Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars

'I loved the film. Seriously, I did. And yet it also has more plot holes than any film I've ever seen, which makes the reviews it's getting pretty irksome. Why can't we just admit that BB-8 is adorable, Finn is hilarious, Rey is badass, seeing Han and Chewie again was awesome, the special effects were tremendous, Poe is Soloesque, Kylo Ren is intriguing, and this movie makes absolutely no sense whatsoever?

Below are 40 plot holes in The Force Awakens. A few are trifling, but most are pretty damning. All of them were entirely unnecessary -- given the amount of time put into this film, the number of people who worked on it, and the amount of money everyone involved in it knew it stood to make -- and in this respect can be deemed unforgivable'

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/40-unforgivable-plot-holes-in-star-wars-the-force-awakens_b_8850324.html

 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Star Wars:  The Force Awakens feels like an imperfect imitation of a Star Wars movie, like they mostly got it right, but not quite.  Let's call it Star Wars-lite.  One of the many things that struck me was the lack of powerful Jedi.  You have Kylo Ren, who is a Darth Vader wannabe, still learning the ways of the Dark Side, but he is no Darth Vader.  Let's call him Vader-lite.  Then you have Rey, who is just discovering that she has force powers.  Let's call her Skywalker-lite.   What is left of the Rebellion is now called the Resistance, and likewise what is left of the Empire is now called The First Order.  In this movie neither group seemed particularly impressive, like they are both rag-tag leftovers from a previous war.  So we have Empire-lite and Rebellion-lite duking it out.

Visually the previous Star Wars movies had a very clean and sterile look to them, which is visually how many science fiction movies look.  The new film looks a little different in that the style that they are going for is more of a gritty realism.

The music from the previous films is not used very much, and the new music is simply sleep inducing.  This is the biggest problem with the movie.  In this teaser trailer, we hear the classic Star Wars music as Rey drives her speedster across the desert, but the same scene in movie has some very uninspiring music.  For the film, this is a huge opportunity lost.

The original Star Wars movie stood on its own extremely well.   Had there been no sequels, the ending of the original film would have been quite satisfactory.  In fact, even though all the previous Star Wars movies were part of a greater story, each movie concluded in a way that had enough finality to it to keep the movie goers satisfied until the next movie came out.  Not so with Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  The ending leaves us hanging, in the same way the first The Lord of the Rings movie left us hanging.  When these movies ended, I felt like the story had just barely begun.  This makes the movie mostly feel like a setup for the next film.

I see now the difference between J.J. Abrams and George Lucas.  Abrams knows how to make an entertaining movie, and does so here, but the movie barely treads any new ground.  Lucas on the other hand is a visionary.  No matter what you thought of each the original six films, each one was visionary in a very different way.  There is some innovation from the new movie, but it doesn't remotely compare to how visionary the previous films were.

In fact, the movie feels too "safe" like it is mostly recycled from the previous films.  In a way, it feels a little too Disney.  Plot point after plot point seems to come from the earlier films:

  1. Secret plans are hidden in a droid which the Empire is looking for.
  2. A Jedi student turns to the dark side, kills the other Jedi students, and joins the Emperor.
  3. The Jedi master goes into exile.
  4. A Death Star like weapon is blowing up planets, and the Rebellion is the next target.  They must destroy the weapon using X wing ships before the Rebellion is also destroyed.
  5. A young force sensitive person who lost her parents is stuck on a planet and yearns for a better life among the stars.
  6. They go into the enemy's stronghold to free a prisoner.

Although I did not hear this mentioned in the movie, yesterday the wikipedia article referred to Rey's full name as "Rey Skywalker".  The article doesn't say that today, like somebody realized that this was a mistake and changed it.  I also just found much speculation on the Internet that Rey is Luke Skywalker's daughter.  If this is true then it would give the ending of the film considerably more significance.  I was waiting for Luke to acknowledge his relationship to Rey, but he doesn't.  In the movie Rey's parentage is left as an unresolved mystery.

Watching the movie in the theater held a few surprises for me.  First of all, the audience was quite young.  Most of these people were teenagers and young adults.  I didn't see many people like myself who were actually alive when the first Star Wars movie came out.  Many people were dressed in costume, and a few were carrying toy light sabers.  I was also surprised to see half the audience stay to watch the full credits.  This is because many movies are now including bonus scenes at the end of the credits.  Most of those who stayed were standing around talking about the movie.

The audience applauded at the finish, so they must have really enjoyed it.  I thought it was good, and maybe pretty good, but lacking the greatness of some of its predecessors.  The original Star Wars movie is a film that I have seen 17 times over the last 38 years, and likewise all the other Star Wars films I have seen many times.   They are so great that I can watch them over and over and still be entertained.  I just don't see myself doing that with Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  I might watch it one or two more times in case I missed something the first time around, but after that I will be done with it.

Rating:  * * * .5

POSTSCRIPT:  I needed to know if I was being too harsh on the movie, so I couldn't resist seeing the movie a second time.  On the second viewing it is easier to forgive some of the imperfections because the movie is a thrill ride from beginning to finish.   In my review above I said the film is not visionary, but it indeed does have a vision, even if it didn't quite meet my expectations.  As such the movie is very entertaining and deserves its place as part of the Star Wars saga.

Rating:  Still * * * .5

Honestly, the movie feels like an opportunity lost.  We could have had Yoda as a Force Ghost, or Luke Skywalker as the wise old mentor.  Maybe the next movie will have these things.

There are a few scenes that don't quite make sense to me in terms of story or why characters were in certain places at certain times:

  1. I couldn't understand how it is that R2-D2 was suddenly able to find the rest of the map to the location of Luke Skywalker, or why they even needed a map and not just a set of coordinates?  
  2. Why was Rey the one chosen to go meet Luke since she was a newcomer to the Resistance?  And why in the Millennium Falcon?
  3. General Leia seemed tight lipped as she talked, like she couldn't open her mouth all the way.  Did this woman have a stroke, or just too much plastic surgery?
  4. What was the fate of Captain Phasma?
  5. The scene where the planet of the Republic is destroyed seems underplayed.  Did billions of people just die?  If so, why wasn't it played for more emotion?
  6. How is it that their interstellar weapon can cross the vast distances of space without using hyperspace?  
  7. How is it that they know exactly when the weapon is going to fire?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Spectre


Spectre has something that the three previous Daniel Craig James Bond films didn't have, which is style.   It is reminiscent of the early Bond films.  Still, I felt like something was missing.  Daniel Craig has lost that taut look that make him believable as trained killer.  In certain shots his face looks a little flabby, like he has put on a few pounds.   Add this to his humorless, joyless, apparently unenthusiastic performance, then he didn't seem completely believable to me as James Bond.

I have other problems with believability with the movie.  There are a couple of chase scenes that are exciting, but a little over the top.  In addition, mid way through the movie, James Bond decides to travel to the Blofeld's lair knowing full well that is going to be tortured and killed.  How believable is that?

However, Christoph Waltz shines as Blofeld.  Mr Waltz has a face that looks oddly different in a disconcerting way.

Despite my complaints, this is my favorite Daniel Craig James Bond film.  I liked it better than Skyfall which was completely devoid of style.  Spectre ventures a little back into early James Bond territory with gadgets, cool cars and entertaining villains.  The movie does not fully recapture the glory of James Bond, but it makes a good effort.

Rating:  * * *

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ant Man

Ant-Man is a movie so hokey in so many places that at times I could barely stand to watch it.  The premise is not very believable, the acting in places is questionable, and much of the story seems silly.  Evangeline Lilly of LOST fame seems poorly utilized in this movie, and so does Michael Douglas.  

The people who stand out are Paul Rudd as the protagonist, and Michael Peña as Luis who adds some great comic relief in a movie that desperately needs it.  Michael Peña plays the same comic character he always plays, but here he does it with such style that it elevates the movie.  Anthony Mackie also adds some style to the film with his brief appearance as Falcon.  Unfortunately, these are the only characters I really liked in the movie.

The execution of the film is mostly good, although in a couple of places it kind of falls flat.  What it lacks, besides more good characters, is a believable story.

Fortunately, there are a couple of good payoffs at the end.  (There is also an easter egg at the end of the credits.)  The action helps carry the film despite so many obvious flaws.  This raises movie from mostly-stupid to borderline watchable.  I have to admit that when I wasn't annoyed at how silly the movie is, I enjoyed what I was seeing.

For these reason I am giving the movie a very weak recommendation.  If your expectation is that the movie is not going to be very believable, then you can enjoy it for what it is.

Rating:  *  * 1/2

How the film got 80% on Rotten Tomatoes is a mystery to me.

Ant-Man cost a $130 million dollars to make.  With that kind of money, could they not have made a better movie?  With Star Wars The Force Awakens a week away, it makes me wonder if Disney knows how to make a decent movie?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Primer

When you make a science fiction movie for only $7,000, you would expect it to have some shortcomings.

Two engineers, Aaron and Abe, accidentally invent a time machine.  If they sit in the box for 6 hours, they can go back in time 6 hours, and maybe longer depending upon what time they activated the machine.  At first this works out well for them as they day trade stocks with the knowledge of which ones are going to go up.  However, they start to have physical side effects.  Then suspicion develops between them when someone they know appears to have also traveled back in time.

The shortcoming of this movie is that it is not long and important key plot elements get compressed at the end.  This makes it hard for the viewer to understand what is going on.  I didn't try.  I just understood that things had gotten out of control.  There is a sense of chaos in the last part of film.

This is the kind of movie that after you see it, then you read about it on Wikipedia to try to understand what it is that you just saw.  (For another example, see the movie "Enemy".)  There is much the movie doesn't explain; it doesn't have the budget for it.  According to the Wikipedia article, mutual distrust causes both Aaron and Abe build their own time machines so that they can each go back in time without each other's knowledge.  The cautious Abe feels that things have gotten out of control and tries to stop time travel from being invented.  However, the adventurous Aaron travels back in time to stop Abe from what he is doing, and has at least two versions of himself scheming together for personal benefit.  Both characters start looping the same events over and over.

However, I didn't really understand all of that as I was watching it.  I just enjoyed the movie for its atmosphere.  Apparently the time travel shenanigans are so complex that you need this graph to understand it.

This is the kind of ultra low budget film that is entertaining enough to get remade with a real budget.  I just hope that the remake is a little easier to understand.

Rating: * * *