The Moviegoing Experience

It might sound silly, but to me, there’s something magical about going to see a movie in the theater.

It often goes something like this. You arrive at the theater, get your tickets, and meet up with your friends. The group of you talk and laugh and share in the excitement of whatever movie it is you’re about to see. When the time is right, you enter the theater and do your best to find some really good seats. In the past, I liked sitting far in the back, but now I like to sit closer, so that the screen fills just about my entire field of vision. Less distracting and more immersive that way, at least to me.

You and your friends keep laughing and chatting until the previews start, which you quiet down for, but you still can’t help but make some commentary on the trailers that you liked or didn’t like. Then, finally, after the screen pleads for you to turn off your phone, the lights slowly dim down, and the film begins. Ideally, a hush falls over the crowd right at this moment.

Seeing the movie itself is magical (if the movie is good, that is), but that moment when the lights go down is really special in itself. To me, it’s just like when you go to see a play and the same thing happens. The dimming of the lights is like crossing the threshold from the real world into the world that the filmmakers have created, pulling you into an experience.

That’s what a movie is to me. It’s an experience. It’s not merely entertainment. Filmmaking is an art form, and sure, there are plenty of films out there that abuse the medium and are not worth anyone’s time. But there are also many films out there that are truly creative. Immersive. Magical. Timeless. Soul-stirring. Riveting. Even life-changing. Those are the kind of movies that I love seeing in a dark theater on an enormous screen with crystal-clear surround sound. I find that it’s the best way to experience the audiovisual art form known as cinema.

Anyway, if the movie is good, you keep your eyes locked on the screen, drinking it all in, enjoying the story and the characters, marveling at the technical skills being put on display, relishing the sound design and the music. Occasionally, you may whisper a reaction or a thought to the person next to you. Other times, you may laugh out loud, or cheer for joy, or even cry your eyes out. And when the credits start to roll, you stand and applaud along with everyone else in the theater. Then you all exit the theater and talk about the movie. And talk. And talk. And talk. You can’t stop talking about it, because the movie impacted you. It meant something to you.

Movies are powerful.

As I’ve said, if they’re good. And also if your theater experience is as sublime as the one I just described. Sometimes, you run into people who don’t respect the moviegoing experience. They range from mildly annoying (someone playing on their phone the whole time) to excruciatingly frustrating (people talking and reacting much too loudly). I feel sorry for these kinds of people. They just don’t seem to understand all the work, heart, skill, and passion that goes into creating a film. They don’t see movies as art. They see them as a fun little escape from the real world for a couple of hours, during which time they can act however they want, regardless of the people around them.

In a perfect world, everyone would want to keep the moviegoing experience magical. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. So what’s my point?

My point is that cinema is an art form, and one that deserves respect. Seeing a good movie in a theater with an audience that understands this is one of the most magical experiences this world has to offer. I only wish that more people saw it that way.


Well, that was a little more melancholy than I originally anticipated. Anyway, next time I’ll have a more enthusiastic post about my reactions to the E3 reveal of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild! Late, I know, but better late than never. Until then!

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“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!

 

My Favorite Screen Villains

“A hero is a hero, but everybody loves a great villain.” — Ferb Fletcher

A while back, I did a post outlining some of my favorite characters from movies and TV. At the end of that post, I said that I might do a similar one in the future, like favorite side characters or favorite villains.

Today, I’m doing the latter!

Like last time, this is a list of ten characters, but it’s not technically a “Top Ten” list. It’s in no particular order, and I’m limiting myself to one character from each franchise. So, without further ado, my favorite screen villains!

Darth Vader (Star Wars saga)

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“If only you knew the POWER of the dark side!”

What better way to start off the list than with one of the most iconic villains of all time? There’s really no explanation needed. The mask, the lightsaber, the mechanical breathing, the voice, the theme music, the story — everything about Darth Vader is just fantastic. And I hear he’s going to make an appearance in Rogue One, so that’s exciting!

Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (Phineas and Ferb)

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Wait! Doof gets to be on both lists? You’d better believe it! No further explanation necessary.

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Discord (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

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[maniacal laugh]

This asymmetrical combination of several animals is the spirit of chaos. He loves toying with people (er, ponies), sowing the seeds of confusion and enmity while having a blast doing it. He’s also hilarious, even after he’s converted to the good side (spoiler alert for a show about cartoon horses, lol).

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“You’re a wizard, Twilight!”

Hades (Hercules)

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This guy has got to be my favorite Disney villain. Anyone who’s seen the movie knows that this fast-talking trickster is a blast to watch, especially when he goes on one of his rages. I crack up every time.

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Gollum (The Lord of the Rings)

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One of the most fascinating villains on this list. You’ve all seen the movies and/or read the books (or, at least, you’d better have), so I don’t need to explain. Have a GIF instead!

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“Not listening. I’m not listening!”

Vizzini (The Princess Bride)

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Another one that doesn’t really need any explanation.

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Vector (Despicable Me)

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This guy really isn’t all that threatening, and he’s such a dork. But that’s probably why I like him so much. How can you not like a guy who makes a piranha gun and a squid launcher?

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“Oh yeeeeeeaaaah!”

Voldemort (Harry Potter)

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Sure, maybe Voldy could have been done better overall in the films. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still one of the most interesting baddies I’ve ever found. He’s less bent on world domination and more focused on his fear of dying — heck, his name even roughly translates to “flight from death!” And no one gives better hugs, either. Kind of.

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#anotherawkwardmoment

Lord Business (The LEGO Movie)

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Sometimes a villain strikes a great balance between being threatening, hilarious, and even a bit sympathetic. This guy is a great example!

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“The ‘S’ is silent.”

Bill Cipher (Gravity Falls)

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This “all-seeing eye” lookalike is not only the best villain of any kids’ show I’ve seen, he’s one of the best villains I’ve ever seen ever. Sometimes he’s mysterious, sometimes he’s hilarious, and sometimes he’s downright terrifying. And show creator Alex Hirsch absolutely nails his voice. Pictures and GIFs can only do this guy partial justice — you need to see him in action to see why he’s one of my favorites.

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And that’s it! What’d ya think? Did I forget any villains that you’re particularly fond of? Let me know in the comments!

See you next time!

“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.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — My Hopes/Expectations

Guys . . . it’s almost here.

The new Star Wars movie is a mere ten days away.

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Has it really been about three years since it was first announced that Disney had acquired Lucasfilm and that they would be making at least three more movies in the series? Apparently.

And has it really been over a year since the first teaser trailer was released? Yup.

Hard to believe. But here we are, in December of 2015, eagerly awaiting the seventh installment in the saga. I don’t think I need to explain all the hype surrounding this movie. You’ve seen it. Even if you’re like me and haven’t watched any of the trailers, you’ve still stumbled across images here and there on social media. You’ve still found out the names of the new characters and what they look like. You’ve still picked up on theories about what the storyline will be.

So, what are my hopes and expectations for this movie?

Good question. And I’ve got a little bit of a curveball for you. I’ve decided that I should do my best to keep my hopes and expectations neutral. Not low, necessarily. Just neutral. As in not really having any hopes or expectations at all.

Let me explain. Just hypothetically, what if this movie is subpar? I know for most of you that idea is hard to believe, but it could still happen. Maybe not likely, considering the people who have made the film, but still possible. Imagine how heartbreaking it would be going to the theater expecting a cinematic masterpiece and just getting a so-so action flick. I’m not saying I really think that’s what will happen, but I am saying we should be prepared just in case.

On the other hand, what if the movie is absolutely spectacular? Everything we dreamed of and more? Well, if we keep our expectations neutral, we’ll be in for a huge and extremely pleasant surprise.

So, what I’m proposing (not just for myself) is to try to forget about the movie. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry, don’t speculate, don’t hope, don’t fear, don’t expect, don’t get caught up reading threads upon threads of people’s comments explaining why they think the film will either be incredible or awful (guilty).

Just wait.

Patience is the key. The movie is coming very soon. It will be here before we know it. If we just stop laboring over anxieties of whether it will be good or not, we’ll be all the more excited when that fateful day finally comes.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be excited. But I am saying that we should stop being hyped. I think it’s a subtle but important distinction.

So, with that being said, I hereby resolve to not read or watch anything related to Star Wars until after I’ve seen the movie. Further, I will not even use the Internet unless absolutely necessary in the week leading up to the film’s release — and not just because it’s going to become Spoiler Town in less than 12 parsecs. I don’t even want to know what critics are saying about it in advance. All I want to know as I enter that theater is that I’m about to see a new Star Wars movie. The rest will follow.

May the Force be with us all. Ten more days. We can do this.

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The next post on this blog will be my review of the film. I hope you check back after you’ve seen the movie!

“Star Wars” — My Overall Thoughts

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WHO’S EXCITED FOR THE NEW STAR WARS MOVIE?!?!?!?!

Actually, I think a better question would be: who’s NOT excited?

Well, as much as I’d like the answer to be “nobody,” I have slowly begun to accept that not everybody likes Star Wars (or has even seen it). It’s hard. But I’m learning to live with it. *sigh*

Regardless, the new Star Wars film is coming in less than a month! So, in preparation, I’ve decided to write a post describing my thoughts on the saga so far, one episode at a time.

So, let’s hop into it!

I saw the original trilogy first, and I still think every newcomer to the films should do the same. I vividly remember seeing the first one (now called A New Hope) when I was about five years old. I was completely and utterly mesmerized. Everything about it — how it looked, how it sounded, the story, the characters — my mind was blown. It was unlike anything I had ever seen or could have imagined at the time.

In fact, as soon as the movie was over, I remember going absolutely nuts. I ran upstairs shouting “THAT WAS SO COOL!” And then I proceeded to run around pretending to shoot things, going “pew pew!” until my parents insisted that I and my siblings go to bed.

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To this day, I still think the original film is one of the very best (#2 on my list, as a matter of fact). Sure, it’s not perfect, but that doesn’t stop it from being a rousing, funny, laser-brained adventure that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of.

I saw the first film when I was five, but I didn’t see the next — The Empire Strikes Back — until I was about eight. Honestly, I don’t really remember the first time I saw it. I don’t remember my reaction to the big reveal (you know the one). What I do remember, though, is that Empire Strikes Back was never one of my favorites of the films when I was younger. Oh, sure, I liked it — it was Star Wars, for crying out loud — but it just wasn’t my favorite.

Then I got older.

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And now, Empire Strikes Back is my personal favorite of all the films so far. I think it’s the most well-constructed and well-plotted, improving on the original film in many ways. Also, despite being the darkest of the original trilogy, it’s also probably the funniest (I blame Han and Leia’s banter and C-3PO’s whining for most of that).

Next up is Return of the Jedi. I saw it not too long after I saw Empire Strikes Back, if I recall correctly. In contrast to that film, I actually like this movie a little bit less nowadays than I did when I was younger.

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Oh, it’s not bad. Not by a long shot! It’s a satisfying conclusion to the original trilogy, with plenty of action and humor as well as some emotionally intense scenes (particularly the climax of Luke’s battle with Vader and the Emperor). However, I do think it suffers from cheesiness, sometimes in the dialogue but mostly due to those darn Ewoks. They’re fine, but I really just can’t take them seriously anymore. (Please don’t hurt me.)

Also, the second Death Star was a bit . . . lazy to me. It’s still exciting to watch them blow it up and all, but still. Couldn’t they have come up with something a little bit different? Anyway, despite its flaws, Return of the Jedi is a good film, even if it is the weakest of the original trilogy.

Now on to the topic everyone loves to argue about: the prequels! Whoo boy. Well, I don’t think I need to elaborate on why there’s so much conflict about the newer trilogy, so I’ll just get right into my thoughts on each of them.

I think I saw The Phantom Menace fairly soon after Return of the Jedi, and I remember having a little difficulty explaining to my dad that it was “Episode I” but not the first movie they made. It was one of the “new ones,” which he and my mom were unfamiliar with. Thankfully, he brought the correct VHS tape home from the video rental store (blast from the past right there), but it was late at night, so I and my siblings needed to wait until the next day to watch it. Even when the next day came, though, I remember my mom insisting that we spend a certain amount of time outside before watching it (it was a rather gorgeous day). So we drew with chalk on the driveway for a while (maybe an hour), and it was probably one of the longest hours of my life. I was that excited to watch a new Star Wars movie.

And when I watched it (cue drumroll), I was not disappointed. Not in the least. In fact, for a while, Phantom Menace was one of my favorites of the Star Wars movies.

*collective outraged gasp*

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Well, can you blame me? I was younger then. I easily looked past the wooden acting and wonky script. I thought Jar Jar was funny. I loved the battle droids. I loved the podracing. I loved seeing the younger Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon was cool. I loved Darth Maul (and I even dressed up like him for Halloween when I was six — three years before I even saw the movie). It was awesome!

In fact, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally realized it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it being. I saw it when it was re-released in theaters in 3D a couple of years ago, and that was when I was first really bothered by the acting and script.

To this day, I still don’t hate the movie like a lot of people do. I acknowledge that it’s flawed, of course, and I think it’s the weakest of the movies. But I still enjoy it for what it is.

Now, strangely enough, the next one I saw was Revenge of the Sith, not Attack of the Clones. I forget why exactly. I was ten years old, and I thought it was awesome — one of my favorites.

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Even to this day, it actually still is! I rank it at #3 for the six movies. I think it does an overall good job of portraying the tragedy of Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader. It’s got less awkward writing and acting than the other two prequels; sure, it’s not phenomenal, but it’s better. I can think of just one scene with cringe-worthy romantic dialogue between Anakin and Padme, although I might be forgetting other scenes. And while Hayden Christiansen’s performance as Anakin could definitely have been better, I thought he generally did well (although some lines here and there feel off). And the “Execute Order 66” scene hits me with the feels every time.

Overall, I think Revenge of the Sith does more right than it does wrong, which is why I think it’s easily the best of the prequel trilogy.

And that leaves Attack of the Clones. A definite improvement over The Phantom Menace, but still not without problems. The number one offender, of course, is the love story for Anakin and Padme. While the concept of it is intriguing — you know it’s doomed from the start — the execution is, well . . . not great. Often laughable, actually. There’s not much real chemistry between the two, so their romantic scenes often feel forced.

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On the plus side, though, there’s plenty of action to go around! The speeder chase through Coruscant is pretty cool, as is the whole arena scene. Seeing Christopher Lee as Count Dooku was neat. There’s also better humor at work here than in the previous film, mostly from Obi-Wan (“You don’t want to sell me deathsticks”).

Oh, and Yoda’s fight with Dooku cracks me up (in a good way) every time. Sure, it’s over the top, but it’s awesome.

So, Attack of the Clones is one of the weakest of the movies, but there’s still plenty to enjoy about it.

So what’s next? The Force Awakens, of course. I don’t know about you, but I am beyond psyched for it. I haven’t watched the trailers, but I’ve seen some screenshots here and there, and I read an interview with J. J. Abrams that made me really hopeful. He really sounds like he knows what he’s doing. And everyone I’ve talked to has told me that the trailers look incredible.

Just to whet my appetite a bit, I actually found the music from the trailer on YouTube. Just the music. And just listening to the music made me more excited than I’ve ever been!

Anyway, time to wrap this up. I love Star Wars. I hope you do too. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on the saga. And I really hope you’re as excited as I am for the new movie!

Just a few more weeks, guys. We can make it. We’re getting close. As Obi-Wan would say: “Patience!”

See ya in about two weeks! I’ll be posting my hopes and expectations for The Force Awakens then.

“The Peanuts Movie” — A Film Review

***This review contains spoilers. However, I will mark them — that way you can still read my thoughts without me giving anything away. How convenient!***

This movie could have been a complete and utter failure.

This movie could have taken the beloved Peanuts characters and dressed them up to fit our modern culture, complete with smartphones and the Internet. This movie could have been a poorly-written cash grab. This movie could have been filled with unfunny pop culture references and crass humor. This movie could have made Charles Schulz roll over in his grave.

This movie could have been or done all of those things at once.

But . . . to my complete and utter joy, it does absolutely none of those things. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In Blue Sky Studios’ The Peanuts Movie, Charlie Brown is still the Charlie Browniest. The gang is still the gang. Snoopy is still Snoopy. Peanuts is still Peanuts.

And that is a very, very good thing.

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Seeing this movie brought me joy. Not just for the nostalgia factor, mind you. Yes, I have pretty much always been a fan of Peanuts, especially after discovering the comic strip. But The Peanuts Movie does not merely rely on nostalgia to make a quick buck from audiences. It was clearly made with great care and respect for these characters and their stories that we all know and love.

Oh, sure, it’s been given a visual upgrade. But it’s still clearly and proudly Peanuts.

Okay, if I still haven’t made it abundantly clear, I will now. I loved this movie. I had a big stupid grin on my face through just about the entire thing.

It’s wonderful.

So, to get into a bit more detail. The story, as you probably know from seeing the trailers, centers around the Little Red-Haired Girl moving into the neighborhood. Our hero, good ol’ Charlie Brown, finds himself enamored with her, and he wants to get up the nerve to talk to her and befriend her. The only problem is that he, in his own words, suffers from “a severe case of inadequacy.”

“I’m nothing and she’s something,” he tells Lucy at her famous psychiatrist booth.

“If you really want to impress her,” Lucy tells him, “you need to show her you’re a winner.”

Yes, Charlie Brown may make a lot of mistakes. He may not be very popular. He may not be very good at . . . well, anything. But he’s not a quitter, so he resolves to do just that: become a winner.

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Now, I don’t want to give too much away here. But suffice it to say that while this story sounds rather simple and cliche, I think it plays out rather beautifully, and in classic Peanuts style to boot. A lot happens that ties into the main plot, and it’s all incredibly well-done. There are bits and pieces taken directly from the old strips and/or specials, sometimes as a fun little nod or reference and other times as an integral part of the story. But instead of feeling like a boring retread, it all feels fresh despite some familiar elements, which I was quite happy about.

I’ll get back to the story later. For now, though, I want to briefly address the visual style of the film. I think it’s brilliant! It’s a gorgeous translation of traditionally two-dimensional drawings on a page into three-dimensional computer animation. It’s almost paradoxical. It’s 3D, but it feels 2D, which is helped along by the little hand-drawn details sprinkled throughout the film (sound effects written out on screen, thought bubbles that look like the black-and-white comic strips, etc.). The framerate is also lower than usual, which (not unlike The LEGO Movie) gives the film a more handcrafted feel than your typical CG-animated movie. Huge kudos to Blue Sky Studios for pulling off the look of the film! It’s colorful, vibrant, and whimsical, and I personally feel that it couldn’t have looked better.

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Oh, and the characters. The characters! THE CHARACTERS! All your favorites are here. Charlie Brown. Snoopy. Woodstock. Linus. Lucy. Sally. Schroeder. Pigpen. Franklin. Violet. Patty. Peppermint Patty. Marcie. And, of course, the Little Red-Haired Girl (whose name we still don’t know, true to the comics). And I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but these are the ones that get the most screentime — and, of course, some of the ones I’ve listed get more screentime than others. But that’s perfectly okay, because this movie absolutely nails each and every one of them.

That’s really all I have to say about them, actually. You know them, and the movie gets them absolutely right! And the kids voicing them are pitch-perfect! In fact, though it might seem like sacrilege to say it, I would say that they’ve never sounded better. And I love the fact that pretty much all of the kids voicing them are basically unknown (or were before this movie came out). Huge props to the casting department with finding these kids. They were excellent — all of them!

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Just because the characters are the same, however, doesn’t mean they’re dull and predictable by any means. They’re the same, but we do still get some surprises here and there. There’s a pairing I don’t recall ever being in the comics or the specials, for one thing. But I thought it worked well (and it wasn’t central to the plot anyway).

I think the biggest surprise we get, though, is that Charlie Brown is noticeably less downtrodden here than he is in the comics. While he’s definitely still down on himself in the movie and seems to fail at everything, he’s also more hopeful here than I’ve ever seen him. Purists may nitpick at this, but I didn’t mind it at all. I’m a huge fan of the comics, and even I have to admit that I think they could have benefited from just a tad more optimism. (And I do hope I don’t anger any diehard fans by saying that.)

***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SKIP AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE!!!***

And back to the story for a moment, this also ties into the one big difference from the comics that occurs in the movie. In the comics, Charlie Brown never ended up talking to the Little Red-Haired Girl. But here, he actually does, which genuinely surprised me — in a good way. Again, purists may argue that this shouldn’t have been done, but I’m actually perfectly okay with it. Yes, Charlie Brown finally does succeed at something, and it’s also nice that he succeeds in a way that’s different from how he was hoping. Instead of succeeding by changing who he is to become a winner, he proves to the Little Red-Haired Girl, and everyone else, that he is a good person despite his imperfections (and despite his own doubts). And I think that’s a beautiful message. Also, come on, give the kid a break! He can succeed just this once, right?

***END OF SPOILERS. YOU CAN KEEP READING NOW. SO YAY!!!***

Oh, yeah! In addition to the main plot, we also get this subplot about Snoopy imagining he’s fighting against — you guessed it — the Red Baron. It’s a fun diversion from the main plot, but if there’s anything about this movie I can actually complain about, it’s that I felt that switching back and forth between these two storylines kind of hurt the movie’s pacing a little. I’d get really invested in Charlie Brown’s endeavors, and then suddenly we’d be back with Snoopy versus the Baron again. These parts of the movie aren’t bad by any means, but I do wish they were cut down just a little more. For what they are, though, they are quite fun — and anyway, who doesn’t love Snoopy dressed as the World War I flying ace?

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Sound-wise, this movie really shines. The cast of kids are wonderful, as I’ve already said. The adults still talk with the “wah-wah” of a muted trumpet, which is still hilarious. And, to my eternal delight, a small handful of the classic Vince Guaraldi themes pop up here and there, “Linus and Lucy” being most prominent among them, of course. The score besides that, by Christophe Beck, works well.

This movie does, however, have a couple of pop songs in it. It appears I was misinformed about the director saying there wouldn’t be any in it. Unless he was lying. Meh, I was probably just misinformed. But in any case, one is by Meghan Trainor and the other by Flo Rida. Thankfully, though, these songs were written for a G-rated movie, so they aren’t problematic lyrically, and they actually don’t play in their entirety during the movie. They’re also more gentle-sounding, I guess you could say, than your typical pop tune of these days. So, while I do think the film could have done without them, I don’t think they hurt the film either. *deep sigh of relief*

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I think I’ve covered everything I wanted to. So, with that, let’s wrap this thing up!

The Peanuts Movie is a triumph. It’s an absolute delight from start to finish, sure to keep both kids and adults captivated (for different reasons, of course). It freshens up the look of the world and characters while still maintaining their integrity. It looks, feels, and sounds like Peanuts. It IS Peanuts. It’s hilarious, heartwarming, and made with great care and respect. It’s good, clean fun that anyone can enjoy, and I think it’s safe to say that Charles Schulz would be proud.

Good grief, Blue Sky Studios. You did it. And this reviewer couldn’t be happier.

Four stars and two thumbs way up!

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SO GO SEE IT IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY, BY GOLLY!!!

Also . . . the world needs more good G-rated movies like this one.


I hope you enjoyed my review! If you saw the movie, tell me your thoughts in the comments!

See ya in two weeks!