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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) review

The Force Awakens played a Jedi mind trick on me. I was transfixed from the opening shot. No, I no longer needed a bathroom break (did I even really need one?). Every moment was full of revealing one-liners or light-hearted winks to the old films. That seemingly improbable coincidence in the story? Perfectly acceptable. For some reason, I didn’t feel like nitpicking. My disbelief was suspended in mid-air like a laser blast that refused to move. Mind trick or not, this movie had the magic of a certain saga from a long time ago, in a life that now seems so far away, called Star Wars.

Somewhere between a homage to, and a reboot of, A New Hope (Episode IV), watching it was like seeing a long lost friend. Reconnecting was effortless. It looked different, yet very familiar. Ok, maybe it wasn’t perfect (the mind trick is starting to wear off), but even its shortcomings brought back the charm of the originals.

The lightsaber duels are not as finely choreographed as the prequels (Episodes I-III), but neither are they so ridiculously acrobatic (remember Yoda’s duel with Count Dooku?). The special effects are not over-the-top (Episode II was dreadful in this regard – computer-generated graphics were everywhere “just because”). Instead, it nicely complemented, and took a back seat to, the story.

Now about that story.. I won’t spoil it for you. As already mentioned in the press releases, this takes place 30 years since Return of the Jedi (Episode VI), around the same length of time that actually elapsed in real life since that movie was shown. As we all went on with our lives, so did the characters. Some things ended up as expected, and some things didn’t. It’s an intriguing look at what happened 30 years after the defeat of the evil Galactic Empire.

All the stories from the officially sanctioned “expanded universe” books, with all the cool characters like Mara Jade, by virtue of this movie, are now non-canonical (they didn’t really happen, and they are no longer official!). If you are attached to those books, then the effect might be a bit complicated. The consensus among geeks in the interweb, generally, is that it’s fine. Having read only one of those books, and after watching The Force Awakens, I tend to agree.

Star Wars is back, and we are in for a treat. I just hope it doesn’t take 14 parsecs for Episode VIII to reach us (yes, I know, it’s a unit of distance). Let’s believe in that old smuggler that it was closer to 12.

[** WARNING: Spoilers follow **]

I will reiterate – if you haven’t seen the movie yet, stop reading now.

P.S.

With the mind trick completely worn off, I am now inclined to mention some of what I perceived as imperfections in this movie.

First is the confusing status of the Republic. How can there be a Republic, and at the same time, a Resistance? Who’s in charge of the Galaxy? This wasn’t explained very well. My brother theorizes that part of the galaxy is under the Republic, while other parts are under the First Order. The “Resistance” is a band of rebels operating under First Order territories, and are being supported by the Republic. Still, this begs the question, why is Princess Leia part of the Resistance, and not the Republic?

Kylo Ren’s Force powers are grossly inconsistent. Strong enough to freeze a laser blast at the beginning, then weak enough to get wounded by Finn (oh c’mon!) and eventually beaten by Rey at the end.

All other plot holes and nitpicks, I can gloss over🙂

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Furious 7 (2015)

According to a military expert who worked on Reagan’s Star Wars project, stopping a missile in mid-flight is like trying to shoot down a speeding bullet. It is nigh impossible. Well, in FF7, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Hobbs) stopped one with a ambulance truck. That’s how ridiculous this movie is; definitely on par with The Expendables franchise as far as believability is concerned. And definitely enjoyable.

The action sequences are so far-out that when Vin Diesel (Dominic Torreto) was being revived at the brink of death, no one in the audience was the least bit concerned. Except perhaps at the possibility of Johnson performing the mouth-to-mouth instead of Michelle Rodriguez (Letty). Of course, in the end, Diesel made it alive.

Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw) is the badass villain, who plays the role very well (almost to a comical degree). Anyone vaguely familiar with his acting chops knows he’s not quite Oscar material. Still, between him and Vin Diesel, I couldn’t help but cheer for the villain. That’s how bad Diesel’s acting was, and that’s probably a good thing for a movie like FF7. Because, like any thrill ride, this is something you can’t enjoy if you take it too seriously.

If you’re looking for a deep story line, look somewhere else. You don’t even need to see the first 6 films to understand what’s going on, though the references certainly add to the enjoyment. The trailer pretty much tells everything. You kinda know where this is going. The only chance this movie had at actually being worth watching, therefore, was all those points in-between the trailer that viewers haven’t seen. The journey had better be fun, if you already know the destination. And boy, it was. Tyrese Gibson (Roman) stole the show from the star-studded cast with his unending string of funny comments that always hit the mark. From his pretend alpha-male issues to his race jokes, the fun factor is taken up a notch.

The whole movie is about an angry bad guy chasing a bunch of cool guys (and gals) with cool cars who apparently can break the law and still be chummy with the law officials, and a kidnapped hacker who can activate a super weapon thrown in the mix. Yes, that was a bit of a spoiler, but I’m sure you would’t mind. That’s not really the point of the movie. As Vin Diesel said, “…it ain’t just about being fast.” It’s really about enjoying the ride – a good blast of modern action and adventure lasting 2-and-a-half hours.

If you’re tired of intellectually-challenging brain twisters, give Christopher Nolan a rest and enjoy this one. It’s pretty good, too.

PS. Some scenes of Paul Walker do seem to be digitally altered, if you look closely enough. He was a integral part of the franchise, and some chemistry will be lost forever with his passing. He certainly deserved the beautiful tribute at the end. And if you intend to google images of Levy Tran, the race starter, be warned: even with safe search on, the hits are not safe for work.

Interstellar (2014)


In the grand scheme of things, do humans even matter? After all, at the cosmic scale, we are but a spec of dirt in an insignificant portion of a very average galaxy (to paraphrase a famous writer/physicist). We’re nobody, really.

Interstellar reminds me of the best parts of Kubrik’s “2001: A Space Oddyssey”. The back story is never spoon-fed to the audience. There will always be moments when one is forced to ask “Why?” and sometimes, “WTF?” (i.e. “What’s that flying?”). Though it’s not as mind-bending as “Inception”, this is still a Nolan film, and you would need to think a bit more deeply than you did watching “22 Jump Street”. At times, it’s a mystery, at others, like a theme park ride. Some movies have plenty of special effects with hardly any story. This one has much of both.

Matthew McConaughey plays the role of “Cooper”, the reluctant farmer, who feels that he, like humanity, has lost his true calling of being an explorer. Mackenzie Foy is adorable as the 10-year-old “Murph” who, among other things, hates that she was named after a bad law. Michael Caine, John Lithgow and Anne Hathaway make it a star-studded cast, while supporting actors Wes Bentley (older “Doyle”), Jessica Chastain (older “Murph”), Bill Irwin (“TARS” – you’ll love this character’s sense of humor), and Josh Stewart (“CASE”) deserve special mention for endowing the movie with an even deeper dimension. I’ve left out a few – including the actor who portrayed the enigmatic Dr. Mann – all of whom gave stellar performances.

The physics of the movie are spot on (based on the pop-science books I’ve read) and light-years ahead of (ahem, forgive me) Star Wars. For example, you can travel forward in time, but never backward. Traveling even at the speed of light will take you thousands of years to reach the nearest star that can support an earth-like planet. Such is the sad prospect of ever visiting another world.

That, however, is where the agreement with mainstream science ends. As far as Interstellar is concerned, humans – and love – matter on the grandest scale. It will depend heavily on the audience’s frame of mind whether this aspect is inspiring, or foolishly optimistic. Like time, interpretation is relative to the observer. And in the time it took you to read this review, somewhere in the universe, a thousand years will have passed.

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Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (a fanboy’s review)

What is the true nature of a sword? Is it meant to protect, or to kill? Kenshin must wrestle with his own duality before he can face his most dangerous enemy.

There is no way to describe the awesomeness of this movie without expletives or clichès. Holy guacamole. There is one hour of fanservice packed into every single minute of it. Yes, you will hear the words “amakakeru ryu no hirameki”, and yes, it was taught and used. You will see the Gatotsu too, against a certain turtle shell-wielding maniac.

Given the time constraint, imperfections were inevitable. After all, this 2-plus hour movie was supposed to be an adaptation of a few dozen anime episodes. But I will dare say, purists be damned, that this lives up to the high standards that fans deserve – and have come to expect.

The entire cast of characters is back, and do not disappoint. Saito is as cool as ever, and this time, his greatest challenge is not a chandelier. Sano is still funny, but as in the animated series, his is an even more “supporting” role this time around. There are just too many strong characters in the story, and as Saito told him in the anime, “You think you’re tough, but you wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes during the Bakumatsu (the end of the shogunate).” Too bad he didn’t learn the “futae no kiwami” in the movie, which would have brought his strength a bit closer to Kenshin’s and Saito’s, and given him a bigger role, but he gives the bad guys a good fight, and the fans a good laugh.

Hiko Seijuro (Kenshin’s master) was as badass as one could expect. His scenes were some of my favorites. And Kaoru.. How could she look *that* pretty after being rescued from the sea? That’s one major plot hole, but I’ll let it go.

Jin-e, the villain in the first movie, does not make an appearance, but his words echo very strongly: “Once a manslayer, always a manslayer.” Kenshin naively hopes that he can escape his past, and defeat an enemy as strong as his old “hitokiri” self without reverting back to being one. Perhaps his only chance is to find that which he is truly missing…

Some would probably cry “heresy”, given the deviations from the source material, but it works for me. In a parallel universe, there would be 5 two-hour movies instead of 2 showing the Shishio saga, and none of the fights and back stories (ah, Soujiro, why are you crying?) would be omitted. But in our universe, at least for now, this is what we get.

As far as anime adaptations go, it doesn’t get any better than this.

P.S. “Awesomeness” is used with permission from the owner, a kind and gentle spirit who is reading this in disbelief. Domo!

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) review


A writer once said, “Give your readers as much information as possible, as soon as possible. To hell with suspense.” But that’s a little extreme, and I prefer a more moderate approach.

Edge of Tomorrow hits the perfect balance between two extremes, and manages to tell a story that may seem simple, but is elevated to almost Nolan-esque heights (I might be crossing a line here, but see for yourself) by clever dialogue, good pacing, funny sequences and my favorite sergeant of the dystopian future: Bill Paxton. I love it when potential B-movie material is made into a very good final product, because so many good things have to come together just to avoid tackiness (and somehow, they do), and so many things could easily go wrong (but for some reason, don’t ).

The trailer (if you’ve seen it) barely scratches the surface of the story. It is just the “tip of the spear, the edge of the knife,” to quote a philosopher in the film. What might have otherwise ended up as another tacky space marine movie manages to make a connection between viewers and characters, look serious when necessary, and never forgets to dish out fun along the way.

In one sequence, Tom Cruise (Major Cage) and Emily Blunt (Sgt. Rita / The Angel of Verdun) have a dialogue in an abandoned house in which little bits here and there didn’t make sense. I knew that something was off, had a hunch, but there wasn’t enough information to conclude anything with certainty until later. It’s those little touches that help make this movie quite engaging. And Bill Paxton (yes, he deserves another mention).

Simple enough for the Homer Simpsons, subtle and complex enough for the Tesla fans, and funny, it’s one of my favorite movies this year. And if you get the feeling you’ve read this review before, come find me when you wake up. (That’s as much as I’ll spoil it.)

X-Men Days of Future Past (review)

When Magneto summoned his last remaining strength to move the paltry scraps of metal – the remains of the X-Men’s SR-71 Blackbird – in a feeble attempt to reinforce the door hiding Charles Xavier and the last remaining free mutants of Earth, it was obvious who had won. The resignation on Erik’s face said it all. The two most powerful mutants, now friends again, were about to meet their end.

They, and the humans who dare help them, are fighting an enemy they cannot defeat. It is up to Logan, and the younger Charles and Erik, sworn enemies, to change the past and win the war before it even started.

There are so many things that this movie does right, thanks in large part to director Bryan Singer. All the seeming inconsistencies between the previous X-Men movies were tied up beautifully, the flashbacks were well-timed and helpful even to the casual viewer, and despite the gruesome death scenes and ominous sense of defeat, there is a lot of fun to be had.

You never really see the X-Men overwhelm the enemies in this one. They were outmatched, and it was a little disappointing not to see Wolverine’s adamantium claws while fighting against the sentinels. Yet it evoked a sense of desperation that feels kinda fresh in an X-Men movie, and a deep sense of urgency was pulled off without the need for the ubiquitous countdown timer (take that, Avengers).

Finally, this sets the stage for something even more awesome in the next film. For those who’ve seen the movie and extra scene, you know what I mean. For the rest, it’s time to give our mutant brethren a visit at the box office.

Godzilla 2014 (review)

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This movie was so disappointing, I don’t mind spoiling it for you. No, I am not a Godzilla fanatic. I just wanted an enjoyable monster movie, and didn’t get it.

First of all, you will not see the world’s greatest monster for more than 20 minutes combined in the entire 2-hour movie. In fact, almost not in the first hour. When you do get to see him (I’m assuming he’s male), it’s mostly in the dark or under some other cover, perhaps to enhance the scare factor by letting the audience’s imagination work until later in the story. While this worked for some stories (Cthulhu was scary that way), I already knew what Godzilla, in general, looked like. True enough, this version wasn’t radically different from his predecessors, and I wish they just showed more of him from the beginning.

Next, they killed Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad) early. He was the most convincing actor in the movie, and was the most fun to watch while it lasted. Ken Watanabe survived till the end, but was wasted by the dry script.

Even Godzilla was confused. Wasn’t he supposed to destroy the city? Wait.. what? He had to SAVE it? The hesitation was evident in his voice as he roared an almost meow-like “good bye” to the people he saved. In the end, he dragged his tired legs back to sea, as if thinking, “Really?”

To be fair, the first 15 minutes or so were very good. And yes, the trailers were awesome. But by the time I saw those cool parts in the trailer, the movie was beyond redemption. There was more “monster” in Pacific Rim, which is in a different league altogether. This Godzilla won’t stand a chance against a damaged Jaeger with drift-incompatible pilots.

Dissenting opinions are welcome. I’d be interested to see if anyone actually liked it.