“Finding Dory” — A Film Review

*No worries. This review is entirely spoiler-free!*

I don’t know about you, but I vividly remember seeing Finding Nemo on the big screen back in 2003. I was eight years old at the time. Thirteen years later, it’s still one of my favorite animated films and is, in my opinion, one of Pixar’s best efforts. And here we are now with its long-awaited sequel: Finding Dory.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with this movie. Normally, I’m pretty good at predicting whether a movie will be good or not by watching its trailer(s). But even after watching multiple promos and trailers for this movie, I couldn’t tell which way it would swing. I was equally skeptical and hopeful. I would just have to wait and see.

Well, I waited. And I saw it. Now it’s time to review it!

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The story, of course, centers around everyone’s favorite forgetful blue tang, Dory. It’s been a year since the events of Finding Nemo, and Dory finally remembers that she has a family out there somewhere. With the help of Marlin, Nemo, and a cast of other characters both old and new, she sets out to reunite with them.

Overall, I found the story to be well-done and engaging. The opening scene is very strong, pulling you right in and making you feel things (one of the things Pixar is best at). After that, though, things do get choppy and uneven for a while. One minute the movie is fast-paced and fun, and the next it gets lost in some awkwardly written dialogue scenes. Thankfully, the movie does get better as it goes on, but I did find it a bit unstable here and there. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why, but I think it was a combination of some of the dialogue needing to be ironed out, some pacing issues, and some trouble on the writers’ part figuring out how much they needed to re-establish the characters that we already know.

Most of those problems happen in the first act and (for the most part) diminish as the film goes on, thankfully. And in the end, I was satisfied with how the whole story played out. There were laughs, and there were also tears. The film has a great message about overcoming weaknesses, specifically disabilities; Dory, of course, has short-term memory loss, while other characters have a missing tentacle or nearsightedness. I do think the message could have been better-integrated into the plot, but as it was, it worked. I found the flashback scenes with Dory’s parents to be particularly touching, watching them do their best to care for their daughter and teach her to do things on her own despite her memory problem.

So, no, I don’t think the story is as good as that of Finding Nemo, but I do think it works well in its own right, despite a few problems.

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One of the film’s strongest elements is its characters. Dory is obviously a standout, both funny and endearing — more so the latter than the former in this film. Marlin is as great as ever, but sadly, Nemo doesn’t really have much to do in the story. He’s just kind of . . . there. It’s unfortunate, because one of the best things about the first film was how well it balanced its two plotlines: Marlin and Dory searching for Nemo, and Nemo’s experiences in the fish tank. Here, the focus is on Dory, and the parts that center around her are good, but whenever the film switched to a character moment between Marlin and Nemo, I didn’t find it to be particularly interesting.

On the plus side, though, we get some great new characters that are definitely worth remembering: Hank the octopus (er, septopus), Destiny the whale shark, and Bailey the beluga are the main standouts. They were great fun in different ways, and they stack up well with the memorable side characters from the original. Oh, and then there’s Gerald. Gerald is arguably the best part of the movie. Be sure to stay after the credits for more of Gerald. And hey, Pixar? How about Finding Gerald for the threequel? Please? Can you make that happen? I need more Gerald!

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The movie is visually stunning, as one would expect from Pixar. The water, the diverse ocean life, the movements of the characters, the lighting, the vivid colors . . . it all comes together in a beautiful package, doing a wonderful job of immersing you into its world. It sounds great, too, from the lovely score by Thomas Newman to the more subtle things like how the characters’ voices echo underwater. Great stuff.

So. That’s actually pretty much everything I wanted to say about this film! In conclusion, Finding Dory is a solid sequel. It sometimes has trouble finding its footing, but when it works, it really does work. No, it’s not as good as Finding Nemo, at least in my opinion. It’s not as moving, it’s not as funny, and it’s not as well-rounded a film. But it’s a good movie all the same, and one that is absolutely worth seeing. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts! What did you think of the movie? Leave me a comment!

Next time, I’ll have some reactions, thoughts, and general discussion about all the new information we got about the new Zelda game at E3! Until then!

 

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — A Film Review

***THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, BOTH MAJOR AND MINOR. FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. BUT SERIOUSLY, JUST GO SEE IT ALREADY. GOSH.***

Wow.

Years ago, I thought I would never live to see the day when a seventh Star Wars film would be made. Yet here we are. The saga now continues with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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Yes, it’s still “Episode VII” (the words are in the title crawl). I don’t know why I was worried about that.

This movie had unbelievable hype. When it was first announced in 2012 that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and promised that new Star Wars films were being planned, I for one was feeling many things. I was excited, because I thought there might never be more films in the franchise. I was nervous, because Lucasfilm was now in the hands of Disney; what if they turned Star Wars into nothing more than a cash cow? I was also insanely curious as to what the new story would be. The possibilities were virtually endless.

For a while, though, I forgot about the movie. That is, I still knew about it, but I put it out of my mind. 2015 was a long way away, after all.

Fast forward to late 2014, when the first teaser trailer for the new movie was released. I had already decided at that point that I didn’t want to know ANYTHING about the movie. I didn’t want to know the story, the characters, the look and feel of it, NOTHING. Crazy of me? Probably. But I was determined. Star Wars has meant a lot to me from a young age, and I wanted the new film to be as fresh and new to me as possible when I finally ended up seeing it.

Over the next year, two more trailers were released, and a TON of promotional stuff was everywhere — merchandise, news articles, YouTube ads, you name it. So, inevitably, I did end up learning a few things, such as what the main characters looked like. I stuck to my guns, though, and didn’t watch any of the trailers.

I was pretty much shaking in anticipation when I finally — FINALLY — sat down in that theater to watch the film. A hush fell over the crowd as the Lucasfilm logo appeared on the screen, followed by the now famous phrase:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .

Then, the first note of the theme that everybody knows blasted out of the speakers, and I smiled. As the music played on and the words of the prologue crawled up the screen, my smile only got bigger. It was happening. It was really happening.

I could hardly contain myself as the prologue faded out and the music turned from triumphant to mysterious, the camera slowly moving down to reveal a planet, like in most of the other films. And as the shadow of an enormous ship slowly began to envelop the planet, I was utterly mesmerized. Within mere seconds, director J. J. Abrams had sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go for over two hours.

Enough rambling, though. Time for the actual review. What did I think of the movie?

In a sentence, I thought it was phenomenal.

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Where do I even begin? The story? Yeah, let’s go with that.

If you’re reading this review, you’ve either already seen the film or you don’t care about spoilers. Either way, I’m not going to waste your time or mine by summarizing what the story is about. Instead, I’ll just say that the story overall is quite well-done. I was fully invested in the actions of the Resistance against the First Order from start to finish, and the mysteries and other plot elements intrigued me. Luke Skywalker has gone missing and is now the stuff of legend? Han and Leia had a son who has now become a Darth Vader wannabe? Stormtroopers are now fully human, and one of them realizes that he’s on the wrong side and does everything he can to escape and fight back? A scavenger from a desert planet called Jakku (a very similar place to Tatooine) is pulled into the fray and is discovered to be incredibly strong with the Force?

That’s just a few of the story elements that really stood out to me. The point is, I found it all compelling, especially the questions that don’t necessarily get answered in this movie. Why is Rey such a natural with the Force? What is the full backstory of how Ben Solo became Kylo Ren? We don’t know yet. This is the start of a whole new trilogy, and it’s a fantastic start indeed.

I do have a small handful of criticisms of the film, though (hey, there’s no such thing as a perfect movie). The main one is in the story department: it is admittedly a little over-reliant on the films of the past. I don’t find it to be nearly as big of a problem as others have, but the story does mirror that of the original (A New Hope). Rey is like Luke, BB-8 holding important information is like R2 with the Death Star plans, there’s a superweapon that the rebels/resistance need to destroy, etc. You’ve seen the movie, so you don’t need me to outline every single parallel.

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However, while I definitely think the parallels could have been toned down a little bit, I really don’t think they hurt the film in any significant way. Sure, I found myself mentally groaning a little when the Resistance outlined the plan to blow up Starkiller Base and then went to do it, but blowing up Starkiller Base was not the main point of the story, like blowing up the Death Star was in A New Hope. Instead, blowing up the base gave way for what was actually important to this story: the confrontation between Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren.

In fact, a lot of the time I actually liked how some parts of the story felt familiar, and I think it was a pretty smart decision on the part of the filmmakers. Keep things familiar to a certain degree, but incorporate plenty of the new as well so it doesn’t feel like the same story with a new paint job. I do hope, though, that as this new trilogy continues they branch out even more with new ideas. I liked how The Force Awakens was a tribute to A New Hope, but I do NOT want Episode VIII to be a tribute to The Empire Strikes Back. That would definitely be crossing the line for me.

Next, characters! Holy cow. They’re fantastic. I’ll touch on each one briefly.

First we have Rey, the female lead. I thought she was awesome in every way. Not only was she a main character who was female, she was WELL-WRITTEN too! She was neither weak and helpless nor the stereotypical over-the-top butt-kicker completely devoid of any emotion who is strong, independent, and don’t need no man.

Instead, Rey is strong, but she is also caring. She is skilled in combat, but she is also smart. She is brave, but she also has her moments of doubt and fear. She’s relatable. She’s human. She’s AWESOME.

(Quick note to all those people complaining about how she was able to use the Force in various ways and beat Kylo Ren, a trained Sith lord, without any formal training: you’re free to think what you will, but I thought her abilities were perfectly reasonable. She’s simply a prodigy in the Force [I suspect she has Skywalker blood, personally]. She is established early on as a capable fighter, so it’s not outlandish that she was able to wield a lightsaber reasonably well. Kylo Ren is not a Sith lord, and his training is not complete — not to mention he had just killed his father and been hit with Chewie’s blaster before his fight with Finn and Rey. So of course he had a disadvantage against Rey, who was able to calm herself with the Force and allow the light side to work through her. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll get more insight into her abilities in the next movie. And come on, that scene where she called the lightsaber to her was AWESOME.)

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I also loved Finn.  Late in the opening scene, when the stormtroopers are ordered to kill the villagers, I was instantly drawn to him when he aimed his gun with shaking hands but then slowly lowered it. A stormtrooper realizing he’s on the wrong side and having the courage to leave? This is so cool! And not only is Finn a heroic guy, he’s also just plain funny. From his little wisecracks to his chemistry with Han (“We’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force!” “That’s not how the Force works!”), he had me laughing throughout the whole movie.

One of my favorite scenes was when Finn helped Poe escape and they had an instant friendship, with Poe giving him his name and Finn freaking out excitedly after blasting through the First Order defenses (“DID YOU SEE THAT?! DID YOU SEE IT?!”). That scene had me fully convinced, less than 15 minutes into the movie, that J. J. Abrams was the right man to direct.

Speaking of Poe, I want to see more of him. He had such great charisma, and even though he played a relatively small role in this movie, I already regard him as one of my favorites. I knew I was going to like him right from the moment when he was facing Kylo Ren and said: “So who talks first? Do I talk first or do you talk first?” Just . . . yes. *slow clap*

Poe’s droid, BB-8, is also a scene-stealer. R2-D2 and C-3PO are classic, but this little guy fits right in with them. He’s new, fun, cute, hilarious, and brilliantly executed onscreen. He’s an entirely practical effect, and it shows in the best way possible. I can’t wait to see more of him (and I wouldn’t mind a BB-8 T-shirt, either).

The last new character I’ll talk about in some detail is Kylo Ren. I’ve seen some people in comment sections complaining about him, calling him weak and whiny and things like that. But I found him a very interesting villain. He’s no Darth Vader or anything, but that’s the point. He’s a petulant child who intimidates others with a mask and is not in control of his emotions (I loved the scenes where he took out stuff with his lightsaber, especially the one where the two stormtroopers were like “nope” and walked away). He is still drawn to the light side of the Force, even if it’s not a particularly strong pull. I’m not sure whether I want him to be redeemed later in the trilogy, but here, I found him interesting and maybe even a bit sympathetic. (And the scene in which he kills his father was really well-done, especially with how he says “thank you” after doing it and Han touches his face before falling into the pit. Great stuff.)

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There are, of course, other newcomers: Snoke, General Hux, Captain Phasma, and Maz, for instance. In summary, I liked all of these characters as well even though we don’t know some of them very well yet — and at least one of them (Phasma) was definitely underused. I hope we’ll continue to get to know them better in the next film.

Let’s talk about the visuals next — effects, production design, cinematography, costumes, all that stuff. Ahem.

HOLY HOT BELGIAN WAFFLES, THIS MOVIE IS STUNNING!

I was hooked right from the opening shot. J. J. Abrams very wisely wanted to use as many practical effects and real sets and locations as possible. That’s definitely part of why The Force Awakens is simply one of the best-looking movies I have ever seen. There is still some CGI, of course, but overall it’s done quite well; the only really noticeable instances of it are in the characters of Maz and Snoke. While I do think they could have looked better, they still looked good.

Seriously, though, I cannot overstate how freaking GOOD everything looks. The costumes (both familiar and new) look great; the ships look better than they ever have; the props, the sets, the whole LOOK of the film is just outstanding. And I noticed something at the end of the credits that I’m sure helped with that: they actually shot this movie on film. Like actual, old-fashioned 35mm film. That was a brilliant decision and I think it played an important part in how gosh-darn authentic the whole thing looks.

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The cinematography is also top-notch. Much of it is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a Star Wars film, and yet it never feels like it isn’t Star Wars. It feels like Star Wars, but it also feels like a new Star Wars. It’s perfect. There are shots in here that George Lucas would never have dreamed of using, and it all flows incredibly. For a prime example, the scene in which Finn and Rey fly the Falcon for the first time and escape the TIE fighters on Jakku is downright thrilling. The cinematography is just part of that, of course, but a crucial part nonetheless. I wanted to jump out of my seat, punch the air, and scream “YEAH!” after that scene. Just amazing.

Star Wars has long been known as a textbook example of great sound design in movies, and The Force Awakens is no exception. All the old sounds you expect are here: the laser blasts, the roaring of TIE fighters, the hum and clashing of lightsabers, the bleeping and blooping of droids, and so on. But there’s also plenty of new sounds to enjoy; the rathtars stood out to me, and BB-8’s vocalizations are both reminiscent of R2-D2 and completely new at the same time.

With sound also comes the music. I was beyond ecstatic when I learned that John Williams would be returning to score the new movie. As I watched, however, not much of the music stood out to me apart from the uses of the original themes. I picked up on it more during my second viewing, but there was still not much new music that really grabbed me. And after purchasing the soundtrack and listening to it without the movie distracting me, I can confirm a slightly disappointing thing: this is definitely the weakest of the Star Wars scores to date, which is a real shame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still good music, and there are definite standouts (Rey’s Theme in particular), but it’s still simply not on the same level as the previous soundtracks, in my opinion. Maybe John Williams is simply losing his touch as he ages, or maybe J. J. Abrams specifically requested a more low-key score than usual. Whatever the case, I do think the new music is good, but I must also confess my slight disappointment with it.

But still, I can’t stop listening to Rey’s Theme. Help me.

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Apparently, this shot from the trailer wasn’t actually in the final film. Weird.

How have I not talked about the acting and the writing yet? The acting, for the most part, is wonderful. The new actors and actresses won me over with ease. Daisy Ridley is perfectly endearing and mysterious as Rey. John Boyega is heroic and funny as Finn. Oscar Isaac is charming and charismatic as Poe. Adam Driver is suitably torn and troubled as Kylo Ren. I loved them all, and I can’t wait to see more of them in the next movie.

The old returning cast is good as well, though not quite to the same degree. I liked Harrison Ford the best reprising his role as Han Solo; I never once felt that he had lost touch with his character. He really felt like an older Han Solo. Carrie Fisher was fine, but nothing she did in this movie really gripped me, admittedly. And I can’t wait to see Mark Hamill doing more things in the next one, because his scene at the end was so well-done! And he didn’t even say anything! His facial expressions (and Daisy Ridley’s) were all that scene needed to be a powerful cliffhanging finale.

Huge props go to J. J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt for the great screenplay. The dialogue was leagues better than in the prequels, keeping a healthy balance of serious and lighthearted. There were dark moments, and there were also hilarious moments. Heck, this might just be the funniest Star Wars film yet, and that’s a good thing. None of it felt overdone or forced (*cough* Jar Jar *cough*). It felt natural and real. And the actors had such great chemistry throughout the film! You could easily tell that they were having a blast making this movie, a plus that the prequels never really achieved. After leaving the theater, a friend of mine said that the characters in this movie had more chemistry than all of the prequels combined, and I have to agree. Awesome job, everyone.

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Time to wrap this thing up.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a phenomenal, triumphant return to the galaxy far, far away. J. J. Abrams and everyone who worked on it clearly poured a lot of love into it. It’s visually stunning. It sounds awesome, even if the music isn’t quite what it should have been. The cast is brilliant, especially the new players, and their characters are compelling and a blast to watch. The story, while a little bit too obvious in its parallels to A New Hope, is well-done, easy to follow, and exciting. The film is many things at once: a passionate tribute to what has come before, an exhilarating setup to what is yet to come, and an altogether rollicking good time for fans both old and new.

In fact, it might — it just might — be my new favorite Star Wars film. I’m not quite sure yet, but at the very least it’s miles better than the prequels. I think I’m going to need a few more viewings and some time to decide for sure, but I really do think it could take the place of Empire Strikes Back in my mind.

J. J. Abrams has said that, above all, he wanted the movie to be “delightful.” Well, J. J., you’ve definitely succeeded, and then some. I’ve seen your movie twice and I still want to see it at least twice more on the big screen. Congratulations on creating the most financially successful movie of the year, as well as one of the most critically acclaimed. You and everyone who worked on this film deserve it.

Bravo. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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I hope you enjoyed my review! What did you think of the movie? Comment below!

See you next time, and may the Force be with you. Always.

“Inside Out” — A Film Review

***THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. BECAUSE I’M TOO LAZY TO DO A SPOILER-FREE VERSION EVERY TIME I DO A MOVIE REVIEW, YOU SHOULD JUST GO SEE THE MOVIE IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY AND THEN READ MY REVIEW.***

Wow. It’s been far too long since we’ve had a great Pixar movie.

Before this year, in my opinion, the last great Pixar movie was 2010’s Toy Story 3. Since then, we’ve gotten a few Pixar movies that, while good (for the most part), weren’t quite up to scratch:

2011: Cars 2 (widely considered Pixar’s weakest work to date)
2012: Brave (good overall, but definitely not what I would call “great”)
2013: Monsters University (enjoyable and definitely a step up, but again, still not what I would call “great”)
2014: The first year without a Pixar movie since 2005

So it’s been about five years since we last had a truly great Pixar film. When I first heard about Inside Out, I was intrigued by the concept, and had a bit of hope that it might be a return to form for the renowned animation studio. They’d hit a bit of a slump, and I thought that maybe this new film would be their comeback.

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When I saw the first trailer for it, I wasn’t so sure anymore. A few months later, though, I watched a second trailer that came out, and it made me more hopeful again. However, it wasn’t the trailers that ended up making me the most hopeful; it was that the film was shown early (in May) at the Sundance Film Festival, and it received rave reviews from the critics and audience members who attended the showing. In fact, up until its release, it had a consistent rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating that not a single critic had yet given it a negative review.

As of today, on Rotten Tomatoes, Inside Out has a total of 223 critic reviews. 219 of them are positive, and only 4 are negative.

So did I think that this film was truly a return to form for Pixar?

Ummmm . . . YES.

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Now, if you’re reading this review, you’ve either already seen the movie or aren’t afraid of spoilers, so I’ll spare you the summary of what the movie is about. Instead, I’ll keep this fairly brief and give an overview of my observations, things I liked, etc.

First, I must say that the overall story and concept of the film is utterly brilliant, and while some may argue that it’s not original — certainly the concept of visualizing how people think has happened before in movies and TV — I found it to be entirely fresh and exciting all the same, not to mention exceedingly clever. The little orbs with memories contained in them, the islands of personality, the “train of thought,” the production studio where dreams are made . . . everything is visualized so inventively that I couldn’t help but smile (not to mention laugh at certain jokes, especially when the facts and opinions got mixed up — “that happens all the time!”).

Oh yeah, and there’s totally a “the floor is lava” section of Imagination Land.

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Whoever decided to put this in the movie: huge kudos go to you. Or cookies. Whatever you like.

If the world of the movie is fun to watch, though, it’s still got nothing on the characters. Our main focus are the five primary emotions in Riley’s head: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. You might think that because each character personifies one particular emotion that they wouldn’t be very interesting and would play off of stereotypes. On the contrary, each of these characters is done exceptionally well, and each is certainly more than capable of breaking out of the mold you might expect them to stay in.

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Take Fear, for example. You might expect him to simply freak out about stuff all the time. Instead, though, his purpose is more three-dimensional. He watches out for possible hazards, and he analyzes situations to find all possible outcomes (but of course he often finds the worst possible ones, which is quite funny).

In this way, each of the main five characters is more than just their name. Each one is made up of multiple smaller traits that are related to whatever emotion they personify. Take Anger — he doesn’t just blow up for no reason. He’s the voice of justice and tries his best to prevent Riley from being treated unfairly. (This observation didn’t really occur to me until I listened to someone else talk about the film, but since I thought it a good one, I thought I should include it here.)

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So yes, the characters are definitely not one-note, and they’re all great. Even Disgust, who I didn’t expect to like too much, was an interesting and even funny character. Fear was great. Anger was hysterical.

But the real stars of the show are the polar opposites: Joy and Sadness.

INSIDE OUT – Pictured: Joy. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Joy is, well, a joy to watch. As you’d expect, she’s upbeat, spunky, perky, always looking on the bright side. She’s the girl in charge of Riley’s inner life, responsible for the majority of the emotions Riley has experienced ever since she was an infant. I found it quite interesting that the other emotions understood that Joy was in charge and respected her for that. I was expecting all of the characters to constantly be vying for control, which happened occasionally, but not nearly as much as I was expecting, which made the film more interesting to me.

And then there’s Sadness. Joy doesn’t really understand her, for obvious reasons, and even tries to keep her away from the control board. But when both of them are whisked away on their adventure to recover the core memories, something amazing happens. Well, technically, many amazing things happen, but I’m talking specifically about the overall arc. Because in the end, it’s Sadness who turns out to be the real hero of the story.

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This is the film’s most prominent message, and I thought it was ingenious and beautiful. Riley has lived most of her life quite happily, thanks to Joy. But when her family moves to a different city and a completely different life, Riley’s inner life begins to crumble. Joy tries to keep sadness from ruining everything, but as it turns out, Sadness shouldn’t be pushed away. Sadness is actually essential to Riley’s well-being.

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The scene in which this is made clear is one of the most tear-jerking moments in Pixar history. You know what, scratch that — I’d say it’s THE most tear-jerking moment in Pixar history. I’m serious. I cried more watching this movie than I have watching any other Pixar creation — including Up and Toy Story 3! (#noshame)

I mean, really, though . . . Riley comes home, her parents ask what’s wrong, and Sadness is finally allowed to take the controls. She doesn’t keep them to herself, though. As Riley’s family embraces, Sadness invites Joy to handle the controls alongside her, which creates a new kind of memory. A mixture of sadness and joy. And that, my friends, is one of the best messages Pixar has weaved into its stories. Sadness should not be stifled. It’s vital to our emotional stability. Not only that, but sadness and joy can work together. Sadness can often lead to joy, in fact.

Now that is some darn good writing.

Oh, also . . . Bing Bong.

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When this guy first appeared, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like him. He grew on me, though, even though I still thought his design was a bit strange. And he continued to grow on me.

And then . . . that scene happened.

Oh gosh. The feels. I can’t. I just . . .

Pixar! Why must you do this to me?! You just had me crying already when Joy experienced sadness for the first time, and then you drop that on me? You brilliant, wonderful, evil people. I love your movies.

*cough*

Anyway. I think I should wrap this up.

Inside Out is truly a return to form for Pixar, as many have said, and quite a welcome one at that. Is it perfect? No, there are a few small things I wish were done a little differently. But as it is, the film is outstanding. Wonderful. Creative. Brilliant. Hilarious, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at once. The visuals are bright and colorful. The voice cast is pitch-perfect. The story is well-written and well-executed. The message is beautiful, and the emotions — fittingly enough for a movie about them — are real and powerfully moving.

In short, it’s one of Pixar’s best. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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I hope you enjoyed my review! What did you think of the film? Leave a comment!

See you in two weeks!

“Jurassic World” — A Film Review (Spoiler-Free!)

Well, it’s been 14 years since we last had a Jurassic Park movie. Pretty unbelievable. For a while, I thought they might never continue with the franchise. But lo and behold, here we are in 2015 with the fourth film in theaters.

It’s not just in theaters, though. It’s absolutely dominating them. On its opening weekend, it grossed over $500 million worldwide — the biggest global opening of any movie.

Ever.

The filmmakers probably had a pretty good idea of what they were getting into when they officially decided to make a new film, but I’m not sure whether they anticipated quite that huge a success. So, money aside, the question is: did the film do its job revitalizing the thought-to-be-extinct franchise?

In this guy’s opinion, it certainly did.

No, this is not an official poster. It's fan-made. I just thought it was cool. Oh, you want the real poster? *sigh* Fine.

No, that’s not an official poster. I just thought it was cool. Deal with it.

When publicity for this movie started going into full swing, I decided to avoid said publicity as much as possible. I would not watch any of the trailers, I unfollowed the Jurassic Park page on Facebook, all that kind of thing. I didn’t want to know what the dinosaurs looked like, I didn’t want to know the story. I wanted to be completely surprised by everything when I finally saw the movie.

Of course, my plan didn’t work out entirely. Sometimes accidentally, and sometimes because my self-control cracked, I did learn a few little things here and there. Not knowing these things would have been nice, but it didn’t spoil my movie experience at all, thankfully. All throughout the movie, I didn’t know what was going to happen. There was tension. There was excitement. There was even some great humor sprinkled throughout. And by the end, I couldn’t believe it was already over. I wanted more.

Oh, I was satisfied with the movie, don’t get me wrong! But I wanted more. As in I enjoyed the movie a lot, and I wanted more of it. Let’s dive in with more detail, shall we?

The film gets going pretty quickly — very quickly, actually, which is one of my only major gripes with the movie. We don’t get much setup or background at all. I personally would have liked more exposition, but it doesn’t detract from the film as a whole too much. Still, though, I do think it’s a problem.

The characters in this film are not quite as memorable as the cast of the original film, but I definitely liked them quite a bit in general. Now, the Jurassic Park films have never been especially deep in terms of character development, and Jurassic World is no exception. Still, though, I liked these characters and wanted them to succeed. Our main players are Claire Dearing, Owen Grady, Gray Mitchell, and Zach Mitchell.

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Of these players, Claire is the one who receives the most development. Played charmingly by Bryce Dallas Howard, she’s a rather cold and mechanical woman at first, and she doesn’t seem to care enough about her two nephews she hasn’t seen in about seven years. Throughout the course of the film, though, she grows. I can’t say exactly how, since this is a stripped-down, spoiler-free version of my full review, but rest assured that Claire has an interesting arc, even if it isn’t especially complex.

Owen is a great character as well. He doesn’t really change, but he’s important to the story also. He’s a solid, no-nonsense do-gooder played fantastically by Chris Pratt. He’s almost like a combination of Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm from the original film: the former because of his respect for dinosaurs and down-to-earth qualities, and the latter for knowing when to tell people that their ideas are bad and will inevitably lead to disaster. All things considered, I’d say Owen is easily my favorite character from the movie.

The two kids, Zach and Gray, are pretty decent. Gray is a nice preteen boy who’s fascinated with dinosaurs, and quite likeable as a character. Zach, unfortunately, is less likeable, taking the stereotypical role of a careless teenager who’s often mean to his brother and likes to stare at pretty girls — even though he already has a girlfriend (although he doesn’t seem very into her at this point in their relationship; in fact, it could easily be inferred from the brief scene we see them together that he is wanting to break up soon). Now, thankfully this all doesn’t last. As the story progresses, Zach reassures Gray that he’ll protect him, and the two brothers bond through their adventures. I do wish, though, that Zach’s staring problem had actually been addressed. It’s a loose end that never gets resolved, which irks me a little.

There are some supporting characters of note, too. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, though, I’ll just mention one: a guy named Lowery, who I’ve heard described as a “reverse Dennis Nedry” (the guy from the first film who steals the embryos). He seems pretty geeky, and he’s criticized for having a messy desk; he even wears similar-looking glasses. Unlike Nedry, though, he’s a good guy who wants to help in any way he can (and he’s got a lot of the funniest lines from the movie, too).

I think that’s enough for characters. What about the dinosaurs?

The dinosaurs are pretty great! Since this review is spoiler-free, though, I can’t talk specifically about them. What I can talk about is what they look like. I was hoping for a good mixture of CGI and animatronics in this film, but unfortunately, it’s mostly CGI that we get. Now, it looks pretty good for the most part — certainly better than in Jurassic Park III — but I was definitely hoping for even better. Oh well. It doesn’t really detract from the movie, I just wish that there was less reliance on CGI these days.

The film also contains many references and homages to the original film, which was a fantastic touch. Again, though, I don’t want to give any of them away, so . . . MOVING ON!

Oh! I must mention the music! Unfortunately, the music didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would. Sure, I loved the uses of the original themes, and there were some standouts here and there for the new music. But I didn’t get the “mind-blowingly awesome” score that I was hoping for. Now, I was only disappointed with the score while I was watching the film; but I’m actually listening to the soundtrack as I type this review, and I can now appreciate the music better now that I don’t have the movie to distract me. It’s a good score, really. It just doesn’t “wow” me quite as much as I’d hoped it would. Personally, my favorite musical moment is a slower, more nostalgic rendition of the ending music from the first movie (the piano solo as they’re riding away in the helicopter). (And shockingly, this part of the score isn’t on the soundtrack! Seriously?!)

Better wrap this up. So. In conclusion.

All in all, Jurassic World is a solid and immensely entertaining entry in the franchise. Colin Trevorrow is clearly a capable director. The story is solid and fun, the cast is very enjoyable, the dinosaurs are still awesome and scary, the music is good, the homages to the first film are wonderful, the humor is great, and it’s really just so good to finally see a new Jurassic Park movie. While this film didn’t make my heart pound like I’d hoped (I fondly recall the “raptors in the kitchen” scene from the first movie), it did make me jump a few times, and there also were several moments that made me go “Oh . . . snap.” There’s thrilling action and some pretty great tension. So, while the original film is still the best to me, this is my favorite of the sequels. I look forward to watching it many more times. And bring on the next movie!

Jurassic World gets a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars!

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I hope you enjoyed this review of the film, even though it’s pretty thin. There’s a way to fix that, though. GO SEE THE MOVIE ALREADY!!! *ahem* And then you can read a much more in-depth review (and with more pictures!).

See you in two weeks! You get another movie review then — this time for Pixar’s latest outing, Inside Out. See you then!

“Jurassic World” — A Film Review

***WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET! IN THE MEANTIME, IF YOU’D STILL LIKE TO KNOW MY THOUGHTS WITHOUT SPOILING THE MOVIE, HERE’S A SPOILER-FREE VERSION OF MY REVIEW.***

Well, it’s been 14 years since we last had a Jurassic Park movie. Pretty unbelievable. For a while, I thought they might never continue with the franchise. But lo and behold, here we are in 2015 with the fourth film in theaters.

It’s not just in theaters, though. It’s absolutely dominating them. On its opening weekend, it grossed over $500 million worldwide — the biggest global opening of any movie.

Ever.

The filmmakers probably had a pretty good idea of what they were getting into when they officially decided to make a new film, but I’m not sure whether they anticipated quite that huge a success. So, money aside, the question is: did the film do its job revitalizing the thought-to-be-extinct franchise?

In this guy’s opinion, it certainly did.

No, this is not an official poster. It's fan-made. I just thought it was cool. Oh, you want the real poster? *sigh* Fine.

No, that’s not an official poster. I just thought it was cool.

. . . Fine, here’s a real poster.

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Geez, you just can’t please people. Anyway . . .

When publicity for this movie started going into full swing, I decided to avoid said publicity as much as possible. I would not watch any of the trailers, I unfollowed the Jurassic Park page on Facebook, all that kind of thing. I didn’t want to know what the dinosaurs looked like, I didn’t want to know the story. I wanted to be completely surprised by everything when I finally saw the movie.

Of course, my plan didn’t work out entirely. Sometimes accidentally, and sometimes because my self-control cracked, I did learn a few little things here and there. I learned there was a genetically modified hybrid dinosaur in the movie, I learned that Chris Pratt’s character was able to train the raptors, and a couple of other things. Not knowing these things would have been nice, but it didn’t spoil my movie experience at all, thankfully. All throughout the movie, I didn’t know what was going to happen. There was tension. There was excitement. There was even some great humor sprinkled throughout. And by the end, I couldn’t believe it was already over. I wanted more.

Oh, I was satisfied with the movie, don’t get me wrong! But I wanted more. As in I enjoyed the movie a lot, and I wanted more of it. Let’s dive in with more detail, shall we?

The film gets going pretty quickly — very quickly, actually. John Hammond’s dream of Jurassic Park has finally become a reality, two decades into the future, and Jurassic World is a fully functional theme park that regularly gets thousands of visitors per day. And we’re at the park within the first few minutes. On one hand, it’s great to jump right in and see the much more futuristic park in action almost at once, but on the other hand, it’s one of my only major gripes with the movie. We don’t get any setup. No background. No spiel about how the park actually got on its feet (and not to mention how Dr. Wu stayed involved, which would have been cool to know). We just start the story knowing that the park is now operational, and that’s about it. I personally would have liked more exposition leading into this, but it doesn’t detract from the film as a whole too much. Still, though, I do think it’s a problem.

Kayaking with dinos. What could be cooler?

Kayaking with dinos. What could be cooler?

Barring its non-introduction, though, the park itself is a marvel to look at. People kayak alongside peaceful herbivores. There’s a huge pool with a croc-like Mosasaurus that feeds on sharks. Oh, and the gyrospheres! Have I mentioned the gyrospheres? Because they’re super cool and stuff.

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I mean, come on! Can you imagine using one of these things? Can you imagine using one of these things among dinosaurs?! Awesome concept. Kudos to whomever came up with this idea. Really, though, as cool as the original park was, with the cars that ran on the track (“It’s an interactive CD-ROM!”), Jurassic World is, I think, a perfectly realized vision of a dinosaur theme park.

Too bad everything goes wrong once again, right?

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There’s a new dino in town this time: a genetically modified hybrid. Not technically a true dinosaur. It was created in order to reinvigorate waning interest in the park — apparently, after several years of being operational, dinosaurs just aren’t as amazing to people as they used to be. So the focus groups have called for something bigger. Louder. More teeth. And the park’s geneticists, led by Dr. Wu, graciously comply, creating an animal that “will give the parents nightmares,” according to one character.

They call it Indominus Rex.

It’s a pretty awesome part of the movie, bigger and even more menacing than the T-Rex. If you’re reading this, you’ve already seen the movie, so I don’t need to explain how it escapes or anything like that. Suffice it to say that I really liked the scene in which it appears to have vanished from its paddock — that tension, though! It was also cool to see its chameleon-like camouflage powers — although I couldn’t believe it when I heard the reason it had those powers. Seriously, Dr. Wu? You didn’t think that adding cuttlefish DNA would have any side effects like that?

I digress, though. Moving on — the characters in this film are not quite as memorable as the cast of the original film, but I definitely liked them quite a bit in general. Now, the Jurassic Park films have never been especially deep in terms of character development, and Jurassic World is no exception. Still, though, I liked these characters and wanted them to succeed. Our main players are Claire Dearing, the manager of the park; Owen Grady, park employee and raptor trainer; Gray Mitchell, nephew of Claire; and Zach Mitchell, Gray’s older brother.

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Of these players, Claire is the one who receives the most development. Played charmingly by Bryce Dallas Howard, she’s a rather cold and mechanical woman at first. The park is all about the business, she doesn’t have proper respect for the animals, and she doesn’t seem to care enough about her two nephews she hasn’t seen in about seven years. Throughout the course of the film, though, she grows. She’s moved by the apatosaurs killed by the Indominus. When her nephews go missing, she’s terrified for them and embraces them lovingly when she is reunited with them. She even saves Owen’s life at one point, and plays an important role in taking down the Indominus in the end. And she does it all while wearing heels. Not too shabby.

Owen is a great character as well. He doesn’t really change, but he’s important to the story also. He trains raptors, a story element which I was initially skeptical about. But it works, which I’ll get to later. For now, suffice it to say that Owen is a solid, no-nonsense do-gooder played fantastically by Chris Pratt. He’s almost like a combination of Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm from the original film: the former because of his respect for dinosaurs and down-to-earth qualities, and the latter for knowing when to tell people that their ideas are bad and will inevitably lead to disaster. All things considered, I’d say Owen is easily my favorite character from the movie.

The two kids, Zach and Gray, are pretty decent. Gray is a nice preteen boy who’s fascinated with dinosaurs, and quite likeable as a character. Zach, unfortunately, is less likeable, taking the stereotypical role of a careless teenager who’s often mean to his brother and likes to stare at pretty girls — even though he already has a girlfriend (although he doesn’t seem very into her at this point in their relationship; in fact, it could easily be inferred from the brief scene we see them together that he is wanting to break up soon). Now, thankfully this all doesn’t last. As the story progresses, Zach reassures Gray that he’ll protect him, and the two brothers bond through their adventures. I do wish, though, that Zach’s staring problem had actually been addressed. It’s a loose end that never gets resolved, which irks me a little.

There are some supporting characters of note, too. The only cast member returning from the original film is B. D. Wong as Dr. Henry Wu. He plays a larger role here, which is pretty cool, but I do wish it had been elaborated on a bit more, as previously mentioned. He escapes the island, though, and I’m certain that we’ll see him again in the next film. There’s also a worker named Lowery, who I’ve heard described as a “reverse Dennis Nedry” (the guy from the first film who steals the embryos). He seems pretty geeky, and he’s criticized for having a messy workstation; he even wears similar-looking glasses. Unlike Nedry, though, he’s a good guy who wants to help in any way he can (and he’s got a lot of the funniest lines from the movie, too).

I think that’s enough for characters. What about the dinosaurs?

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The dinosaurs are pretty great! I’ve already mentioned the Indominus and the Mosasaurus (which technically isn’t a dinosaur, but that’s another conversation), but there’s also pterosaurs (also not dinosaurs), apatosaurs, stegosaurs, and other “veggiesaurs.” Tyrannosaurus, of course, makes an appearance — well, more than just an appearance. It takes part in an awesome battle against the Indominus, which left me quite breathless. I would have liked more of T-Rex, but that’s a minor complaint. Well, it was a major complaint after I came out of the film for the first time, but after seeing it a second time and being more able to judge it on its own terms, I decided not having a lot of T-Rex was okay. The filmmakers wouldn’t have wanted it to steal the Indominus’s thunder, after all.

Oh, and of course we have everyone’s favorite clever girls: the Velociraptors.

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In the previous three films, the raptors were feared above all else. They’re smart, they’re fast, and they can kill you faster than you can say “Please don’t eat me!” Basically, if you’re cornered by a raptor, you have just about zero chance of escaping.

What’s different in this film, though, is that while the raptors are definitely still dangerous, they can be trained with a firm enough hand. After the first time I saw the movie, I said that I both liked and disliked this story element. After seeing it the second time, though, I decided that I simply liked it. A lot, actually. Originally, I had argued that training the raptors was a cool idea for the story, but it took away from the sheer terror the raptors had delivered in the previous films. Now, though, I’ve decided that while that is true, it doesn’t matter that much. We’ve had three other movies with horrifying raptor suspense. With this new one, the filmmakers took a new route, and it worked! And hey, at least we still had that scene in which the raptors temporarily change their allegiance (and the reveal that the Indominus is part raptor was pretty awesome).

One other quick thing about the dinosaurs: I was hoping for a good mixture of CGI and animatronics in this film, but unfortunately, it’s mostly CGI that we get. Now, it looks pretty good for the most part — certainly better than in Jurassic Park III — but I was definitely hoping for even better. Oh well. It doesn’t really detract from the movie, I just wish that there was less reliance on CGI these days.

The film also contains many references and homages to the original film, which was a fantastic touch. Some of my favorites are the cameo by Mr. DNA, the reference to Mr. Hammond always saying “spare no expense,” and especially the scene where Zach and Gray find the old Visitor Center and use one of the old Jeeps. (By the way, I’d love to one day own a Jeep painted just like the ones in the first film — including the park logo!)

Oh! I must mention the music! Unfortunately, the music didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would. Sure, I loved the uses of the original themes, and there were some standouts here and there for the new music. But I didn’t get the “mind-blowingly awesome” score that I was hoping for. Now, I was only disappointed with the score while I was watching the film; but I’m actually listening to the soundtrack as I type this review, and I can now appreciate the music better now that I don’t have the movie to distract me. It’s a good score, really. It just doesn’t “wow” me quite as much as I’d hoped it would. Personally, my favorite musical moment is in the original Visitor Center with a slower, more nostalgic rendition of the ending music from the first movie (the piano solo as they’re riding away in the helicopter). (And shockingly, this part of the score isn’t on the soundtrack! Seriously?!)

*looks at word count* Wow, I’m just over 2,000 words. I think I should wrap this up, especially since I could probably go on for even longer about some things. I’m really just scratching the surface here and trying to cover all bases, however briefly.

“Finish the review already!”

Okay, okay! Calm down, Blue. Please don’t hurt me.

So. In conclusion.

All in all, Jurassic World is a solid and immensely entertaining entry in the franchise. Colin Trevorrow is clearly a capable director. The story is solid and fun, the cast is very enjoyable, the dinosaurs are still awesome and scary, the music is good, the homages to the first film are wonderful, the humor is great, and it’s really just so good to finally see a new Jurassic Park movie. It’s truly magical to see the park open in all its glory. While this film didn’t make my heart pound like I’d hoped (I fondly recall the “raptors in the kitchen” scene from the first movie), it did make me jump a few times, and there also were several moments that made me go “Oh . . . snap.” There’s thrilling action and some pretty great tension. So, while the original film is still the best to me, this is my favorite of the sequels. I look forward to watching it many more times. And bring on the next movie!

Jurassic World gets a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars!

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I hope you enjoyed my review of the film. What did you think of the movie? Sound off in the comments!

See you in two weeks! You get another movie review then — this time for Pixar’s latest outing, Inside Out. See you then!

“Cinderella” – A Film Review

***WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

I’ll be perfectly honest here — when I first heard that Disney was making a live action version of Cinderella, I kind of just scoffed and rolled my eyes. My thoughts went something like this:

Disney’s original Cinderella wasn’t even that good! And now they’re just going to do the same thing with real actors? How redundant. I guess Hollywood really is running out of ideas.

Well . . . color me pleasantly surprised. Because I saw it last night and found it a well-made, beautiful film.

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What was so great about it? It’s a simple fairy tale about a girl falling in love with a prince at a ball, after all. Why did I enjoy it so much?

Well, for a few reasons. The main thing is that the story is refreshingly simple and untainted, but at the same time it has more depth and detail than the original Disney animated film. For instance, we see the story of how Cinderella loses her mother and later her father in a more intimate way, rather than through a narrated opening. Because we actually see Cinderella growing up with her loving parents, we are better able to get to know her as a character.

In a similar way, the prince actually has a personality this time around, and we also get to see a more in-depth look at his relationship to his father. And that’s another plus: instead of shrugging the father off as an imposing or foolish figure, the movie paints him as strict but also a caring father, and his son clearly cares for him as well.

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The film also has great production values overall. The costumes and sets are exquisite, and the cinematography is wonderful, particularly in the scene where Cinderella first dances with the prince. (There’s also one shot in particular as Cinderella is fleeing from the ball that I thought was really cool — I don’t want to give it away here, but trust me, you’ll know it when you see it!)

I also thought the casting was very well-done. Lily James is delightful in the title role, and Richard Madden plays a charming and gentlemanly prince. Also of note are Cate Blanchett as the stepmother Lady Tremaine and Helena Bonham-Carter as the Fairy Godmother. Really, though, the entire cast was great and very enjoyable to watch!

My one complaint with the movie is that there is some glaringly obvious (and bad) CGI in a few places. This is to be expected in movies in general these days, but really, it needs to stop. Please. (I mean, seriously, Hollywood! How can it be that the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park — a movie more than twenty years old — look better than most CGI effects in movies today? But I digress.)

I’m trying not to give too much away here, so I think I’ll wrap this up. All in all, Cinderella is an enchanting and beautifully made film that is definitely worth seeing. It’s the best version of the story I’ve seen and I expect it’ll be a family staple for years to come. You done good, Kenneth Branagh. You done good.

My final verdict? In the immortal words of Brian Regan: “Four stars. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.”

Go see it! And once you do (or if you already have), what did you think of it? Drop a comment!

See y’all next week!

Overused Movie Lines

I can’t believe I forgot to write a blog post yesterday! Well, I mean, I can believe it. I was busy with finishing a final project for school, after all. So I’ll write the post today. Apologies once again for a short one — this is the last week of my semester, so next time I should have something a bit meatier for you all.

Have you ever noticed all the lines there are that appear in way too many movies? Lines that just make you roll your eyes because of how overused, cliche, and just plain stupid they are?

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Why do these lines still creep into scripts even after all these years of cinema? Is it really that hard to either nix them or replace them with something a little more creative?

You know the lines. Here’s a few prime examples:

  • “You won’t get away with this!” I’m so sick of this one. It’s often spoken by the hero to the villain, so the hero either needs to start saying other things or just shut up. Also, a common villain response to this line is “Oh, I already have.” That also needs to die.
  • “We have to get out of here!” Oh, really? REALLY? YOU DIDN’T THINK I COULD HAVE FIGURED THAT OUT ON MY OWN?!
  • “We’re trapped!” Again, thanks, Captain Obvious.
  • “Nooooooooooooooooooooo!” Admittedly, I think this works pretty well in some cases. In others, however, silence would probably be a lot more powerful.
  • “Well, well, well.” Often used by a villain taunting the hero he’s just caught. Just… stop. Please.
  • “I don’t like this.” and “I have a bad feeling about this.” Now, I’m willing to forgive Star Wars for the latter line — it’s kind of become a running joke in the series. Otherwise, though, meh.
  • “RUN!” Um, how about we just have the characters scream and start running? More realistic, no?
  • “There must be some mistake.” Not sure how this one might be replaced… I’ll think about it.

That’s all I’ve got for the moment. What are some overused lines that YOU wish would die?

See you all next week!