REVIEW: STAR WARS-THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)

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STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)

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The Rise of Skywalker is the ninth and supposedly final chapter in the Star Wars saga, or at least the Skywalker family involvement in it. It takes place a year after The Last Jedi with the galaxy horrified at a signal sent out claiming to be that of the Emperor himself, Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). The Sith lord has amassed a fleet of Star Destroyers, all with Death Star-like cannons and plans to take over the galaxy once and for all. Now Rey (Daisy Ridley) must bring to bare all her Jedi powers and find a Sith device that will lead the rebels to where Palpatine and his doomsday fleet are hiding, to strike them before they can deploy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his Knights of Ren are in pursuit and rebellion heroes Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) along with General Organa (Carrie Fisher) and the legendary Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) must somehow unite a galaxy against this overwhelming threat.

This final chapter is written and directed by J.J. Abrams (The Force Awakens, Star Trek) who co-wrote the script with Chris Terrio. As you can tell by the plot synopsis, this is an overloaded mess, but it’s an action-packed and entertaining one. It is still an improvement over the lackluster retread that was The Force Awakens and more fun than the moody Last Jedi. What will really irritate hardcore Star Wars fans is Abrams takes a lot of liberties here with the mythos, giving new force powers whenever he’s written himself into a corner, like Rey having healing powers and Palpatine able to drop fleets of ships out of the sky with his fingertips. We also have yet another doomsday weapon…or fleet of them…that can easily be stopped by blowing something up. Will the Empire ever learn? Speaking of which, when Palpatine re-emerges, the First Order seems to just disappear like a small company being absorbed out of existence in a corporate merger. Suddenly everyone, except for a vengeful Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), seems to now work for The Emperor. The flick also jumps from one place and adventure to another very quickly as Rey tries to find her way to a lair that Palpatine wants her to come to all along. Why not just send her an invite with a nice fruit basket? A lot of it seems to be made up as it goes along, though it’s not an unpleasant ride. First off, we are all pretty endeared to the new characters and Abrams does let us visit the classic characters one more time. Also, there is a lot of spectacular action and it might be the most visually impressive Star Wars flick yet, with so many worlds and characters to visit. It’s a fun 142 minutes, even if you will be scratching your head at times as to where it’s all headed and if you are inflexibly loyal to the classic canon, you might be in for a rough ride. At least the very last scene does sentimentally provide a nice farewell, yet also hints that maybe we haven’t seen the last of Rey, now that her involvement in the Skywalker saga is at an end.

There is a big cast here. Daisy Ridley has really grown into Rey and it would be fun to see her strike out in her own series of adventures now free of this storyline. Ridley is charming and likable and can exude a strength that make her ascension to powerful Jedi believable. Issac and Boyega are good as her rebel buds Poe and Finn and there is a bit of a rivalry between the three that was fun, though underdeveloped. Driver is once again good as the conflicted Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, though his story thread didn’t end with the impact it should have, especially during the very convoluted final confrontation. We get to see Carrie Fisher (unused footage from the previous installments), Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and even Billy Dee Williams again in various incarnations and it was nice to see the classics one more time. If one thing Rise of Skywalker gets right is all the nods to the previous films. We even get some Ewoks. As for new characters, most go underdeveloped and were unnecessary at this point…spin-offs maybe?…but at least Kelly Marie Tran got some better dialogue as Rose and seemed more sturdy in a somewhat abbreviated role. There are also some vocal cameos, see if you can catch them all.

Overall, chapter nine is a bloated mess of a series finale, though one that still manages to dazzle and entertain. The story is convoluted from the beginning and sometimes seems made up as it goes along. It is filled with some spectacular action and eye-popping visuals and it’s final frames are satisfying as a goodbye to this classic series. Now as Rey was one of the best things to come out of this sequel trilogy, maybe she can strike out with her own adventures, the character deserves more attention and Ridley could certainly carry her own flicks. As a whole, this trilogy disappointed and did not give us the send off to the classic characters that we wanted, but there was some spectacular action along the way and we did get some new characters worthy of their own adventures, or at least a Disney streaming series.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 (out of 4) Millenium Falcons.

 

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REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

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JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

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The latest installment of the franchise takes place three years after the disastrous opening of Jurassic World. A volcano on Isla Nublar has become dangerously active and the U.S. government declines to save the animals still there. John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) asks Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to join a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs from the doomed island and to convince her ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to join them. Once on the island Claire, Owen and their team are betrayed and they discover that this “rescue mission” has a far more sinister purpose.

Fallen Kingdom is directed by J.A. Bayona, the Spanish filmmaker behind the atmospheric and spooky haunted house flick The Orphanage and the bittersweet fantasy A Monster Calls. His script is by previous installment director Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connor, who co-wrote the last one, as well. The result is a more Gothic feel to the proceedings, especially when the location switches to Lockwood’s old mansion with genetics lab and creature holding cells in the basement a la Dr. Frankenstein. From here It becomes a tale of man’s greed and trying to play god…again. The Indominous Rex taught these greedy corporate types nothing and now we have the genetically created dino-soldier the Indoraptor to serve as our predator of choice for this flick. After the escape from the burning island…which is a very entertaining set-piece in itself, the flick becomes more of a James Bond movie with dinosaurs. The second third finds Claire and Owen sneaking around the castle-like mansion with Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), trying to find a way to stop the sale of and genetic tampering with the last survivors of Isla Nublar. It’s not quite as fun as the last flick, but at least they are trying to take the series in a new direction and we actually get off the island. The last act has the skilled director Bayona going back to his haunted house roots with a cat and mouse chase through the dark and cavernous mansion between our heroes and the Indoraptor, with a very exciting and very Gothic rooftop finale. Overall it is an entertaining flick, though a bit darker, a bit more violent and somewhat less fun than Jurassic World.

The cast is fine, even if the bad guys are complete two-dimensional stereotypes. Pratt and Howard still have that chemistry as Owen and Claire and having them broken-up gives us a chance to experience their combative banter and then having them fall for each other all over again. Young Isabella Sermon is endearing as Maisie, Lockwood’s young granddaughter with some secrets of her own. Rafe Spall, Ted Levine and Toby Jones are the trio of bad guys as Lockwood’s conniving assistant, a soldier for hire and a black market dinosaur dealer respectively. While the characters are familiar and stale, the actors give it their best. Cromwell is charming as the elder Lockwood, who is having his dream corrupted right out from under him. Rounding out the main characters are Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda playing Claire’s IT tech Franklin and dinosaur veterinarian Zia, respectively and they are fun characters well portrayed. We also get a nice cameo with Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm and B.D. Wong returns as slimy Dr. Wu. A good cast though some characters are better written than others.

Jurassic World gave this series a bit of revived energy and while this installment is a bit less fun, it does take the series to some new places and Bayona gives it a darker and more Gothic tone, as well as, his trademark visual artistry. On the negative side, the whole predator du jour chasing our heroes is getting stale, as is genetically whipping up new creatures like ordering a pizza. The dinosaur auction was interesting, but one wonders where the authorities stand on black market dinosaur flea markets. Guess it’s too soon to approach that side of the story. It was fun to see Clair and Owen and company playing James Bond in this massive Victorian Mansion, as we also enjoyed the film leaving us at a point where we wonder if mankind’s meddling might get us slapped back to the stone age. Stay through the credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 T-Rex

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REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)

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STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)

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The Last Jedi is a true middle chapter of a trilogy as it has barely what could be called a story, opening not long after the end of The Force Awakens and obviously not wrapping much up by it’s end. The film has Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) rousting The Resistance from it’s hideout and following General Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) remaining ships in hot pursuit, picking them off one by one as they run out of fuel. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) learns more about her power while trying to convince reclusive hermit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) to get off his arse and come save the galaxy…and that’s it.

This chapter is written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper) and is an improvement over the lackluster retread that was The Force Awakens…though not by much for the first two thirds. There are some nice moments and some solid action, though the film seems to drag it’s flimsy story out too long and some sequences, like a silly trip to a casino planet, seem like filler. The last act is when it really kicks into gear and we get the thrills we came for. It was also nice to see Daisy Ridley expand her character of Rey a bit more and that the film sets up an interesting connection between she and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who also is given some more depth. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar isaac) aren’t as lucky, given not all that much to do, however, and new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) never seems to rise above sidekick status and has some of the film’s weakest lines. The real treat is seeing Hamil, as the conflicted and tormented Luke Skywalker and the late Carrie Fisher in an expanded role as Leia. Reminds us why they were so magical in the original (middle) trilogy. The action scenes we get are spectacular, though seem more relegated to the first and last acts, and Johnson has a visual style that gives this a look and feel unlike the previous chapters, but never alienating itself from the series. There are some cool surprises and even if it drags at times, The Last Jedi, overall is a satisfying installment, though lacks the aura of legend that New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi had. Last year’s Rouge One was refreshingly adult and very intense, this one seems to return to the more family friendly tone of cute critters, comical robots and corny moments, with the intensity being only occasional. Too bad, Rouge One is one of the best of the entire series, IMO and felt more strongly like a Star Wars movie than this new trilogy, so far.

As for our cast…Johnson can certainly director actors. As stated Ridley gets to show some real strength as Rey learns to manipulate The Force and become more of a hero. She’s a good actress and gives the role depth even when script weaknesses leave it all up to her. Driver is given some nice conflict to play with within Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and does a good job with it. He’s becoming a solid villain. Serkis is fine as Snoke who is basically an Emperor Palpatine retread. Hamil is great as Luke and gives one of his finest portrayals of the character, as does the late Carrie Fisher as his sister Leia. She will be missed moving forward and it was a welcome return for Hamil. Boyega and Isaac, sadly are given little to do and their characters don’t really grow that much from when we last saw them. Kelly Marie Tran is a bit bland as resistance mechanic Rose. Her character came across as a bit two dimensional and cliché. She didn’t leave an impression. Rounding out is Laura Dern doing nicely as a tough resistance Admiral and Benicio del Toro giving some life to his mysterious scoundrel.

So, overall, chapter eight is an improvement over the weak chapter seven, but still pales when placed up against chapters four through six. It had some good action, some striking visuals and did do some new things with some traditional Star Wars tropes. It’s weaknesses are it’s paper thin story and that it seems a bit dragged out considering it’s 150 minutes long and not a lot is accomplished till the last act. With Chapter IX awaiting us in 2019, there is obviously a lot left open, though it’s not quite an outright cliffhanger like Empire. Hopefully this series can really wrap this trilogy up with a bang for that final chapter, so far it’s not quite hit the mark, lofty though that mark may be.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 Millenium Falcons.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)

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THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)

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Another Irwin Allen production, The Towering Inferno is one of the all-time great 70s disaster epics that I was privileged to see in a theater…the now long gone Park Lane…as a kid. The flick follows the formula of an all-star cast of characters embroiled in their own personal melodrama until a disaster brings them together…or tears them apart. Here,  the setting is the world’s tallest skyscraper in San Franscico. While the building is enjoying it’s dedication ceremony with a massive party, the shortcuts taken by owner James Duncan (William Holden) and his jerk son-in-law Roger (Richard Chamberlain), catch up with them when an electrical fire breaks out on the 81st floor and quickly spreads. Now it’s up to angry architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) and Fire Chief Mike O’Halloran (Steve McQueen) to figure out a way to stop the blaze before it reaches the 300 guests at the penthouse floor party, who are now trapped.

Another movie that is well-written by Stirling Silliphant based on two books, The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. As with his Poseidon Adventure script, he keeps the melodrama to a minimum and maintains a claustrophobic setting inside the building for most of the film. While John Guillermin directs the film fairly by-the-numbers, the script affords him plenty of opportunity for suspenseful action, daring escapes and some nail-biting rescues. The fact that we also have some well-written characters and the dialog stays remotely grounded, makes for a more realistic and relatable drama. The fire scenes are really intense and well orchestrated, as are some of the sequences outside the building, such as one involving a teetering glass elevator. The action is solid and while the film is moderately paced, it is never dull. If the film has any main flaw, it’s that at 165 minutes it is about 30 minutes too long and thus there is some repetition in the action and subplots that really don’t further the story. For example…Robert Wagner’s entire character and scenes with his secretary (Susan Flannery) could have been removed without effecting the film and trimming it by a good 15 minutes. There is also some weak model work during the climax, but it’s brief and not enough to tarnish a first rate thriller. Back on the plus side, there is yet another effective score from master composer John Williams and Fred J. Koenekamp provides the vibrant cinematography.

There are a lot of characters in this flick With Newman, McQueen and Holden being the top three spots. Newman is a legendary performer and is solid here as the architect who finds out his specs were changed to cut costs and now it has caused a disaster. He dives right in saving lives and assisting McQueen’s fire chief and is a memorable hero. Same said for McQueen. His fire chief is tough, but remains cool under pressure and he is put through the ringer with this out of control blaze in the worst possible place. He and Paul Newman work well as a team and the flick smartly gives them numerous scenes together. Holden’s Duncan is interesting as he is not an outright villain, a role reserved for Chamberlain. He admits he made mistakes and shows remorse and sorrow over the death and destruction it has caused, so we don’t readily hate him like we do his son-in-law. Supporting them are Faye Dunaway, Robert Vaughn, Susan Blakely, Fred Astaire and the infamous O.J. Simpson as the head of security.

Definitely one of the best of this type of flick due to a toning down of the cheesy melodrama and some very intense action and suspense sequences. It maintains a large cast well and presents a very straightforward depiction of what a disaster like this might be like. If it has any flaws worth mentioning, it’s that it could have lost about a half hour and still been a solid action thriller. The leads are legendary performers who give it their all and the support is generally strong too. There are the usual disaster clichés, but that’s why we watch these flicks! Another 70s disaster movie classic!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 towering infernos.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)

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THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)

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Produced by prolific 70s disaster movie producer Irwin Allen, this is simply one of the best, if not the best of the 70s disaster flicks. Story finds an assortment of characters, like a rebellious preacher (Gene Hackman), a New York detective (Ernest Borgnine) and a kindly Jewish couple (Jack Albertson and Shelly Winters) traveling from NYC to Athens on the final voyage of the S.S. Poseidon. It’s New Years Eve, and while there is a lavish celebration in the ship’s grand ballroom, a massive underwater earthquake triggers a 90 foot tidal wave and sends it in the aging ship’s direction. The wave slams into the vessel, capsizing it and setting the remaining survivors on a journey upwards through the upside-down decks, towards the hull of the ship in hope of rescue.

Flick is well-written by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes from a book by Paul Gallico. What makes it a step above most others is that it is directed with passion and intensity by Ronald Neame, where most of these types of flicks are very by-the-numbers. The characters are well-rounded and appear very human and even our hero is flawed. The melodrama between them is kept to a minimum, as the action starts within the first half-hour and doesn’t stop till the end. Along the way we get some very thrilling action and escapes, as our group overcomes one challenge after another, all the while trying to keep their heads above water…literally. It makes for a very exciting and suspenseful two hours and the sets the survivors climb through are very impressive. It’s a maze of pipes and steel, either flooded or on fire and the benefit of this is that models and miniatures are kept to a bare minimum, making it far more realistic feeling than say, Earthquake. The cheese factor here is limited to the heavy 70s vibe and a few over-the-top performances like Stella Stevens’ ex-hooker turned policeman’s wife. There is also a heavier religious undertone, with it’s preacher hero and Israel bound Jewish couple, than is fashionable today, but I find that very charming and old-fashioned…as is the rest of this fun flick. There is a rousing score by John Williams and crisp cinematography by Harold E. Stine to accent a top-notch suspense thriller.

The cast here is not as obnoxiously star-studded, as some of these movies can be, containing more character actors. This gives it a more identifiable feel than with an all A-listers cast. Hackman really sells it as the preacher who walks to the beat of his own drum. He’s a bit more relatable than a more larger-than-life actor like Charlton Heston and more passionate in his portrayal. Borgnine gives us a Lt. Rogo with a fiery temper who battles Hackman’s preacher at every turn. The quality script and Borgnine being an absolute pro, makes the character more than a stereotypical antagonist. He’s angry, afraid and even though the two man battle for leadership, Rogo can be seen in a heroic light by the end credits. Albertson and Winters are very endearing as the old Jewish couple headed to Israel to meet their grandson. Winters can lay it on thick here and there, but is never out of control. We also have Red Buttons, Roddy McDowell, Carol Lynley and Pamela Sue Martin as accompanying survivors with Stella Stevens a bit overacting as Rogo’s wife and Leslie Nielsen, before Airplane turned him into a comic actor, as the ship’s ill-fated captain. A great cast.

This might be one of my all-time favorites of this era and genre. It’s well-written, intensely directed and has a wonderful cast of character actors to give some dimension to the struggling survivors. There is a lot of personal nostalgia, as it is another flick seen with the folks at the long gone Park Lane Theater, but is also just a really good flick that holds up to the test of time. It’s setting cleverly omits the need for SPFX that may be seen as cheesy in today’s digital world, instead settling for well-crafted sets and dramatic set pieces that still work. Add in some 70s nostalgia to an already solid adventure flick and you have a film that earns the title classic easily! Still as effective today as back in 1972!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: EARTHQUAKE (1974)

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EARTHQUAKE (1974)

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Been in the mood to revisit some of the classic 70s disaster films that I saw in a theater as a kid and Earthquake is a prime example. It has the classic formula of having an all-star cast of characters engaged in some soap opera level drama until some disaster hits and everyone has to survive it. This flick has Charlton Heston’s ex-pro football player, juggling a shrew of a wife (Ava Gardner) and a young mistress (Geneviève Bujold) while rebellious cop Slade (George Kennedy) is in trouble once more. Mix in Richard Roundtree as a motorcycle daredevil, Victoria Principal as his hot assistant and Marjoe Gortner as a crazed National Guardsman and you have a cast ripe for…disaster! Soon, a mega-quake hits L.A. and all our characters are torn out of their melodrama and forced into a fight for survival. Add in a last act dam burst and it’s a cheesy fun time.

Despite being very fond of this flick due to it’s nostalgic personal importance, I’ll be the first to admit it hasn’t aged all that well. Written by George Fox and Mario Puzo, there is some really bad dialogue and some awfully cheesy subplots going on in this flick. The drama between Heston and Gardner is as overblown as his relationship with Bujold, who is young enough to be his daughter, is silly. Kennedy’s cop is too much of a loose cannon to have lasted on the force this long and Gortner is so obviously a psycho, one wonders how loose the National Guard’s qualifications are. We also get the classic bureaucratic stall as the suits decide whether the scientist’s scary data is worth telling the public. It’s all directed very by-the-numbers by Mark Robson, a prolific director since the 40s. As for the quake itself, it lasts for about ten minutes and we get all sorts of chaos and destruction represented by miniatures that range from well-done to cheesy. The FX were praised in the day, but haven’t really aged all that well after over four decades, though the matte paintings still look good. The carnage is still fun to watch, as is the cornball melodrama of our cast being rescued or rescuing others. Apparently L.A.’s emergency response team in the 70s consisted of Charlton Heston and George Kennedy as they seem to be the only ones actually saving lives. There are daring rescues and heroic derring-do, all the while the National Guard just seems to be in town to shoot people and not actually help. Adding dramatic impact is a score by the great John Williams and if you had seen it in a theater, it was all presented in the cheesy glory of Sensurround! (Click on the link HERE to learn more about that!)

It’s too large a cast to give everyone props, but they all perform with corny, melodramatic intensity. Heston is Heston, as he is in every film he’s in. Ava Gardner is very over-the-top and you can see why hubby Heston is shacking up with the young honey. Also hilarious is that Lorne Greene plays Gardner’s father while only being seven years older. Roundtree’s cocky character is an Evel Kinevel wannabe, who oddly disappears from the action in the third act. Marjoe Gortner is in Shatner territory with his looney weekend warrior and Victoria Principal is really cute, but not quite convincing as a street-smart chick with an afro that’s almost as impressive as her bustline. Kennedy is solid as the cop with anger issues and is probably the most grounded performer in the cast aside from Lorne Greene.

Earthquake may not live up to the memories of a nine year old MonsterZero NJ sitting in the Park Lane Theater in Palisades Park, N.J. back in 1974, but it is still cheesy fun. We get a quintessential 70s disaster flick with cornball melodrama, a classic all-star cast and the destruction of a L.A. in the form of a model Godzilla would have loved to romp in. It brings back memories of going to the movies with my grandfather and my folks and even if it hasn’t aged well, there is heavy personal nostalgia. Not a great movie, but still a classic.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 heroic Hestons.

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REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

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STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

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It’s been a decade since the last Star Wars movie Revenge Of The Sith, but the beloved franchise is back, powered by Disney and J.J. Abrams, who wonderfully rebooted the Star Trek series in 2009…sadly, he is not quite as successful here.

The story begins decades after the events of Return Of The Jedi with Luke Skywalker disappearing into self-imposed exile after losing one of his star Jedi pupils to the dark side with disastrous results. From the ashes of the fallen Empire come The First Order, who are basically Empire 2.0 complete with Sith Lord leader, his metal masked lackey, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and yet another destructive super weapon…will they ever learn? A droid named BB8 is entrusted with a map that divulges the location of Skywalker (and who made this map if no one knows where he is?) and The First Order wants it in fear his return would bring back the Jedi and halt their evil plot. A young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and an ex-stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) find the droid and try to return him to his owner, resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) with the help of a crotchety old Han Solo (Harrison Ford).

One of the biggest problems that The Force Awakens suffers from…aside from being about 15 minutes too long…is that it feels more like an expensive fan film than an actual Star Wars movie. J.J. Abrams certainly incorporates a lot of the elements we expect from this series, but the spirit seems absent. It feels like an imperfect imitation much like his Super 8 felt like a slightly-off copy of a film Steven Spielberg might have made in the 80s. The magic isn’t there. Another thing is the script by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt is weak and offers a thin plot that Abrams stretches out over two hours. There is also a disturbing amount of conveniences that move that plot along, like characters who just happen to bump into each other in the vastness of space or characters who just happen to have crucial information that saves our heroes from doing any real work to get it. If you thought the Empire had crappy security, wait till you meet The First Order. Too many characters are also in the right place at the right time too often. Yet another problem is that while I admire Abrams’ decision to use as much practical effects as possible, the lack of enhancement for the settings makes them remain very Earth-like and I never felt it was in a galaxy far, far away. Aside from the actual scenes taking place in space, the film always looked like it took place on earth. Lucas created some interesting worlds even in the worst of the prequel flicks, here it always looks like exactly where it was shot and some of the sets actually look cheap without a little matte painting or cgi background help. Like them or hate them, the prequel flicks had an epic look and feel. This feels like a TV show sometimes. Even John Williams delivers quite possible the weakest of his Star Wars scores with very little memorable aside from the classic marches and themes.

There are definitely some pluses. The action does move, though even all these years later, tie fighters vs X-wings is getting a bit tiresome. I did like Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Boyega’s Finn. They show promise that when the torch is passed solidly, they may be quite engaging in their own adventures and both actors add charm in their thinly written parts. Oscar Issac’s ace fighter pilot, Dameron is less successful and is kinda bland and doesn’t do much. I wasn’t all that impressed with Adam Driver’s Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren, either. He basically seems like a Sith spoiled brat acting out and for reasons I won’t spoil, that’s kinda exactly what he is. As for the much hyped Captain Phasma (Gwedoline Christie), blink and you’ll miss her. Harrison Ford seemed like he was having a good time returning as Han and he is one of the highlights of the film, as is Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). It was also nice to see Carrie Fisher back as General Leia and she looks tired and weary as a character fighting a prolonged war should be. BB8 has a lot of personality as the film’s main droid character and should sell a lot of toys. While C3PO and R2D2 do make appearances, they take a back seat to the new droid in town. There are other familiar faces too, but I’ll leave them for you to discover.

So, overall, the new Star Wars was OK in certain ways, but disappointing in others. There is some nice nostalgia, but Abrams has a weak script and thin plot…which he is partially responsible for…to work with and stretches that thin story out over two hours. There are far too many conveniences to forgive, even when the action gets fun and the film is uneven character-wise as the heroes are engaging, yet the villains are weak and mostly forgettable. There are a lot of holes as to how we got to this point in Star Wars history and certain plot elements, some I won’t reveal, just don’t add up. Hopefully we’ll learn more in the upcoming Abrams-less sequels and maybe that Star Wars magic can yet be revived, but for now Force Awakens is a mediocre return for this beloved franchise.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 Millenium Falcons.

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REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

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JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

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Jurassic World is by far the best of the sequels to Spielberg’s 1993 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s book and wisely ignores the previous two films, being a direct sequel to the first movie. The story takes place about 20 years after the Jurassic Park disaster with Isla Nublar now having been reopened as a fully functional theme park with genetically recreated dinosaurs on display for thousands of visitors. There is a new owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and a new manager of operations, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). Now that dinosaurs are a common sights at the park, though, Masrani and his investors have sanctioned geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong) to create genetic crossbreeds to keep attendance up. One of those creations is the Indominus Rex, a hybrid between a T-Rex and another species that is obvious, but, I won’t spoil. She is fierce and fiercely intelligent and makes an escape initiating a killing spree of man and beast alike as she heads toward a full-to-capacity park. Now Claire must team with ex-Navy man and raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to find the monster and rescue her nephews Gray and Zach (Ty Insidious Simpkins and Nick Robinson) who are visiting and have become trapped in the creature’s kill zone.

Safety Not Guaranteed director Colin Trevorrow takes over the reigns this time, armed with a script from himself and co-writers Derek Connor, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa. The result is a fun popcorn flick, but, one that could have had a bit more intensity and excitement considering how much action there is. The film is enjoyable and sets up some fun action set-pieces but, it isn’t till the last act when Indominus Rex reaches the park and has a free-for-all with a squad of trained raptors and a very familiar face that it really delivered the thrills that should have started when the vicious lady escapes her pen. Treverrow has certainly delivered a technically sound and fast moving movie but, some of the action scenes feel a bit by-the-numbers for this series and the Indominus Rex is never quite as frightening as she should be. Treverrow needs to remember that this is the fourth time around and we basically have seen it all before. Much like with Jurassic World’s customers, this has all become very familiar. Dinosaurs loose in park, people running and screaming, yadda yadda yadda…been there done that. It’s well-orchestrated but, Treverrow really doesn’t shake things up too much outside the Jurassic Park movie formula to really glue us to our seats. I had a good time but, the wow factor has definitely been deluded. Maybe it’s not all he and his co-writers fault, but, the Indominus Rex and Pratt’s squad of trained raptors aren’t quite enough to make it totally fresh and make us feel like we did when Spielberg first revealed his critters 22 years ago. It’s the lack of wonder that really holds this back from being on more equal footing with the first film. Technically the film looks great with strong production design, great SPFX and a bunch of fun easter eggs for fans of the original. Michael Giacchino takes over on scoring duties but, incorporates elements of John Williams’ original score and John Schwartzman gives the film a nice look as cinematographer.

As for our players, the large cast do very well in helping the story along. Sure most of the characters are clichés but, they work within the context of an old-style monster movie, which this is at heart. Howard is a solid heroine as the rigid, work-obsessed Claire who learns to loosen up and care more about those around her…as she is being chased by an enormous genetically created monster. Pratt is full of charm as the tough but, kind Owen who has a crush on Claire and continually tries to melt the ice queen’s heart. He is a solid action hero, yet has a sense of humor about him and does remind me a bit of Harrison Ford, so, rumors he may be the new Indy don’t sound hard to believe. Khan plays Masrani like Attenborough did Hammond. A entrepreneur with a heart and he is likable. Vincent D’Onofrio is the genetics company InGen’s security head, Hoskins, who has is own agenda concerning the island’s inhabitants. He’s a pro and makes a good human bad guy as does Wong’s pompous and untrustworthy geneticist. Simpkins and Robinson are likable as Gray and Zach, Claire’s troublesome nephews. The two avoid annoying movie kid syndrome and that makes them OK with me. The cast of multiple CGI critters are, obviously, still the reason we see these movies and the raptors especially have some personality as do some of the new faces like the massive Mosasaurus.

This was a fun movie and certainly better than Lost World or Part 3. Trevorrow and his writers don’t stray very far from the JP formula and that keeps this from having the sense of WOW or wonder that it needs to really crank it up to 11. The action is plentiful but, doesn’t really start to impress till the last act when our villainous hybrid is finally tracked down and the really intense action begins. The Indominous Rex could have had more impact and character, but, is far more sufficient a bad guy than the bland Spinosaurus we got last time. Overall, though, it is a fun monster movie with top notch SPFX and still entertained very well despite being the fourth in a series that has yet to really expand it’s boundaries. Recommended as a good popcorn flick and a treat for JP fans who were disappointed by the last two visits.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 T-Rex

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