Film Review: Brigsby Bear (2017)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Dave McCary
Written by: Kyle Mooney, Kevin Costello
Music by: David Wingo
Cast: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Alexa Demie, Claire Danes, Andy Samberg, Chance Crimin, Jane Adams, Kate Lyn Sheil

Lord Miller Productions, Kablamo!, 3311 Productions, YL Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You really wanna do this with me?” – James Pope, “Yeah, man. I mean… there’s not a lot of stuff like this out there.” – Spencer

Back in late January, going into Sundance, a friend of mine, who works for an independent film distributor, expressed his excitement in anticipation for seeing this film. Afterwards, he couldn’t stop talking about it but luckily, he didn’t spoil anything.

Coming out of Sundance, this is the one movie I heard the most buzz about and I hoped it would get the wide release it seemed to deserve. It came out in big cities first, as these things tend to do, but it finally got to my town this past weekend.

At first I was excited to see this playing in the premier theater room with the largest screen in town. Sadly, I was the only person in the entire theater but I guess that is to be expected in Southwest Florida where our biggest contribution to entertainment culture is the annual Swamp Buggy Races. I once dated a Swamp Buggy Queen, by the way.

Anyway, after seeing this and being pretty much captivated by the film in the greatest way possible, I’ve done my part telling everyone I know about it. Granted, most of them just want to talk about the fact that football is starting. But the important thing is that this did captivate me and I loved the picture.

Reason being, is that it carries a huge positive message for people like me, who may now be adults but who refuse to give up on the things they love and who will always really be young at heart and in their mind. On the flip side of that, the film also shows adults who have grown away from the things they love and who fight against their passions because adult life doesn’t have room for passion and dreams.

There are a lot of layers to this film and I’m not sure if they were all intentional or if opening up Pandora’s box allowed all of these things to just flow into the narrative. Either way, the picture stands as a reminder that we should always make time for the things we love and that happiness is found in being true to oneself. It also shows how important it is to have good people around you.

Brigsby Bear is as good as it was hyped up to me through my friend and the praise I’ve read about it for months. It is one of my favorite films of the year and certainly the best comedic drama, thus far into 2017.

It is superbly acted, especially in regards to its star, as well as writer and creator, Kyle Mooney. I’m not as familiar with him as I should be as I don’t really watch Saturday Night Live anymore. However, if his work on this film is any indicator of what he is capable of, I’ll be watching his career like Supreme Chancellor Palpatine watched young Anakin’s.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Release Date: December 13th, 2014 (Butt-Numb-A-Thon)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Based on: The Secret Service by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons
Music by: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson
Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sofia Boutella, Sophie Cookson, Mark Hamill

Marv Films, Cloudy Productions, Shangri-La Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 129 Minutes

Review:

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Harry Hart

I missed this when it initially came out in the theater a few years back and then it sort of got lost in the shuffle of time. However, I’ve really heard nothing but great things about it since it came out and I wanted to give it a watch now that its sequel is coming out.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed and in fact, I was really impressed with the film but I guess I can expect great things from Matthew Vaughn after he gave us Layer CakeKick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. Plus, this thing had a solid cast with Colin Firth, Sam Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill, Sofia Boutella and impressive newcomers Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson.

It is impossible to not compare this film to the James Bond series, as it is a gadget-filled British action spy thriller. The main difference, is this is more of a comedy and features a young spy coming into the fold. Kingsman, though, is a much hipper take on the genre.

You see, as James Bond was forced to evolve into a more serious series at the beginning of the Daniel Craig era, the jovial spirit of the franchise has been missing. It is understandable that it had to change, as films like Austin Powers were parodying it to the point of no return and the Pierce Brosnan era (no fault of Brosnan’s) had gotten too hokey and playful for its own good.

Kingsman brings us back to that classic Bond energy without being overly cheesy. It somehow found the perfect balance between serious and playful for the modern era. It is also cooler than the modern Bond movies and a lot more interesting. It fills the giant void that has been gone for a long time and it has kind of cemented itself in there. In fact, the James Bond franchise could learn a lot from this film.

Parts of the movie, however, are a bit insane and very stylized. The thing is, it works to this film’s benefit. Kingsman knows what it is and it really embraces itself, for better or for worse. That being said, its self-confidence permeates with something truly genuine and fantastically bad ass. It has gravitas that the uber serious modern Bond pictures don’t have. And don’t get me wrong, I generally like the Craig Bond films but Kingsman is the true throwback to the classic era of spy thrillers, even if it brings its own refreshing take to the table.

The entire cast is extraordinary and there really isn’t a weak link. Taron Egerton was perfect casting as the main character, Eggsy. Samuel Jackson, Michael Caine and Mark Strong each had a great presence. It was cool seeing Mark Hamill and Sofia Boutella, now most famous as the newest version of the title character in The Mummy.

It is Colin Firth that really takes the cake in the picture, though. This is a great role for him, a man who has played just about everything and won an Oscar in the process. Honestly, as much as I loved him in The King’s Speech, this is now my favorite Firth role.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a wonderful experience, especially for old school James Bond fans that have been yearning for something in that classic style. While this is a very modernized take on the genre, it truly knows its roots and it balances the new with the old pretty seamlessly. Most importantly, the film is exciting and fun.

Rating: 8/10

 

Film Review: The ‘Star Wars’ Original Trilogy (1977-1983)

*Written in 2015.

I decided to watch through all the previous Star Wars films before going to see The Force Awakens next week. I reviewed the prequel trilogy already and now it is time for my two cents on the original trilogy.

These were the first three films. Two of them came out when I was too young to know anything about film but I do remember my experience seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater when I was four. It is actually the first movie I remember seeing on the big screen and I absolutely loved it. Of course, I had already seen A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back and thus, developed a lifelong obsession with everything Star Wars.

But now I am older, I’m a bit jaded and I experienced everything wrong with the evolution of this beloved franchise. So how would I feel about each of these films, after having not seen them as one unified body of work for several years?

Well, let me address each one individually.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977):

Release Date: May 25th, 1977
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I have a very bad feeling about this.” – Luke Skywalker

The first Star Wars film ever released was A New Hope, which was simply known as Star Wars at the time. It was also the only film in the original trilogy to be directed by George Lucas. That is probably why the quality of this trilogy was much better.

This is the smallest feeling film of the Star Wars franchise. It really only takes place on two worlds and one of those worlds is shown only briefly. The rest of the film takes place in space. However, they don’t even leave the first planet for like an hour, which is pretty crazy for a Star Wars film.

This movie also moves the slowest. Not that it is dull or boring but there is more time given to storytelling and character building than any other Star Wars film after this. The interactions between Luke Skywalker and the old Obi-Wan Kenobi are the most intimate in the entire franchise.

The addition of Han Solo and Chewbacca, and later Princess Leia, to the team feels organic and natural and everyone works well with each other. The cast and their camaraderie between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy is night and day. The strength of their bond only gets better with each installment in this trilogy.

Now this is my least favorite of the original three films. There is just one mediocre lightsaber battle with strange effects, that even after the special editions were released, doesn’t match up with the effects of all the other lightsaber battles.

This film is more about understanding the Force and the mythos of Star Wars, where all the other films just go full action.

But despite a few flaws, that aren’t really worth mentioning, it still plays wonderfully today.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode V – Empire Strikes Back (1980):

Release Date: May 17th, 1980 (Washington D.C.)
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, Clive Revill (original version), Ian McDiarmid (Special Edition)

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 124 Minutes

Review:

“I have a bad feeling about this.” – Princess Leia

This movie seems to be the favorite amongst most Star Wars fans. It isn’t my favorite but it is damned good.

I will say that this is the best chapter, as a film, out of all six movies. It is almost a masterpiece. The acting is superb, the tone is magnificent and the big twist in the plot is Earth-shattering if you are not prepared for it. My young mind back in the day nearly exploded.

In this film, you understand the motivations of the characters better. The universe gets much larger, the story gets much darker and our heroes are pitted against odds that seem insurmountable. The stakes are much higher and there is a great sense of loss, doom and gloom before it is all over.

You are introduced to the awesome ice planet Hoth, the characters of Yoda, Lando, the Emperor and Boba Fett (if you don’t count his brief cameo in the special edition version of A New Hope). You also get a glimpse at all the other cool bounty hunters, Vader’s Super Star Destroyer, Snow Troopers and the AT-ATs.

This film acts as a perfect second act, setting up the big climax and solidifying your love of the story and the characters within.

Empire Strikes Back is to space operas what The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was to westerns.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983):

Release Date: May 25th, 1983
Directed by: Richard Marquand
Written by: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Alec Guinness, Warwick Davis, James Earl Jones, Phil Fondacaro

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Artoo, I have a bad feeling about this.” – C-3PO

While I don’t consider this as good and as perfect of a film as Empire Strikes Back, it is still my favorite in the series. The reason being, is it is the most fun and is the largest of the three films. Sure, people hate the Ewoks but I don’t. Wookiees would’ve certainly been cooler than Ewoks in the big final battle but they are like a bunch of James Deans when compared to the Gungans of the prequel trilogy.

This film has my favorite sequence out of any Star Wars chapter and that is the mental chess game played between the Emperor, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. It also has the greatest space battle in the history of cinema. Not to mention that the unfinished skeletal Death Star looks a lot cooler than the complete one from A New Hope.

The first part of this film, dealing with the heroes banding together to rescue the once selfish Han Solo, goes to show how far they have all come and what true friendship means. It was a great lesson to learn as a kid and this is probably the best example of it from my childhood. Plus, Jabba the Hutt and his minions were one of the coolest things in the entire trilogy.

Return of the Jedi is one of the funnest pictures in film history. It is the happy ending you want but still comes at a great price.

It is the near-perfect ending of a near-perfect trilogy.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Film Review: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

*Since the second Disney Star Wars film comes out this week, I figured I’d post my review of last year’s The Force Awakens. This is taken from my previous blog.

Release Date: December 14th, 2015 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Greg Grunberg, Simon Pegg, Daniel Craig

Lucasfilm Ltd., Bad Robot Productions, Walt Disney, 136 Minutes

the-force-awakensReview:

“I got a bad feeling about this.” – Han Solo

And here we are! The seventh episode of the Star Wars saga has now arrived! I have seen it! You have probably seen it! And we now know whether or not it was worth the wait, the hype and unrelenting adoration for generations to come!

So did it live up to the hype? Short answer: no. But what could live up to hype that strong? So was it better than the prequels? Yes and no but I will describe why, as I write.

It isn’t as good as the Original Trilogy and that is okay. It is still a nice addition to the overall saga despite its flaws. But I guess you just can’t keep capturing lightning in a bottle.

The problem with this film is that it is very derivative. In fact, it is basically borrowing a bunch of plot points and elements from the same saga it is a part of. This film is a rehash of A New Hope with elements of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Knights of the Old Republic video game series and the Expanded Universe nine part book series Legacy of the Force.

Now I knew that this film was going to look to stories in the EU for inspiration but I didn’t know that it was essentially going to be a remake of A New Hope – extended with new stuff thrown in.

So how is it a rehash of A New Hope?

Well, a hero puts a message in a droid that needs to be delivered to the Resistance (the modern Rebellion). That hero is captured by a black clad Sith lord (or Sith wannabe, I’m not sure). The droid roams a desert planet and meets a stranger that helps it go further on its quest. The hero captured by the Sith is then rescued from the First Order’s (the modern Empire) big Star Destroyer. A new hero meets the desert stranger and they escape the desert planet in the Millennium Falcon. There is an evil General that is a prettier version of Grand Moff Tarkin. Starkiller Base (a bigger, badder version of the Death Star) blows up several planets (not just one). Some half hour filler stuff happens in a cantina full of weird aliens. Sith dude talks to a dude that is pretty much the new version of the Emperor. The heroes then end up at the Resistance base that looks reminiscent of the Rebellion base planet from A New Hope. They decide to destroy Starkiller Base. There is some father/son stuff. Han Solo has to lower the planetary shields so Starkiller Base can be attacked. X-Wings attack the base and fly through its trenches. Big explosion. Ships fly away. People holding hands. No medals handed out though. And Luke Skywalker is hanging out in Ireland and probably doesn’t even have cable. Okay, the Ireland part is new.

Wow, there are actually a lot more similarities than I thought before writing that quick recap.

The best thing that this film has going for it, is that the actors were good and the returning heroes from the Original Trilogy made an impact in the scenes where they showed up. But truthfully, this movie relied too heavily on incorporating everything it could from the Original Trilogy while ignoring the Prequel Trilogy. Furthermore, it didn’t really offer up much of anything new.

Say what you will about the quality of the Prequel Trilogy but at least George Lucas gave us a different story in every chapter. Each film, good or bad, was still something new. There were new imaginative worlds, cool alien species, cool ships, all types of new stuff to look at and experience. This film just wasn’t new and exciting. It was an amalgamation of all the good stuff that came before while trying to make you forget about the bad stuff. That isn’t always a good formula though. It certainly doesn’t work here. Additionally, the rehash of the good stuff isn’t done as well as it was the first time. So what’s the point, then?

The worlds were too similar to worlds we’ve seen already. The ships and vehicles were about the same as the old ones but with new paint schemes. It’s just all been done before and done better.

This film suffers from lazy storytelling and it lacks the imagination of George Lucas. Yes, his imagination was questionable, at times, but again, each installment of his Star Wars was something fresh. And it was his imagination that drove all of us to love the franchise in the first place.

I’m disappointed in J.J. Abrams because he claims to be a huge Star Wars fan and credits it for his journey into filmmaking. He dropped the ball but I don’t really think he’s ever had it and ran with it anyway. His first Star Trek film was also a rehash of sorts of A New Hope. His second Star Trek was a rehash of the original second Star Trek. His kid/alien movie Super 8 was a rehash of E.T. Hell, Lost was the most original thing he did but the last few seasons were awful.

This movie is the antithesis of the Prequel Trilogy. While that might seem great, it is its antithesis in a bad way. It just repackages everything we know and barely gives us anything new to sink our teeth into. If I want the Original Trilogy, I will watch the Original Trilogy. But then again, there are some people that just want the same shit over and over again and if that is you, you will love this movie. It doesn’t try to expand on anything like the Prequels did and it keeps imagination in a safe, tight jar.

This is the least ambitious Star Wars film that has ever been made. It played it safe, it was completely predictable and it didn’t present anything of value to excite you for its upcoming sequels.

The most important thing that The Force Awakens lacked, was fun. It had humor here and there but the film wasn’t a joyous experience, overall.

You see, in the Original Trilogy, Luke was our eyes and ears into a new world. He was excited and dying for adventure. Rey, this film’s equivalent to Luke, was pretty much sad and just yearning to go back to her boring shitty life, not craving adventure and actually running from it until destiny forced her to confront it.

In fact, the film was too much like Rey in that it was dark, brooding and pretty bland tonally.

The thing is, I may be coming off as harsh, but I wanted to like this movie. I have been a die hard Star Wars fan since the time of the Original Trilogy. I do like this film enough to watch it again and it is more enjoyable than the Prequels, even if it is less original, but I can’t honestly say that I like it. But I also don’t dislike it. I just happen to find myself in some weird state of limbo since leaving the theater an hour ago.

Assorted notes:

-The cinematography was weird in places and didn’t match up with the style of the previous six films.

-Abrams also talked about how he was going with more practical effects but there was still an overabundance of CGI.

-After all the hype about how bad ass and cool Captain Phasma was supposed to be, she was a non-event in this movie. She wasn’t even necessary to the plot in any way. But Abrams also needed his Boba Fett. But if he is digging up all the old actors and old plots for nostalgia sake, he could’ve just thrown Boba Fett in the movie.

-Abrams also borrows from the character of Yoda in making a tiny orange female alien that is a thousand years old. She knows the Force but is no Jedi but that doesn’t stop her from mentoring Rey, the Jedi to be. I bet in a future film, it is revealed that she had an association with Yoda.

-Snoke is this film’s Palpatine. For some reason his hologram is a giant sitting on a giant throne. Maybe he will be that big in the flesh but it just came off as weird and that throne room was a bit too much for a place he doesn’t actually sit in. I also suspect that he may be Darth Plagueis.

-I know that the Empire (now First Order) were based off of the Nazis but General Hux’s Hitler-like speech was a bit much.

-Starkiller Base (the new Death Star) is really irritating. It is technically impossible to build something like that in a planet’s surface without having an insane amount of volcanic activity. Also, it sucks power from its sun until it drains out. If that actually happened, the environment on the planet would freeze over, it wouldn’t just turn dark and snow more. And if the base can travel like the Death Star, the environment would alter so much that nothing could live on the planet. Also, the solar energy sucking thing was taken from the Star Forge superweapon in the original Knights of the Old Republic game. Plus, pulling energy like that into a planet’s atmosphere would incinerate everything.

-Finn is clumsy as hell but somehow can hold his ground against a force trained baddie. Also, it wasn’t established that he was a Jedi and therefore it bothers me that he even uses a lightsaber, not to mention that I doubt his Stormtrooper training came with fencing lessons. Also, he left the First Order because he didn’t want to kill strangers (admirable) but he had no qualms blasting his Stormtrooper brothers to bits when escaping with Poe. They are just brainwashed people like he was.

-What’s with the Stormtrooper with the anti-lightsaber weapon? Do they all have those and if so, why? There is only one Jedi in the galaxy. That’s like every cop on the street carrying a bazooka because you never know when a tank may roll into town.

-C-3PO and R2-D2 are barely in the film which misses the whole point of their characters. They are to be the observers of everything and the chroniclers of the Skywalker family saga. R2-D2 was asleep for the first two hours and ten minutes of this movie. And why did Luke leave R2-D2 behind? That was cruel.

-Han’s death was the best scene in the film. Not because I wanted to see Han die but the exchange between him and Kylo Ren was great. For only seeing these two share one scene, you could feel their love and their pain.

-Speaking of Ren, he has certain powers that seem to be greater than Darth Vader but yet he can’t build a lightsaber that isn’t crap? And yes, it still looks stupid. But it isn’t as stupid as Starkiller Base. Plus, he is a total emo bitch and nowhere near as menacing or threatening as any Sith lord before him. But his shuttle is pretty damn cool.

-Rey can’t take off in the Millennium Falcon without trashing everything in sight but she can fly it through a crashed Star Destroyer two minutes later.

-Why couldn’t Chewie drop Rey off at the top of the mountain?

-Even though the Force is what makes destiny happen, things in this film just seem too convenient. Even more convenient than all the other films. This goes back to my earlier point about lazy storytelling.

-Seeing an old planet from a previous film would’ve been nice. Jakku could’ve just been Tatooine, really.

-There should’ve been more of Poe Dameron.

-There was a complete lack of emotion and no feeling of devastation after Starkiller Base’s attack of mass destruction. It was soulless, cheap and irritating like the end of Man of Steel.

-I liked most of these new characters but I’m not completely sold on Ren.

-Rey and Finn’s relationship was a million times less painful to watch than Anakin and Padme’s.

-Leia is fucking great.

-I hope the galaxy expands out more in the next film.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The Disney Star Wars movies.