Movie Review: Apollo 11

Since I missed First Man when it was in the theaters (probably on purpose), I thought I’d at least make certain I saw the new documentary about Apollo 11which featured new or unused film footage from that first landing on the Moon 50 years ago. Space geek that I am, how could I refuse? I was wondering why my theater ticket was north of $20, then remembered it was in an IMAX theater. As it turned out, that massive screen with its accompanying super-duper sound system made it worth the price. So what did I see? Read on. This shouldn’t take too long. Continue reading “Movie Review: Apollo 11”

Concert Review: Return of the Jedi

Yes, you read that correctly. The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) played a symphonic concert of John Williams’ soundtrack to Return of the Jedi at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in downtown Orlando, Florida. Having missed the first two concerts (Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back), I was determined not to miss this one, if only as a belated birthday present to myself. And wow, I wish I’d gone to the other two. What a marvelous experience! Continue reading “Concert Review: Return of the Jedi”

Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

As has become my habit in the new Star Wars era, I went to see Solo: A Star Wars Story the morning after it opened. The big difference this year was that I had the lady friend along as well. Rather than write a spoiler-free review of the movie now, then one with spoilers later, I’ll cover them both. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want a lot of details about the fates of various characters or who ends up doing what to whom, you can skip that part when it comes up. I’m friendly that way. Continue reading “Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Movie Review: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi

I decided to take on both of these films simultaneously because I didn’t have much to say when the first sequel came out. I wanted to see where the writers would go with it. Having now seen The Last Jedi and (unlike some of my friends) enjoyed it, I thought I’d share the thoughts of a 41-year fan. Fair warning: Major plot spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen either film yet and plan to, you might want to punt on reading this blog. Continue reading “Movie Review: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi”

Old Friends and Movie Reviews

A long time ago, I had a friend who was into films big-time–she was a film and videography major, in fact–and it was a pleasure to talk with her about movies because we had similar tastes and appreciated filmmaking from very different perspectives. I really wish we were still friends sometimes because I’d love to pick her brain about Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to a film we both loved. Continue reading “Old Friends and Movie Reviews”

Movie Review: Rogue One

I will try to keep this review spoiler-free. No, really. 

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you’re going to see this film. You know it and I know it. What you might be worried about is will you like the film? Rest assured, fanboys (and gals), you will come out of theater happy with what you see.

The setup

Many Star Wars fans–I am among them–have memorized the opening crawl text from the first film, now titled Episode IV: A New Hope:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy.

Rogue One, as shown in the trailers, is the dramatization of that prologue. The MacGuffin moving the story forward is, as in Episode IV, the Death Star plans.

This is a fun film. The title: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story covers it nicely. It weaves in and out of Episode IV here and there while concentrating on a new batch of characters, both members of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Many of the elements are familiar: the Death Star, the force, Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, X-wings, Tie Fighters, Imperial Stardestroyers, etc.

As is typical of a Star Wars story, the story also takes its characters and us, the audience, to a variety of exotic planets. Unusual aliens greet us, as do a new set of spacecraft–some sleek, some ugly and dented–all part of the “lived in” universe George Lucas did so much to bring to life (yikes) 39 years ago.

Why I liked it

This will be tricky without spoilers, but I’ll give it a shot.

Geek that I am, I always like to see what new stuff the folks at Lucasfilm will add to the galaxy far, far away, and I was not disappointed. They’re running out of new landscapes to film on Earth, but through careful hunting around our diverse planet and some judicious matte painting or digital effects, the filmmakers still manage to give us (if I may cross genres for a moment) strange, new worlds.

I liked the new characters, who manage to carry on the snarky interactions and uncertain-friendship dynamics of the original trilogy while still being likable. Over the course of two hours and some-odd minutes, I managed to care about how they fare. That’s no easy thing, as we learned, painfully, from Episodes I-III.

I suppose what impressed me the most about this film was the production design. Everything from helmets to tools to clothing to architecture to spacecraft looked believable. Again, that “lived in” feeling of the environment was meticulously crafted. And, more to the point, much of it was crafted to look functional, worn, and used, as everyday objects are in our real lives. There are also some other special effects tricks in the film that I can’t describe without spoiling things for the fans, but suffice to say you will be impressed.

The plot I described above. Director Gareth Edwards deftly handles the script and all of the moving parts necessary to make a good Star Wars story. The pacing is good. The dialogue is mostly “business” (moving the plot forward) with just enough character moments to remind you that these are supposed to be people we’re rooting for, not action figures. The space and planetary battles moved by at a rapid clip, as expected, almost a shade too fast to follow at points, but nothing glaring.

I suppose the best compliment I can pay to the film is that I want to see it again. And really, isn’t that what we want out of a good movie?

A couple thoughts for non-Star Wars fans

I know you’re out there: people who are not Star Wars fans or who for your own reasons have never seen any part of the franchise. Yet now your spouse or significant other has told you that you’re going, and you’re wondering if you’re going to care at all. If you like adventure stories, yes, you should like this. There’s some “heart” to be found as well.

The best piece of advice I could give to the uninitiated would be to at least watch the first Star Wars, the one for which this story serves as a prologue. It will introduce you to the Star Wars universe and provide the background for what’s going on. You don’t need to watch the entire series. Episode IV will also provide you with some timeline connections that will help you see how this episode fits in with that one while telling its own story.

Okay, I’ve blathered on long enough. Go see the movie. You know you want to.

Movie Review: Star Wars VII

I will do my best to make this a spoiler-free review, as I’m posting opening day and a lot of people haven’t seen the film yet. Maybe I’ll do this in Q&A format.

Did you like the film?

Yes indeed I did! Star Wars is back*, with a movie worthy of the name for the first time since 1983. It has a good story that moves along at a pace similar to Episode IV, with a script that (for the most part) sounds like real people talking, albeit in a space fantasy universe. The characters are–and I can’t emphasize this nearly enough–likable. Not just our old friends like Han Solo, Chewbacca, or Princess (now General) Leia, but the new kids on the block. I found myself caring about these new characters in a way that I just could not manage with the prequel characters. What a difference good directing makes!

The technology in the film has that “lived in,” scruffy look that the original trilogy has, and of course all of it has the telltale music orchestrated by the immortal John Williams. And really, some of the moments in the film where you’ve got the original story’s characters doing their thing and Williams’ soundtrack doing its thing are quite enough to warm the heart of the most cynical Gen Xer. Note on that: I preordered the SWVII soundtrack, and unlike previous soundtracks, there are no “spoilers” in the musical piece titles. I did encounter that on the prequel trilogy soundtracks.

(*Yes, I know there have been other movies, books, comic books, and other media bric-a-brac in this universe, but I’m not so enamored of the series that I’ve been willing to watch all of them.)

Are there major plot surprises in the story?

Yes. If you want to know what the spoilers are, go here.

Can I take the kids?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13 for several reasons, mostly violence related with some “language” and other situations that you might not want to have to explain to your curious, impatient, or easily frightened 6-10 year old. Your call. Some of the stuff that might bother younger viewers would qualify as spoilers, so bear with me if I don’t divulge too much.

Without revealing spoilers, what can you tell me about the movie?

Set around 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, we find the galaxy far, far away still in turmoil, this time through a war between The New Order (the bad guys) and the Resistance (the good guys). The bad guys, led by a new scary guy in a mask named Kylo Ren, have a new, scary weapon to terrorize the good people of the galaxy.

In the midst of this turmoil, we have some new characters living out their lives–a junk scavenger, a stormtrooper deserting his post, a crack Resistance pilot, a new lovable droid–as well as some people we’ve seen before, advancing in age, but still charmingly likable and doing things true to their characters.

Did I mention that the heroes are likable? Why is this such a big deal? Because the characters in Episodes I-III were so damned unlikable. I can’t blame all of the mess in Episodes I-III on the actors. Much of that must be laid at the feet of the director/executive producer/money man George Lucas, who in the years between 1983 and 1999 forgot how to write and direct.

Do you have any gripes with the movie?

While watching the film, I had a couple moments where I couldn’t understand what people were saying, either because the technobabble was  spoken too quickly or was overwhelmed by sound effects or music. Nothing critical and not often, but these things happened.

The political situation in this film is a bit murky, but then compared to certain other films in the franchise, it’s a model of parliamentary coherence. I might buy the novelization to see if some things I’m curious about are explained, but none of my questions affected the action or my enjoyment of the story.

There are also a couple of moments in the film that are predictable if you’re attuned to storytelling.

After the film I had to sniff around a spoiler site or two to pick up what other gripes there were to be found. I’m not going to lie to you: I had misgivings about this film due to some of the things director JJ Abrams did with the Star Trek franchise. He has a tendency to repeat things done with the original material he’s working with, if only out of nostalgia, but the things he did with The Force Awakens were done respectfully and handled entertainingly. There were places where The Force Awakens “rhymes” with the original film (e.g., mission to destroy large superweapon). As long as he doesn’t retell the entire Episode IV-VI trilogy, things will be fine.

However, given all of these nits above, none of that really bothered me because I got to involve myself in a story with characters I wanted to see succeed. Isn’t that why we go to the movies?

Should I go see it?

Yes! In the theater! I paid extra to see the film in 3D, which was a nice touch, but isn’t 100% necessary. In case you hadn’t noticed, this film has won me over simply because of the charm of the characters and JJ Abrams’ ability to tell a good Star War story. In fact, I found the film enjoyable enough to forgive him for much of what he did to the Star Trek franchise. That’s saying a lot, I guess, depending on the type of nerd you are.