Tag Archives: Disney

Avengers: Endgame – Review

avengers_endgame_ver44_xxlgThis is a tricky one to write when many people have still not seen the film, so no worries if you are reading this, there will be no spoilers. Look for the spoilers on The 602 Club podcast next Tuesday. If you listen to my podcasts or have read this blog, you know I am not afraid to be critical of Marvel movies when I feel it is warranted. Case in point, I felt like Infinity War was, “ a mixed bag that has the effect of one being served a gourmet burger and then only being given a minute to eat it. There is so much happening, yet there’s so little pay off, leaving the audience unfulfilled, wanting a better movie and resolution. We all know the conclusion is coming in 2019, so now that the compulsory is over, we wait and wait and wait.” It was frustrating to feel this way, specifically since I just didn’t feel much about the movie, other than ambivalence and this left me trepidatious for Endgame.

So with that preamble, I know you are are all waiting eagerly for my thoughts on the end of the Infinity Stone Saga…. it is satisfying. That’s really what we want after this twenty-one film, eleven year investment, right? We want to be satisfied emotionally and thankfully Endgame is everything Infinity War was not in that department. The movie will capture you from start to finish. Personally I am happy with where my favorite characters are at the end and that is enough.

With the three hour run time and the contrivances to overcome Thanos, there are some issues. The movie does feel a bit long, but it also plays out better than Infinity War. Where that movie left you feeling unable to focus because there were so many characters and not a moments rest, Endgame is able to take its time. This may be it’s greatest strength, that you don’t feel rushed, you’re allowed the opportunity to care about what’s happening because you’re not being whiplashed between stories every other minute. For my book, Endgame is the poignantly satisfying conclusion to this part of the Marvel saga I wanted. It is not the perfect movie but it’s the one we deserve. Endgame is rate 4 out of 5 Cap Shields.

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Ant-Man and The Wasp – Review

ant-man-and-the-wasp-5ae82eac36ee2Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories reviews!

A mini review for this film feels appropriate. Ant-Man and The Wasp is a nice reprieve from the galaxy spanning peril and overstuffed buffet that was Infinity War. This latest Marvel film’s biggest strength is it’s scope. The story lends itself to being more about the characters which is perfect. The first Ant-Man was a good introduction to this world and Ant-Man and The Wasp fleshes it out wonderfully.

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly shine throughout the entire film and their chemistry is outstanding. Michael Douglas is given even more to do as Hank Pym, as the character is explored in more depth and Michael Peña, with the rest of the crew add some great comedy relief along the way.

Where Infinity War felt like part of a movie and so connected to the other MCU films it was almost a burden at times, Ant-Man and The Wasp is almost the exact opposite. Much like the Guardians series, the Ant-Man films fit within the MCU, but never at any point during the movie do you feel the weight you do when watching something like Infinity War. It’s refreshing to just be able to enjoy a movie on it’s own terms. This feeling lasts until the mid-credit sequence when the weight of the MCU crashes into the Ant-Man with the snap of a finger. It was inevitable, but it did leave me feeling like this became just a stepping stone to Avengers 4 more than an important story in it’s own right. This doesn’t ruin the experience, but it did personally dampen some of my enjoyment.

Ant-Man and The Wasp is a fun movie with lots of heart and some neat action scenes. In many ways it has some of the most comic book/sci-fi ideas in the MCU with the quantum realm, shrinking and expanding all adding to the far out nature of what’s happening. The movie also nicely sidesteps Marvel’s villain issue in a very clever way. In the end, the movie feels like an issue of a comic book in a larger story, but it’s an enjoyable issue to be sure. Ant-Man and The Wasp is rated 3 1/3 out of 5 stars

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Incredibles 2 – Review

new-incredibles-2-poster-promises-lots-of-fun-in-the-sun-01Fourteen years ago, Pixar introduced us to it’s world of superheroes and the Parr family. The film was a massive success and with each announcement of new Pixar sequels the question was always, “But when are we getting an Incredibles sequel?”. Luckily for fans, the wait is over and Brad Bird has finally giving fans the long awaited return of the Parr family.

Good for Goodness Sake

Incredibles 2 picks up right where the first movie left off and the attack of the Underminer. Springing into action, the Parr family works to stop him but is unable to apprehend him or keep him from robbing the bank. This puts superheroes in a bad light, again, and causes the government to finally shut down it’s superhero assistance program (who help relocate superheroes after incidents). Rick Dicker, who’s been helping the Parrs for years, tells them, “Politicians don’t understand people who do good things. That makes them nervous.”. It’s a sad state of affairs when the world has become so cynical and distrusting that people who do good, because it’s the right thing to do, even when no one asked them too, are discouraged or even outlawed from doing so. The film shines a mirror on the kind of world we’ve created today and it’s not pretty.

Opinion Polls

The superheroes have an advocate in Winston Deavor who’s father was a massive supporter of superheroes in the past when they were legal. He has an interesting quote as he’s trying to recruit Frozone, Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, he says, “It’s time to make some wrong things right. Help me bring supers back into the sunlight. We need to change people’s perceptions about superheroes…”.

Now it’s said your perception determines your reality and there is some truth to that. Yet, the idea here, that the perception of superheroes needs to change in people’s minds is another frustrating mirroring of our society. It’s not important that superheroes have a right to exist or that doing what is right, is important, regardless of public opinion. What is actually “important”, is just getting people to perceive that superheroes are legitimate. Truth and right are not a factor, it’s really only the shifting sands of opinion that make something “right”. It’s a scary foundation. Late in the movie the villain says to Elastigirl, if you didn’t have these morals and values we could have been friends. Elastigirl and these heroes stand on the side of right and truth, even when it’s not popular because they know it’s the right thing to do and that is a wonderful message.

The Movie

incredibles-2-rgb-z355-15-cs-pub-pub16-507The Incredibles continues to be the best version of the Fantastic Four we have seen on screen. The movie nicely gives each of the characters good storylines. Frozone is less a sidekick and more of a full member of the family now. Elastigirl is front and center as the one working in public to reverse public opinion on superheroes, leaving Mr. Incredible to be Mr. Mom at home. This is a very strong part of the film as Mr. Incredible, who has only really found joy in his superhero work, finds the joy that parenting can be. It’s beautiful to see a movie celebrate the importance of family and show how impactful it is to have  father who is actively apart of his children’s lives.

The movie, may not completely stand up to fourteen years of anticipation, but it’s one of this year’s best superhero movies and an absolute blast for the whole family! Incredibles 2 is rated 4 out of 5 superpowers.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Review

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterThere are Spoilers in this review.

2013 was a massive year for the Star Wars franchise as George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for four billion dollars. Yet the biggest surprise from the deal was the announcement of more Star Wars films in the Skywalker Saga, meaning the long rumored sequel trilogy would finally come to fruition. Since that time, fans have excitedly and trepidatiously awaited December 17th, 2015 for Episode VII. Anticipation built throughout the year as the movie’s coming was heralded by soup cans and action figures alike. The film’s release has seen a maelstrom of emotion from fans and critics as The Force Awakens has become the best reviewed Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back, but the question is, “Is it really that good?”.

Themes and Story

As I have gotten older, one of the joys has been the realization that the Star Wars saga is about more than just good and evil, it was George Lucas’ way of giving a history lesson about freedom. The Original Trilogy was about how freedom is won back from a dictatorship, the Prequel Trilogy was about how freedom is lost as bureaucracy and corruption undermine a democracy and now the Sequel Trilogy looks to be just as timely.

It has been thirty years since the Return of the Jedi and the galaxy has seen the end of the Empire and the beginning of the New Republic. As the Republic has taken hold and a new generation has been brought up in relative peace, the idea of vigilance against evil has gone out of fashion. The Republic keeps it’s fleet close to home and the loss of the Jedi to Luke’s nephew’s turn to the dark side has left the galaxy vulnerable. It has given rise to the First Order, a regime even more fanatical and bent on completing the failed mission of Darth Vader and the Emperor, bringing “order” back to the universe.

The New Republic, unwilling to acknowledge the threat of the First Order, secretly sponsors the creation of the Resistance, lead by Leia, while publicly denouncing them. Leia is a child of war, understanding the price of freedom and is willing to sacrifice again for it’s continuation. Unfortunately there is resistance to seeing the First Order as more than a phantom menace in the senate and the correlation could not be clearer to the situation we face in the real world with ISIS, which has challenged the entire western world yet certain world leaders refuse to acknowledge the full threat.

starkiller base scifidriveAnother correlating theme is that of recognizing evil and facing it. Maz Kanata, the thousand year old bartender says to Rey and Finn, “The only fight: against the dark side. Through the ages, I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order. Their shadow is spreading across the galaxy. We must face them. Fight them. All of us.” She sees the First Order for what it is and calls it out, it is evil and it must be apposed. What a timely message. We live in a world that is unwilling to call out evil for what it is and confront it, but Maz is absolutely correct that it must be named and fought. In this way, The Force Awakens proudly upholds the tradition that George Lucas began in A New Hope.

Pacing 

As wonderful as the themes are in the story, they are not all completely fleshed out in the film. To get the full picture one must dive into The Force Awakens novelization, Before the Awakening or the Visual Dictionary to get everything I mentioned above. Director J.J. Abrams has made a Star Wars film that is truly faster and more intense. It flies at a breakneck speed and barely slows down to let the character breathe. Unfortunately this leads to some scenes that would have fleshed out the political landscape as well as the motivations of the villains on the cutting room floor. Honestly, it seems like an over-reaction to the Prequel Trilogy and it’s frustrating since the politics here are a crucial story point and resonant theme for the times in which we live. It’s still the thing I have the biggest issue with in the movie.

Cyclical Nature 

Star Wars has always referenced and mirrored itself as Lucas would use themes and motifs in both trilogies to create the saga’s tapestry. As this new trilogy beginnings it’s clear that the same thing is happening, yet it’s not as well done as before. Regrettably The Force Awakens is much more than a homage or layer of the tapestry, it is a remake of A New Hope. Plot points line up almost perfectly as you think about each film and exact beats from Star Wars are repeated in The Force Awakens. Frustratingly this means that there is absolutely nothing surprising in the new movie, if you have seen A New Hope then you will pick up on exactly where this story is going including the death of a major character as well as the use of yet, another super weapon. The movie is clearly more worried about appeasing fanboys than truly inspiring the next generation of fans.

Characters

rey__bb_8_star_wars_the_force_awakens-HDThe true salvation for this film is the casting. Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren are all phenomenal. They are the key to the success of this film as they immediately bring you into the story and it’s their performances that cover a multitude of cinema sins. By the end of the movie you will care about each of them and be so invested as to what will happen, you’ll be wishing Episode VIII was next month.

Alongside the new characters there are old favorites that have returned, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew are all back. Ford has not been this engaging on screen in years and it seems he is firmly invested in doing justice to Solo, especially in light of his character’s demise near the end of the film. Carrie Fisher brings an understated grace to Leia which is a relief to anyone that’s seen her on the talk show circuit and Hamill has little more than a cameo, whetting the appetite of fans to know exactly what happened to Luke Skywalker.

Interestingly for me, it’s not the old characters or their stories that captivated me, it was the new. Sadly the meta knowledge of Ford’s desires for the Han character robbed me of the emotional impact it was suppose to have. The film’s adherence to the formula of A New Hope and The Phantom Menace where the old, wise character meets their end does the same since you can see his death coming for miles. There is also something that just does not seem earned in Han’s death, story wise it makes sense for the character of Han and Kylo, but it’s just lacking something for me personally. I find myself much more invested in the character of Rey and where she will go next. Daisy Ridley has cemented herself as a star with this performance which is good news for the rest of this trilogy.

Real Sets, Practical Effects

11895123_1007878895930378_4624932683842585912_oThis has been the mantra of this movie since it’s inception. It’s a dig at the Prequel trilogy even though Abrams has praised the fact that without Lucas’ breaking every rule in his work on the Prequels, the new trilogy would not have been possible. Where this idea works best is in the character of BB-8. The result is astounding. I challenge anyone not to fall in love with this new droid and struggle to not name him their favorite as credits role. The way in which the onset effect and the sound effects work to create a fully realized character is incredible.

Where it did not work as well is with some of the creature design. The Happabore that drinks next to Finn on Jakku looks like a character from a Disneyland ride and the luggabeast that Teedo rides, lumbers at the pace of a desert turtle, making it the most impractical mount ever. In both places CGI would have been more effective in my opinion and more “real”.

With all of the incessant chatter about the practical effects, one of the best new characters in the film is CGI. Maz Kanata is an outstanding achievement in character design in the same way Gollum was in The Lord of the Rings. You truly feel like the character is on screen with Harrison Ford and it’ll leave you longing to know more about her history.

Strangely the CGI work at the end of the film is not as sharp as one would expect. The X-Wing battle above Starkiller base seems like an afterthought and looks muddled. The editing lacks the Lucas clarity in the geography of the setting and it’s one of the clearest examples of the magic he brought to the films truly lacking.

Another important piece that is missing from this new movie is the addition of exciting new ship designs. All the ships here are just variations on Star Destroyers, Tie Fighters and X-Wings and the new ships like Ren’s shuttle or the Resistance transport are either forgettable or just plain awful.

Sadly, there are also no fun alien cameos in the movie. Abrams seems preoccupied with creating new alien designs, which is fun but the lack of anything familiar in this area is a regrettable lack of connective tissue to the rest of the saga.

Conclusion

This is not the best Star Wars movie, that honor still belongs to The Empire Strikes Back, but it is a better one than I initially thought. It has some problems in the pacing, lack of clarity in the story and themes as well as a death that still leaves me numb. Furthermore, the movie lacks a score that is as strong as John Williams other work in the saga. There are a few nice cues and Rey’s Theme by far the strongest new musical motif, but you won’t find yourself humming anything as you did with the Imperial March, Duel of Fates or the Forrest Battle.

Seeing the movie four times has helped me to overcome a lot of the problems I still see and the performances of the new cast have me sold on this new trilogy. I would recommend seeing the movie more than once, since the first time can be a little jarring with it’s fast-paced nature and important story points almost glossed over because of it.  I’d give the movie 3.75 lost lightsabers out of 5.

Be sure to check out The 602 Club’s episode on the film, you won’t want to miss it!

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The 602 Club S5: Holy Shiitake Mushrooms!

tsc-0s5-th-square-1440Star Wars Rebels Season 2 Premiere.

Disney has given Star Wars fans a Summer surprise by airing the premiere for season 2 of Star Wars Rebels before if comes back for the rest of the season in the Fall.

In this supplemental episode of The 602 Club host Matthew Rushing is joined by fellow rebel John Mills to break down Star Wars Rebels season 2 premiere. We discuss our first reactions, the weight of Vader, an Inquisitor question, what the heck happened to Darth Maul, being in an Empire Strikes Backs state of mind, Lando, the apprentice lives, bringing Obi-Wan in, who survives, more character discussions, Ezra, the music in the show and our final thoughts.

 

Inside Out – Review

inside-out-5492d0c4e3912There are times when a movie comes along and grabs you right away, and in less than five minutes you find moisture welling up at the side of your eyes. Pixar seems to understand this effect well. They did it with the movie Up and have found a way to improve upon it with their latest masterpiece, Inside Out. The film follows Riley Anderson and her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust as the Anderson family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco. As Riley tries to acclimate to her new surroundings, her emotions try to keep up with the new experiences as well as the general task of growing up. What follows is one of the best and most poignant films ever made about growing up.

The Problem of Evil 

One of the most surprising themes of the movie is how sadness, disappointment and bad things actually have their place in our lives. Riley’s emotions are lead by their fearless leader Joy, who is the true operator in this young girl’s life. Oh Fear, Anger and Disgust have their place, but it is Joy that they all look to. Joy is so much at the forefront that Sadness often feels left out, unimportant and seen as a nuisance to the other emotions. It is here that the themes blossom. So much of our lives are driven by the desire to avoid sadness and experience nothing but happiness and joy. We don’t see the use of sadness, disappointment or heartbreak, doing all we can to minimize them. This is played to perfection in the movie as Joy constantly tries to do exactly that, basically putting Sadness in the corner to keep her from messing everything up.

The situation escalates as Sadness and Joy find themselves lost in long-term memory with Riley’s core memories, the ones that make up who she is. As they journey back to the control center they learn the importance of Sadness to Riley’s existence. The revelation is truly the best explanation for the problem of pain that I’ve ever seen. Joy learns how it is Sadness that leads to the fullest extent of joy in a persons life. It is only when we have known deep despair or troubles that joy can be felt to the maximum. As Charles Kingsley said, “Pain is no evil, unless it conquers us.” Pain often brings us closer to others, as it does for Riley and her parents, and is often God’s way of drawing us closer to his side. So much of the time happiness allows us to think that we do not really need God, but it’s through suffering that we realize how helpless we truly are. Psalms reminds us, The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Inside Out powerfully and emotionally helps illuminate for everyone the ways in which the worst things in our lives can actually become the best, sadness and joy going hand in hand. It’s here that complex emotions are born; things are never simple but a jumble of joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust.

Conclusion

Pixar continues to create brilliant original movies. Inside Out may be their best work because it’s not only good for children but adults and everyone in between. It’s a movie that will have you tearing up the whole time as you remember those moments that defined your life and changed the way you viewed the world. With themes that resonate like this, let’s hope that Pixar continues to pursue original works. Go see this film, it’s a five out of five emotions.

Tomorrowland – Review

TL_InThShltr_IMAX_v3_lrgImagine a world where all the artists, dreamers, scientists and forward thinkers joined leagues and created with reckless abandon. They made the most incredible things, away from the status quo, away from politics and bureaucracy, nothing to hold them back. This is Tomorrowland. Now that you’re imagining this most incredible place, imagine they invent the ability to see the future, our future, and that it ends much sooner than we think. This is Tomorrowland, this is Brad Bird’s new film that challenges where we are and where we could be if we are willing to make a change.

Waitin’ on the World to Change

There is something wrong with society. We see it all around us. We might have the coolest tech around our wrists,but we’re also saddled with major issues like obesity and starvation. NASA installations are dismantled as the present is our only concern. It’s as if we are waiting on the world to change, yet are unwilling to lift a finger to make it happen. Tomorrowland brilliantly shows us the problems that arise when good people just wait on the sideline and illustrates what could happen if we were willing to sacrifice now, for something better in the future.

The film is not subtle with this point and nor should it be. All around us the greatest tech we’ve ever created is in the pockets of everyone, but what does it really benefit the future? How does having a smart phone truly change or inspire the world to improve? Instead, we’ve only become consumed with consumption. We want now, the immediate pleasure of owning the latest gadget, without any thought to if this is the best use of our resources or to whether these devices actually make the world a better place for their existence. Why we create and what we create looms as a massive question and a major responsibility — not necessarily one being asked or respected.

Tomorrowland challenges us, as Interstellar did last year, to think about the future. Is the lack of exploration of our solar system really the best idea? Are smart phones and watches really the smartest uses of our energies? Or might we think of better ways to build cities, roads, grow crops and plan for a future that extends more hope for more people? It is possible with time, patience, creativity and sacrifice. Unfortunately sacrifice is not really a term our modern society embraces.

There does seem to be a loss of perspective; thoughts of tomorrow have been replaced with an obsession over what can be accumulated or acquired for immediate pleasure. A mandate was given at the beginning of time to take care of the earth and steward it. We were meant to create and foster life all around us. Inspiration used tocome from places like NASA, where the impossible seemed possible. Where the undiscovered country of the future was just a shuttle ride away. Technology was about making the world a better place, not just a more convenient one. Tomorrowland reminds us that we are all in this together, and not just now, but for the generations to come.

Wishin’ and Hopin’

NEJOtPwnVjTOOJ_2_bOne of the biggest themes of the film is that of hope and its importance to creativity and planning for the future. Without hope it is easy to become myopic, fixated on the present and trying to survive. Ideas need to be challenged. New blood needs to be introduced so intelligent people are roused out of the malaise of their genius to see something in a whole new way. Casey is able to do that for Frank in the movie. She is able to help him have hope again and evaluate problems from different angles and in doing so, change the future. It brings to mind the wonderful quote from Galadreil in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Casey is that person in Tomorrowland. She’s full of life and the idealism that leads her to strive for understanding which then enables her to make an impact on the world.

Fostering hope is a big task. Getting to a place where the here and now are not the only things that people care about calls for a massive reordering of priorities. We can have a positive impact but only if selfishness and greed cease to be the motivations that drive what we do. Ultimately, such a shift requires a change in the core of our being.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21

Conclusion

Brad Bird really delivers with Tomorrowland. He’s created something magical with the power to remind us of our calling to live not just for now but for the future. George Clooney may be the big name here but it will be Raffey Cassidy that will steal your heart. It’s nice to see an original movie, not in a franchise, be good. Movies like this need the support if we are to get more original films. Go see it and revel in the joy of imagination and hope for the future. Tomorrowland is rate 4 out 5 jetpacks.