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Occassionally, I like a bad one as an occasional guilty indulgence.
I also enjoy weight-lifting, bicycling, swimming, reading and playing guitar.
Rogue One (2016)
A Decent Addition to the Star Wars Saga
Star Wars Rogue One puts the "war" in Star Wars. It is gritty, dirty, and a dark trail that eventually leads to hope. It starts without a crawl, but we can Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her parents on a remote ring world. An Empire Officer known as Orson Krenic craves the power and grandeur behind the building of the Death Star and forces Jyn's father, Galen Esro (Mads Mikkelson) back to the Empire to help build it. Jyn was raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) for several years. One day, he disappears, seeking to join an extreme wing of the Rebellion against the Empire, and she is now on her own. Another faction of the Rebellion liberates her from an Empire transport and she finds herself flung into the Rebellion. Her two allies, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a droid K2SO (Voice of Alyn Turdyk) are on a mission to find an Empire pilot who has defected. He has knowledge of the Death Star. On their way to find him, they find two more allies, Baze Mallbus (Wen Jian) and Chirrut (Donnie Yen). A series of events leads our rebels to a lonely planet where Jyn is reunited briefly with her father, to find out he has a plan of his own. Once they return to the Rebel Base on Yavin 4, rebels contemplate deserting their cause out of fear. Jyn, Assian, Baze and Chirrut cannot walk away from it thought. Finding a group of rebels determined to forge ahead, they make a run at stealing the plans of the Death Star. First out, this has good action, paced with some character development and story development. It is a dark side of the rebellion that has soldiers who have gone to extreme measures for their cause. Moreover, they have been hardened by the gritty, dark side of war. And this is the troops part of war, lacking the Force, light sabers, and duels. the closest we get to the Force is Chirrut, a blind man who would rather chant his way with the Force instead of emptying himself. Of course, the sinister Darth Vader is back, with the voice of James Earl Jones. He did have ample screen time and a pretty good battle scene against some rebel soldiers. The best part was the epic battle between the Rebellion and the Empire in the effort to steal the Death Star Plans. And for all the nitpickers who griped about the design of the Death Star will find a very satisfying answer. The characters are not fleshed out as well as the original trilogy, and the CGI used for the return of Grand Moff Tarkin was used way too much and will likely kick an audience out of the story for a while. Still, overall, this has it all for Star Wars fans: fights, space combat, droids, and decent stories, decent characters, and the perfect cameos.
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Great Fun at the Movies!
Galaxy Quest is probably the last great comedy, and the last great parody made. Released in 1999, it closed out the decade with great humor wrapped around satire. Galaxy Quest is the name of a 1980's TV show starring Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) as Commander Taggart. His crew includes Alexander Dane (Allan Rickman) as an alien sidekick, Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) who communicates to the computer, Tommy Laredo (Daryl Mitchell) who is the ship's helmsman, and Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) as the ship's engineer. The show was canceled after 80 episodes but has developed a cult following and has become a regular at Sci Fi conventions. Moreover, Tim Allen's character has an overgrown ego who finds side gigs on the side and is unaware of the disdain from his co-stars. If you are thinking Star Trek, you have hit the nail on the head. It is exactly that and out-does it in great parody and respect at the same time. Apparently, an alien race came across the TV show's signals and mistook them as historical documents. Those aliens patterned their technology after the show and have built a real star ship with all the weaponry and computers. Tim Allen is the first to discover it and bring the others along - only to find out they are helping these aliens deal with a real sinister bad guy, Saris. Probably the best part of the movie is how the characters fall back on their TV roles when disaster strikes. Even more humorous is Allan Rickman's hatred for his alien role since he no longer considered a real Shakespearean actor. The actors have to resign to the fact that the Sci-Fi conventions are the only line of work for them since the series has been canceled. One character, Guy (Sam Rockwell) was an extra guard who died in a Galaxy Quest episode, so he's convinced he is going to die on the real mission. Even a young Justin Long plays a fan nerd who knows all the technical workings of the ship who must be called in to help in towards the end of the show. Also, Tim Allen finally shines on the big screen. I always considered him the Bill Cosby of the 1990's since both men did well with TV but struggled in motion pictures roles. Allen finds his niche. This is the last great comedy that relied on situation, dialog and character for laughs instead of gross exaggeration and disgusting humor. It is also the last great parody that is its own movie instead of merely imitating the art it pokes fun at. Even Star Trek fans will love it how the movie pays homage as well as satirizes the culture. The audience will feel great after watching this one.
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Set Phasers to Fun!
Star Trek Beyond returns the triad of Kirk, Spock and McCoy and finally gets all three thrusters going full throttle. This is a fun movie, finding itself more in the vein of the original series. The Enterprise, after a failed diplomatic mission, return to the new fabulous Federation Station known as Yorktown. Almost a Dysonsphere, it is a self-contained, rotating man-made planet. There, we find Kirk and Spock contemplating a life beyond The Enterprise. Interrupting the reflection is a mystery alien woman who needs the Federation to help her rescue her lost shipmates within a mysterious nebula. It is up to The Enterprise crew to provide the help. Once they get to the hidden planet, they are attacked by an alien race led by the mysterious Krall. The Enterprise crew has to abandon ship as the Enterprise is wrecked on the planet surface. Split up, they must reunite and then rescue crew members who have been taken hostage. Scotty finds a new friend named Jaylen. McCoy and Spock help each other try to find their shipmates. Uhura and Sulu have to work hard to find out the secret of Krall and preserve the crew. Chekov and Kirk have to find the crew and rescue them. As the three sub-plots unfold, we find out Kralls true identity, and his nefarious plot not just against The Enterprise, but also Starfleet. This leads to a lot of space battles, hand-to-hand combat, and great relationships between our characters. What is refreshing about it is that our screenplay (by Simon Pegg) finally utilizes McCoy as a full character and not just the comic relief of one-liners and humorous metaphors as in the previous outings. In fact, the best part (I thought) was McCoy and Spock were together for a good chunk of this movie, finding a relationship between the friction between emotion and logic. That was sorely missed in the previous outings, which was a central part of the original series. Another big show was the Yorktown and how the gravity works well on the outer rims where it spins, and how the core has zero gravity. There is also a desperate gamble on reviving an old Nexus class starship from the early Starfleet days of Captain Archer. My only gripe is a common one about the last 45 minutes not giving an audience any rest from special effects, battles, and constant odds-defying moments. Also, sadly gone are the philosophical nature of the the old Star Trek movies. However, this is a new reboot with fresh characters, and with movie making as it is, you take what you can get. I liked the last one better, but Star Trek Beyond is far better than the first reboot. Thankfully, the movie was dedicated to the memories of Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
The Web is Very Tangled
Spiderman 3's webbing caught me. Fortunately, I got out of it. This third installment by Sam Raimi and Tobey MacGuire shows a lot of misfiring of the web as well as the execution of a disjointed screenplay. Spiderman/Peter Parker is riding high on his success. He is planning on proposing to Mary Jane Watson. However, following a disappointing opening night and being replaced, she is down in the dumps and Peter has no clue how to help her. At the same time, an alien symbiote has fallen to earth in a small meteorite. Also, Flint Marko escapes from prison. A person who was complicit with the death of Ben Parker, he falls into the midst of a scientific experiment that turns him into the Sandman. Harry Osborne, the Green Goblin II, is still planning his revenge against Peter Parker/Spiderman. They fight, and Harry gets amnesia, forgetting his feud with Peter/Spidey. He starts dating Mary Jane. Also, a new photographer, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), gets on at the Daily Bugle and starts annoying Peter Parker. Furthermore, Gwen Stacy is a new friend of Peter, and Brock likes her. Eventually, the symbiote gets on Peter, taps his dark side, but then ditches the new suit that merges with Brock and becomes Venom. If you can't follow that story, then you get the problem. The movie tries to do way too much with a huge, disjointed story, and too many characters. Ironically, all the performers give great, credible performances with the loose screenplay. Raimi even does a good job at directing the actors and characters, but has trouble with the labyrinth screenplay. He does well with the juxtaposition of Venom and Sandman as one is redeemed, but the other isn't. He handles ideas of forgiveness as well. Where Raimi and MacGuire fail is when Peter Parker gives into the dark side with the symbiote suit. Another failure is the campy ending that somewhat rivals the Batman and Robin fiasco. No, this is not a complete disaster, but it cannot be rated as a masterpiece, either.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
In no way am I saying X-Men Apocalypse is a bad movie. However, with the glut of super-hero movies done well, this one is definitely in the average category. Apparently, Apocalypse was one of the first Mutants to appear a little more than 5,000 years ago in Egypt. With untold power, he was about to transfer his mind to another when the attempt was thwarted by his minions. It left him buried underneath the Earth until a cult reawakens him. Also discovering this long-forgotten mutant is CIA Agent Moriah MacTaggert (Rose Byrne). When the vault is opened it causes a world-wide tremor that alerts our favorite wheel-chair bound Mutant, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). They reunite. At the same time, we find Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) living quietly in Poland as a working man with a family. He has a wife and a child. However, he is discovered and local authorities kill (by accident) his new loved ones. His new anger makes him ripe for recruiting for Apocalypse who is seeking new minions. He also adds Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), and Psylocke (Olivia Munn). At the same time, other mutants make themselves available to counter the power-mad ancient Mutant. This includes Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Sommers (Ty Sheridan), Night Crawler (Kodi-Smit McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) who all must band together to stop Apocalypse. The movie has some good things - mostly in McAvoy and Fassbender as Xavier and Lensher, respectively. Both men play their familiar parts with such adeptness and depth - especially Fassbender. Magneto is one of the best Mutant Villains because of his complexity, conflict, and pain. He is someone you can sympathize with, especially with the discovery of his family. Another great aspect are some of the supporting characters, especially Quicksilver who steals about every scene he occupies. He also has a great scene of his endeavor to save a bunch of young Mutants from an explosion. Jennifer Lawrence is probably the best, usurping the role from a quiet, sinister Rebecca Rojmin Stamos. Also, this one (like First Class and Days of Future Past) is wonderfully etched with the time surrounding the events. This time, it is 1983 where we have the musings of Return of the Jedi by the cadre of Mutants. However, as they ponder the points of the finale of the original Star Wars Trilogy, a huge hint of foreshadowing occurs when one of them says "The third is usually the weakest of a trilogy." They hit the nail head on. Not every trilogy ender can be an Iron Man III or Captain America III (and the Mutants could have used the Avengers help in this one). First, there are too many characters and sub-stories to follow. Just like Last Stand, do we need this many main Mutant characters? At a point, it becomes exhausting. And while Fassbender, Lawrence, and Peters are stellar, the rest of the Mutants don't have much depth. Another strike is the use of special effects over story and character. It is too much, especially towards the end with an over- the-top climax and resolution where the CGI distracts from the conflict. Moreover, one really has to know the whole plot line from First Class, Days of Future Past, and even the original X-Men Trilogy. In other words, this one is hard to watch unless you have seen ALL of those previous movies to know how they progress with the story arcs. I'm not saying it is a total washout. It is certainly no Spider Man 3, or even Last Stand, but it fails to deliver the depth, fun, story, and character the two previous installments offered. I still recommend it, just don't expect it to be as entertaining as previous installments.
Batman and Superman Winners
Just like the critics and fans, Batman and Superman duke it out for supremacy in the DC Universe. Despite its flaws, the Dawn of Justice does justice to the two heroes. Batman is on a vendetta against Kal-El/Clark/Superman. The collateral damage from the most recent Superman has cost many lives, many of whom were close to Bruce Wayne/Batman. He now worries about the unchecked power of Superman. So does the United States. When Superman has to save Lois (big shock, right?), some more collateral damage happens somewhere in Africa. Now the U.S. Congress wants to meet with Superman and discuss this immense power, since they think with great power comes great ... wait ... wrong franchise. Still, you get the idea. As Batman investigates some strange activities of Lex Corp and its founder, Lex Luthor, he meets the reporter, Clark Kent. Of course, he has his own agenda, wishing to investigate the Bat Vigilante who operates outside the law. In fact, when Wayne and Kent meet, the young reporter is already on to him. Also, a new casual observer is growing curious, as well as stirring up curiosity: a meta human who will be known as Wonder Woman. Finally, we have a Lex Luthor who has created an elaborate plot to pit the two against each other. We have a battle, a team-up, and the defeat of a bigger threat known as Doomsday. Fresh from the genes of General Zod, it wreaks havoc in Metropolis, so only the two heroes, I mean three, stop him. First, I want to get my gripes out of the way. First, the trailer for the movie pretty much gave away the whole plot - so thanks a ton, Warner Brothers. Second, Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor will have people considering him for a prestigious award: a Razzie. While Gene Hackman went with camp and humor, and Kevin Spacey went with more sinister, Eisenberg gives us a loopy Lex Luthor who has Tourette's Syndrome. There is also some lazy writing within the screenplay, as they could not execute the story as well Marvel writers have. Instead of focusing on our three superheroes, they pull some tricks out of left field to introduce Flash, Aquaman, and another hero I am unfamiliar with. However, it has a lot going for it. The most controversial casting decision, Ben Affleck as Batman, was the best choice. He owned that role, playing it to perfection. It even rivaled Christian Bale's take on the role. Henry Cavill as Superman is no Christopher Reeve, but he plays the role more for complexity and not so much as comical. Clark and Superman are much closer to each other. Moreover, unlike Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth, Cavill and Adams have a good chemistry as Lois and Clark/Superman. Another good thing were the fights and the action. While Doomsday went a little over the top, at least it was entertaining and fun to watch. And the fights between the two leads are both entertaining and done with a much greater level of believability than the Doomsday fight. Probably my favorite aspect was a connection between Batman and Superman that finally put their hostilities to rest and work with each other. I don't want to spoil it, but I thought that moment with the connection was fantastic. The movie was drawn out a little long, especially the ending that piques the audience's attention. So that part did work for me. I just wish the writers could have found a way to shorten the path. Overall, despite these mistakes, Batman v Superman is one to watch for the ages. I look forward to the next one.
The Only Decent Prequel
The good thing about Attack of the Clones, is that Lucas could only improve. That he did with his third installment, Revenge of the Sith. In this outing, war has broken out. Separatists, led by General Greivous, have split the Republic. Now with a standing army of clones, Emperor Palpatine has them dispensed to quell the uprisings. Secretly, though, Palpatine is the one behind the separatist movement - using them to give himself emergency powers. While the Jedi oversee the clone troops, the Emperor works against them. Enter Anakin Skywalker and Ben Kenobi who are trying to bring the war to an end. Skywalker kills Count Dooku, leaving Palpatine without an apprentice. He takes interest in Anakin as Ben Kenobi tries to locate General Greivous to bring the Separatist Movement to an end. That is when Palpatine seduces Anakin to the dark side, promising him a way to keep alive the ones he loves. After Kenobi finally brings an end to the separatist military leader, though, Palpatine does not relinquish power. Anakin discovers he is a Sith and brings Mace Windu in. However, tempted again by the Dark Side, Anakin ascends to Palpatine's apprentice. He must now rid the galaxy of Jedi. Kenobi somehow returns, then follows a pregnant Padme to the planet of Mustafar where Anakin is. Yoda confronts Palpatine, and loses. However, Kenobi defeats Anakin, rendering him to a life forever in a special life- support suit. Padme gives birth to twins that will be kept in hiding. Yoda exiles himself. This is a dark episode of Star Wars - as well as the most violent. It also has better dialog, especially when the Emperor is tempting Anakin. The plot is much more streamlined, and there is an even pace of the story. True, some of the exposition involves people sitting and talking, but there is more action interlaced with the plot. The acting, too, is not very deep. It keeps the audience from getting completely involved in the conflicts and temptations, but the performances are not as wooden and the previous installments. Overall, though, Revenge of the Sith was a decent, watchable prequel. It was not as stellar as the original trilogy, but still entertains far better than Phantom Menace and Attac of the Clones.
Attack of the Clowns
My brother once asked me, "What is Attack of the Clones" about. My answer: "It's about two hours and 20 minutes too long." While I hoped that George Lucas might push the reset button and go back to telling a story about characters we cared about, my hopes were dashed when Star Wars Attack of the Clones. There have been several attempts on Amidalla's (Natalie Portman) life. The attacks continue when she returns to Corsuscant to meet two old friends: Ben Kenobi (Ewan MacGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christianssen). They go after one attempted assassin who turns out to be Jango Fett, the father of Boba. Curious, Ben Kenobi does an investigation that leads him to a distant world in which an alien race has created an army of clones under the direction and dealing of a former Jedi, Dooku. This way, the Empire can now have a standing army. The template is based on Jango Fett (so I guess he was a lousy shot with a blaster?). Meanwhile, Anakin and Padme go to her home world of Naboo and start to fall in love. Anakin starts to resent the Jedi order as he feels Kenobi is not treating him well. He returns to Tatooine to visit his mother. She has been kidnapped by the Tusken Raiders and Anakin finds her just as she dies. He goes berserk. Returning to Padme, he confides in her and their loves grows. They decide to find Ben Kenobi on the planet of Geonosis, home world of the Trade Federation. Through a series of events, all three survive a battle droid factory, are put in an arena with large, mean alien animals, and join a large Jedi battle against the Trade Federation. Joining them are the new clone troops. This eventually leads to Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) where Anakin, Kenobi, and Yoda all do their best with their Light Sabers, but come up short. My first gripe was the pacing of the plot: slow. Moreover, the exposition usually resides in people sitting and talking to let the audience know its plot points. My second gripe was the acting coupled with the worst dialog since Captain Kirk's monologues in the TV version of Star Trek. In fact, Christianssen's lame acting rivals that of Shatner, although the latter was usually tongue-in-cheek about it. There is absolutely no chemistry between Anakin and Padme. Again, we have epic characters who don't care, because the actors do not care. It boils down again to Lucas who cares more about sets and special effects instead of telling a story. As a matter of fact, I found this one the most boring of the entire franchise. I struggled in staying awake at a point in this movie. Even worse, I felt like leaving at one point, but stayed thinking "This might get better." I was wrong. At least the light saber battle in Phantom Menace provided a little bit of entertainment because it was truly different and innovative. This was Lucas at his worst.
When the Force Fell Asleep
Star Wars, the Phantom Menace had to be THE biggest let-down of the 1990's, if not the whole decade. For years, many Star Wars fans, like myself, awaited with baited breath for the return of the Force so we could learn what led to the demise of Anakin Skywalker and how he became Darth Vader. It starts with the Trade Federation placing an embargo on the planet, Naboo. Sent to negotiate are two Jedi Knights, Qui Gon Jin (Liam Neeson), and and young Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan MacGregor). The Trade Federation tries to kill them and they flee to the planet Naboo. There, they meet Jar Jar Binks who leads them to Princess Amidalla (Natalie Portman). They flee in her spaceship which is damaged and forced to land on a desert world, Tatooine. There, they meet a young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who is a slave and a great pod racer. After making a few bets, Qui Gon Jinn befriends the would- be Sith Lord and gets back to the capital world, Coruscant. He takes the boy because he has strong proclivities to the Force. There, the boys meets a CGI Yoda along with Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), and a rising political figure, Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmind). He convinces Amidalla to propose a vote of no-confidence in the Chancellor so he can use political clout to help them. Once that is done, Amidalla, Qui Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin and an annoying Jar-Jar return to Naboo for a full conflict. This movie goes from bad to worse, to more worse, to even more worse, and even more worse. The movie suffers from poor characters, weak story, poor conflict, and uneven direction. First are the characters. There is no-one for movie audiences to identify with. The Jedi are larger than life and epic, having little to no faults. There is no doubt, no longing for adventure, no fear, and no personality. Jar Jar Binks is the only one with personality, but it is annoying, ripping off all the cheesy lines from Full House while sounding like Roger Rabbit. Jake Lloyd as a young Anakin has no doubt, no fear, and actually flies a fighter in a battle. The poor dialog adds to this malaise. The story, too, is weak. At age 10, I found it easy to track the story of A New Hope, but will kids track this one? I doubt it. A bigger drawback is that special effects take precedence over the story. Lucas, now with the help of computers, places so much into the scene it takes the focus off the characters and what they are doing (or talking). And within this story there is no conflict because not only can you not identify with any of the characters, but also you don't find any hatred for the bad guys. In fact, the Battle Droids are just as cheesy and comical as Jar Jar. Finally, there is uneven direction. Lucas is not a master director. As a story board artists, and as executive producer, he shines through. This is prevalent at the climatic battle when three stories are going on and it is hard to follow. The only thing I liked was the Jedi battle with the Sith, Darth Maul, who wields a double-edged light saber. That was cool, and fun to watch. The only problems, it last about five minutes in a movie that is 130 minutes. I made a point to see the movie again, thinking I had become too cynical. No. After that, I was convinced this was the misfire of a man who used to be able to tell a simple story.
The Force Awakens Fans
After two of the three prequels seriously bored and unimpressed audiences, and the third garnering a little more attention, the Force is back and Star Wars awakens the stupefied and disappointed audiences. No longer are we laden with inane expository dialog, wooden characters, and uneven direction. Star Wars - The Force Awakens has given the franchise a serious shot of adrenaline. It starts about 30 years after Return of the Jedi. The Empire has retrenched itself with the First Order, while the Rebellion has also has turned into the Resistance. In charge of the First Order, is Kylo Wren, Dark Jedi who is prone to fits of anger and is laden with a mysterious, dark past. Wren, along with General Leia Organa of the resistance, are searching for Luke Skywalker, who mysteriously disappeared years ago. The search begins on Jakku, a desert world where scavengers trade old scrap pieces for a day's food. We meet Ren, a loner who seems to long for someone to return in her life. A few people do come into her life: Poe, a resistance pilot looking for Skywalker, BB-8, a droid with some secret information, and Finn, a former Stormtrooper who develops a conscience and decides to leave the First Order. To escape, they must use an old familiar flying hunk of junk. Once they do, they meet the actual owner, a lonely, older smuggler we have grown to know and love. Once he learns of the quest, he decides to help. He eventually reunites with Leia and works to launch a strike against the First Order's new weapon: a Star Killer (a really, really large Death Star, which is actually a hybrid of a natural planet along with technology). It is in this adventure that draws the old and new cast together. Backstory is revealed, characters are developed, and some twists and turns spring up without it being corny or sappy. As the characters mesh with the story, direction, and effects, we are left with a thrill ride laced with great humor. There were a few strikes against the movie. In the return of Han Solo, we have another back story that evolves into a muddled mess with strange alien creatures that was forced. Another was the fallback to use another Death Star. Although it was done slightly different, the Empire or First Order should probably give up on this idea as the rebellion has been able to destroys three out of three. J.J. Abrams and his team have reinvigorated another sci-fi franchise, proving George Lucas was the biggest weakness in the prequels. In this day of bloated special effects, weak stories, and wooden characters, this one returns Star Wars to its majesty of yesterday. Now if we can just wait for the sequel.