Month: April 2016

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: The Force Awakens

2016: [See the plot of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope]

Setting: JJ Abrams’ throne room. Nubile young women carry sparkling wines, gourmet cheeses, and exotic fruits on golden trays. One man, Writer 1, kneels reverently at Abrams’ sandal-clad feet. Another man, Writer 2, stands further back and seems perplexed by the entire scene. 

Writer 1: Oh great JJ Abrams, creator of Alias and LOST, we come before you to hear what new creations you prepare to reveal!

Writer 2: …Yeah, hi JJ. You did say to be here at 1:30, right?

Abrams: Arise, my servants. Just as Felicity unleashed my greatness upon the Universe, so shall I now unleash a new cinematic vision upon the unsuspecting populace!

Writer 1: Glory be!

Writer 2: …We’re here for the specs on the new Star Wars movie. You know, fans have waited a long time for a good Star Wars – since 1983, in fact. We’re hoping you can deliver.

Abrams: Can I deliver! You’re speaking to the mastermind of Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness! Does that answer your question?

Writer 2: It actually raises more questions, for me.

Writer 1: Don’t pay him any attention, JJ. Just blast a hot load of Star Wars plot on us and we can die happy men.

Abrams: And so it shall be, my friends, and so it shall be. Envision, if you will, a strange alien galaxy full of adventure and magic, full of heroism and villainy, full of wonder and whimsy and romance and daring-do!

Writer 1: My God! It’s beautiful!

Abrams: But all is not well with this galaxy.

Writer 1: (gasps)

Abrams: Yes. The Empire has fallen, but a virtually identical force has replaced it, and the only things standing in its way are the New Republic and the Resistance!

Writer 2: Wait, hold on… the New Republic and the Resistance? What’s the difference between these two groups? What happened to the Rebellion?

Abrams: SILENCE! You’ll miss the best part… the Resistance obtains valuable plans that will help defeat the forces of evil. These plans are concealed in an adorable, spunky little droid, who ends up on a desert planet in the hands of a most unlikely hero.

Writer 1: It’s a triumph of the imagination!

Writer 2: I’m sorry… are we discussing the new movie? Because this sounds an awful lot like –

Abrams: SILENCE I SAY! Clench your buttocks, because you might lose control of your bowels when you hear this next innovative twist! Our heroes will be stalked by a black-clad masked menace who is skilled in the Force!

Writer 2: So, like, a Darth Vader-type character?

Abrams: Oh, God, no. Who wants to see that? This character will be a wispy young thing portrayed by some big-nosed long-haired emo-looking douche, and instead of choking people he’ll get all pissy and smash stuff when he gets upset.

Writer 1: My spine is tingling with fear!

Writer 2: I have to say, this villain doesn’t seem like he’s in the same class as Vader or even Darth Maul… will we have some really strong heroes to oppose him?

Abrams: Your hopes have been realized, for I have devised heroes destined to be just as legendary as Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi!

Writer 1: Oh my…

Abrams: BEHOLD! I give you… a girl and a black guy! KAZAAAAAAAM!

Writer 1: Holy SHIT.

Writer 2: This sounds kinda pandering, to me. I mean, what next, this random girl will turn out to be so incredibly bad-ass that Han Solo will say something like, “Kid, you’re a damn fine pilot, why don’t you join me on my ship even though it’s always just been me and Chewy…”

Abrams: Excuse me, “this random girl”? I put a scene in there where she fixes something on the ship! It’s like, “Oh, I re-routed the capacity through the auxiliary drive matrix” or some shit. Boom, instant street cred.

Writer 1: Oh, you’re the king, JJ, you’re the best there is, best there was, best there ever will be!

Writer 2: (Sighs) Alright, so the unlikely heroes are on the desert planet with the robot, what next?

Abrams: Well, you’ll never see this coming, but it turns out the evil militaristic space organization –

Writer 2: – like the Empire –

Abrams: – NOT AT ALL like the Empire – is commanded by a sinister, robe-wearing figure whose mind is as twisted and corrupt as his body!

Writer 2: …like the Emperor.

Abrams: NOT AT ALL like the Emperor! In fact, this evil mastermind’s name… IS

Writer 1: Here it comes.

Abrams: Supreme Leader SNOKE.

Writer 2: You’re kidding.

Abrams: SNOKE. Doesn’t that name just inspire fear and awe? Say it with me. Say, “SNOKE.”

Writer 1: I can’t! I’m that afraid of this guy!

Writer 2: It sounds like a sock puppet from a kids’ TV show.

Abrams: Perhaps your impudent tongue will be silenced when I tell you that Snoke will be an entirely CGI character! Oooh, aaah, the magic of film-making!

Writer 2: Who’s going to play him?

Abrams: Well, he’s an all CGI character created after 2003, so…

Writer 1: Andy Serkis?

Abrams: Bingo.

Writer 2: Oh, come on. You know, JJ, the Star Wars franchise used to be a bastion of unrestrained imagination and creativity. This sounds like a tired old re-hash of every trope that we’ve seen a thousand times before. I’ve read Star Wars fan-fic more creative than this.

Abrams: Oh ye of little faith! Was it not I who rescued the Star Trek franchise via the never-before-explored avenue of TIME TRAVEL? Wait until you hear my finest plot innovation yet!

Writer 1: I don’t know if I’m worthy to hear this.

Abrams: It turns out that the non-Empire has… a gigantic space station capable of destroying entire planets!

Writer 2: …So, the Death Star.

Abrams: No, bigger than the Death Star. Like, colossally bigger. And, therefore, different and better.

Writer 1: That’s a fact.

Abrams: In a thrilling race against time, our heroes will have to infiltrate this massive space station, disable its shield, and attack its weak point for massive damage!

Writer 2: Wait, wait, wait… wait. This is literally the plot of both Episode IV AND Episode VI. You can’t be serious.

Abrams: Oh, can’t I?

Writer 1: JJ, I’m not blowing smoke up your ass when I say this… but you are literally the Jesus of franchise resurrection.

Abrams: And the best part is, all of this is set 30 years in the future, so we get to see the stars of these magical films of our childhood as haggard, wrinkled old sacks who can barely run for two seconds on screen! Remember hot Princess Leia in the slave costume? Well now you get to see her visage wracked by age, and hear her old lady denture voice!

Writer 1: It’s like all my dreams have come true at once!

Writer 2: In what world would anyone want to see the exact same story played out with vastly inferior new characters and old, sad versions of the original characters?

Abrams: You’re so short-sighted. You’re forgetting how legendary these original characters will be. They’re like mythical heroes now. Some people don’t even believe they exist. They’ll be like living legends, something out of a fairy tale.

Writer 2: 30 years in the future people don’t even believe they’re real? 1986 was 30 years ago. That’s like saying people today think Jack Nicholson and Ronald Reagan are just legends or fairy tales. How short are people’s memories in this universe?

Writer 1: Man, don’t you have anything positive to say?

Writer 2: Well… maybe it’s just growing pains. I’m sure the second installment will be better.

Abrams: I’ve already got an idea! It begins in this frozen wasteland…

Writer 2: I quit.

HARDCORE HENRY

Hardcore Henry first person

2016 – After being resurrected as a cyborg, Henry must unlock the secrets of his forgotten past to save his wife (Haley Bennett) from a telekinetic villain and an army of super-soldiers.

This is it, people. This isn’t just an action movie. This is THE action movie.

Filmed entirely in first-person, Hardcore Henry takes the action film and refines it to its purest possible state, free from such tedious accouterments as “plot” and “characters.”

Let’s face it: we’ve had to endure hundreds of plots and thousands of characters in our pursuit of pure thrills. We’ve had to sit through lame romantic interludes when we just want to see arms being broken. We’ve had to endure dull exposition and backstory when all we craved was cars exploding. Hardcore Henry tells us we don’t really need any of that. All we need is a gun and a GoPro.

Characters? Why do we need characters? We might as well be Henry ourselves – he awakens in a strange place with no memories and no idea what’s going on. Within five minutes we know who the villain is (a metrosexual albino douche! KILL HIM!) and we know what our motivation is (hot wife kidnapped! SAVE HER!). And then we’re off on a 90-minute journey that’s 90% gunfights, fistfights, car chases, foot races, and more. “Relentless” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Events play out like a video game. After each battle or chase, Henry’s mysterious buddy Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) shows up or calls with a new mission. Brief interludes akin to cut-scenes fill us in on details we might need, and the action spikes with more challenging “boss fights” against bad guy Akan’s (Danila Kozlovsky) increasingly powerful henchmen.

Despite the brutal violence and relatively grim story line, Hardcore Henry doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are moments of genuine humor, made even better because they’re so unexpected. You can tell that, behind all the carnage, the filmmakers had a genuine enthusiasm for this project and are getting a lot of enjoyment out of making it.

I know what the faint of heart are wringing their hands over: will the camerawork be too jittery? Will I get a headache? Will I get sick? If you experience a moment’s hesitation due to these issues, don’t go. Not because you’ll get sick (I was so enthralled that, after the first five minutes, I didn’t even notice the first-person perspective), but because you’re obviously not ready for a movie like this. There’s a reason the word “hardcore” is in the title.

Catch it in theaters while you still can, because this is an experience that needs the big screen.

It also features the best in-movie use of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” this side of Shaun of the Dead.

ZOOTOPIA

Zootopia header

2016 – Social lessons abound when a rabbit police officer teams up with a con artist fox to fight crime in an anthropomorphic animal metropolis.

I’ll admit it right off the bat: Zootopia is a good movie. The story is funny and lighthearted, the characters are easy to like, and the voice acting is fine-to-excellent. I enjoyed it, had a few laughs, and walked out of the theater pleased with the viewing experience.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer [“GINNIFER”?!?] Goodwin) always dreamed of becoming the first rabbit officer on the Zootopia police force, despite the fears of her small-town parents. Her idealistic hopes are challenged when she arrives for duty and encounters the pompous Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons, playing every J.K. Simmons character), the hostile Chief Bogo (Idris Elba, in a role that amazingly might NOT be used to argue that he’d make THE PERFECT James Bond), and the cynical Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, doing his best smug Jason Bateman-ing).

Despite initially not liking each other AT ALL, Judy and Nick surprise us all and soon prove to be the perfect crime-fighting team. When they discover that members of the city’s predator species are “going savage” and reverting to their animalistic instincts, they have to overcome a sinister conspiracy and a whole bunch of they’re-just-animals-but-you’ll-probably-relate-this-to-the-current-political-situation-in-America prejudices to save the day.

Disney isn’t re-inventing the wheel with this one. The lessons of Zootopia are your typical kid lessons: believe in your dreams, be yourself, don’t judge others. It’s a safe, middle-of-the-road film that avoids major missteps, but lacks any truly memorable moments. The dearth of real challenges or surprises somehow works and makes for a comfortable, easy watch.

Everything you’d expect is in here. There’s the “Depressing First Day” sequence, where Judy realizes that life in the big city isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s the “Turn In Your Badge” scene, where the Chief gives the upstart young officer 48 hours to solve the case. There’s the “Heart of Gold” scene where the snarky Nick reveals that he’s just a big softie after all. There’s the “Tragic Misunderstanding” scene where just when you think our leads are going to get together, they have a falling out.

None of these things are bad. I’m just saying Zootopia isn’t Aladdin or The Lion King – it’s not even Frozen. It isn’t a generation-defining animated movie, but it’s good vanilla entertainment. And, as an unexpected plus, there are actually moments that won’t go over the heads of every kid in the audience!