Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the Movie You’ve Been Looking For

Posted on | December 19, 2015 | 1 Comment

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Spoilers Ahead
After almost exactly three years of unbearable anticipation and careful teasing, the most beloved and important movie series of all time has returned. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this latest installment, may soon become the biggest film of all time yet that hardly matters. There have been so many rumors flying around this movie, but only one question really needs to be answered: is it good? Yes. Sticking closely to the original blueprint, and mixing fresh faces with new ones, it’s a nostalgia ride, a new chapter, and a great time at the movies. This is no Phantom Menace, which was a crushing disappointment for fans and a betrayal of the original trilogy. Director J.J. Abrams and his crew of writers, studio executives, technicians, and actors have learned from the prequels’ flaws: flat acting, plots reliant on forced melodrama and galactic politics, an overuse of obvious CGI, goofy sidekick characters, and appeals to win the adoration of kids not old fans. George Lucas went ahead with his own vision for the prequels, ignoring fans wishes and plain common sense. The Force Awakens works in almost the opposite way.

In 1977, when Abrams was eleven, he saw the original Star Wars. Like so many others, it changed his life. It can often seem like that grade-school kid wanted to remake what he saw on screen, mixed in with some new characters. All along, his friends and parents are whispering in his ear and telling him what to do. Of course, here it’s the biggest blockbuster director of a generation working with a crew of thousands. Yet Abrams is still awestruck over Lucas’ original, and he’s eager to pay sometimes slavish reverence to his childhood.

The Force Awakens doesn’t just nod respectfully to its predecessors; it rips off much of A New Hope‘s plot structure. The story begins with the introduction of The First Order and its Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the masked villain who looks and sounds like a relative of Darth Vader. This organization is the latest incarnation of evil in the universe – after the Sith and the Empire. In these dark times, Resistance fighters rebel against Ren and his master Lord Snoke. One of these fighters is talented pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) who is captured by Ren, and then rescued by strormtrooper-turned-renegade Finn (John Boyega). After crashing on the planet Jakku, Finn travels on his own until he meets Rey (Daisy Ridley) a lone scavenger with dreams of great adventure. A droid, BB-8, with a map displaying the whereabouts of the lost Luke Skywalker, unites the pair and sets them off on a great search. Soon, they’re off traveling through space in the Millenium Falcon, which brings them to Han Solo and Chewbacca. The group embarks on a journey to find Luke, reason with Ren, escape the First Order, and meet up with some old friends.

This journey – specifically Rey’s story – is very similar to Luke’s: a restless nobody meets some old heroes and discovers the ways of the Force. That outline was used in the prequels too, but The Force Awakens also includes a new Death Star, another climactic spaceship fight, a lightsaber showdown, a Cantina scene, and a burgeoning romance. Just as Abrams stole the best bits of Spielberg’s hits for Super 8, he cherrypicks and updates his favorite parts of A New Hope. His reliance on familiarity and nostalgia is the movies’s biggest flaw but also a great strength, and hardly dents the overall excitement. After all, did we expect the series to enter some brave, weird new direction?

Perhaps the next film will do just that, but The Force Awakens‘ referential tone also gives it a resonance that pushes it far past the prequels. The filmmakers have studied the original trilogy, and crafted a loving tribute to their childhood movie memories. Almost every beat seems designed to send viewers (specifically fans) into thunderous applause, giddy smiles, somber tears, big chuckles, or some combination of all those. It’s a gloriously entertaining movie, strong enough to remind you of the wit, charm, and action that made us fall in love with this galaxy in the first place.

Star Wars: The Force AwakensHarrison Ford gets a meaty role here, and you can sense his endearing world-weariness and excitement to be back in the role. Han’s line that sent the Internet ablaze – “Chewie, we’re home” – must have some poignance for Ford too. He brings that natural movie-star personality of the character (a mix of charisma, irony, irritation, and head-strong bravery) but with a tired, hardened heart. Carrie Fischer (now “General Leia”) gets far less to do, but she’s still strong and charming as always.

It’s Finn and Rey that give The Force Awakens a personality of it’s own and a next-generation freshness. As Rey, Daisy Ridely is this movie’s Luke, Han, and Leia: she’s a genuine underdog hero, a willful pilot, and a woman in control of her own destiny. John Boyega’s performance as Finn will surely make him a bona-fide star. He’s completely likable, impossible not to root for, has great comic timing, and is surprisingly handy with a lightsaber. (Abrams deserves kudos for not casting a white guy as the protagonist). Adam Driver, as Ren, and Oscar Isaac, as Poe, don’t get a whole lot to do but these talented actors leave a mark on the scenes they are in.

There are other things to gripe about with The Force Awakens, for sure. Its cliffhanger ending sure leaves you waiting for the sequel, but it leaves too many loose ends. With so much going on, some supporting characters get shortchanged. And the movie’s climactic airborne battle is so familiar you’re likely to forget the whole sequence. But after the letdown of the prequels (aside from Revenge of the Sith), this movie is a triumph. Above all, it’s fun. It’s also funny, exhilarating, shocking, and truly moving.

Star Wars: The Force AwakensAs it all wrapped up, something funny occurred to me. People who have never seen a Star Wars movie will certainly enjoy The Force Awakens, partly because they’re new to this strange, wonderful onscreen universe. They may feel a little left-out on some of the story. Thus, the film will resonate much deeper with fans; the deaths, jokes, and characters will bring back memories and trigger emotions. On the other hand, these viewers will chide the movie for not taking enough risks. Basically, though, it’ll work for either type of viewer. The Force Awakens will live on, and it already seems like a fan favorite. The Force is strong with this one. Some new hope has been injected into the franchise. Until the next installment, we can return to this one – over and over, grinning goofily, wiping away tears, cheering, tensing up, and remembering what Star Wars is all about.

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar: Brilliant but Baffling, Beautiful yet Boring (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | November 23, 2014 | Add Comments

Cooper (Mathew McConaughey) pilots a space mission to find habitable planets in InterstellarWhen talking about Interstellar, you have to talk about Christopher Nolan, a director as singularly imaginative as any working today. With his latest daringly original blockbuster, he’s created what might be the most Nolanesque of all his films; an interplanetary mixed bag of all ideas, tones, and imagery that have filled his work, as well as plenty of new ones. It may reach farther than it can manage, but how many films even try to reach this far, crossing galaxies, traveling through wormholes, and touching on the big questions of life and death within the confines of a Hollywood budget?

Interstellar is set on a near-future Earth but Nolan cleverly sidesteps sci-fi cliches with a frightening yet familiar Dustbowl-like vision of our fate. Unpredictable weather, droughts, and famines have been causing the human population to dwindle for years; remaining families now hide from dust storms in their rickety houses and rely on corn, the sole remaining crop. One such survivor, Cooper (Mathew McConaughey, affecting but unconvincing) was once one of NASA’s most promising pilots, but he now runs a farm with his father in-law, while caring for his kids. His daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), thinks there’s a ghost in her room; that “ghost” leaves coordinates that lead father and daughter to a hidden NASA base led by Cooper’s former boss Professor Brand (Michael Caine).

When NASA’s small board reports that a past space mission has discovered a wormhole, and there are three possibly habitable planets orbiting a nearby black hole, you know what’s going to happen (even if you haven’t viewed the trailers). Brand wants Cooper to pilot a mission, find us a new home, and, if successful, save the human race. “I’ve got kids, professor”, Cooper reluctantly answers (McConaughey’s Texan drawl feels a little laid-back when delivering speeches about humanity’s fate). “Get out there and then save them”, answers Brand. Cooper agrees, but not before promising his enraged daughter that he’ll make it back. And so begins a mission which, depending on your tolerance for science-speak and improbable jumps in narrative, is either a thrilling intergalactic adventure or a plodding, patience-testing slog.

It’s a journey that quite literally reaches to the ends of the universe, and you’ll leave breathless, with your head spinning. There’s filmmaking ambition here that rivals anything with a big budget you’ll see this year, or any other.

Cooper (Mathew McConaughey) comforts his daughter in InterstellarInterstellar might be the ultimate manifestation of Christopher Nolan: his qualities as a filmmaker, his unique fascinations, his favorite themes, his flaws. All of the little parts that combine to create his signature style can be found here, and he indulges in each and every one of them: a walloping, all-consuming Hans Zimmer score; jaw-dropping IMAX cinematography; an almost purely expository elderly father figure played by Michael Caine; bladder-busting running time; plot holes that will anger film fans; worm hole holes that will anger Neil DeGrasse Tyson; and an ending that will satisfy some, disappoint others, and confuse everybody. Some of these are one-of-a-kind pros, others frustrating cons, but they all form a wholly distinct (though aided by some influences) whole.

Classifying Christopher Nolan is a tough thing to do. Is he an exacting, flawless technician or an old-fashioned storyteller? Do his special effects-laden films make him another CGI-hack or does his love of film over digital make him a nostalgic man of the past? Is he a boundary-pushing innovator or a tireless recycler of better films? Does his heart lie in the expensive, expansive Hollywood productions he devotes himself to, or the microscopic indie films he began with? The answer is not a yes or no; what makes Nolan himself, after all, may be his spot as the enigmatic conundrum. One interesting analogy can be found in Interstellar’s pre-production phase, when Nolan took over the project from Steven Spielberg. That act could easily be read as a metaphor for Spielberg passing down the torch to Nolan, allowing him to join the exceptional and highly coveted ranks of Hollywood directors who use big-budgets to make original, personal projects. It’s a torch that few other directors have held (think of Nolan favorites like Hitchcok, Kubrick, David Lean) as Nolan has respectfully acknowledged. In his own words: “I think that Hollywood has always had and will always have tension between the desire to do something original and fresh, and the fear of alienating an audience and the commerce of it all. When you look at big budgets, it’s rare that filmmakers get the opportunity to pursue their passion and do something original, so when I get the chance, as I have a couple of times, I really get the chance to use that opportunity because it’s an opportunity that a lot of other filmmakers would kill for.”

Aside from links to cinema’s past, it’s not hard to connect the seemingly disparate dots in Nolan’s oeuvre. Take familial love, especially of the fatherly kind. It’s one of his defining obsessions, and it’s permeated throughout his work even if it’s never been as obvious or important as it is here. Like The Prestige’s magician Alfred Borden and Inception’s dream-stealer Dom Cobb, Interstellar’s Cooper spends the entire film trying to get back to his kids. Luckily, Nolan spends time developing the father-daughter on Earth to give Cooper’s mission some poignant personal resonance. Worm holes slow time (on one planet, each hour equals seven years back on Earth), which means Cooper’s kids are growing old while he’s still traveling through outer space. In the film’s best scene, Cooper watches decade-spanning video messages from his children. McConaughey underplays the scene, sitting quietly as tears stream down his face, while Nolan’s gives the scene a real, raw power that manipulates the audience in the best possible way.

Moments, like that one, of true emotional strength feel all the more precious amidst the rest of the film. Nolan’s script, while relatively clever and occasionally captivating, is a muddled mess. Many scenes (such as a subplot involving Jessica Chaistain as an adult Murph) feel forced and functional for the sake of plot, just so the story can move right along. Other sequences (one including a cameo from a famous actor) make me picture Nolan’s directing job as similar to that of a writer trying to cram in all of his thoughts into one long essay, only to give up and exclaim “Whatever, I’ll throw it all in” (not unlike me writing this review). Other than McConuaghey’s Cooper, the characters are broadly-drawn cliches (wise old man; young but spunky daughter; selfish partner) uttering bland, predictable dialogue.

One of the many extraordinary space visuals in InterstellarThat said, there are moments of big-screen brilliance and beauty. Stepping in for longtime Nolan-collaborator Wally Pfister, Hoyte Van Hoytema crafts some of the best shots in a Nolan film yet (no easy feat). Shooting on 70mm IMAX cameras for much of the film, Hoytema gives Interstellar a tangible grit and grain that only film could provide.  Aided by countless technicians, he gives each of the space worlds a distinct, distinguishable feel. And his equally impressive camerawork on Earth brings a dusty, desolate, dejected beauty to the future.

Even if the film’s science may not measure up to fact (to those who nitpick both science and plot: it’s a movie) the visuals of blackholes and icy, barren planets makes an IMAX trip worth it. In what might be the most impressive scene, Cooper and crew make their first attempt at traveling through a wormhole. This is stunning cinema: vast, almost magical, and sensational in a way only movies can achieve.

Look up in the sky...it's InterstellarStill, one can’t help but one wonder if Nolan had achieved something greater. Imagining the film with a smarter script and tighter length makes me sigh in disappointment. And yet, if press interviews are any indication, it does seem like this is the film Nolan wanted to make. While Interstellar may be far from a great movie, it does reaffirm the power and possibility of a big Hollywood spectacle. And I can’t wait to see which corners of the cinematic galaxy Nolan brings audiences to next.

An Epic of Intricately Complex Proportions

Posted on | October 26, 2012 | 1 Comment

Cloud Atlas (2012)In the following article Flack talks about the Wachowski siblings career and how they have teamed up with German director Tom Tyker to create the visionary, mind bending Cloud Atlas, out today.

The Wachowski siblings have had an extremely respectable career. If you’ve ever wanted to be a Hollywood director you probably wouldn’t mind being in their position. But lately they’ve been faltering. Lana (previously Larry) and Andy debuted with the crime thriller Bound in 1996. Not everybody loved it but Roger Ebert did, calling it “Pure cinema spread over several genres”. The film made $6 million but cost $4 million to make. But the sibling had much bigger plans. In 1994 they completed a script for a sci-fi trilogy called The Matrix. In 1999 the instant action classic was released to commercial and critical success. As Rotten Tomatoes says the movie is “An ingenious combination of Hong Kong action, ground-breaking Hollywood FX, and an imaginative vision.” This, so far at least, is the high point of their career.

The Matrix (1999)After a massive blockbuster there’s always the same route. Make a sequel! And the Wachowskis did that. In 2003 a collection of 9 animated short films titled The Animatrix were released on DVD, though some were available online and one showed before the 2003 Stephen King adaption Dreamcatcher. The shorts were produced and in some cases written by the Wachowskis but they directed none of them, leaving the job to others. On May 15, 2003 the highly anticipated The Matrix Reloaded was released, which showed out of competition at the Cannes film festival that year. On November 15th The Matrix Revolutions wrapped up the trilogy in the same year. Both sequels cost $150 million each and were shot at the same time but while Reloaded is the highest grossing installment of the series, Revolutions is shockingly the lowest.  And even though the original film has an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes the sequels have a 73% and 36%, respectively. On the whole, the sequels are not remembered fondly and was often a tragic shoot. However one reason the Wachowskis should be proud of the series altogether is that they made a lot of money. So how to follow it up? Wait five years before releasing a new film. But on May 9, 2008 Speed Racer (the only Wachowski film that’s not rated R) was released. The project had been in development since 1992 and is based on a Japanese anime TV show from the 60’s. But the movie didn’t even earn it’s budget back in worldwide grosses, let alone make a profit. Critics nor audiences were fans of the movie and is thus reflected on as a candy colored, unnecessary flop.

Cloud Atlas (2012)But after the harsh reaction to their recent movies the Wachowskis are poised to make a comeback with an epic of intricately complex proportions. The movie is titled Cloud Atlas and is also co-directed by the man behind Run Lola Run, Tom Tyker. Together these three directors have taken the book Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, and turned it into a film. The book and film feature six different stories of different genres that eventually connect. On top of that the many, many actors play two roles each, while Halle Berry and Tom Hanks play six each in different stories. The movie is a mishmash of ideas, stories, and genres. The first story is set in the 19th century and tells the story of a lawyer sailing from the Pacific to California. As he sails home he records his voyage in a half finished diary which eventually resurfaces to a poor musician in 30’s Belgium, in the second story. The pianist’s friend also appears in the third episode in which Halle Berry as a reporter falls in love with Tom Hanks as a scientist during 1975 set against a possibly deadly nuclear conspiracy. The story of Berry’s character next lands in the hands of a murdering publisher who gets trapped in a prison taken care of by a very nasty care worker in the fourth adventure set in early 21st Century London and once again featuring Tom Hanks this time as a gangster type author. The publisher has ties with Sonmi-451, a clone trying to gain her humanity with the help of a man trying to bring down a totalitarian society in the near hi-tech future. In the final installment a tribesman played by Hanks (living after the apocalypse called The Fall) tries to escape Hugh Grant as a cannibal and a recurring evil, Devil type creature along with the help of companion survivor Meronym, played by Berry.

The Wachowskis and Tom TykerThe movie cost about $120 million to make and just by watching the trailers you can tell. But the directing trio has called it an independent movie despite the fact that it’s being distributed by Warner Bros. Still even the gigantic budget doesn’t seem large enough. The novel by David Mitchell was published in 2004 and was greeted by acclaim, awards, question marks, and mixed reviews. While on the set of V For Vendetta, written and produced by the Wachowskis, the star of Vendetta, Natalie Portman showed Lana, Cloud Atlas a book she’d just read and loved. So Lana read it, then Andy, and within a year they had written a first draft. They had wanted to work with Tom Tyker for a while and knew this would be the perfect opportunity. So the three of them spent a year in a Costa Rica writing more drafts and laying out index cards and rearranging them. Natalie Portman was promised the role of Sonmi-451 but had to drop out. James McAvoy and Ian McKellen were both considered for roles but the cast is extremely respectable as it is. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturges, Ben Winshaw, Doona Bae, Keith David, James D’Arcy, and many more are among the stars.

Cloud Atlas (2012)Despite these big names, will audiences actually turn up for a movie that is so long and complex? Well it’s not just confusing mind boggling interconnecting story lines you’ll find at this film. You’ll also receive the bang for your buck. The fifth story especially features lots of action. Watch the trailer and you’ll see what could be the best chase scene of the year. And of course there’s lots of special effects throughout. But the movie is 172 minutes long and there’s a guarantee that it’s not a 2 hour, 52 minute action scene. But no matter what you’re wanting or expecting from Cloud Atlas you’re going to get something. How good is that something? Well, reviews have been flooding in since the 10 minute standing ovation that the movie got at it’s premiere at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival. (Flick and I attended the kids version April of this year). Some critics LOVE the film some critics DON’T. Roger Ebert (and the Wachowskis) have compared the film to 2001: A Space Odessey in a good way. Ebert gave it 4 out of 4 stars while others have been much less kind. But most like Bob Mondello, who largely disliked the film says “Cloud Atlas is now a film, for better or worse. Mostly worse I’d say, but give these folks credit …” I think the film, no matter what, was worth making. The Wachowskis and Tyker have reportedly had a great time working on the film, and so have the actors. There have been plenty of advertisements on TV, talk shows, and the Internet as well as a five and a half minute trailer released over the summer, a second and shorter trailer, and three behind the scenes featurettes. The movie however is rated R, which always reduces the number of viewers. Yet it is in IMAX, which costs more (thus adding money). But you don’t have to see it in IMAX. There are so many reasons why it will and won’t be a blockbuster success. If I was allowed to see the film I would see it opening day in IMAX. However, not everybody feels that way and so I’m guessing the movie will debut to $9.5 million on it’s opening weekend. Terribly disappointing but sadly likely. However I’m guessing the movie will do great internationally, thanks to the German Tom Tyker and partly foreign cast, and can at least make back it’s budget.

Tom Tyker (who composed the music for Cloud Atlas before shooting began) has no upcoming films he is currently working on. The Wachowskis are producing, writing, and directing a sci-fi action adventure starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum and set to be released sometime 2014. Jupiter will likely be commercially successful. And so after all the future may be bright.

Now go see Cloud Atlas and remember everything is connected. When you see Cloud Atlas there is one word that will come out of your mouth (to quote a certain other Wachowski film): whoa.

Cloud Atlas (2012)Tell us if you’ve read the book and then your opinion in the comments after seeing the movie (and what you think of these director’s other work and if you even want you see the movie)!


The Amazing Spider-Man (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | July 5, 2012 | Add Comments

The Amazing Spider-Man

4 1/2 Stars

The Amazing Spider-Man is about how Peter Parker became Spider-Man. His parents mysteriously left him when he was just 4 years old but he now lives with his aunt and uncle and goes to a science high school in New York City. He is bullied by other kids and then falls in love with a girl named Gwen Stacy. To stop evil criminals because of a personal tragedy he decides to put on a suit and call himself Spider-Man. Peter also helps Dr. Curt Conors who works at Oscorp (the science company Gwen is working at). But then an evil monster called The Lizard tries to wreak havoc in the city. Gwen’s dad is a police captain and he thinks Spider-Man is bad so he tries to arrest him. Will Peter stop being bullied? Will Captain Stacy help Spidey? Will Peter find out the truth about his parents? Will The Lizard be stopped? Find out in The Amazing Spider-Man!!!!!!!

From the second it was announced that there was to be a new Spider-Man film about the origin story of the character people kept saying that it was too soon. After all it was May 2007 when Spider-Man 3 was released? So there were 2 options: ignore all the backlash from fans and critics and continue onto Spider-Man 4 or redo the origin story with a new cast and crew. They picked the second choice.  But is the new movie a moneymaking excuse or a lesson in great reboots? Worse than the 2002 original or way better? The new movie is both a lesson in great reboots and way better than the 2002 original.

The Amazing Spider-ManAll of the performances are strong and actually stronger. Andrew Garfield is great as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. As Spidey he switches from sarcastic avenger to justice hero  and as Peter he brings depth, humanity, and a  good sense of the character. While Tobey Maguire was good he was a bit silly in the suit and a little ridiculous at times when out of it. However in this version Garfield owns the role. He makes Peter Parker more lonely yet tougher at the same time. The rest of the cast is also terrific. Emma Stone is better than Kirsten Dunst and her character (Gwen rather than MJ) is more developed. Dennis Leary plays Gwen’s father who is a police and his conflicts with Spider-Man make for one of the most interesting strands of the story. Rhys Ifans (like Emma Stone) takes a character from the original and adds more emotion and a new spin to it, resulting in a strong performance as the Norman Osbourney Dr. Curt Conors. As Uncle Ben and Aunt May, Martin Sheen and Sally Field are terrific choices and a bit more serious than Cliff Robertson and Rosemarie Harris were in their parts, respectively. In super small roles Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, Chris Zylka, and others are solid.

Marc Webb, who’s only films were music videos and indie romantic comedy (500) Days Of Summer, directs with a superbly smart knack for mixing spectacle with script and action with story. When he’s done with the Spider-Man franchise it will be interesting to see what he decides to do next. The script by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves is great and sometimes witty. Steve Kloves wrote all the Harry Potter movies (except the 5th which was the least faithful) and does a comparably great job here. The movie is perfectly lengthed. At 136 minutes it not too long nor too short. Peter Parker doesn’t put on his mask, let alone call himself Spider-Man for a long time which is perfect because we get to know the character a lot better. And when it does get to the big action scenes where the city is being destroyed the personal scenes never lose their footing. In fact the more humane scenes aren’t so much as messily thrown in with the battles more nicely  put in with them.

The Amazing Spider-ManI saw the film in 3-D and it uses the technique better than the two other 3-D films I saw this year, John Carter, The Pirates In An Adventure With Scientists!, and The Avengers. The movie was shot in 3-D rather than being hastily later converted to 3-D. Along with Hugo this uses 3-D better than any other film I’ve seen (I didn’t see Avatar in 3-D) though if you saw The Amazing Spider-Man in 2-D you could still enjoy it, even if  the action scenes weren’t as mind boggilingly awesome as they are with the added dimension. That said I still have not seen a movie where there is perfectly flawless 3-D and you couldn’t enjoy the movie without it. Nonetheless this is likely to be the 3-D movie of the year. Meanwhile an obvious advantage this film has over the 2002 Spider-Man is that 10 years later special effects have vastly improved. Out is silly computer effects, in are terrific ones. It’s awesome that with 3-D Spider-Man swings at you but the seamless blend of a CG Spidey, a stuntman one, and probably best of all the Andrew Garfield one certainly helps make that happen. Overall the special effects, 3-D, and stunts are amazing.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great chemistry as do all the actors and it helps that they have a great script to work with. The music by James Horner, known for working with James Cameron on Titanic, Avatar, and Aliens, does a nice job here although either the original Spider-Man theme or a new one might have added some extra, fun excitement. The music is on par with Danny Elfman’s work for the previous trilogy. The color palette consisting mainly of blues and blacks creates a nice tone for a movie that is a bit darker than Sam Raimi’s more candy colored films.

The story is almost the same as the original though some characters have been replaced by similar, more developed ones. Though some iconic parts have been left out such as the line “With great power comes great responsibility” or the rainy upside down kiss but except for just maybe the former immortal line nothing feels missed. In fact overall this was a story completely worth re-telling.

And now for the ultimate answer. Is it better than the other Spider-Man movies? Well,  the producers said that it matters about the content of the film not how soon it comes. That’s mostly true but if this movie came out one year after Raimi’s first Spidey picture it would feel too soon. A decade later however, The Amazing Spider-Man is being released and it is better than Spider-Man (2002) because for one it tells the same story in a better different way. It’s also way greater than Spider-Man 3 (2007) because it’s not as confused or ridiculous. But does it beat Spider-Man 2 (2004) the film I recently called the best based on a comic book movie of all time. I think it’s as good which is certainly saying a lot. However there is one flaw that bugged me in this new version. When Peter gets his powers after being bitten by a spider he starts getting much stronger.  He breaks lots of things and then we see those objects later on perfectly fixed. Sure this won’t make you dislike the film too much but it is something that could have been cleaned up with just a couple of explanatory lines of dialogue. And the ending gets me excited for the sequel with lots of questions unanswered.

My favorite character is Peter Parker aka Spider-Man because while he is sometimes forgetful and does make mistakes he also saves the day, has awesome superpowers, is a good person, and is played nicely by Andrew Garfield (and CGI and stuntmen).

My favorite scene is the climax because the special effects, 3-D, script, story, actors, direction, music, and everything else come together perfectly. It’s also very exciting and suspenseful plus there’s a massive surprise that will make you sad.

The Amazing Spier-Man is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sequences of action and violence. I agree but I would add that there are sad deaths, mild language, frightening images, and teenage romance.

The Amazing Spider-Man is better than Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 3 (2007), and maybe even the great Spider-Man 2 (2004). It cost an estimated $215 million to make and it was worth it. Whether you’re a comic book lover, or a movie buff, or someone just looking for a good time at the cinema you’ll love this movie. Andrew Garfield and the rest of the cast are great as is the direction by Marc Webb and everything else. It’s at times exciting, creepy, funny, and suspenseful but in one word it’s…….. amazing.

The Amazing Spider Man (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | July 4, 2012 | 3 Comments

4 stars

After his parents abandon him, Peter Parker is left with his aunt and uncle. He is then bitten by a spider and decides to be a superhero: Spider Man. He has powers of a spider, like climbing up walls and making webs. Along the way he must stop the Lizard from wrecking havoc on all of NYC and deal with his love for Gwen Stacy.

Everybody has their own opinion. Some people (most critics, like me), think that the world doesn’t need a new Spidey, when it’s only been five years since his last big screen adventure. Others (fans), don’t care if it’s been five years or a day since any superhero last swung or flew or hurtled in the dark. At least we are left with a good Spidey.

Andrew Garfield takes the role this time, after Tobey Maguire left the shoes (and “skin tie red and blue suit”) of Peter Parker/Spider Man. I prefer Garfield over Maguire, because of Garfield’s ability to play Peter and Spidey, both with equal verve. At times, though, Garfield plays the lonely side of the character. He does this with the same amount of talent. As far as Garfield’s acting goes, rest assured: a star is born.

What about the film as a whole? For a summer blockbuster with a brand new star, this goes beyond expectations. The CGI is really cool, a term that can’t be applied enough in today’s films because of the lack of plot development. (While I’m talking about effects, I might as well add the 3-D is certainly worth the extra money.) Since (for me), plot comes first, I won’t be looking to see if the effects are cool unless the story is working. And fortunately here it does. Keeping with the style of the Sam Raimi trilogy, The Amazing Spider Man is very dark. But the tone suits the film well, giving it a vibe that allows the story to make sense. Unlike The Avengers and some other recent superhero films, this film gets it right. It has the giddy, childish fun that you’re looking for, but it also has great chemistry with Garfield and Emma Stone (she is great in the role of Gwen Stacy, previously played by Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard’s daughter).

The effects are good… well mostly. Whenever Spider Man gets flung through midair his hands are shown in front of the camera, in slow-motion. This gives us the feeling that we’re watching a video game and that’s not what I want. Those few times, we feel as if we are Spidey, but in the weirdest of all ways. The effect is trying to make you feel like you’re behind the camera, reaching your hands out, in front of the camera. The feeling is very bizarre. Out of all the times the audience may have wanted to feel as if they’re Spider Man, I don’t think when he’s falling to his possible death is their number one option.

In the rest of the film though, we feel like we are Spidey, but more importantly Peter, all because of Garfield. Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Martin Sheen, and for the most part Sally Field (she has a twinkle in her eye when she’s not sure if her nephew is dead) do a great job as the supporting cast: whenever the film runs out of gas (it does a few times), it has this great collection of actors to bring it right back up to the top. Fortunately, for the most part, The Amazing Spider Man stays at the top.

My favorite character is Peter Parker/Spider Man because even though he is repeatedly beat up in school and he has no parents, he still manages to make the best of it all.

My favorite scene is the climax because it sets a lot up for the (that’s right) 2014 sequel, while also showcasing the talented animators jaw dropping CGI and dishing out some emotional notes.

The Amazing Spider Man is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and I agree.

The Amazing Spider Man is finally here and it doesn’t disappoint. Okay, okay it does sometimes, for example at the beginning I kept thinking, “did they have to do the exact same thing they did in the Sam Raimi version?” (the truth is they kind of did have to), it’s a bit confusing at times, and at it feels like it ends three times (fortunately each time was a good ending). But still, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone lead an “amazing” cast and the story is substantial. I think this is understandable for a film about high school teens: high marks.

Spider Man 3 (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | June 27, 2012 | Add Comments

3 stars

There’s three new villains: the Sandman, Venom, and the new Green Goblin. Each one has a different connection with Peter Parker. Peter is also ready to ask Mary Jane Watson to marry him, but Peter’s Spider Man life interferes.

After an amazing follow up to a decent superhero film, could the final installment in the Spider Man trilogy be any better? Alas, it possibly could, but it isn’t (although it’s as or almost as good as the first). The first half is promising: Sam Raimi, hot off his brilliant Spider Man 2, carries over some of that brilliance in this final adventure. But as soon as Peter starts dancing on the street, the film falls apart. What is this cheesy scene doing in such a serious film? The first half is very serious, as relationships start to crinkle and friendships start to fade away. I never thought I would say this, but Spider Man 3 is melancholic at times. In the first twenty minutes it becomes obvious this is the final film in the series. The emotion, action and especially villains (there’s three) are having the very last drops of juice squirted out. Unfortunately, that juice runs out in the second half. Fortunately, it is revived in the tear jerking climax that includes lots of action, a track that contains something that sounds a bit like West Side Story, and a finale that is (you won’t believe this) depressing.

That said, the second half (other than the climax), truly does run out of gas. The Gwen Stacy character (we’ll see her again played by Emma Stone in the new The Amazing Spider Man) is bland and only adds another ten minutes to the one-hundred-thirty-nine minute total running time. There are a lot of scenes that certainly should have been left on the cutting room floor. In fact, about thirty minutes of this could have gotten the axe… and the result? An even more serious, depressing movie still filled with endless battles crazy villains. Speaking of villains…The great thing about the three villains is that each one has a personal connection with Spider Man himself. That means when the confrontation comes, Raimi and his crew can stage a personal battle with heart. But this a superhero movie, so they don’t. Instead the chaos begins. But whenever the villains are on screen their presence is sensed and their evil is obvious. But they are deeper and even darker than you think. Too bad the entire movie isn’t.

My favorite character is Peter Parker/Spider Man because he is struggling with villains and his friends, and yet he mostly manages to keep a straight mind and remember what is most important.

My favorite scene is the climax because it is depressing alongside overflowing with grim action that fan boys won’t be able to pry away from.

Spider Man 3 is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence and I agree.

Unfortunately, this is the worst of the trilogy. That’s because of a clunky and silly second half. That’s not to say, the first half and especially the climax are great. With a hint depressing emotions, lots of action and more than enough wonderful villains, this could have been better. But for all of the reasons I just listed this is pretty good.

Spider Man 2 (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | June 20, 2012 | Add Comments

4 stars

Peter Parker/Spider Man is having a tough time deciding whether or not to be a hero or to be with the woman he loves, Mary Jane Watson. There’s also a new villain, Doctor Octopus who was formerly a scientist. But when his project got out of hand, he became a six armed “octopus” (four mechanical arms, two human arms). Spider Man must decide what is most important to him: crime  fighting or being with MJ.

Spider Man 2 is not your average superhero movie. It’s focused more on relationships and human feelings than mind blowing action. The villain in the film is not as key to the plot as Mary Jane is. And Spider Man is questioning whether or not he wants to be Spider Man. This makes for an interesting plot, that could end up feeling like a soap opera, but doesn’t. Instead it feels like the characters are having real conversations, and not just carelessly throwing lines of dialogue out of the window. Unlike in Spider Man (the first installment), Spider Man (the character) doesn’t run off doing things, making up his mind on the way. Here he struggles with maintaining friendships with the people he has been friends with forever.All of these elements are significant, but the love interest between Peter and MJ is the heart of the film. Everything else happens because of it. I’m worrying about Spider Man 3 (which I haven’t seen yet). Will the love story continue with the same interesting what’s-gonna-happen-next intensity? I sure hope. If the love story hadn’t worked the film would have failed. So for a superhero film revolved around a love story, this is great.

My favorite character is Peter Parker/Spider Man because it’s interesting to see what decisions he makes in tough situations. I think he makes the right decisions.

My favorite scene is when Peter Parker and Mary Jane are walking together (in the second half of the film) because it has real emotion, it’s key to the story, and both actors acting are decent (they’re not great).

Spider Man 2 is a rare superhero treat: it has fast paced action but it also has emotional aspects and characters complicated enough to latch onto. Go Spidey!

Men in Black 3 (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | May 30, 2012 | 2 Comments

3 1/2 stars

After breaking out of a prison on the moon, Boris the Animal (an evil alien) seeks revenge on Agent K. Boris wants to travel back in time to the moment when K shot his arm off. While at that moment, Boris will kill K. Fortunately, Agent J travels back in time to to try and save K before it’s too late.

I haven’t seen Men in Black 2. Does that mean I will enjoy Men in Black 3 less? Or more? Or neither? If you’ve seen the second installment and the third tell me in the comments below. However, have no fear! I will see part two soon. (And I’ve written you a review of part 3, and you might not have even seen it yet! So, ha.)

In the meantime, no money would be wasted if you went to see Men in Black 3. The plot is complex and most young kids going to see this film will get lost in the second half of the movie (I was confused too).  There’s also only two agents vs. alien battles (a fight in a Chinese restaurant and a climax that is a little odd). The Chinese restaurant fight looks more like a video game than MIB, but fortunately, it’s only about two minutes. In the meantime, no money would be wasted if you went to see Men in Black 3. It’s a nice effort but this installment isn’t better than the the first. Why? Because this one is at times overly goofy and confusing. That leads me to my next point.Men in Black 3 is complex. A new concept is inducted into the MIB world: time travel. I’m slightly familiar with the concept: I watched the first Back to the Future, and just recently I read the book When You Reach Me (an interesting novel that is perplexing, smart, and has one too many subplots that don’t pan out.) The latter has some really interesting time travel ideas, while Back to the Future is more goofball. Anyway, that’s a whole other conversation.

If all modern day blockbusters were this clever, my The Movie Crisis article would never have been written. That’s not to say it’s without flaws; the film almost overflows at the end with time travel conceits, Tommy Lee Jones was underused, and some more action wouldn’t have hurt the film. There’s still a difference, however. “The difference between this and the movies with blow ’em up action throughout the whole thing and not story is that this one is smart.”

My favorite character is Agent J because he’s witty and Will Smith is funny.

My favorite scene is the climax because it was emotional, action-packed, and it gave new depth to old characters.

Men in Black 3 is rated PG-13 and I agree.

Men in Black 3 is a roller coaster ride from beginning to end. It also has an emotional ending and time travel that makes you think. Two very odd alien thumbs up.

More Marvel Movies (Flack’s Guide)

Posted on | May 18, 2012 | Add Comments

The AvengersIf you’ve seen The Avengers and are hungry for more Marvel superhero movies here’s your guide to whats up next. SPOILER ALERT If you have not seen The Avengers or the other Marvel films then minor plot elements may be revealed. This is a comprehensive, chronological guide to what’s up next for Marvel (bought by Walt Disney).Iron Man

Iron Man 3 Release Date: May 3rd, 2013 News: Ben Kingsley joins the cast as the evil villain, The Mandarin and Tony Stark\Iron Man (played of course by Robert Downey Jr.) must head to China to battle him. Guy Pierce plays Aldrich Killian. Don Cheadle and Gwenyth Paltrow reprise their roles. Getting a new director (Shane Black) could shake things up pleasantly after the unoriginal Iron Man 2. The plot sounds exactly the same as the first two (Iron Man must fight a villain and terrorists) but as with the others hilarious lines and a bit of depth may transcend a generic storyline. The movie will open the summer movie season on the first week of May, the way Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Avengers have. The film will probably make more money than Iron Man and Iron Man 2 but not as much as The Avengers. I will definitely see this one. After Iron Man 2 was criticized for being stuffed with The Avengers references, Keven Feige  has said Iron Man 3 is to be very different than The Avengers. There will still probably be an end credits sequence and cameos.

ThorThor 2 Release Date: November 15th, 2013 Keneth Branagah who directed the first one is leaving the series and Alan Taylor (director of such TV shows as Game of Thrones and The Sopranos) is taking over the directing credits. Almost all the actors are returning so that means you’ll get to see Tom Hiddelston, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, and of course  Chris Hemsworth as Thor himself. The film starts filming in August this year. The film will probably make more money than Thor but being sandwiched in the middle of possible November blockbusters Ender’s Game and Catching Fire certainly won’t help. There will also be a new main villain (ie not Loki though he will still be in the movie). Tom Hiddelston and Chris Hemsworth have also stated that sometime in the Thor series that they would like Thor and Loki to be friends. If they can combine awesome, amazing action with an emotional storyline, then Thor 2 will be great.

Captain AmericaCaptain America 2 Release Date: April 4, 2014 The new Captain America film tells the story of the superhero in the present. His only friends are Nick Fury and SHIELD. Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, has said Captain America will learn about his World War II friends while he was frozen for about 70 years. I don’t think the movie will be unique because the story sounds similar to Thor where a super hero gets put into modern times. So far only Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson are signed on as actors. Vulture.com says, the three possible directors are F. Gary Gray, George Nolfi, and Anthony and Joseph Russo. I think they should get Steven Spielberg to do a WW 2 sequel to the first one that is set in the 1940’s but he probably wouldn’t want to do it because he’s so busy. Also it seems like Marvel is trying to make this film fail. They are releasing it in April, one of the worst months for movies (both critically and commercially). I am still nonetheless very excited to see how this film turns out.

The HulkOther Marvel Projects: Marvel has announced that they will be releasing a new movie on May 16th, 2014. Why not May 2nd, the first week of summer movies like they normally do? Because they want to give Captain America 2 some time to make some money and Sony is ridiculously planning to release The Amazing Spider Man 2 on May 2nd. The movie that will probably be released then is probably going to be The Avengers 2, because of The Avengers box office success (it’s already the 6th highest grossing movie of all time). Meanwhile Guardians Of The Galaxy, Inhumans, Dr. Strange, and Ant-Man directed by Edgar Wright are all non Avengers related movies that might be released sometime in the future. They might not do as great at the box office or maybe even with critics but they will still will likely be much, much more original because they are not leading up to a big crossover team up blockbuster movie like The Avengers. I would also not be surprised if there were movies solely about Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, which there probably will be. Also a new Hulk film starring Mark Ruffalo might happen because Ruffalo said that he wanted to and Marvel would love to make some more money.

I am looking forward to all these films. I’m least excited to see the original films and Captain America: The First Avenger 2 sounds bad. I can not wait, however to see Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and The Avengers 2.

Men in Black (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | May 15, 2012 | Add Comments

3 1/2 stars

After being recruited, Agent J joins Agent K to protect the world from alien invaders.

Men in Black is the kind of movie you would think you watch and then it’s over and  then you don’t really think about it… But it’s not. The film achieves something better. It manages to be lot’s of fun with all of the chills and thrills you expect from a sci-fi film starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, and yet after watching it, it wasn’t swiped from my memory. I can still remember it very clearly. That’s good.

Smith and Jones have excellent chemistry in this film; if Smith throws a line at Jones, Jones will quip right back. That’s the essence of the movie, these two central performances. The entire film is witty; it’s as if your average a-couple-of-guys-go-save-the-world-from-aliens-movie was wittified (if that’s even a word). The action blends perfectly with the wit. After all, watch Smith and Jones battle aliens would be nowhere near as fun without the pair yelling comical lines at each other or vice versa.But, wit and aliens can only carry a film so far. In other words, Men in Black could have used a bit more heft. Somewhere in the middle of the film it gets lost, though fortunately, not for long. The doctor character, Laurel is halfway between a romantic interest for Jay and a damsel in distress: it’s too bad that she’s not good at being either one. But come on! Are damsels in distress and ten minutes of a storyline gong wrong, enough to spoil the fun in Men in Black? Even if you’re zapped with Jones’ “flashy red thing”, the answer is no.

My favorite character is Agent J because he proves his worth and Smith executes his lines hilariously.

My favorite scene is when J gets his MIB outfit on because Danny Elfman’s score is creepy (as always) and Smith gets to deliver the best line in the movie.

Men in Black is a lot of fun. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are wonderful, Danny Elfman livens things up with his heart-racing score, and Barry Sonnenfield brings it all together with his direction. Modern sci-fi films could learn a lesson here: invest us in your characters and then use your gazillion $ effects. It’s just too bad that the difference between Men in Black and Transformers, etc. is that MIB makes sci-fi look good.

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