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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ticketstubI think the intent of this movie is to introduce the new dramatic landscape to the audience, a galaxy where the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire. The Resistance grew out of the Rebellion and now fights the Order to bring back the Republic. We are introduced to new and re-introduced to some old characters. The movie will feel familiar as there is a clear attempt to mark out the landmarks we know and love and then show us the new directions the story is going to take. In that way, it feels like JJ Abrams' Star Trek, here are these characters you know, here's the world you know, and now we're going to shake things up a bit so we can do our own new thing. That said, though the Star Wars story is likely to take some new turns, I think they are making a conscious effort to keep everything familiar and within the accepted universe.

Personally, I enjoyed the movie. I feel invested in the characters, I appreciated the call-backs to past movies, I was engaged by the action sequences, and nothing felt too forced (sorry). The only weak element, I thought, was the score. There were the familiar movements like the opening titles and maybe a couple more here and there, but for the most part, I didn't even notice it was there. Sometimes that's good, you don't want the score to be distracting, but I felt it really missed out on amping up the emotional weight or intensity of the action by being unnoticeable.

My first thought coming out of the theater was "I want to see this again!" and that doesn't happen often.

4/5

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 ticketstubWelcome to the fourth movie in The Hunger Games trilogy in which Catniss is frequently injured and also makes a push for the Capital to assassinate President Snow. What actually ends up happening is fairly predictable, but the movie itself remains an intense journey, filled with little nods back to the beginning of the story and its diabolical human traps found in the Hunger Games arena. Compared to the boring third movie, this fourth movie comes through with a number of intense scenes and large set pieces and action segments. It's also packed with emotional moments to offset all that action, so it feels like a fairly consistent film all the way through that never slows down enough to let the tension wear off. For a movie in which everyone is gunning for President Snow, he actually has a very small part, instead we got more of a look at his self-appointed successor, President Coin. Just because someone claims to be on the side of good, doesn't mean they are good. Catniss continues her emotional journey through tragedy and heartbreak, walking the line of the over-dramatic, but never quite falling into the trap. Really, my only significant complaint with this movie is that none of the characters I really enjoyed watching had much screen time. To me, Haymitch, Snow, Plutarch, Beetee, and Ceasar are the most fun, but they had small parts at best. Most of the screentime went to Catniss and her aptly named Squad 451 as they attempt to penetrate into the heart of the Capital. It's a fun trip, though the finale didn't seem to hit with the punch I felt was necessary, it was still satisfying.

4/5

Spectre

Spectre ticketstubJames Bond is back in Spectre, are you ready for a few things to happen? Shortly after the events of Skyfall, Bond is following up on a lead that might point to something bigger. We don't know how much bigger or what it might mean, but it's something worth following. What I will say for Spectre compared to the three previous Daniel Craig Bond movies, this one was at least easy to follow. The plot threads were simple, few, and straightforward, I had no problems tracking where we were or why we were there. So while simple is good and meant I could derive more entertainment from what was happening, it also felt a little bit boring. There were good action sequences and Bond does come off as a complete badass in pretty much everything he does. Where things get problematic is when it comes to tying Spectre to the previous movies. Which is to say, there is basically no meaningful connection. We've got Blofeld who explains that he has meticulously orchestrated everything that happened in the previous three movies. There's no evidence of this anywhere, just a simple "it was me all along!" And why would Blofeld do these things? Because daddy issue, of course. All these plots to make money and wreak havoc in the world just to get back at Bond for something that was actually not Bond's fault at all, but instead Blofeld's father's doing is impossible to buy. Sure, I can watch Blofeld being a horrible person, but don't try to convince me it's all for this weak-ass reason.

The movie also inexplicably features lots of helicopters, to the point that the movie probably should have been titled "Helicopters, wheeee!!!" I think there are three or four helicopter sequences, including the final anti-climactic resolution. There's also a plane sequence, just to round out the forms of air transportation (kind of missing blimp, though). Also, like nearly every other Bond movie, I'm not buying the relationship for a minute. I suppose I'm just supposed to enjoy it and not think too much, but these movies never really strike me as having strong relationships, yet they try and force it on us as a significant component of Bond's decision-making process. It's all good fun as long as you don't over-think it or expect anything complex.

3/5

The Last Witch Hunter

The Last Witch Hunter ticketstubVin Diesal stars as a big burly guy who kills witches and is then cursed to live forever just as he kills the most powerful witch of all. The movie really is as predictable as it seems like it will be from that most basic summary. We flash forward to the present where Diesal's character "Kaulder" (which sounds like people are saying "colder" all the way through) is super rich and struts around like he's a badass throwing out words of wisdom about how to hunt witches to no one because he's the only witch hunter. The only thing that surprised me was the introduction of Rose Leslie, probably better known as Ygritte from Game of Thrones (or Downton Abbey if you're into that). She's still Scottish, and still a bit of a firecracker, and I completely expected her to tell Diesal that he knows nothing, but I delighted in watching her. I'm not even sure she's very good, but she does have a mysterious presence. I thought. So, while Leslie is being all magnetic on screen, Diesal is kind of playing a more talkative Riddick or a less glaring Toretto or pretty much any of his other performances except perhaps for Groot. I'm not sure Diesal does another character, but if you like him, you'll get exactly what you're looking for.

There are "twists" that I am trying to avoid (in quotes because they really are obvious), so I can't tell you how disappointing it is that it all turns out exactly how you think it will. It also leaves itself open for a sequel, which only intrigues me because I'd like to see more of Diesal and Leslie doing witchy huntery stuff.

2/5

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies ticketstubTo clarify any confusion over the title, Bridge of Spies involves spies, but it is not a spy movie. It's more about doing the right thing, even when everyone else thinks you're a horrible person. This theme is raised constantly throughout as Tom Hanks' character, James Donovan tries to do the right thing by this Soviet spy who was captured and then tries to do the right thing in getting back some U.S. citizens while everyone from the judge, to the police, to the people on the train to the FBI to the CIA, they all think Donovan is horrible for defending the spy. They try to present the other side, "we treat this spy right because we'd want those that capture our spies to treat them right" which I completely agree with, but for some reason, no one else ever sees that side of it.

So yes, I love the theme of the movie (I'm a big justice nut), and the movie is shot beautifully and very well written and the story is interesting. On the other hand, very little happens and the movie is kind of long at 141 minutes. If you like period movies (in this case, late 50's early 60's cold war era stuff) and are eager to see a good man do the right thing in the face of so much idiocy, then you'll probably love this movie.

4/5

The Martian

The Martian ticketstubHere's a movie all about why science is cool without being overly sciencey. By that I mean, there is science stuff (astrophysics, chemistry, other stuff), but you don't have to understand it and it doesn't feel like technobabble. The trailers do a good job of explaining the story, but basically, Mark Watney is stranded on Mars and has to survive until he can be rescued. In the meantime, NASA is simultaneously struggling with how to orchestrate that rescue, and managing public relations around the matter. There's been a lot of buzz around this movie because it gets most of the science right and feels sincere doing it. In a way, it feels a lot like Gravity, where a single person is stranded and trying to solve for "safe return" while dealing with the complexities and dangers of space and a harsh alien world, but where Gravity focused on the terror in the chaos and loneliness, The Martian seems to emphasize the problem solving and determination to overcome anything that comes up.

The good, the movie is filled with surprising bits of humor and Matt Damon is delightful as Watney. The bad, this movie feels (and is) long. The pacing is good, but it's difficult to make 2 hours and 21 minutes zip by.

4/5

Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak ticketstubRight at the beginning, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is talking about a novel she's writing and describes it not as a ghost story, but a romance story with a ghost. While the trailers are trying to sell this as a terrifying supernatural horror for Halloween, it would be more accurate to follow Edith's description. I will caveat this, though, by saying that this movie does have ghosts aplenty, and they are horrifying. There are a few jump scares, but there's nothing unexpected. In fact, that may be my only criticism, that this movie feels predictable from the beginning. Major plot points were clearly telegraphed early on and I kept wanting this to be one of those mis-directions the film makers want me to believe, and then they zig when I expect a zag and get a fun surprise... but no. It all goes exactly where you think it's going to go. In the meantime, perch on the edge of your seat for some of the most deliciously gothic gothicness that ever gothed a gothic world. No description I can concoct will accurately convey how dizzyingly gothic this movie is. The sets and visuals are breathtaking. The costumes are some of the most amazing I've ever seen (and I have no idea if they are period accurate, and I don't care a bit). The soundFX, while not necessarily gothic, ooze with atmosphere that pulls you into the horrific house of horrors that is Allerdale Hall.

There are some gruesome scenes that forced me to turn away at times. There's a little bit of sex, but no nudity (I mean, have you seen the dresses these women wear?). I don't recall any strong language. The acting is spot on for the tone and the writing, while often over-the-top, absolutely fits into the context of the world being presented. There's a tiny part of me that feels like my adoration for this movie will decline once some time has passed, but for now, I love it.

4/5

The Intern

The Intern ticketstubWhat a delightful movie! Filled to the brim with great messages about feminism and breaking out of the man-box and good tips on being a good person and dealing with life. It also felt like I was eating a handful of packing peanuts, because nothing tasted real. The characters didn't have a bad side, they were all good people. When bad things happen, they pull out of it, because they're good people. There was virtually no inter-personal conflict. I liked what people were saying, but none of it felt like things people would actually say. Of course, the script fits with the message and tone of the movie just fine, maybe I'm just used to movies with a little edge or perhaps too much edge. So in a world where everything seems to be sharp and biting, The Intern is a pillow wrapped in bubble wrap, and while I enjoyed popping the bubbles, I never really felt satisfied, like the experience was missing something solid. I think because of this soft and fluffy script, the acting seemed way too polished. Voices were mellow, even, and comforting. In fact, Jules' husband, who is the source of pretty much the only significant conflict in the movie, has such a measured and rehearsed tone that he actually wrapped around to uncomfortable for me.

The movie is entertaining and has some good messages and I enjoyed watching it, but something about the tone, script, and acting made it all feel so fake that it didn't feel quite right, kind of like chewing on packing peanuts.

3/5

The Mazerunner: The Scorch Trials

The Mazerunner: The Scorch Trials ticketstubLike the first Mazerunner, The Scorch Trials is packed with intense action and mystery. It follows the remaining runners who managed to escape the maze in the first movie who are whisked away to a fortress for their own protection where they discover the situation is not as they thought. What follows is an expansion of the world that was presented in the first movie. We get to see what's happened to the outside world and what Wicked's mission is, or appears to be. We also get a look at the effects of the flare virus, which is basically zombies. I wasn't really expecting to be in another post-zombie-apocalypse world, but here we are.

I found the whole thing intense and engaging. The acting was fine, the writing was sufficient, but mostly it was just a really entertaining adventure. I am really looking forward to seeing where this adventure goes.

3/5

The Beauty Inside

The Beauty Inside ticketstubEvery day, Woo-jin wakes up in a different body. He might be male, female, young, old, Korean, Japanese, Caucasian, anyone. He has a closet filled with clothes to fit all sorts of different bodies. He has a box of eyeglasses with different prescriptions. Shoes for different feet. The only people who know of his condition are his mother and his best friend, who is kind of a jerk. The movie explores Woo-jin's loneliness and isolation and what happens when he is finally able to connect with another person.

I found the concept fascinating as a metaphoric inspection of how we can isolate ourselves because of a perceived defect. How a person can feel invisible when not considered attractive, or desired when attractive, but those traits alone don't make a relationship. When Woo-jin does build a relationship with Yi-Soo, she has to deal with her lover never having a face, in fact, we never find out what Woo-jin actually looks like, his appearance is constantly changing. Of course, the movie suggests that appearance isn't what matters, it's the person on the inside that's important... but then, we watch Yi-Soo struggle with her co-workers who think she's seeing a different man every day and wondering how she's going to explain the situation to her family. So much of our identity is wrapped up in our appearance, and even that changes over time.

The acting is solid all the way through, even by the actors who appear as Woo-jin for only a scene or two. The writing is compelling and the concept kept me thinking after the movie was over. It is an emotional roller coaster, though, so bring some tissues. The movie is Korean and subtitled. It also looks like there was a mini-series of the same name and concept made in 2012 featuring Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but I can't find any information on how to watch it.

4/5