“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” (Spoiler Free)

I won’t fanboy over “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. I won’t spoil anything whilst talking about “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. I’ll say that it’s good to read, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” again.

“The Force Awakens” follows the Resistance over thirty years after the events of “Return of the Jedi”, and they’re now up against the First Order led by dark master Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). They’re in pursuit of resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid, BB-88 for mysterious reasons.

Thrown in the middle, are a rogue storm trooper named Finn (John Boyega) and a young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who become the franchise’s new heroes while aided by our classic heroes, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca.

I don’t want to spoil anything for the people who haven’t seen this movie, but this film is great. Director JJ Abrams has brought new life into the series while paying tribute to the classic trilogy.

Abrams doesn’t rely on CGI and lackluster camera tilts like prequels. He’s gone back to the original aesthetics with props, limited CGI, and innovative camera movements. He even restrained himself on lens flare, which was nice.

Abrams co-wrote the script with Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”) and Lawrence Kasdan (the original “Star Wars” trilogy) and they’ve crafted an exciting and beautiful story. There’s limited dialogue, but we get a sense of who Rey and Finn are through their expressions and possessions.

Rey is the star of “The Force Awakens” and Ridley brings great spirit to the character. She’s spunky, fearless, and destined for greatness. Finn is a vulnerable and redeemable character who isn’t afraid to take on any adversaries.

Kylo Ren is also a human villain, but perhaps a tad whiny (my biggest complaint with the movie), but his background and development make up for the whining he does later. I can’t wait to see more of him.

My favorite new character in the new trilogy is Poe. He’s cool and noble, and has a human-pet relationship with BB-88 that brings some charm to the film.

I’ll also say that it was great to see my favorite childhood characters Han and Chewy back together on the big screen, but I think I liked them more in this movie than the original ones. Han has more depth in his old age while maintaining the attitude that originally made him a badass.

That’s what’s great about this movie. For the first time, this is a “Star Wars” movie where there aren’t good guys and bad guys; there are flawed people.

Flaws? Well, sure, there are a few. The climactic setting isn’t as cool as it could have been, and the storm trooper Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) gets the Boba Fett treatment (NOT A SPOILER – she’s just hyped and has limited screen time). Good news is we still have two more movies to explore her character.

“Star Wars” will break box office records and it should. This is a film that I didn’t want originally (the prequels, you know?). I was skeptical of Abrams directing, but he left me smiling for a great two hours.

Grade: A

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The Worst Movies of 2015

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It’s that time again… Reluctantly speaking… Time to share the crappiest, worst movies of the year, so none of you have to see them! If you skipped them in theaters, good!

10) The Loft – I’ll admit I’m a sucker for erotic thrillers (see my Knock, Knock review), but there’s nothing erotic about The Loft. Five guys rent a private loft to have extramarital affairs? One rapes prostitutes? One has feelings objectifies a prostitute? One films his friends’ affairs as a fetish? All of this is gross and none of it works.

9) Chappie – Another movie that shows Neill Blomkamp (District 9) is a one-trick pony. Chappie makes us sit through an unintentionally funny ultra-violent tale where we have to root for a gun-toting engineer who gets away with threatening his coworkers in the office, another engineer with a god complex, an overly childlike robot, and Die Antwoord. The worst part of Chappie is it’s nothing but a two-hour Die Antwoord music video.

8) Taken 3 – The silliest and most soap opera-y installment in the franchise and it’s just as lazily directed as Taken 2. We clearly didn’t need a second Taken and we sure as hell didn’t need a third one.

7) The Gunman – I couldn’t put my anger over “buying” a Redbox copy aside thanks to Sean Penn’s half-assed action sequences and overkill on shirtless scenes. What’s even more sinful is casting Idris Elba in a very pointless role and Javier Bardem in a very hilariously melodramatic character who dies after 45 minutes of onscreen time.

6) Unfinished Business – Unfinished Business screams poor taste by picking on the mentally disabled, homosexuals, disabled veterans, and glorifying infidelity while trying to make us sympathize with three unlikable morons. Further insult to injury is added due to its uneven balance of mean-spirited humor and attempt at being inspirational with Vince Vaughn’s bro-ish logic.

5) Jupiter Ascending – It’s sad knowing that the creators of The Matrix have fallen. They had some interesting ideas, but they’re lost in a frenetic, plot hole-fueled epic that features the year’s worst performance (an embarrassing Eddie Redmayne).

4) Lost River – Did you guys know that Ryan Gosling tried to make a surreal noir film reminiscent of David Lynch and Nicolas Rending Refn? It’s just an expression of Gosling’s weird fetishes that will make you shrug your shoulders in the end.

3) Fifty Shades of Grey – It would be a waste of breath and finger strength to type out fifty reasons why you know this is a piece of crap.

2) The Green Inferno – Eli Roth is officially the Michael Bay of horror movies in this poop-stained, weed-drenched, idiotic, pretentious, anticlimactic gorefest. Not only couldn’t Roth execute his promising artistic pitch, but he couldn’t even gross me out effectively. Also, if you start to see the cast’s twitter addresses in the closing credits of movies from here on, you can thank Roth for the tacky product placement.

1) Fant4stic (Fantastic Four) – This movie makes me sad every time I think this was the worst movie of 2015. There was such potential with Josh Trank’s (Chronicle) vision and cast. Well, I’ll give this to Fox – they did a great job in the trailers covering up the movie’s messy effects, poor pacing, wooden acting, rushed narrative, and lack of personality.

That’s it for 2015, thanks for reading! What were your picks for the worst movies of 2015? You can share in your comments below!

“Spotlight”

“It’s not just sexual abuse, it’s also spiritual abuse,” a sexual assault survivor tells the Spotlight news team (Michael Keaton, Rachel MacAdams, Mark Ruffalo, & Brian d’Arcy James). This is one of many key lines in “Spotlight” that make it one of the year’s very best films.

It’s 2003 and the Boston Globe has a new editor-in-chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). An outsider for cultural reasons, he appoints his investigative Spotlight news team led by Robby Robinson (Keaton) to investigate child molestation accusations against the Catholic church. This stirs up personal and societal tensions as Robinson and his team dig deeper into a shocking story bigger than any other story.

Each member of the team has something at risk in writing this story. Robinson’s friendships with several attorneys and detectives become strained. Mark Rezendes (Ruffalo) questions his own religion. Sacha Pfeiffer (MacAdams)  knows her relationships with her priest brother and religious grandmother will be damaged. Matt Carroll (d’Arcy James) discovers a confirmed sex offender priest lives around the corner from his house, but can’t take action until after the story prints.

These conflicts depicted in “Spotlight” are what drive the film into being one hell of a character piece. Brilliant, terrific, important, powerful, and fascinating are just understatements here.

Director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) uses subtlety to build up tension with background shots of churches during interviews and crosses featured in interview scenes, giving us the impression the Church is watching our heroes. Further emphasis is made as attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) reluctantly aids the team, stating the Church is watching him.

Keaton, Tucci, Schreiber, MacAdams, and d’Arcy James all deliver career-defining performances, but Ruffalo steals every scene as the socially withdrawn Rezendes. He’s a loner in the midst of a divorce who becomes increasingly emotional as he gets further invested in the story. I don’t like to say things like this, but Ruffalo deserves an Oscar for his performance.

“Spotlight” is likely the most serious award contender this season, and I strongly urge everyone to give this movie a chance.

Grade: A+

 

“Creed”

In a year with several sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and reboots, who knew that one of the year’s best movies would be “Creed” – a sequel and spinoff to the “Rocky” franchise?

Michael B. Jordan (“The Wire”, “Fruitvale Station”) stars as Adonnis “Donnie” Creed, son of Carl Weathers’s Apollo Creed from the previous “Rocky” installments. He’s a rising accountant who abandons his job to follow his dad’s footsteps. And who does he enlist as his trainer? No one else but Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone returning to the role).

The two make a great duo as Donnie gives Rocky a new found purpose and Rocky helps Donnie grow as a fighter, eventually making him a top contender.

“Creed” is one of the year’s biggest surprises thanks to director Ryan Coogler’s (“Fruitvale Station”) visionary direction and emotional roller coaster of a screenplay. His visceral and innovative boxing sequences, along with Michael B. Jordan’s heartfelt performance, bring new life to the franchise.

Jordan’s performance as Donnie isn’t by any means reminiscent of Weathers’s Apollo. Donnie is insecure about his name and angry at the world, and Jordan is believable in his portrayal of these emotions. Stallone is once again great as Rocky, showing a more vulnerable side to the character than in previous installments.

Coogler directs some of the franchise’s greatest moments in “Creed”, including a fast-paced fight filmed in a long take that’s the highlight of the movie. I’m able to forgive the film’s flaws thanks to Coogler and the cast.

The antagonist (Tony Bellew) is the movie’s weakest point because he’s not well-developed. There’s an earlier confrontation between Donnie and a different fighter that sets up the climax, but he quickly disappears and we’re given Bellew’s dull “Pretty” Ricky Conlan as our antagonist. He’s no Ivan Drago or Clubber Lang.

“Creed” may not be a perfect new installment, but it’s open for some promising sequels and is a solid revival to the “Rocky” franchise.

Grade: A-