Archive for the ‘moviebuff801’s Movie Reviews’ Category

Star Wars Original Trilogy Review

Posted: January 25, 2016 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

So now that I’ve soldiered through the prequels again, it’s finally time for the light at the end of the tunnel: the original trilogy. I don’t see any reason to waste more time, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

Star Wars (1977)

You say the words “Star Wars,” and more often than not, it’ll conjure up giddy, nostalgic childhood memories for most people. Just like the majority of the world’s population, I watched Star Wars as a kid. But curiously, the film never really had much of a lasting impact on me at a young age, to the point where up until now, it was at least a decade since I’d last watched the movie in full. Before you overreact, though, don’t take that to mean that I dislike the movie; nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just that after having finally re-watched it again, I at last have a much fuller appreciation for it than I ever did, and I can recognize its status as not only the turning point for big Hollywood blockbusters, but as one of the biggest achievements in the genre in general.

Really…what is there to say about Star Wars that hasn’t already been said? Well, let me just focus on the things about it that stood out to me this time instead of trying to hit all the general points. First of all, the pacing and story structure of the film is extremely tight, and it never feels like there’s a wasted or unnecessary scene in the entire film. It gives you all the information you need to know and then doesn’t waste any time getting into the heart and adventure of the story. Perhaps the film’s biggest strength is its reliance on characterization rather than dialogue to develop its characters. I was initially thrown off a little by this, but the more the movie sat with me, the more I realized how much of a good thing that is. Rather than explaining to us who these characters are, George Lucas SHOWS us, and that’s much more efficient. The best thing about Star Wars, though, is its simplicity. The plot isn’t overcomplicated a all, but it doesn’t need to be. All it needs to be is an adventure in space, and it succeeds greatly at being that, and because of its simplicity, we’re able to get into the characters and universe very easily. Plus, there’s that constant sense that there’s more to this world/universe than we’re seeing, and that enhances the sense of wonder and mysticism that’s present when characters talk about The Force and Jedis.

Star Wars, to me, is executed just as well as other earlier blockbusters such as Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The one thing they all have in common is that they showcase a mindset of not undervaluing how a simplistic story can invite the best kind of thrills and excitement, and Star Wars has those in spades.

****/****

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

There are a handful of sequels from the 80’s/early 90’s that are commonly regarded as the best of their respective franchises. Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are two of them, but also included in that group is Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. For me personally, there seems to be a curious, common pattern amongst all those sequels: while I most certainly like them a lot and think they are all strong movies in their own right, I wouldn’t consider them the best of their franchises, and the same rings true for The Empire Strikes Back, no matter how hard I try with it. Now, before any of you impale me with your lightsabers, hear me out.

First of all, like many, I admire Empire‘s turn to a decidedly darker tone which allows the filmmakers to explore the characters in a deeper fashion than the first film. That shift makes sense, given the progression of the plot and what’s happening throughout this one. I also like the furthering of the mythology of this world where Jedis and The Force are concerned. As with the character development, it gives us a bit more to chew on. We also see a bit more of this whole universe, with a few different planets — each of them unique in design — serving as significant locations. And, of course, there’s an oppressive sense of danger present throughout the film. The performances from the main cast are all captivating as well. So, then, what is it that keeps me from calling The Empire Strikes Back a great film?

If I had to put my finger on it — and, believe me, I’ve given this a lot of thought — it’s that while I can admire the film’s desire to treat the material more seriously this time around, the movie is never able to fully hook me emotionally to the degree where I feel truly invested in it and the consequences story from minute to minute. If I had more of a deeper love of the franchise and the characters than I do, then perhaps things would be different. But as it stands, Star Wars has never held much of a place in my heart as something like, for instance, Harry Potter. Consequently, while The Empire Strikes Back still manages to have a hold on me as I watch it, there’s another part of me that’s just waiting around for all the major events to happen. There are many other films I can think of where even though I’ve seen them many times and know what’s coming, I’m still deeply involved in them because I’m either so invested in the world, the characters, or both. But not with this. Also, that other part of me questions if a Star Wars movie needed to go this dark, because the original still manages to be captivating without going with a more oppressive tone. In many ways, I actually prefer the simplicity of the first Star Wars film.

In the back of your minds, many of you are probably thinking that I actually dislike the film simply because I’m not giving it a perfect rating. Nothing is further from the truth. When I sit down to watch a movie with endless praise like this, naturally, I expect to be wowed. But if it doesn’t manage to do that, then I have to call out any problems I have. Come to think of it, I don’t think this was EVER my favorite of the Star Wars films. I think The Empire Strikes Back is a very good film with a whole lot of merit, just not a great one.

***1/2 /****

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

So, I’ll just come right out and say it: I love Return of the Jedi. If you had asked me right after I re-watched it, I would’ve even gone so far as to say it was my favorite of the trilogy, but a little bit of reflection gives the edge to Star Wars instead. That doesn’t diminish my opinion of this film in any way, though. However, I’m just a little disappointed to hear that this is apparently not well-regarded among even Star Wars fans in general.

It’s The Ewoks and the plot structure that bother people about this movie, but I’m here to say neither of those things bother me about it. The Ewoks may seem overly cutesy, but underneath that fluffy exterior, they’re pretty capable and resourceful — and they’re in no way annoying to the degree of certain characters in the prequel trilogy, let’s be honest. And for those saying it’s problematic that The Ewoks are able to take down a bunch of Stormtroopers during the climax, need I remind you that they had the tactical assistance of Han Solo, Princess Leia and a bunch of other Republic fighters to help them accomplish that? As for the issue of the film mirroring the basic plot of the first film…again, I don’t care, because this movie executes very well and the flow of the film is incredibly smooth to the point where the running time just flies by. My main issue with the movie is just that the first act in Jabba’s Palace could be trimmed down slightly.

Return of the Jedi makes a return to the simplicity of Star Wars, and I think that’s part of the reason why I react more strongly to it than The Empire Strikes Back. We’re back to the adventurous tone that makes the first film so great, with the added bonus of the mythology delved into from the previous movie. On top of that, the film climaxes in truly exciting fashion, with everything between Luke, Vader and The Emperor standing out in particular. The duel between Luke and Vader carries real weight, and the way it culminates in Vader’s redemption results in perhaps the most powerful scenes of the franchise.

Return of the Jedi is very much in the tradition of classic blockbuster filmmaking, and serves as a strong and effective send-off to the initial Star Wars trilogy.

****/****

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

So, in case you haven’t heard, there’s this little independent movie coming out called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In case you didn’t know, it’s actually the seventh in this huge sci-fi fantasy franchise that began way back in 1977. Still lost? Well, that’s where I’m here to help, because I’ve taken it upon myself to go back through the first six before seeing The Force Awakens, and you’re welcome to join me on this journey if you so choose.

We begin, unfortunately, with the three prequels … (more…)

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong have taken what many believe to easily be the weakest of The Hunger Games books and make one movie that’s really solid for the most part and another that’s, dare I say, pretty great. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, given that the talent of filmmaking for this franchise has been consistently strong and that Mockingjay – Part 2 happens to be adapting the better half of Suzanne Collins’ final book in the trilogy. This may be one of those rare cases where what isn’t so spectacular on the page ends up working A LOT better on the screen, to the point where the comparison between each might as well be night and day. I honestly didn’t think I’d be saying this, but Mockingjay – Part 2 is actually one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.

The spark of the rebellion is threatening to sizzle out. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has had his mind warped and twisted by The Capitol during his time in captivity, to the point where every time he lays eyes on Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) now, all he wants to do is try to kill her. Where Katniss was once on the verge of becoming a hollow shell of herself, she’s now broken entirely, and the only thing that’s filling that emptiness in her soul is a desire to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) herself. But Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is still convinced Katniss is most valuable as their propaganda puppet, shooting videos meant to inspire rebellion among the other Districts rather engaging the enemy herself. Katniss is having none of that, though; she’s prepared to do whatever she has to to bring an end to all the bloodshed once and for all. Her method of doing that is sneaking into District 2 — which she does — where the heart of the resistance is planning their all-out assault on The Capitol. She isn’t alone on this mission, however. Joining Katniss is Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), Katniss’s propaganda film crew, Commander Boggs (Mahershala Ali), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and, unexpectedly, Peeta. The squad’s mission, though, isn’t to help fight on the frontlines, but — you guessed it — to shoot more footage for the rebellion, trailing on the heels of the actual soldiers. The Capitol has been turned into its own Hunger Games arena, filled with deadly booby traps the team has to navigate in order to survive, all while avoiding Capitol soldiers along the way. Katniss’s one true goal remains intact, however: kill Snow. As Finnick himself says at one point: “Ladies and gentlemen … welcome to the 76th Hunger Games.” (more…)

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

I love the Harry Potter series with every fiber of my being. I know this is a review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, but go with me on this. If you asked me what’s one thing from the Harry Potter franchise I ultimately sort of regret, it’s the fact that the two-part adaptation of Deathly Hallows began a trend of every final installment of a young adult franchise since then being split into two separate films, whether they warrant it or not. The seventh Potter book deserved such a treatment, though. I’ve read The Hunger Games novels by Suzanne Collins, and I can safely say that the third book definitely did not call for it, ignoring that it wasn’t nearly as good as the first two novels. So, naturally, one would assume that Mockingjay – Part 1 would be a lesser film than the first two installments, right? Well … yes and no. Yes, it is indeed not as wow-worthy as Catching Fire or The Hunger Games, but no, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad movie. In fact, it’s pretty surprising it’s ultimately as good as it is.

Picking up nearly right after the cliffhanger conclusion of Catching Fire, Mockingjay – Part 1 finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) a broken shell of herself after being rescued from the Quarter Quell. Her rescuers are the citizens of District 13, an independent and militarized District long-thought destroyed, but has actually been thriving underground for years, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike back against The Capitol. The leader of District 13 is President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), who, together with Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), orchestrated the events of the 75th Hunger Games to get Katniss out. Coin is intent on taking down The Capitol and removing President Snow (Donald Sutherland) from the equation, and she needs Katniss to help by being the face, or “mockingjay”, of the rebellion that all of the other members of the Districts can rally behind. But all Katniss is concerned about at first is how District 13 abandoned Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) back in the Arena and left him at the mercy of The Capitol. And as events begin to unfold, it becomes clear that Snow has the same intentions for Peeta that District 13 has for Katniss: to use him to discourage any rumblings of war, but is Peeta doing it of his own volition? (more…)

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

Posted: May 2, 2015 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going strong for eight years now, and in that time, we’ve gotten eleven movies from the behemoth studio, and that’s just from them. Take into account other properties from other studios, and we truly live in the Golden Age of Comic Book Films. With so many on the market, though, fatigue is bound to set in sooner or later, and it’s a fact I have to consider when talking about the latest flaming-hot release, Avengers: Age of Ultron, writer/director Joss Whedon’s follow-up to his Hulk smash of a superhero movie, 2012’s The Avengers. Now, before most of you get up in arms, am I saying that I don’t like this movie? No, not at all. It’s good; I had a fun time. What I am saying, though, is that for me personally, I’m sort of becoming numb to this whole Marvel formula in general, and for whatever reason, that feeling has been most prevalent in these two Avengers films, in spite of how much I’ve legitimately enjoyed them. So, let’s dive right in, shall we?

The movie starts out, appropriately, with a bang as we see The Avengers back in action and attacking a Hydra base, where the nefarious organization is performing questionable experiments, most notably on a pair of Russian twins: Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The source of those experiments turns out to be none other than Loki’s Scepter, which Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) sees potential in for use in an A.I. peacekeeping initiative codenamed Ultron. From there, Stark and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) create such an artificial intelligence (perfectly voiced by the awesome James Spader), but as all A.I.’s inevitably do, Ultron decides that the human race is no good, and the only way to improve it is to first destroy it. On his side, Ultron has not only Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, both of whom harbor deep-seeded intentions of revenge against Tony, but also an entire army of robots that all share Ultron’s dangerous consciousness. Of course, this is a threat large enough to require The Avengers, the likes of whom include Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), to re-assemble as they race to stop the monster created by one of their own. (more…)

Horns Review

Posted: January 24, 2015 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

Usually when I walk away from a movie after having just watched it for the first time, I manage to formulate an overall opinion of it fairly quickly. Every once in a while, though, there’s that oddball film that throws so much stuff at me, that I find myself suffocating from the amount of things being thrown at the screen to see what sticks, and thus stumble away desperately trying to make sense of it all. On that note, let’s talk about Horns, the new horror black comedy adapted from the novel of the same name by Joe Hill. For the longest time after watching it back in October of last year, I couldn’t really make heads or tails of it; there were aspects of it that I found pretty interesting and well-done, but then others that simply stuck out as just plain odd and headscratching in their strangeness. In the time since, I took it upon myself to read the novel, and that helped to put things into perspective for me. The point I’m trying to make here is this: if a film leaves you so confused as to what you thought of it that you find yourself having to go and read the source material to help nail your opinion down, then odds are, the movie isn’t exactly a winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Horns concerns a young man named Ignatius “Ig” Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), whose girlfriend Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) was brutally raped and murdered sometime before the beginning of the film. Naturally, the people of Ig’s small town home community believes he did it, despite his repeated assurances of his innocence, and matters aren’t made any better for him due to the lack of evidence in his favor. The only ones on his side are his parents (James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan), brother Terry (Joe Anderson) and best friend Lee (Max Minghella). It’s all reached the point where Ig usually has to spend his nights getting wasted to help him cope with all the accusations. But one morning, upon waking up to his latest hangover, Ig discovers the sudden and mysterious appearance of strange protrusions growing from his forehead. A quick bit of investigating reveals those protrusions to be gradually-growing horns, but that’s not even the strangest part. The weirder fact about these horns is that they possess the ability to make anybody in Ig’s immediate vicinity to give in to their deepest, darkest desires, most of the time in the form of confessions that are wildly inappropriate and insane, or just downright hurtful. However, Ig soon discovers that he can twist this newfound power of his to his advantage by using the horns to interrogate possible suspects in Merrin’s murder and take revenge on them. With each painfully honest encounter, though, the horns make Ig question if they’re slowly robbing him of his humanity. (more…)

The Interview Review

Posted: January 11, 2015 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

There’s one word that can be used to adequately sum up The Interview: stupid. This is what all the fuss was about? Seriously? At the end of the day, all this is, is just fuel for the fire of all those “Stupid Americans!” jokes. As a matter of fact, that’s the one word that kept coming back in my head as I sat in the comfort of my home (thankfully not a theater) watching this movie: stupid, stupid, stupid.

The first five to ten minutes are all you’ll need to gauge whether or not this movie will be for you. If you’re one of the ones who still enjoys Seth Rogen’s long over-played and now numbing sense of humor, you’ll obviously enjoy it. If not, then move along, nothing to see or care about here. (more…)

Horrible Bosses 2 Review

Posted: December 1, 2014 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

In this day and age where vulgar R-rated humor has dominated the mainstream comedy circuit for the better part of a decade, 2011’s Horrible Bosses was a pleasantly surprising and inspired entry into the genre which nowadays, if you ask me, has its head way too far up its own ass. Now it’s three years later, and here we have the inevitable Horrible Bosses 2, which is nothing more than further proof that you can have too much of a good thing. This is especially heartbreaking for me to say because the original remains one of the funniest R-rated comedies of recent years, and while this sequel does still provide reminders of the first film’s energy and charm, most of the time it just hammers home the point that sequels — particularly comedy sequels — are one of the toughest things to successfully pull off.

Following the events of the first movie, the lovable trio of Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) have escaped the crippling clutches of their former horrible bosses and have now entered into their own business. They’ve created a new product known as “The Shower Buddy,” introduced in a talk show-set opening scene, and said product catches the eye of Rex (Chris Pine) and Burt Hanson (Christoph Waltz), a father/son duo who promise to invest in the guys’ invention … only to screw them over at the last minute, thereby threatening to send their business into foreclosure unless they can find $500,000 to cover the outstanding loan. Just how do they eventually decide to get their hands on that kind of cash, you ask? Why, by orchestrating an elaborate kidnapping scheme, of course! After first seeking the advice of Nick’s former boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), now incarcerated in prison, along with their go-to crime consultant Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx), the trio embark on their newest scheme, but naturally, things start going wrong for them almost immediately. (more…)

Interstellar Review

Posted: November 9, 2014 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

The opening shot of director Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi epic Interstellar is of toy models of rocket ships gathering dust as they lay forgotten on bookshelves, relics of a time when there was more hope in the world, and it’s a shot that subtly grabs you while also being rather telling. Not only do those dust-coated rockets foreshadow the civilization in this film that’s had its dreams and future crushed by the crippling reality of nature and/or destiny, it’s not hard to conclude that the somber image also maybe represents the mostly forgotten ideals of Hollywood to push boundaries and go to new places. With Interstellar, Nolan — who has become one of the best modern day film directors — intends to reawaken that desire for discovery, and his appropriately-themed film does just that in spades. It’s experiences like the one I had while watching Interstellar that remind me exactly why I love movies in the first place. It’s about wanting to be transported somewhere exciting, to feel like you’re going on a journey to somewhere incredible that you don’t want to leave, and Interstellar is a film equally powerful enough in both scope and pure, raw feeling that it accomplishes that feat.

The setting is a future where a blight has put our species on a path for extinction. Unrelenting dust storms have gradually depleted our natural resources to the point where the human race is barely getting by as it is. Food is the last remaining commodity, and even that is dwindling fast, with corn being the only remaining thing in that regard, but not for much longer. A rural, widowed farmer named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), also a former NASA pilot, can sense the end coming but chooses to remain as hopeful as he can for the benefit of his two children and father-in-law (John Lithgow). That sense of hope is renewed aplenty, however, after Cooper gets his hands on a mysteriously-downed surveillance drone, which sets off a small chain of events that leads him and his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) to an underground facility, but not just any underground facility: NASA. There, Cooper encounters Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a former colleague who reveals to Cooper the existence of a wormhole located in the vicinity of Saturn, as well as the plan to mobilize a crew to travel through it and search the uncharted territory on the other side for viable options to relocate the human race. Brand convinces Cooper to pilot the mission, traveling with the professor’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and physicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley). Cooper’s decision to go — for years, as the journey takes the crew to unknown new planets — causes he and Murph to part on bad terms, and it’s a decision that hangs heavy over both their heads, especially years later on Earth when Murph has grown into an adult (Jessica Chastain) and is trying to follow in her father’s footsteps.

(more…)

The Judge Review

Posted: October 20, 2014 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

It’s that time of year again. Around every October begins a slew of “prestige movies” hoping to gain some popularity points with Oscar voters in some form or another. Maybe half of them actually end up living to those lofty expectations, while the other half fall awkwardly into that “trying too hard” category, where they’re destined to mostly be forgotten by the time January rolls around. Unfortunately, David Dobkin’s The Judge is part of the latter. You’d think a great, or at least very good movie would be delivered here with such a promising premise and cast, but while The Judge certainly has its strong moments and two equally powerful lead performances to help it along, this is a movie that’s too preoccupied with following the “Oscar Bait Handbook,” that said predisposition overshadows the rest of the movie.

Robert Downey Jr. stars as Hank Palmer, an infamous “big city” defense attorney with an intimidating reputation in the courtroom. One day, Hank receives word that his mother has passed away, prompting him to hop on a flight home to Carlinville, Indiana for the funeral. Almost immediately upon arriving, Hank is bombarded with reminders of the life he left behind, the most painful of which being the crusty, old-fashioned Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), a.k.a. Daddy Dearest. To say that Hank and The Judge (yes, that’s what most people in the film call him) have a troubled relationship would be an understatement; these two can’t be around each other for five minutes without one or the other being insulted. After the funeral, Hank practically already has one foot on the plane, but is forced to stay when his father is hauled into the police station on suspicion of murder. The evidence isn’t exactly doing him any favors, and before either father or son know it, Hank has taken up the case to clear his dad’s name, going up against a determined prosecutor named Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). I know what you’re thinking, and yeah, that name’s a bit too on-the-nose, isn’t it? Meanwhile, Hank has to put up with pressure from his brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), as well as deal with the affections of an old high school girlfriend, Samantha (Vera Farmiga). In more ways than one, this is the case of Hank’s life.

(more…)