Movie review: Star Trek 2009

Like every other Star Trek fan, I was on pins-and-needles waiting to see if this reboot took off. Boy did it. While not flawless, it packed a powerful punch. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve watched this movie, usually in the background while I’m working on something around the house. But when the scene about Kirk’s solution to the Kobayashi Maru plays, or when the Enterprise warps into the atmosphere of Titan, I put down what I’m doing and pay attention. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Beyond the obvious thrill ride, I was more than pleased with the new cast and how they personified their roles. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto nailed it, but Karl Urban took his vision of Bones McCoy to a whole new level.

As awesome as this movie was, I have to say “Red Matter” is the most ridiculous plot device anyone’s ever conceived of. It’s a total MacGuffin. But they used it to awesome effect, so I’m not going to trash the writers about it. Just, you know…try harder next time. Please.

NOTE: Spoiler alert for the next two *Star Trek* movies: they didn’t try harder. See: Khan’s blood. 🙂

Grade: A

Movie review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

It’s hard to fathom that it’s only been 3 1/2 years since the first *Hunger Games* came out on the big screen. It feels like it was much longer than that, but the saga is finished and they went out on a high note.

The fans who read the books all know how the story ends, which I would guess represents a large percentage of the people — mostly young girls — who were in the theater. Even so, there was a lot of applauding, and sighs, as the story wrapped up. It feels complete.

Jennifer Lawrence was, as expected, awesome. I’m guessing that the hardest thing about playing the character of Katniss is that she is so consistently in a fog of depression, angst, uncertainty — whatever you want to call it. But, there are a few moments here and there when Jennifer Lawrence really gets to show off her skills, and give Katniss some real depth. She had a few of those moments in MJ2 that really stand out. (I’m not going to say which. You’ll know them when you see them.)

Grade: B+

Movie review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I can safely say that SW:TFA is the 3rd best *Star Wars* movie in the franchise. And let’s be clear: it would take a miracle for JJ Abrams to create something better than *A New Hope* or *Empire Strikes Back*.

This is easily the funniest movie in the franchise. Almost (but not every) funny moment revolves around Harrison Ford.

The movie isn’t without its flaws, but those flaws are minor, and of course this is *Star Wars*, so I’m being overly critical.

A few good things to report: BB-8 — the spherical droid — is cute, without being overly cute. JJ is mature enough as a story teller to avoid crap like Jar Jar Binks. All of the fight scenes, whether hand-to-hand, sword-to-sword, or fighter-to-fighter are good, and some are great, but none drag on longer than they need to. There’s never one of those, “OMG, would someone kill someone here so we can move on with the story” type of fights.

The acting was spot on. The casting of Daisy Ridley, as Rey, and John Boyega, as Finn, are marvelous. I’m really looking forward to seeing their characters develop, as the saga continues.

Grade: A-

Movie review: The Revenant

All the elements needed for an outstanding movie are present in *Revenant*: top notch directing, superb acting, and an excellent screenplay. Having seen all the Oscar-nominated movies this year, I can say with all confidence that *Revenant* should win for each category in which it’s nominated.

If DiCaprio doesn’t win Best Actor this time around, there’s something terribly wrong in the Academy universe.

Note: There IS something terribly wrong in the Academy universe, but hopefully DiCaprio will win Best Actor anyway.

Grade: A+

Movie review: Zootopia

Zootopia is one of Disney’s best animated films. It takes adorable characters, wrapping them in an underlying message to the entire audience about bigotry and stereotyping.

The adults in my theater laughed louder and longer than the children. I recommend this movie to anyone who has ever enjoyed a Disney movie.

Grade: A

Movie Review – Captain America Civil War

I loved parts of Captain America – Civil War; I liked the rest, and there wasn’t anything to dislike.

First, the airport fight was great. It was everything you could hope for, and most importantly there were some big surprises that weren’t spoiled in the trailers.

The plot was good and easy to follow, but I don’t want to say anything more about that, for risk of spoiling exactly what goes down. It’s all very enjoyable, with a few decent laughs.

I think this might be the best acted of the Marvel movies. Robert Downey Jr. had a lot more to work with in this movie than the others. We usually only see him as snarky or melancholy. In this film, we get to see glimpses of his angry side — and he’s really good at it.

This is a Captain America-centered movie, but just barely. In many respects, the character arc of Iron Man shines brighter than anything else. And it feels like an *Avengers* film throughout.

Grade: A-

Movie review: Finding Dory

If *Finding Nemo* is pure gold, then *Finding Dory* is about 90% pure gold, which is still much better than most movies in this genre.

There was plenty of fun to be had, and the messages of inspiration were well told. I think kids will enjoy and learn from this movie. Adults who liked *Finding Nemo* will have a good time as well.

Grade: A

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Where DO you find Fantastic Beasts
That darn wizard Newt Scamander can’t keep his critters under control.

It’s harder to love this movie than any of the *Harry Potter* films. The setting is rather gray and dreary, and the costumes are mundane, even for the time period. Main characters Newt and Tina are both underplayed, and hard to get a feel for. Their sidekicks, Jacob and Queenie, are much more appealing. There IS humor, but aside from a few really good “beast” scenes, nothing here feels very magical.

It’s possible the story will improve with subsequent viewings, but I found myself – a die hard HP fan who publicly dresses in full Hogwarts attire – not really caring much about the story. I couldn’t relate to the actual plot, and found this dense tale a bit confusing. I can’t imagine a casual Rowling fan would follow much of the situation. Things blow up and explode into little CGI bits, over and over again. Who is the smoky creature, who is the creepy little girl, and why is Colin Farrel so grim and stalkery? I’m not satisfied with that ending of the movie at all, or the reveal. Yet I’m just so thankful to have more of the Wizarding World to look at, and the abundance of amusing interactions between Newt and Jacob carry a lot of goodwill.

It also took me a while to clue in that Newt seems to be on the Autism spectrum, which would explain his constant under-emoting. He was hard to connect with when he wasn’t interacting with his creatures. I’m guessing — now that I understand he has trouble with actual people — that the movie will improve on re-watch. [Note from much later: *Fantastic Beasts* does get more fantastic. It’s now a beloved movie within my collection of *Harry Potter* universe films. I’m excited for the next one.]

I’m giving this movie a B+, but largely from grading on a curve within the *Harry Potter* universe. I miss Ron, Hermione, and Hogwarts…and Quidditch, classes, and teachers. I wanted some brooms (apparating is boring to watch), and those cool English wizard pub scenes. I missed the intricate detail of places like Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We did get an excellent Wizarding Speakeasy scene. Being inside the suitcase was rewarding. The Niffler and Bowtruckle (he’s like Baby Groot!) were adorable, and the Thunderbird: simply magnificent.

I saw this movie in 2D, and will see it again in 3D. If that improves things, I’ll adjust the grade. Should you see this film? Yes. But don’t expect lush Scottish scenery or a sense of magical awe in this outing.

UPDATE: I saw this a second time, the very next day. This time I saw it in 3D, in a good seat, in a better room at the cinema. Don’t waste your time in a small theater with this – seeing it properly improved things a great deal. Also, the film is simply better upon a second viewing experience. The actual ‘evil’ plot is still tedious, but the Beast scenes really are very good. Any time we spend in the suitcase is precious. So I did upgrade the film to a B+.

I did want to add that enjoyment of the film DOES require significant investment in the books of Harry Potter, or at Pottermore online. You will need to have read the books to understand why Grindelwald is important. The HP movies alone don’t give much context with what happened in Dumbledore’s era.

And appreciating the Beasts themselves is better if you’ve read the 2001 Hogwarts “textbook” *Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them*, unless you are already conversant with the critters in question. These Beasts aren’t the well-known ones you might have expected — no gryffins, sphinxes, or even dragons. They’re pretty damn obscure. Ever hear of a Demiguise?

If you like JK Rowling’s Wizarding World, make sure you get in early for good seating in a quality theater — much more enjoyable. At this time, this movie is planned to be in one of five with these new characters, just so you’re mentally prepared.

Grade: B+

Movie review: Star Wars: A New Hope

*A New Hope* runs very closely to the number one spot that *Empire Strikes Back* occupies in the SW oeuvre — clipping its heels, as it were. It started the whole mythology and adventure in a well told opening story. It’s almost perfect. But the “official” name, *A New Hope,* is just lame. This movie will always be *Star Wars* to me. (And here I show my age. Yes, I was 12 in the theaters for *Star Wars*, and waited in those huge lines to see it over and over again.)

Grade: A+

Movie review: Aliens

This is, hands down, the best science fiction action movie of all time. There’s nothing more that need be said.

I don’t think anyone gives Carrie Henn, who plays Newt, enough credit for delivering, what I think, is the best child performance ever. She simply nailed it. And then never, ever, appeared in another film ever.

James Cameron isn’t mentioned often enough as one of the greatest directors of all time. He swings for the fences and repeatedly knocks them out of the park. And he takes huge risks as well.

Grade: A+