But none of it quite reaches the level set by the musical performances. It's an imbalance that enhances the music and dulls everything else, and the shifts between the two are a bit jarring.

But, much like the combination of sci-fi lyrics with folk-music sound, it's all part of the charm.

Knowing that the main point of the film is the music makes the few low-budget shortcomings easily forgivable. Plus the total-geek vibe sent out by cheesy costumes and laughable fight sequences gives this wacky flick that distinctive cult feel, and that makes me think it's perfect exactly the way it is. It's themes are simple, but sweet and positive, giving just the right amount of heart to this very, very strange, shamelessly geeky, and impressively folk-y musical adventure.

Hondo!