Friday, December 25, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) movie review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: John William's amazing soundtrack, flawless special effects, relatable and fully developed characters, excellent acting, homages to the original films, wide appeal, clear and epic filming style.

The Bad: Leaves unanswered questions, disappointing antagonist.

3D Readiness: None. Post production 3D conversion


The saga that enthralled two generations is back to captivate the imagination of a third. A new Star Wars trilogy begins with the much discussed STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Since the classic trilogy, Star Wars has become synonymous with relatable characters in an old fashioned good vs evil story all set to mind blowing special effects, convention defying designs, and a rousing fanfare that kicks off each story set in that galaxy far far away.

The prequel trilogy heaped on some much needed complexity and real world analogy in the plots, those came at the price of a natural fluent script and the relatable characters. THE FORCE AWAKENS brings that balance back; teetering a little under a new Creative team but finding its footing fast.

Many years after the empire's defeat, a new Organisation is threatening to take over the Galaxy. Dubbed "the first order", this legion consisting of conscripts, conditioned and trained since childhood, are sent after a pilot Poe Dameron and his droid BB-8 who holds vital information leading to the location of the legendary Jedi master Luke Skywalker. Poe is captured by the first order but sprung from jail by a disillusioned trooper, Finn, who has had enough of his life as a numbered masked soldier. Both Finn and the droid are separated from Poe on the planet Jakku and run into Rey, a young girl who makes a living selling salvaged spaceship parts. A series of convenient events lead to the discovery of an old but iconic space freighter and a run in with two old war heroes. Together, they have to evade the First Order forces led by the vindictive dark Jedi Kylo Ren. But unknown to our heroes, Kylo Ren's vendetta could run deeper and more personal while a dark power stirs in the depths of space.

Under the masterful hand of director JJ Abrams and writer Lawrence Kasdan , THE FORCE AWAKENS pays tribute to the original classic trilogy, recreating iconic scenes, memorable lines and bringing back as many of the classic actors to reprise their roles. Some may say that it is a whole sale copy of A New Hope but there are enough differences and twists to keep things fresh. It is new enough for first time viewers yet Familiar enough without feeling like it is pandering to the existing fanbase. The balance struck is extraordinary! 

Actors new and old give a stellar performance. Veterans like Harrison Ford slip right back into their classic roles, completely becoming those same characters the old fans knew and loved. The new ones aren't too shabby either with John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey and Oscar Issac as Poe Dameron turning in magnificently nuanced performances. These, coupled with strong writing and snappy scripting, brings back the naturalistic dialogue of  A NEW HOPE, giving us characters that are easy to relate to and well fleshed out. Humour is used sparingly but effectively such that the level of tension and danger is maintained, unlike certain comic book movies where we get a laugh every 5 minutes (I'm looking at you marvel) even though the world is going to end.

JJ Abrams was born to direct science fiction. Having honed his craft in two STAR TREK movies, His Free flowing filming style and Long tracking shots make every spaceship scene an exciting roller coaster ride. The audiences weave in and out of battle as gracefully as the starfighters that are blasting away at each other, they run alongside Rey and Finn as enemy TIE fighters fire on them, they are right there in the thick of the lightsaber duels. All this without resorting to the scourge of shakey-cam that so many directors tend to fall back on to "enhance" action. Action is large and sweeping in scale with more personal character moments filmed intimately. A balance. 

For every good balance dictates that there should be a bad. For every hero, a villain. The new villain of Kylo Ren is easily the weakest in the history of black clad STAR WARS antagonists, lacking the menacing presence of Darth Vader, the regal air of Count Dooku, or even manipulative cunning of Palpatine. Kylo is just one angsty angry boy who throws at least two hissy fit tantrums throughout the movie. Maybe it is my age but I find it hard to relate to him as either a tragic antagonist or the next Big bad villain. Adam Diver does his best in the role of Kylo, but he is written Less like a villain and more like an furious fanboy worshiping a famous Long dead individual.

Some may not appreciate the seemingly "safe" route that the movie takes when it clings to the story beats and mirrors the narrative of the original trilogy. Perhaps they wanted to play it safe after the questionable critical reception of the prequels. After all, familiarity sells and so does nostalgia. The marketing team definitely did their research. I for one did not appreciate a return to the simplistic "hero's journey" where good is good and evil is evil. I missed the more complex themes of the prequels and the real world analogies within the narrative of the clone wars and the rise of the empire. But again, this could just be the producers playing it safe. 

The best part of the movie for me was not the breathtaking special effects or the acting. It was the music by veteran Composer John Williams.  From the first notes of that legendary fanfare to the more quieter character centric themes,  William’s score retains the feel of old school space opera and never caves in to modern movie scoring conventions. He eschews the heavy drums and electronic sounds of recent blockbusters for the traditional brass, strings and woodwinds. The general tone, distinct melodies and some old favourites bring us back to an era where a movie's soundtrack is its own performance that can be enjoyed with or without the movie itself.

With all the homages to the older STAR WARS movies, one can really feel that the creative team were fans themselves. That is not to say that this movie would only appeal to fans. On the contrary, it has something for everyone to love, even relative newcomers to the franchise. This is one movie that would definitely have everyone talking about it after the closing credits; reminiscing, recollecting, speculating, and waiting eagerly for the next instalment in the STAR WARS saga. 

*******Review End*******

Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Acting: A
Characters: A-
Music: A
Replay value: A-
"Brains": C+

BTW. I’m calling it now

REY is somehow related to Emperor Palpatine. A section in her theme (a 6 note motif somewhere in the middle) is just palpatine’s theme given a more upbeat tone and less minor key.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Flawless CGI effects, snappy dialogue, memorable villain, professional acting, stellar cast chemistry

The Bad: Superficial story, no deeper themes, misplaced humour, lack of tension or stakes, overly choreographed and unrealistic fights. 

3D Readiness: Post-Production 3D conversion

In 2012, there came a day unlike any other day where the worlds greatest heroes were united against a common threat and THE AVENGERS blew away audiences of all ages with the first ever comic book movie crossover. In 2015, there came another day unlike any other day and this time the world is threatened by a Ultron, the cynical critical atypical child of Skynet and Megatron......
No actually he's just a wisecracking artificial intelligence with delusions of godhood and all round evil. Turning on his creators, he threatens all life on earth with his sidekicks "illusion-woman" and "not-the-flash"....I mean, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and it is up to the Avengers to take him out before he can usher in THE AGE OF ULTRON. 

Instead of the robot dominated dystopian future that we saw in the comics, what we do get is more "the next few days of Ultron". No matter, it is an exciting few days with director Joss Whedon balancing the intercharacter dynamics with awesome action pieces from claustrophobic close combat, to a freeway chase, to the much advertised no holds barred beat down between the Hulk and iron man's new "hulk buster" Armour. All this is supplemented with beautiful special effects from Industrial Lights and Magic ILM. Flawless work befitting the movie's massive Budget.

In The villain, Ultron, the Writers have crafted a memorable though under utilised bad guy. Ultron could have been the vehicle to explore deeper themes, themes that were merely hinted at but never fleshed out. Instead, His cynical yet refined snarling courtesy of James Spader reminds me of the those magnificently passionate Super villains that were so common in Saturday morning cartoons of old.

And that is exactly what this is. AGE OF ULTRON can be described as a true live action cartoon. The dialogue is light hearted, the story is straightforward, the tone is fun and the action is immense. And this is not exactly a good thing. Intense scenes are interrupted and spoilt with poorly placed humour and once again the story does not seem to take itself seriously.  

Fights are over-choreographed, more like some fancy ballet than an all out battle. The fact that it cuts to graceful slow motion once in a while only emphasises the dance like nature of the fights. 

And yet the movie felt like pieces of it were cut out. The narrative does not flow as smoothly as the first with inexplicable scenes like Thor suddenly going off on his hallucination trip. Much of the premise and the characters development up to this point very much depends on the viewer watching prior marvel movies. 

It is here that Marvel studio's continuity heavy Creative direction rears its ugly head. To know what is going on in this movie, one would have to watch the previous movies. Captain America the winter soldier, iron man 3, the first avengers movie. But perhaps that's the point? Force people to go buy the Blu rays or the video to rewatch and get up to speed. In the end, the real big winner is distributor Disney. Ka-Ching $$.

I like a good comedy. In in a big action blockbuster, I like to believe that the stakes are real, that the dangers faced by our heroes are real, that they are really fighting for the fate of the world. Instead, we get this cartoony violence, with equally cartoony superficial story, where heroes joke around with quick lighthearted quips in the middle of a fight scene where people could die. This kills tension. And if it weren't for the magnificent effects, action and direction, AGE OF ULTRON would have scored a bit lower.

****Review End****

Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Acting: A
Characters: B
Music: B-
Replay value: B
"Brains": C