STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Spoiler free review)

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Spoiler free review)

 

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I’m not going to lie to you here…. this review is 100% biased. No, I don’t work for Disney or Lucasfilm (but I’m available if they want me!!). It’s biased because I, like the millions of other fans who purchased tickets two months ago, went into the theater with decades of love for the franchise. My infatuation with a galaxy far, far away began the moment I first saw A New Hope as a small child. There hasn’t been a single year of my life where I strayed from that path. It’s hard not to be biased when you’ve watched the movies more times than you can count.

 

Star Wars fans all approached this new saga with excitement masked in conditioned caution thanks to the prequel trilogy. J.J Abrams and crew had an unenviable job when it came to this movie. The fan legions are so quick to judge, even though they’re going to watch whatever comes out regardless (BECAUSE STAR WARS!). Disney did an admirable job keeping details of the movie under wraps. In the internet-poisoned era of everything being known ahead of time, they ensured we had to experience Star Wars the way it is meant to be experienced.

 

When the day finally arrived, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve. It had been many years since I felt that way. I had no qualms using vacation time to take half a day off from work to make preparations. On the drive in my wife and I had a serious talk with our children about the dangers of spoilers. It wasn’t exactly the ‘sit down talk’ I ever imagined having with my kids, but it was treated like a drug-awareness lecture. I referenced a scene from the Simpsons to make sure they understood how gravely important the matter was…

 

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Palpable excitement was shared by my wife and kids as we arrived at the theater an hour and a half prior to showtime. Lines for the various first showings stretched out the door. Each pulsing column of nerdom was peppered with Jedi, a Luke here and a Leia there, and even the random maskless Mandalorian. The most notable feature was that everyone seemed happy because the day had finally come. We found our seats then eagerly waited with 3D glasses in at the ready.

 

Butterflies swarmed my stomach as those giant yellow letters popped from the screen. Originally, I told my 5 year old daughter that I’d summarize what was written afterwards rather than reading it like I normally do when we watch Star Wars; she understood we shouldn’t bother others in the theater. Instantly, I had an instant change of heart then leaned over to whisper every line into her ear. She gripped my arm tighter with every word.

 

As much as I’d like to go through specific details, I would never risk lessening it for others so I will focus on my impressions instead. Throughout the movie I found myself laughing, cheering, and even crying. It was all one of the most curiously awesome experiences of my life. I can claim that because once again I felt like a six year old boy being introduced to this fictional universe all over. What made it all so surreal was the fact that my own children sat beside me going through the same thing. We did it together and formed a special memory in process. The feeling was oddly overwhelming, to be honest.

 

THE FORCE AWAKENS is everything we wanted/needed it to be. It is a proper homage to what came before while setting an exciting stage for what’s to come. Focus on the use of practical effects kept it away from the sterile realm which plagued the prequels. All the while, John William’s score drives the emotion on screen like it always has.

 

There are some who will nitpick or criticise because ‘no movie is truly perfect’. However, when the film is approached with even a hint of the love and respect it deserves, I think you’ll agree that it’s pretty damn close to being perfect.

 

My rating of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is a 10 out of 10.

 

10 out of 10

 

I cannot wait to go see it again, and again, and again.

Top 5 2015 Releases – Movies (outside of Star Wars)

With the 2015 nearly behind us, it’s fun to take a look back at the highlights from what came out of the year and get excited about what 2016 might bring. In regards to my ‘Top 5’ lists, please keep in mind that I am only going to list what I have personally dealt with. I’m not going to write opinions on something I haven’t experienced. Sadly, stupid adult responsibilities prevent me from spending every hour of the day reading comic books, building LEGO, playing Xbox, or watching TV/movies. With that said, there’s a very good chance I’ve missed out on something list worthy. If you think something is missing then PLEASE let me know! If there’s one thing the geeky community is good at, it’s sharing opinions. I want to hear yours!

 

Top 5 2015 Releases – Movies (outside of Star Wars)

 

I don’t make it to the theater nearly as much as I once did (thanks, fatherhood). This year I saw more than usual since my kids are no longer screaming toddlers. There are plenty of movies released in 2015 that I haven’t gotten to yet – so if you see any shocking absences it’s probably because I haven’t seen it. Recommendations are always welcome! Also please note that I’m intentionally writing this prior to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens because my lifelong Star Wars obsession has a tendency to unfairly tip the scales.

 

So without further adieu, here are my Top 5 favorite theatrical movie releases from this year…..

 

#5 – Kingsman: The Secret Service

 

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The Kingsman seemed to take everyone off guard this year. Full disclaimer – I’m counting this in my “theatrical movie release list” even though I missed it in theaters. Right after watching I wrote a review/comparison between the movie and it’s Mark Millar’s graphic novel source material. Spoiler alert – the movie is better than the book…. a statement that is rarely true. Recently I caught three quarters of the movie again on HBO and instantly remembered how much fun the movie was. The Kingsman is making its rounds on the premium channels and is still on Redbox. Check it out if you haven’t yet! I hear there is (somehow) a sequel in development. It’ll be interesting to see how they can pull that one off. There is hope for it though as Matthew Vaughn remains attached to the project.

 

#4 – Krampus

 

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As my recent movie review explains, this year brought us a new holiday classic. Krampus is the trifecta of three pivotal ‘H’ words – horror, humor, and heart. Take the time before Christmas to go see it in the theaters so you won’t feel any regret during inevitable viewings in future holiday seasons. My kids really wanted to come with my wife and I to see this in the theater. I’m very glad I didn’t cave and allow them to join us. Although there are far, far worse horror movies out there with PG-13+ ratings, Krampus has some visuals/frights that would be too much for little ones. I can’t wait to expose it to them when the time is right!

 

#3 – Mad Max: Fury Road

 

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Here’s another one I’m kicking myself for missing in the theaters. I have a few colleagues in my office that paid to watch this in the theater upwards of five times. They hounded me to go but I still didn’t. God dammit were they ever right! Fury Road is a visual feast of perfectly executed action scenes supported by fantastic casting. It succeeds in being a totally immersive experience that leaves you gasping for breath. George Miller made a brilliant film because he took his damn time to do it! He did it right instead of rushing it out in a desperate bid for ticket sales. Now excuse me while I go kick myself once again for not making it to the theater.

 

#2 – Jurassic World

 

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I have very fond memories of seeing the original Jurassic Park movies in the theaters as a young, dinosaur-loving nerd. The original movie (and I suppose the two sequels) are timeless movies that hold up just as well now as they did twenty years ago. Recently I exposed my kids to the bluray versions and through them got to relive that excitement and terror I first felt. With this personal attachment, the prospect of Jurassic World scared the shit out of me for all the wrong reasons. Is nothing sacred to Hollywood anymore? Still, I had to give it a shot because JURASSIC PARK!

 

I took my son and my dad to an IMAX 3D showing opening weekend. My dad took me to the first movie when I was about my son’s age so regardless of how bad the movie could be, I knew seeing it in the theater was destined to be a great memory for us all. Thank flippin’ goodness our fears were unfounded! The movie was everything we wanted it to be.

 

Jurassic World did a fantastic job at paying its respects to the original while not being held in the sequel confines. It solidly set its own path that we’ll thankfully get to explore in the future. Casting was pretty good with Chris Pratt adding his magic touch to the blockbuster. Hooray – they didn’t ruin our childhoods!

 

#1 – Ant-Man

 

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Marvel ended their Cinematic Phase Two with an underdog who rose to the challenge. Ant-Man was a fantastically fun movie which created an origin story the called back to the enjoyment we saw in the first Iron Man. Paul Rudd has always been the kind of actor you’d like to buy a drink – in Ant-Man I wanted to buy him two. The special effects were awesome and unique. I’m very glad I shelled out the extra cash to see it in 3D. This was a rare instance where 3D was used to add depth to the film rather than just as a flashy gimmick. With the movie’s recent release on Blu Ray I will definitely be watching it again soon. If you’re not a comic book movie fan or haven’t seen all of the other Marvel movies then don’t let it stop you from watching Ant-Man. It started out as a self-contained one-off that was looped into the universe and thus doesn’t require the extensive background of the prior films.

 

What were your favorite movies? Think I missed something amazing? Let me know!

Krampus Movie Review

For ages we’ve been trapped in the dark era of Hollywood remakes, sequels, prequels, and who-gives-a-shit-quels. Our seasonal favorites were largely born from another time when ideas could be viewed as original. These are all reasons why our pop culture lives needed Krampus!!

 

I was fortunate to watch this movie as part of the RVA Krampusnacht week here in Richmond, Virginia. It served as the finale of the event a Krampus-themed art show, a Krampus walk down Richmond’s popular shopping area called Carytown, and then the RVA Horror Book Club’s meeting to discuss KRAMPUS: SHADOW OF SAINT NICHOLAS. Here’s a picture my wife really took of the crowd we got to watch the movie with.

 

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Krampus – directed by Michael Dougherty

 

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The movie doesn’t waste any time getting proving why we needed to be reminded of the need for a vengeful holiday spirit. It’s slow motion opening montage of Christmas shopping chaos is hysterically appropriate and sets the lightheartedly. Nothing about this movie is normal so I feel this was necessary in order to immediately separate the movie from a typical horror flick. We quickly meet the focal character, a young boy named Max, and the rest of his comically tragic family disfunction. I liked Max’s character a lot, which is a rarity in child actors. It was easy to believe in his innocence as well as his frustration over the situation.

 

Before long Max inadvertently summons the wrath of Krampus. The time between the initial summoning and the Krampi-filled shenanigans is my only complaint about the movie. It wasn’t at all ‘bad’, but it did drag compared to the rest of the film. However, I’m not sure the meat of the movie would have been as effective without the staging. The staging, by the way, is thoroughly crafted with the onset of a blizzard that quickly turned the area into a winter nightmare.

 

I don’t want to get any more specific in this review because it really is a movie that deserves to be experienced. The casting was fantastic – especially Adam Scott who played a father-figure I could relate to. Special effects were mostly spot on – the Gingerbread men were a bit lacking, but made up for it in their actions. I’d like to see a behind the scenes featurette to figure out where the line between practical effects and digital was drawn. The fact you even have to ponder which was used is a pat on the back to director Michael Dougherty for integrating it all into a seamless finished product. Every set piece was perfectly immersive. Their animated backstory piece was tastefully effective, far more than a live-action segment would have been. I’m also very glad they didn’t feel the need to involve the jolly fat man outside of conversational reference or the mall Santa. This was rightfully Krampus’ movie through and through.

 

The finished product is a hell of a lot of fun. Krampus is the perfect balance of jumps and scares while making you laugh and give a damn all at the same time. It’s holiday horror with heart and will deservingly become a new Christmas tradition for many (my family included).

 

My rating of Krampus is 8.5 out of 10.

 

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Keep yourself on the nice list and go see it in the theater. I promise you won’t regret it!